Women's Health and Herbal Medicine
by Corinna Wood
Some of you may know the quarterly holidays fairly well – Spring and Fall Equinox as well as Winter and Summer Solstice. If the year were charted in a circle, these points make a cross both down the vertical middle and through the horizontal center of the circle. Between each of these points are what’s known as cross quarterly holidays. These are Imbolc (early February), Beltane or May Day, Lammas (early August) and Halloween or Samhain, which falls halfway between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice.
From a medicine-make perspective, this is the beginning of the root harvest. The bulk of our harvest takes place in November and December when perennial plants send their energy down below the ground for the winter. We’ll soon be harvesting dandelion, yellow dock, poke, burdock, echinacea, and comfrey roots.
At Red Moon Herbs, we focus on using the whole plant in making our extracts. Sometimes people ask us why. Here’s an excerpt from an article by Nancy and Michael Phillips to help address that question.
Green Blessings ~ Corinna
Philosophy enters deeply into the debate on standardizing herbal preparations. People oriented towards a scientific point of view feel the need to quantify healing possibilities by knowing the concentration of the chosen active principle (constituent) used to achieve proven results. Others view synergy and spirit as working in ways we may not fully comprehend but have certainly observed with whole plant remedies that embrace healing, often in more ways than one.
Standardization generally refers to chemical extraction of the deemed active constituent. Two assumptions come immediately to the fore. Does one ingredient alone reflect the curative power in a given plant medicine? And does this ingredient become more potent in a concentrated extract than in the whole herb itself?
Few herbs are actually standardized to a relatively pure isolate. A single constituent is usually under 12% in nature. A strong solvent (hexane, methyl-chloride, acetone, benzene) with an affinity for the designated constituent is used to achieve the desired concentration, often in conjunction with a different solvent to precipitate out constituents deemed superfluous. Under such a regime, the complicated, interactive chemistries of such herbs are destroyed. The valid medicinal use remaining accepts both the limits of concentrated isolate and the possibility of side effects. Such phytopharmaceuticals are more akin to allopathic drugs than the original whole plant remedy.
Whole herbs come with life force intact. The subtle constituent balance herbalists have entrusted for millennia is put in arrears in a standardization process that focuses in on a single isolate. Such borderline pharmaceuticals have the potential to give herbs a bad name through misapprehended side effects or just inactivity.
A good example is salycylic acid, chemically extracted from willow bark to make aspirin. This ubiquitous drug has been found to have side effects in some people, including internal bleeding, leaky gut syndrome, and in some instances death. Herbal preparations of willow help reduce pain without this concentrated risk. The wide-ranging benefits that make up the gestalt of the whole herb are lost in a narrow science that ultimately promotes plant medicine as being only guaranteed by laboratory technique.
The marketing hype spread by some companies that standardized extracts are safer and more effective is untrue. “Claims for the clinical superiority of standardized products are unethical commercialism and an attempt to dupe the public in the name of science,” says Northwest herbalist Jonathan Treasure.
Herbal medicine has been called the medicine of the people precisely because the plants and the traditional knowledge of how to use the plants are accessible to rich and poor alike. The assertion that quality lies in a standardized preparation seeks to break the essential link of every person to the plants that heal.
“The starting quality of the herb used in the extraction process is far more relevant to quality of the final product than any laboratory manipulation or ‘correction’ during manufacture. Many companies offering standardized product start with crude herb purchased by third party brokers in the international marketplace, the provenance and quality of which is inevitably beyond their direct control. The old adage-garbage in, garbage out-is pertinent.”
“Herbalism is about holistic healing, about Gaia,” says Mimi Kamp in Arizona. “Squeezing our plants into isolated elements is not herbalism.” “A standardized extract,” chimes in Joyce Wardwell in Michigan, “is a poor substitute for a complex interaction and vitality found in whole herb preparations, especially if a person further empowers themselves by gathering their own medicine. But then I prefer driving a whole car rather than sitting astride a running engine.” Southwest herbalist Michael Moore sums this all up with characteristic clarity, “The active principle is the whole plant.”
by Lee Warren
Kathleen Maier is a much-loved teacher at the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference, year after year. We’re so happy to have her this year teaching an intensive, a class, and leading a ceremony. Here’s a bit about her, from her:
What is currently inspiring you as a healer/teacher?
Nervines! And any practices for staying in our body and staying centered. Right now in the world there is so much movement–exciting movement and challenging movement. I think we need to make centering practices part of our day and take them seriously.
Can you say more about plants as allies in staying centered?
We’re all aware of the effects of stress. We all need help in creating tools. Because our hearts and bodies are one, plants can help shift our perception and states of consciousness. When we’re stressed we know we can take deep breaths but somehow or another the plants act quickly and effectively.
Simple things like milky oats, Scutellaria and mimosa are very profound. Skullcap can help us stay clear, stay focused, and be much more solid in our bodies.
Nervines are the support we need right now for the fall of 2012.
You’re branching into creating ceremony at the conference this year. How is that for you?
Well, I’m a Scorpio and we love theater. And I don’t mean theater in a superficial or inauthentic way. It’s high performance art that we all get to participate in. For me, shamanism is not only deep and real but touches into the spirit world and into the theatrical world.
In my classes, it’s important that participants don’t walk away with just information. But that they’ve shifted to another place of understanding. Or at least they’ve shifted to the place of asking the right question.
With the ceremony at the conference this year I look forward to being playful as well as creating a transformative celebration.
What is one message you’d like to give to all women who are seeking healing?
‘To thine own self be true.’ There are many ways, many formulas, and many plants.
Kathleen Maier, AHG, PA, has been a practicing herbalist for over twenty years. She is currently director of Sacred Plant Traditions in Charlottesville, VA which hosts a three year community herbalist training program as well as other classes and internationally known guest lecturers. Her training as a Physician’s Assistant allows her to translate the language of medicine and ground it in the wisdom of the age-old, earth-centered practices. She is very active with United Plant Savers.
by Corinna Wood
Life is very full these days — preparing for the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference, harvesting, home schooling my son — just to name a few. Like most women, I wear many hats. To sustain the energy levels that my life requires, without the use of caffeine or other stimulants, I have learned that I need to practice radical self-care.
Radical self-care includes proper nourishment for the body — good water; local, organic produce; fermented foods (like yogurt and kimchi); and healthy fats (like organic butter and coconut oil). Another important daily practice is herbal infusions — strong, medicinal teas brewed with herbs such as nettles and oatstraw that help nourish the body with needed minerals and vitamins.
Radical self-care means loving ourselves at our roots — body and soul. I’ve found activities that both relax and enliven me, and weave them into my weekly flow as much as possible — yoga, naps, baths, hiking, dancing, journaling, time with close friends, body work, and connecting with nature.
One of the most radical parts of radical self-care requires us to take the initiative to structure our lives to correspond more closely with the rhythms of nature — the rhythm of the day, the week, the month and the year. Women have more energy when we get up with the sun (instead of an alarm clock), take a moonday around the onset of moontime, and slow down during the winter months. It may seem impossible to create a life like this, yet we can all take small steps that move us in that direction — toward a level of self-care that can feed the energy for our life.
When I engage in radical self-care, my energy levels are high. I sleep well and I wake eager to work, contribute to the world and be in service to the goddess. May we all be so well nourished.
by Lee Warren
Continuing in our theme of introducing you to some of the amazing teachers at the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference, here’s an interview with Anyaa McAndrew.
I love creating spaces where women can connect in a WE Space or Sacred Space. As women we do the “Field of Unity Consciousness” so well!
I also love teaching topics where the I space can get strengthened, like when women discover the depth and breadth of “Who I Really Am” and “What my own place on the Wheel of Life is.”
It is my joy and challenge to inspire women to step into their own spiritual and personal authority in a dying patriarchal culture that is still fighting with the feminine.
I feel that we can make a big splash in our lives if we have a strong I, and a strong WE.
What theme do you see as you travel the country and work with women?
Women love to be together!
Taking my Shamanic Priestess Process and other work around the country, I experience so much excitement when women come together to do personal~spiritual work.
Women naturally step onto a spiritual path when they are invited in a way that is inclusive, honors all ways and honors diversity of all kinds. I have always experienced woman as hungry for the work of the soul, and hungry for work that allows them to express themselves fully.
How does Shamanic Astrology help women in their lives?
Shamanic Astrology honors the feminine in a way I have never experienced with other Astrological systems, probably because it honors the Goddess or the Divine Feminine within each of us through the archetypes we carry. It also recognizes that there are no bad archetypes or signs, and that shadow is natural for every archetype, which allows us to laugh at ourselves and see ourselves from a witness perspective. That alone allows us to change and grow with more grace and ease!
Why is 2012 important for women?
Women are being called to step into what is being referred to as the “Solar Feminine,” which was heralded by Venus transiting the face of the Sun this past June.
As a Collective, we have been the quiet lunar feminine for way too long, pulled in and pulled back while we were encouraged and also forced to let the Patriarchy have its way with Gaia. Now it’s time to step up, stand up, and speak out, and nothing is stopping us.
If we don’t become authentically ourselves, it seems that something arises in our lives that confronts us to just do it, NOW. This is the year of all the prophecies of the indigenous peoples, it’s called the “Shifting of the Ages.”
We are far more influential than we may think we are! This is the keynote for us in 2012—no more time for hiding and playing it safe and comfortable.
I look forward to seeing you all at the Conference!
Anyaa McAndrew is a psychotherapist and teacher with 31 years experience in the sacred work of emotional, sexual, and spiritual healing. She’s facilitated The Shamanic Priestess Process ™, the Sexual Priestess Process™ and the Shamanic Magdalene Mysteries™ around the US and in Costa Rica, integrating a lifetime of therapeutic work with women. Anyaa is also a Master Shamanic Astrologer, Shamanic Breathwork Practitioner, Sacred Sexuality Educator, and Imago Couples Therapist.
As the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference draws near (mid October), we’re taking this opportunity to feature some of the amazing teachers. Sharing her wisdom and description of empowerment is ALisa Starkweather, a tireless proponent for women’s transformation. Here’s a recently captured interview with her.
You work with women all over the world; what one theme are you seeing these days?
What I am sensing among women right now is a surge of power that is rising like sap from the collective after thousands of years of oppression.
- She senses this is our time and she has a role but in order to participate she cannot walk towards this destiny without shedding the lies and judgments that have kept her down.
- Her visions are haunting her and because of these inner callings she is willing to bring her dreams forward even if she thinks she cannot or that she is crazy. She is becoming more daring with facing the unknown.
- She is learning that she cannot control things but she can come more alive in her full participation with her choices. By doing this, she stops the stories where victim hood once left her helpless.
It is the time of great weaving because we are recognizing that our gifts are greater in collaboration. To do this however, a healing is needed where women must re-learn to trust not only themselves but one another.
What I see is true commitment by many in a time where we are so needed. Love is our ultimate power right now.
What is stopping women from living a more authentic and embodied life?
I cannot speak for all women but I can share what I’ve learned in the last three decades of facilitating transformational women’s empowerment via the archetypal realms of initiation and women’s mysteries.
I am truly noticing a division now between women who are coming from the paradigm of continued blame and shame and right and wrong thinking versus women who are learning skills in communication, taking responsibility for their choices, their attitudes and their own consent to live life fully even with the risks.
I am seeing the difference between women who learn skills, who bravely look within at their own shadows and shortcomings versus women who still project their judgments onto others without recognizing the same qualities are present within themselves.
To live authentically means we must find respect for our tenderest vulnerabilities and equal compassion for our inadequacies. Can we be transparent with our honest feelings and motives?
I believe what stops many a woman is that she still carries a deep predator voice that takes her and others around her down. She fears her own ferocity and her wounds that misused power created–thus she is afraid to claim power for herself.
Wanting to be someone other than the inner critic (who can be relentless), she dulls her fierce self into complacency and then takes the consequence of having no voice or a voice that is not true to her intensity of presence.
She was actually born for greatness but she must face her own inner demons to find her pure brave heart that waits so patiently for her homecoming. When she does this, her embodied life will fit her like a glove. It will become so clear to her what she must give up or move toward. Women around me will do everything and anything to free up. When this happens, women are unstoppable.
In your words, please define empowerment?
I am so grateful to be asked this because for some reason this word got a bad rap out in the greater world. For some, empowerment work conjures visions of women who are helpless, even hopeless, don’t feel good about themselves and need assistance. When I say that I do empowerment work in India, some immediately ask me if I am a social worker.
The beauty of being empowered for me takes on these forms.
- To respect who you are all the way to your core and to know that you have the courage to be yourself.
- To embody without shoving parts of yourself down in any cavity in your psyche or hiding unexpressed parts of you that still harbor shame or hesitation.
- To know that you are at choice and can wield your voice, your gifts, your presence intentionally in service to the greater good by your own aliveness.
- To no longer look at perfection or arriving to a particular status as proof of your strength.
- To embrace the helpless, hopeless, don’t-feel-good parts of you right into the glorious stature of your sacred self who is both powerful and vulnerable, tender and fierce, afraid and courageous, active and still.
We have the capacity to matter and make a difference simply by living in harmony with life that moves through us. The empowered woman is far from any box that culture tried for millennium to put her in.
You know her because she is beautiful, committed, present, truthful and showing up in all she was born to be and you can feel her in your own bones when she shows up even by the way she walks upon the Mother Earth.
Empowered means that we are not going to lay down in despair when humanity is at the brink but rather we are going to wake up, take our place in the web of life in a way that honors what is sacred.
For me, our empowered embodiment is visceral.
ALisa Starkweather, is a women’s transformational leader, well known for her inspirational message of empowerment, healing, community, and ritual. She is founder of the women’s mystery school, Priestess Path, the Women’s Belly and Womb Conferences, Daughters of the Earth Gatherings and the co-founder of the international women’s initiation, Women in Power; Initiating Ourselves to the Predator Within. She has three recordings of her chants and launched the Red Tent Temple Movement which is now in over 35 states and several countries and featured now in the documentary film premiering at the SEWHC, Things We Don’t Talk About; Healing Stories from the Red Tent.
by Lee Warren
Red Moon Herbs is a proud sponsor of the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference. The Special Guest Speaker for the 8th annual event this year is Aviva Romm, MD, herbalist, midwife. Here’s a short interview with Aviva that we wanted to share with our readers.
What was your life like before you became an MD?
I was a NYC ghetto girl, went to college at 15, dropped out at 16 to become an herbalist-midwife, all-out-mad hippie girl–dreads, fire by friction, the works! But a total geek too. Also, I spent 20 years as a home birth midwife and herbalist, homeschooling my young ones (until college for two of them, high school for the next two).
What inspired you to go to medical school?
All the while I wanted to make radical revolutionary change in health care, and to provide services outside of the scope that an illegal midwifery practice allowed. So before I got too old to lose my nerve I went back to school — Yale no less — and became an MD.
What will be the subject of your Guest Speech?
It’s called, “Walking in Two Worlds: From Midwife-Herbalist to MD.” This talk is about the journey, the reasons for it, and what I’ve learned, using the metaphor of the heroine’s journey. I hope it has lessons and meaning for listeners regarding how to relate to western medicine in a way that is safe and useful, and why and how to honor nature as our first healer from personal, ecological, evolutionary, social, political, and economic perspectives.
by Jackie Dobrinska
“It is folly to ignore the sacred in life or medicine,” writes Rosita Arvigo. “Skirting the spiritual has had a shattering effect on every dimension of contemporary existence. ”
No one works alone in healing, and on this 20th Anniversary, we at Red Moon Herbs want to publicly acknowledge and honor the spirit of the plants that make this work possible.
We give deep gratitude to the Spirits of the plants who have inspired and blessed us over the years. As our allies, you have woven into our lives, our medicines, our hearts–chickweed, dandelion, hawthorne, nettles, burdock, yarrow, and many more dear friends!
Whenever wildcrafting or harvesting, most traditions invoke a prayer or chant. Below is one of our favorite songs that can be sung to engage and connect to the spirits of the plant. (Click for the melody)
The spirit of the plants has come to me in the form of a beautiful dancing green woman
Her eyes fill me with peace, her dance fills me with peace
The spirit of the plants has come to me and has blessed me with great peace
Her eyes fill me with peace, her dance fills me with peace