Last week I went to see Henri Balaguera, who is a doctor of functional medicine (he is also a traditional doctor of western internal medicine). It seems everyone I know has heard of functional medicine. Before this appointment, I hadn’t; I was there on a referral from my husband Jon, who knows Henri from the Lahey Clinic, where they work together.
Luckily, there were leaflets in the waiting room so that I could familiarize myself with what might happen after I entered Henri’s office.
Henri spent a few hours with me, talking first about my familial relationships before discussing my symptoms, which include an arthritic ankle, hypertension, back pain, and episodes of depression. What struck me was how much time Henri spent talking to me about my relationships and how they affect me. His intuition, together with an obviously genuine interest in helping me heal and a kind of wisdom I don’t often encounter made the appointment not just affecting… it was life changing.
So much so that I went there saying “I won’t be doing any crazy diet or changing what I eat. I eat a very healthy diet.”
And here I am changing what I eat. The reason for this is simple. Henri diagnosed me with dysbiosis and increased intestinal permeability. That translates to leaky gut syndrome. Not arthritis. It was like getting a new lease on life.
And he is confident that once I deal with my leaky gut my arthritis will cease to plague me. He also mentioned I had some work to do on my relationships and that my spirituality, which for so many years was a bigger part of my life, needs to take priority. He thinks my hypertension will benefit from this advice since my anxiety will decrease with a more accepting perspective on the things that people close to me do and have done.
Functional medicine is a kind of holistic medicine, so Henri was treating all of me. Not just my hypertension and my ankle, though he assures me both will benefit from a few adjustments to my habits and habits of mind.
So far, it’s been 5 days. I have given up coffee, wine, gluten, dairy, sugar, eggs … there has been a great deal of complaining and whining. Jon jokes that we are eating twigs. He has decided to do the diet with me and has not complained. I am doing all of the complaining for both of us.
A few days in, I have more energy, I feel lighter, and the pain in my back seems to have stopped. My ankle still bothers me and my blood pressure is still up. But it’s only day 5.
Today we picked up our first organic share (Upswing Farm, Pepperell, MA – they have a pickup in Holliston, God bless them). We got Bok Choy, lettuce, parsley, arugula, and spinach. I am psyched.
I fished out an old recipe for soy-orange glazed salmon that uses Bok Choy in the vegetable fried rice and cut some chive from our garden in lieu of the spring onions and away we go.
Meanwhile, out in the garden, the snap peas are emerging, the lettuce is growing, the asparagus is still coming in and the beets are up.
As if that wasn’t enough to celebrate, I hatched an idea for what to do with extra pot seeds I accidentally ordered. I can sell my extra plants! I’m not sure that’s entirely legal but I got more seeds than I meant to and what I am going to do with them? Seems sad to waste them and it’s not like I will really use all 12 plants. And being me of course they are germinated and growing. Hopefully I’ll find buyers. 🙂
And today was actually a tree planting day here. We lost a whole line of conifers during a microburst a couple of years ago and finally got around to picking out some replacements. It turns out our warmer winters have been challenging cold-loving trees that have traditionally done okay here – like the gorgeous Colorado spruce, for instance. So the awesome perennial people at Weston Nurseries (a nursery local to us) recommended an alternative – Frazier Fir – and we picked a traditional (read giant) rhododendron and male and female winterberry shrubs to feed the birds to complete the area. They arrived today and they look beautiful out in the west field. I am sure our neighbor is happy — while we like each other it’ll be nice to have our trees back.
Spring is well and truly here. We brought in our first asparagus this week, the hyacinth, tulips, forget-me-nots, and daffodils are blooming, and the swiss chard and broccoli are growing happily. I can cut chives for my scrambled eggs and have asparagus from the garden for dinner.
There’s a sense that you are witnessing a miracle when the asparagus appears. Food that emerges, year after year, and can be snapped off and popped into your mouth. There’s little else in life that is so easy and delicious. And the way they push through the ground, one spear at a time, is truly a visual marvel. My first reaction when I saw asparagus growing out of the ground was: “really? I can eat that?”
This year, though, I found myself reflecting on how planning, patience, and a small amount of relaxed acceptance really paid off. Planning the garden, planting, and letting go of expectations resulted in a mellow kind of waiting that ended with spring colors appearing all around. It could have gone differently. Maybe I wouldn’t have had so many blooms or the deer might have eaten every tulip the day they bloomed. Happily, though, the gardens are beautiful.
Not everything has been so care free and delightful, though. I set out some borage one day and came back to … nothing. Thanks to the rabbits. Same thing with the bachelor’s buttons. So I’m thinking pots for peppermint because it’s invasive, and pots (elevated) for everything the rabbits like, too. Professional-speak words like “pivot” and “adapt” come to mind, but so does a picture of Bill Murray from Caddyshack. 🙂
As we wait for our second wave of spring flowers, like the bleeding hearts below, I’m still nursing basil and hot pepper seedlings, and watching the weather forecast for frost…
…and reflecting on how patience isn’t just one of those virtues people admire, it comes with rewards.
So much for April showers. We got snow in Massachusetts today which, while unseasonable, isn’t exactly shocking. We’ve had snow storms for Halloween, too.
At this moment, the lettuce, radishes, swish chard, and broccoli are looking a bit beaten down out in the garden. The few flowers I planted and covered are smooshed but alive, and the flowers I brought in are cozy. The temps never dipped below freezing and we have a fire. Lucky us.
But this just goes to show you that mother nature likes a joke now and then. Strings of days over 70 with sun … who can resist going to the garden center and bringing home some new lovelies … ? … and then a little mid-April wind and snow to keep us on our toes and out of the garden.
Fortunately I had some old sheets nearby to cover everything with when the snow started. I’m not sure it was truly necessary but I think it helped rescue a few blooms that would have otherwise been doomed, and my husband looked very cute out there trying to make a tent with one of his tarps over the new english daisies. You don’t see that every day. 🙂
As I write this, a couple of hours later, the snow has disappeared leaving us with a dreary but unfrozen landscape. The sheets and specially-engineered tarp tent are off the garden and everything is waiting for some sun to cheer things up.
The forecast has two more snowflakes (days with snow predicted) over the next week – this, after weeks in late March and early April with no frost. I’m pretty sure there’s no moral to the story other than keep a sense of humor, don’t throw old sheets away, and keep an eye on the forecast.
I’ve kept a stickie by my computer monitor for years that says: New Moon. Let Go, Declutter, Sleep.
The descending dark moon is a good time for letting go of the things that are “eating” at us, aren’t benefiting us, or are creating noise and clutter around us; it’s a little like cleaning out a backpack or purse. There’s the opportunity for unloading, for unburdening, and with that, a potential for rest.
I think of harnessing the energy of moon tides as paddling downstream instead of across or upstream – working with the tide encourages ease and success. In the case of the waning new moon, releasing, reflecting as appropriate, and resting.
On the flip side of the waning dark moon is the new waxing moon – a good time to set a new intention or make a new beginning. They kind of go together since letting go of something creates an open space. And since nature abhors a vacuum, it’s best to decide what you want to fill the space with … and then the waxing crescent is for planting seeds (intentions or actual seeds!). And so on.
For me this year I chose to release some old “shoulds” that clutter up my thinking. They are like rocks under my carpet, creating a tripping hazard. Every time my mind settles on a “should” it means I am not present for the moment or for what needs doing right now. So they are out. bam. Released into the receding tide of dark moon energy. Just like that.
As we begin our ascent out of a dark pandemic winter, sowing early spring vegetables and visiting garden centers (yes! woohoo!) a glance back in time has me feeling grateful for spring, for lengthening days, for the vaccine, and for the earth, rain, and sun that will nurture my gardens this year. So that’s my new moon intention.
So … a couple of last little notes about the new moon: It rises around sunrise and sets around sunset. We can’t see it because it’s between the Earth and the Sun, and the dark side of the moon is facing us.
Years ago I was involved in a motorcycle accident. It was just after my 21st birthday and what started as a lovely autumn cruise turned into an accident that left me with a compression fracture in my back, three breaks in my pelvis, and a shattered right ankle. It could have been worse! The person driving the bike skillfully put us down into the side of the car tires first, rather than colliding with the car, which hadn’t seen us.
Some years later, I do an awful lot of yoga and have tried various pain relief for the arthritis that has developed in my poor little ankle.
I’ve found CBD taken sublingually and applied as a topical oil are the best natural remedies. So, I started making my own since it’s expensive!
Last year I ordered 10 seeds from ilgm.com, managed to germinate 4 under a grow light in the early spring, and away I went on my adventure, growing the hemp alongside my other spring seedlings:
As you can see from this photo, my hemp plants were dwarfed by the brandywine tomatoes that are right behind them in this picture. I didn’t know much about nutrients or hemp, but they grew and flowered anyway. They were forgiving.
I put these little guys in a sunny spot in my vegetable garden. They didn’t grow much, it turned out the roots were so developed by the time I brought them out that they filled the pots they were in, and when I put them in the ground they didn’t spread out. Also, they were also competing with squash. I know. It sounds silly but I put the plants in there together and let nature take its course.
I decided to clip the flowers when my son, who knows about marijuana, advised me that the flowers should be harvested NOW. So I did, hanging them to dry after clipping off a few leaves under his direction, and after they were dry I “processed” them.
Processing, it turns out, is very simple. You “decarboxylate” the flowers in an oven at a low temp for 35 -60 minutes at about 280 degrees Fahrenheit. After that I put them into a jar, covered them with olive oil, and left them sit for 6-8 weeks. I see lots of websites suggest using a precision cooker or crock pot. I didn’t.
When the time passed I strained the oil out of the hemp et voila! CBD oil.
This year I bought more seeds and am growing a bunch of plants to make into oil. It’s easy to do and I really enjoy growing the plants themselves. They are cute, and they become big and impressive if you care for them properly, so I’ll give them their own garden bed this year. 🙂
If you want to give making oil a try or have questions please feel free to get in touch!
Spring in the northern hemisphere has arrived, and with it a full moon in libra. Dazzling balance energy. For those working balance issues it’s been a big week of shifts. Whatever has been out of balance seems to have corrected in the other direction. And for me, the stories that carried me through winter fell to pieces with the equinox. They are like ashes left from a warm fire.
But, spring. Crocus, chives, and the first buds on trees; I wandered out to the garden to see. No sign of asparagus yet but the very first red rhubarb spears are emerging. The soil is warming, workable.
Yesterday I made a half-hearted start at spring clearing. Pulling old dead verbena stalks I uncovered Hellebore—beautiful nodding spring flowers. I felt a wave of comfort wash over my heart. Turning toward the kitchen garden, I found the thyme is starting to green. Just barely. And the oregano is still asleep but I could feel it stirring when I brushed my hand over it.
Seeing my old friends have made it through winter gave me quiet feelings of joy, yes, but there was something more. Signs of life emerging reminded me that it’ll be okay. Dreams break. And then there is something new to watch emerge, flower, and die back.
Flowing with the planet’s rhythm teaches impermanence. And this week I found comfort and balance in what’s emerging and quiet hope for what I’m waiting on.
Feeling good takes self-care and attention—not an area that many of us are great at making time for. This year I’ve put more effort into my well-being, though, creating a yoga practice and spending more time in my garden. I have always looked for shortcuts to wellness … teas, cooking with herbs, and simple oil infusions are easy ways to take care of yourself without breaking the bank, and a natural way to score wellness points since we all have to eat and stay hydrated…
Since connecting with the planet is the fastest way I know to feel better, here’s a list of 5 plants that offer support for mood, healthy, glowing skin and hair, anxiety, and a happy belly. Look no further than your (sunny!) window garden when prioritizing beauty sleep, glowing skin, mood support, and a little boost of zen. So without further ado, read on to meet a few allies in our quest for well-being:
For Glowing Skin – Calendula is a pretty orange flowering annual that loves the sun and is easy to grow in a pot. Also called Pot Marigold, Calendula is known to have anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties, and it’s rich in antioxidant components. But Calendula’s claim to fame is its support for your skin: it soothes rashes, eczema, helps heal wounds, and is known to help remedy practically any skin complaint. A calendula-infused oil is a soothing moisturizer that’s great for your skin. You can even eat the flowers, sautée the petals in oil to release a saffron flavor in your cooking, or dry them for tea.
Find a sunny spot to grow your calendula in a large pot with drainage and water as needed. To encourage flowers, let the plant dry out between waterings for a few weeks. Calendula takes about 55-60 days from sowing to harvest.
To make calendula-infused oil fill a jar with dried calendula flowers. Pour an oil of your choice–like grapeseed or olive oil—over them. Let the jar sit for a few weeks, shaking it now and again. Strain out the flowers and you have a beautiful, healing oil for your skin.
To get your beauty sleep drink chamomile tea. The use of chamomile tea dates back to ancient Greece, where it was used as a cold remedy. Nowadays though, chamomile is famous for calming frazzled nerves and promoting rest.
Studies have shown that drinking chamomile tea improves sleep quality and reduces insomnia. This may be because chamomile contains antioxidants that bind to receptors in your brain which are thought to promote sleepiness. Along with helping you relax and get a good night’s sleep, chamomile’s benefits include having anti-inflammatory properties thought to support digestive health and benefit blood sugar control, and antioxidants that help fend off some kinds of cancer. Moreover, chamomile tea is linked to reducing menstrual pain.
Growing chamomile: There are two kinds of chamomile – roman and german. For the most abundant flower (and tea!) harvest, choose german chamomile. To grow chamomile, choose a pot that is 12-18 inches wide and has a hole at the bottom to drain, since chamomile doesn’t like to be kept too wet. Place your chamomile in a sunny window with at least 6 hours of light. Water when the top ½ inch of soil feels dry and fertilize once a month after your plants have reached a mature height. No need for fertilizer if you plant your chamomile in the ground!
To make tea, pick the flowers when they bloom and set them on a baking sheet to dry. When they’ve dried, pop a few in a teacup and infuse with hot water.
Mint tea is a delicious way to calm your stomach and improve your digestive function. Studies have shown that mint tea relaxes the gastrointestinal system, helps sooth upset stomach, and fights off nausea, gas, and bloating. Studies have found that peppermint even helps improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Along with promoting a happy gut, mint is a good source of potassium, calcium, vitamins A and C, and folate, as well as antioxidants which protect against aging and chronic illness. It’s also an antiviral and antimicrobial, so it supports your immune system and helps fight infection.
Mint is an easy to grow perennial. You can grow it from seed or you can find little mint herb plants at garden shops. Give it a sunny window and consistent water and it will be happy. To make tea, just snip some of the plant and steep in water. You can enjoy mint tea from fresh leaves or dried leaves or even pop a few leaves in your bath for a refreshing soak.
Boost your mood and treat dandruff with rosemary. I have grown rosemary for years. My love affair started with a recipe I found in an Andrew Weil article, and it’s been an occupant of my kitchen garden ever since. I just learned this year, though, that there’s more to rosemary than good taste! The aroma of rosemary has been linked to improving the mood, clearing the mind, and relieving stress. Considered a cognitive stimulant, it is known to boost alertness and focus. A source of iron, calcium, vitamins A, C, and B-6, rosemary is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which support the immune system and help improve blood circulation. And it’s effective against candida albicans – the yeast that causes dandruff!
Grow your rosemary in a pot with drainage, and make sure it has a nice sunny window – it loves the sun! Rosemary prefers dry roots and moist foliage; you can sit your rosemary in a pot that has rocks and water in the bottom – it will enjoy the evaporation–or spritz with a spray bottle.
To boost your mood, memory, and focus, infuse your drinking water with rosemary, make a tea from it, keep a plant or dried rosemary nearby, or use a diffuser with rosemary essential oil.
To add shine to your hair and protect against dandruff, make a rosemary rinse. Boil a couple of tablespoons of fresh rosemary leaves (or a tablespoon of dry leaves) in 2 cups of water for a few minutes in a covered pot. Strain out the rosemary oil, let cool, and use as a final rinse in your hair. You can add some lavender essential oil if you’d like.
Treat anxiety with Lemon Balm. Lemon Balm is perennial, is in the mint family, and is named for its lemony scent. Studies have shown that the rosmarinic acid contained in lemon balm helps with stress and anxiety by increasing the availability of some neurotransmitters that are associated with anxiety.
Lemon Balm claims other potential benefits related to rosmarinic acid, which has potent antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, including helping with cold sores, insomnia, high cholesteral, genital herpes, heartburn, and indigestion. Notice a pattern? Herbs often have a range of benefits related to antioxidants and antimicrobials.
To grow lemon balm inside keep it in a sunny spot and don’t overwater. It doesn’t need a big pot since it will grow right up to the edges. You can propagate lemon balm in water. A couple of notes: it has a lovely citrusy smell, running your hand over its leaves will release the aroma into the room. Once it blooms it becomes bitter, so keep it cut back to always have sweet tasting leaves.
To make lemon balm tea snip some leaves and then muddle, cut, or tear them into small pieces, and place them into a tea infuser. Pour hot water over them and let them steep. I also infuse iced drinking water with fresh lemon balm leaves for a refreshing summer cooler.
You might be surprised at the potency of these herbs—they are mighty! Simply brushing your hand over their leaves releases oils and scent into the air and onto your skin, and can have an immediate effect. Herbs are also surprisingly beautiful and add charm and life to living spaces.
I keep peppermint and rosemary in my office year-round in a sunny window because they are beautiful, give the room a wonderful fragrance, and have a lively energy that grounds me. It is fun and rewarding to experiment with herbs to find which ones speak to you – which aromas you find the most pleasing, which of them you find the most beautiful, which ones thrive with you, and of course, which ones contribute most to your well-being.
One last note: It’s a good idea to check with your doctor before adding new supplements to your diet, since some herbs can interact with medications or prolonged use can have side effects. 🙂
I love to make enchiladas and chili, so I grew jalapenos last year. I had more fun growing these then I did other vegetables because of how quickly and profusely they fruited. It was so much fun to go out and pick what seemed like an endless supply of gorgeous long deep green peppers on just a few plants. I filled 3 freezer bags full!
If you are a hot pepper enthusiast you may already know what kind of peppers you want to grow. A very quick overview of some choices in order from least to most hot in case you’re not sure:
Poblanos, spicier than a bell pepper and, I think, the mildest of hot peppers.
Anaheim, mild to medium heat
Jalapenos, milder than cayenne peppers but still pretty hot. You definitely want to wash your hands after cutting them.
Serrano, medium to high heat.
Cayenne, hotter than jalapenos with smaller fruits
Tabasco, medium-high heat.
Thai, these are smaller and very hot.
Habaneros, and around 3 times hotter than thai peppers.
Ghost peppers – the hottest, I’m told. These need 120 days after planting to mature.
Growing hot peppers from seed isn’t hard, and vegetables still warm from the sun are a giant step up from supermarket produce – its hard to overstate the pleasure and satisfaction of cutting your own peppers and cooking with them.
Start them about 6 weeks before your last frost date and they will be ready to plant when it warms up outside. My seed starting primer is here, and the process I’ve outlined there is essentially the same, but I’ve added a few specifics around planting hot peppers that are worth noting. The basic supplies you’ll want to start your peppers inside include:
pots and plastic wrap or a a seed starting tray with humidity dome – the plastic cover is to keep seeds moist.
good potting soil or seed starting mixture.
A warming mat; hot peppers like warmth and the extra heat will help them germinate. Alternatively they can go on top of a warm appliance.
a grow lamp or a south facing window.
General procedure for starting seeds
Fill your pots/tray with seed starting mix or potting soil. Water the mixture so that it’s thoroughly moistened.
Sprinkle seeds in pots, cover very lightly with planting mix, about a quarter inch deep.
Keep them moist. Misting seeds is a great way to moisten them without overwatering. Lightly watering works too, though.
Cover the pots with a plastic dome or plastic wrap to keep them moist.
The seed package should tell you how long until germination; extra warmth helps speed this along.
Once seedlings appear, remove the plastic cover and keep little plants in direct sunlight or under a grow lamp. They will want 6 hours of light.
Thin: you cut back extra seedlings appearing in the pots, leaving the strongest seedling to grow.
You can transplant them into a larger 3 to 4 inch pot with potting soil, which is more nutrient rich than seed starting mix.
When plants are 4-6 inches tall and temps outside reach about 70 degrees with warm nights and no risk of frost you can plant them outside in full sun. Add compost to the beds you’ll be growing the peppers in, and space them about 18 inches apart.
Let the sun work its magic, keeping the plants moist until the peppers start to flower.
To encourage heat in the peppers, don’t overwater once fruits form, let the peppers dry out between waterings.
Generally hot peppers are ready for harvest in 60-95 days after sowing, depending on the variety and conditions.
Tis the season for … seeds arriving! Little square packages full of potential.
I have friends who are embarking on new culinary herb gardens this year. New gardeners, new gardens. Woo!!!
If you are starting an herb garden, you may be planning to start your seeds outside and buy some plants — this is a tried and true method that works great. However, a couple of my friends have seeds and want to start them indoors. Our last frost date in Massachusetts is just too far away! So before I move onto a few tips for starting seedlings, one word about what herbs need: sunlight, well-drained soil and water. So if you are planning to put your green babies in the ground bear that in mind.
Onto seed starting: generally, you’ll want to start your seeds about 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. If you don’t know what that is, google “last frost date” and your zip code. With respect to gear, you can buy seed starting kits and there are mountains of types of pots and gadgets. What you need, at a minimum:
a south facing/sunny window,
pots/a tray of small pots
good potting soil or seed starting mixture. Note on this: seed starting mixture isn’t high on nutrients. This is fine for the first few weeks, but I recommend a more nutrient-rich potting soil or organic plant food for the plants once they get going.
Very helpful to have:
I have found a warming mat to be invaluable for seed germination; if your space is colder than 65 degrees F you’ll want one.
a grow lamp for long, grey days and even weeks in the spring,
a spray bottle is a great way to water–seedlings are delicate!
A seed starting kit with humidity dome to keep seeds moist.
General procedure for starting seeds (any kind):
Fill your pots/tray with seed starting mix or potting soil.
Lightly cover seeds
Lightly water. Misting seeds is a great way to moisten them without overwatering. Lightly watering is fine, too, though.
Cover the pots with a plastic dome or plastic wrap to keep them moist.
Store in a warm, sunny spot. Germination generally takes 2-4 weeks but can happen within 5 days, depending on which plant you are watching and waiting on.
Pause to enjoy the feeling you have when the little green heads of your seedlings emerge.
Once seedlings appear, remove the plastic cover and keep little plants in direct sunlight
You can transplant once they are 3-6 inches tall, in a sunny spot — they prefer 6-8 hours of sunlight!
Some other notes I’ve collected on a few herbs with particular tastes:
For oregano: no need to cover seeds with soil. Mist them and cover the container with plastic and place in a sunny window. They should germinate in a week or so. If you are using a seed starting kit with a humidity dome this should do the trick in place of plastic. Oregano is a nice companion plant for beans and broccoli, because it helps fend off pests that like those vegetables.
For basil: Basil doesn’t like the cold; when it is exposed to temps below 50 degrees F or is sprayed with cold water it can develop spots. So keep the water room temperature when watering basil!
Most seeds just needs some heat and moist soil to germinate; they don’t need the sun until they pop their little green heads up. But Thyme and lemon balm like light to germinate, so be sure to stick these in a window or under a grow lamp.
Dill, parsley, and cilantro don’t really like to be transplanted so if you can plant them where you plan to have them grow, that might be best.