I love how winter provides opportunities to move through natural spaces in unique and different ways compared to the same landscape during the growing seasons. Herbaceous vegetation that has died back allows access to places that are normally too overgrown the rest of the year. Freezing temperatures mean you can literally walk on water. Deep snow makes steep slopes easier to navigate. Throw on a pair of snowshoes and suddenly your feet can take you places that simply aren't all that accessible any other time of the year.
On the farm this means exploring areas off the beaten paths and venturing into a world that rarely sees human tracks. There is something marvellous and magical about being able to do this in such an otherwise urban environment. On a recent snowshoe I climbed to the top of a ridge overlooking Green's Creek. There under the shelter of a large hemlock tree were a series of tracks and two oval depressions in the snow where some deer had lain down to sleep. I stopped for a moment, closed my eyes and imagined the deer choosing the spot, protected from the wind by thick conifer trees on one side, the sharp edge of the creek cliff providing a barrier to the north and a gentle, open, sloping view to the west. I imagined them relaxing their vigilance (I've seen the coyotes and their tracks, and collected the deer jawbones around, and know the constant risk these prey animals are in) and being lulled to a wary sleep by the nearby thrum of the 174.
Suddenly, interrupting my quiet ruminations, I heard measured, crunching steps in the snow. There, down at the bottom of the gentle slope, was a single deer, the same grey-brown as the bark of the trees around me and thus somewhat camouflaged, staring at me as if to ask, "What are you doing in my bedroom?" For a long moment we both stood still and silent in the cold air, and then making a murmured apology for my presence I walked on, touched and grateful for such an intimate encounter with one of the wild creatures I share a home with.
If you have the opportunity this winter, I invite you to try and find an appropriate place outdoors to explore that is otherwise not accessible in the same way the rest of the year. Go for a walk on a creek, river or lake (keeping common sense and ice safety in mind of course) or a skate on the canal if you're in Ottawa. Tromp off into woods somewhere and enjoy the fact that there are no bugs. Follow animal tracks in the snow and see where they take you. And if you have an outdoor, winter story to tell I'd love to hear about it!
As if enkindled by this summer's drought, early October ignited the Eastern Woodlands into a truly glorious autumnal flame. But, like so many of the fiercest and brightest, it was snuffed out by high winds halfway through the month, immediately followed by a three day downpour.
A more subdued landscape was left behind, with the maples, birch and much of the cottonwoods erased. The smouldering oaks and white pine appeared then, dark and smeary as a Richter painting, and the naked branches of the white birch began scribbling their winter tale on the land.
This kind of weather reminds me to start taking my vitamin D, eating more coldwater fatty fish and sundried shiitakes. It also makes me think of thinning veils and a stripping down to what is bare and essential. I think of the vulnerability of the earth right now in northern, temperate zones. Fresh food is no longer abundant, and the protective, insulative power of the snow is some way off yet. November's wind on my still-summer body, makes me feel vulnerable and I long for the muted stillness of deep winter.
Under the thinning veil, I find myself confronting all manner of will-o'-wisps and visitations. They come to me, all the untrue and/or unkind I've words spoken, knee-jerk reactions I've had, assumptions I've made, conclusions jumped to, uncritical thoughts, implicit biases, 'you statements', past hurts, old loves, roads not taken...and I try to make my annual peace with, learn from, and let go of whatever I can. Increasingly disenchanted by the commercialism of Hallowe'enTM, it feels appropriate to honour the season this way instead, and my daily circumambulations of the farm are as much exorcism as exercise.
Working my way along the forest's edge, I weave myself deeper into the landscape, the weft in the warp of the trees. Coming into the perpetual dusk under the hemlocks. I pause to examine the fruiting bodies of various mushrooms, some strange, others familiar, all of them beautiful and fascinating. "All hail the decomposers," I speak aloud in greeting and deference. I make a note to return for some turkey tails growing on a rotting log.
I reflect on this growing and gathering season quickly passing, the prolonged stretches when the region went without rain, the gnawing worry over my medicinal oat crop, the gnawing worry felt in solidarity with my farmer friends and colleagues. After this summer, I more truly understood what it means to be tied to the land, and where the summer vacationers expressed joy at the endless hot and sunny days, I was more inclined to feel a faint tinge of dread. This dread was mercifully allayed with each precious rainfall of some significance.
I am grateful for the wild plants and their unbelievable resilience. I think of all that I harvested and worked with this year. The violet leaves gone unusually thick and fuzzy, riding out the drought with ease. Lambsquarters, tasty and reliable as ever. Goldenrod, elderberry, hawthorn, lobelia...and (in the end) my best harvest of milky oats yet.
Then there were the plants I didn't gather. The boneset which disappeared from the normally damp depression I have gathered it from in the past. The milkweed which was still abundant but stressed. The linden blossoms which bloomed in the blink of an eye, so desperate she was to reproduce as quickly possible.
Suddenly I am dumb in the face of all that I do not know and understand about nature's inner workings. It's been nearly a decade since I started this journey with the plants and I am still very much the novitiate in Nature's order. Some days I move stealthily through the landscape keenly attuned to and aware of my surroundings. Other days I slip and stumble gracelessly, knocking my head on low-hanging branches like a character in a slapstick sketch.
Turns out that's a pretty fitting description of my life in general, tuned in and aware, and gracelessly stumbling about, by turns. And so like any novitiate called further into the order, with the hemlock, oak and pine bearing witness, I vow to try and pay more attention, think more deeply, listen more intently. I make my supplication for tolerance, compassion, and clear communication for and with all beings. I humbly ask for the guidance and teachings of the plants that I have dedicated myself to. Increasingly disenchanted with a society that sees the earth as a collection of resources to be extracted for profit, it seems fitting to try another, more co-creative, regenerative way instead.
I return to the farmhouse relieved of a few burdens and with a renewed sense of purpose. And like the plants and animals I share a habitat with, I am prepared for winter's rest, hopeful for whatever the next season brings.
I used to write a blog called Unstuffed. It was "a place to record my adventures of being a gentle consumer and living more fully, with less stuff." It was born out of a year long resolution to not buy anything new. I was really inspired by folks like No Impact Man, Sharon Astyk and other eco-conscious bloggers who proliferated around that time. And you can connect all the dots of that year and it will lead you right here to where I am now, having left a solid and pleasant office job in order to spend as much time outdoors as possible, playing in the fields and forests around Ottawa and beyond.
Eight years on, I still try to be a gentle consumer, and while I have accumulated a good deal more 'stuff', it is mostly stuff that is in service to the Wild Garden, this wee business here that I have created to support my playing-in-the fields-and-forests habit. Oh and I still don't use toilet paper, in case you're wondering. (Now I realise for some that may sound weird or gross. But look. A daily, warm & soapy water wash around the backside, dried off with a soft square of cotton, is much more refreshing than just smearing things around back there with scratchy paper IMHO. [Sorry for bringing poop into this, but I'm an herbalist now. It's what we do! Anyway...]) So but, yeah "increasing my self-sufficiency and resiliency, staying debt free, and preparing for a climate changed, resource depleted world, in uncertain economic times" is still my main MO and at the heart of how I live.
All of that is to say, I have been thinking about the weather a lot lately. But not in a small-talk-with-the-neighbour kind of way, more like a holy-crap-what-is-going-on!? kind of way. Parts of Ontario are under a moderate to severe drought warning. Toronto has had 100 of the driest days on record and Ottawa has had half the amount of rainfall we'd normally have. Since May we have had 27 days with temperatures above 30 degrees. Farmers are struggling with their crops, especially corn, and consumers will likely see an increase in food costs as a result of the drought. In the fields and forests I see signs of water stress all around. Some trees are dropping their fruits and nuts early in order to conserve resources. All around many plants are wilted, with leaves curled up and crispy. The window for many wild harvests has contracted to a few brief days as plants try to reproduce as quickly as possible under stress. Some plants, like the water-loving boneset, I simply am unable to gather.
But for all the worry and concern of the drought in this part of the world, it's the news coming out of the Middle East that is deeply alarming to me. Record breaking temperatures have soared to over 52 degrees in some areas of Saudi Arabia. A town in Kuwait recorded the hottest temperature ever in the Eastern Hemisphere at 54 degrees. Parts of the UAE and Iran have had a heat index of up to 60 degrees. The heat is expected to contribute to an economic loss in the region of between 10 and 20%, as farmers deal with unprecedented losses and worker productivity declines. Tens of thousands of displaced Iraqis in tents and makeshift shelters are suffering and dying in untold numbers from the relentless heat. Adel Abdellatif, a senior adviser at the U.N Development Program's Regional Bureau for Arab States said in an interview, "This incredible weather shows that climate change is already taking a toll now and that it is-by far- one of the biggest challenges ever faced by this region." A recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change anticipates that heat waves in the Persian Gulf will make the area uninhabitable to humans by the end of the century. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute predict that there will be a dramatic increase of climate refugees as a result. In fact, analysts believe that the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe and beyond is in part triggered by an unprecedented drought that was poorly handled by the Syrian government.
Sorry to harsh your mellow folks, but these are the things that keep me up at night, and remind me of why I do what I do.
Last week in my Young Herbalist's Apprenticeship program, the kids and I retreated indoors into the relative coolth of my un-air conditioned farmhouse to watch this really fascinating documentary about plants. It is an amazing look at plant behaviour and communication that kind of blows my mind. What I love so much about what scientists are discovering, is that, while there are plenty examples of competition and even chemical warfare in the plant world, there are also many instances of plant cooperation. Like the wild lupines which release chemicals that not only protect themselves but other neighbouring plants.
Scientists are now learning that killer competition between plants is actually not the dominant form of social interaction. Plant evolutionary ecologist Dr. Susan Dudley has conducted scientific experiments that show how plants exhibit a kind of kin recognition, once thought to be a behaviour limited to animals. In response to recognising a relative, plants will allocate resources in a more balanced, less competitive way. In British Columbia, scientist Dr. Suzanne Simard has conducted tests with Douglas fir trees that defies the evolutionary theory of competition. In the documentary she says of the trees she studies, "We think of them as individuals that are just competing against each other...and we've long ignored a lot of the other interactions other than competition...there is a community effect that we haven't understood...they are part of system working together to make the whole thing work." And as it turns out, that community is connected underground by mycelium, a vast network of fungal organsims. These mycorrhizal associations connect the Douglas fir trees into a large, resource sharing community. Most amazingly, more resources are allocated to the youngest, most vulnerable trees in the community. Dr. Simard again: "They are really being nurtured and grown up as a community, as a family almost. And it's those relationships that really build the forest." Some researchers are even going so far as to call this behaviour altruism.
Yet again, I am struck by the intelligence of plants and am in awe of what they have to teach us. But when I think of drought and climate change and displaced peoples, I realise that not enough of us are paying attention to these lessons. Societies are profligate in the use of their resources, rather than allocating them to the youngest and most vulnerable in their communities. Instead of nurturing the next generation, their inheritance is being squandered. Competition is valued over community. It is too easy to turn away from strangers in need of help and demonise the other. Too much of our money flows to corporations, who in turn exploit people we don't know and who live far away. And all the while the temperatures keep rising, the oceans keep rising and tensions between nations escalate.
There was a period during my year of 'unstuffing' where I became quite depressed and the magnitude of all that I was learning about was just too much to bear. Thankfully, right around that time I also began learning about permaculture and I became hopeful again. Here was a "creative design process based on whole-systems thinking informed by ethics and design principles....that mimics the patterns and relationships we can find in nature." Permaculture struck me then, as it still does now, as an incredibly elegant and intuitive solution to so many of the issues we face today. I went on to get my Permaculture Design Certificate and I try to incorporate the ethics and principles of permaculture into just about every aspect of my life, as much as possible. So when my wonderful permaculture teachers asked me if I would be willing to participate in an Ottawa Permaculture Tour, of course I said 'yes'!
On Sunday, September 11th the Wild Garden will be just one stop on the day-long tour, which will also include a visit to a bee yard, a farm in Wakefield and an urban garden. You will learn more about what permaculture is and see the practice of permaculture in action. From wild herbs, to mushrooms, biochar and more, the tour is sure to be a fun-filled and informative day of learning lessons from nature. If you are interested in taking the tour, tickets are available here.
When the daily news reports are filled with violence, intolerance, hate, fear and suffering it's hard not to feel overwhelmed and stunned. Heartbroken and at a loss for words, sometimes I find myself crying into my oh so privileged breakfast smoothie. The world feels shaky and unstable, and I struggle to make sense of so many shattering events happening close to home and in every corner of the globe. I ask myself: What can I do? How can I help? How can I be an ally and change agent? What blind spots and heart-narrowing fears lurk inside me?
I seek answers and actions in the things I always have. (Tammi Sweet has a wonderful Medicinal Recipe for the Times. ) I also believe that in a capitalist, consumer-driven society, being a producer of as many of your own goods as possible and being an ethical consumer of all the rest, are deeply radical acts. Fair trade purchasing, thrift-store shopping, bartering, gardening, foraging, dumpster diving, mending and making do, these are just some ways we can open up cracks in the edifice of a system that concentrates wealth into the hands of an elite few, at the expense and suffering of the marginalised and many. Much the same way as the ubiquitous dandelion can crumble concrete and build rich soil, I hold on to the idea that countless, common, persistent acts can lead to large societal shifts.
In fact, I find myself turning more and more to the wild and weedy plants for solace and inspiration. I take heart in their wayward, untamed abundance and I never cease to marvel at the power and resilience of rogue weeds, who refuse to toe the line by popping up and colonizing places where people don't want them. These common, unloved and unwanted plants not only survive, but thrive in the harshest of conditions, all the while healing broken and damaged earth.
Herbalist Kiva Rose writes, “What we call weeds tend to grow in disturbed ground where human impact is obvious, whether in vacant lots, tilled farmland or roadsides. These plants are looking for a new frontier to colonize, but they’re also often active healers of hurt land... It would be foolhardy to attempt to place a value judgement upon these wild creatures, especially the categorical labels of the typical human who sees whatever benefits us as good and whatever hurts or detracts from our goals as bad. In the end, weeds, like everything (and everyone) else, want to live. It’s that simple. They, like us, are designed and adapted to survive, thrive and spread...”
And so to the forests and fields I go, to mourn, to heal. Surrounded by unruly, rebel weeds I ask for forgiveness, give thanks and offer my body to the earth. I try to learn the primordial lessons the plants have to teach. They were here long before us after all.
With these thoughts in mind I offer you the theme for this month's herbal box. Resist is a meditation on and celebration of the irrepressible, riotous weeds that take root in our gardens, infiltrate our manicured lawns and come up through the chinks in our concrete jungles, despite our best efforts to repress them and keep them down. It is an exploration of the intrinsic value of some of our most maligned and scorned plants.
Some of the plants you may find in August's box include mullein, Queen Anne's lace, purple loosestrife, thistle, dandelion, burdock and others. Discover fascinating lore and beliefs about these plants and the beneficial functions they serve in the ecosystem. Experience their nutritional and healing properties in the form of a herbal tea, an herb infused vinegar, a tincture, a cordial and more. Find beauty in unkempt, weedy habitats. Be inspired by these plants and their ability to thrive in the harshest of conditions. Take strength from their resilience.
Sign up here.
10% of sales of this month's box will be donated to Amnesty International to support the issues they work with around the world.
Tree Fest Ottawa "connects people with trees, inspires dialogue and learning, and transforms how we see, engage with, and act in the world around us. We use the power of photographs and stories to capture public attention and encourage people to take action to protect the trees in our environment – and plant new native trees."
This wonderful organisation is inspiring people to learn more about trees and get involved in activities to preserve and protect them. One of their goals is to plant 1 million trees by next year! They also share tree stories by interviewing people who live and work closely with trees and love them with a passion.
I am honoured to be one of the folks interviewed. You can read all about it here.
I often get emails from kind, generous, enthusiastic folk who would like to offer help in the garden and apothecary. And while help is always most appreciated, I find it challenging to coordinate times and tasks, so these wonderful offers rarely get taken up,
I'm going to try something new this year and offer Wild Garden Apprentice Days!
Check out the details here.
“I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes the illness worth while.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
In January I set aside seven days for self-imposed bed rest. For seven days in a row I rested in bed for 12 hours a day. Most of that time was taken up by sleep (and the most amazingly vivid dreams I have had in a long time). The hours I was awake, I engaged in light reading (no screens allowed) or just letting my imagination wander. I was not sick or even particularly run down, but winter is long, cold and dark and I am tired. The ephemeral frenzy of spring, summer’s endless days and the steady thrum of the harvest season leave little time for lazy, Sunday lie-ins. From thaw-out to freeze-up I hit the ground running every day and during the growing seasons I average about six and a half hours of sleep a night, leaving me with a sleep debt to make up for. So I went to bed.
Historically, bed rest as a therapeutic treatment was an extended period of remaining supine, to recover from illness or exertion, or to gain general health benefits. It was something that you did even if you were generally well but wanted to increase vitality and vigour. Bed rest has an interesting and mixed history with Hippocrates recommending it to his patients as early as the 4th century. At its peak of practice in the 18- to early 1900’s, it was frequently prescribed for soldiers who suffered nerve damage after amputation in the American Civil War and the Great War. It was a popular treatment for patients with tuberculosis, and for those diagnosed with nervous exhaustion or ‘hysteria’, particularly in women (where the treatment was found to be unbearably oppressive and infantilizing for many, including Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who wrote about a harrowing rest cure in the classic novella The Yellow Wallpaper.)
In its extreme form promoted by the American physician Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell (who treated both Woolf and Gilman), the ‘rest cure’ required complete recumbency 24 hours a day for weeks or even months on end, not even raising one’s head to eat or drink, or lifting one’s arms. Sewing, reading and writing were forbidden. Bed resters had nurses attending to all their physical needs.
Around this time, convalescent homes were also quite common. These facilities provided care for those who were no longer sick, but not yet fully recovered, with all the amenities needed to gradually return to health, usually by spending plenty of time outdoors in fresh, wholesome air, bathing in seawater or sunshine and resting in bed. This was similar to the traditional European spa therapy which follows a pattern of an early bed time, extended sleep, and an afternoon nap or rest. Convalescence comes from the Latin word ‘convolescere’ which means ‘to grow fully strong’ and it was once considered a distinctly separate and essential stage of aftercare and recovery from illness. A form of bed rest is still prescribed today for complications during pregnancy, such as being at risk for pre-term labour, although there is some debate as to how beneficial this practice is.
While I can’t get on board with Dr. Mitchell’s bizarre techniques, I have been curious to explore the possible benefits of bed rest for sleep recovery after attending a class onSimple Cures for Chronic Conditions with Paul Bergner at the Green Nation’s Conference in 2014. There he talked about bed rest as just one part of the classical idea of a health regimen that also includes, “diet, exercise, rest, water, air, bodywork, and emotions.” In his own practice, Bergner has had success with, “prescriptions of 9.5-12 hours of bed rest a night, most often for three to seven days, but some times as long as three weeks.”
“Be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about your work. We tend to wear our ability to get by on little sleep as some sort of badge of honor that validates our work ethic. But what it really is is a profound failure of self-respect and of priorities. What could possibly be more important than your health and your sanity, from which all else springs?” ~ Maria Popova
Each night, an average adult requires 8-9 hours of sleep for optimal health, but most of us, especially women, incur a sleep debt, and get less than that, somewhere between 5.9 – 6.7 hours a night during the week. This sets us up for the effects of sleep debt: fatigue, irritability, insulin resistance, elevated cortisol levels, declines in cognitive ability, suppressed immune function, endocrine and hormone disruption, and increased risk of stroke and heart attacks. Sleep debt accumulates over time, making it more difficult to pay off with the odd nap or Sunday sleep-in. Sleep recovery is possible, but it can take time and requires some discipline.
That’s where bed rest can play a beneficial role. An extended period of quiet, restful time in bed is often needed to help us get the hours of actual sleep we require to recover from sleep debt. Paul Bergner has observed that it can take 11-12 hours of bed rest to log enough hours actually asleep.
So how did my week of bed rest go? The first night I slept for nearly 14 hours! From the second night on I had long, vivid and detailed dreams that I remembered easily the following day. After the third day, I started waking up in the middle of the night for about an hour or two. I mostly read until I fell back asleep for another few hours. Interestingly, this matches what historians have identified as a ‘segmented sleep’ or ‘second sleep’ pattern.
In pre-industrial, oil lamp and candlelit times, people stayed in bed for up to 14 hours a night, mostly during the winter months, falling asleep shortly after dusk, sleeping for about 4 – 5 hours, waking for an hour or two, and then sleeping for another few hours. Instead of stressful tossing and turning, all sorts of pleasant and relaxed activities happened during these wakeful hours in the middle of the night, including reading, writing, praying, contemplative thinking, spending time with family members, snacking, having sex (the time between first and second sleep supposedly being quite fertile) and occasionally even visiting neighbours. Now that’s a winter sleep strategy I can get on board with!
As I learn more about plants and the natural world, become more aware of the seasons and all their subtle, nuanced shifts and cycles, and connect more intimately with the ecosystems I inhabit, I am increasingly drawn to feed, move and rest my body using nature’s rhythms as a model. I am also a bit more suspicious of modern expectations around our waking, resting and sleeping hours, especially when those expectations push us toward being 24 hour consumers of goods, entertainment, artificial lighting and such. Frankly, the last place I want to be at 2 am on a Tuesday in January, is in the fluorescent-lit, frozen food section of some all-night supermarket.
“People can accept you sick or well. What’s lacking is patience for the convalescent.” ~Alain de Botton
However, in a culture founded on a Protestant work ethic, that values extreme productivity, progress and the accumulation of wealth and goods, concepts like second sleeps, convalescence and bed rest are dismissed as impractical or impossible in the face of daily demands and responsibilities. We especially see this in pharmaceutical advertising. “Pop a pill and get back to work!” is the stoic battle cry that precedes many a congested, sneezy, drippy, achy, run-down worker’s contagious day at the office. Moms are encouraged to ‘power through’ their sick days with medication to keep going. Masking symptoms so we can ignore them and get on with life is the expected approach to all that ails us. Personally, I have a hard time finding much of value or common sense in that approach, and I fear the consequences when we diminish our capacity for deeply restorative rest.
There is a term in German botany and zoology called Winterruhe (pronounced sorta like: vin-ter ruh-ah), which means ‘winter quiet’ or ‘winter rest’. It is a state of reduced activity in plants and certain warm-blooded animals. It’s different from the true hibernation that occurs in some mammals, in that metabolism and core temperature do not drop as much and there are periods of eating and movement during this time. Call it ‘hibernation light’ if you will. I love the idea of Winterruhe and its reduced activity, and I am drawn to the possibility of incorporating something like it into my life. It feels like the perfect balance to summer’s long, joyful, but ultimately exhausting days of hard, physical labour and I definitely want to structure more Winterrhue into my seasonal routine. I think a week of bed rest in January will be an annual event, perhaps with shorter periods of bed rest spread out over the year. And knowing how important sleep is to my health and vitality, I’m going to be more disciplined about getting enough of it.
Now, midway between the gradually lengthening days of Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, I am grateful for the darkness that has afforded me the time to convalesce, to grow strong, to rest and pay off my sleep debt. I’m looking forward to the sun’s increasing warmth, the stirring of the soil as life returns to the land, and all the activity that comes with that awakening. Soon my days will be long, full and busy again. But, until then, there’s still time for a few more naps and extended sleeps!
Allen C, Glasziou P, Del Mar C. “Bed rest: a potentially harmful treatment needs more careful evaluation”. The Lancet 1999. www.pubmed.gov
Alexander, K. “Your Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Like You”. Slumberwise May 2013 http://slumberwise.com/science/your-ancestors-didnt-sleep-like-you
Bergner, Paul. “Sleep debt: pathophysiology and natural therapeutics”. Medical Herbalism A Journal for the Clinical Practitioner 2003. http://medherb.com/bi/Issue-133-Spring-2003.pdf.pdf
Breus, Michael J. Ph.D. “Can You Ever Really Catch-up on Sleep?” Psychology Today November 2013 https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sleep-newzzz/201311/can-you-ever-really-catch-sleep
The Family Health Guide. “Repaying Your Sleep Debt”. Harvard Health Publications: Harvard Health Medical School 2007. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/repaying-your-sleep-debt
Stiles, Anne. “The Rest Cure, 1873-1925.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=anne-stiles-the-rest-cure-1873-1925
Thomas, Carolyn. “Convalescence: The Forgotten Phase of Illness Recovery”. Heart Sisters June 2014 http://myheartsisters.org/2014/06/08/convalescence/
“Winterruhe.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Date accessed (01/02/ 2016). https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winterruhe
Personal notes from Green Nations Conference 2014, “Simple Cures for Chronic Conditions” presented by Paul Bergner
The yarn and crochet hooks are out, there’s a stack of books on the coffee table, and the teapot and cozy are getting multiple daily uses. It must be winter! I relish the short, cold, dark days of winter as a quieter time of rest, reflection and reading. But I’m not completely in hibernation mode here. I’m balancing the downtime with activities, plans and playing in the apothecary. And I have a few things on offer, whether you too are hibernating in your home or getting outdoors to enjoy the winter wonderland!
This Saturday I’m looking forward to heading to Williamsburg, Ontario to teach a class on conifers. The kind folks at Element Studios will be the hosts and it should be a great way to spend a winter’s afternoon. There’s still some spots open and tickets are available here.
Monthly Herbal Box
I’m getting February’s herbal box put together and spots for it are filling up fast. If you are interested in learning about herbs that can support the urinary system, and having remedies on hand that may help uncomplicated UTIs or swollen prostates, this box is for you. February’s class will explore this theme further. Show your kidneys some love!
March Break Nature Camp
Finally, I’m super excited about a meeting I just had with my good friends from Roots 2 Fruits, with whom I will be teaming up to offer a March Break Nature Camp. We’re still in the early planning stages, but what I can tell you is that it will run during the days from March 14 to 18th for kids ages 7-12. Activities will include nature connection and awareness exercises, bushcraft skills like shelter building, animal tracking and fire making and of course edible and medicinal plant ID and use (and games, lots of fun games!). We will be working out all the details in the next week or so, but if you have kids that might be interested, feel free to send me an email if you want to get on a contact list.
I hope everyone is staying warm and cozy!
I believe that herbal medicine is the people’s medicine and that it should be as accessible as possible to all. And while I hope to craft a modest livelihood for myself out of my love and passion for plants, that is gentle on (and ideally regenerative for) the earth, I also just really want to share and celebrate the gifts of our wild and wonderful herbal allies with as many people as possible.
To help further that goal, two summers ago I introduced sliding scale pricing when selling my products at the farmgate stand, craft shows and markets. I feel it has been successful and though it sometimes takes a little bit of explaining to people who aren’t familiar with the system, folks are generally quite appreciative and positive once they understand how it works.
I have been wanting to add sliding scale pricing to my herbal boxes and workshops for a while but needed to take some time to sit down and work the numbers. I finally had a chance to do that and I am very happy to start offering sliding scale prices (sliding scales on monthly boxes are effective immediately and will be introduced for workshops in January 2016).
What is sliding scale pricing and how does it work?
Sliding scale pricing provides a service or product with multiple price points. These price points are set to make the service or product accessible to people with different levels of income, so that financial resources need not be a barrier to a person’s ability to access a product or service. Community members can chose the price point that best reflects their ability pay for a product or service, based on their individual circumstances.
The Price Points
When choosing my three price points, I spent time figuring out what my costs are for each product and service I offer and approximately how many working hours are required to develop and produce my products and services. I calculated the amount per hour I need to earn a living wage, that also allows me to make ethical choices as a consumer, including sustaining the business, plus a little extra for an expendable income (books are my weakness!)* I combined my costs and hourly wage together to determine the true cost of my products and services. This price covers the cost of materials and 100% of my time. I have chosen two additional price points that cover the costs of materials but only 60% and 30% of my time respectively.
Obviously I need to recover my costs, but for those with limited financial resources, I am happy to gift my time to make my products and services more accessible across a wider ranger of income levels.
*a living wage is the minimum income sufficient for [people] to pay for the basic necessities of life (food, housing, transportation), so they can live with dignity and participate as active citizens in our society. Source: http://www.livingwagecanada.ca/
How to chose which price point to pay?
This is the tricky part. Sliding scale pricing requires trust, openness and honest reflection of an individual’s ability to pay for a product or service. Determining one’s ability to pay can be challenging and there are different systems to help one decide where one falls on the scale. For example, some businesses ask for income verification, while others may ask that you reflect on how much of your income is spent on necessities versus entertainment, hobbies or vacations. In researching and reflecting on my own needs, values and desire to offer a sliding scale, I came across the work of Alexis J. Cunningfolk and her sliding scale system. She discusses the difference between hardship and sacrifice as one way of determining where to pay on the scale.
“If paying for a class, product, or service would be difficult, but not detrimental, it qualifies as a sacrifice. You might have to cut back on other spending in your life (such as going out to dinner, buying coffee, or a new outfit), but this will not have a long term harmful impact on your life. It is a sacred sacrifice in order to pursue something you are called to do. If, however, paying for a class, product, or service would lead to a harmful impact on your life, such as not being able to put food on the table, pay rent, or pay for your transportation to get to work, then you are dealing with hardship. Folks coming from a space of hardship typically qualify for the lower end of the sliding scale… Please be mindful that if you purchase a price at the lowest end of the scale when you can truthfully afford the higher ticket prices, you are limiting access to those who truly need the gift of financial flexibility. Being honest with yourself and your financial situation when engaging with sliding scale practices grows strong and sustainable communities.”
Alexis also developed a handy infographic to help people determine where they best fall on the scale. (Click to enlarge image.) While this approach may not exactly capture everyone’s individual circumstances, I think it’s a helpful starting place when choosing which price to pay.
I would also like to add that there are many people who have a lower than average income, but for reasons of ethics, social justice and commitment to the environment, they may pay a premium price for consumer goods that support their values. While on the surface it may look like they can easily afford to pay high-end prices for things like local, organic food, fair trade items, or humanely raised meat for example, in reality they may already be making significant financial sacrifices in other areas in order to do so. For these folks, I feel that the middle or lower end of the scale would be appropriate choices here.
When offering sliding scale prices at markets some people express surprise that anyone would pay the true cost of a product when a reduced price is available, but I have found over and over again, most people are willing to pay what they can honestly afford.
We live in a world where so much of the production and consumption of goods causes misery and suffering to others. My hope is that I can offer something of value to the community, that provides a more accessible (admittedly small, but heartfelt) alternative to participating in an economic system the necessitates the profligate use of precious resources and concentrates wealth and power to the few, at the expense of the health and well-being of the many.
If you are interested in purchasing some of the products or services that the Wild Garden has to offer, I invite you to to use the sliding scale. And if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below!
We’ve been in the farmhouse for three months now and are settling into a full and busy routine. I like to start at least a few days each week with an early morning perambulation of the property, a kind of beating of the bounds while the sun comes up. In this quiet, peaceful hour I watch the goldenrod fill the fields in a wave of lemon yellow and then fade away. I pass the hawthorns ripening and make a mental note to come back with my harvest basket. Rounding the corner to the far field I come upon a deer and a family of wild turkeys. The deer lifts and swings its head to look at me. I pause, have a moment with the deer, and continue on my way. It feels necessary to continually move my body through this landscape that sustains and nourishes me and to get to know it as intimately as I can.
I gather wild food and medicine plants here (obviously not near discarded tires!). I work my 1/2 acre plot. My plate fills again and again with the delicious, organic vegetables that the Just Food Farmers produce. In the farmhouse baskets of wild apples are waiting to be turned into juice and sauce. The canner and steam juicer are taking turns putting in hours on the stove. In the apothecary there are big gaps in the shelves where I store the empty mason jars. Each day more jars are filled with the season’s harvest.
In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer says that we are bound to the earth by a covenant of reciprocity that is rooted in gratitude and responsibility. Each day I look for opportunities to joyfully fulfil these obligations.
As the summer winds down and the days shorten I’m also looking ahead to fall activities. I’m making plans for next year’s growing season. I have a new series of workshops to offer and lots of products in the apothecary to share with you. Please read on to find out what’s happening in the Wild Garden over the next few months!
Fall Wild Food and Herb CSA
The Fall CSA is open for registration. From October to December each box will be filled with products handcrafted from local, organic plants to support you through thechanging season and prepare you for winter, including elderberry syrup, immune boosting mushrooms, digestive bitters and more. For more information or to sign up visit here.
Apothecary 101: Herbal Medicine Making Series
There are a variety of ways to work with the healing properties of plants from themost primal, ancient act of adding herbs to hot water, to today’s quick and convenient tinctures dropped on the tongue. Choosing your solvent, your herbs and how to administer them is a skill you can spend a lifetime mastering. These workshops are designed to both get you started and deepen your experience of the theory and practice of herbal medicine making!
September 16th, 6-8pm The Universal Solvent: Water-based herbal extracts
Steeping and decocting herbs into water is the foundation and simplest form of plant healing that can bring about the most profound and transformative effects in thebody. This workshop will explore internal and external uses of nourishing herbal infusions, soaks, baths, sitz baths, poultices, compresses and washes.
October 21st, 6-8pm Sweet & Sour Medicine Part I: Herbal honey, syrup, electuaries
Sweet remedies are calming, soothing, nourishing and building and they help themedicine go down!
November 4th, 6-8pm Sweet & Sour Medicine Part II: Vinegar, oxymels, switchels and shrubs
Vinegar-based remedies have been used since ancient times to promote health and well-being.
December 2nd, 6-8pm Healing Oils and Soothing Salves
Herb infused oils and salves protect and heal the integumentary system and ease theaches and pains of musculoskeletal injuries.
For more information or to sign up visit here. These workshops are free (+ $5 materials fee) to CSA members during the months for which they are subscribed.
I will also be teaching Materia Medica II and Western Herbal Energetics at theInternational Academy Health Education Centre this fall.
If you live in Ottawa you can now order select Wild Garden Products online throughSavour Ottawa and pick them up at the Parkdale Fieldhouse.
And finally, the original date for the Petrie Island plant walk got rained out and will be now be taking place this Sunday the 20th at 1 pm.
"I love sharing my passion about the useful plants growing all around us. I love to see the transformation that occurs when people realize how surrounded we are by nutritious, edible and medicinal plants, even in an urban environment."
The information on this website is for educational purposes only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or prescribe.