Monday, September 17, 2012

Valerian: A Real Herbal Ally Chooses Me

Several weeks ago our Farm to Pharmacy class sat down in the garden bed designated for Valerian (Valeriana officinalis). We passed around two tincture bottles of the herb while we talked about its properties, and what we observed in ourselves after taking it. Valerian is considered a “hypnotic,” and Bill asked us what we thought this might mean. I noticed a lot of space opening around my thoughts and feelings, as though I could hold them more without being so identified with them. Bill spoke about Valerian's ability to help our attention move “sideways,” rather than to be single-pointedly focused. 

Perhaps we are considering the solution to a problem. Valerian can help us open to input, or suggestion (hence, hypnotic) other than what we habitually, compulsively, and/or rigidly focused on to “fix” whatever is wrong. This suggestion could come in the form of guidance from a teacher or mentor, or it could come in the form of simple awareness of our surroundings. As we sat in the garden bed considering and feeling this, a bird landed in the apple tree next to us and began making a crackling sound that most of us had never heard before in our entire lives. Was it our openness to input that brought the bird's song to us?

While we spoke and tasted, I noted that the particular quality of spaciousness I felt with Valerian might be useful to me when I was highly emotionally upset – which I tend to get sometimes – or else, when I was trying to contact spiritual guidance and hear its input. I have a practice that involves communicating with my inner self, as well as guidance, but I often find it difficult just to sit down and listen to what the voices within me are telling me, let alone distinguish between the voices of my wounded parts and those of my guidance. I thought that Valerian, based on my visceral experience of it right there in the garden bed (not on reading about it in a book and saying, “yeah, that's what I need”), might be extremely helpful to me in my practice. I also felt very connected to the plant itself, and was even inspired to give it a creative offering before we got up. 

A few weeks went by, and I definitely thought about Valerian now and then. I used it with great effect in a tea blend to help me sleep, but didn't take the time to use it with any intentions of opening to guidance. Then, at my boyfriend's house, after I'd been processing some trauma in therapy, I was hit with a surge of rage and confusion so strong I had to keep my mouth shut for fear that anything I communicated would be abusive. In fact, the little that I did communicate was abusive, and all I was able to say by way of kindness (though I badly wanted to be kind - and sane, for that matter) was that I couldn't speak because I was unable to not be abusive.

My boyfriend left me alone to tremble and work it out for myself. I must have asked for help of some sort from the universe. I looked beside me and there was a note pad on the desk. Usually, when I am emotionally disturbed and think of writing, I assume that it needs to be long and coherent, but I realized that I could just write single words – anything to get my feelings onto paper and out of their destructive path through my body.

Several words came. 


 “Can't say what I need to...” 

Finally, I wrote, “I want someone or something to hold space for me while I struggle through this.” 

Immediately, I thought of Valerian. Thankfully, I had a tincture of it in my bag. It was pretty lucky. I got down onto the floor with my bag and took the tincture out of it. I didn't take it right away. I felt desperate, but hadn't decided yet whether to trust that it would help me. Then I decided it would, and I took it. And took more. And more. Until I felt some relief. Which only took a few seconds. I started drawing with colored pencils. I drew the way my body was feeling; a crying eye, multiple layers of a heart being pierced by a dagger. I continued to take the Valerian every few minutes. Drawing was a huge relief in itself. But then, as I continued to draw and take the Valerian, something more happened. I chose the color green, rather than the reds, yellows and blues I'd been using. I began to take some deep breaths. I imagined a protective, energetic forest surrounding me, and the quality of it came out in my drawing. You can see below that I began to draw a flood of rainbow starriness around the painful parts of the picture. I started with green, on the right side of the page, and moved clockwise. The drawing eventually culminated in mountain-tops, and then a sunrise...

By the time my boyfriend came back into the room, I was able to communicate my needs. I wasn't perfect, but it was so much better. I still need to develop certain skills around communication and self-care that no herb can accomplish for me. That evening, though, I eventually came back around to myself, and I credit my new herbal ally, Valerian, for helping me to do it as gracefully as possible.

— Photos and post by Rebecca Mokey, Farm to Pharmacy intern

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Carminatives: a Doorway into the World of Plant Medicine

Hi everyone.  My name is Rebecca, and this is my first post for the Goldthread blog. I'm part of this year's Farm to Pharmacy program at Goldthread's farm. As part of a scholarship program called Pay It Forward, I have the opportunity to write Goldthread blog posts every month in exchange for a reduction in my tuition. I'm thrilled and honored for it.

Each week, we learn and do many things on the farm which are worthy of writing about, but this particular topic is the first that came to me - and it's an excellent one as long as I'm writing about introductions.

One part of the Farm to Pharmacy curriculum that has really inspired me is the emphasis on personally experience of the effects of various herbs in and around our own, personal bodies.  Bill has referred to it as the practice of noticing the effect an herb has on us when its prana, or life force, energetically joins with our own, the moment it hits our tongues or binds with our olfactory receptors. As we learn about herbs and their properties, we taste tinctures (maca, rosemary and cayenne being among the most memorable for me), smell dried herbs and essential oils, drink teas, and then describe the herbs' effects on us using the paradigm of the twenty gunas, or dualistic universal qualities according to Ayurvedic medicine. An herb may feel to us, for example, more hot or cold, heavy or light, stable or mobile, and so on. 
The ability to discern how these qualities interact with and affect our own bodies and energies is one of the main disciplines we work to cultivate through the practice of tasting.

The practice is particularly invigorating under the guidance of a teacher like Bill and within the supportive environment of the class's enthusiasm. Luckily, though, classrooms aren't the only places to become acquainted with the healing properties of herbs — a point that is relevant to another aspect of the Farm to Pharmacy mission; to promote grassroots knowledge of herbal medicine and facilitate the rebirth of a culture in which the folk are able to treat themselves and each other with herbal remedies. That purpose deeply matters to and stimulates me as well. So when, while going over some herbal actions, — descriptions of the effects of different classes of herbs, according to the physiomedicalist tradition — we discussed the role of carminatives, I thought it would be an excellent thing to share with you readers. For those of you who, like me, are just starting out on your journeys and explorations of herbal medicine, carminatives are a great doorway into the world of plant medicine and its daily use.

In a nut(meg)shell, carminatives are the types of herbs one might find on a home spice rack. Things like pepper, basil, turmeric and cumin. They tend to contain health-benefitting volatile oils and other elements which encourage circulation in the digestive system, relieve gas, reduce spasms and tension, and increase digestive secretions. Of course, each specific carminative possesses its own unique properties, which I'm not yet prepared to write about in any depth. But even without knowing their specific benefits, these spices are easily accessible, already relatively familiar to those of us who cook (or like to eat!), and are tastily incorporated into our daily lives without hassle. Bill pointed out in class that the use of these spices requires a shift in consciousness for some, towards an emphasis on cooking at home.  I don't think there's much that's bad about that. I think home-cooked meals are usually more delicious and enjoyable, not to mention cheaper, than food prepared elsewhere. Cooking at home also encourages our general investment in our homes and those with whom we may share them. The qualities of sharing and investment in our communities are, in themselves, also a vital part of grassroots action. And since many of us already use, or at least have, these spices in our homes, all it takes is our consciousness of them as potential allies to bring us more in touch with the herbal path or lifestyle.

Carminatives can easily become a daily part of the creation and maintenance of health and healing.  or all these reasons and more, they are a wonderful category of herbs for the amateur, aspiring herbalist to explore and enjoy, and their use can be a meaningful step towards the grassroots health care system our culture seems so desperately to need.  Cooking with spices, using them, smelling and tasting them with our loved ones, are a great opportunity to sense our bodies and their connection to the natural world.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Community Supported Medicine: A Conversation with William Siff, Goldthread Herbal Apothecary

This afternoon an interview with Goldthread's founder William Siff was featured on the Numen News & Blog. Haven't heard of Numen?

Numen, defined as the animating force in nature, is a 95-minute documentary film focusing on the healing power of plants and the natural world. 

Featuring stunning footage of medicinal plants and thought-provoking interviews with Drs. Tiearona Lowdog and Larry Dossey, the late Bill Mitchell, ND, author Kenny Ausubel, herbalists Rosemary Gladstar, Phyllis Light and many others, the film calls for a re-awakening of traditional knowledge about plants and their uses. You can watch the trailer on YouTube.

Here's an excerpt from the interview, which you can read in its entirety here. And finally, here is a link to more information about our Community Supported Medicine shares!

Community Supported Medicine: A Conversation with William Siff, Goldthread Herbal Apothecary
Posted February 9th, 2012 by Ann Armbrecht

Goldthread Herbal Apothecary is a fantastic example of grassroots, community based medicine. Like many herb schools, they offer classes, apprentice programs, and herbal medicines for sale. But to me their community supported medicine program (CSM) is the most exciting – and revolutionary – work they are doing. I was thrilled to be able to speak with William Siff about his vision behind this model. Lots more information is available on their website!

Ann: I love the model of herbal CSAs on so many different levels and wondered if you could talk some about how you came to create an herbal CSA. What is your vision is with your CSA? And why do you think it is important?

William: We modeled our CSM after the now popular CSA model thriving in certain parts of the country like here in Western Mass. In my opinion the CSA model of reviving community-based agriculture is one of the most positive social trends happening in our culture today. Herbs are just a natural part of this revival and yet the knowledge and understanding of where and how they fit into daily life to enhance and improve health has largely been lost. The CSM is an attempt to reinvigorate this knowledge and connect people directly to the source of their medicine and associate it with the emerging organic vegetable renaissance.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Farm to Pharmacy: Come Play a Hands-On Role in the Grassroots Healthcare Revolution!

Our signature program — newly expanded for 2012!

Farm to Pharmacy is an innovative internship program that takes place at Goldthread Herb Farm and Apothecary in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. Educational and life changing, the internship offers participants the chance to play a pivotal role in the Grassroots Healthcare Revolution. Find unparalleled communion with the medicinal plants themselves as well as a community that emphasizes sustainable, non-toxic and cost effective healthcare grounded in organic agriculture and empowered self-care for all.

Goldthread offers interns the rare opportunity to learn fundamentals of both traditional medicine and plant cultivation side by side. Synthesizing Chinese, Ayurvedic and Western herbal traditions, our educational offerings are a comprehensive compliment to the abundance of time spent outdoors. We welcome herbal medicine students from all walks of life and are happy to facilitate college credit where possible.

During this experiential seven-month program, students divide their day at Goldthread’s organic herb farm between classes in herbal theories and supervised work with the plants in over 3 acres of fields. Educational herb walks in the learning garden to practice identification and discuss botanical characteristics will compliment lectures and coursework. Subjects range from the major classifications and their specific healing properties to the medicinal applications for a wide variety of medical conditions.

Over the course of the growing season interns will participate in all aspects of plant cultivation from preparing beds and planting seeds through to harvest and beyond. Interns will learn to process and prepare herbal medicines transforming freshly harvested flowers, leaves and roots into tinctures, syrups, teas, salves, elixirs and oils for our apothecary.

Included in the internship program are many additional learning opportunities taking place off the farm at our apothecary in Florence and in the wider community. Goldthread offers lectures and demonstrations in many specific areas and aspects of healing with monthly themes and outreach programs. Join us as we supply local low-income community gardens with seedlings or sit in on an elaborate discussion of the benefits of an herbal spring cleaning program. The wider community of the Pioneer Valley itself is brimming with opportunities to further your immersion into a culture of true sustainability in action.

Upon completion of the program, interns come away with an extensive understanding of the theories of herbal healing, the agricultural training to cultivate the major medicinal herbs in their own space, and the practical skills to apply their new knowledge and begin healing themselves and their families.

Come play a hands-on role in the grassroots healthcare revolution!

Dates: Wednesdays 9-4 , April 11th -October 10. Work study is available and will begin on March 15.

Tuition: $2450. Pay in full before March 15th and save 10%.
A non-refundable 25% deposit is required to hold space.

See our website for more details:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Join us at Goldthread Farm for a Magical Winter Distillation and Essential Oils Workshop!


February 25, 2012 10am-4pm  
$60 Advance Registration Required

In this special day long workshop at Goldthread Farm & Distillery participants will have a rare hands-on opportunity to learn about the  fundamentals of essential oil distillation. We’ll begin with an invigorating winter hike into the forest to gather the evergreen branches from which we’ll extract fresh essential oil the traditional way — in Goldthread’s 85-gallon wood-fired distiller. 

As the fire beneath the distiller crackles and the scent of crisp evergreen fills the air, we’ll gather for class by the woodstove and sample a wide variety of  essential oils, discussing their therapuetic properties and invaluable role in grassroots healthcare. How can we use these oils to effectively prevent colds and flus, ease muscle and joint aches, heal wounds, aid in relaxation and sleep?
Participants will come away with a fundamental understanding of essential oil: the alchemy of distillation, its many therapeautic uses, methods of administration, dosage and safety information — as well as a bottle of the freshly distilled evergreen hydrosol from our day together, and instructions for its use.

call to reserve your place! 

No special tools are needed. Dress warm, bring a lunch, and Goldthread will provide hot herbal tea.