Thursday, February 25, 2010

Spring Cleaning For the Body and Soul

As we awaken from the confinement of winter, we can imagine our ancestors also emerging from their hibernation. The snow is still persistent in shady spots; cold nights and wet snow punctuate the struggle between winter and spring for dominance. Here and there small shoots of green push up through the thawing earth, streams and rivers once again flow cold and clean and the promise of fresh fish and spring greens whets our appetites. Like our elders before us, we can feel the energy rising in us like the sap in the trees. The time for birth and renewal has begun.

If we picture ourselves back in the lives of our forefathers and mothers, we will see that this was the time of year that the food stores in our pantries were becoming bare. Dried meat provisions had been mostly used up, lard stores were waning, any remaining grains were being stolen a little at a time by hungry mice and the canned goods from autumn’s bounty, were scarce. If meat was hunted, it was thin and lean. The sight of fresh foods emerging, warm weather returning and increased activity filled us with anxious anticipation. There would be much work to be done, and anything seemed possible. 

This time of year is encoded within us to be a time of fasting, lean eating and increased physical activity. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this time of year corresponds to the Wood element; the organ system affected is the Liver/Gall Bladder. The foods available to us traditionally in the early spring are naturally very cleansing to this system, for we were designed to live in harmony with the seasons.

In the winter, we retreat to the indoors just as our body’s Qi (energy) moves inward to warm our interior and lower our surface temperature in order to harmonize with the cooler weather. The foods we consume this time of year reflect the need to store energy and build insulating fat for warmth. Richly marbled roasted meats, soups and stews, slow-cooked root vegetables, sweet squashes with butter and maple syrup, preserved fruits and vegetables as well as salt cured meats and fish all contribute to the deep nourishment of our organs during the cold months. Our activity decreases as our confinement increases and we become slower-paced, more sluggish.

As winter recedes, all of nature is beginning to shake off its sleep and share the need to be reborn. Our stored potential, strength and power are beginning to push to the surface, seeking expression like a seed lying seemingly dormant in the cold hard ground only to break open to send a shoot through all obstacles and find the sun once again. 

And so here we are, standing on the threshold of a new season, hopefully ready to shed the burdens of the past and take on new challenges with renewed vigor and a clean slate. This process is facilitated by the natural cleansing of our systems, particularly of the liver and large intestines. If we’ve followed the examples of the past, we have fasted, reduced the consumption of heavier foods, increased outdoor activities, and introduced the fresher, vitamin rich greens of the burgeoning season to our diets.

Fresh spring foods are conducive to assisting in the detoxification of our clogged organs and provide energy, alertness and strength. Is it any small wonder that the freshest greens available this time of year are the ones best suited to our metabolism? Take dandelion for example. This nutritious wild food, (often found in grocery stores if foraging for it is not an option) is strengthening to the whole body. It detoxifies the liver and gall bladder, promotes the production of bile to improve digestion and rid the system of excessive fats and sweeteners. Sprouts of all kinds are also detoxifying to the liver, provide abundant vitamins and are delicious raw or cooked. One can even find sprouted grain breads which provide complete protein and a compliment of enzymes to benefit digestion in the health food section of many grocery stores. An emphasis on fresh young greens, sprouts, fish and occasionally eggs, mimics the springtime dietary habits of people throughout history.

If these traditions are ignored, as is frequently the case in our modern world, a continued reliance on rich foods, frequent consumption of heavy meats, excess fats (in particular hydrogenated oils, so-called “heart-healthy” margarines and processed vegetable oils), alcohol, processed foods, and insufficient intake of vegetal foods will lead to stagnant liver function. TCM tells us the symptoms of stagnant Liver Qi will vary greatly but include many common ailments such as thyroid problems, headaches (particularly migraine), eye problems, menstrual difficulties, allergies, swellings, eczema, gout, emotional outbursts, high blood pressure, inflexibility, frustration, impatience, depression, excessive anger, insomnia and more.

Herbal medicine can also help to clear the liver and other overworked organs by providing necessary nutrients, helping the body rid itself of waste, tonifying and enriching the Qi and Blood and bringing a person closer to a state of balance. Professional herbalists can diagnose a variety of problems in each individual and prescribe herbal remedies specific to their needs. Personal dietary modification enhances this process as does exercise, fresh air and meditation. When a person gets closer to balance, it becomes easier for them to adopt new, healthier habits and to feel great physically, mentally and emotionally on a regular basis. It’s important not to try to take on too much change all at once, as rapid detoxification is an unbalanced approach for many people. It can also be very difficult attempting to make such sweeping lifestyle changes, and can often lead to discouragement. Start with small incremental changes and do a little more for your health every day.

Although herbal medicine is strong and best left to an expert who can understand your personal needs, some herbal remedies can be of service to most people during the spring cleanse. Dandelion, burdock, clover, mints, lemon balm, cardamom, basil, marjoram, milk thistle seed, rosemary and fresh ginger are all stimulating to the liver and can be consumed as tea as often as desired. (If you are pregnant or experiencing serious health issues, it is advisable to consult a professional before undergoing any herbal regimen.) Concentrated sweeteners are not recommended, but a small amount of raw honey is actually helpful to the liver and can make some teas even more enjoyable.

Not so long ago, access to foods was limited to what was available locally and in season. Springtime fasting was a common practice for spiritual as well as practical reasons. If we maintain a connection to our past, we can once again embrace the relationship between ourselves and our environment which will lead to a healthier body, mind and spirit.

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level II Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.

Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Astragalus: Chinese Medicine's Premier Herb for Fortification

Milk Vetch
(Astragalus membranaceus)

In the Traditional Chinese Medicine pharmacopeias, one of the premier herbs for building Qi energy is Astragalus membranaceus. In fact, this root is currently garnering a lot of attention in both modern Western Herbology as well as with physicians of allopathic medicine. Studies have shown this ancient herb to be an excellent nutritive addition to anyone with a compromised immune system either due to age, frequent or long term illness, chemotherapy, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or other factors.

WikiCommons © Doronenko
Native to Mongolia and the northern and eastern parts of China, Astragalus can be grown in New England with relative ease. It prefers well drained, sandy and slightly alkaline soil and lots of sun. Roots are generally harvested in autumn of their fourth year, and the plant is propagated by seed. A relative of the pea plant, Milk Vetch is fairly cold-hardy and is often used as fodder for livestock, although some species of vetch are actually toxic to animals and humans alike. Prospectors have used the mineral-absorbing roots as fairly reliable indicators for mining purposes, but herbalists have found Astragalus itself to be worth its weight in gold.

Astragalus has been shown to increase white blood cell counts when deficient and to help balance and normalize them when required. Many practitioners (allopathic and alternative alike) utilize this herb as part of a complimentary cancer protocol to assist patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation by keeping their blood levels healthy during these invasive and systemically taxing procedures. It has been proven to restore red blood cell production in bone marrow and to assist immune function by stimulating natural interferon production. It can help to alleviate the side effects of cancer therapies and protect against liver damage during such procedures as well.

In the Chinese Medicine Materia Medica, Huang Qi is known as a Spleen and Lung tonic and enhances Qi energy. It is used to stimulate a poor appetite, encourage digestion and improve conditions marked by fatigue, shortness of breath, spontaneous sweating, weakness and even diarrhea. Raising Yang Qi energy is another traditional function of Astragalus, therefore it is particularly useful for conditions of “sinking Qi” such as hemorrhoids, organ prolapse and certain types of abnormal uterine bleeding. In China the Wei Qi is somewhat analogous to our concept of the immune system and Huang Qi is famous for its ability to nourish the Wei Qi. Lowered immune functions exhibited by frequent colds, tiredness, weakness, slow healing sores, cold limbs and loss of appetite are markedly improved with the addition of therapeutic doses of Astragalus.

Milk Vetch root is also utilized as a diuretic and is helpful for edema when accompanied by fatigue and other symptoms of deficiency. Because of this, modern uses for the herb have shown it to be beneficial for the treatment of diabetes, kidney and urinary problems. Astragalus also lowers blood pressure and can help to normalize elevated blood sugar. Modern day herbalists find Astragalus to be balancing overall to the internal organs and it is considered a valuable adaptogen that enhances energy, endurance and stamina, increases immune function, improves circulation and generally nourishes the whole body.

Astragalus is commonly used in combination with Dang Gui to nourish the Blood for the treatment of post partum anemia or severe blood loss and hemorrhage. Dry frying the herb alone or with raw honey enhances its already powerful tonifying effects. When used in combination with ginseng, Astragalus is a powerhouse of energy-enhancing nourishment for those who are very weak and health-compromised. For people who are frequently lethargic and chilled, decoct Astragalus with cinnamon and dried ginger and drink this delicious combination warm with your coziest slippers on.

When used to treat an invading pathogen accompanied by chills and fatigue, combining Astragalus with fresh ginger slices and diaphoretics like yarrow or elder flowers will support the immune system while kicking the pathogen out of the body. It is not wise to use Astragalus alone when treating a cold, flu or virus; use it in combination with diaphoretic herbs. If precautions aren’t taken to use it in proper combinations, Astragalus has such a strong ability to “strengthen the fortress walls,” that it’s akin to sealing the gate after the army has invaded.

Milk Vetch root resembles a large tongue depressor when purchased as a whole herb. Its long slices are fibrous, slightly yellow and have a mild, slightly sweet flavor. The Chinese name Huang Qi aptly describes the herb when translated to “Yellow Qi.” It is so mild that it can be easily cooked with grains, beans or soups to enhance nutrition without compromising flavor. The root slices are simply removed from the dish before being served. Long, slow cooking or decocting in water is in fact the best way to prepare Astragalus for consumption and it actually enhances the value of other herbs and foods that are taken with it.

For a warming, stimulating tonic that will put a little vim and vigor in your step and increase your overall health, use 4-18 grams of Astragalus in a single dose. For intensive need, up to 30 or even 60 grams may be used safely without adverse effects. One of my favorite ways to get concentrated nutrition into clients undergoing chemotherapy or otherwise immune-compromised is to prescribe an individualized health-promoting and immune enhancing soup complete with customized herbal and mushroom packets:

Immunity-Enhancing Chinese Herbal Chicken Soup
64 oz. Organic Chicken Broth (preferably homemade)
64 oz. Cold Water
3 Cups Chopped Carrots
3 Cups Chopped Celery
2 Large onions coarsely chopped
3 cups Cooked Quinoa (a whole grain available at most health food stores.)
1 Head of Garlic (about 8 or 9 cloves-optional)
2 Bay Leaves
1 Tbs. Parsley
2 tsp Thyme
2 tsp Rosemary
2 tsp Sage
2 tsp Atlantic or Celtic Sea Salt (this is important)
Freshly Ground Pepper to taste
1 Herbal packet (may include Astragalus, Codonopsis, Dang Gui, Red Dates, Lily Bulbs, He Shou Wu, prepared Rehmannia root, ginger, Goji berries or other herbs specific to the patient’s needs)
1 Mushroom packet (may include Reishi, shiitake, wood ear, lion’s mane, maitake, turkey tail, straw, porcini and/or chanterelle)

Soak herb mixture and 64 oz. organic chicken broth in a large stainless-steel or Pyrex glass pot for 1 hour (do not use aluminum or iron). After soaking, bring entire contents of the pot to a boil over high heat, as soon as it comes to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Simmer for one hour then strain the herbs from the broth, reserve broth. (Herbal mixture may be cooked again in water or broth for a slightly less potent second batch. Use half the amount of liquid and eliminate the soaking time.)

Place mushroom mixture in a large pot and cover with 64 oz. cold water, soak for 1 hour. Bring to a boil over high heat and then immediately reduce heat and cover. Simmer on low heat for one hour. Combine with chicken broth. All mushrooms may be consumed, but the reishi mushroom has a poor consistency, so you’ll probably want to take it out. The others may be sliced to your preference.

To the hot broth add chopped carrots, celery, onions, garlic and seasonings; continue to simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Add cooked quinoa, stir and serve. Freeze any remaining soup in small containers for easy-to-prepare meals. Microwaving this soup is not recommended.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Transcript: Plants & Trees Have Feelings Part III

What follows here is the third part of the transcript of a lecture I was asked to give at a healing conference...please keep in mind that this was spoken...during this 60 minute lecture, I was running a Power Point program of 111 of my photographs that truly connect with the personalities of many flowers, trees...I mean really...they literally HAM IT UP for the sexy, playful, wise...I'll post a few, but the purpose of the photos was to somewhat DISTRACT my audience so that they would only hear my words semi-consciously...this is where I wanted them to be processing the information....the images invited attendees to drift off, or to read the short quotes or poems that accompanied and complemented them. It was a great effect and it worked...people sank into their hearts and understood from deep within what I was communicating to them...what the plants are communicating to us all...
Anyway, I hope that you like it, I am still receiving offers to give this lecture elsewhere, so I hope that you might have a chance to feel the entire effect. Still, each time I look at the images and read the words of such wise teachers as Thoreau, Goethe, Rachel Carson and more, well I get choked up.
Here is part III...any feedback is really welcomed.


The feelings of the heart such as Love, Compassion, and Caring lead to a coherence of the EM field.
Mind-created emotional responses to Fear such as Frustration, resentment, jealousy lead to an incoherent EM field.

Remember that the world is first perceived by the world and then interpreted by the mind.
The mind makes a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.
Our baggage, our mental constructs, our ego…allows us to misinterpret and miss valuable information…putting us on a hamster wheel of emotional analysis or suppression that depresses our EM field and denies us the opportunity for a high frequency, connectivity of consciousness, love and vibrant health.

“The senses do not deceive, judgment deceives.” -Goethe

“Unlike the heart, with its connected empathic perceptions, the brain has no inherent moral nature.” –Buhner

Brain Entrainment / Mind-centered consciousness = shallow emotional states
=> impairs the ability to perceive and respond to deeply embedded meanings and communications from the environment and the self.
Heart entrainment / Heart-centered consciousness = deep emotional states
=> Possible hormonal changes:
• 23%↓ in cortisol (a stress hormone with negative impacts)
• 100%↑in DHEA (an adrenal hormone that generates tissue repair, creates insulin, is essential to the release of sex hormones and creates overall well-being)
=> Lowered blood pressure
=> Improved eyesight
=> Improved brain functioning
=> General improved health

Heart entrainment leads to overall improvement of health. Frequent practice communicating with Nature trains us to entrain with our Heart.

I have found that high quality/ high integrity medicinal aromatherapy essential oils facilitate plant communication quickly from the heart. Shamans the world over utilize psychotropic or hallucinogenic plants to access plant wisdom.

“The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were when we created them.” –Einstein

Plants have natural complexity in their compounds and their communications, which by now we understand IS their medicine. A single drop of plant essence contains 50-65,000 different chemical compounds and chemotypes on the Quantum scale. Plants constantly adapt their chemical structure in response to environmental factors, such as the presence of disease, infestation of predatory insects, drought, mildew and so on. Plants are in fact constantly changing chemical factories (as are their predators). Nature, in essence, is extremely complex and ever evolving. When we take advantage of the inherent diversity of natural medicine, we allow ourselves much greater odds of being able to counter any attack by various pathogens.

Pharmaceuticals, however, are comparatively very simple in form and structure. Being man-made, they lack the genetic advantages that thousands of years of natural selection give to plant medicines. While plant based medicinals may contain tens of thousands of chemotypes, drugs may only contain a handful, if that.

According to Harper’s, as of 1999 the average number of casualties in Zimbabwe due to AIDS was 2,500 per week; the average number of Americans that same year that died due to the proper use of pharmaceutical drugs numbered 1,900 per week.

Pharmaceuticals are to chemical agri-farming what plant medicines are to organic gardening. Pharmaceuticals produce vast amounts of pollution; Drug factories pollute air and ground water as well as disenfranchising citizens of third world countries. The thousands of chemicals produced and released as by-products create a dangerous cocktail of deadly poisons that are then dispersed through rain over large areas of the planet. Pharmaceuticals are inserting vast quantities of highly bioactive and toxic chemicals into the soil and water worldwide.

The human body excretes 50-95% of every pharmaceutical drug ingested chemically unchanged. This human excrement filters into the groundwater, also creating a dangerous cocktail as this refuse mixes with other drug wastes in the ecosystem. Your neighbor’s Viagra, combining with another’s birth control, mixed with the elderly man’s chemotherapy wastes plus your antibiotics and countless other chemical contaminants (let’s not forget personal care products) seep from the septic systems into the soil and back into our drinking water. Many excreted pharmaceuticals are not biodegradable and go on producing chemical effects forever. Remember how sensitive living systems are to chemical cues in the ppm/ppb/ppb? We cannot underestimate the hazards of this wholesale trashing of our environment, as it has lasting effects on our ecosystems and ourselves.

“We don’t have to heal the Earth; she can heal herself. All we have to do is stop making her sick.” –Wallace Black Elk (Lakota Shaman)

Once upon a time, antibiotics were produced from common bread mold; now antibiotics are simple synthetic drugs that allow bacteria to easily adapt to their chemical message. The chemical message they present is static and linear; building resistance to these chemicals is effortless for pathogens. The communication that takes place between trees, plants, mycelium and their ecosystems also exist between bacterium, viruses, and other pathogens; these communications allow resistance information to be spread for miles, and even occur between different species, i.e.; bacteria to virus. Bacteria and viruses can never adapt to natural remedies due to the ever evolving and changeable nature of a plant’s chemical structure.

Remember, a lot of money went into the purchase of our belief system: beliefs that make us think that when we are really sick that’s when we need the help of pharmaceutical antibiotics. It’s also worth noting that the use of antibiotics in agribusiness allows factory farms to cram unhealthy numbers of animals into cramped quarters and does a double duty by fattening livestock faster, thereby increasing weight and profits. The overcrowding of these abused animals leads to hosts of resistant diseases…swine or bird-flu, anyone?

However, I don’t wish to dwell on these unpleasantries; I wish only to make you aware of the long and short-term results of choosing to consume factory meats and pharmaceutical drugs. Let’s focus again on the heart and plant communication.

According to Taoism, a plant’s fragrance is the expression of its soul. In China, Egypt and throughout the world, fragrance was used in ceremony to engage the gods. The Gnostic Christians (100-400 C.E.) believed that fragrance was the Spirit of a plant, and a gateway to the Soul of the World.

Humans can recall scents from their childhood for more than 50 years. Science has determined that one year after a new aroma is encountered, 65% of people can recall it accurately, whereas visual memory declines by 50% within three months. Fragrance opens to memory centers and feelings, smells are processed by the same portion of the brain that process memories and feelings…the parts of the brain that are controlled by the heart.

Here’s a simple exercise to do that will allow you to quickly experience plant communication from the heart right now. In a moment, we’ll pass around a few essential oils; pay attention to any memories that come up, any emotional responses, any physical reactions –positive or negative. You will notice that the energy in this room will become quite stirred up and active, so we’ll pause while the essences go around.

Pause and pass essential oils around

Open floor for everyone to share their experiences.

Discuss Classes offered in Plant Communication via Aromatherapy/Herbology


Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level II Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes.