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The allure of the cure

Today, while scrolling through Facebook and sipping coffee, I saw a post titled “100 times more effective then chemotherapy: A herb that kills cancer in 48 hours“. This was in reference to the Dandelion Root Project at the University of Windsor in Canada. The hyperbole is obvious- this group started biomedical research on dandelion extract for cancer therapy. It is far from 100 times more effective than chemotherapy. We’ve all seen these posts. Chances are, if you’re a reader of this blog, you are a critical thinker and this kind of thing bugs you. I get bugged too. But I’m beginning to notice that we bring our hope for cures and love of miracles along with us when we interpret science. And instead of seeing this as a problem, I think it’s OK. These can coexist, but I want to emphasize an awareness of how they can affect us. Read more

Nature and the cultivation of shame resilience

Shame has been a difficult topic of discussion. But over the last couple of years, a few people have managed to bring the subject to the forefront of public discourse. One of these people is Brene Brown, a sociologist and researcher who’s extensive work on the subject is presented in her book Daring Greatly and her celebrated TED talk. She exposes the mechanisms of shame, and its psychological and cultural consequences.

Shame is a fundamental belief that I am bad, and has many expressions: I am not strong enough, not good enough, etc. This is categorically different from guilt, which says I did something bad. Shame is a pathology of identity. The treatment for shame, she argues, is the development of shame resilience. This involves:

  1. Recognizing Shame and Its Triggers: we tend to first feel shame physically before our minds realize what it is.
  2. Practicing Critical Awareness: reflect on the implications of cultural and community expectations, and how they affect your identity and self-image.

Illness and shame feed off each other

Illness is a source of deep shame for many, as illness commonly experienced as a failure of the body or some part of its processes. It seems to surface most when illness interferes with socially defined goals of health and ability. People struggling with mobility impairments, fertility, and sexuality might experience shame and vulnerabilities around certain physical (and social) expectations.

Ironically, shame around illness can worsen illness. This is a vicious cycle, a positive feedback loop. Lissa Rankin illustrates the consequences of mindset on health in her brilliant book Mind Over Medicine. Our mental state impacts our physical processes through a number of mechanisms, but most notably through adrenal hormones (i.e. cortisol). Neurotransmitter responses impact hormones, which can affect immunity, blood pressure, and myriad physiological processes. Rankin’s book is complete with evidence from the literature, and cases that illustrate the impact of the mind on the body (including spontaneous remission and nocebo). Feelings of shame, despair, and negative self-worth can place an additional load on the body. Read more

A lens of stories rooted in the revelations of science and framed in an indigenous worldview: A review of Braiding Sweetgrass

Elizabeth Gilbert describes Braiding Sweetgrass as a “hymn of love to the world.” Jane Goodall writes that Robin Wall Kimmerer “shows how the factual, objective approach to science can be enriched by the ancient knowledge of the indigenous people.” For myself, Kimmerer demonstrates the unification of modern scientific and indigenous ways of knowing. What’s especially important to me is that she erases the dichotomy between scientific inquiry and heart-centered connection to the earth. Kimmerer is a role model. Read more

Nootropics: The new adaptogens

“Technologies are morally neutral until we apply them.” – William Gibson

A significant portion of my 2014 was spent developing a nootropic product. As a mushroom supplement company, we were looking to break out of the immune section, as medicinal mushrooms can do so much more than support immunity. Cognition-enhancing mushrooms and botanicals had long fascinated me, so this project was a dream come true. The concept was solid: combine Lion’s Mane and Reishi with organic herbs to support brain health and cognition. We used Ginkgo, Gotu kola, and Bacopa–all have great-quality research support. After months of formulating, more months of sourcing organic botanical extracts, and even more months of marketing preparing the launch, the product was alive. And that’s how we perforated the nootropic sector. Read more

Artemisinin and the Nobel prize: A tale of two medical systems

The Nobel Committee of Medicine and Physiology announced Youyou Tu as the Nobel Prize winner for her work in the development of artemisinin to treat malaria. Artemisinin is derived from the Chinese herb qinghao, also known as Sweet wormwood or Artemesia annua. The story of artemisinin’s discovery and development is a compelling one, revealing the political and cultural forces that shape bioprospecting and pharmacognosy. It’s also the story of the transformation of medicinal plants and compounds as they travel through diverse medical systems.

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On Diets and Black Swans

Figuring out what to eat is hard. And it’s getting harder. We have more chronic health conditions, more nutrition research, and more food options. The omnivore’s dilemma is real, and it lives in nearly everyone seeking to heal themselves through food.

A recent news story on NPR asserted that Paleolithic people were making flour as far back as 32000 years ago. This new fact disturbs our understanding of paleolithic diets. Reactions on social media include, “Wow! I can have oats on my paleo diet!,” “Yes! I can have flour again!!,” and similar expressions of relief. Read more

Herbal medicine, according to stock photography

Curious about the public perception of herbalists and herbal medicine, I searched the iStock photo library. To be honest, I expected image results that were closer to a caricature than an actual living, functioning herbalist. But we see people touching plants, plants scattered about on trays and counters and things. These photos highlight the plants themselves, and direct connection with them. Nice.

The images of herbal medicine themselves were expectedly mild, nice, trim and prim. (Albeit with an overuse of mortal and pestles.)

Scroll below for some results. Regard the people in the photos: do you notice a slight pattern? It’s not exactly an daunting task to deduce the demographics associated with herbal medicine in the public eye.

stock-photo-59531388-healing-herbs-in-hessian-bags-and-bottles-of-essential-oil stock-photo-42019874-women-with-medicinal-herbs

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Farewell to the Free Clinic

August 21 marks my last day as a clinical herbalist at the Olympia Free Herbal Clinic. After 5 years of volunteer work, my departure conjures an array of emotions: excitement, sadness, and contradictory ones like guilt with concurrent relief.

I’m leaving the free clinic to engage in premedical studies at the University of Washington. I’ll still be available as a clinical herbalist at my own practice, Goldroot Botanical Medicine, and will continue to see clients who I’ve established a relationship with at OFHC on a sliding scale basis. (Sliding scale is available to all my clients.) To help focus my efforts, I want to bring everything under one roof. Working between 2 different practices is hard, and it leaves me feeling scattered as a practitioner. Read more