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A Tour of the California School of Herbal Studies

apple tree at California School of Herbalism StudiesThis past weekend I went with some friends to tour the California School of Herbal Studies school and garden. I expected to enjoy myself because a) time with good friends is always enjoyable and b) I mean, herb gardens are my idea of heaven. I think I may have almost short circuited my own system from the high volume spazzing out I did. The only regret I have is that I didn’t ask if I was allowed to take pictures before we left the incredible school lab.

There was a locked cabinet full of finished tinctures, trays filled with students’ tincture projects in progress. There were herb presses (I must figure out how to make one myself!), blenders, scales, beakers, measuring tools, baskets of dried herbs, stacks of cleaned muslin bags for pressing out tinctures and other herbal concoctions, and two big tables in the middle of it all for working on.

California School of Herbal Studies garden in the woodsEverywhere on the grounds and in the garden itself were old plant friends; comfrey, elderberries, mint in flower, feathery beds of yarrow, tall datura plants (“weeds” our tour guide, Rebecca, called them) draped with beautiful pale pink floral trumpets, thistles buzzing with pollinating wasps, tall spikes of mullein, and wormwood. There were also plants I’ve never seen in person before that filled me with the excitement of a kid who’s just been told faeries exist for realz.

rattlesnake master seed podsI only ever heard about Rattlesnake Master this past winter because I found seeds for it on the Strictly Medicinal Seeds website, and here it is in person! I’m tempted to grow it just for its looks. This medicinal herb was used by many different Native American tribes for things like snake bites (hence the name), tooth aches, and nose bleeds.

ashwaganda blossom in a cluster of leavesHello Ashwagandha! I had no idea we could grow this Indian medicinal plant here in Sonoma County.

small straw bale house painted light ochreThis is student housing on the property – a straw bale single room house. We got to peek inside the window and see the beautiful thick rounded smooth walls and I could totally live in that space. It’s also the kind of cabin I gave Cricket’s family in the woods in Winter; Cricket and Grey

pink roses blooming in the California School of Herbal Studies herb gardenI can never resist roses in a garden. I have to stop and breath them in.

bedstraw seed heads, bedstraw going to seedThis is bedstraw. It’s had many traditional uses (mattress stuffing, particularly used because the smell of it repels fleas, milk coagulant, dye) but it’s rarely mentioned in herb books any more.

medicinal valerian in bloom, valerian blossomsValerian in bloom. If you mention valerian to my mom she’ll always mention how terrible it tastes, as though other bitter herbs used in tinctures taste great. Seriously, so many natural medicinals taste rank I’m always surprised she takes a special dislike to this one.

milkweed pods up closeI’ve seen milkweed in bloom before but I’ve never seen their pods. I’m convinced now that terrible little aliens pop out of these pods instead of seeds when no one’s looking. Or maybe this is where faeries are gestated? YOU DON’T KNOW.

Standing in the herb garden at CSHS filled me with such happiness. The kind I only feel in gardens. Some people feel this hiking in the wilderness. I get it, it’s all nature, right? Wrong. There are no ticks in this garden. There are no bear traps or fugitive serial killers or other weird unsavory humans that can hide out of site. I love nature, but I don’t want to get literally lost in it. Or fall off an unexpected cliff-face. Or into a big-ass natural hole in the ground. I like my nature in a garden setting. But not an overly controlled garden. Super manicured gardens are okay, but they don’t delight me the way a slightly over-run garden spilling with surprises does. This garden has weeds because many weeds aren’t weeds at all but useful and good plants to have around, so they only tidy enough that the paths are still visible paths.

If I could afford the time and money to take classes at CSHS, I’d love to do that. It’s a possibility to dream of and work towards. In the meantime I’ve got my own lab and small garden full of natural medicinal treasures to work with. In fact, I transplanted my struggling arnica plant yesterday and forgot to water it, so I’m off to do that. I hope you enjoyed the vicarious tour!

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Stop and Snap the Details

red salmonberrySalmonberry, photographed at a rest stop in Oregon off of Interstate 5

Take break to look around.

Sometimes the best way to get out of your head is to notice the little things all around you. Nothing helps me focus more on the little things than my camera. Ever since I started taking pictures for my blogs over a decade ago I found that looking for good compositions everywhere I went kept me engaged in the world all around me. It’s not just good compositions that attract me, it’s colors and textures. I tend to focus a lot of plants and insects and walls. Walls might seem boring to some, but I’ve noticed that there are a lot of walls out there that are like abstract paintings. Peeling paint, graffiti, cracks, vines digging into grout, and sometimes weird things leaning against them.

I’ve heard so many creative people suggest that you take a walk to clear your head to garner fresh inspiration. I do love a good walk, (or at least I did before my feet turned into dust), but until I started bringing my camera along with me I didn’t see half as much as I do now.

If you’re in need of fresh perspective, or a break from a heavy head space, how about taking a little outing with your camera and see what cool things you can find?

Spending sixty seconds of your day marveling at the weirdness of the beetle you noticed cavorting on a bright flower counts as micro-self care.

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Purslane as Self Care

Purslane rice salad, rice with tomatoes cucumber and purslaneSometimes I forget to do the things I know make me feel calmer, better, healthier, and brighter. Here’s an amazing fact I just discovered: I can enjoy, nay, LOVE an herb and purslane rice salad without the addition of cheese. Cheese is one of my favorite things, but somehow I forget that food can be good without it.

This salad was inspired by my friend Catherine of the food blog Soup and Sustenance. I had just picked a huge bowl of purslane and wasn’t sure what to do with it. She suggested I make tabbouleh. I don’t love bulgar wheat in the same way I don’t love quinoa and hate millet. But I thought I could make a rice salad similar to tabbouleh. It was amazing! In truth, I don’t even really love rice. I’m a pasta and bread gal. But this was so good.

I’d just walked out on a bad situation and spending some time in my garden and then making this salad felt so refreshing. Simple things like this don’t fix problems, they can’t fix mental illness, and they certainly don’t stop nationwide political suicide from happening, but they ARE restorative and do remind me that there are still good reasons to get outside my head and just breathe.

Self Care.

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A Better Experience

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New York Minute

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