It's been a busy couple of weeks. I went back to the desert earlier this week to gather ocotillo, alder, some larrea and some more hyptis. And then came back to LA to process it all, ship some orders, make some new products. I spent an entire day processing all the ocotillo I gathered (out in my workshop, with a handy hatchet and some good music), and have tinctured half of it, tinctured some of the leaves separately (an experiment, but I love nibbling on them when harvesting and find the effects subtly different to the bark or flowers), while the other half infuses in a blend of jojoba, sunflower and avocado oils. I'm also infusing the alder, and the two are going to be combined (with some violet and fresh calendula oil I have leftover from last summer) for this month's surprise box (which are, crazily, already half sold out). An oil to move your inner waters. I've been sold out of my lymphatic massage oil for a while, so it'll be nice to bring it back in stock. It's also... kinda magical. I always feel such deep movement whenever I smooth it on, and it works really nicely for things like breast tenderness during PMS, or lymphatic swellings when fighting sickness.
The ocotillo tincture is going to be combined with other herbs (still working on the formula) to make a tincture that encourages deep surrender-- a sort of 'falling back' into the place of our bodies, the movement of life, and the ability to let go of control and become a part of the flow again. Definitely a tall order, but one I'm really excited to put together.
I was discussing energy levels with my friend while we hiked one of our favourite trails: energy levels and how, for those of us who tend to do SO much, and have so many different jobs, we can start to get a dysfunctional view of what good energy output actually looks like. The people I know who have seriously good energy regulation systems (ie. they aren't burned out) tend to have the ability to switch on and switch off. And not feel guilty for that time off at all. They also have shorter to-do lists. These are things I'm pondering on a rest-weekend: maybe those of us who tend towards burnout just write longer to-do lists than our bodies can cash, so we spend most of our time playing catch-up. Maybe a little 'manana' isn't such a bad thing. I brought it up on Facebook and my friend Patti said something I found to be really brilliant:
"Maybe the key is in knowing you are already enough without having to 'do' anything and then to let your doing rise up from your being so it is completely in sync with your available energies at the time."
Let your doing rise up from your being. I can't tell you how much I love that. It's playing around in me like background noise, trying to find a place to settle.
This week's newsletter is about the lymphatic system and the waters of the body. Next week's will be too, but on a more esoteric level. Because the theme of this next surprise box I'm doing is the waters of the body, and it is going to work on multiple levels-- the physical lymphatic system and the more intangible. So, this week is the solid-- here's some info about our beautiful, mysterious, oh so important lymphatic systems.
Ps. Two notes:
1. There are 2 Mycelium + Magic boxes left now that they've all arrived safely in their new homes.
2. I'm leaving in just over a week and closing up shop for 3 weeks so if there are items you want to make sure you have before I leave, please order them soon!
1. On inner waters and the lymphatic system
2. Herbs for lymphatic movement
3. Articles on water and the lymphatic system
4. Other therapies for lymphatic movement
5. Some lymphatic recipes
6. Shop updates
7. The Deep Waters surprise box
1. On inner waters and the lymphatic system
The lymphatic system is a slow-moving drainage system that aids in the removal of toxins and foreign matter from the body*. It is a massive part of our immune system (those swollen tonsils you get when fighting the flu? Your lymphatic system. The bloating you get after eating something that doesn't agree with you? Yep, lymphatic system.). And it helps with digestion of fats. This is the surface of the matter, but really, the lymphatic system is such an important part of our body's functioning and SO under-appreciated that when it goes sluggish, it is responsible for a number of problems, including:
poor fat digestion
swelling hands and feet
The lymphatic system is the water of our body, combined with our interstitial fluids. And the thing that water hates the most is stagnation. Things that cause lymphatic stagnation include: dehydration, stress, tension, emotional repression, removal of lymph nodes, sedentary lifestyle, shallow breathing, hormonal imbalance, sluggish thyroid. There are more things, and this week and next, I'll get into some tips and tricks to get your lymph moving.
Our modern lifestyles are almost custom-built to create stagnation: we don't move, we're often dehydrated, we are tense and stressed and don't breathe very deeply. At this time of year, it is time to start thinking about movement. Deep movement, stirring up the stagnant waters that have settled deep in our bodies.
If you get sick often, feel sluggish and overtired, have skin issues (acne, dermatitis, eczema), edema, swollen tongue (height-wise), then you might have lymphatic stagnation. One of the easiest ways to tell if your sluggishness and tiredness is because of stagnation is this: do you feel better after exercise? If so, then its stagnation :).
As lymph doesn't have a pump of its own (unlike frogs, those lucky little things), we need to find ways to pump it ourselves. A few hundred years ago, this wasn't an issue, as the majority of us didn't spend our days sitting (which is probably why we don't have lymph pumps in the first place-- we're evolutionarily programmed to move around a lot, and so the lymph pumping was taken care of naturally), but nowadays it is an issue and we need to find ways to move naturally even if we're spending a lot of our time sedentary.
The BEST thing for the lymphatic system is movement: even just getting up from your desk for a walk around the office every hour will get things moving a little. Moving, walking, contracts and relaxes the muscles in your body, which act as a pump, moving lymph through the lymphatic vessels, forcing it through the lymph nodes which act as filters for all the detritus in our systems. Not all of us are cut out for gyms, or yoga, or running, but there is usually some form of movement or another that appeals to us.
The type of movement doesn't need to be quick or slow, directed or undirected, it can basically be anything that moves your body. I often talk to people who feel as though they hate movement, and it's usually due to years of being forced into sports, and then going to the gym as an obligation. One of the things I have them do is think back to when they were kids and whether they liked to do anything that involved their bodies then: did they like to play in the mud? Walk in the woods? Ride a bike? Run around and play with friends? Play team sports? Get rid of societal expectations, what's seen as 'acceptable' for us to do, and really ask your body: what do you *want*? For many, the answer will bubble up from deep below, and it might seem unreasonable, but give it a go anyway because your body knows things that your clever brain doesn't. There are lots of options that don't involve having to put on workout clothes and surround ourselves with people on treadmills.
Other than movement, I've listed below some of the other things you can do to help the lymphatic system. And then of course, there are herbs.
Next week I'll get more into the psycho-emotional tie-in with the lymphatic system.
2. Herbs for lymphatic movement
Fouquieria Splendens // Ocotillo
You've probably heard me talk about ocotillo a lot because, quite frankly, it's my favourite plant and I spend a lot of time talking about it. I'd like to preface everything I say here with a little statement about bioregional herbals:
Some herbs grow everywhere, and some are more regional. Ocotillo is one of those plants that only grows in the Southwestern US and northern Mexico. It's special in that way, and yes, its properties are unique, but that doesn't mean that its properties cannot be approximated by using different herbs that move lymph, blood and direct energy to the pelvis. One of the things that happens when a herbalist starts talking a lot about a bioregional herb is that people start wanting to use it. Which in some ways is great-- it's getting knowledge of little used plants out there. On the other hand, if you don't live in the area where it grows or have access to someone who has a direct connection with it, then the connection between plant, land and person gets more faint. With mass-produced herbs I think it's fine to have the connection be faint, but when it comes to bioregionals that sort of rely on being treated with respect, I think it's important that we stay connected. If you don't live in the area where a plant you want to play with lives, find a friend who does, who you trust implicitly to respect the land and the plants you're using. I get some of my wildcrafted herbs from other areas, but the connection I have with the people i get them from is strong, and I TRUST them, and their connection to the land, to guide us all. And, it shows in the medicine, too. You can feel that connection still, the plants are still alive, vibrant, practically shining with it. So, that's my rant.
Now on to ocotillo.
Ocotillo is a deep energy mover. It moves energy in the pelvis, in the blood, in the deep, old energy of the body. It dredges it up gently, softly, calmly, bringing it to the surface, moving it through the liver so that it can be processed (in the case of toxins) and through the consciousness so that it can be processed (in case of grief and trauma). Much like its branches come together and concentrate at its base, ocotillo’s effect tends to go to the root of the problem, and spread out from there. As a result ocotillo’s effects are incredibly broad-reaching, from portal venous congestion, to pelvic blood stagnation, to prostatitis, to decreased sex drive, to emotional stagnation and trauma.
I don't like to play favourites (ok who am I kidding I have a classification for everything), but ocotillo is my favourite herb :). I fully believed that it was this plant that saved me from psychiatric hell, and that's because I have a super emotional streak. Because in society it's not super sexy to have strong feelings about things, especially vulnerability, sadness, fear. Nor is it ok for a lot of people to express their anger in a healthy manner-- this is something we learn so early in life that it's not even a conscious thing for most (how many temper tantrums were we all stopped from having one way or another?). So, what happens to all those strong emotions when they can't be expressed? They get shoved down into the body where they won't come out again. Except, they of course *do* come out, and they create a world of issues for us, bubbling up at inopportune times, clouding the way we see the world.
Ocotillo has many, many amazing uses, but in this specific instance, it really helps to dredge up old, stagnant, stuck emotions that are trapped deep in the body. It dredges them up gently so that we don't get overwhelmed, and with a sort of compassion that feels a little sweet and nurturing. This is a really valuable thing for people who have been trying to ignore their feelings for a long time, or who have suffered trauma that they haven't been able to process (but want to do so, gently).
Read more: My article, Sophia's article, Kiva Rose's article
Found in: Ocotillo + Rose heart center elixir, Wild rose + Sandalwood body oil, Waterways lymphatic elixir, Ocotillo + Rose bath salts
Alnus spp. // Alder
Alder is a sweet, gentle but tough lymphatic that grows next to waterways. It sends its roots down into the stream, which I think of as a really nice image for how alder works in the body, sending its roots down into the stream of our bodies, to regulate the flow of water. It gently moves stagnant lymph and interstitial fluid, while also having an effect on the liver, making it really great for people with skin conditions or liver issues due to overall stagnation. It's one of the first things I reach for at first sign of getting sick because of its ability to increase lymphatic function, which in turn helps the immune system work better.
It's also... watery. A plant that nourishes and protects and is gentle and dare I say even somewhat maternal in our bodies, with ourselves, and the way we look at our waste. Most of us tend to have a 'X is bad and I want to get it out' mentality towards 'toxins' and alder teaches us that instead of cutting things out, we can process, gently, soothingly, yet with firm boundaries that don't take any shit.
It isn't a substitute for exercise, a healthy diet and lots of water, but if that's not going to happen, then a little help can go a long way to helping with things like acne, tiredness, immune sluggishness, etc.
Read more: Kiva's article
Found in: Waterways lymphatic elixir)
Violet // Viola spp.
Cooling, soothing, moistening, I think of violet as something that connects us to a gentler space in ourselves: slower, sweeter, more hidden. Violet is a nourishing, gentle lymphatic, but is also deeply moistening. I think of it as being perfect for people who tend towards dryness and stagnation, or where providing moisture helps the body to move the stagnation a bit (picture a stream without enough water in it, and how that dries up but also stops flowing).
It's a really common spring flower in most parts of the country (less so around here, though it can still be found in abundance in places). How to gather it and use it? Pick the flowers and lay them out somewhere in a single row on top of something like paper or a basket to dry. Do the same with the leaves. Then when they're truly dry, store them in an airtight jar. Then, when you feel like it, take a small handful of the leaves and make an infusion: cover with boiling water and let it sit for 20 minutes or so, then stir in a spoonful of spring flower honey (recipe below) before you start sipping. It's incredibly soothing, and quite delicious.
More info: Violet's edible and medicinal uses by Juliet Blankespoor
Found in: Deep Water surprise box
3. Articles on water and the lymphatic system
My article on ocotillo (my favourite lymphatic herb and one I'll be relying on heavily in the February surprise box)
On water (another article by me, delving more into the lymphatic system and stagnation and its interaction with our emotions)
Lymphatic tips for winter cold care
Kiva rose's article on alder (another one of my favourite herbs for lymphatics)
Become a lymphomaniac (a lecture by Carolyn Gagnon, on the lymphatic system and lymphatic herbs)
Katy Bowman on breast tissue and lymphatics
Jim McDonald's article on violet
4. Other things for inner water movement
Walking. Actually movement in general gets your lymphatic system moving, but walking does something special simply because our psoas muscles contract and relax as we're doing it, and this gets blood and lymph moving in our trunks.
Water. Hydration is so important for the functioning of our lymphatic systems-- its comprised mainly of water and is one of the places that suffers when we're lacking moisture. For those of us who tend to live in dry climates, if your lymph is all stuck and you're feeling stagnant and gross, check to see if you're hydrating enough (and if you're a heavy sweater you might want to consider adding a pinch of sea salt to your water to make sure you actually keep your water in your body!).
Skin brushing. A quick and easy addition to your daily routine, skin brushing is gentle and stimulating and gets lymph moving nicely.
The psoas is a muscle that runs from the bottom of ribs on the back of the body, to the top of the thighs at the front. When it is tense, we experience things like back pain and reduced range of motion. Because it runs through the middle of our bodies, when its not moving as it should, it also inhibits the flowing of the lymph in our trunks. Relaxing the psoas before walking really helps get lymph moving-- in fact some people can really feel the movement in their bellies after doing it. Here's a good psoas release.
Deep breathing. Deep breathing pumps the lymphatic ducts, and our livers while we're at it. Its something we don't do often because most of us are tightly wound and stressed (who? me??) so taking a few minutes throughout the day to take some deep deep breaths really helps get things moving and in turn relaxes us AND helps to get rid of feelings of frustration and stagnation-- something I'm convinced most of us feel more often than we admit :).
This looks interesting.
Respiratory hacking (not, like, a hacking cough; the other type of hacking).
On diaphragm movement and how it affects our bodies and stress levels
The amazing gut smash (I do this every morning and it makes such a difference)
This is another of my favourite diaphragm exercises (I don't do it every morning but really *should*)
5. Lymphatic recipes
Lymphatic massage oil
a quart of carrier oil (I like sunflower because it absorbs so nicely, but you can use any oil you like to use on your skin-- coconut and sweet almond are also lovely)
1/2 cup fresh or dried calendula blossoms
1/2 cup fresh or dried alder bark and/ or leaves
1/2 cup red root leaves, twigs and roots (or just roots if you're ordering it online)
Essential oils for scent
Pour the oil over the herbs in a jar or heat-proof container of some kind and place somewhere warm (I like to use a crock pot on its lowest setting, but you can also put it all in a jar in a yogurt maker or in an oven that is off but has the pilot on). Leave for at least 24 hours. Your oil should change colour from the plant matter. After 24 hours you can strain out the plant matter, making sure to squeeze it well. Pour into a bottle, add your essential oils for scent, and use as often as you'd like.
A small handful of violet leaf
A small handful of calendula flowers
A small handful of redroot
A handful of red clover blossoms
A pinch of lemon peel
A pinch of sage
A large pinch mint
This will last you for a few cups. Put a tablespoon in a jar, cover with boiling water and leave to steep for 15 minutes. Strain and sip. For best results use daily.
6. Shop updates
I have a few jars of Umami Powder leftover from the Mycelium + Magic surprise box.
And two of the Mycelium + Magic surprise boxes left (I always make a few extra just in case of damage or breakage in transit).
7. The Deep Water surprise box.
(learn about this month's surprise box, which you can buy HERE)
(A box of surrender; a love song to the flow.)
It’s February and I am, once again, drawn to the water’s edge. Basket in hand, I gather seaweed, knee-deep in the frigid water, bringing it home to string up in rows by the open kitchen window. It forms a rhythm like a tide: go out, gather, come in, hang up to dry, repeat. And in the process I spend a lot of time looking out at the sea and thinking (as I am wont to do), about our relationship with water—about how we were, at some point long ago, amoeba that came from the oceans… how in the womb we live surrounded by salty water, and how we are all drawn to it throughout our lives, like a siren’s song is calling us back to the water’s edge.
Water, in our bodies, like on the planet, is mysterious, transforming from one state to another constantly, filling its bounds, spilling outside them when possible, and still, shifting, changing, moving. In nature, water changes from sea to rain to snow to river; the water in our bodies does the same: plasma to interstitial fluid to lymph and back. We are inextricably connected with the water: without it, we’d die; without it, our planet is just a rock floating through space. And yet, the waters, both in the world and in our bodies, are areas of hidden depths— slow, deep and dark, where we are simultaneously drawn to and terrified by what might lurk under there.
The way we treat the waters of our bodies is similar to the way we treat the waters of the world. That is, they are where we bury things that we don’t want to deal with, be it toxin or memory. And the more we bury there, the more sluggish they get: slow, sticky, achy, turbid. But water in our bodies, like water in the world, serves a very important purpose— not only is it our body’s (and planet’s) purification system, it transports messages, hormones, protects us from invaders (immunity) and is tied deeply and irrevocably to our emotions. When it is functioning properly, our immune system is efficient, we transport fats and digest fats properly, we don’t get bloated or swollen, our skin is healthy. When our emotional waters are functioning properly, we feel emotions, express them, let them go, and go back to being free-flowing. But we’re not often taught to express emotions so clearly so we tend to hold things in, express them in explosions or indirectly, and the water that gets stirred up takes a long time to settle, if it does at all. The more we hold our waters back, stop them from flowing, the less clearly we see the world around us— everything is filtered through that trapped water.
Let’s go deeper, still. Water teaches us about surrender. To lie back in the water of the ocean is to surrender yourself to the flow around you, to be lifted and dropped on the ebb of the tide, and to let yourself be carried. We spend so much time fighting, pushing, trying to fight for what we want in life, and it exhausts us. To learn to let go, to trust, is an often terrifying art, and it is one of the incredible lessons of water: to be in the flow of life, connected to the web of existence, to surrender to that flow and become a part of it is just as easy as to push, but it requires a level of letting go and of trust that is often terrifying. The truth is that we’re never really in control, but it’s often easier to try and pretend that we are than to live that truth.
To surrender isn't to give up, it's just to stop pushing where effort is wasted. To surrender isn't to be weak, but to be strong enough to realise you're not in control in the first place. To surrender isn't to give up on getting what you want, but to realise deep inside that you are powerful enough to get there without having to push so hard all the time.
This is a box to connect with your deep waters: to stir up that which is deep and stuck and turbid and muddy. It will be about movement: moving stagnation, dredging up stuck old emotions which are affecting our ability to perceive the world around us clearly. And deeper still, to connect with that deeply receptive, absorbing, hidden and mysterious part of yourself that you know is under there but aren’t sure how to dive into.
I'll be using seaweeds, alder (which grows along the edges of rivers), violet (that gentle, nourishing, moistening spring lymphatic), cleavers, ocotillo (a lovely moving lymphatic), pedicularis (my all time favourite relaxant) and rose (magical tender emotional stagnation mover).
In this box, you’ll receive four products. There will be a tincture or elixir; a tea, a drinkable thing (tea or such); an external use product, be it a bath (or foot bath), body oil or possibly an incense or atmosphere mist; and a culinary item. Possible ideas so far include:
Violet & water: body serum
Seaweed, nettle, lemon and violet finishing salts
An elixir for emotional clarity
Ocotillo, alder and violet: Inner waters massage oil
Lymphatic movement elixir (containing ocotillo, alder, violet, seaweed essences)
Pedicularis and rose flow-state elixir
An energy-moving room spray
Deep surrender: bath soak
Dry skin brushing lymphatic scrub
Sea vegetable immune support broth blend
Immune system support throat spray
Deep waters: lymphatic tea blend
Dark waters: deep cleansing bath salts
All of this will come wrapped in linen with a bi-fold describing the herbs used, with recipes and an exercise to try.
Get your box HERE.