Exercise Your Systems: Digestion
Can you really exercise your internal body systems? Yes! They're made of organs, which are also muscles, and are full of blood and lymph and movement. Go on, exercise your systems.
Not only does this allow your digestive organs to practice contracting down to their smallest size, the emptiness allows time for any needed repair and construction work to happen.
Give your digestive organs a break, and a chance to change sizes. Give the lymph fluid and connective tissue around your organs some space, and some fresh blood flow. And give all the tissues a chance to heal: the GI tract really has a lot of constant damage to repair, so a pause gives all this a chance to happen.
Taste Your Bitters
Herbal remedy? Aperitif? Morning bowel stimulant? Yes!
The bitter taste is an amazing actor in our bodies- not only do our tongues taste bitter, but we have those same bitter taste receptors in all kinds of other body tissues too (like our lungs and kidneys). When we TASTE bitter, all sorts of things happen all over the body.
Specifically regarding digestion::
You can find alcohol-based bitters 3 main ways.
Food based bitters include liquids like Coffee and greens like Dandelion, Escarole, and Radicchio, as well as Chocolate and Cacao nibs.
Dandelion root, Artichoke leaf, Bitter Orange peel, Gentian, Blue Vervain, Angelica, and Horehound are all bitter herbs you may see on some ingredient lists as well.
Practice these 4 exercises for your Digestive System, and let me know how you're feeling! And Learn more about exercising your insides and outsides, for structural and systemic health, in my Foot to Forehead Fix program.
This Is NOT a Cleanse
Read No You Don’t Need A Liver Cleanse! Not A Detox Program Either! I'll wait...
OK, good. We got that straight.
Now, I love this time of year. Everyone has their own special take on traditions, and my family is no exception. We have a Slovak Christmas, a dinner called Vilija with mushroom sauerkraut soup, homemade pierogies, a fish, peas, green jello and pineapple (hey now don't judge) and ohmygosh the cookies. The big focus is on sharing, so yesterday when the exterminator came my mom gave him a baggie of cookies along with his check. Everybody gets included! After I get home there's a couple parties, and some "special" eggnog that'll knock your socks off, and who knows what else.
It's a fun, adventurous culinary holiday, lovingly made and generously shared, that is not well suited for daily life.
After the holidays I'm going to restart some physical and food choices that fell by the wayside this year. My goal is to improve my elimination, heal/repair my nervous and digestive tissues, and feel rested, clear headed, and inspired more often.
Do you want to Overhaul with me? Since I’m planning this out ahead of time and being more methodical, I thought some of you might want to join me for the ride. Here’s what we’ll do, from December 31 to January 20:
I’m offering you the inside scoop on my annual New Year’s Overhaul. You’ll learn what I’ve been doing (abdominal breathing! intermittent fasting!) and all the deets on some new things I want to try (lymph support! meditation!) There will be herbs, fermented foods, exfoliation and dry brushing, digestive support and poop talk, gut health and sweating.
Simply put, we’ll try some new habits on for 3 weeks and see what sticks, while minimizing the demands put on our bodies.
Want to take part? 3 weeks of plans and descriptions, plus my support, delivered early so you have time to prep, is $30.
Sign up HERE, and look for your welcome email. I am traveling this week so you may not get it same day. I look forward to going through this with you!
December, Digestion, Discomfort
Welcome to December, the waning of our year. It's not just our calendar that come to an end; we'll pass the Winter Solstice in a few weeks to mark the longest night and the lengthening of our days again. It seems strange to me that as this happens Winter is only beginning- shouldn't this be the middle of the season? But a favorite quote of mine says, "As the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen" so let's settle in.
As I write I'm in Florida with my family, and we're celebrating Christmas early with our Slovak tradition called Vilija. It includes sauerkraut soup, pierogies, and lots of cookies. So let's talk about digestive bitters!
Here's a repost from just a little while ago, describing the benefits of digestive supporters like Bitters, Enzymes, Apple Cider Vinegar, Probiotics, and Herbs. I always show up at holiday events with at least a travel-sized bitters spray in my purse, and after just one or two samples at a homemade food fest most of my friends are converts! #herbnerds
Ginger Honey Crystals
Do you know about Ginger Honey Crystals? They are a serious happy-making item!
I'm pretty independent, and I value self sufficiency, and and and- pour a packet of these magic babies into a mug, add hot water, and you have one happy Paula. Especially tonight, when it's chilly and damp. Ahhh.
Just honey, and ginger. Fantastic.
It's CSA Time!
Yesterday was Groundhog Day, as well as Imbolc. The ancient Celtic holiday features the same observances- a spirit of nature makes a prediction about how much winter we have left, because- and here’s the GOOD NEWS- we’re halfway to Spring! We’re officially on the upslope now.
Of course, this means that we’re also in the time of Winter when we get our coldest and snowiest weather here in PA. I have to say, though, I’m almost getting used to it. Last night was incredibly windy and about 19 degrees, and that was no more uncomfortable than a pre-dawn Christmastime walk to the train station had been, when I realized that 30 degrees really didn’t feel all that bad anymore.
While I’m enjoying wallowing in the last throes of hibernation, it is time to announce that CSA season has arrived. It’s true, the window of opportunity to sign up for fresh food grown in local good earth, is open NOW. It seems crazy, but farmers are already seeding spring crops in their greenhouses.
Let me tell you about a few of my favorites.
In the Philly suburbs area, Pennypack Farms is a familiar and well-run option. You probably already know someone (if you live here, that is) that uses Pennypack. They have a variety of share sizes, 2 locations for pickup, and a fabulous herb garden at their Maple Glen farm besides. Their setup is simple- you choose from the pickup day and location options at the beginning of the season so farmers know how much to harvest on each day. Show up anytime they are open on your day, and check out the list of options posted. There may be limits on certain items (one head of broccoli per person, for example) and there may be required taking, should there be an over-abundance of a crop. Bring a bag, weigh out your choices, check off that you arrived on the register, and poof! Fresh vegetables from that very farm in your possession. They also offer extras like fruit, meat, dairy and egg shares, in addition to the vegetables.
I have belonged to their Highlands Farm site for both summer and winter shares, although they have discontinued the winter share there due to the trouble of keeping the long, narrow, gravel, hilly drive open. (The Highlands is a preserved estate on Skippack Pike west of Butler Pike.) I split the share with a Pennypack member, and we emailed each other what we had chosen, because we didn’t arrive together and weren’t supposed to choose more than that week’s limits. This setup was a little onerous, but the choices were generous and in summer they frequently had ‘seconds’ bins we could pick through for extras, which I liked because I could try one of something without needing to take a full share of it.
Next, I joined the Red Earth Farm CSA with a friend. They are based in Berks County PA, and have a great system for sharing. Each week you log into their website and choose your items. We’d email each other with our choices, reminding the other to pick her half. Red Earth Farm also offers many extra types of shares as well, and you can purchase additional items through their site. My friend and I got a few extra cases of tomatoes and canned them together!
When you sign up, you choose your location. The nearest site for us was a private home in Ambler, which received the farm’s deliveries on Wednesdays. One of us would drive over, transfer our bin contents to a bag, and make arrangements to drop off the other’s bag. We live 5 minutes from each other so that was no problem.
This was by far my favorite CSA I’ve tried (there have been a few other not worth mentioning too). Unfortunately, Ambler has become very inconvenient for both of us, which is a real shame. I’m very biased and strongly urge everyone in the area to try Red Earth Farm this summer, by which I mean sign up NOW! I think there’s only a few weeks left.
Now I’m trying out a service called Door to Door Organics. They also have an online ordering system, and options to purchase all sorts of other items, as well as an area to choose items you hate (like onions in my case!), or items you really love. You choose from several box sizes, whether you want fruit, veggies, or a mix of them, and weekly or bi-weekly delivery. You can also leave a message for delivery instructions to make sure everything is protected from weather, animals, neighbors, etc.
Each week you log in to see the contents of your next box, and they try to accommodate your love/hate list. You can substitute up to 5 of the items, purchase extras, or even skip a delivery very easily. I just received my 3rd box this morning. The quality of everything I’ve gotten has been great so far, though the quantity has been sometimes disappointing. Not everything is local either, although items that are get labeled as such on the order page. I was pleased to see that “1” banana unit is really 2 fruits, same with potatoes, acorn squash, and a few other items. But the kale bunch had about 5 stalks in it, and this time I got a blood orange that is scarcely bigger than a golf ball. I suppose I will soon learn what’s what when ordering, and when I did the math on each week it is a little cheaper than either Pennypack or Red Earth Farm so smaller items are to be expected.
I’m using the service to force myself into fresh food, fruit, and variety during the winter, and I expect I’ll switch to an all fruit, bi-weekly box in summer when I can shop at the local Lansdale farmer’s market more. It’s really a great market and I got there often last year, so that’s no burden. Also, if you sign up with them using this link, I'll get a discount on my next order for inviting you! (If it doesn't work, email me and I'll send you a new invite. Thanks!)
Really, though, I encourage you to try any of these ideas, or any of the ones near you. Try doing a search on LocalHarvest.org to see what’s nearby. You get really fresh stuff, support local farmers, and don’t have to go to the grocery store as often (or am I the only one who thinks that's a win-win-WIN?!) And if anyone wants to host a Red Earth Farm pick up site in the Lansdale/Montgomeryville/Collegeville area, DO IT! I’ll be the first to sign up.
Trust Your Gut
Do you trust your instincts, the little voice that makes every fiber in you vibrate “YES!” or “NO!”? Do you trust it all the time, unconditionally? Or do you second guess your gut? And are you ever wrong?
I do, and I have been wrong, and I’ve also been so right. What is this gut that we can put such faith in?
We could talk about your enteric brain, a second nervous system in your digestive system whose "aberrations are responsible for a lot of suffering."
Or we could mention the plethora of traditions that employ digestive metaphors to the gut. Just look at ours-
Butterflies in the stomach
Something negative eating away at you
I’ll have to digest that idea and get back to you
But really, when we get down to it, a gut feeling is a whole body experience, that doesn’t have to be very logical, and that has been responsible for at least a few adventures in all our lives.
Our experiences play into our gut feelings. We meet people and learn about them, which informs us when we next meet people. We have accidents or terrifying near-misses driving cars, which inform us the next time we’re in traffic.
Our brain also plays into this, very often in a negative manner. Giving ourselves time to think about a choice or a situation or whatever has frequently led me to a wrong decision (or what I’m now calling “learning opportunities!”)
My emotions seem to spend a lot of time in direct conflict with my instincts- or rather, I notice this conflict more clearly after my instinct has been overruled. I find it pretty easy to think about and analyze my feelings, but find it very hard to stop long enough to clearly analyze my instincts.
This difficulty comes up most when my instinct is telling me something I don’t want to hear. When I’m all in agreement- head, heart and gut- it’s no problem. But when my gut throws up a red flag, it’s easy to let my feelings and my thinking trample it.
But here’s the fabulous part- we can practice using our instincts!
Start in small, non-important ways to ‘get the feel of it’:
Think about conversations from your day- did you said something without thinking that turned out to be the perfect thing to say?
Sit at a red light and try to guess who will start picking their nose.
On the Witch Camp forum there's been a thread discussing Intuition. One Camper said, "just close your eyes and notice what comes up... Once you think you've got something, notice if your body relaxes or tenses. That will be a clue. Feeling a lightness in your energy might also give you a clue. Eventually you'll find a pattern."
Work your way up to bigger things:
When you’re walking, spend some time focused on your gut, and turn down a side street or take a different path just because you felt something. Then notice what’s around you, and maybe you’ll see something new or exciting.
When you’re thinking of a friend, call them or send them an email. Or try to anticipate what the next person you see will say to you.
Start noticing all the happy coincidences around you, and know nothing is a coincidence. Your instincts already knew!
Edit: The day after posting, I came across this in one of my favorite blogs, Remedial Eating. Spidey sense indeed- it seems the instinct to think about our instincts right now is widespread. Coincidence?
"It is hard to know, sometimes, when to retreat, and when to plow ahead. When to double down, give it your all, go Nike *rah-rah* and just do it. And when to mindfully step away. I tend to be all about noses and grindstones, packing it in, piling it high, but am learning, I think (I hope), to trust my Spidey sense a nudge more. At least to tune in. At least not to turn it off, swiftly and automatically. Progress."
Heart Opening- Rose
One good thing that has come of my teacher closing her Chestnut Hill shop is that everything went on sale! I picked up Matthew Wood’s 2 volume set, The Earthwise Herbal and just happened to come across this (remember, I don’t believe in coincidences!):
“The tradition is very precise in associating the rose with the heart and the eyes. By comparison, hawthorn, the tree of the faeries, is associated with the heart and the tongue.” (Emphasis in original)
He also speaks to traditions of rose petals healing sight and nonmaterial vision.
Several months ago I started experiencing eye strain when I started reading more online. My teacher suggested I try Blueberry Solid Extract, and gave me a half-jar she had in the back of her fridge to get started. On a whim, she gave me most of a jar of Hawthorne Solid Extract too. It also strengthens the cardiovascular system, though not as specifically to the eyes as Blueberry, and she didn’t need it anymore so suggested it couldn’t hurt. Hawthorne is also a classic heart herb, of grief and loss, and since I was going through some personal loss at the time I saw it as a double-whammy.
Rose is another classic herb of the heart, more along the lines of love and passion. One of our practice clients last year was given Avena Botanical’s Rose Petal Elixir and she almost immediately stopped taking it. We theorized, based on her condition and reaction, that it had too profound an effect on her heart, opening her more than she was prepared to allow.
As I was finishing my latest jar of Hawthorne, I had been thinking that I didn’t really need that remedy anymore. It’s the perfect time to move onto Rose now. Hawthorne helped me express my loss and not let it stagnate in my soul. I’m ready to open my eyes and my heart to the world again, and let warm loving people in.
Last night I made herb balls, a favorite medicinal food. To half a container of tahini (8oz, I guess?) I added the last of my molasses, maybe ¼ cup? (Tahini is high in micronutrients and trace minerals, and molasses is also high in minerals and Iron.) I mixed in 4 tablespoons of powdered Rose petals, 1 tablespoon of powdered Gotu Kola (to help my crazy unfocused brain stay on track) and 1 tablespoon powdered Horsetail (high in silica, I’ve been getting lots of hang nails.) This gave me a nice cookie dough consistency, and I rolled it into 18 balls.
18 balls divided by 18 teaspoons of herbs (1 tablespoon is 3 teaspoons) makes a nice even 1 teaspoon per ball. My dosage is 1-2 per day. Let’s see how I feel in about a week and a half!
My Morning Pancake
My morning pancake is, as often as not, dinner! I just love breakfast food for dinner. I think that's because typical American breakfast food is heavy and sweet and almost custom-designed to slow me down and make me sleepy.
This recipe makes a filling meal that is pretty wholesome, so I do like it for breakfast if I have the time.
This pancake recipe is infinitely modifiable. Here's the basic recipe:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup flax meal
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
To this, I add! Add what? Whatever you can dream up.
So, to 1/2 cup of mix I'll add an egg, and liquid (milk? whey? water? sure!) to make it batter-consistency.
Out of eggs? Add another tablespoon or 2 of flax meal and let the wet batter sit for a few minutes. The flax will act like an egg substitute.
I like to make 1 big cake in my cast iron skillet. Sometimes I'll cut up a banana on it, or sprinkle some chopped nuts, or chocolate chips and some pink Himalayan salt. If possible, I'll do all 3!
Want it savory? Add diced veg- corn, peppers, onion, tomato, chives, whatever. How about diced ham, or smoked salmon? YUM! You could wet it with a broth, or even beer, and make it a proper dinner.
Try it! Let me know how you like it.
We just had our latest new moon, there’s still a few days left in the Meditation Challenge, and I’m loving it! The challenge was on Finding Your Flow, and having gone through the exercises I’m looking forward to letting the lessons percolate and bloom.
For this new moon habit, I thought I’d work with the building energy in a more practical, literal way and build a ‘favorite recipes’ category here on the blog. There are several recipes that I turn to regularly, so you’ll see them over the next two weeks. I warn you though, I am not a photographer and food shots are particularly difficult, so don’t expect much!
To get started, here is one of my mainstays, fall through spring. It’s an Indian dish called Kichari, and traditionally it’s used as a mono-fasting meal during a cleanse. It shows up at breakfast, lunch and dinner weekly in my kitchen, fasting or no!
Adapted from a recipe by Lynn Roberts of Banyan Yoga and Ayurveda
1 tb Kichari spice, recipe follows
2 tb ghee, recipe follows
½ c split yellow mung beans
½ c rice
2 c water or more
½ tsp salt or to taste
Melt the ghee in a large pan, and add the spices. Allow the spices to ‘fry’ or ‘bloom’ for 1-2 minutes. Add rice and mung beans and water, bringing to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, covered, until rice is cooked, about 30-40 minutes.
This is the basic recipe, and there is a lot of room for adjustment here. Some like their rice dryer, like a pilaf, some more soupy. I have added chopped carrots, gobo root, broccoli, sweet potatoes, butternut or other squash, and kale. Sometimes I like it with salsa, and maybe some avocado. Sometimes I use more spice, too.
Melt 1 lb butter in a shallow pan over very low heat. It will begin to foam, as the water content in the butter cooks away. You can skim off the foam. Then the solid particles will begin to brown and fall to the bottom. When the browned bits are all fallen and the foaming has stopped, strain the ghee into jars. Save the browned bits for toppings, they’re delicious.
Kichari spice blend
Using equal parts of each, blend together:
Whew. It's been a month since my last post.
Moving house always causes chaos, but I'm finding some roots. I've been settling down, settling in, and unpacking.
I'll be back at the keyboard, and back into my workshop, soon.
In the meantime, I leave you with a super recipe based on our herb class today!
In class today, Jill Hoffman ND finished up a discussion with us about what is found on a typical CBC panel and we got into the differences between fats, omega 3's and 6's, and cholesterol. She also talked up some Winter Wellness information. then, Kristen and I taught a class on making Elderberry syrup and a digestive elixir.
So tonight for dinner, I sauteed up some rainbow chard (fresh veg! vitamins!) with a knob of butter (good fat!), a la Remedial Eating. I sprinkled in some raisins (flavonoids!), and while they all softened and steamed, I toasted up some mixed nuts in a dry skillet (more good fat!). After the veggies were cooked, I turned off the heat and added a few tablespoons of the Elderberry syrup we made today to the hot pan (immune support!)
Fun Fact: I'm an herbalist and a movement coach. Not a doctor, or a pharmacist, and not pretending to be one on TV.
This is a public space, so my writing reflects my experiences and I try to stay general enough so it might relate to you. This does not constitute medical advice, and I encourage you to discuss concerns with your doctor. Remember, however, that the final say in your wellness decisions are always yours- you have the power to choose, you are the boss of you.
And, some of my posts may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them I'll earn a few cents. Thank you for supporting my work.
This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not medical, mental health or healthcare advice. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose, treat, heal, cure or prevent any illness, medical condition or mental or emotional condition. Working with us is not a guarantee of any results. Paula Billig owns all copyrights to the materials presented here unless otherwise noted.