with Melinda Rodriguez

Archive for May, 2013

The Wisdom of Herbal Allies

There are many reasons people turn to herbs for wellness support.  Some simply prefer a more natural approach to what they put in their body, while others are being told by their doctors that they need medication (all of which have horrible side effects) for certain health conditions and want to see if they can make herbs work first.

The herbal industry is a powerful one indeed and growing exponentially.  Americans are spending tens of billions of dollars on natural supplements each year.  The Journal of the American Medical Association (J.A.M.A.) released an issued devoted entirely to the studies of herbs and alternative remedies.  Among the fascinating findings was that Americans today make more visits to nontraditional practitioners, many of which claim expertise in herbs along with other natural therapies.  And they spend almost as much out of pocket on alternative medicine (most of which are expensive pills).  I’m going to assume these alternative practitioners are prescribing herbal remedies with good intentions, but where does their knowledge of herbs come from?  Their text books?  Industry influence?  Or from true herbal experts that have actually formed a relationship with each herb and their connection to humans?

I have a question for you…which provides you more nutritional value – a packaged processed food or a whole food?  Duh!  You know the correct answer.  So, which do you think provides more healing constituents – a processed plant that is powdered and plunked into a capsule OR a whole herb prepared with love and respect by YOU?  Moreover, do you think it would be wise to combine Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft in one massive dosage?  More is better right?  I’m guessing you would not consider this.  Yet, many of the herbal remedies sold to us by practitioners and health food stores contain multiple herbs in one pill.  With my knowledge, in my opinion, we are being sold to by a greedy industry with marketing ploys that play upon the American notion of more, more, more!  And, many of the herbs being packaged can actually have side effects.

So, let’s get some clarity here.  The following are guidelines set forth by Susan Weed.  First, it is wise to know that herbs fall into four basic categories:  Nourishing, Tonifying, Stimulating and Potentially Poisonous.  Second, you need to make sure you have the right herb and that it is grown and harvested properly. If you are gong to grow them yourself, I highly recommend you study with an expert such as Susan Weed.  Or, if you prefer to purchase, make sure you have a reputable source such as Mountain Rose Herbs.

Working with “simples” (one herb at a time) is the best way to work with herbs.  It ensures optimal safety and allows you to understand how each herb works with your body.  My only exception is peppermint.  I often add peppermint to my infusions to enhance flavor.  According to Susan Weed, “The more herbs there are in a formula, the more likelihood there is of unwanted side-effects. Understandably, the public seeks combinations, hoping to get more for less. And many mistakenly believe that herbs must be used together to be effective (probably because potentially poisonous herbs are often combined with protective herbs to mitigate the damage they cause). But combining herbs with the same properties, such as goldenseal and echinacea, is counter-productive and more likely to cause trouble than a simple. A simple tincture of echinacea is more effective than any combination and much safer.”

”Different people have different reactions to substances, whether drugs, foods, or herbs” cautions Susan.  “When herbs are mixed together in a formula and someone taking it has distressing side effects, there is no way to determine which herb is the cause. With simples, it’s easy to tell which herb is doing what. If there’s an adverse reaction, other herbs with similar properties can be tried. Limiting the number of herbs used in any one day (to no more than four) offers added protection.”

So let’s break down the different categories of herbs, and what common ones fit into what category.  We will start with Nourishing herbs as they are the safest of all herbs and side effects are rare.  They are often used as foods and can be taken every day for any length of time.  According to Ms. Weed, nourishing herbs provide high levels of proteins, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, carotenes, and essential fatty acids.

 Nourishing herbs work best as food or in infusions like my favorite, Stinging Nettle infusion. 

Tonifying herbs have a cumulative effect on the body and are slow acting.  Side effects can occur but are typically short-term.  Tonifying herbs are best used in small quantities for extended periods of time, but not indefinitely like the nourishing herbs.  The bitterness of an herb is an indication of its strength and demands respect.  Therefore, the more bitter a tonic, the less you need.  Mother Nature is so clever.  Likewise, bland tonics can be used more freely. 

Tonifying herbs build the strength in specific areas of the body like an organ or the immune system.  Examples of tonifying herbs are: barberry bark, burdock root/seeds, chaste tree, crone(mug)wort, dandelion root, echinacea, elecampane, fennel, garlic, ginkgo, ginseng, ground ivy, hawthorn berries, horsetail, lady’s mantle, lemon balm, milk thistle seeds, motherwort, mullein, pau d’arco, raspberry leaves, schisandra berries, St. Joan’s wort, turmeric root, usnea, wild yam, and yellow dock.  Tonifying herbs often work best in tincture form.  You can add a few drops in water or take straight, depending on the taste. 

The next category of herb is Sedating and Stimulating herbs which can cause a variety of swift reactions, some of which may be unwanted as some parts of the body might “stress” in order to help other parts.  I once took an entire dropper full of valerian root.  I misread the directions, which stated only a few drops – YIKES!  Yes I slept incredibly well but was in a daze until noon the next day.  These are herbs to be respected and well understood.

Here is what Susan Weed has to say about these powerful allies; “Strong sedatives and stimulants, whether herbs or drugs, push us outside our normal ranges of activity and may cause strong side effects. If we rely on them and then try to function without them, we wind up more agitated (or depressed) than before we began. Habitual use of strong sedatives and stimulants-whether opium, rhubarb root, cayenne, or coffee-leads to loss of tone, impairment of functioning, and even physical dependency. The stronger the herb, the more moderate the dose needs to be, and the shorter the duration of its use.”

Herbs that tonify and nourish while sedating/stimulating are much easier on the body and can be used more freely, as they do not cause dependency. Sedating/stimulating herbs that also tonify or nourish are boneset, catnip, citrus peel, cleavers, ginger, hops, lavender, marjoram, motherwort, oatstraw, passion flower, peppermint, rosemary, sage, skullcap.

Strongly sedating/stimulating herbs include: angelica, black pepper, blessed thistle root, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, coffee, licorice, opium poppy, osha root, shepherd’s purse, sweet woodruff, turkey rhubarb root, uva ursu leaves, valerian root, wild lettuce sap, willow bark, and wintergreen leaves.

Lastly I want to give a brief mention to some potentially poisonous herbs.  Some may surprise you.  Again, we must remember that each herb is going to have a different relationship with each individual.  I seriously recommend extreme wisdom when venturing into the realm of potentially poisonous herbs.  It would probably be best to work with an extremely wise and experienced herbalist before using.  Susan Weed happens to have a wonderful website with lots of resources along with a chat forum that her students frequent to answer questions. 

Potential poisonous herbs are strong, potent medicines that are taken in small amounts and only for as long as needed.  Side effects are common.  Examples of potentially poisonous herbs are: belladonna, blood-root, celandine, chaparral, foxglove, goldenseal, henbane, iris root, Jimson weed, lobelia, May apple (American mandrake), mistletoe, poke root, poison hemlock, stillingia root, turkey corn root, wild cucumber root. 

I have personally worked with several herbs discussed in the various categories, and always one at a time.  My favorite nourishing herb is Stinging Nettle.  I’ve also worked with Raspberry leaves, Red Clover blossoms, Peppermint, Chaste Tree Berry, Shepard’s Purse, Dandelion, and Valerian Root.  In fact they are all a part of my herbal pantry.  The results have been incredible, but it is also combined with the right diet for me along with daily exercise, limited toxin exposure and fostering a positive mind set.  Herbs are not magic bullets and don’t work in and of themselves necessarily, they are allies upon our wellness path.

It was a health crisis that caused me to turn to herbal wisdom.  I do not have health insurance, could not afford conventional medicine at the time, and even if I could, I don’t think I would have taken that route.  The physical healing following my pregnancy loss was intense.  I bled for a month straight and became horrifically anemic, weak and depleted.  The Shepard’s purse finally got the bleeding to stop.  The Nettle nourished me with iron and all the vitamins my body needed.  The Red Raspberry leaf helped to heal and tone my uterus back to normal.  My hormones were out of whack prior to getting pregnant, and they needed further balancing afterwards.  The Chaste Tree Berry helped with that and I took it for a full year.  The Red Clover blossoms are absolutely delicious and have a phytoestrogenic effect which helped bring further balance, but I only drank the infusion for a very brief time.  Dandelion is a great liver ally.  The liver is responsible for breaking down and processing all excess hormones for elimination, so supporting it is important.  But that too only needed a short time.  I use Valerian root on the rare occasion that I cannot sleep.  That was a far more common occurrence when my hormones where out of whack, but now that they are in harmony, sleep is not usually an issue.  And of course, I add peppermint to all my infusions because it tastes good.  I’ve also smoked it on occasion as it is a great healing ally for the lungs…and no it doesn’t get you high.

With all this incredible wisdom I know you are empowered and supported to work with herbs as nature intended.  And here is the best news of all…when we simply buy the whole herb in bulk to make infusions, or even as a tincture, it is so affordable.  You could even grow and harvest your own favorite allies.  As Susan Weed says “Herbal medicine is people’s medicine. Herbal medicine is the primary medicine of most people on this planet, right now. It’s not something old and dusty. It’s not a bunch of doctors and chemists figuring out how to use herbs like drugs. Herbal medicine is a 3-year-old picking plantain and putting it on a skinned knee or an insect bite. Herbal medicine is the medicine of women and children. It is the medicine of the earth. It’s medicine that’s free. It’s not something that must be studied before it can help you. Start with one plant. Approach herbal medicine directly, hands on, in the back yard with your children.”

In Rhythm & Harmony,



The Wisdom of Living Well

There is a wonderful story told by Dr. Lissa Rankin about Stamatis Moriatis; a man living in the US in is mid 60’s diagnosed with cancer and given 9 months to live.  Instead of seeking aggressive medical treatment, he decided to return to his native Ikaria, a Greek island near the Aagean Sea.  With the life he had left, he decided to live richly.  He and his wife moved into a small house on a vineyard, he reconnected to his spiritual roots, planted a garden, basked in sunshine and reconnected with old friends daily over a bottle or two of wine.

Six months had passed and not only was he still alive, he was actually feeling better than ever.  He found purpose in his daily life and enjoyed his evenings with community.  Three and a half decades later, Moraitis is 97 years old, still living in Ikaria, never undergoing any cancer treatment.  At one point, 25 years after his diagnosis, he decided to go back to the US to ask the doctors what had happened.  The doctors were all dead!

135d9ef2a5953403cc96191a708d51d2I retell this story because I find an immensely important teaching for those of us living a fast-paced, stressed out, hectic Western life style.  In a land where conventional medical care is actually making us sicker than our insane lifestyles, it is time we come home to the truth of how to heal, reclaim our wholeness and bask in a state of wellness.  It is a process of unlearning societal programming and investing ourselves in the vital wisdom within that is thirsting to emerge.

Adrenal fatigue is plaguing a large percentage of Westerners today.  Some are aware of it, some are not.  What is most alarming is that we don’t seem to understand the depth of our endocrine system and the massively important role our adrenals play in our total wellness.  If the adrenals are taxed, the whole body goes out of whack.  Our hormones become unbalanced, our thyroid shuts down or goes berserk, inflammation sets in, and if left unattended, it all WILL lead to serious disease that can create a sickly life and even an early death.  It’s time to stop the madness!

You and only you are the master of your Destiny.  It is never too late to begin to make the changes that will lead you to the life you deserve; the life you were born to live.  But I have good news – this does not have to be a difficult process.  And I’m here to guide you.  I shall share some lovely pleasurable tips here, and should you desire further mentoring, you know where to find me.

First and foremost, I’m going to once again harp on the single most powerful herb on the planet!  You’ve heard me talk about it time and time again.  It is affordable, and may very well be growing in your own backyard.  Stinging Nettle!  This powerful little ally knows exactly how to nourish your adrenals, kidneys, bones and the entire body.  Stop popping umpteen vitamins and supplements each day and simply drink them via a tall glass of Nettle infusion.  A glass of Nettle infusion has all the vitamins and minerals you need for the day, and they are in their natural, effective, complex forms; not synthetic and broken up like they are in pill or capsule form.  Nettle infusion has calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, chromium, selenium, trace minerals, chlorophyll, manganese, silica, boron, zinc and iodine.  It is also a great source of vitamins A, C, E, K, B complex vitamins and beta carotene.

Stinging Nettle is the most powerful ally for adrenal fatigue, along with a whole-foods diet and a balanced rest/movement ratio.  These three components alone will empower you revive your adrenals and process the stress that comes your way.  The next step is to deeply evaluate your life style.  If there is too much stress, where and how can you begin to eliminate it?  The goal is not so much to deal with stress more effectively, but to eliminate the excess.  You can’t sugar coat a pile of shit and expect it to taste like ice cream.

Some components of stress may not be eliminated, so you have to look at what you can realistically (not necessarily easily) reduce.  If your job is more stress than joy, it is time to think outside the box and find other work.  If there are people in your life that suck the life out of you, it is time to contemplate letting go of them.  If it is a family member that can not be let go of, look at possibly less time spent with them and treating yourself to pleasure following exposure.  If your home environment is toxic – mentally, physically, emotionally and/or spiritually – clean it up!  If you need help with any of this, seek it.  Remember, you ARE power.

Setting up certain rituals in your daily life that bring you pleasure and peace are a step in the right direction.  Morning meditation and/or exercise are fabulous rituals.  Mid-day deep breathing, singing, dancing or nature brakes are delightful ways of flinging off stress.  Evening relaxation rituals are my favorites indeed.  I love to go out into my garden with a glass (or two) of wine and enjoy the flowers, the breeze, the birds and my doggies.  Even when I travel I make time to unwind, even if it means an hour less of sleep.  Studies now show that enjoying an evening cocktail actually enhances wellness.  A recent study showed that middle-aged women who averaged 3 – 15 alcoholic drinks per week (spread out over every day of the week vs. binge drinking) had up to 28% higher odds of being free from chronic illness, physical disability, mental health problems and cognitive decline.  Experiments from this same study even showed moderate alcohol intake can reduce inflammation!  Whoa!!!  Here is a link to the article http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/06/health/women-drinking-daily-health

ae924b653bad7e5397b5499ccf79afb1Now, I’m not advocating getting schnockered.  I truly believe that it is the relaxation ritual of that evening cocktail that holds the key to the health benefits.  It divides the day and sets the intent that whatever has happened is now in the past.  The potential of the rest of the night is infinite and full of possibility.  Additionally, if you are not a drinker, starting now just to get the benefits described here is probably not a good idea.  Find another additive for your evening ritual…perhaps a glass of Nettle!  But if you do enjoy a drink in the evening, this is great news and reason to let go of any guilt.  Many cultures outside of the US with phenomenal longevity stats indulge in such pleasurable activities (with responsible moderation).  Could Mr. Moriatis’s spontaneous healing be in part due to his evening wine drinking with friends?

The truth is however, drinking wine, Nettle or anything else in and of itself does not hold the secrets to wellness and longevity.  It is taking control of your life and making it one that is nurturing and nourishing that lead to joy and health.  That may mean you need to unapologetically step out of societal expectations, make some decisions and changes that are initially uncomfortable, but ultimately bring you happiness.  At the end of life, I guarantee you will not look back and be pleased with how hard you worked.  You will find peace with how well you lived, how hard you played, how lovingly you took care of your body and how unabashedly you loved.

I’d love to hear from you.  Your questions, comments and life experiences are welcomed and encouraged.

In Rhythm & Harmony,


The Return of the Shaman

shaman1I awoke this morning to the cry of Hawk as she soared above the pine trees outside my bedroom.  What a perfect alarm clock.  I got up from my bed and peered out my open window at the beautiful sight and scent of a light spring mist that carried the sweet perfume of my blooming roses and jasmine.  Ahhh, Pachamama – Good Morning!  The Hawk continued her sacred song as messenger.  She has appeared to me often in the last few weeks on my morning runs with my dogs.  Her message is a confirmation to what I have been observing for quite some time.  We have entered the time of the return of the Shaman.

As the world around us continues to evolve with a huge increase in technological advances, the world within us is pulling us towards our true essence – Spirit and the realm of Nature.  This paradox in seemingly opposite directions is actually an act of stability and harmony.  But only if we listen and follow that inner pull.  The Shaman within each of us desires to awaken and ignite our connection to nature, arousing our awareness of Spirit and illuminating our pathway of purpose.

The illusion of economical stress, violence and upheaval that penetrates the psyche of humankind right now is actually the perfect platform for the Shaman to emerge.  When the cloak of media and excess materialism begins to fall away, what is left is what matters – community, family, relationships, the beauty of nature, and a deep connection with Spirit.  Our inner Shaman develops and thrives within the natural world of rhythm, harmony, wellness and wholeness; this is the essence of who we truly are.  This essence is thirsting to take front and center stage in our lives so that we may experience the beauty, wisdom and peace that we came here to be.

The fundamental nature of the role of a Shaman in both ancient and contemporary societies is to create and sustain equilibrium and wholeness for Mother Earth and her inhabitants.  This role is becoming increasingly necessary causing people to awaken and remember their purpose.  Our awareness of our inner Shaman is intensifying and we are being called to embrace our path.  The Shaman or Shamanic Practitioner takes on many different roles to achieve wholeness.  For some it may be the role of healer, activist, teacher, intuitive advisor or even bringing sweet shamanic medicine into seemingly mundane roles.  The common denominator is a developing and deepening a connection to nature and increased intuitive awareness.

Sacred ToolsNature is the teacher of harmony and wholeness.  When we are aligned with inner rhythm and the natural world our Shamanic instincts awaken and we embark upon the journey of traveling the inner worlds of consciousness.  If we follow our instincts, we are lead to the right circumstances to further develop our gifts and talents so that our unwavering, constant connection to Spirit becomes a natural, harmonious way of life.  When challenge arises, our response comes from wisdom rather than fear.  We hold onto our power and utilize that force as a beacon of light and love that inspires others as it permeates and fuels every aspect of our life.  We are aligned with our own rhythm and listen to the heartbeat of nature to guide us as the rhythm shifts.

On this sacred Holy Day of Beltane, may we welcome and celebrate the return of the Shaman.  Let us step sacredly upon our Earth Mother and listen to her song.  Dance to the rhythm of the wind, let your passion ignite by the light of fire, drink from the waters of joy and be nourished by the abundance that is all around you.

In Rhythm & Harmony,






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