Botanarchy’s Radical Feminist Healthcare Is Exactly What We Need Right Now

I don’t think there’s a one size fits all approach to medicine,” says Carolyn Barron confidently, as we sip jiaogoulong tea in her sunny, Los Angeles office. Barron is the co-founder of Botanarchy, a radical healthcare clinic whose mission is simply to supply “botanical medicine for body autonomy”. The chic, white jumpsuit that Barron sports in lieu of a white lab coat is an apt metaphor for her disruptive perspective, one that eschews traditional Western medicine in a manner that has become increasingly important as healthcare (especially women’s healthcare) comes under fire.

“I think of this as a feminist model of healthcare– but one that’s open to all genders,” Barron continues. “When I say ‘feminist model,’ I mean it’s separate from that patriarchal, old guard [world] of medicine, where it’s disease-driven, dogma-laden, and kind of shaming– shaming of choice, shaming of autonomy, shaming of lifestyle. It’s a more intuitive approach that’s individualistic and treats the root causes of disease instead of doing symptom management,” she explains. “It focuses on autonomy, choice, and teaching patients how to change their own life and their own health,” she continues. “The idea is that they will go on and pass that on to their family, their community.
— Garden Collage Magazine
Carolyn Barron

Boundless gratitude to Garden Collage Magazine for interviewing this Botanarchist on body autonomy, botanical medicine, and how feminist models of healthcare are the future of sustainable medicine. Read the full article here.

Photos by the resplendent @mollybeauchemin

Urban Forage: Bottlebrush Tea

Bottlebrush Tea

There’s a general rule of thumb whilst perusing the patches of our plastic pasture, hot on the trail of frolicsome foraged foliage…if the bees are sweet on it, you can bet your boots that it’ll sweeten your pot as well. The bees have been all up on the grill of my local Bottlebrush trees, prompting me to get all pensive and wonder “can I put ya in me?!” 

The answer is a resounding yes, and I reckon she’s sweeter than a July ham. Folks in the know have been sippin’ on Callistemon Citrinus for ages, and a tea of its leaves is perfectly sweetened by a smattering of its flowers. It’s like Gypsy tears sipped from cups of Tuberose during a tea party with imaginary friends on a decrepit wrap-around porch in the ether. For a genteel pot, throw in a generous handful of leaves and 3-4 red boughs of blossoms. Steep for longish spell to coerce all the sweet brouhaha from the boughs, and enjoy with a homemade pickle plate or a Rose-Geranium poundcake (recipe pending). Oh, and like pretty much everything that’s stuck in the ground, Bottlebrush tea has been found to have antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant activity. Pinkies up, brah!

The Nectar of Nefertum: Egyptian Blue Lotus Wine

Blue Lotus in all her splendor

Blue Lotus in all her splendor

“I rise like Nefertum, who is the lotus at the nostrils of Ra when he comes forth from the horizon each day.”

-The Egyptian Book of the Dead

“Branches they bore of that enchanted stem, 
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave 
To each, but whoso did receive of them, 
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave 
Far far away did seem to mourn and rave 
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake, 
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave; 
And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake, 
And music in his ears his beating heart did make.”

-‘The Lotos-Eaters’, Lord Alfred Tennyson

Some newfangled Egyptologists (I’m looking at you, Jeremy Naydler! Here’s a high five while we’re at it!) are assailing the staunch anthropological old-guard with some pretty high-fallutin’ hypotheses. These rogue scholars pluckily postulate that the collective papyri forming the Egyptian Book of the Dead are not merely a funery handbook of spells and incantations for dead folks hankerin’ to make a graceful transition to greener pastures. Instead, they’ve laid claim that this ancient, cadaverous tome should be read as a manual for the art of ‘practicing dying’ by us lucky folks topside o’ the soil. I can, and do, emphatically believe the chutzpah of these incendiary eggheads, and not just because I practice dying most every day with desolate relish. Ancient Egypt stinks to high heaven of Shamanistic inclinations! Animal-headed deities, a shamanistic Priesthood highly esteemed within the stratified society, hieroglyphs & papyri a’plenty showing profound knowledge of plant lore and altered states of consciousness, psychoactive ritual cocktails that may (or may not, juries out) have included mandrakes and poppies, transmutation rites, guiding the souls of the dead hither and tither…must I go on?!

Like Naydler postulates in Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts: The Mystical Tradition of Ancient Egypt, I’m high on believing the secret of the Egyptian Mysteries could very well lay in the concept of the body itself as a kind of tomb, enclosing godlike candy that has the potential to escape from the earthly realm entirely and dwell amongst the stars. Naydler writes:

“The akh is that part of our inner being that can be considered divine. It has the potential to escape entirely from earthly and even cosmic limitations, and it is through the akh that we can receive divine wisdom and insight. Only once the ba (what we would consider the soul, or consciousness) is seen to be independent of the body, then it is possible to come to know the akh, which was seen by the Egyptians as luminous and associated with the sun, and which, after death or through the ritual of the mysteries, found its place among the stars.“

If we’re in the business of discarding tombs both real and imagined (which I am), Nymphaea Caerulea, the Sacred Blue Water Lily of the Nile, would be an excellent ferry cross the river Styx. Carrying in its serpentine, cerulean DNA a shamanic cocktail of disintegration (apomorphine) and communion (nuciferine), she truly is Hermetic gnosis manifest- a vehicle for the ecstatic alchemical separation of body and spirit, a botanical simulacrum of simultaneous ‘solve et coagula’. Nuciferine serves to ‘strip off the garment’ of the lotus eater, while the euphoric tendrils of apomorphine liberate the akh, the luminous sun of our inner being.

As the sacred flower of the pharaohs, her plant manna was used ritualistically by the ancient Egyptian noblesse to produce shamanic ecstasy and hypnotic trance in magical rites, mostly involving the gruesome twosome of sex and death (9 out of 10 words in that last sentence make me exuberantly, erotically excited). Chinese botanists (my favorite kind, this side of Luther Burbank), were convinced the lotus had the ability to transcend the limitations of time, as they believed she flowered and bore fruit simultaneously. As a ritual libation, I’ve been ensconced in a wanton love affaire with Nymphaea Caerulea ever since ingesting a hydrosol distilled from her cerulean buds at a workshop with John Steele on Shamanism and Fragrance in Ancient Egypt.

All this epically erotic entheogenic Ethnobotany gets me terribly hot and bothered, but the REAL reason I fell in love with the lotus is because of how she’s pollinated. It’s truly the hottest piece of pornography this side of Georges Bataille. Sacred scarabs are lured into the dark waters by the lily at dusk, no match for its irresistibly miasmic pineapple musk. They intoxicatedly feast on the central petals, so engorged with lily liquor they fail to notice when the flower closes over them. The anthers then ripen and shed their pollen over the trapped beetles, whilst the flower descends back into the black waters of the Nile, for a night of Bacchanalian revelry in an underwater boudoir of velvet pollen, beating wings, nectar victuals and ecstatic sex. As Ra rises over the horizon, the enshrined altar re-emerges above the water, and the beetles are set free to do the walk of shame across the banks of the Nile.

The first time I heard this story, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I was simply bereft at being relegated to a lifetime of banal ‘human sex’ in church pews and Burger King bathrooms. Not content to suffer beyond this lifetime with the paltry constraints of human biology, I vow that my love and I will incarnate as bandit beetles next time we spin ‘round this rusty wheel. I promise to ensconce us in orgies of Saturnalian stamens and sub-aquatic romps in flowery coffers, of pollinated perversions and death rites in the ether.

In this lifetime, ritualistic victuals of lotus wine will have to suffice. You can make your own sacraments with a decent bottle of Rosé, a few ounces of Nymphaea Caerulea, and a few shakes of a lamb’s tail. Simply take 20 grams or so of lotus, crack open your bottle, skim a few chugs off the top, and soak your petals in the juices for three days to three weeks. You’ll want to re-cork your vessel and store it in the fridge until it’s time to commune. Like most lovely things, she’s a bitter pill, and her unguents may need to be cut with a little raw honey to sweeten the deal. I spent some time enchanting my brew for use in oracular ritual and tomb-discarding tumult. It’s always good to be on the same page as your elixirs. 

Like all noblesse flowers of the Philistines, Nymphaea has her very own God presiding over those bodacious blooms. Nefertum is the Egyptian god of the lotus and perfumery, an archetype of rejuvenation and anointment. As an avatar of Nefertum, ingesting the lotus into your temple (lotophagus, as the Greeks say, cause Ancient Greek makes me swoon) is akin to the ribald Dionysian rite of enthusiasmos, a state of being quite literally ‘filled by the gods.’ So make like Alan Watts and leave ‘your skin-encapsulated ego’ behind! Ra, Ra, shish boom Ra! 

Tonic Truffles

Botanarchy Tonic Truffles

In the midst of a tantrum of Henry Miller, Nina Simone and torrential downpour, I decided it would only be apt to indulge in some raw trufflery to match my dark and stormy mood. Herbal truffles taste like sleeping in a field of wild yarrow and waking up to a steaming mug of chocolate-laced morning dew. I taught these ecstatic orbs of chocolate bliss in a cooking class over the weekend with Sara Pettitt, L.Ac. They would be dashing nestled in a vintage tin and gussied up with ribbons for holiday gifts!

Combine the following equipage in a Cuisinart, process until well-mixed, then roll into little balls. Store in a sealed jar away from heat, or in the fridge if you’re so inclined.

1 cup coconut butter, warmed up to a sultry melt on the stove
¾ cup raw cacao powder
4 Tbsp raw agave or honey: If you’re a high roller-which I ain’t- Manuka Honey would be divine
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise & scooped for its ambrosial, aromatic marrow

4 drops of medicinal-grade essential oil 

Tried & true favorites include Rose Geranium, Blood Orange, Bergamot Mint, Frankincense, Vanilla, Lavender, Coffee & Peppermint

The key to ‘medicinal grade’ oils is to know your source. Most commercial oils are not up to snuff, shoddily suspended in toxic carrier oils and distilled using commercial solvents. These are dandy for perfumery, but their molecules are inherently discordant- do not ingest! Medicinal grade oils are 100% pure plant manna. Distilling essential oils the old-fangled way liberates the soul of the plant matter, producing an exquisitely refined product to provoke nonpareil religious experience (I’m totally serious here). They are, in a word, transcendent. Bow graciously before their power. 

Most of my oils are from John Steele of Lifetree Aromatix. John is a humble, antiquated gentleman scholar who does his best to remain inconspicuous on the internet (hats off to you!). A true Renaissance gent, John’s an Archaeologist, Aromatherapist, shaman, mentor, comrade of Terence McKenna, and all around alchemist of the arcane who has the supremely enviable task of traversing the world for ethnobotanical treasures. To get your paws on his epic catalogue of personally-sourced plant manna from blessed bogs and sacred spaces, contact Lifetree Aromatix at (818) 986-0584. I also adore Floracopeia and Alchemica Botanica, should you be so inclined.

Remember to use only high quality essential oils, and do your research on safety- anything labeled ‘Absolute’ is for perfumery, not epicurianery! Not to be consumed whilst pregnant or breastfeeding, of course.

Enjoy chocolate with garlands of gusto in radiant health!

The Tao of Tincture: Shou Wu Chih Longevity Tonic

Shou Wu Chih

“The root of the 50-year-old plant is called “mountain slave:” taken for a year, it will preserve the black color of the hair. The root of the 100-year-old plant is called “mountain brother:” taken for a year, it will bring a glowing complexion and a cheerful disposition. The root of the 150-year-old plant is called “mountain uncle:” taken for a year, it will rejuvenate the teeth. The root of the 200-year-old plant is called “mountain father:” taken for a year it will banish old age and give the power to run like a deer. The root of the 300-year-old plant is called “mountain spirit:” taken for a year, one becomes an earthly immortal”

- Li Shizhen’s famous Materia Medica of 1578, Bencao Gang Mu

Shou Wu Chih is the classic longevity tonic of Chinatown apothecaries, a murky, amber elixir sitting soddenly on dusty old shelves, winking at ya coyly with esoteric splendor.  Anchored by the magnanimous moxie of He Shou Wu (Chinese Fleeceflower Root), it finesses one’s savoir-faire by nourishing the blood and essence, warming the stomach, boosting the spleen and strengthening the tendons and bones. One could use this medicinally for anemia, poor digestion, arthritic aches & pains, sexual joie de vivre, and increasing sperm count. One could also knock a few back before meals as an aromatic aperitif.

There’s a fabulously gallant fable culled from the annals of Chinese esoterica that immortalizes the braggadocio of He Shou Wu. Its history dates back to 800 AD, and it has still remained a colloquial anecdote in both Chinese households and herbal circles.

Old Mr. He was an impotent curmudgeon (I’ve always thought of him as a grizzled Chinese Kris Kristofferson), a dastardly drunk who honky-tonked all night and slept alone under the stars. One portentous Sunday-morning-coming-down, he found himself nursing a Haggard-sized hangover in the fields, staring up at a bodacious vine twisting and twining itself into the cursed heavens. Its bedeviled root reminded Mr. He of two lovers intertwined, and sensing a message from Lady Nature, he decided he would grind the root into a powder so that he could sustain himself while he rotted in the woods. Within months, Mr. He had a raging libido and the vim & vinegar of a teenager. Within a year, his snow-white hair turned back to pitch-black, earning He Shou Wu its name: ‘Mr. He’s Black Hair.’

Shou Wu Chih

Raw herbs for Shou Wu Chih can be procured at your local Chinatown Apothecary – I love the chaotic sprawl and epic tea selection at Wing Hop Fung in downtown Los Angeles. If you prefer to peruse the ether, you’d be much obliged to check out Spring Wind DispensaryFat Turtle HerbsNuHerbs and Mayway.

For this tincture, you will need the following accoutrements:

He Shou Wu/Fleeceflower (Rx. Polygoni Multiflori) 50 g
Dang Gui (Rx. Angelicae Sinensis) 50 g
Huang Jing (Rhz. Polygonati) 40 g
Sheng Di Huang (Rx. Rehmanniae) 20 g
Chuan Xiong (Rhz. Chuanxiong) 15 g
Bai Zhi (Rx. Angelicae Dahurica) 14 g
Sha Ren/Cardamom Pods (Fr. Amomi) 4 g
Fo Shou (Fr. Citri Sacrodactyli) 5 g
Ding Xiang/Cloves (Fl. Caryophylli) 2 g

1 Liter Prairie Organic Vodka

1 gallon glass jar, for infusing your medicinals

Muddle your medicinals with your vodka in a sterilized glass vessel with a secure lid. Age for at least one month in a deliciously dingy crevasse of your liking. Take one shot of this affable alembic daily, or mix with warm water, freshly squeezed lemon and raw honey for a Taoist Toddy.