A Paen To Penicillin: An Antibiotics User Guide from an Acupuncturista

Art is a still from 'Magical Contamination' by Antoine Bridier-Nahmias, an artistic documentation of mould and its diverse colors and textures captured in petri dishes.

Art is a still from 'Magical Contamination' by Antoine Bridier-Nahmias, an artistic documentation of mould and its diverse colors and textures captured in petri dishes.

It feels dirty and debaucherous publicly admitting that as a holistic health practitioner, I took the devil’s juice, I sipped the nectar of the underworld, I drew a pentagram in the crossroads and traded my corporeal soul and $25 dollars at CVS with Old Bones Jones for a chance at beating tonsillitis and decimating my microbiome.

I hadn’t needed antibiotics for years, but when I returned from an international flight late last year with a lymph node swollen to the size of golfball and a fever of 102, I did not have the luxury of treating this diligently on my own in a time frame that worked with my bonkers schedule. I needed to jump back into the saddle pronto because I have a lot of people that depend on me, as do you, likely. We are mothers and creators and radicals and care takers and tenders. There is no rest for the wicked.

One of the most frequently asked questions in my practice is “should I go on antibiotics?” While the answer is highly individualized, and most of us acupuncturists have a slew of herbal warriors with potency + panache to kick most pathogens to the curb, herbs are not always the most elegant solution. I take the time with each of my patients to talk about their options and how to gracefully navigate each choice. After all the cards are all on the table, I let them decide, shame free and without remorse. Because that is how medicine is practiced in a feminist model of choice and autonomy. En masse, there are steps you can take to make either choice empowering, and walk away from the whole experience feeling lusty, potent, and virile.

Step one is consider waiting. If you are not in any clear and present danger, and you are under the tutelage of an esteemed herbalist or functional doc, this is a solid approach. As my patients often remind me, beating your first infection with herbs + food is an initiation. You learn that everything you were ever taught about your body is wrong, that you are filled with adamantine strength and protean prowess if given the right tools and conditions. This approach forces you to be tender, scale back, and feel what it's like to nurture yourself back to life. You might have to de-escalate your schedule. Phew! What a relief! Or maybe your worst nightmare. But once you succeed in your pursuit of the plague, you have tools in your back pocket for any time that ol’ pestilence comes a’knocking at your door.

Sometimes you take the herbs and do the sleep and kick the stress, and you STILL get sicker. Step two is don’t fear the reaper. Those of us that have eschewed a life of Big Pharma get VERY riled up at the thought of taking antibiotics. Is it a betrayal of our values? Is it lazy, irresponsible, avoidant? AM I UNDOING 10 YEARS OF SEEDING MY GUT WITH KOMBUCHA, ARTISANAL SAUERKRAUT, AND AFFIRMATIONS THAT I RADIATE HEALTH FROM THE INSIDE OUT? Taking pharmaceuticals is NOT giving up your power and conceding to the military-industrial complex. You are not a shill of big pharma, you are not a horsewoman of the apocalypse, you are not complicit in the mass destruction of all beneficial microbial life, and, most importantly, you are not a butterfly. You are an almighty warrior priestess whose microbiome is an iron-clad vault of perpetual poetry in motion. Your microbiome is constantly evolving, and if you are not using antibiotics on the regular it will adapt. The number one factor that determines what microbes live in your gut (and which ones die off) is your daily diet. Make a point to eat a low sugar diet free of unprocessed foods and seed your gut with prebiotics from fibrous greens. Drink a little bone broth, why dontcha! And of course take probiotics along with your meds (albeit at least two hours apart from them), and keep taking probiotics for a minimum of 6 months (though truly we should be taking them all the time). I like two weeks of a very herculean CFU probie like Designs For Health ProbioMed 250, followed by my standard probiotic. If you are prone to yeast infections, you might want to do probiotic suppositories while you are downing your antibiotics. If you are concerned about the impact of antibiotics on your liver, you can take Antronex from Standard Process at 1 3xday during your course, continuing for a few weeks after. It also helps manage the dreaded ‘die-off effect’ that can happen with antibiotics like Amoxicillin.

Step three is don’t shame yourself for not being strong enough to fight the infection by non-pharmaceutical means. Shame is the enemy of health! It’s a tool of the oppressors! Shame keeps us trapped and small and holds us back from evolving and growing. I will never shame you! You did what you had to do. We are all just trying to survive. I love you.

Goji Schisandra Lemonade

Goji Schisandra Lemonade

In Chinese herbal therapy, sour & astringent herbs have the energetic quality of ‘consolidating’ our qi and precious body fluids from leaking out of the body. They are useful for sheltering our three treasures - jing, qi, and shen - firmly within the body temple, and securing what is lost after a ribald summer bacchanal of profuse sweating, bleeding, urination, extravagant orgasming, or fatigue after indulging in supernatural amounts of sexual activity. Taoist medicine folk of yore likened the wonders of astringent herbs to a ’turtle pulling back into oneself’, their magic being that of conservation and condensation. Seeing as summer is all about oozing fluids with wild abandon, worshiping ancient sun gods, and flagrantly squandering our immortality, sour and astringent medicines like Schisandra Berry and Lemon can help guard our vital fluids and protect us from the dangers of over-sweating. This rubicund elixir immortelle is gonna be on tap all summer long at the Baroness Homestead, because if theres one thing I do with gusto, its drop fluids like its hooooot. Method:

2 Tablespoons Schisandra Berries

4 Tablespoons Goji Berries

2 Tablespoons Aloe Juice

1 Cup Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice (thank you for the epic lemon haul, @kjirby and @natashawheat!)

4 Tablespoons Maple Syrup

A Pinch of Sea Salt

1 Quart Spring Water

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Simmer the Goji Berries and Schisandra in spring water for 30 minutes, strain, add your various accoutrements with gusto, let cool, ice it up, and drink in dewy dankness!

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

Herbal Allies: Honeysuckle + Forsythia

Honeysuckle and Forsythia

Paired together, these acrimonious accomplices coagitate and conspire to  entangle upper respiratory infections like colds, flu's, bronchitis, and sore throats in their vivacious vines. These two toxic avengers provide the brawny backbone for one of the ancestral Chinese pharmacopoeia's most judicious antibiotic herbal formulas, Yin Qiao. They release heat pathogens from the body, quell toxicity, and have been decocted by the initiated masses for thousands of years to treat wind-heat conditions, influenza, and viral infections. Recent clinical trials have shown that honeysuckle tea exhibits broad-spectrum antiviral and antibiotic activity, suppressing the effects of influenza virus in mice, effectively acting as a "virologocal penicillin". If a turn of phrase like "virological penicillin" gets you all hot and bothered in a panty drenching swoon, then boil yourself a pot of honeysuckle forsythia tea and drink it throughout the day, or decoct in a hot rice porridge or congee for a DIY flu shot. Lemon and honey will smooth over the acerbic edges, but the tea's poignant puissance will never fully acquiesce. But you want your medicine to be grizzled not chiseled - 'tis the season for prevention!

Herbal Allies: Huang Lian /// Coptis Root

Coptis Root

This golden, auric wonder glows like a honey-dipped sun, but under its florid veneer it shrouds a lethal combination of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory moxie engulfed in an acerbic matrix of bitter oomph. Coptis is, quite possibly, the bitterest herb I have ever tasted. Long enshrined in traditional medicine for its ability to treat conditions associated with excess dampness, inflammation, and heat, its bitterness is the key to its effectiveness. The bitter taste and yellow hue indicate the presence of berberine, an alkaloid with strong antibiotic effects that effectively drains excess and heat from the body. In test tube studies, berberine was shown to inhibit the growth of streptococcal bacteria responsible for some forms of pneumonia, and it exhibits broad-spectrum antibacterial and antiviral activity (take that, o meager single-minded flu shot!) that supports the use of coptis to treat skin, mouth, eye, gastrointestinal, and vaginal infections. A robust stalwart of heavy-hitter herbal prescriptions, Coptis takes on staphylococcus, strains of streptococcus, hepatitis B, salmonella, SIBO, cholera, and its motto is basically “I can handle all this jelly.” ALL HAIL.

Herbal Allies: Pang Da Hai

Pang Da Hai Karaoke Seed

Known in Asia as ‘The Karaoke Seed’, Pang Da Hai tea has been soothing my stressed throat all week, after a ribald weekend of duetting to Kate Bush at top volume. This gem of an herb is wonderful to have on hand for singers, speakers, teachers, rabble rousers, or anyone prone to voice loss, raspiness, sore throat, and dryness. Pour hot water over the seed, and watch as a magnificent, jellyfish-esque sea creature emerges. Pinkies up!

Chinese Herbal Bone Broth

Bone Broth

Never does a week go by in our household where the scraps of our epicurean labors aren’t heaped in a giant enamelware pot and stewed for hours while we mill about the homestead. We’re fanatical about our bone-collecting, surreptitiously slipping chicken carcasses into napkins under the table, asking waiters to box up our goat bones after indulging in a hearty pot of Birria De Chivo Goat Stew. The result of our rampant scrap-mongering is a rich, profoundly nourishing bone broth, imbued with golden melted life-force, exceedingly nourishing to the illustrious Three Treasures of Chinese Medicine:

Jing, our Essence, the source of life, the basis for all growth, development, and sexuality.

Qi, our energy, giving us the ability to activate and move our bodies, whilst protecting us against external and internal pathogenic factors.

Shen, our inner light, the vitality behind Jing and Qi, the mental and spiritual force that shapes our personality and spirit.

Bone Broth- or ‘stock’, depending our your particular cultural milieu- is a pan-cultural old world panacea, utilitarian kitchen alchemy transforming vegetable scraps and bones into pure nutritional gold. Heaps of vegetables, herbs, and leftover bones are pragmatically piled in a pot, and left to simmer slowly for long periods of time, extracting every morsel of function and flavor. The resulting infusion is a gently potent brew, teeming with trenchant, bio-available nutrition, easy to digest and suitable for all matter of medicine, both preventative AND curative. A complex, rich mosaic of variegated flavors, it is also an opulent addition to stews, soups, sauces, poaching liquid, grains, beans, and porridge, transforming blasé cooking water into a savory swill. It nourishes our tendons, ligaments, skin, bones, and blood, keeping us limber and spry, with an assassin-worthy immune system. As a grounding force in our otherwise hypersonic, twenty-first century lives, it forces us to spend a few hours a week at home, tending to our hearth fire. If I seem a little in love with it, it’s because I am. I get to melt bones in a giant pot, like a surly wizard necromancer.

Many moons ago, before I was religious about my bone broth, I was stricken by a persnickety set of symptoms that left me vacillating between a sprightly 20-something yoga warrior and a knobby, decrepit old crone. One day, I would be handstanding in yoga class like nobody’s business, and the next day, I could barely touch my toes, plagued with spells of tightness, pain, and numbness, accompanied by bouts of sleep seizures that made me feel ancient, neurotic, and utterly powerless. After getting diagnosed with a vague autoimmune disease, delivered with a despondent, helpless send-off from the Western Medical Hegemony, my homegrown recovery was rooted in cutting out all inflammatory foods (gluten, sugar, ungainly processed rubbish), and going the way of old man Hippocrates by using food as my medicine. Through Traditional Chinese Medicine and the wisdom of thee Weston A. Price Foundation, I discovered the ancient magic of bone broth, and have never looked back. Years later, I am symptom free (though on occasion, I go to town on Chocolate Stout and homemade bread), and enjoying all sorts of bendy melee on the regular. And really, despite seeing tons of under-the-weather patients daily, have developed a super-human resistance to colds and flu. I make my cauldron of bone broth weekly, and drink a cup a day, increasing in times of debauchery, disorder, or debilitation. I suggest this to everyone that walks through my door, as I’ve seen countless miracles in managing all matter of disease (you can check out the foxy graphic below from Vanessa Romero at Healthy Living How To for a list of its wiles and wonders).

If broth seems too good to be true, it’s because it is. Our leery, infirmed culture has taught us to be inherently disdainful of anything that seems ‘too good to be true’, a silly idiom I’ve always despised for shading the world in a Saturnine hue, thwarting the everyday magic of simple things, and propagating the ‘snake-oil’ mythos that impedes the advancement of traditional medicines. I much prefer the wisdom of wise old Yeats, who knew that “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

Why is bone broth so beautiful? The venerable Dr. Mercola at The Mercola Institute drops some science on this egregious elixir below, adding some credence to my highfalutin claims:

BENEFITS OF BONE BROTH

Helps heal and seal your gut, and promotes healthy digestion: The gelatin found in bone broth is a hydrophilic colloid. It attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices, thereby supporting proper digestion.

Inhibits infection caused by cold and flu viruses: A study published over a decade ago found that chicken soup indeed has medicinal qualities, significantly mitigating infection.

Reduces joint pain and inflammation, courtesy of chondroitin sulphates, glucosamine, and other compounds extracted from the boiled down cartilage. (Aside: glucosamine and chondroitin are usually sold over the counter as fancy supplements for arthritis).

Fights inflammation: Amino acids such as glycine, proline, and arginine all have anti-inflammatory effects. Arginine, for example, has been found to be particularly beneficial for the treatment of sepsis (whole-body inflammation).Glycine also has calming effects, which may help you sleep better.

Promotes strong, healthy bones: As mentioned above, bone broth contains high amounts of calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients that play an important role in healthy bone formation.

Promotes healthy hair and nail growth, thanks to the ample gelatin in the broth.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

Large Stainless Steel Stock Pot or Crock Pot

Roughly two pounds of organic chicken, beef, lamb, or fish bones, procured from a local butcher, or culled from recent feastings and stored in the freezer until needed. We’re talkin’ carcasses, knuckles, and hooves, oh my! If you plan on making a habit out of your stock making shenanigans (which you should!), I suggest finding a sympathetic meat peddler to bro-down with in your hood. In Los Angeles, I’m sweet on J&J Grassfed Beef. You can peruse sustainably raised local livestock on LocalHarvest.org, or check out the CrossFit gyms in your area, as many CSA’s are starting to offer gym delivery.   

¼ cup vinegar: Of paramount importance, for extracting the minerals from the bones into your broth.

A Mirepoix, consisting of 1 coarsely chopped onion, 2 carrots, and 2 sticks of celery.

Other coarsely chopped vegetables and assorted kitchen detritus: Perhaps the most admiral facet of broth is its commonsensical use of otherwise discarded cooking debris, with a peasant zeal otherwise reserved for Bruce Springsteen. Yellowing parsley, disfigured carrots, celery tops, blood-red chard stalks, onion skins, the graveyard of your heroic juicing efforts, haunted specters from the crisper… they all get their day in the sun. Your ingredients will be subject to the capricious nature of your weekly eating habits, producing a protean olio that is romantically un-reproducible from one week to the next. We keep a jar in the freezer that we fill with our forsaken vegetable fragments just for this purpose. My mainstays for flavor are 1 bunch of parsley, 2 quartered potatoes, a few hearty sprigs of rosemary and thyme from the garden, and a few cloves of garlic.

1 tsp black peppercorns

Fresh, cold water

I love to add a smidgen of Chinese herbs to my brew, to enhance and direct the healing vectors of my broth. 2-3 ounces of each herb should do the trick, always being intuitive with your needs and working with what you have on hand, like the cunning egalitarian Kitchen Witch that you are. These folks are mainstays in my cabinet, and on any given Sunday, I may sprinkle a smattering of the following into my cauldron:

A handful of Dang Shen/Codonopsis Root: To help strengthen the qi, counter mental and physical fatigue, build blood, and nourish body fluids.

Perhaps 5-10 slices of Huang Qi/Astragalus Root: To boost the immune system and strengthen qi, ensconcing one in protective energy that helps prevent illness due to external influences.

Certainly always a knuckle or so of Sheng Jiang/Fresh Ginger Root: To stoke the digestive fires and stimulate the circulatory system.

A pinch of Xi Yang Shen/American Ginseng Root: Boosting gentler Ginseng tendrils than the Chinese or Korean varietals, an admirable addition to combat fatigue and stress, whilst improving athletic and mental performance,

Dong Quai/Chinese Angelica Root: The ultimate femme tonic, invaluable for strengthening the blood, nourishing the reproductive organs, regulating menstruation, and alleviating period pain.

Shan Yao/Chinese Wild Yam: A lovely anti-inflammatory that tonifies qi, nourishes yin, and strengthens the spleen, lungs, and kidneys, particularly puissant after a long-term illness.

A sprinkling of Shan Zhu Yu/Dogwood Fruit: An excellent astringent herb and reproductive tonic that strengthens the liver and kidneys, while securing leakage of vital essence.

6 or so strands of dried Dong Chong Xia Cao/Cordyceps Mushroom: My most favorite herb in the Chinese pharmacopeia, Cordyceps is hailed on the street as the Himalayan Viagra for its revered ability to increase stamina, sex drive, virility, strength, brainpower, athletic prowess & focus. It’s a favorite of Chinese Olympians, so you know it’s gooch.

HOW TO

1. Break your precious bones up into smaller pieces (ideally about 3 inches long), with kitchen scissors or a fun weapon (living with a ninja has infinite perks). This will increase the surface area of bone exposed to the water, giving you a higher nutrient yield.

2. If using beef bones, you’ll want to roast your bones until browned at 400 degrees F for roughly 60-90 minutes to add richness.

3. Place the bones in your stockpot or crockpot, along with your vegetables, scraps, peppercorns, and Chinese herbs. Cover with cold water, adding a few fingers for good measure. Add your splash of vinegar and cover with a lid.

4. Slowly bring your stock to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer gently for 6-48 hours (yes, I know 48 hours is a very daunting commitment in our breakneck world). I love to use a crockpot, because you can just pile all your business in, turn on high until boiling, reduce to low, and then promptly forget about it whilst retiring to your bedchamber for the evening. It’s so egalitarian, I can hardly stand it. If using a stockpot, you can use the following guidelines (and your own pending commitments) to gauge cooking time: 6-48 hours for chicken bones, and 12-72 hours for beef and other meats.

5. Give your bone broth the occasional shout-out during simmering, checking to see that there is always a fair amount of water covering your accoutrements.

6. At some point, you will inevitably notice a thick, insalubrious scum rising to the top of your broth. Many folks will trick you into thinking you MUST skim this off routinely, to clarify the product and make a finer tasting brew. To this I say, “ain’t nobody got time for that!” The whole skimming off the top thing is sadly overrated, as testing has shown that this “scum”, while unsightly, contains nothing harmful. If you wanna be fancy, go right ahead. Otherwise, fret not!

7. When you’re ready to call it quits, remove your bones with a slotted spoon, discard, and strain the rest through a colander into a large bowl. If you’re feeling spry, you can strain again through a sieve or cheesecloth to achieve an extra-fancy, clear broth. Chill your luscious potion of collagen and gelatin in the fridge, until the fat congeals and rises to the top. If you want a liquid broth for cooking purposes, you can skim the fat off and store the remaining liquid in the fridge for roundabout a week’s time. However, if you want your broth to drink like a rich toddy of hot buttered rum, I say leave the fat on (we do), and enjoy your broth like molten velvet bone mojo. Enjoy in radiant heath, golden ones!

Drinkable Skin Care: Mung Bean Milk

Mung Bean Milk

Have you found yourself a hotsy totsy mess these dog days of endless summer, perched upon a porch whilst fanning yourself feverishly like a woebegone Southern Belle, misplaced teen angst smoldering across your face in blazing embers of pimply muck & mire?! Perhaps you feel that the wistfully winsome 1990’s renaissance happening with your footwear & Spotify playlist should stop short of a nostalgic bout of adult acne. For those kindred spirits that find themselves a sticky heap of hot & bothered ire in this oppressive swelter, here’s a quick and easy food cure to clean up your complexion, soothe the Mean Reds, and clear toxic heat from the body.

Ruled by Yang and the element Earth, late summer is marked by the union offire and damp, the sweltry dynamics of the two alembics stewing like sultry prunes in the cauldron of Earth’s atmosphere. As above so below, our ‘body cauldron’ mirrors the dank doldrums of our soggy terrain, and if our inner equilibrium is thwarted, we will internalize the pathological essence of our environment. Hot and humid climates force our pores open, weakening the body’s defensive Qi and depleting our internal Yin, making us vulnerable to pernicious pathogens. Excess heat and damp can act like a vector for disease to root in the body, and we are left with a coterie of flu-like symptoms ranging from restlessness, hot flashes, headaches, copious sweating, nausea, sluggishness, vomiting, dry mouth and throat, profuse thirst, constipation or diarrhea, muscle aches, sore joints, turbid discharge, skin eruptions, dizziness, palpitations, and fatigue.

Mung Beans, humble verdigris pellets of puissance, have been used by the Chinese for ages to battle summer heat and damp heat conditions. They reduce pathological heat lodged in the body, and dissolve accumulated toxins, leaving us with a lustrous, clear complexion. Skin care from the inside out, Mung Beans address the internal environment that engenders breakouts, gently coaxing the body to a state of balanced bravado. Li Shizhen, the Grandpappy of Chinese Herbalism, wrote of them in his cherished herbal materia medica Ben Cao Gang Mu, proclaiming that “Mung Beans are highly recommended not only as a rich source of nutrients, but also as medication.“

Whether plaguing the skin in a pestilence of pimples & purulent eruptions, or cursing the innards with turbid discharge from the respiratory, genitourinary, or digestive system, damp heat is a lingering, loathsome pest. However, with a daily dose of the right food medicine, dynamic equilibrium is maintained within the body cauldron, letting the body heal itself. Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen: Recipes from the East for Health, Healing, and Long Life has a slew of inspired recipes featuring the cooling mojo of Mung Beans. However, my favorite is a simple, egalitarian milk made from the boiled beans, drunk daily as a skin tonic.

MUNG BEAN MILK INGREDIENTS

2 Handfuls of Dried Mung Beans/Lu Dou
4 Cups of Purified Water

Mung Beans

METHOD

Rinse your Mung Beans in a jacuzzi, holy well, or kitchen sink, removing any grit & grizzle. Boil the beans in four cups of water for roughly three minutes, remove from heat, and cover with a snug-fitting lid.  Let the beans stew for thirty minutes, strain, and chill your brew in a sacred vessel in the ice box until needed. Repeat the whole rigamarole once over with fresh water, to milk the most mojo from your batch of beans.

To clear up break-outs, drink one cup of milk daily for DIY skin care. Also suitable for porch-sippin’ like a Whiskey Cordial during Indian Summer in the City, for those days when all around, people looking half dead, walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head!

Soup Cure: Four Deities Soup

Preventative medicine in a porcelain pot, Si Shen Tang 四神汤, ‘Four Deities Soup’, is an old school tonic remedy for all matter of melee thwarting zest & zing. I have been all sorts of obsessed with this soup since introduced to it by my Chinese Nutrition teacher, who’s hot-blooded zeal for food as medicine is unparalleled. Slurp by slurp, I noticed near immediate relief from digestive doldrums, and felt palpable rays of puissance wash over my seriously taxed bag o’ bones. This gentle soup can be utilized in a myriad of ways, from strengthening the digestive system, increasing appetite after illness or chemotherapy, battling fatigue, boosting the immunity, and calming a jostled nervous system. Because it’s taste is placid & mild, Si Shen Tang is the perfect source of nutrition for finicky kids with digestive distress. Though I find juice fasts to be haughty, ill-informed, & positively superfluous (life is entirely too vivacious to camp out on top of a Vitamix for weeks on end, eschewing commitments, kettlebells, and spontaneity), I CAN get down with a soup detox, which grounds, nourishes, and warms the body. Where juice lacks fiber & protein, shuts down the thyroid, dampens the digestive system, and contributes to wild fluctuations in blood sugar, tonic soups are PERFECT for a midsummer cleanse. They will sustain and simplify, supporting your organ systems without dampening and depleting your inner fire.
Soup cures are this bruja’s medicine of choice, nonpareil. Though you must be proactive, prudent, and vigilant in your preemptive preparation, using soup as medicine is an infinitely rewarding and deliciously empowering alternative to medication and surly interludes at urgent care. A dash of fastidiousness in the kitchen goes a long way in the gallant fight against acute ailments, chronic fatigue, and recovery from illness, by maintaining a buoyant & valorous flow of qi throughout the body.

INGREDIENTS

Though their pedigree may seem glamorously avant garde, Chinese herbs are a hoary banality, and customary staple in most Asian pantries for both healing and grubbing. All of the herbs below can be easily procured in your local Chinatown apothecary, should you have a local Chinatown apothecary. If Los Angeles happens to be your halcyon homestead, hustle on over to Tin Bo or Wing Hop Fung for a crash course in Chinese herbalism, and a fanciful frolic amongst shelves of dried fish maw, beetle skeletons, powdered horns, seahorses, and musty mystical mushrooms. Fresh fare- such as Sake and Chinese Yam- will be readily available at any Asian market, where you can also try your luck at finding rogue Chinese herbs to flesh out your budding collection.

1 Cup Job’s Tears Barley/Yi Yi Ren

Yi Yi Ren

A gluten-free barley (be still my heart!) that adds burly nourishment to even the most tedious soups, stews, and brews, Yi Yi Ren is a gloriously gratifying grain. Excellent for eliminating dampness, heat, and toxicity, it goes to the spleen, stomach, and lungs, aiding in digestive troubles, swelling, fatigue, urinary difficulty, abscesses, and joint pain. I was thrilled to learn recently that Yi Yi Ren is being used intravenously in China to shrink cancer cells, and has been exhibiting hefty anti-tumoral powers. It is, unfortunately, not suitable for pregnant women, though it’s wondrous in soups for conjuring postpartum joie de vivre.

1 Cup Lotus Seed/Lian Zi

Lian Zi Lotus Seed

A dapper bedfellow to Yi Yi Ren, Lian Zi is a meaty lil’ seed that nourishes the heart, spleen, kidneys, and vital essence. Another darling of the pantry, Lotus Seed is mild enough to beef up any feastly fête, excellent for cases of chronic diarrhea, urinary and reproductive disorders, low appetite, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and palpitations.

1 Cup Fox Nut/Qian Shi

Fox Nut Qian Shi

Completing the trifecta of tonics, Qian Shi gently supports the spleen and kidneys, for frequent urination, diarrhea, diabetes, chronic discharge, and sore low back from stress and over-taxation.

A Few Pieces of Fu Shen/Spirit Poria Mushroom, Broken Up

Fu Ling Spirit Poria Mushroom

One of the most poetic medicinal mushrooms of the Chinese canon, Fu Shen is both a mushroom AND a morsel of host wood from the pine tree upon which she feasts. Thus she contains the rootsy, arboreal energetics of the tree, and the otherworldly, decaying detritus of the fungus. Spirit Poria nourishes the heart spirit, and the ancient Taoists believed that consuming this famed fungi 'leads to a long and happy life.’ It is used by those wishing to overcome anxiety, palpitations due to heart deficiency, insomnia, poor memory, worry, fear, edema, and urinary difficulties.

1 Raw Chinese Yam/Shan Yao, Grated and Sliced

Chinese Yam

Another boon for boosting spleen and stomach qi, Shan Yao is excellent for diarrhea, fatigue, spontaneous sweating, and lack of appetite. Also admirable for tonifying lung and kidney qi, it is an delightful herb for diabetics and those with chronic cough and wheezing.

3 Cups Sake or Mirin 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, rice wine invigorates and warms the channels of the body, quickening the flow of qi and enhancing the potency of herbs.

3 Liters Purified Water or Homemade Bone Broth

Should you be hoarding any homemade Botanarchy Bone Broth, this would add luscious flair to your brew. If water seems entirely too ho-hum for your tastes (which it won’t be, I promise), you can find my broth recipe here. I recommend a lighter broth, such as chicken, tempered with purified water.

A Heavy-Handed Sprinkling of Toasted Sesame Oil and Sea Salt, To Taste

Optional: Chicken or Pork

METHOD

First, sanctify your herbal assemblage by bathing it in water, and grate the scrappy skin off your Chinese Yam before slicing. Once your herbs have been happily hallowed, grab yourself a hefty stock pot, and throw in the Job’s Tears, Lotus Seed, Fox Nut, and Fu Shen with wild abandon. Cover with a liter of purified water, boil, and then reduce to a slow simmer with lid on for about 2 hours, until your herbs have sweetly softened. Pop on over about two shakes of a lamb’s tail short of two hours, and add the Sake and Chinese Yam. Once the yam is soft, season to taste with Sesame Oil and Sea Salt. Enjoy in robust health, surreptitiously slurping your bowl of medicine daily, until you have thoroughly coaxed your mojo back to life and hoisted the heebie jeebies right outta dodge.

Plague Tonic

Plague Tonic

My bosslady Sara Pettitt, L.Ac., got me hip to this infernal brew, and now I whip it up every cold season to chase the devil away (once I have my way with him, natch). I give it out to all my kin, and we take turns knocking back shots like career Bukowski’s courtin’ strumpets in a skid row rattrap. This is not a dainty convenience store dalliance, like popping a few Sudafed between hits of Emergen-C (which are so déclassé, I won’t even touch them). This wicked brew has a visceral tang harkening to the necrotic fury of the Black Death, as the basic formula goes back to medieval Europe & Asia during the Bubonic Plague. It is a broad-spectrum antibioticthat will destroy both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.Puissant to the point of arrogance, it is also a potent antiviral and antifungal formula. Drink one ounce a few times daily for broad immunity, and increase as necessary for acute conditions, such as inducing a sweat to vent a fever. If you’ve a brutish constitution, you can even gargle this tonic for sore throats.

Mix equal parts of the following in your Vitamix, or equally tenacious blender. Oh, and be sure to wear gloves, as the nefarious pairing of pepper-stained fingers and your nethers is disdainfully inelegant:

Garlic cloves, peeled

Fresh ginger root/Sheng Jiang

Fresh horseradish root

White onions, peeled

The hottest peppers you can get your paws on (Habanero, African Bird, Scotch Bonnet, Cayenne, et. al.)

1/3 cups Braggs Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

2/3 cups vodka or grain alcohol

Blend on high until liquid, and down a thimble full. Store the rest in a glass jar in your refrigerator.

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.

Debaucherous + Decadent Damiana Elixir

Damiana, Vanilla Bean, Saw Palmetto, Angelica Root

Damiana, Vanilla Bean, Saw Palmetto, Angelica Root

This tawdry tincture is a real Cassanova, and has quite an illustrious reputation as the delightfully lascivious libation of the Aztecs. Known for centuries as a potent sexual and nerve tonic, Damiana grows wild throughout the American Southwest, and has been used throughout indigenous cultures in Central America and Mexico. With his cohorts Saw Palmetto and Angelica by his side, and a heavy-handed dose of vodka and honey, this tranquilo tonic harmonizes the reproductive system and spreads the good vibrations. It is not to be used during pregnancy, though it surely may enhance the odds of having one.

This recipe is from herbalist Lori Herron. You will need the following accoutrements:

750 ml bottle of Organic Prairie Vodka (Non-gmo vodka distilled from corn, cooperatively grown in the heartland of Minnesota! Swoon!)

1 oz Damiana Leaves

2 Tbsp Saw Palmetto Berries

2 Tbsp Angelica Root

2 Vanilla Beans

1 Gallon Glass Jar

Distilled Water

1 cup local Honey

Measure out your herbs, adding them all to your gallon jar. Pour the whole bottle of Vodka over them, ala Nick Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. Seal your jar and put in a cool, dark place so it can do its sultry magic in private. Keep your empty Vodka bottle for later. After one week, strain the mixture through a coffee filter and save the liquid (this is where your empty Vodka bottle comes in handy). Re-soak the herbs in your gallon jar, this time adding 750 ml distilled water. Let this sit for another week, then strain yet again. Heat this mixture just enough to dissolve one cup of local honey, remembering to thank the bees for their beautiful bounty. Remove from the heat, allow to cool a bit, and then add your vodka infusion.

Don’t hit the sauce just yet- you must age the whole thing under the cloak of darkness for at least a month! Be mindful, and remember the wisdom of the wizened sage Axl Rose-all we need is just a little patience.

You can take a few ounces of this ambrosial elixir daily as a nice Yang Tonic, or add it to cocktails for a whole ‘nother kind of medicine (recipes pending). Word on the street is that a chalice of this balmy brew shared with your beau will induce euphoria and a heightened sense of communion. Hoist the chalice!