Lew Welch said, “Guard the mysteries, constantly reveal them!” and though I know he was yammering on about theology, I like to think he was talking about Spring.
In that spirit, welcome to the Botanarchy Newsletter: Spring Equinox Edition. Spring in the Taoist tradition corresponds to the Wood element, and Her energy is one of bursting, birthing, sprouting, and hatching, tiny mysteries vegetating hither and thither. It’s flashy! It shows its hand! The Season Of Valiant Emergence is all about forward momentum, reaching upwards and outwards toward empyrean expansiveness like the branches of a tree. Where am I going? Who even knows! The medicine of the moment is overcoming our collective agoraphobia and venturing forward undaunted (mindfully, of course, and with reverence for our dead and those who cannot yet emerge). What's that I see?! Is it a rogue poppy pirouetting through the cracks? Ungird thy manacles and make like a maenad pendulating with divine frenzy! Am I somehow happy despite my nattering existential dread?!
The Spring Equinox, dank with the scent of chainlink Jasmine, rears its leafy, crowned head this year on March 20th. This is traditionally a time to mark the coming of Spring and the bursting feracity of the land through ritualistic rebirth and the honoring of fertility gods & goddesses. In my ancestral tradition, this is the time of the goddess Eostre (Old Germanic Ostara) whose name means 'movement towards the rising sun’, and is the root of both east and Easter. Her pedigree is related to that of Eos, the Greek goddess of dawn, and both goddesses can be traced back to a Proto Indo-European dawn goddess older than time itself. Which is to say - this is a time of BIG DAWN ENERGY, which we course in the clinic through acupuncture & herbs to support the body through this seasonal shift. I’ll be greeting the dawn with an ancestral rite called útiseta - sitting out - perching myself on a mound alone overnight in nature, the Five Elements my consort and the Old Gods my guide. Gonna find myself a zesty Oak, and see what they have to tell me about growing (will share dispatches in the next newsletter). Other traditions that might call to you are gathering water at dawn and bathing yourself in it like a Maxfield Parrish sea nymph. Last year, I shared a Quarantine Bath Ritual of Rebirth that you can use as a map & compass.
We are heteromorphic, undergoing complete metamorphosis, a butterfly in mid-undress. Though eggs and spring flowers really get their day in court this time of year, my messengers of metamorphosis have always been mushrooms - decomposers of the highest order finessing life from death, reversing the cloying pull of entropy like no other creature on Earth. You will find a lot of their medicine in this missive.
Over at Botanarchy HQ, I shared a few AcuPoint Meditations on my dear friend Kelsey Patel’s new app, Pure Joy. I’ve also added the Grand Dame of essential oils - Beam Code Anointing Oil - to the online shop per patient request. Used in the treatment room to amplify intentions and concentrate beams, this potent plant oil made by a kindred Columbian medicine friend smells like falling down a rabbit hole and waking up in fairyland. All funds from the sale of Beam Code go to our teacher, Taita, and his family in support of unemployment conditions in Colombia due to travel restrictions from COVID-19.
A Wood element in balance graciously embodies the characteristic of benevolence, which you can exercercise with seasonal aplomb by supporting the work of Inclusively Well, an acupuncture non-profit began by one of my most cherished friends that is:
committed to providing opportunity and access to acupuncture and high quality holistic healthcare, with a focus on serving BIPOC, people with disabilities, immigrants, and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Their new zine Community Care is all about “ways to support and ways to be supported”, made for both activists who want to further invest in community care, and for those who could use some community support. 100 percent of the proceeds from the zine go towards their Acupuncture Sponsorship Fund.
My Continuum teacher and kindred sister, Emma Destrube, begins her online spring somatics class series this Sunday, March 21st. In her eight week series, students will be exploring the spring season as it lives and moves in our soma, drawing from the poetry and wisdom of traditional Taoist medicine. She is a treasure!
And I have saved my biggest news for last. After five years in our little plant-encrusted sanctuary, Botanarchy is moving. The new Botanarchy Bungalow will be open the first week of April, a hidden vintage bungalow on Van Ness & Melrose in Hancock Park. I am building my patients an AcuTemple of medicine, magic, and mirth, which will have more appointment times available, room for witchery & workshops when the fates allow, and elevated shui en masse. I will make an official email announcement when I am all moved in. Onwards and upwards sayeth Spring!
In health and solidarity,
By Carolyn Barron
Ritual and Medicine were once entwined in a caduceus of consanguinity, an ouroboros of serpentine synergy. Mutually engendering one another, they coaxed forth each other’s latent powers and filled in the gaps in their respective repertoires. Most traditional medical systems still honor this alchemical marriage, but our current hegemonic medical paradigm has been ripping up the paperwork and denying them rights. As a healthcare provider, it’s fashionable and expected that I shirk away from this brouhaha and peddle the antiseptic certitude of allopathic care with sophistry and absolutism. However, I believe the physician should be a mender of chasms, honoring the prosaic prowess of each paradigm and fusing ritual and remedy as one.
Along with the separation of ritual and medicine came another division that dulled the blade of medicine forever. Body was suddenly divorced from spirit, and doctors - as if by holy decree - decided then & there that medicine only treated one of them, and left the spirit to wilt in a vase forever.
It is one year and over 3,000 acupuncture treatments into a pandemic in the Botanarchy treatment room, and I feel the gravitas of these chasms now more than ever. Patient after patient is coming to me wilted and supine, unable to navigate their way out of unrelenting depression and struggling to find both mojo and meaning in a sea of stagnation and ennui. Perhaps even more distressing, my dear patients feel guilty for not feeling spiritually well when the physical forms of many of our beloveds are deteriorating before our very eyes. Apologies predicate the tears, as if struggling to find your spirit in a disempowered mire was something paltry to balk at. We have been conditioned to ignore this suffering, as if the soul is a vestigial structure we should have already evolved our way out of.
The humble Reishi mushroom, growing like a rubicund wart upon the shaded Hemlock tree, is known by the ancients as Lingzhi. Oft translated as Divine Fungus or Soul Mushroom, she is used in the Taoist pharmacopeia as a medicine for cultivating shen - spirit - the most refined treasure of the body cosmos and one of the essential energies sustaining human life. The concept of shen can best be thought of as our ‘spiritual radiance', represented by the Chinese character for the physical heart plus something numinous that descends from above and hits earth like lightening. Lingzhi is depicted in ancient scrolls as a bridge between heaven and earth, an emissary of this numinous lightning. One can use her clinically as a mender of chasms - a substance to unite body and spirit and awaken our connection to nature & the divine by cultivating and nourishing the shen. In other words, she is the medicine for those suffering with spirit-sickness.
In addition to alighting and tending to the spirit, the Reishi mushroom helps us navigate seasonal changes by strengthening our resilience, something we see reflected in modern usage as an effective antihistamine for seasonal allergies, a potent antioxidant that targets free radicals responsible for aging, a liver tonic that has been successfully used for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B, and an immune-modulator that may help stop the growth & spread of cancer cells. Though she’s hefty in the lab, this is not a paean to her medicinal mellifluence, which can be found all over the internet. It’s an ode to her secrets and occult charms, holy writ less travelled.
“It affects the life-energy of the heart region, repairing and benefiting those with a knotted and tight chest. Taken over a long period of time, agility of the body will not cease, and the years are lengthened to those of the Immortals.”
-Li Shizhen’s ‘Compendium of Materia Medica’, 1596
Traditionally, those who wished to ingest this mycelial manna for spiritual guidance must rely upon the cunning of the forest folk, religious teachers, village shamans, or benevolent deer to find them. If seeking her counsel in art and literature, one can peruse the Materia Medica’s of yore, though she may be elusive as she is often cloaked in allegory and not spoken of directly (like many things both hidden and treasured). I learned from my mentor Lorie Dechar that the Lingzhi has it’s very own guardian animal, the mythical two-headed white deer, who feasts upon a diet of Reishi. As the animal spirit of Water, the two-headed deer resides deep within the old growth forests looking into two divergent directions at once - in one direction, the past, and the other, the mystical darkness of the future. In writing this missive, I stumbled upon the catalogue of an art exhibit honoring the Lingzhi in East Asian art at Cantor Art Center in 2017, and visibly swooned. Curated by PhD candidate Yu-Chuan Phoenix Chen, "A Mushroom Perspective on Sacred Geography" explores the visual history of the Lingzhi mushroom and its connections with the natural landscape, examining art from China, Japan, and Korea. From the exhibits curator and catalogue:
“The capped fungus is tough to find in a number of works, although its presence is always significant. A c. 18th-century Chinese painting by Changtai of the deity Shennong, also known as the Divine Farmer, shows the bearded sage with a basket holding lingzhi. The divine herb-picker was a recurring trope, representing someone with superhuman powers to find lingzhi in the wild, and to create elixirs of life. Gods and lingzhi also appear in a lengthy 16th-century silk painting by Qiu Yang, where the mushroom is presented as a gift to the most-worshipped goddess in Chinese mythology, Queen Mother of the West. The scroll depicts the birthday party of the Queen of the West, a powerful goddess from Chinese mythology. The goddess may offer a taste of divine fruit - the "peach of longevity," which grants immortality - to her party guests if they bring her a suitably impressive gift. In one panel of the scroll, which Chen likened to a comic book in how it tells a story through sequenced illustrations, a man is seen carrying a lingzhi mushroom, the sacred fungus intended as the goddess' present. In another, a figure wearing leaves or feathers is seen on a mountain where lingzhi mushrooms grow. According to legend, a woman retreated into the wilderness after fleeing political turmoil, where a Taoist taught her to find and eat mushrooms and medicinal herbs, through which she eventually attained immortality herself."
A classic elf shelf in both appearance and temperament, Lingzhi grows horizontally out of her host log into a varnished red mantle, a tiny glowing altar at the base of the Hemlock tree. All species grow on dead and dying trees and produce annually, so if you are blessed with a prolific piece of wood you can make a pilgrimage to her year upon year, until she has consumed all of the wood substrate and vanished into the ethers. If hunting her in the woods, look for dead and dying Hemlock trees in the Northeast and Southwest, and you might be rewarded with shiny conks of Ganoderma Tsugae, freshest in all their glory betwixt May and July. I even had one sprout up on a tree outside my bedroom window, a portentous omen before she collapsed upon a car a week later (the Reishi tried to warn us). Ganoderma Lucidum is the species used in traditional East Asian Medicine, and she may appear on hardwood (especially maples & oaks) in warmer regions of Asia, the South Pacific, and Southern Europe.
I think of how our ancestors handled red things glowering from the boughs of trees, beginning with that apple foible in the Garden of Eden. In an essay on another infamous red mushroom that I will espouse upon later in this newsletter, Robert Graves mentions that the ancient Greeks were forbidden to eat any bright red food, such as lobsters, crabs, prawns, and wild strawberries. If you are a henchman of the patriarchy and in the business of severing folks from spirit, pointing at things and calling them poison is one way to keep the kids away from the good stuff. In the five element medicine tradition that I practice, red foods are said to enter the heart, igniting our inner fire element which is inextricably linked to the spirit coursing through matter. When our fire element is balanced, we are alight with divine purpose. All of this might give us a clue to the more occult powers of the Reishi, a red-fleshed fruit of the Old Gods that, if ingested with gentle reverence and keen awareness, can infuse us with a subtle but permeating enthusiasmos - having the god within us.
Poised, attentive, receptive, with a quiet heart and a wide-open mind.
This is the legacy and largesse of the Spirit Mushroom, hunted by the mystical two-headed deer, a gift befitting a goddess, bardic bread of bearded sages.
Because I hunt for mushrooms in soils both corporeal and literary, I like to think that the dancing heroine of Tolkien’s poem Tinuviel is not an elven princess, but a gleaming Reishi conk instead - peeking out of a hemlock in a spring grove, dank with the sanguine flush of Elphame:
Is this a forager’s parable concealed in a love song? Does he long for her emergence year after year to infuse him again with spirit, a fervent forager prostrating himself at the forest’s feet?
When you’re a mycophile, everything is a mushroom. When you’re filled with spirit, everything is a goddess.
An excerpt from the poem Tinuviel:
This is a gift to all of my patients who need their spirits resuscitated.
Do you have a place where you first encountered magic? A sacred grove, a land enshrined in the pages of a favorite book, a Tinuviel from your own inner mythos, a garden that grows in your dreams that sows the seeds of magic in your waking life? For me, this place was a thicket of freshly shorn tree tangles in my backyard that formed a hollow enclosure, dank with the smell of rotting apricots that had fallen inside. If I went into this sacred temenos at dusk, I gained access to something I called Puppet City, a liminal space where I could see the strings of the world pulled by present yet invisible forces, elemental beings whose world was layered atop my own. As if guided by the hands of the Grecian Hesperides - nymphs of evening who painted with the golden light of sunsets - I would stare at one object as the day turned to dusk, chanting Puppet City Come Alive over and over until it did just that (though penned in 1987, this is still a useful spell). I came to learn this place had many names… Elphame to the Scots, Álfheimr to the Norse, Fairyland to the English, Tír na nÓg to the Celts, Kunlun Mountain to the Chinese Taoists. This is the domain of the Sacred Wild where gods, goddesses, ancestors, fabled plants, and mythical creatures dwell.
There is something about courting and encountering these places that wakes up long-dormant forces inside of us, resuscitating a weary spirit and rekindling our quieted magic. We are going to call upon the medicine of our own, personal Elphame along with the indwelling spirit of the Soul Mushroom to shepherd our spirit awake. Reishi, like the two headed-deer that seeks is medicine, teaches us that all life is interconnected on all levels of existence - past, present and future, spiritual, mental and physical. And to follow a simple magical equation used pan-culturally since time immemorial:
Eating the mushroom that grows on the sacred mountain imparts the magic of the sacred mountain.
You will need:
We begin like all great parties do, seated in silence with a cup of mushroom tea in our hands.
To establish your connection to the pathways above and below, feel the vast expansiveness of the heavens above you, and the grounded embrace of the earth beneath you. Take some time to feel your body suspended between these two like a tree, airily unfurled whilst rooted and secured.
Slowly, with reverence, take a sip of your lingzhi tea, then another if you will. This is a good time to close your eyes. Follow the energy downward as you sip your tea, down, down, down, into the chthonic underbelly of your gut, following the tendrils as she snakes through your body.
Keep going. Allow the energy to plunge you even further into the depths, rooting like the foot of a toadstool deeper and deeper and deeper into the earth. Feel the dark, damp primordial mycelial web of earth’s womb embrace you. It is here that all things gestate, springing forth from her seed and the well of memory.
Out of this darkness where all magic is born, you find yourself at the mouth of a dense primeval forest, coming sharper into vision. Perhaps you have ventured here before, perhaps it is only familiar in feeling.
Imagine a shimmering, opalescent, two-headed deer emerging from a chasm in the trees, beckoning you to follow them into the thicket. Follow as they lead you deeper and deeper into the forest of memory, through the trees, twisting and turning.
In a forest clearing, the light begins to shine brighter and brighter. Dappled at first but then full of luster, you find yourself in a familiar place, though perhaps one untrodden for a long swathe of time. You are at the mouth of your sacred Elphame, the place you feel most aglow and agog. Feel it encroaching all around you, its sights, smells, sounds, and temperature, beholding its mythic majesty and drinking deep its plenitudes. Who are its creatures, its herbaceous citizens? What is the pattern of the wind, the elements at play? Is the ground soft like the belly of a peat bog, or wizened hard granite?
Allow the apparition to have its way with you, engulfing you with its magic. Feel it radiating and emanating from your heart center, the seat of the shen where your spirit nestles like a tiny fox. Feel your shen waking up and stretching in all directions, traveling through your body like a hearth fire, warming everything it touches. Explore this feeling and your sacred landscape until your longings are quenched.
Keeping these balefires lit, ask the land if there is anything you can do to tend to it in waking life. Take the time to listen to how you can honor and foster this connection. Seal it in your heart center.
When you are ready to return to waking life, summon the two-headed deer with an offering of lingzhi, and follow them as they lead you back through the forest to the opening you entered from. At the mouth of the forest, begin directing your energy upwards, up from the depths of memory through the sequestered soils, up, up, UP, until you emerge in your body in this present moment. Take the time to connect to your flesh and matter, feeling the gravity of your body resting upon the floor. I ring bells and splash water to remind me I am in a body swimming in a sensorial stew, which simultaneously seems to enliven me whilst also shaking off any accumulations. Gentle tapping or massaging will also help acquaint you with the present moment.
Allow yourself the time to assimilate and digest this experience, by reflecting, writing, basking, collecting.
When you have fully gathered your senses and metabolized your magic, reserve the last sip of tea as an offering. Bring it outside to a patch of earth, and pour a splash in honor of Elphame, your guides, and the local landvættir. Vow to avenge them by keeping the shen fires stoked.
By Carolyn Barron
Winter - for all the austere magic it sequesters in its cloisters of shadow and coolness - is something that many of our ancestors had to endure, and its shadow of ceaseless strife can cast itself upon us this time of year. Grief for what has been lost & sacrificed during the dark season - be it our daily litanies of work and play, our venerated dead, the freedom of movement, parts of our identity we had to cast aside to lighten our load when the harvest was meager and couldn’t support the fullness of our being - can get frozen beneath the surface of the body like bees encrusted in amber. If we do not take the time to thaw out and slough off these grievances during this seasonal pivot, we can become encumbered by their downward pull and stagnant restraint, which can thwart the emergent motion of Spring and keep us tethered to the underworld whilst everything else is leaping forward in Nature’s Grand Debutante Ball.
Our ally in spring cleaning is acupoint Zu Lin Qi 足臨泣 - A Footstep Forward Out Of Winter’s Tears. Located on the gallbladder meridian atop the foot, Zu Lin Qi is in the sweet spot between the tendon and the bone of your pinkie toe that becomes illuminated when you wiggle your toe like a witch wiggles her nose, where the tendon stretches across the foot revealing a little well just lateral to its border. The name A Footstep Forward Out Of Winter’s Tears is not just goth poetry, it also conceals a metaphor about the alchemy of transforming sadness into action. Think of a tree in the barren winter forest (a Hemlock, perhaps?) that collects the tears of the winter storms and uses them to propel new growth.
From Taoist scholar Debra Betts:
“Zu Lin Qi is a foot that moves out of winter’s watery reserves into fresh growth. It is where, with kindness, tears can be let go and vitality can return to our forward step. Here our angers, frustrations, fears, and worries can be left behind and we can move forward and mature.”
The gravitas of its namesake gives us a clue to its usefulness in clearing the weeds and undergrowth that may have accumulated during Winter. Zu Lin Qi opens what is called the Dai Mai - a vessel that is intimately related to releasing the traumas that we somaticize and store in the body. It’s a release valve for the pressures and restraints of stagnation that hide in the cupboards of our being. This is a point I use clinically for pressure in its various manifestations…headaches and migraines that feel full and distended, wanting to cry but not being able to, pressure behind the eyes, wrapping pain in the body traversing around the sides of the head, neck, hips, legs, and waist, the various restraints of those carrying the weight of the world upon their shoulders.
The antidote to restraint is flow, the footloose and fancy-free kind. In the mythic imagination of this medicine, freedom and flow have their very own archetype - The Free and Easy Wanderer - Taoist mountain meanderers who cast away the confines of culture to move in sync with the rhythm of nature. With a light heart, unburdened cadence, and open mind, they traversed the wilds in sync with primal flow, meandering and flowing spontaneously like a bubbling brook. Their legacy is cemented in Zu Lin Qi, the point from which we propel ourselves forward and shake loose the stagnations of winter.
Go ahead, pour some potion into that acupoint right now, free the qi to support the expansiveness of spring. With each gentle jab and poke, slough off the restraints and grievances accumulated through this long winter of our discontent, shed some tears for your dead. As you massage the point in gentle circles, focus on releasing emotions that no longer serve you, unburdening yourself of their leadedness. With the valiantness of Wood, bravely face whatever may be concealed in those cupboards, hiding nothing from yourself. Extract your sorrows bravely, bringing everything to the surface to be consciously released. Allow winter’s tears to flow.
After you have worked your magic upon Zu Lin Qi, call upon the Free & Easy Wanderers to teach you some new dance moves. Spring is the perfect time to practice free & easy wandering, taking to the mountains and streets to gaze upon them with fresh eyes that have been cleansed of winter’s tears. If you are an urban dweller like myself, a technique I recommend using to guide your ritualist ramblings is something called the dérive.
“ONE OF THE BASIC situationist practices is the dérive [literally: “drifting”], a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances…In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.”
The Situationists International- whether they outright honored them with an offering of rare roots upon their altars or they pilfered their tech without citing sources - invoked the Free & Easy Wanderers with the creation of the dérive. A technique meant to combat the malaise and boredom of the society of the spectacle (and the linear movements of city livin’), the dérive's goals include studying the terrain of the city (psychogeography) and emotional disorientation, both of which lead to the potential creation of Situations. From the perspective of this Anarcha-Taoist, the disorientation of the dérive explicitly breaks us out of patterned movement, allowing the wanderer to access the instinctive yet ever-elusive wellspring of Wu Wei: spontaneous, automatic, flowing. Studying the terrain of the city from this embodied place allows one to grasp li - organic order - how tao makes itself visible to the world.
A person who will dérive through a city versus one who merely takes a stroll, will be open to choosing the option they would not normally choose - walking on a different side of the street, breaking free of pedestrian habits like staying in the confines of a crosswalk or relegating their perambulations to the pavement alone, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, stepping ONTO and OVER a piece of rogue furniture in their path. They might make a labyrinthian twist and turn around a sultry tree, or create a cairn from a stacked pile of discarded plastic water bottles.
Go ahead and venture forth, dear Botanarchist! Purged of your pressures, there’s a lightness in your step and space on your inner altar to be filled anew with the divine. Hit the pavement, dérive, and mine for some heirophanies.
The Botanarchy Coven is comprised of gnostic naturalists both living and deceased who shepherd the spirit of Botanarchy. This is a treasure box of discoveries and cultural ephemera culled from excavations of inner and outer worlds.
My devotion to the Fly Agaric Mushroom has taken me to three continents, myriad miles of tangled woods, and through thousands of pages both scientific & fantastical looking for her imprint. Why do I love her so? Perhaps it is the ancestral memory of my berserker grandfathers drinking a chalice of her before going into a battle trance, or maybe because she has always felt like a portal into a sacred realm to anyone who has gazed upon her. She’s the MOST TOADSTOOL of ALL TOADSTOOLS, a paramour of Lewis Carrol, the bright red lipstick of the forest floor. So it was with obvious glee that I snatched up Fly Agaric: A Compendium of History, Pharmacology, Mythology, & Exploration, a new book released last month that is decidedly the most comprehensive book on the iconic red and white-spotted mushroom ever assembled.
Along with diving deep into the new tome, Gabriel and I were also able to attend Radical Mycology’s Fly Agaric Roundtable, where authors shared research and anecdotes both medical & mythological in celebration of the mushroom and the book’s debut.
If any of you have ever wondered what acupuncture does in a broader sense beyond coaxing forth the flow of nerves, muscles, meridians, and chemical messengers, I believe - and perhaps you do, too - that it deepens the relationship with our individual nervous system and the wider ecosystem around us. And if you have ever been upon my table, you know that one of the ways I bring this connection to life is by sharing the stories & poetry contained within the ancient names of the acupuncture points I am awakening in your body. Their poetry encodes a way of engaging with the body that brings us back into our felt experience, and shows us the way that particular experience is ensconced in the web of life around us. The bardic arts make the intangible tangible through the sensations of soma.
Which is perhaps why I am so enamored with the work of David Abram, who’s book The Spell Of The Sensuous nearly knocked me on my keester when I read it decades back. Abram is a cultural ecologist and geo-philosopher, who philosophizes under the influence of the earth and ponders whats it is to speak and think in full relationship with Her. Along with Glen Mazis - poet, philosopher, and author of Earthbodies: Rediscovering Our Planetary Senses - a cadre of modern Earth Poets emerges who teach us how to write and speak from the body’s experience, and that there’s a way of using language that tells you “NO, you can’t just stay in the web of words, you have to go back to your fleshly experience.” As someone with PTSD, trauma, and the propensity towards disassociation, there is no greater task than finding the tools to call myself home.
In this episode of the Embodiment Podcast, David and Glen offer us an invitation towards an animist way of living and speaking, of seeing and sensing the aliveness of the world around us. David is fond of using the phrase ‘tickling forth’, to speak to a way of tasting, smelling, and being in the world that is really and truly intimate. This intimacy is the codex to unlocking the Inner Physician, and opening ourselves up to the myriad of experiences in our fleshly home. A snippet from Glen shared in this podcast:
Reader queries into the mystic wilds of the body can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Time permits but one answer a month at this juncture.
This month’s letter comes from a dear friend who - after a thorough chastising by her OBGYN - was prompted to ask:
“Can I use acupuncture and herbal medicine safely while pregnant?”
I could make this very brief with a decisive
but I do think it’s important to exercise the why, when, and how.
One of the greatest joys of my job is being what I call a Pregnancy First Responder, meaning I often get the “HELP, I’M PREGNANT!” texts and positive pregnancy test photos before parents, doctors, and even lovers. I’m exuberantly honored to be the recipient of such hallowed news, and I reckon that most folks reach out to me first because many OBGYN’s are like “see you in a month!” or “stop everything immediately, ALL THINGS BAD FOR BABY!” and terrify their patients unto oblivion. After that test comes back positive, some of the first panicked inquiries I receive might be ARE THESE HERBS SAFE? Or DO I KEEP MY WEDNESDAY APPOINTMENT? And even sometimes I DIDN’T KNOW I WAS PREGNANT AND TOOK MUSHROOMS THIS WEEKEND!
Many of us struggle for years to get pregnant through multiple miscarriages, expensive fertility treatments, and false alarms, and as such the beginning of pregnancy can feel delicate & tenuous. Have I already done irrevocable damage? We don’t trust our bodies (thanks, patriarchy!), and knowing that the fetus is most vulnerable during the first 12 weeks our anxiety can skyrocket. Though I would never glorify the nebulous parenting tech of the 1980’s, my mom was deemed medically infertile, took 8 years to get pregnant, and smoked a pack of Virginia Slims/drank a jug of Carlo Rossi Chablis every day of her pregnancy, and gave birth to me 9 months later with relatively little ado (bless her resting soul). Though this obviously horrified me when I learned of it in adulthood, it gave me both perspective and respect: for the tenacity of the womb and its ability to protect & sustain a child despite our various naive indiscretions, and the impact a relaxed state of mind can have on pregnancy outcomes.
In the spirit of knowing better in 2021, here’s a list of clinically proven ways that acupuncture can aid in sustaining a healthy pregnancy. At this point, most OBGYN’s worth their salt will defer & refer to us for treating all the requisite pregnancy woes (don’t let the uninitiated docs tell you otherwise), for in addition to providing symptom relief, our medicine can also improve birth outcomes (humble brag). Here’s to lower rates of unwanted Caesarian sections, inductions, breech babies, and medicated births!
All of that plus:
In the largest study I could find, acupuncture was deemed safe and effective for low back pain, pelvic pain, or both during the second + third trimesters for 72% of pregnant people. In addition to pain relief, they also reported an improved quality of life.
Everything from above plus these gems:
Current research indicates there is an overall 35% reduction in the number of inductions, 31% reduction in the epidural rate, 32% reduction in emergency cesarean delivery, and a 9% increase in normal vaginal birth for women who use acupuncture for pre-birth.
This is where it gets a little tricky. Many are safe (what up, Ginger & Astragalus) and have been used in traditional medicines long before Pitocin and Zofran were even a glimmer in their mother’s eye. But most have not been rigorously researched in the western model because there is very little motivation for institutions to do so. This is where you need to defer to your personal cadre of birthworkers. Midwives, acupuncturists, naturopaths, and some doulas have been trained in the art of caring for expecting bodies, and can assess your current retinue of supplements and herbs to make sure what you are taking is elegant, useful, safe, and effective. In case you’re jonesing to know, this is basic prenatal protocol I recommend to most of my patients, layering on additional support as needed:
Lastly - bodywork! Your body should be touched and adored by loving hands, do not be shamed into thinking that self care is off limits to you just because your womb is hosting visitors. If you are in LA, these are my indispensable magicians for expecting bodies:
If you’d like to nerd out on my dossier of holistic birthing books, pour yourself a cup of nettles and curl up with the following:
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Gaskin
Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn: The Complete Guide by Penny Simkin
Mindful Birthing by Nancy Bardacke
Orgasmic Birth by Elizabeth Davis & Debra Pascali-Bonaro
To all the kinfolk of the Botanarchy community who’s wombs are full of nascent magic, I salute you! Thank you for embodying the miracle of spring.