Deeply Rooted: Interview with Herbalist Bonnie Rose Weaver

Hi all. It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I wanted to put you onto to a jewel of an e-book I came across this winter. The season can be especially hard on my body due to lack of sun, exercise, and fresh fruits and vegetables. In an effort to take better care of myself I looked into herbal teas and remedies and came across the work of Bonnie Rose Weaver. She is a young herbalist who started a community herb garden in the San Francisco mission district. She recently did an interview with herbalist Sarah Holmes on KQED’s The Herbal Highway, a radio show / podcast that I highly recommend! Lucky for me, she was also willing to share some knowledge here. Check out her insights regarding herbal medicine and healing below.

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1) The book starts with an allegory about your asthma and how your research to find an herbal / natural cure led you to herbal gardening. I have mild asthma too and could totally relate to that feeling of having your legs shake and feeling out of control of your own body when the attacks hit. I’m curious, has anything spiked an asthma attack since you started taking your Strong Lungs Tea? Are there any other ailments you have suffered from that have since been cured by your herbs?

After I took Strong Lungs Tea for three months I noticed a significant increase to the strength and capacity of my lungs which I had never felt before. I was able to do things that had previously triggered my asthma, like riding my bike, running, and swimming. It was rather remarkable, and I decided to take the tea for a year. I don’t take it anymore, but I know how to support my lungs if I get a cold and might be susceptible. Since taking the tea, about 6 years ago I’ve never felt like my breathing was out of my control.

Other herbal successes have been my work with allergies. Last year I was so desperate for an affordable room in SF I decided to move into a closet in an apartment with cats. I’m allergic to cats, I get congestion and it triggers my asthma. I started taking freeze-dried nettle capsules everyday and going to acupuncture once a week. Both of these practices helped me greatly and within a few months I stopped having allergic reactions to the cats in my house.

As an avid hiker and lover of plants, I’m also really allergic to poison oak. I’ve had many out-of-control bouts with poison oak and now know a good herbal protocol. The herbal successes I’ve had are varied, and many, things I’ve personally experienced and witnessed in others that I’ve worked with. Eczema? UTI’s? Low energy? Cramps? Herbs work!

 

2) You use the term ‘healer’ in the book. I am familiar with the Mexican / North American indigenous healer traditions but you specialize in the European tradition. Can you talk a bit about that? Does that specification refer to the herbal plants you source, your own heritage, or the cultivation processes?

I practice Western herbal medicine, which is comprised of traditions from Europe. As far as I know, my people are Slavic, Calabrian, Norse and Celtic. I find that using European herbs and traditions is a powerful way to connect to my ancestors as I relearn ways of healing that have been used by my people for centuries, possibly millennia. On an energetic and cellular level, the plants and I already know each other intimately.

All of our ancestors used plants as medicine. There are traditions of plant medicine in every culture, some more intact and accessible than others. Modern Western herbalism has been influenced by modern times and different places; some of the plants I use and grow in my materia medica are native to California. This feels like an appropriate bridge across time and place, and ultimately is what is available to us in San Francisco in 2016. The city where I was born and raised is very different context from that of my ancestors who lived on farms in Europe 200 years ago. We cannot separate ourselves from this contemporary context. As a modern-day healer it is critical to use the tools available to us in the digital age alongside ancient wisdom, and it’s crucial to do so with consciousness and care.

I use the word healer as a bit of a catch-all. Curanderos, shaman, acupuncturists, massage therapists, craniosacral practitioners, energy healers, nutritionists, ayurvedic practitioners, flower essence practitioners, yoga teachers, wellness coaches and western herbalists are all bridges to healing, and to helping people seek balance in life. The list goes on, I’m sure there are practitioners I’m forgetting! The point is that is, a many-numbered of traditions and practitioners who may or may not be certified as a licensed medical professional, serve their communities as healers.

I’ve struggled to find health and healing with the western medical system, and there was a time I was skeptical of using herbs because I had no exposure to them. We live in a fear-based culture, and we’re taught that herbs don’t work, or can hurt us, but this is true for all things taken out of context. Dosage is really important and if you’re a beginner it’s helpful to study with a teacher or work with a practitioner.

 

3) It seems like, in some ways, your ‘European healer’ tradition has evolved to be more California Bay Area specific. I couldn’t help but feel that the story of the 1849 Medicine Garden is also a story of gentrification and people’s detachment from the natural elements that exist around us. Can you talk to me a little bit about the people, movements, and forces trying to work in opposition to this gentrification and commodification of the city’s natural resources? Where do herbal medicine gardens fit into this equation?

Yes. You hit the nail on the head. We choose the name 1849 as a critical reframing of the year gold was “discovered” in California. We’re asking, gold rush for who? At 1849 we use herbal medicine and individual healing as a way of talking about our cultural context and community health. How does the cultural cleansing and ecological destruction of our city’s past continue to feed into the issues we face today?

San Francisco is in the middle of a crisis. We are losing so much of what makes this city beautiful, quite literally, our victorians are being burned down (with rumors of arson) and evictions or buy outs are a rampant tactic for landlords to push out long-standing tenants who don’t and can’t pay as much as the new-wave of tech savvy transplants. Communities are pushed and priced out and it’s very clearly along racial and economic lines. I’m angry and appalled at the breeding of money-driven monoculture in my hometown.

I come to herbal medicine and urban farming as an activist. When I realized that all-night protests in the streets weren’t going to dismantle oppressive systems, I turned to the earth for answers. From my work with Little City Gardens, San Francisco’s only commercial farm (which is now having to close), I found that farming is itself a healing act, especially farming the place we call home.

Tapping into the cycles of nature is much easier with plants; the garden is my greatest teacher. As city folk, by tending plants, we can gain an understanding of our time and place. As a healer in a European tradition, I consider it my responsibility to take my white privilege into the equation and start looking at healing the deep cultural wounds in my city and on the soil that I work.

Despite the ongoing cultural and political turmoil, plants can help us to find peace and beauty in our lives. Perhaps this will give us the strength to keep loving, and keep fighting la lucha.

 

4) I loved the affirmation in your book that “the primary tenet for growing medicine is to reproduce a wild quality.” I have been reading a book – Women Who Run With Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype – about women’s ‘wild’ spirituality and how this relates to emotions and natural seasons. Do you feel that the seasonality of herbal medicine makes it even more relevant to women’s health and bodies?

A large majority of the people I meet through my work as an herbal farmer are cis-women. I can only begin to imagine why. Cis-women are often sensitive, if not emotionally, but physically too. Female bodies have complicated reproductive systems that are easily thrown off by stress, endocrine-disruptors, artificial hormones, pollution and poor diet. Cis-women who are tired, hungry, aching or in pain want answers. The solutions that the western medical system offers often overlooks, doesn’t understand or compartmentalize issues. Yes, there are things that Medical Doctors don’t understand. The body must be looked at as a whole being: emotional, physical, energetic, spiritual. I think culturally cis-women are better prepared to accept this. That said, I envision a future where all city folks, cis-women, femmes, and people from an entire spectrum of identities have access to plants and plant medicine.

 

5) What is your favorite herb and why? Does it vary?

Picking a favorite herb is like picking a favorite child, it cannot be done. There are herbs I use more often, like Nettles because his effect can be wholistic, boosting my overall vitality. I keep Yarrow on my person because her taste is bitter and can support digestion, also she acts as energetic protection for me. I keep Mugwort in my bedroom to encourage dreaming.

 

6) Since starting the Medicine Garden, writing your book, and building a community, what are some of the things you think are most important for people to take away from the work you do? How do you hope people will use the information you provide?

Our intention with Deeply Rooted and 1849 is to create more bridges to healing. It is my hope that through sharing my story of using plants as medicine, I may encourage others to seek similar relief. As a culture we are in desperate need of healing. To heal our bodies, our minds, our spirits, our communities and the earth will take all kinds of healing. I believe we will start the work when we are ready to connect to ourselves, to each other and the earth. I hope Deeply Rooted will inspire us to start flexing the muscle, we’ve got a lot of work to do!

 

7) How can people (myself included!) get more involved in Medicinal Plant Cultivation? (In the SF Bay Area).

Deeply Rooted is intended to be a starter guide for folks eager to five into herbal medicine and urban cultivation but don’t know where to start. My suggestion would be to pick one plant that “speaks” to you. Perhaps you like the way it looks, or you think it might be good medicine for you. Whatever your reason, seek it out to grow in a pot or in your yard. By nurturing the plant I’m confident you will learn a lot about the plant and yourself! This can be a great starting point. Proceed gently.

Thank you so much Bonnie!

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Dora’s Table: Interview with Dora Stone

Hi all. So in my last foodie write up I talked about Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel’s “Decolonize Your Diet” cookbook. But my journey to find vegan/vegetarian versions of classic Mexican dishes didn’t start there.

About a year ago I stumbled upon a jewel of a blog called Dora’s Table. Dora Stone – the chef behind the blog – was born and raised in Mexico and attended the Culinary Institute of America in order to refine her kitchen chops. She now lives in Hawaii with her family and produces content for her blog which focuses on vegan-Mexican cuisine. She has an   e-cookbook called Vegan Tamales Unwrapped which delves into how to vegan-ize one of the most traditional – and meat centered! – dishes in Mexican culture.

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Image courtesy of dorastable.com

I first discovered Dora’s blog about the same time I was looking for recipes that were compatible with my mom’s vegan diet and not so ‘scary’ for my meat-eating, Mexicano dad. Cooking for a family mixed with carnivores and herbivores can be so difficult! When I found Dora’s Table, I immediately gravitated towards her tacos. The first recipe I tried was the Carrot and Sweet Potato Tinga tacos. Not only was the recipe easy and straightforward but it was delicious! I snuck it to the table without letting anyone in the family know there wasn’t any meat in the recipe, and when the secret was revealed everyone was very surprised!

 

This is one of my favorite recipes to make, but I’ve tried many of her taco recipes and they have all been super delicious and approachable. I don’t even miss the meat. Her blog is also beautiful – with pictures and an easy to use layout. Luckily, I got the chance to ask Dora a few questions about her blog and about being a vegan Mexicana, and she was just as sweet as she sounds on her blog!

1. I love your website. Tell me a little bit about what made you gravitate to vegan-Mexican food, and what made you decide to your blog on this?

It was actually my mom that brought on my focus towards vegan-Mexican. I was born and raised in Mexico and my parents still live there. My mom was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes about two years ago. I had been vegan for about a year and I tried to convince my mom that she could reverse her type-2 diabetes with a whole food, plant-based diet. She was not very receptive to the idea, and even less so when I tried to get her to eat Vietnamese tofu spring rolls! Suddenly I knew what I had to do, so I transformed my blog to being vegan-Mexican in an effort to get my mom to go vegan.

2. You are professionally educated by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) but from Mexico – tell me a little bit more about what it is like to be a Mexican chef trained in the U.S.?

It was definitely an adventure. My parents used their life savings and even put themselves in debt to send me, as my dad put it,  to “the best school”. So I moved to NY to go to culinary school. The CIA is an amazing place to be at. The teachers, the facilities, the visiting chefs, and the incredible library make it one of the best places to learn how to cook. I didn’t think I was going to struggle with the language since my English was very good, but I didn’t know the names of most of the ingredients, tools, or kitchen terminology. It also took me a long time to get cultural references. For a long time I would just nod and laugh in agreement. The community of students at the CIA is very international so I never felt out of place or experienced any discrimination at all. Every day I was there I considered my self blessed or lucky that I had the opportunity to leave my country and learn from the best.

3. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges people face when they decide to go vegan? What are some of the benefits of altering your diet to exclude meat and animal products?

I think some of the biggest challenges people face have nothing to do with what you choose to no longer eat. The biggest challenges are the lack of support from family members, spouses, and friends; socialization (having nothing to eat at parties, etc.); and missing the cultural and emotional connection that we have with food. Food evokes memories, emotions, it is part of our culture and upbringing. When you choose to no longer eat animal products you might lose some of those connections, but over time I have learned that almost any dish can be adapted and still evoke those same feelings and spiritual connections.
Some of the benefits that I have seen in my own life are weight loss, more energy, less stomach issues (gas, bloating, nausea), better hair, better skin, and I am not sick as often as before. There are many more benefits like reversing type 2 diabetes, lowering cholesterol, reversing heart disease, improvement in symptoms of auto-immune diseases, and many more.

4.What are some staples of Mexican food (i.e. jicama, nopales, etc.) that you think could/should be more popular in the U.S.?

Definitely jicama and nopales. I would like to see more people learning how to use the different dried chiles, and I would like to see more corn tortillas that aren’t made with preservatives. Oh and salsa, Americans know maybe 3 salsas, but there are so many more. 

5.That’s so true! We need more salsa varieties. What are some recipes from your blog that you would recommend to cooks who are just starting to get comfortable in the kitchen (i.e. for beginners)?

They can try Mexican garbanzo salad, sopa de fideo, summer calabacita tacos, and the sweet potato and carrot tinga tacos.

6. Sweet potato & carrot tinga tacos are my favorite! Do you have any favorite recipes in your blog / e-cookbooks?

I would say my favorite recipe on the blog would be chile relleno with zucchini and quinoa., in my free ebook ” My Mexican Table” there is a recipe for oatmeal raisin piloncillo cookies that I love, and in “Vegan Tamales Unwrapped” the recipe for Jackfruit Red Chile Tamales is really really good.

7. My mom decided to go vegan about two years ago and hasn’t looked back since. But I feel like she (and the rest of my family) is still looking for replacements or ways to make some standard Mexican staples that are suitable for her diet. Recipes like pozole, arroz con leche, and chocolate (like Abuelita’s) are hard to find vegan versions of and don’t have the same flavors when the meat and dairy are left out. Any tips or suggestions?

Of course there are things that will not taste the same, but once you have been on a plant-based diet for a while you don’t really crave the actual meat, what you miss is the flavor of the dish and that can be easily achieved. I am working my way through the classic Mexican dishes in the next couple of months so I hope to tackle some of those dishes. Right now you can find a homemade vegan chorizo, vegan chilaquiles rojos,  lentil picadillo, marranitos, pan de muerto and more.

Dora is a very talented chef and I will continue to refer back to her blog for recipes again and again. If you haven’t check it out yet, visit DorasTable.com/recipes for vegan soups, moles, enchiladas, paletas, and even ice cream!

MFA program week 1: 10 things I learned.

Dead tired. Thank you Jesus it’s Friday.

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(P.S. It’s also national dog day!)

School started off with a bang this week, and I have my first short story (or maybe it is the beginning of a novel?) due on Tuesday. Plus I have deadlines on my reading schedule again. First up, Madame Bovary (translated by Lydia Davis). Anyone read this already?

All in all, I learned a lot this week. But here are 9 of the most important things from the week’s adventures:

  1. If an SF Muni route says it runs 24 hours, don’t trust it. It might only run 24 hours at 5 of the 25 stops it usually lands at. You will end up walking a mile through the tenderloin at 10:30pm. Do your research. Trust google maps. Forward, ho.
  2. The MFA snob is a real thing. They will try to one up you by telling you they read all of Infinite Jest rather than just the first 15 pages.
  3. But luckily there are more cool people than uncool people.
  4. Because writers tend to be on the more reclusive side, they won’t hold it against you for not keeping up with the 24-hour small talk and they won’t think you are stupid for standing by yourself at a mixer. It’s all good.
  5. Writer’s are just as weird as you imagined. They get even weirder when you get a bunch of them in a room together talking about books and the narcissistic main characters of the current novels they are working on.
  6. Having an understanding, reasonable boss makes all the difference in the world when you decide to go back to school and work full time.
  7. Sleep is important.
  8. Learned about this jewel of a parody twitter account:

 

9. The best writers are the ones who can learn from their failures, because there will be a lot of those.

10. I belong here.

Have a great weekend ya’ll.

This Month in Reading – August 2016

This is probably the last month where most of the books featured here are books read strictly for pleasure. Even so, it was an interesting reading month for me.

As I mentioned in July, I gave up on Telegraph Ave because of it’s snobbish overtures and prickly style. I got a third of the way through and decided life was too short to waste time reading books you don’t enjoy. I can see people gravitating to the book due to the many textures are specific nuances described in every line. I failed to relish most of the creativity though, since most of the regional and cultural references were lost on me. Maybe I was just too young for this one.

Once I set that down, I moved on to the next library book I checked out from SF Public

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Image courtesy of Washington Post

Library – At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón. I loved this book. It was about a young man who falls in love, joins a traveling theater troupe, pretends to be someone he isn’t, and goes to jail. The other two central characters, fellow actors from the theater troupe, are also quite lovable with their own flaws and fallacies. But the best part is definitely the twist at the end. The book will leave you daydreaming on your morning commute about Ixta and wondering where the other characters are now – it feels that real. This was an enjoyable read, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so, since the book was a PEN/Faulkner award finalist in 2014.

I am currently reading Isabelle Allende’s The Japanese Lover on audiobook. I am loving it, although I don’t believe Allende could ever produce a bad novel. This one is a beautiful reflection on secret love and growing old. I want to read this one again in print at some point.

I read part of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. The book was suggested to me by a few friends and family members. Kondo describes what she calls “the KonMari” method as a way of keeping your life in order. You don’t really have to read the book in order to understand what the method is about – get rid of any object (clothes, papers, trinkets, etc.) that doesn’t move you or isn’t necessary. Just toss it. That’s the whole idea. She even instructs you to toss the book once you are done reading it. While this wasn’t a necessary read, I feel like it sparked some personal ruminations on how Western culture encourages us to value material objects to the point of not being able to discern what is really important to us. Hence, hoarders. But that is a post for another time.

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Image courtesy of NPR.org

I just finished up The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea after the poll suggested I should read this next. A book of short stories, the variety of the characters and settings is both my favorite and least favorite thing about this book. I found it hard to trace a theme that wove all of these stories together. Once I set the book down and let it marinate a bit I realized that most, if not all of the stories had to do with people who were, in some way, out of place. “Out of place” being used here as a very subjective term: some stories featured characters that were out of place in regards to age or maturity, some were out of place in terms of location (Urrea deals with themes of immigration in at least two of his stories & themes of isolation in quite a few of his stories).

The title story left me with one particular image that I found to be moving. The story takes place during the course of a massive drought and is from the perspective of an elementary school child.

“Chemicals, Billy thought. They’d pretty much all gone back to using outhouses because there wasn’t enough water to flush the toilets or bathe…more trucks came and dumped chemicals in the outhouse poo-holes — smelled like cherries. Big crazy cherry Life Savers with that dull stink beneath” (218-219).

Highlights of the month:

That time Daniel Jose Older (author of Shadowshaper) responded to my tweet and then gave me my next YA book recommendation! So cool.

Te-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me – I know I’m late with this one. Most of the hype regarding this book has subsided, but it is still a very relevant book, especially in light of #BlackLivesMatter and the numerous police shootings the nation witness post-4th of July. This. Is. A. Great. Read. There is no doubt in my mind that Coates’ book, essentially a memoir set in the format of a letter to his son, will go down in the black literary Canaan as a required read. The book belongs alongside the great black authors of the United States. There were so many great lines, so many points that moved me, that any attempt to give you the highlights will be futile. This is necessary reading in order to understand what it is like to be black in America in the 21st century. I will be buying my own hard copy.