In Mid-August, we enter into one of my favorite times of year. It's that hot and sweltering time here in the south when the air is heavy and stagnant, the humidity is high, and the botanical abundance is so ripe. It's a time of harvesting, sharing and storing as we slowly approach the impending fall. I like to refer to this as a season in itself - Late Summer, the 5th season. Just a few weeks, from mid August to early September, is all that this season requires, and during this time it feels like a huge reflection of my entire year. I get to see the the enormous growth of a garden that I cultivated from tiny seeds full grown veggies. I get to consciously harvest this space teeming with nutrients, transform those foods into a delicious meal, and share it with my family. Everything that was so mindfully cultivated months ago is now, physically, part of my body. And that circle of transformation is truly magical. 

I've been thinking a lot over the past year about things that positively influence our health that we are not necessarily able to quantifiably measure. It's so easy to get bogged down in reviewing lab work, hormone panels, nutrient profiles and measurable data, that we often neglect the more subtle things that profoundly influence the body. I call these "Sensory Nutrients", and over the past 3 years of working with clients I've noticed big shifts once we start to pay attention to things like this and implement them into daily routines. I'm talking about the subtle things that fill up our senses and make us feel blissed out. Things like cuddling with your dog, or kissing the top of your babe's head, or walking barefoot in the garden or forest bathing. Sure, we can probably notice dopamine spikes, a calming of the central nervous system and even decreased blood pressure with all of these things - but they also influence the psyche, and this is an area often overlooked by most people - and it's such an integral part of our health to nurture. 

Nutrition and health is more than just the nutrients and calories that we take in. It's everything that the body experiences - even the smells and sensory emotions that are soaked in from the cultivation process. My absolute favorite part of late summer (or any season, honestly) is the sensory experience of "Petrichor" - the smell of earth after rain. That delicious, grounding and nurturing smell of life from the forest, or from the garden, or even from the hot sticky sidewalks. The rain that cools off the heaviness of the summer air and that makes the soil soft and warm and teeming with little worms and microbes is such a relief. When I take moments to deeply inhale this part of late summer, it feels akin to eating a nourishing bowl of veggies or kitchari. Our brain is wired for bliss, and the moment of that inhale nourishes my body much the same as any nutrient. Connecting to the source is so important, because if we're disconnected from the earth that nourishes us, we certainly won't last long. 

After the rain this past weekend, I waded out into my late summer garden and tore much it apart. The squashes and peppers and greens and cukes and beets have passed their prime and it was time for a clearing. It's a cathartic feeling but a grieving one too. I'll miss seeing my backyard garden flooded with greens and bright green plants. I'll miss the harvesting process and the absolutely wild messiness that happens when I don't bother weeding. But I'll have that sensory emotion of Petrichor throughout every season, and it helps me remember those late summer moments, and look forward to it all over again next year. Go outside during the next rain and take it all in. It's delicious, and one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.  What are some of your favorite sensory nutrients? 

Some days - I hardly make it outside for more than 10 minutes. It's atrocious, I know. When some days are spent entirely in the office, or at conferences, or in front of the computer screen, or prepping orders, or basically subject to a cerebrally confined space, my brain feels it. We can all relate to the feeling of taking a deep breath of fresh, crisp mountain air, or feeling the expansive awakening of the ocean breeze, or the calm still of a forest meditation. Our brain is wired for bliss, and it's those moments of pure, magical connection when our brain gets a complete rejuvenation, an awakening like none other. When we go long periods without this awakening and stillness, it's noticeable and kind of numbingly painful. Creative thinking fades to the recesses of our brain. Motivation becomes dampened and fleeting. The soft eyes through which we should view the world become a little harder and more judgmental. All, in part, because the brain is just foggy, stuck, and confined. 

Short of quitting the day job for more adventurous time spent outside (although, definitely encouraged if you can), there is an herbal ally that I depend on for days like these to support my brain, nourish my nerves and provide that precious cerebral creativity that recedes when it goes unused. Milky Oat Tops (Avena sativa) provide just that. This simple plant offers so much both medicinally and nutritionally. The spikelets are the flowering bodies in the process of growing the mature seed. Just before they get to the mature seed, they grow through a "milky stage", often in the spring (and if you want to tincture oats, this is the stage you want to do it). Just after this stage, the oat straw remains and is a fantastic source of minerals for making tea. The rolled starchy endosperm (oatmeal) is the mature seed and what can be eaten as food. Rich in beta glucans (soluble fiber), Avena also contains calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, manganese, zinc, Vitamins A, C, E & K, as well as amino acids and B-complex vitamins. The milky oat tops have a sweet flavor, with a moistening and neutral energetic suitable for almost every constitution. It really shines as a nervine tonic that's moderately stimulating and as a neurotrophorestorative (brain tonic) and meant to be used long term - at least 4-6 weeks to replenish energy and effect the body. 

I find milky oats to be ideal for the deeply exhausted individual. One who's been disconnected from their creative source for too long a time, stuck indoors or pushed beyond their mental capabilities for too long. I often see this pattern with young entrepreneurs, new parents, or generally the vata individual who take on more pitta roles that they are not physically or emotionally equipped to handle. This may also show up as weakened, debilitated nervous exhaustion with low libido, slow recall, forgetfulness, tiredness that gets worse as the day progresses, weepiness at the end of the day, dull headaches, and that "blah" mental malaise feeling. All of these patterns need time and intention to build back up - these are not quick fix issues. That's why milky oat tops need to be taken tonically for several weeks - to build up your system and nourish the body from a deeply core level. 

Here is my formula for Magical Milky Oat Brain Tonic Tea, designed to support and enhance brain activity, nourish your nervous system, fill the body with nutrients and increase peripheral blood flow. This can be taken daily, multiple times per day and can be consumed indefinitely! There are two methods of prep depending on the season: a hot infusion or an overnight steep and sipped chilled or room temperature the next day (for those hotter summer days). 

Magical Milky Oat Brain Tonic Tea (hot infusion)

2 grams Milky oat tops (well ground)

 1 gram Nettle leaf

 0.5 gram Red Clover tops

 0.5 gram Rosemary

Combine all ingredients in a tea strainer and cover with 2 cups hot water. Let steep, covered, for 12 minutes. Strain and sip consciously. 


Magical Milky Oat Brain Tonic Tea (overnight infusion)

4 gram Milky oat tops (well ground)

 2 gram Nettle leaf

 1 gram Red Clover tops

 1 gram Rosemary

Place all ingredients in the bottom of a quart mason jar and cover with 4 cups room temperature, filtered water. Place a loose lid on top, and let sit overnight (at least 6 hours). Strain in the morning, and sip consciously throughout the day


All herbalists need to be outside. That's usually where our souls are the happiest. I would venture to guess (from my experience, anyway) when most people meet an herbalist they assume they're outside all day, identifying herbs, grinding medicines with their great great grandmothers mortar & pestle, making magical elixirs and syrups under the canopy of beach trees, and probably working like mad on their side hustle "real life job" the rest of the time that actually pays them money. Stereotypes - you know. There's a spectrum of modern day herbalist for sure, and I'd say that I fall on the side of "clinical herbalist" where I am (contently) working in an office all day practicing herbal medicine (full time - shocker). I don't mind bringing herbal medicine into a clinical setting, sitting with folks in their own comfort zone while we talk about their health story, but I have to say - I need to get back to the medicine's origins at least several times a year. 

When we use only one limb over and over and over again, the second limb gets weak and feeble, and that's much the same with herbalists I think. If we stay in an office all the time, our sensory connection with the herbs growing in the wild falls to the wayside - and this is really essential to keep alive as an herbalist. We always need to maintain that connection with our medicines, see how they grow, who they grow with, their smell, their taste, their visual appearance, how to process them into medicines, and how to give thanks for their gifts. Dispensaries don't just make themselves. Medicine making takes cultivated knowledge and intentional, thoughtful time in the herbs' own comfort zone. 

Our resident ND, Dr. Casey, wanted to get more hands on herbal experience during her year long residency with us at Richmond Natural Medicine, so I planned a day for us to escape to Lexington, VA on my family's property, just on the outskirts of southern Appalachia. We use the herbal dispensary at our office all day - the herbs have already been harvested and processed into tea or powders or tinctures by the time we receive them. We have the skill to dispense them and combine them into individualized, synergistic formulas, but there's an entire extra set of skills required to get them to that dispensable form. So we journeyed into the woods after a solid 48 hours of rain the 2 days preceding our arrival. The Maury River was as full as I've ever seen it, rushing past us with sweeping force, and the creeks were bursting to the brim with rain water. Everything looked extra green and the earth had that delicious "after rain" smell. I think we were both extra excited to spend a day out of the office getting muddy and dirty and covered in plant particles. She was immediately hazed with a copperhead siting (a phobia for us both), and after the initial fear wore off, we took off into the woods, dichotomous key in hand to pass on the knowledge of plant ID and wildcrafting. 

The mountains of Appalachia are truly brimming with some of the most historical, proliferative and powerful natural medicines. This region of our country is perfectly conducive to the growing conditions required by hundreds of botanical medicines used for generations and generations, starting with the native american stewards of the land. Medicines like black cohosh, wild yam, slippery elm, mullein, jewel weed, burdock, black cherry, sassafras, yarrow, red clover, blue cohosh, wild indigo, witch hazel, foxglove, hawthorn, stinging nettles, false unicorn root, stoneroot, boneset, comfrey, bloodroot, and of course the highly sought after ginseng and goldenseal (both now highly endangered) grow in this magical region, to name just a few. Our ancestors were wandering the hollers and hillsides for these sometimes lifesaving herbal treasures, and they still grow abundantly in the right places along the mountains of Appalachia. Harvesting and preparing medicines was such an integral part of our past communities that everyone had some cursory knowledge of basic medicines growing in their environment, and the community medicine man or woman would pass this knowledge down to their chosen successor in verbal exchanges which has thus become our "folk medicine" historical foundation. We have evolved with these plants, and they with us, growing together through our intertwined history. The more "advanced" our medicine has become, the more disconnected we sometimes get from our roots. But they're still there in the mountains - growing peacefully in the understory, in the hollers, by the rivers and tucked underneath the protective bark of trees. And sometimes right under our nose in our own back yards and roadsides...

When you harvest your own herbs, be sure to give thanks for their gifts while you're taking them from it's home to yours. Make sure you harvest responsibly, taking only small offerings in several different places and re-plant when you can. Take lots of time to get to know the intricate details of the plant, the growing conditions, the surrounding plant neighbors around it, the smell of the roots, leaves and flowers. Actually enjoy when you don't know the name of a plant - relish the moments when you get to know something before you desperately try to identify it. They're just as individual as we are when we take the time to really notice. 

Herbal medicine and nutrition is my expertise. Understanding plants, their properties, and their powers is my passion.


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