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. 

Peaches are my favorite food. My absolute favorite. I honestly think they taste the best unadulterated, just eaten fresh off the tree, with the juice all over my face in all of their slurpy glory. And happy first day of summer - don't mind if I do. As the summer solstice is already here at our doorstep, this Galette offering is an opportune tribute to the beautiful new season, with bountiful and vibrant vegetable and fruit offerings and hot, sticky firefly filled nights. Even as I write this, I'm sitting in my "summer office", my big southern front porch, rocking in the porch swing my grandfather made many many years ago. I just can't not be outside. I've been dreaming of having a Summer Fairy Garden Party with some of my fairy-esque girlfriends this summer, but alas, how quickly calendars fill up. I'll put that one on the shelf for next year and I'll keep this recipe handy because it's absolutely going to make an appearance on that magical future table. 

When I cook with peaches, I like to keep it basic and simple. Peaches are already so sweet, they barely need any help in that baking department. And coincidentally the little herbal spirits that are lavender buds taste amazingly good combine with the juicy sweetness of peaches. They bake up like a dream, and the flavor carries through robustly. Galettes are (relatively) fail-roof. They're meant to be rustic, kind of haphazard and sloppy, and quick to prepare. I prefer desserts that aren't' terribly sweet, but just offer a hint of natural nectar and ripeness. This Galette does just that. My ideal summer night sweet treat.  

Lavender & Peach Galette

For the Pastry

 1 1/4 cup Spelt flour

 8 tbsp chilled butter

 1 tsp pink salt

 For the Filling

 3 medium sized ripe peaches

 2 tsp lavender flowers

 1 tsp vanilla extract

 2 tbsp raw honey
Serves 4

For the Pastry

Combine flour, butter and salt in a food processor until small chunks form. Add in 3-4 tbsp cold water to make a doughy consistency and pulse just a few times to mix well. Form into a ball and kneed gently, only about 30 seconds. Form into a disc and wrap in saran wrap. Let cool in the fridge for 30 minutes

For the Filling

Slice peaches about 1/2 inch thick and place in a large bowl. Add lavender flowers, vanilla and honey and mix gently and well until combine. Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Roll out the dough into about a 12 inch diameter, making sure not to have any thin areas. Fill the center with the peach filling, leaving about 2 inches all around. Fold over the edges of the dough to cover the edges of the peaches. Optional: Lightly wet the edges of the galette and sprinkle the edges with turbinado sugar. Bake for 40 minutes, until the tops just begins to turn golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes, then cut into quarters.


As per usual this time of year, I've been spending morning and afternoon hours in my garden. We start it early, sprouting the seeds indoors or in the cold frames and watch them grow up big and strong in our window sills. We plot out our beds and section off space for all of the "babies" we're making room for (and we always seem to underestimate). We prep and build extra vertical space for the creeping climbing babes that we know will just elbow their way into everyone else's space (I'm eyeing you, spaghetti squash). We unload the compost from the previous year into the sleeping soil and we sometimes till it all up in there until it's good and revived. It's always so satisfying fluffing the warm soil in our hands and mushing it under our feets when it's freshly tilled, teaming with nutrients and the earth worms are gloriously happy. It's ready. 

When I'm in the garden, prepping, planting, harvesting and crunching on fresh veggies, it's impossible for me not to feel intimately connected to the source that's feeding me, and the relationship between my own body and the soil that nourishes it. At a conference I was attending 2 weeks ago, an analogy was made that our own body needs to be nourished just like our soil. And that really resonated with me. Our microbiota is our terrain, and if we don't tend to it like we would our fertile garden soil, it will produce equally malnourished results. If you don't understand the importance of our gut macrobiota - let me simplify. Our microbiotia is "the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space". It's the probiotics, the bacteria, the bugs, the nutrients, and even yeasts (saccharomyces) that collectively, and ideally harmoniously, make up a huge part of our health and a few pounds in our gut space. 

Findings from the Human Microbiome Project (2008-2013) have made it clear that 90% of the cells in the human body are microbial (!) and that the genetic repertoire of these microbes is at least 150 times greater than that of our human cells. This makes us a walking ecology (much like an old growth forest), nearly 90% bacteria and only 10% cells. Which begs the question - why on earth is the go-to "treatment" now antibiotics that kill off an inordinate number of our microbiota, leaving our body & immune system wide open to disease and imbalance? An estimated 400,000 different microbial species inhabit the human gut. No more than a few 100 of these have been seen on a microscope or been cultured. Collectively, these comprise an essential metabolic and immune organ. All of these critters respond and react to everything going on inside and outside of our body, including our nutritional inputs and nutrients, our external environment / toxins and pollutants, our stress levels (hello, inflammatory cortisol!), drugs we take, alcohol we consume, physical stressors we take on and even emotional joys or traumas we experience. Nothing goes unnoticed by our gut microbiota. 

When the gut microbiota is functioning well (i.e our life is in relative balance), it will support us in abundance and help to prevent chronic and acute illness, just like when our garden soil is healthy, happy and nutrient rich, it will produce amazingly nutritious veggies. If our microbiotia is depleted, strained and damaged, it will lead to an equally depleted and malnourished human. I'm sure you've seen a particularly anemic looking vegetable - weak, flaccid, lacking vibrant color and just infirm. They are a direct reflection of their soil and their growing environment - just like people. We soak up and absorb everything around us, from our soil, our sunlight, our water and our atmosphere. We are no different from the plants and vegetables that require the inputs from the earth to make us strong and vibrant. When we don't have access to these things - we wilt and develop disease as a result. 

Some of the best things we can do to nourish and support our microbiota and the circus of critters living within us is to feed ourselves healthy, whole, colorful and nutrient rich foods. Drinking pure water to stay hydrated (no wilting!). Absorbing plenty of sunlight every day. Moving our body to stay active and flexible (if a plant becomes brittle, it will break too). Making connections and being in community ourselves strengthens our emotional resolve and keeps us diverse. HENCE the connection with probiotics - the probiotics in our gut are likened to the diverse community we keep. Everything on a very small scale has a representation on the larger scale too. Supplementing with probiotics on a daily basis, or better yet eating lots of fermented foods keeps our probiotics replenished and constantly making new friends. Foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, pickles, kombucha, yogurt and kefir are all great examples of probiotic rich ferments. No soil can survive without it's bacteria and critters, and no human gut microbiota can function without this diverse ecological community of nutrients, bacteria and probiotic cultures. 

So tending to our own garden should be a priority both individually, and globally. Let's not forget that we are a direct representation of our own terrain, and how we tend to our own soil is reflective in the fruits that we sow. Take grateful advantage of the coming summer bounty, the glowing warm sun and the pure water (should we be so lucky) that hydrates our roots. Take deep breaths to calm the terrain, smile often to recharge our emotional vitality and connect deeply with the community around us to diversify our interdependence. And take a great big bite out of a freshly ripe tomato.  

Photos by the ever lovely, Renee Byrd

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


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