Wednesday, August 08, 2018

A staple in my own personal kitchen space has always been a fermenting creation. Something on the shelf, bubbling away, growing and shifting (sometimes...developing that distinctive vinegary smell which I kinda love). It's like a little kitchen baby that I end up obsessively checking on several times a day. I try to perfect things like my sourdough starters or my kraut batches, knowing that every time I'm not really the one in control of the deliciousness of the final result. All those billions of little bacterial critters do the heavy lifting. I like that variability, though. Making the same thing a little different every time, playing with the fermenting time or the flavorings....most especially with kombucha. 

Kombucha is my true love of fermented things, and whenever I can I have a batch brewing on my counter I absolutely do. 

Kombucha, like pretty much all of my other imbibed creations, is just another delicious and creative way to drink tea. Kombucha is made from fermenting a tannin rich tea with a Scoby (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). It'a like a living, floating bacterial hotel that will hang out in your 'bucha and make magic happen. The tannins in the tea will ferment along with the bacteria and yeast (and added sugar!) to create a delicious, vinegary, fizzy, probiotic rich beverage that's super adaptable to flavorings. Creating the perfect batch of kombucha can be a bit temperamental and take experimentation (but don't all good kitchen creations?), and my recipe is what I have found to brew the ultimate perfect batch, with three different flavoring options. 

(More on the power of bacteria and our gut microbiota here!)

The basic ingredients for kombucha are extremely simple: Scoby. Filtered water. Organic cane sugar. A bit of an original batch. High quality black tea (which can make or break a good kombucha batch). My favorite black tea to use is organic Kumaon Black Tea from Mountain Rose Herbs. So many black teas can taste too acidic or harsh or burnt. The flavor of this Kumaon black tea is exquisite - It's slightly floral with a lighter taste and earthier undertones. It's divine all on it's own (and yes, I do drink it almost daily just from the tea pot!). It makes the most delicious kombucha I've ever made, and jives so well with fruit and herb flavorings which you'll add later. 

A few Variables...

Sugar: Some recipes fluctuate between 1-2 cups of cane sugar per batch. I err on the lesser side and one cup of organic cane sugar does the job for me and doesnt make the batches too sweet. Also yes - I have tried LOTS of other sugars. Coconut palm sugar, stevia, maple sugar (what was I even thinking?), turbinado, date sugar...I've tried all the "healthier" options and personally they just never work to make a good batch for me. Thus, I embrace the cane sugar and don't think twice about it anymore. I made an effort. 

Fermeting time: Once your batch is flavored, the amount of time you let it sit to carbonate depends on how fizzy you like your kombucha. I like mine pretty bubbly, so I let mine sit on the counter for about 40 hours before I stick them in the fridge. I let it for for almost 50 hours once and they all did, actually, explode in the fridge. 

Bottling containers: I prefer to use 1 liter tightly air locked glass bottles to store my batches in for three reasons: 1) Each one of my batches fills exactly 3, 1 liter bottles. 2). Easily transportable to share. Because who doesn't love the person who brings a bottle of 'butcha to an otherwise alcohol overloaded party? 3). The fizz keeps longer. Only opening one bottle at a time keeps the others highly carbonated until you're ready for them. I used larger growlers in the past and had to drink it SO FAST to retain the carbonation because I kept opening the same bottle over and over and over again. 

Temperature: The temperature of your kitchen will kind of dictate how well your kombucha thrives while it's fermenting. When I lived in an apartment with no air conditioning in southwestern Virginia for a year, I just couldn't brew anything - way too hot and humid in the summer. Try to keep your space between 68-78 degrees for an ideal brew. 

FLAVORINGS! This is the most fun. You can flavor your kombucha any which way you want to. With herbs or fresh fruits or other teas or fruit juices - it's up to you! I've used them all in the past and have the most flavorful batches when I use juicy fresh fruits and/or fresh herbs. Here are three of my favorite flavoring combinations:

1. Peach + Rosemary (recipe below)

2. Pomegranate + Basil - Seeds of 1 whole pomegranate + 10 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped)

3. Strawberry + Thyme (My sweet friend Renee Byrd served me a kombucha brew she made with this flavor combo and it blew my mind it was SO good. I've been flavoring every other batch this summer with this combo and it's hands down my favorite. Also, beautiful pink kombucha - yes please!) - 1 cup chopped, fresh juicy strawberries + 5 tbsp fresh thyme. 

Peach + Rosemary Kombucha

3.5 liters filtered water
2 heaping tablespoons Kumaon black tea
1 cup organic cane sugar
3 ripe, juicy organic peaches
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
1 happy scoby
2 cups original batch kombucha
Makes 3 liters

In a large pot, bring 3.5 liters filtered water to a boil. Turn off heat and add the sugar and Kumaon black tea. Stir to let the sugar dissolve, then let sit to cool completely (this will take several hours). Once completely cool, strain and pour into a large gallon glass jar with a wide mouth and drop in the scoby. Make sure the tea is completely cool before the adding the scoby! Ideally you should add in 2 cups of original kombucha brew at this point too, either from a previous batch or an original, unflavored kombucha brew. Cover the mouth of the jar with a coffee filter and rubber band and let sit on the counter for 7 days. 

After about 4 days, you should start to notice a new scoby forming on top of the original. This is good! Little bubbles with start showing. A subtle sweet vinegar smell will develop...

After 7 days, remove the scoby with clean hands and separate the scoby's, placing each on a clean plate. You should now have 2 scoby's. Reserve 2 cups of the liquid (this is important for your next batch!) and place the original, bigger scoby in with this 2 cups of reserved kombucha. The second, newly formed scoby is going back in the jar with the fruit flavorings. 

Add in your fruits. Peel and chop 3 juicy ripe peaches and drop them into the jar along with about 2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh rosemary. Make sure to add back in the newly formed scoby here too. Cover again with the coffee filter and let sit for 24 hours. 

After 24 hours, Strain out all of the fruit, scoby and rosemary and divide into 3, 1 liter bottles. Seal completely and let sit on the counter for 36-40 hours, after which time place in the refrigerator to stop the carbonation. Enjoy within 2 weeks :) 

*Note - I discard the fruits and the new scoby at this point. (but I always save my original for a continuous batch!) Although some may say throwing away a scoby is sacrilege, I just don't have the refrigerator space or the wherewithal to have dozens of scoby's literally floating around. One batch brewing is plenty for me!


This post is sponsored by my friends at Mountain Rose Herbs. All thoughts and opinions are my own. It is my goal to use and recommend only the highest quality herbal products from companies that I wholly trust and fully support. Industry standards including sustainable harvesting, quality control, organic / fair trade standards and responsible sourcing are all things I care deeply about when working with herbs and herbal companies. I have been using Mountain Rose Herbal products for almost a decade, and have always been so impressed with their commitment to environmental stewardship. You can sign up for their newsletter here to receive extra tips, tricks and monthly product specials! Thank you for supporting the brands that help to make this blog possible.

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Monday, July 23, 2018

One of the things I like best about herbs is their simplicity. Most of the time they're just completely no-fuss and relatively intuitive - especially in cooking. I've always been the type to never measure anything when I cook. Recreating recipes (or heaven help me when I post something) I have a stupidly hard time remembering what I did because I just guesstimate the heck out of every ingredient. Meticulous notes help...but that's completely not my nature. When I learned how to infuse herbal oils, I felt like I met my match. You basically have to measure nothing. It's not an exact science, and always forgiving and ultimately super effective no matter the "dash of this" or the "handful of that" mentality. 

Oils are an incredibly good extractor of not only medicinal constituents, but of flavors. If you've never cooked with infused oils, it's a glorious way to add subtle and aromatic tastes to your recipe. Nothing about this process is overcomplicated. Keep it simple, and don't overt think the process.

To infuse herbal oils, all you need is your herb of choice (I prefer single, aromatic and fresh herbs) such as rosemary, thyme, basil, tarragon or dill) and an oil that you like to cook with (I often default to olive oil). During the summer months, I reach for olive oil more than any other because I use it often as a salad dressing base, and when I infuse herbs into my olive oil holy smokes is it extra delicious. You can also experiment with sesame oil, macadamia nut oil, sunflower seed oil or avocado oil, however I prefer the infused taste of olive oil more than any other. 

Infusing culinary oils (in my method, anyway) takes absolutely zero measuring. Use any size jar you like, and when possible use fresh and very aromatic herbs in your infusions. Start with one herb at a time to get a feel for how strong you like each flavor, and then begin combing herbs for different flavor combinations. My personal favorite - rosemary and thyme. 

Simple Herb Infused Culinary Oils

1 large mason jar
Fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, dill, basil, tarragon etc)
Highest quality olive oil

Chop your herb of choice as fine as possible. The more surface area exposed, the better the extraction. Fill your jar at least 1/3 full of the fresh, chopped herb. Cover completely with olive oil until your jar is at least 2/3 full. Cover with a tight fitting lid, give it a good shake then let sit in the sun for a solar infusion for about 3 days, shaking at least once every day. Once infused, strain out all of the herbs using a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth and store the infused oil in a glass container out of direct sunlight. Enjoy on salads, or as a dipping oil in the summer months. 


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Throughout my years of herbal obsession and experimentation, I've gone through probably hundreds of herbal body care items, both store bought and formulated in my kitchen. When I'm looking at ingredients for already made products, my philosophy is the fewer ingredients the better (and I preferably like to recognize every single ingredient listed on the label). As an herbalist, I'm always trying to make my own stuff too - from cuticle salves to infused nourishing oils and hair elixirs. Experimenting is so fun, and using single herbs one at a time can really help to fine tune each recipe and get exactly what you want - whether for facial scrubs or simple salves or toners. My beauty cupboard is a mish-mash of old bottles with homemade formulas and a fair amount of bath products from Mountain Rose Herbs - one of my all time favorite makers of natural herbal beauty products. I keep a few staples with me all year long, and in the summer time my beauty routine shifts to the bare minimum with some seasonal specific herbal go-to's for my skin. 

As a very fair skinned person, summer skin health is super important to me, and I'm always hyper aware that this time of year I need to nourish my skin a little more due to constant sun exposure. It's rare that I ever wear anything on my skin except for sunscreen in the summer (which over time is extremely drying on my skin), so re-hydrating and nourishing my skin with simple, nourishing herbal based oils and soaks work beautifully. I have a simple daily routine that I begin during summer months and keep this routine through early Fall. I find this collection of herbal products to be ideal for semi-sensitive, sun parched skin on the dryer side as these formulas and products are cooling, moistening and very hydrating. 

First thing in the morning, and then throughout the day on extra hot, humid days, I use the White Rose Hydrosol spritz on my face that I keep refrigerated. This hydrosol is simply made from the petals of Rosa alba through a water steam distillation and has a subtle and floral rosy scent that's hydrating and cooling to parched skin. It feels especially good after I take Gromit for along walk and the southern humidity makes my skin feel like it's just crawling with sweat. This white rose hydrosol gives my face a fresh and clean feeling without actually washing my face, and it's incredibly invigorating as a little facial pick-me-up midday. Also - instant aromatherapy with these sweet and subtle rosy tones. 

Second, after I use the hydrosol in the morning I apply a small amount of Rosehip Seed Oil to my whole face for extra moisture that soaks right into my skin without leaving any oily residue. My skin (generally dry and only mildly sensitive) LOVES oils and responds really well to the nourishing and light quality of rosehip seed oil instead of creams or lotions. Rosehip seed oil is rich in fatty acids - especially Linoleic acid and Linolenic acids making it extremely tonically hydrating yet also light on the skin - perfect for the summer months when lighter skin products are my preference. 

In the evenings about three times per week, I take a long soak in an Epsom Salt bath along with about 1/2 cup of Relaxing Bath Herbs to nourish my muscles, soothe my skin, and calm my whole body from either a full day of appointments or a couple of hours of rock climbing (which, admittedly, I've gotten super into since January). Having climbed about 5 days per week a couple hours at a time for nearly 6 months straight now, my muscles have gone through a lot of changes and, unfortunately, I suffer from pretty extreme leg and foot cramps. Using these Epsom salts consistently has made a huge difference in how frequently these debilitating cramps show up (which, if you've ever had whole leg or foot cramps you know how hellishly painful they are. I feel like they're going to end me). In a full warm bath, I add about 1/4 cup Epsom salts with a cloth bag of relaxing bath herbs, containing hops, rose petals, chamomile, lavender, comfrey, and passionflower. The salts absorb transdermally into my muscles for tonic support, while this aromatic herbal soak blend relaxes my mind and soothes my skin (and it smells like a field of flowery dream heaven). 

Using the cloth bag for the herbal soak is optional...sometimes I just like soaking in a flower bath because it's beautiful and magical and, why not? This is also a beautiful formula to have as a facial water wash for your face in the morning. Just fill a large bowl with slightly warm water, add about 2 tbsp of relaxing bath herbs, let "steep" for about 5 minutes and then wash your face gently with the water in the morning or at bedtime.

Finally, for the days when I have sunscreen on my face, am out in the sun and sweating in the summer humidity, I use a homemade DIY facial scrub. I often use zinc oxide based sunscreens so they stay on top of my skin all day (not the best feeling, but super effective), and this facial scrub just makes my face feel extra cleansed and soothed after being out in the sun all day. I use a simple combo of moistening milky oat tops, aromatic lavender flowers, nourishing neem powder and exfoliating Dead Sea salt. This makes a decadent base formula (almost powder like) that you can then add any additional scents or oils to as you like. The lavender in this formula already gives it a sweet and fragrant smell, but other herbs such as eucalyptus or chamomile work well too for both soothing inflamed skin and also aromatic qualities. 

This recipe makes approximately 10 uses when using about 1 teaspoon at a time. You can use either a high speed blender or a spice grinder for these herbs and make sure whatever grinder your use is well washed with no other scents or the facial scrub will carry those scents too!

DIY Herbal Facial Scrub

2 heaping tablespoons milky oat tops
2 tablespoons lavender flowers
2 teaspoons Dead Sea salt
1/2 teaspoon neem powder

In a high speed blender or spice grinder (I use a vitamix), add the oat tops and lavender flowers. Blitz on high speed for about 8-10 seconds. The herbs should be about 80% powdered but slightly coarse. Pour out into a small bowl and add the salt and neem powder. Mix well with a spoon and store in a small glass jar. 

To use: In the palm of your hands, add a scant 1 teaspoon of the facial scrub with a small drizzle of water until it's a slightly thick and almost muddy texture. Rub together with both hands and apply gently to your face, avoiding the eye area, in circular motions. Rinse with warm water and damp dry. Finish with a misting of the White Rose Hydrsol for an extra clean and hydrating finish. 

This post is sponsored by my friends at Mountain Rose Herbs. All thoughts and opinions are my own. It is my goal to use and recommend only the highest quality herbal products from companies that I wholly trust and fully support. Industry standards including sustainable harvesting, quality control, organic / fair trade standards and responsible sourcing are all things I care deeply about when working with herbs and herbal companies. I have been using Mountain Rose Herbal products for almost a decade, and have always been so impressed with their commitment to environmental stewardship. You can sign up for their newsletter here to receive extra tips, tricks and monthly product specials! Thank you for supporting the brands that help to make this blog possible.

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Summer is a magical time for herbal foraging. I spend most all of my summers in the mountains of Appalachia in Virginia where folk medicine is literally bursting through the fields and forests. This is a time when I love to take friends and colleagues out to the mountains and teach herbal wildcrafting and plant ID (which you can read more about here!). It's an intimate practice in learning more about your surroundings and the plants that have helped sustain us in home and health for generations. It's a time to practice gratitude for our herbal companions and get to know knew botanical friends. And, it's my favorite time to take friends on an overnight trip for a full moon summer lunar infusion and to sink into some plant spirit medicine. 

This time last year, my cousin Alexis and my friend Hillary and I harvested yarrow and red clover and mullein and honeysuckle and horsetail and nettle from the prairie in Lexington, VA and made a full moon offering tea. We left it to infuse in the river under the moonlight and pretended that little fairies bathed in the infusion overnight, mixing the herbs with their wings and little swimming feets. In the morning, we collected the shimmering golden tea, strained it and sipped it by the river, imbibing the moonlight infused prairie medicine. Admittedly, it was deeply soul rejuvenating and felt like it truly connected us to the land and the healing power of old medicines. It's a practice I'm doing every year, because we all need more magic in our lives. And it's so incredibly fun to take friends into the forest and pick flowers (and wineberries) and make tea. It's the best way to spend a summer day. 

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Thursday, May 31, 2018

I’ll be the first to admit that I am no natural baker. I can follow a recipe like a pro, and have some (often fluke) skill at making on-the-fly recipe adjustments. And yeah, stuff usually turns out acceptably good and frankly, I’m not a stickler for visual perfection which I know totally doesn’t serve me in the foodie blog world. BUT! That’s no reason not to just have total happiness and overconfidence when sharing a recipe that I actually do love, and is perfect for a spring / early summer excuse to eat some veggies with some sugar and fresh flowers. Thus, my ultra moist sweet and savory spring carrot cake. 

A favorite spring recipe of mine has always been spiced carrot cake. May is my birthday month, and almost every year carrot cake is my cake of choice…often using a different variation of a recipe every year. This year, I was experimenting with a more savory and less sweet version of a carrot cake and then making the icing a bit sweeter. Thus, if I’m in the mood for a less sweet cake I can just eat a little less icing, and if I want a little more sweet I’ll eat allllll the icing with every piece. I’ve made this cake in the past with several different variations - new flours and different spices and various forms of natural sugars. Each time the cake turned out a bit on the dry side (which, I don’t always mind because - ice cream fixes that) but this time I used a bit more oil and oat flour which adds a nice moisture to the end product. The spices, however, can make or break a good carrot cake. 

With this version of my spiced carrot cake, the cinnamon is just absolutely amazing. If you haven’t had Mountain Rose Herbs sweet cinnamon powder yet - it’s some of the best cinnamon powders you’ll ever have! It’s so rich and complex and subtly sweet…I’ve been putting this in everything from cakes to oatmeals to smoothies and even my morning yogurt. I also used a bit of allspice and nutmeg to flesh out the classic flavors of a spiced carrot cake, and added a bit of vanilla bean powder for a more savory and robust flavor. As for the oils, this is pretty forgiving. I prefer to use sunflower seed oil but you can use vegetable oil or safflower or even olive oil if you want a really savory cake (but the flavor will be more altered using olive oil). You can use more or less oil (but 1/4 cup either way) for a more moist or dryer cake. This cake turned out quite moist, so I would err on the side of less if you prefer a dryer more flaky cake. 

Sweet & Savory Spring Carrot Cake

For the Cake:
1 cup oat flour
1.5 spelt flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp sweet cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg powder
1/2 tsp allspice powder
1 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
1 1/4 cup sunflower seed oil
1 pound of carrots

For the Frosting:
12 oz cream cheese
5 tbsp butter
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Shred the carrots in a food processor or grater - you should have approximately 3 cups. Combine all of the dry ingredients (flours, spices, baking soda and baking powder) in a large bowl. Add the carrots to the dry ingredients and mix well until the carrots are well coated. In the same food processor, mix the eggs and sugars together until well blended. While still blending, add in the oil and mix well, about 30 seconds. Scrape the mixture into the dry ingredient bowl and blend all together well until a batter forms. Taking 2 round pie pans, place parchment paper (rounded cut outs) at the bottom of the the pans and grease the edges. Pour the batter into the 2 pie pans equally and let sit a few minutes to settle. Bake for about 40 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from heat and let cool completely in the pan (if you try to remove too early the cake may fall to pieces). Once completely cooled, ice away. 

For the icing, in a stand mixer, combine the cream cheese and butter until thoroughly combine (you'll need to scrape down the edges several times). Add in the powdered sugars in 1/4 cups at a time until completely mixed, tasting as you go to get to the your desired sweetness. Once all combined, ice each layer of the cake to your desired thickness and decorate with whatever's blooming outside! 


This post is sponsored by my friends at Mountain Rose Herbs. All thoughts and opinions are my own. It is my goal to use and recommend only the highest quality herbal products from companies that I wholly trust and fully support. Industry standards including sustainable harvesting, quality control, organic / fair trade standards and responsible sourcing are all things I care deeply about when working with herbs and herbal companies. I have been using Mountain Rose Herbal products for almost a decade, and have always been so impressed with their commitment to environmental stewardship. You can sign up for their newsletter here to receive extra tips, tricks and monthly product specials! Thank you for supporting the brands that help to make this blog possible.

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If you haven't been privy to the pollinator discussion within the past few years, consider getting the the know. This is a topic that's near and dear to my heart and has been for about ten years now. Our partnership with pollinators is a true symbiotic relationship, meaning we need them and they need us, and right now we humans are really dropping the ball in taking care of our much needed local and global aerial companions (and their habitats). Pollinator species are responsible for spreading botanical genetic material for helping plants reproduce which, long term, sustains our entire ecosystem and allows our sprawling population to feed ourselves. Over 75% of the flowering plants on earth need help with cross pollination (including over 1200 crops), and our aerial pollinators serve this vital (and often nearly invisible) task. Critters like bees and bats and butterflies and beetles and hummingbirds visit flowers during the growing season, and carry bits of pollen from flower to flower, allowing these botanical species to reproduce and flourish. These flowering plants not only feed us, they also feed the pollinator animals and are essential for our mutual survival. If these plants don't reproduce each year - they don't come back, and eventually neither will we. It's estimated that one out of every three bites of food that we eat is due to a pollinator species making that possible. 

Think about that. And realize how we can easily take that for granted when we hardly ever see that happening in front of our eyes. 

That's why we plant a pollinator garden every single year in our city garden. We want to serve the species, and we want to always be reminded of how important this process is by contributing what we can, and witnessing the process every day. 

Our next door neighbor has a twenty year old established bee colony living in the walls of her house, and she doesn't seem to mind, which is awesome. As soon as we began planning our garden five years ago, we made it a priority to plant as many native plant pollinator species as we could to keep these bees happy and provide them a diverse amount of pollen and nectar. We choose native plants for the obvious reason that they attract native (ie - local to our region) pollinator species. 

We choose plants that flower at different times throughout the season, so there's never a lack of flowers to visit. Salvia and echinacea and Joe pye weed and nasturtiums and milkweed and butterfly bushes are just a few of the pollinator plants we tend to each year here in Richmond, VA.

We also make a conscious effort to plant our pollinator plants in giant masses, or clumps, with lots of different flowering colors as this better helps to attract all different types of pollinators (like bees and bats and beetles and butterflies and hummingbirds etc.) rather than just putting one single plant here and there. Masses of flowers not only look gorgeous....but soon you'll start to hear them humming once they're all in bloom!

How - To Plant Your Own Pollinator Garden

Figure out the native plant species in your area, and try to plant 5-10 different species that flower throughout the growing season. You can keep it as neat and tidy, or as wild and weedy as you like - but always keep it as colorful as possible! 

Learn what native pollinator species are in your area and what their favorite plants are! If you can, consider setting up a small apiary or contacting a local beekeeper to learn more about how you can support your local colonies. 

Set up a bat house

Don't use chemical pesticides in your yard - ever - if you can avoid it. Chemical pesticide use is one of the leading suspected causes of colony collapse disorders.

Create a small, sunny (ideally fairly open) space for your pollinator garden. Aerate your soil and throw some compost down. Sow your seeds and make sure to check when to plant each species for optimal growth. 

Keep a place for water outside (either in a bird bath or another small space) for the pollinators to drink. 

Additional Resources:

Pollinator Partnership

Plant For Pollinators - what you should plant for your zone (US & Canada)

Gardening for Pollinators from the US Forest Service

Learning more about Colony Collapse Disorder from the EPA

How to create a nesting site for pollinators to enhance their native habitats

Do you have a pollinator garden in your own space? I'd love to see it! Share your garden on instagram with the hashtag #myotherhouseisgreenhouse and let us know what's going on in your garden space!

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


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