I love a good facial steam in early spring. As the mountain air here makes a gentle transition into spring, the bitter winter dryness is being slowly replaced with cool spring rain.  I do love a good early morning thunderstorm, or an afternoon spent out on the porch listening to rain fall. I’ve lived in the south my whole life, and my body is acclimated to extreme humidity. When it’s not hovering around like a swampy, thick blanket, my skin craves it.  Over the winter, my skin gets so incredibly dry. I wake up in the morning feeling like a raisin, and even the addition of a humidifier by my bed makes minimal difference for me. Winter time skin health involves lots of face and body oils. Now in spring, I’m using simple herbal facial steams in the morning (followed by botanical hydrosols) and omg the luxury and difference!

Steaming herbs releases some of the most magical and volatile parts of plant medicine. With a facial steam, we’re adding delicate herbs – usually flowers and petals – to hot water and letting the heat of the water break open constituents within the delicate parts of plants, releasing the essential and volatile oils. Combine with the hydrating quality of warm steam, herbal facials are a beautiful way to nourish your skin using gentle botanicals during a seasonal transition. A good facial steam can help to cleanse the face, open the pores, increase circulation and, our course, hydrate your skin. Steams, in a word, are “releasing”. It releases impurities from pores, tension from the facial muscles, and aromatics from the herbs. 

I’ve found this herbal steam to work well for any type of skin – from dry to oily, to sensitive to normal. It’s delightfully simple, and it looks absolutely gorgeous sitting in a glass jar on the bathroom sink (added bonus). Whip up a batch for yourself, or create and stuff into a little cotton muslin bag and give as a sweet gift. You an use all fresh herbs, or all dried herbs, or a combination of fresh and dry! 

Where to buy bulk dried herbs: Mountain Rose Herbs / Starwest Botanicals / Zack Woods Herb Farm

Herbal nootropics and brain support may not seem as sexy as talking about adaptogens and nervine latte elixirs (although, I’d beg to differ), but man, do they take the gold for showcasing how herbs can really shine and work beautifully long-term as tonic, system specific herbs. Nootropics are a class of herbs that support mental performance. They work best when taken over several months to nourish the brain and mind, while supporting mental clarity, healthy concentration, and recall. Some of the classic nootropics include bacopa, ginkgo, rosemary, lemon balm, lions mane and gotu kola. They each have their special little offerings and areas of specific support, but when used collaboratively together (herbal synergy!) in expertly formulated dosing and potency, they’re an ally we should all keep on hand in our apothecary.

This year, I’m thrilled to be partnering with one of my all time favorite herbal supplement companies, Gaia Herbs. I wanted to bring Gaia Herbs into this herbal space to introduce you to some of the most expertly formulated and potent herbal formulas on the market today, almost all of which are grown here in the US. I’ve been a lover of Gaia Herbs for almost a decade, and it’s always been important to me as an herbalist, clinical practitioner, and blogger, to connect people and plants more intimately, and showcase those herbal companies who I truly admire and trust. Gaia Herbs is one of those companies. PLUS, they have a line of specifically formulated herbal supplements that target a particularly neglected area of whole-body health: nootropic brain support. (Cue time to nerd out about the brain for a few minutes).

Cognitive decline can begin as early as age thirty, so tending to your brain health is just as important as getting good sleep, eating a nourishing diet, and supporting your stress response. So much can contribute to the way the brain functions (and declines) over time, including our diet, oxidative stress, environmental factors, and genetics. As a nutritionist, I focus heavily on consuming healthy, high quality fats and omega-3 fatty acids, along with antioxidant rich foods to reduce oxidative stress on the brain and body. As an herbalist, I focus on botanicals that support healthy blood flow to the brain (ginkgo / Ginkgo biloba)*, function as nootropic anti-inflammatories (bacopa / Bacopa monnieri)* and have been traditionally used to support the nervous system (lions mane / Hericium erinaceus)*. It’s rare that I only use one at time, as I rely on the synergy of herbal nootropics to really do the magic of tonic brain support. That’s one reason I love this line of herbal nootropics from Gaia Herbs. They use the highest quality nootropic herbs in combination together at expertly researched dosing to best support cognitive health over time.

Read More: Milky Oat Magic + Brain Tonic Tea Two Ways

(Fun fact, the very first clinical trial I helped to facilitate during graduate school was all about using rosemary to support cognitive function. You can geek out over that study right here).

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty about some of these nootropic herbs and what’s in each formula, and which to choose!

Agile Mind – To support healthy brain function and help maintain healthy recall. A combination of ginkgo leaf extract, bacopa, turmeric, black pepper, gotu kola and rosemary (did you read that rosemary study I left for ya up there?). This is an ideal formula to use long-term (3+ months) to keep your mind alert, your recall sharp, and the turmeric included in this formula supports a healthy anti-inflammatory response in the brain from normal wear and tear. The brain deals with a lot every day.

Nootropic Focus -To support healthy concentration. This is one I’ve been using for a little while, as the bulk of some of my days are spent intensely writing, researching, or teaching. A combination of saffron, ginkgo. spearmint and lemon balm, this is an ideal formula for those who need help focusing on tasks for long periods of time.

Bacopa – Grown sustainably in the Gaia Herbs greenhouse in North Carolina, this rigorously quality controlled Bacopa monnieri is one of the only sources of this Ayurvedic herb grown right here in the US. Bacopa has been traditionally used in Ayurveda as an herbal tonic for brain support and nervous system support. Today, it can be relied upon as an herbal ally for anyone who wants to keep their brain fit: from an overloaded college student, to an aging, retired hobbyist who wants to keep their mind sharp. Bacopa is a rasayana, or a rejuvenative tonic, which promotes the revitalization of the body and tissues. This is an herbal ally to use for the long-term, where some people may start to notice cognitive effects after 6-12 weeks.

More on Bacopa

Mushrooms + Herbs Mental Clarity – This is an ideal formula for primary nervous system support, featuring lions mane, reishi and cordyceps, with additional nootropics including gotu kola and rosemary. This is an ideal formula for folks who have perhaps undergone lots of stress (emotional, oxidative, mental…) on their nervous systems over time, and who could also benefit from the support of cardio-tonics like gotu kola and ginkgo to encourage healthy circulation in the brain.

Ginkgo + Gotu Kola Supreme liquid extract – This duo is a supreme a ally for supporting mental alertness and maintaining oxygen flow in the brain.Ginkgo + gotu kola do this beautifully over the long term. Liquid extracts are easily digested and quickly absorbed by the body, often being more quickly bioavailable than powders or raw plants alone. I like to take mine in a little water, or as an addition to my daily teas.

How to choose? Some of the herbs in these formulas may be a little unfamiliar to you, so read up on each one in the links provided in the formulas above, or visit gaiaherbs.com access their herb reference guide to dive even deeper into this history and uses of every herb in their formula. Really assess where you need personal support, and what changes are happening in your body. Consult with a clinical herbalist or licensed naturopathic doctor if you need individualized guidance on which herbs or supplements to choose. And you can rest assured that when choosing a Gaia Herbs product, you’re getting the best on the market today in terms of quality, potency, sustainability and purity.

I’ll be really swooning over the Gaia herb farm later in June (when I go for my first visit!), and sharing more on Gaia Herbs’ growing practices in a couple of months. Keep an eye on my Instagram stories this month for how I’m using some of these products in my every day habits!

Further Research:

Effects of Ginkgo biloba on cerebral blood flow

The Ayurvedic plant Bacopa Monnieri inhibits inflammatory pathways in the brain

Neurohealth properties of Hericium rinaceusmycelia

When I first see dandelion flowers popping up, I smile so hard I nearly cry. Along with robin sightings and little spots of green peeping out on the sleeping branches and brush, these sweet little medicinal flowers are the harkening in of a gleefully anticipated new season. Spring.

The entirety of 2018 was the hardest year of my life. Going through a dormant, restorative and reflective past winter in the mountains of Virginia has been one of the most healing times I’ve accepted. And I’ve honestly never anticipated a spring season so much in my life. While I take Gromit on our walk through a 7 mile river trail every day, I’m watching this spring creep in slowly day by day, and the changes are subtle and comforting in the slowness of a gradually more colorful new landscape coming alive, and the renewed energy that’s sprouting in me, too. Real magic takes time. And it’s worth working for and waiting for. Luckily, seasons are patient right along with you, and continually generous in their offerings.

I make a variation of this salad almost every week in the early spring to gently transition my digestion (and psyche) into an energetically new season. I love incorporating bitters into my diet through spring greens and herbal tinctures. Just the tiniest pure bitter taste on your tongue sends a direct message to your stomach and pancreas to start producing digestive enzymes. These enzymes are essential to break down our macro molecules (like proteins, fats and carbs) into smaller, digestible pieces so that once food reaches our small and large intestines, they can be more easily absorbed and digested. Historically, this is reason we started having salads before meals – when salads were primarily made of deliciously fresh, bitter spring greens, and not flavorless iceberg lettuce.

Read More: 5 Ways I Use herbal Bitters Everyday

Thus, this is my favorite salad to serve for spring meal gatherings. Early spring bitters – such as dandelion greens, mustard greens and rapini– are slightly bitter and jam packed with good minerals and nutrients. Add them all to a salad with a touch of nuttiness, aromatic fennel bulb and a drizzle of slightly sweetened apple cider vinegar based dressing and you’ve got a perfect garden (or back yard) to table, seasonal meal. You can also add fresh herbs you’ve got on hand like parsley or fresh dill, too! Lately I’ve been really enjoying the subtle and sweet flavors of Bee Seasonal honey’s, and they taste amazing in this vinegar dressing. Bitter tastes can be a little abrupt if you’re not used to them, so adding a touch of sweetness helps to balance the flavors.

This salad recipe was first published for my collaboration with Suite One Studio two years ago, and I’ve updated the recipe a smidge since then. If you’re looking to have an effortlessly gloriously beautiful meal, I’d highly recommend Lindsay Emery’s serving bowls and pale pink plates. They brighten up any table, and are seriously some of the most beautiful things in my kitchen. Now, salad time!