Category Archives: herbs



A post in one of the essential oils safety groups that I follow on Facebook warned members about celebrity doctors peddling their weight loss program, and I added a short reminder that popular veterinary doctors should also be regarded with some critical thinking.  I was reminded of a particularly popular vet using Young Living oils (which I’d seen before, in a meme), which indicates to me a certain level of salesmanship over integrity. (Essential oils in and of themselves are not bad, and there are many wonderful companies that make them sustainably and promote their use responsibly. Why any doctor would tout a multi-level marketing [MLM] company for something used in a healing modality is beyond me – much less one known for spreading sensationalistic claims and other misinformation, promoting unsafe practices, and selling adulterated product.)

A couple of days later, I saw a question posted (in a different group…  yeah, I should spend less time on Facebook) about applied zoopharmacognosy, and I had just seen a relevant youtube video in the search I mentioned above.  I knew about zoopharmacognosy (the ability of animals to self-select plants in the wild which can benefit its current state of health), but applied zoopharmacognosy (or “AZ,” as it’s called) was a new one on me.  I quickly learned that this involves offering essential oils within the confines of an office or room, and that there is quite a following for it – but let’s take an objective look at it without the marketing of a sales rep.

Part of my initial herbal training included essential oils and I respect their knowledgeable use in any practice.  I use them sparingly, myself, for multiple reasons, but mainly because I see them as sort of  “natural” pharmaceuticals.  I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but when you consider that the plants contain many active chemical constituents which work together with other constituents in the plants in a symphony which we have yet to really understand, the amount of oil is very small, due to its strength.  It is in balance within the plant.  In order to produce an ounce of oil, sometimes tons (literally) of the plant must be harvested.  Not only is this not sustainable over the long term, but this is extracting superdoses of chemistry while tossing the other constituents. To me, that’s not holistic; it’s more of a pharmaceutical. Then people wonder why so many adverse events are reported on a “natural” remedy. And that’s in humans – now consider not only that the dog’s sense of smell is something like 10,000 times our own, but with dimensions that we as humans are not physiologically capable of  even comprehending, let alone experiencing. If humans report getting a migraine from a little aromatherapy in a room or office, how is a dog experiencing that aroma?  I am also of the belief that dogs are more physically sensitive to their environment — especially herbs and drugs (especially if he or she is eating a diet of fresh foods), and that often, less is more effective.  The chemical constituents present in an essential oil may also be present in an herbal preparation such as a decoction or tincture, but in an amount which is balanced proportionately with the other constituents of that plant; one that is certainly more easily assimilated by a dog, not assaulting him.

At last year’s International Herb Symposium, I attended an interesting lecture on zoopharmacognosy which followed the case of a horse with Lyme disease as he self-selected the plants he ate while out in the pasture each day (some of whose roots he dug up using his hooves), and recovered well. It’s uplifting to see veterinarians who are closely monitoring their patients’ habits in the interest of learning from them, and it just seems to me that that is more the method of ingestion that Mother Nature intended.


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A Practicing Herbalist

I’ve been on the verge of being a practicing herbalist for a half dozen years or so. I’d always plan to hang a shingle after I design new labels or order more bottles or master tongue and pulse assessment or polish my website or attend that conference or gain a full understanding of canine nutritional needs, nutrient. by. nutrient. The thing is, I’m a perfectionist. I want to have a full understanding of canine anatomy, physiology, and pathology (both traditional and conventional, of course) before I see clients, but I also want to have a complete catalogue in my materia medica database including chemical constituents, energetics, contraindications, tissue states, and more before money changes hands. What if I misread the terrain of the condition? What if I miss a sign? What if the dosage is wrong? Worst of all, what if the dog just doesn’t improve? Surely, that will mark me as a failure. The fact that this is precisely why it’s called a practice managed to escape me.

I mentioned a bit of this to a friend who doesn’t believe in herbal medicine (because self-sabotage is not something I do?), who was happy to confirm that I am not qualified to see clients, and my realization of this is why she respects me. (This woman actually has no knowledge of what my training has encompassed; though I’m not sure she understands what it even is – it’s like homeopathy, right? Hocus pocus.) Thanks for that vote of confidence! There is a stubborn “I’ll show you” part of me that perks up in the face of such patronizing dismissal, and it became more committed than ever to establishing a successful practice.

I should probably add here that I have a little attention problem. I’m not sure if I’m full-blown ADD or if the artist’s brain is just wired similarly; but at any given moment, I have a list of things I’m either working on or am planning to be working on which contains no less than a dozen projects. Design and sew custom dog coats. Learn curling. Earn an obedience title with my dog. Get my Off the Wall project off the ground (matching local artists with local business wall space). Restart the Historic (Dog) Walking Tours blog. Coordinate a salon series and studio visits for local artists. Re-learn tai chi. Build the Finding a Swissy website. Get back to that homework for the Canine Dietary Formulation class I’m taking. Research the artist’s brain and its similarities with ADD. I also like to read fiction. And non-fiction. And bike. How will I be able to do these things when being a practicing herbalist will take up so many hours of my week?  

So, the self-induced hurdles included the non-herb-related. After Somerville Open Studios, after I move, after I finish this portrait, after after after. After so many “afters,” I decided to just be honest with myself and admit that being a practicing herbalist is just not what I’m after, right now. Maybe not ever. And that’s OK.  There are many herbalists out there who live this stuff from the moment they wake to the moment they go back to sleep, and I admire them.  I learn from them.  But I am wired differently.  Not better or worse; just differently.  My brain is fed by stimuli from multiple directions.  

I had always been an artist, but had stopped painting for many years and quickly rebuked the label when a friend called me an artist. “I’m not an artist,” said I. “I don’t do art.” But living in Somerville has lured my artist self back out from its cave, and I seem to have acquired a queue of painting commissions which is every bit as rewarding to me as herbal work. With commissions, though, I have no problem asking for money and I have full confidence in my ability. With only so many hours in a week and 1/3 of them allotted to sleeping, there is no way that I can devote enough hours to both and be successful at either.  With a new apartment around the corner from a studio building with available space (hard to come by in Somerville), the choice became obvious.  

So, wait- am I still an herbalist? That “I’m not an artist” sentiment is not unlike this crazy notion that I had in my head that being an herbalist requires a busy public practice. I thought of the friends that I bunk with at the International Herb Symposium every year. They have busy careers as therapists and social workers, not professional herbalists. And yet they are very active herbalists, incorporating herbs in their many forms into their daily lives, continuing to take classes and attend conferences, helping those around them as needed and finding joy in hearing the positive results. Their knowledge runs deep and wide, so I don’t hesitate to consult with them when puzzled by an issue, and they guide thoughtfully and confidently. They are herbalists to the core. image


After my minimalist self moved to this smaller apartment and a separate art studio, I offloaded a good portion of the possessions that I don’t use. While I didn’t give up my herbal supplies, the ones that I use less often went to a fellow herbalist’s basement – packaging supplies for retail (jars, product labels), shipping containers, vending booth supplies, empty jars, essential oils, and even tinctures and oils (there are just so many of them). After a few weeks in my new apartment of feeling not-quite-moved-in, I devised a storage system for my tinctures and funnels and sieves and oils. I promptly retrieved them from my friend’s basement and arranged them carefully.  Ah, Cleavers, look at you.  Ghost Pipe, I remember harvesting you in the Maine woods.  Sweet Leaf, how could I have sent you off to a basement? Rehmannia, you’re not local but I really should work with you more.

Relieving myself of the subconscious need to be a practicing herbalist has allowed me to get back to the journey of practicing herbalism. There’s a lot to practice, and it will take me the rest of my life.

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Tick Juice

During class this morning at Herbstalk, a question was raised about Lyme and ticks — namely, how to avoid them!  Of course, that is a far larger topic deserving of its own class involving nutrition and the immune system and parasites and the actions of spirochetes and so on.  (Oh, lookie – an earlier blog post, too!)  After a little discussion, attendants had asked for the recipe of the tick spray that I make, and so here it is:

1 quart filtered water
4 oz Neem oil
2 oz thyme (dry herb)
1 oz Neem leaf
1 large lemon, sliced
Essential oils: catnip, citronella, tea tree, lavender, geranium

Simmer thyme, neem leaf, and sliced lemon in covered pot for several minutes in filtered water. Turn off heat, allowing it to cool while still covered (I like to leave it overnight). Once cool, strain and add neem oil and the following essential oils:

9 drops catnip
9 drops citronella
8 drops tea tree
6 drops lavender
5 drops geranium
Spray lightly before exposure to areas with tick populations.

Tea Tree has shown toxicity (seizures) in cats, so do not use if you have cats in the house.  A safe rule is to avoid use any essential oils with cats. Robert Tisserand writes “It’s true that cats are missing an enzyme (glucuronyl transferase) that humans do possess, and which is important in the metabolism of many essential oil constituents. Therefore, there is a theoretical risk of increased toxicity to cats.”  Honestly, I am not a fan of using essential oils at all with pets, and this is the only time that I use essential oils with dogs, but (as long as the oils are of good quality,) I feel it’s better than coating them in neonicotinoids and other neurotoxins that we are advised to wash off immediately if they touch our own skin.

Lavender and geranium are said to have bug repelling properties, but I haven’t seen much evidence of it. Ticks hate tea tree (I have seen that) and neem, but they smell godawful (especially on top of lemon and thyme), so I add the lavender & geranium more to make the odor bearable.  If they do help to repel annoying little bugs, all the better.


Now, go outside and play!


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Herbs to Support Liver Health


thIt seems that wherever canine hepatic issues are discussed, Milk Thistle is recommended for treatment or prevention. It has become a well-known panacea for any health issues related to the liver and, although it is extremely effective at improving liver function and clearing disease, other herbs may be more appropriate in this endeavor, as they may address the specific conditions of your dog. Remember, a holistic perspective differs from a conventional one in that it considers this dog with these conditions at this time rather than employing a one-size-fits-all approach.

We also see Milk Thistle recommended or utilized in more of a pharmaceutical manner. How is buying capsules of 450mg of a standardized isolate of silymarin different from buying a drug? Rather than using a neutraceutical, a better approach may be found in using the whole seed. Silymarin has been identified as a flavonoid compound consisting of silibinin, silidianin, and silichristine. But that’s just one of many compounds found in Milk Thistle. The phytochemistry of plants is complex, and we do not yet fully understand its symbiosis; so, while silymarin has been identified as a potent hepatoprotective, we may be losing other beneficial actions of the plant by isolating this one constituent. Using Milk Thistle in its whole state also allows the body to assimilate it more naturally and effectively, allowing you to see better results.

OK, but enough about Milk Thistle. I prefer to reserve its use for cases where there is more serious liver impairment. If you need to help damaged liver tissues to regenerate, then by all means – use Milk Thistle; but if you are trying to assist cases of bile insufficiency, inflammation of the liver or spleen, elevated liver enzymes, or just trying to prevent toxicity from drugs such as Phenobarbital or NSAIDs such as Rimadyl®, there are many other options – and ones that are likely more appropriate for your dog.



Burdock (Arctium lappa) is seen primarily as a blood purifier – but it does so by stimulating the liver to function more efficiently, thus filtering waste. As a broad-spectrum alterative for the whole body, it specifically balances and restores the liver, lymph system, and kidneys, making it ideal for preventing or treating drug toxicity.

As a bitter, it stimulates digestive juices – especially bile secretion. It helps moderate glucose levels, stimulate metabolism, and release excess metabolic waste from the cells and blood, which alkalyzes body pH (use with dogs prone to hyperacidity). It’s rich in minerals – especially iron.

The diuretic action helps to eliminate waste from the kidneys, taking some of the burden off of the liver. Seed tincture is used topically in TCM for psoriasis and chronic sores (ideal for dogs with skin issues). The seeds are considered more immediate; the root slower and deeper. The root is considered better when used fresh.

This is an excellent long-term liver tonic, gentle enough for use with pre-existing liver or kidney disease. A good choice for deep, chronic issues. Its thermal nature is cold, so use with dogs that tend to run hot.


Like Burdock, Dandelion (Taraxicum officinale) is one of the first herbs to consider in addressing both kidney and liver issues. It tonifies, restores, and rebuilds, and its use is not so much for an acute state as for deep, chronic issues (think of roots as going deeper). This is a slow-acting herb.

The root stimulates the liver to eliminate toxins from blood, reduces inflammation of the bile duct and liver, and clears obstructions of the spleen, pancreas, liver, gallblader, kidney, and bladder. The root milk is bitter, which increases salivation and bile production (hence digestion).

In keeping organ systems flushed, use the whole plant. There is probably no diuretic more balancing than Dandelion leaf. Where other diuretics deplete potassium, this leaf is rich in it. It balances electrolytes, as well as reduces uric acid. This is probably the best choice for an herbal diuretic. By acting through the kidneys, the leaves reduce pressure on the liver to eliminate toxins.

Like burdock, it is hypoglycemic. With diabetic pets, use the whole plant. The root helps moderate glucose levels while the leaf acts as a bitter, aiding assimilation in the digestive tract. This is also a good nerve tonic, making it an excellent choice for dogs with issues relating to nerves.

Its thermal nature is cold. Think of it for conditions where you want to dispel heat – especially in the liver and stomach (dyspepsia is an example of stomach heat).

Beet and Burdock roots are excellent liver-friendly additions to meals

Another herb traditionally used to detox and cleanse the liver is Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus). As with the others, it acts as an alterative, enriching the blood and skin, so is well-indicated for dogs with skin issues such as hot spots. It’s cool, bitter, and damp, making it a good choice for pets prone to constipation (herbalist Matthew Wood reminds us to think of it as a heat reducer rather than as a laxative). It improves the flow of bile and stimulates peristalsis in the intestines, helping to regulate bowel movements. This is especially useful for dogs with hyperacidity and esophageal reflux (use tea or decoction). Use caution with quantities, as it can cause diarrhea; try using a little in conjunction with other herbs.

Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) encompasses all of the actions that most support the liver (cholagogue, alterative, bitter, and diuretic), and as such is effective in almost all liver problems. It stimulates the flow of bile from the gallbladder into the small intestine, and helps remove excess bile from the system.  As an antidiarrheal, it will normalize bowels (though diet changes and deeper causes should be considered in resolving cases of chronic diarrhea).

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is primarily considered a blood purifier and liver herb. It stirs up deep, stagnant, hot blood and brings it to the surface, improving peripheral circulation to rid joints of arthritic depositions and promote diuresis. It expels wind from the stomach, and its oils stimulate renal function. Its name is believed to be a corruption of saxifrage from Late Latin saxifraga, literally: rock-breaker (probably alluding to its ability to dissolve kidney stones), from Latin saxum rock + frangere to break.


This is a good stimulating liver tonic to help detox the overall system and clear blood disorders. Think of it for dogs with skin and skeletal conditions, such as acne, hot spots, and arthritic joints.


Beet root (Beta vulgaris) has traditionally been used as a blood cleanser, but the leaves, being more bitter, are more specific to liver cleansing. What I often do is just cut up an entire beet plant – root and leaves – to include in the pot of simmering roots and greens that I add to my dog’s meals.


A cousin to Milk Thistle, Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus) is a pungent bitter that works on the liver and stomach/spleen. It is best used in damp (mucousy) conditions, diminished appetite, and dyspepsia.

When thinking about liver health and eliminating toxins and other waste from the dog’s system, the discussion doesn’t end here. The herbs above represent a small sampling of plants growing right here in New England and may provide a starting point for those interested in a more targeted, holistic approach. Ask your herbalist or holistic vet about them. With all of the great herbal options out there, please consider reaching for Milk Thistle last. Give other plants a chance to address your dog’s condition(s) more specifically and effectively. Milk Thistle will still be there, should you need it.



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Of Herbalism, Integrity, and Fire Cider

fire cider in the makingI shop local. One of the factors that gives my community its unique vibe is that we have lots of independently owned shops throughout our neighborhoods and squares, and I have no problem spending a little extra for an item if I’m supporting these businesses and my local economy. As a medicinal herbalist, I use only organic or wildcrafted herbs, and there are a few good sources for them online; but, my local health food store stocks jars and jars full of many of the herbs that I use – from the same company that I would normally order (Mountain Rose). So, of course, I stop in to pick up what I need when I can’t go out and harvest my own… as well as probiotics and vitamins and soap and incense and homeopathics and teas and fish oil and greens and– hell, even biodegradable dog poop bags. No wonder I was in there every week.

But today, I had to break up with them.

See, there is a formulation that herbalists have been making for decades, called fire cider. It’s an apple cider vinegar base to which is added garlic and horseradish and cayenne and other hot & spicy herbs, and some citrus fruit and maybe some honey. Some herbalists stick with the traditional formula which became well known to us from Rosemary Gladstar, while others play around with the ingredients a little bit and develop their own twist on the recipe. Come Fall, when the air gets colder and germs start jumping around from person to person, we are sure to have our bottle in the cabinet, macerating with roots and bulbs and peels, and there is no better defense against colds and flus. Some herbalists bottle it and label it and sell it off the shelf or online. It’s been this way for many, many years. There is no competition; that’s not how herbalists think. It’s a great remedy and many make it and the aim is to help people stay healthy, collectively.

Then, a little tiny company out in western MA trademarked the name “Fire Cider.” Apparently, this is their only product and they didn’t want anyone else getting in on their game (which was, um, everyone else’s game, first!). Not only did they trademark the name, other herbalists who were selling fire cider at Etsy began receiving letters informing them that they could no longer use the name “Fire Cider” on their own product.  Apparently, Shire City Herbals had filed a trademark infringement complaint. Wait. Seriously? Who does that?  ‘Screw all the rest of you; we’re in it for us?‘  The pure audacity of a few people out in western MA who are not even connected with the larger herbal community to co-opt a product that isn’t theirs and had been shared publicly just fine, and telling other herbalists that they no longer have the right to call it ‘fire cider’ because that’s now legally their property is simply deplorable. There is more to the story, but it further shows their lack of integrity (changing their stories and even reporting fire cider pages on facebook so as to have them permanently removed due to infringement?), and many of the businesses that sold Shire City’s Fire Cider have stopped – at least until the matter is straightened out. (There is currently a petition to revoke the trademark here. There is also an instructional video of Rosemary making fire cider there, if you are interested in making some, yourself… which I strongly encourage!)

But, there it was on the shelf at my local health food store.  I picked up a bottle and approached the manager. I asked if they were aware of the issue with it and she nodded yes. I didn’t press the issue, but instead turned around, put it back, and returned the items I was going to purchase to their rightful places on their shelves.  I wish that I had, though; I wish that I had asked “If you are aware of their actions, why do you choose to support a company with such an obvious lack of business ethics?”

Later, I did have the opportunity to sit down and have a lengthy conversation with the owner of the store.  We disagreed on this issue but found others where we were aligned.  I respect the work that he does in other areas, and I respect the passion that he puts into causes that he believes in.  Ultimately, he’s a businessman and said that this issue is small in the scope of the larger market.  That’s true.  I suppose we just have a different perspective on it, and that’s what makes the world go around.

Honestly, I have considered and reconsidered the wording of this post (I’m the chronically self-questioning and self-doubting sort, as it is).  I always try to remain positive —  especially on a public forum.  I also believe, though, that this sort of behavior should be called out; not only for its underhandedness, but for the precedent that it could set for the business practice of trademarking herbal (and other) products that are not rightfully their intellectual property.

This fire cider matter does not affect me, professionally.  I don’t sell fire cider. I do, however, think that it’s important for people to speak up for the values that they believe in.  Change is not stirred by sitting back and saying nothing.  Sitting back and thinking ‘well, it’s such a tiny issue in the scope of a larger market‘ is merely sweeping it under the rug.  Some day, all that dirt and grime under there becomes larger than the rug that shelters it.  And then we look at it, disheartened, and say “How did it become that?”

Speak up.  Do so kindly and respectfully, but please do speak up for the values that you believe in and would like to see reflected in your local community.


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Purslane. It’s What’s for Dinner.

purslaneOne of the best things about summer is the abundance of fresh produce.  Here in the city, there is a farmer’s market to be found every day of the week.  In fact, I was making a quick stop  at the art supplies store mid-week, and bumped into a bustling market right there in the parking lot.  I parked the Tail Wagon and wandered over, curious what I might find this week to add to Rupert’s meals. I roamed from vendor to vendor, eyeing their wooden boxes loaded with leafy greens and berries and radishes and garlic scapes and…  and my eyes fell upon clear bags of fresh, damp, fat little Purslane leaves.  Bunches of them.

Portulaca oleracea is a succulent that grows wild all over the city – in yards, in parks, in cracks in the sidewalk, even bursting where it sees an opportunity in the pavement.  Though we can’t eat it from the roadside or from city soil loaded with heavy metals, its plump little leaves are easily recognizable.  Nutritionally, it’s quite a little powerhouse.  Known mostly for being so high in omegas, it also contains beta carotene, alpha-linolenic acid, vitamins C and E, alpha tocopherols, magnesium, and potassium.


Energetically, it is a very cooling herb (a refrigerant), making it ideal for a hot week in the life of a dog happiest when there’s snow up to the windows.  Herbally, it is used to dispel heat conditions and is especially soothing to skin inflammation such as hot spots or other types of hot dermatitis (mash up some leaves and apply as a poultice right against the skin).

Many raw feeders choose a prey-model diet (animals only), but I like to add plant sources to my dog’s food (pureed or steamed is best), more in the manner of Billinghurst’s BARF model; not only because I’m an herbalist, but because I see him nibbling on plants while we’re in the woods, and I believe that they offer a great source of nutrients for dogs.  Although I feed raw meat, I do cook the vegetables and herbs in order to break down the outer cellulose, making them more bioavailable, but also to extract the medicinal constituents of the roots and herbs in that week’s brew.  Anyway… Purslane.  Yes.  This week, with temps heading back up to the 90s, its what’s for dinner.

Rupert’s not particularly thrilled about it, but I am.


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botanical names: Chimaphila umbellataChimaphila maculata

parts used: leaf & stem

Found in coniferous woods where the soil is relatively undisturbed by the compression of foot traffic, this little plant has a mighty action as a renal antiseptic. Its action comes not only from the tannins, but its stimulating action, as well. As a stimulant, it helps to clear stagnation (specifically of the lymphatic and renal systems) by warming and activating. Matthew Wood writes that it is indicated when the tongue is swollen with a white coating in the middle.

It also possesses astringent and antiseptic qualities, serving the urinary system where there is urinary tract infection or kidney inflammation. This is a gentler alernative to the harsher Uva Ursi, due to fewer tannins (thus better suited for older animals and long-term use).  Its stimulating and diuretic effect helps to keep the urinary tract flushed. As a lymphatic stimulant serving whenever there is any form of stagnation or swelling of glands, it is applicable for irritation of the prostate, as well.

Chimaphila maculata has darker leaves with pronounced veins

Pipsissewa is a hot plant, energetically. I remember taking a class over the winter with Sean Donahue, and we were working with Cayenne. I had taken my dog on a long snowy hike, and packed a little bottle of Cayenne tincture to experience the energetics of it during a break in the quiet woods. When I found a good spot to sit, I took off my backpack to find that the tincture was not there. (Interestingly, I had an inflammation on my skin due to food sensitivities, and Cayenne is contraindicated with any inflammatory condition.) We continued on our hike and toward the end, I was prompted to sample a Pipsissewa leaf. A few minutes after I chewed it, I was overcome with a heat so strong that I had to wipe beads of sweat from my face and take off my hat. So, thank you, Pipsissewa, for standing in for Cayenne!

It is that quality of heat that fires up the body to get fluids moving – especially in the kidneys and lymphatics. It acts as an alterative by getting the blood and lymphatics moving. In this sense, it was the perfect substitute for Cayenne, mentioned above, as it offered the energetics of HOT, but in an alterative form that can actually benefit skin conditions. By aiding in keeping the body’s fluids flushed and drained, it allows wastes to be eliminated via the proper channels, rather than creating inflammatory conditions as they are expelled through the skin (as in hot spots).

Pipsissewa is, unfortunately, in fear of being endangered. Its slow growth and specific soil requirements, along with past overharvesting, has caused it to be far less prolific than in the past. This is a gem of a little plant – let’s keep it safe!

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