Category Archives: musings

Zoopharmawha…?

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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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Sagging D-rings and Forelimb Integrity

ugh!

oh, my

You’ve seen them, the dogs walking down the street with an Easy Walk harness hanging down over their shoulders. For me, there’s nothing that induces a facial tic quite like it. It’s not so much that it makes me want to adjust my bra strap, but that all it requires is a simple adjustment (or, really, a different harness, altogether!). I know a trainer who used to own a shop where Easy Walks were sold (before better products were developed), but all sales came with a lesson on proper fitting, and she demonstrated by adjusting it on the dog before the customer left the store. Unfortunately, it seems everyone just buys them at PETCO or orders them from amazon, neither of which have any interest — nor knowledge — in advising you of the proper use of any of its products (yet another reason to support your local businesses!). 

Freedom harness – much better!

  Allowing the front strap and D-ring to fall over the shoulders of the dog restricts its movement, even if not consciously or noticeably. When the musculature of the dog’s front-end assembly is constantly forced to adjust itself, what effects would that have on the structural integrity of the dog?  Years ago, I was gaiting my dog outside at a show for a couple of breeders, and one asked if I had used an Easy Walk. Surprised, I said yes, and asked how she would know that. She replied that his gait was off; that his front end lacked reach, as a normal dog’s should – which is often seen in dogs wearing Easy Walks. The effects of this are not merely an elitist dog show particular, but speak to the function that a dog should be able to perform in his or her daily life. Chasing squirrels in the yard? Running gleefully to catch a ball? Jumping off rocks on the trails? Turning sharp corners faster than you can say ‘tendon injury’? How are those tendons and ligaments going to fare if they’re compromised? Dr. Chris Zink gained notoriety for speaking out on the effects of early spay/neuter on growth plates and musculoskeletal development of the legs. It’s no surprise, then, with a specialty in canine sports medicine, that she would also raise concern with the use of front-clip harnesses. I was thrilled to open an issue of Whole Dog Journal and see that she had written a letter to them in response to a cover photo showing a dog in a front-clip harness. In an editorial, WDJ Training Editor Pat Miller wrote “Dr. Zink explains that these harnesses sit on top of the biceps and supraspinatus tendons, two of the most commonly injured structures in dogs’ forelimbs, particularly in canine athletes. She asserts that, just by logic, one has to assume that the pressure this kind of harness exerts on the dog’s forelimbs in an activity where the dog is supposed to be extending her forelimbs (i.e., running, walking), is not a good idea.” IMG_8976_2 I have a big dog bred for drafting work – the dog is hard wired to pull. Having had one that suffered rear weakness due to a collapsed cervical disk, I no longer use neck collars. Harnesses are far safer on spinal integrity, but does it need to cost muscular integrity? No. Look for a harness that doesn’t include a cross-chest strap. One no-pull design that I like is the Freedom Harness, which includes D-rings on both the front and back (between the shoulder blades). I have found that even clipping the leash to just the back clip is effective in reducing pulling. Another design that I use is the Holt (pictured, right) — which is marketed as a no-pull, but it’s really not. As an alternative to a collar, I just like its lightweight, rolled design as a seemingly more comfortable option for everyday use. If your dog pulls, though, no harness is going to train him not to. It may prevent him or her from pulling while it’s on, but only you can train your dog not to pull.

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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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…But Also, Please See Your Vet

I lurk in a few holistic groups on facebook, and  I see post after post from people looking for a remedy in order to avoid going to the vet. Many of these are from people who feed cheap, processed food and follow all of their conventional vet’s advice, but have decided that they don’t want to take Lucky to the vet for this pesky infection – surely there’s a natural remedy that someone on facebook can recommend, while they continue to feed cheap, processed food, and follow all of their conventional vet’s advice.  No, facebook isn’t exactly the pinnacle of awareness and intelligence in our culture, but I think this trend is far more widespread than it should be, and it’s harmful for at least a few reasons.

First, the approach of holistic medicine is not merely to utilize a “natural” remedy in place of an allopathic one.  Those who are looking for a natural ear solution to clean out gunk but are continuing to feed Nutro are missing the point, as are those looking for an herbal answer to anxiety, yet leaving the dog alone all day while they’re at work. It seems that people pop in to these groups to get a quick fix without ever realizing that there is a bigger picture or an underlying cause or a whole other concept of approaching health.  Unfortunately, a lot of the responses they receive perpetuate this by answering as though there really is a natural quick fix.  “Oh, your dog has IBS?  Give some Slippery Elm for that.”  Never mind looking at diet or antibiotic history or any number of other factors that could be contributing (or any of the other herbal options applicable to IBS!).  No, between turmeric and coconut oil, most of your problems can be solved easily on the internet.

Second, veterinarians are far more knowledgeable about your dog’s health than you or I or a group of people on facebook (where the saying “Never underestimate the stupidity of people in large groups” has never been more true).  You think that you are looking at a hot spot when in fact your vet can look at it, see a staph infection or demodex, do a skin scraping, and voila.  By not recognizing the actual condition, the underlying reason is overlooked (such as immune function in the case of staph), and by treating it inappropriately, you could be fostering the growth of something far more harmful.  Or, yes, it is a hot spot, but your vet begins to ask many more questions and examines the dog and notices something off that you were not aware of.  “Did you see this tartar way up here behind the front canine?  Let me scrape that off before it gets worse and leads to gum disease, as well,” or “Hmmm, these SNAP test results do show anaplasma.  Let’s address that.”  In either case, you may not have noticed any evidence, but you can address it now so that it doesn’t become a health issue later.

Recently, a question was posted to a raw feeding group, asking if others take their dogs in for bloodwork.  I know that groups of raw feeders like to think that they can throw their dogs nothing but random body parts based on what is available at the time and their dog will always remain impervious to any health condition, but I expected some to answer responsibly and say “oh, yes, I do in order to ensure that the values are right where I want them,” or “yes, so that I can show it when critics of raw feeding voice concern,” or “yes, I think it’s important to have a vet do a full examination on occasion.”  But no. The general response on that group was that there is no need for bloodwork when you can see how healthy your dog is.  Sadly, I think that’s indicative of a lot of raw groups.

On the contrary, it seems that we who feed raw and utilize herbs and other natural health approaches and refuse to overvaccinate should be even more responsible in taking the steps necessary to ensure the health of our dogs – even if merely to prove the naysayers wrong (I’m stubborn like that).  Those who avoid vets and then insist that their dogs are healthier for it while in fact their dog is harboring a parasitic overload or a nutritional deficiency will only draw more suspicion and criticism – and rightly so.

This past Friday, I took my own dog up to see his vet.  (I try to do annual bloodwork near his birthday, but sometimes things get in the way and he goes much longer.  No big deal.)  She gave him a veterinary examination – something I am nowhere near qualified to do.  She looked in orifices and used instruments and machines and I was able to ask questions about things I am not learned in and she offered feedback based not only in her extensive schooling and experience, but on the countless other dogs she has seen.  No vaccines were given, no flea & tick, no heartworm.  Instead, she drew blood to send to Dr. Dodds for a full CBC, chem, and thyroid panel.  All in all, she said that he looks fantastic and to keep doing what I’m doing.  I paid a lot of money at the counter before we left; money that I would rather have in my pocket the week before Christmas.  But that money was spent on the wellness of my dog, which is far less expensive than disease.

Support your holistic vet.  If you are not comfortable with your current vet’s recommendations, or find that (s)he doesn’t agree with your choice of diet, or are tired of having to refuse unnecessary vaccines, find a vet who is more aligned with your approach.  One excellent source is the AHVMA’s (American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association’s) search function at their website (www.ahvma.org).  Feeding raw or administering natural remedies is not license to avoid veterinarians.  Find one that you can feel comfortable with!  I travel an hour to see my vet; not only because I know that she supports me in my decisions, but because I only see her once a year, at most.  I think I can swing the hour once a year for the continuing health of my dog.

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The Urban Herbalist

It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?  Urban herbalist? But herbalists live out in the sticks, don’t they?  They reside in rural areas, among meadows blossoming with vibrant wildflowers and on the edges of woods full of plants filling the lush forest floor.

Yes, they do  …and they live in cities, too.  I know many herbalists who can’t bear the energy of the city for more than a one-day visit.  It all feels so unnatural to them, so disconnected, and so busy.  Then there are those of us who enjoy the solace of a quiet locale, but are soon anxious to return to the buzz of the city, to smell the aroma of espresso wafting out of a little café, to hear the rattle of the subway beneath us or a fiddle reel spilling out of a bar, to see an independent film in an arthouse theatre.

True, walk down a city street and you’ll see the disconnected masses; their ears plugged with earbuds, their eyes cast down to the pavement. The herbalist’s eyes are often cast down, too.  Who is that, peeking out of the crack in the sidewalk?  A hardy little thing, aren’t you?  City workers can pave, lay brick and stone, slather concrete down.  But still they peek out, and those in tune with the plant world will remain plugged in to them.  Who is that, up there?  Hey- how exactly are you growing out of a brick wall?  Urban herbalists know exactly what I’m talking about.  You see the little plant growing all alone out of the mortar halfway up a 3-story stone wall, honor its determination, and consider the plant spirit medicine it offers.

Walking along the bike path here in Somerville, they grow tall and wide with wild abandon, reaching for the sun.  Wild Carrot, Evening Primrose, Sheep Sorrel, Yarrow, Solomon’s Seal, Yellow Dock, Sweet Leaf, Red Clover, Poke, Purslane, Comfrey, Dandelion, Japanese Knotweed, little Pineapple Weed, and yes, even Ragweed. Alteratives, lymphatics, astringents, bitters, nutritives, stimulants.  Walking through Davis Square, look at the trees lining the street and you see Ginkgo leaves doing their thing, clearing toxins from the air.  Walking along the grid of city streets crisscrossing each other through residential neighborhoods and busy thoroughfares, you notice plants for the urinary system, the liver, spine, nerves, digestion.  They clear heat, dispel wind, dry dampness, moisten dryness, open pores. We notice the sheer size of enormous Burdock leaves and know that it’s working hard at this polluted soil, trying its damnedest to undo an era of leaded gasoline, industrial manufacturing, and such.

No, we can’t harvest here in the city; can’t use any of the plants growing in the native soil. But we can go to the local garden center, buy some organic soil, and tend our own little seedlings in areas sheltered from toxic urban air.  My local café receives an overabundance of milk crates.  Line them with natural landscaping fabric and some organic soil, and they’re perfect for square foot gardening because each is exactly one square foot.  Don’t have a little yard? One of the pleasures of city porches is container gardening.  Some people get really creative with this, using things like wooden pallets and old shoeholders.

And yes, you country bumpkins, sometimes we come up and steal your wild plants!  We know where they live, and we come for them.  (It would be a shame to waste Mother Nature’s gifts.)  We trek up, perhaps for hours, and harvest carefully, choosing remote areas, culling consciously, and filling our baskets.  (We steal your bugs, too.)

And what powerful medicine the urban herbalist can make.

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Feeding Greed

Apparently, the AVMA is setting a new standard – one in which money speaks louder than the wellness of your pet.  What else could explain their upcoming meeting where they will vote to create a policy discouraging the feeding of raw food?  Pathogens in tested samples?  Have they noticed that there are far more dogs getting sick from processed dry foods than raw?  No, I think they have noticed that, as pet owners become more aware, sales of processed dry food is declining and those choosing to feed a raw or home-prepared diet is increasing.  Our pets are becoming healthier and eating less “prescription” crap.  Surely, this can’t be good for business!

Truth About Pet Food’s “Very Bad News for Raw Feeders

AVMA’s blog on the topic 

I love my vet.  Rupert and I are going to see her on Monday, in fact.  In Rupert’s seven years, we have seen her only for routine exams and blood draws (where bloodwork always looks excellent).  She is thrilled that we feed a balanced raw diet, and I know that there are lots of other vets out there who don’t see themselves as merely a business, where earnings and profit margins are the only concern,  but as a practice, where they help pets stay healthy.

…Actually, I don’t think it’s such bad news for raw feeders.  Those of us who choose to feed raw will continue to do so.  It’s bad news for the AVMA, who is outing itself as an organization more interested in feeding their own greed than feeding quality nutrition to help our pets stay healthy. How embarrassing for them.

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