Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fantastic Fungi - Kickstarter


I would just like to take a moment to promote this Kickstarter campaign for Fantastic Fungi, a film featuring the brilliant myco-pioneer Paul Stamets (of Fungi Perfecti fame) on the life-affirming miracle of mushrooms. I am promoting it solely because I care.

 From bioremediation, to creating soil and sustaining plant life, to helping heal cancer, crushing viruses, aiding mental disorders and even saving the bees, the world would not exist and persist without fungi and their story needs to be heard.

 My husband Jason says, "lose touch with the soil, lose touch with your soul" and we are in danger of losing ourselves as a species until we reunite our consciousness with the soil and all within it that sustains us and makes the growing and walking world a possibility.

 Fungi are workers that play a crucial role in keeping the soil life and all else that uses it going and growing...but their role doesn't stop there. Wouldn't you like to learn more? I would, too! Let's get this project backed! I contributed, will you? Vote with your dollars and let's bring this knowledge to the masses!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Heartburn - Dyspepsia - Acid Reflux

Today I would like to talk about acid reflux, aka heartburn or dyspepsia and the various approaches to tackle it.

We see commercials that say things like, "Are your favorite foods fighting you?  Fight back with [enter antacid here]!"  They show us pictures of people rubbing their tummies with scrunched up faces and warning that acid erosion of the esophagus can lead to esophageal cancer, then they propose their acid blocker medicine.  It's a simple fix!  Just one pill a day!  Your problem never goes away but that's okay because you have a pill.

Like most things, everyone has a lingering intuitive hint that suggests there must be a way to resolve it, not just repeatedly bandage the situation.

Did you know, the majority of acid reflux is caused by low stomach acid?  Does that surprise you?  How does one determine if they have too much or too little?

There are two ways to test if one has high or low stomach acid: the water test and the vinegar test.

The Water Test

If you drink a cup of water and the reflux gets better, your acid is high because you've diluted it and you received relief.  If it worsens, you have low acid.

The Vinegar Test

If you take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and reflux improves, you have low acid because you added acid.  If it worsens, you have high acid.

So what about those antacids?  Yes, indeed, what about those little suckers that people pop like candy after a meal.

Antacids suppress your acid production & also inhibit your body's ability to absorb calcium. Long term use often results in osteoporosis.  That is why on the commercials for prescription acid blockers they say, "may result in bone fractures....." while showing you a smiling person who is no longer clenching their chest and stomach.  They really don't want to say the "O" word, because people would balk.  Though, personally, I think bone fractures sound horrible enough.

It seems obvious enough that suppressing stomach acid production will only serve to cause the condition of dyspepsia to persist, and that is the case.  Because the condition persists, people keep taking antacids and consequently, over time, their body is deficient in calcium and taking a calcium supplement will not help them as they will not be able to digest or absorb it because they lack the acid production necessary.  It becomes a miserable cycle and the only party benefiting is the pocket book of the company making the "medicine."

From an energetic standpoint, acid reflux is ascending qi (chi), and must be redirected to descending.  Bitters accomplish this.  There are many bitter plants such as Dandelion root, Taraxacum officinale (and so much time is spent poisoning lawns to eradicate that lovely little plant), Yellow Dock root, Rumex crispus, Oregon Grape root, Mahonia ssp., Angelica root, Angelica archangelica, Elecampane root, Inula helenium, Goldenseal root, Hydrastis canadensis.....the list goes on.

Dandelion root is one bitter that actually can increase stomach acid production.  It also, like other bitters, redirects the qi downwards.

If you are familiar with lactofermentation, the probiotic preservation of foods, you will be pleased to know that the lactic acid formed by lactobacilli in fermented foods is said to normalize stomach acid production.

From a dietary standpoint, there are two major culprits in the modern diet for dyspepsia and they are both beverages:  alcohol and coffee.  Both introduce highly acidic conditions into the body and are usually consumed in rather generous amounts.

Dyspepsia has been known as a major cause of depression for more than a century, but today most doctors do not discuss that with depression sufferers.  As you can read below, the Eclectic physicians were quite aware of the connection.

"Dyspepsia is a very common disease...  The symptoms are numerous:  the patient generally complains of inability to attend to his usual business; the slightest exercise occasions fatigue; uneasy sensations in the region of the stomach, with a sense of fullness and tenderness upon pressure in that region; acrid eructations....patient troubled with great restlessness and with despondence of mind, palpitation of the heart; sometimes great heat or burning sensation complained of in the stomach; cough and expectoration sometimes attend this disease, the lungs appear affected from sympathy...the tongue coated and dry, showing a morbid condition of the mucous membrane of the stomach; bad, unpleasant taste in the mouth, more particularly in the morning; the breath fetid....much acidity of the stomach...  Melancholy generally attends dyspepsia, the mental powers become impaired; in fact, with patients laboring under this disease, none of the faculties are normal.  In long standing cases, the stomach will become ulcerated..."   (Bettes, J.N., M.D.  "Dyspepsia."  The Eclectic Medical Journals: A Re-Printing of Selected Articles from The Eclectic Medical Journal 1857.  Vol. 1.  Issue 2.  April/May 1995:  p. 8)

My personal experience has verified that simply limiting (especially eliminating) alcohol and/or coffee will reverse dyspepsia & improve mood dramatically.  Eating slow and chewing food well, as well as limiting the amount of water consumed during a meal are common recommendations today.  Bitters taken before or after a meal will always help dramatically...and have the bonus of resolving flatulence!  But remember, if coffee and/or alcohol is consumed on a daily basis in liberal quantities, dyspepsia will continue to exist and persist as you will be hyper acidifying your inner biome.  Diet is key.

This information is for educational purposes.  It is not intended to be replacement for the advice from a licensed medical professional and is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

An Open Letter To Richard Branson

February 18, 2015

Dear Richard Branson,

I had the pleasure of reading your post about the Virgin Earth Challenge yesterday.  While it appears that the contest has been closed for some time from further entries, you mentioned that no winner from the finalists has been selected.  Perhaps this is because while the proposals you’ve received are all viable, sensible methods, the no-nonsense answer to sequestering carbon that works the world over is to grow trees for and in each environment.  As you are aware, mankind has globally decimated (and continues to decimate) inconceivable swaths of our natural forests to grow monoculture cash crops.  Your generation and mine did not see most of these trees disappear, and my generation was born to even fewer trees than yours was…and so it continues. 

Trees wick water up from the earth and respire it out, they even “catch rain” if you will.  Trees were used for this purpose, for attracting rain and growing food on the barren mountain Ascension Island in the Atlantic.  The simplicity within the complexity of this climate crisis, to the extent that man is responsible, is that to sequester carbon, reduce carbon dioxide and help ensure water security we need to grow back the forests.  This is what plants do.  This will require a radical shift in agricultural practices and paradigms, as the woods are seen in current thought as the antithesis to making money in agriculture.

I live in Ohio, which was 90% forested when the newcomers arrived here and found the First Peoples living sustainably, wild cultivating their resources.  Ohio’s forests plummeted after the conquering of America to 10%, and we now sit at 30% which is still a very sad number for biosecurity.  It is said a squirrel could travel from Virginia to the Mississippi River without ever touching the ground, there were so many trees.  That is certainly not the case now. 

The Native Americans, who kept the trees living even through their heavy reliance on them, propagated the woodland and prairie plants for food, plant technology and medicine.  They emulated nature’s model in their stewarding of resources.  Native Americans were completely dependent on trees:  wood was used for building homes, for fire to cook food and create warmth, for food and medicine (cambium and nuts were eaten, cambium, leaves, buds, resins were very effective medicine from certain trees), baskets were woven from the roots which were selectively sustainably harvested as well as the bark was harvested in a manner that kept the tree living, being used for weaving not just baskets but spinning cloth as well.  And yet, despite this heavy reliance on wood, they kept the forests alive.  My purpose in relaying this information to you is to illustrate that the forests provide much of what we need and we can steward them and take from them without destroying them, adapting to our modern context.  The trick is to teach others the value of woodland plants for mind, body, spirit and the pocket book.  Indeed, there are hundreds of forest plants with multiple uses that are viable cash crops if managed properly.  Many are hot commodities today and are suffering from excessive wild harvesting and lack intentional propagation.

Regarding the finalists:  the technologies proposed are sharp, but a unifying factor has yet to be established.  There are so many great technologies and ideas that need to be implemented and disseminated.   Perhaps they need a nucleus to radiate outward from, an epicenter if you will, where people can come to have a full immersion experience living, tasting, breathing and learning about the ways of living within Nature’s model in a modern context…a chance to witness a complete carbon sequestration, Earth-friendly way of life, if you will.  This nucleus would be a model eco village for:

  • Ongoing Research and Development for Earth-sustaining practices, acquiring data
  • Implementing carbon sequestering and bioremediating techniques
  • Alternative energy
  • Conferences
  • “Green” Expos
  • Ceremonies and Life Celebrations
  • Courses on

o   Sustainable Building
o   Biochar
o   Mycoremediation
o   Permaculture
o   Forest Agriculture and Wild Cultivation techniques
o   Plant Medicine
o   Holistic Bee Keeping, Wild Herding and more

This space will provide the opportunity to learn and experience sustainable living.  They will be given resources, contacts, tools and techniques.  They will see how permaculture, biochar and wild herding has benefited the plants and the soil, they will see mycoremediation and greywater filtration in action.  They will experience alternative energy functioning.  They will be able to look to the woods and see abundance-- abundance that can be maintained and multiplied without destroying the ecosystem all while sequestering carbon.  Too often people look to the woods and think it means “lost.”  They look to the trees and see nothing but something that could swallow them.  They look to the woods and see something that stands in their way of dollars.  We need to shift this perspective by flipping the coin and showing the value to our primary source of carbon sequestration and Life.   We need to help humanity look to the woods and see something that heals, inspires, provides and sustains.   We need to bring them a new economy:  a Forest Economy.

We can do it.  I’ve always said “the plants bring people together” and it is true still.  The plants are what this is all about and they need the efforts proposed to you and it needs to start at one mother ship located in the middle of a working, wild cultivated natural environment:  a living, breathing eco village in a forest that is “Keeping It Living” (to steal the title of a book that has deeply inspired me).  A place to research, experiment with different natural models, show progress, yields, closely detail success and failings; where idealism meets reality and function.  Ultimately this model needs to be replicated—but adapted in other countries to their own climates.  What works for the environment there?  What grows there?  A solution in Appalachia will not necessarily work for Ghana.  But there are permaculture and wild cultivation practices that indeed will work there.  They need to be developed and there must be a hub to do this in and share it in.  We cannot correct a big problem with a big answer.  It has to start small and flesh out.  It requires a nucleus that will replicate around the globe.  I can see it.

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for life.”  What a great old adage, and still is completely true.  Big Ag can’t sustainably feed the world without actively destroying the biomes it uses, and it does nothing to address the environmental issues in the area where people are starving, all while feeding them and increasing their populations so there are simply more starving people in an area of the world that can’t support much at all.  I’m not suggesting we don’t feed the hungry, but I am saying that we need to “Teach a man to fish…”  Permaculture and wild cultivation techniques adapted for these areas, taught to residents will enable poor soils to become richer and dry soils to stay moister, enabling remote communities in stressed lands that cannot support commercial agriculture to produce more adequate food yields and happier environments to support their populations in a healthier manner.

Who am I and why do I care?  I am a wife, mother, a plant geek and a clinical herbalist by training.  I teach herbal medicine classes and have written my own curriculum.  I practice permaculture techniques in my gardens.  I grew up in the country, raised chickens and pigs and had a pumpkin patch.   My husband is certified in Traditional Chinese Medicine and has worked in the Natural Products Industry in many roles for almost 25 years.  He is just as passionate as I am with more experience and business savvy and, like me, is chomping at the bit to create change on our own piece of earth which we are acquiring this Spring.

For us, this connection with the Natural world is both easy and necessary.  Most people do not come by the same curiosity or passions.  Many people don’t see why they should care while they walk on baking concrete and text on their iPhone and drink Vitamin Water, or sit in front of their t.v. taking a drag on a cigarette while eating nacho cheese and chips.  Many are very ill and it shows in their bodies, minds and on their faces.  It is hard to win over the priorities of a person’s heart, especially when we possess so many entertaining and technological distractions in these times. Many fundamental thought processes in humans need to change to engender a love of trees and biodiversity, from the canopy to the understory, to the forest floor and fungi and the soil beneath.   All of these plants and organisms work with each other, depend upon each other, help each other.  We, too have a non-negotiable, interdependent relationship upon plants and microorganisms.  The plants are our oxygen, our breath…they are our food, medicine, shelter, aromatherapy.  They bring rain, they break winds.  The microbes on the plants and in the soil live in our guts (and get there via our food) and play a vital role in our digestion, immune systems and even reduce inflammation.  The good microbes were even cultivated by our ancestors to preserve food. 

So we know we need the forests, and the question is how do we make people care about them?  The forests are seen as the arch-nemesis of food production in modern paradigms.  Humans are experiential creatures.  The only way is to make them not just care about all of the plants, but make them love them, to see value in them so that they want to use them, buy and eat what plants provide so that humans desire to ultimately grow, protect and steward them.   The only way I see to win over all of these senses and ignite the fire in humanity’s heart is by providing the place to learn, taste, experience and be among the plants.  There are many paths and one goal.  The missing magical “something” we are looking for is the glue that brings all of our ideas together.  And the glue is the plants; growing the living model itself, in the soil.  My husband and I have had this vision in our head for years, with a name, but know to create something so big takes both patience, time, resources and many minds of various expertise willing to come together at the hub and take action together.  It is our hope for the future that we will have a role in growing the model as we remediate our own piece of Midwestern earth and try to regrow the past.  Perhaps no place could illustrate the drastic change of bioremediation and carbon sequestration with food production working sustainably with reforestation than the agricultural wasteland of the American Midwest.

It is the simplicity within the complexity that is our modern challenge; it is the simplicity within the complexity that our ancestors had mastered.  The past is our future.  We must adapt these practices within our technology and the times.  We must shift our priorities from piggish consumerism to sensible sustainability.  They are two vastly different models, two vastly different worlds, but in the end, the shift must occur and the waters mix.  It’s time for humanity to, pardon my French, poo or get off the pot.  Let’s take that filth and compost it into something good. 

I sincerely thank you for reading my manifesto.  I sent a copy of this to Virgin Earth Challenge.  I sense you are looking to create the same sort of change that we are and felt that if anyone was willing to read and envision the creative process burning in our hearts, it might be you.  If you ever want to get in touch, perhaps to check where we are at periodically on our journey, or to pick our brains about viable forest crops, I sent contact information with the letter to VEC.  Our niche is herbal medicine and my husband specializes in raw materials brokering and natural products sales.  Humanity is only limited by its own imagination…


Branwen and Jason Hunolt

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What Needs to Change

Recently Brigit Strawbridge wrote post that ties into something that is always on my mind.  I left a comment on her blog and it didn't post-perhaps it needs to be approved, or maybe it was too long, or maybe Google was just being stupid.  Either way, I decided I should write it here and expound upon it a bit as well because this topic needs to be heard.

I live in the midst of an agricultural wasteland and it's awful...not only is the land dying and the water is poisoned as a result of these agricultural practices, but the people are dying slowly, too and no one seems to care.  It has been very much impressed upon me lately that, as the lack of caring stems from a complete divorce from interaction with the natural world and how it functions and we function with it, we need to bring back the initiation rites that Native Americans and innumerable cultures worldwide used on a community level.  These rites served several purposes...  It was a time for a person to understand their space within the natural world; to ply themselves with nature and understand the unity of all things as they entered into shouldering and sharing more personal & tribal responsibility and cooperation to survive with and within the planetary ecosystem.  The knowledge of Oneness provided the Initiate with deep respect and knowing of the sacredness of All Things.  Initiation rites also served as a public acknowledgement from one's community that a person had indeed come of age, they had reached a stage in life where they were ready to participate in a more autonomous and responsible way.

How many teens and young adults of university age hunger to be acknowledged respected and taken seriously from their superiors and society, but lack the skills and life experience to garner such attention...it drives them batty and instead they become arrogant, laughable and pushy.  We hunger for the recognition, for the Initiation.  On top of that, our disconnect from the Natural World produces not just narcissistic self-centeredness and ignorance of how to properly care for our world throughout our life, but it creates a very real and pervasive social sociopathy that leads to fairly rapid destruction of our planet as we are seeing now.  Furthermore, it creates a blindness and a lack of caring or sense of responsibility, a failure to believe that we are really pushing it to that point.  Not just with "oil"...screw oil (though we truly must use it wisely), how about the trees?  It's not just the Amazon....focus is on the Amazon....because we already hacked down our other forests and thanks to every generation being born anew, we have generational amnesia and do not remember our forests because they were never there in our lifetime.

Ohio, where I live, was once 90% forested.  Then it was reduced to 10%.  It is currently hovering around 30% which is still not good enough. I marvel that it comes as any surprise to people that the winds whip so strong without trees to break them, forming sheer winds and rashes of tornadoes?  I marvel that it is a wonder to people that without trees wicking water up from deep in the earth and respiring it out through their leaves, creating moisture and attracting more moisture to them, that the land dries and dies?  It was the Brits who planted trees at the top of the great barren mountain of Ascension Island to attract rain to ensure water and food enough for people to live there and have an outpost for the nation in the middle of the Atlantic.  We must remember these things and adopt a Forest Economy.  They are food, medicine, shelter, and bio-regional, environmental security.  We must replant the forests, and not just a monoculture forest as logging companies do, we must remember the innumerable biodiversity from the trees to the understory, to the fungi and the microbes in the soil.  We must remember the natural order of succession forests necessary to re-establish old growth forests. There were millions of Native peoples who thrived, and yet they did not decimate the land as we have....Ohio was still 90% forested with old growth when the newcomers found it and the Natives living harmoniously here.  We killed them, we took their land in the name of it being "unused" as the Europeans failed to acknowledge any form of agriculture but their own destructive version...  We killed the land in the name of development and agriculture, and "progress" and "superiority"...we decimated the bison....

We must undo this.  We must.  To do so, we must return to the Ways that Once Were.  We must emulate the Native practices of wild cultivating the land with permaculture forestry practices and honor the initiation rites that are so important in honoring one's life stages and establishing a deep and spiritual connection with the planet that we are all a part of.  How this moves forward I am unsure, I do not know what my role in it will look like, but I do know with every cell in my body that it is these two things that must be done.  My family is committed to doing this on our own piece of earth.  Will you?

If you are interested in replanting the forests and cultivating abundant and harmonious food resources from them in a sustainable manner that ensures the entire ecosystem not just survives, but thrives, I recommend reading these two books as a starting point:

It is us, through our own personal choices like these, that can change the world and yes, save it from ourselves.