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Valerian Root for Sleep Improvement 

Have trouble falling and staying asleep? Suffer from insomnia or another sleep disorder? No one enjoys lying awake at night trying, to no avail, to drift into sleep. While over-the-counter sleep medications or prescription drugs might be tempting to combat a sleepless night, they don’t always work and can put you at risk for several negative side effects, such as cognitive impairment.[1] These can be especially dangerous for youth. Instead, look to all-natural herbal solutions, such as valerian root, for sleep disorder and insomnia treatment.

What Is Valerian Root?

Valerian is an herb that has yellowish-brown roots, dark green leaves, and white and pink flowers. The root of this plant has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. Primarily, valerian is known for it’s sedative qualities, which can help to increase sleepiness, as well as to decrease nervousness and restlessness. In many European countries, valerian root extract is a commonly used, approved over-the-counter medicine for the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, and disturbed sleep.[2]

Valerian has a variety of active compounds that give it these sedative qualities. These include valerenic acid, amino acids, and more. Although the mechanism is not entirely known, researchers do know that valerian root extracts increase the activity of GABA, one of the body’s main neurotransmitters that reduces excitability of the nervous system. By doing so, valerian has a calming effect in the body.[2]

Does Valerian Improve Sleep Quality?

Studies have found significant improvements in sleep quality, the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, and the depth of sleep in studies using valerian root.[3,4] One review found that valerian may decrease the time it takes to fall asleep by 14 to 17 minutes.[1] Another study found that 530 mg daily of valerian root significantly improved insomnia symptoms in postmenopausal women aged 50 to 60 years old.[5]

Valerian root can mimic the effects of some anti-anxiety and sleep medications, but it is without side effects and is considered very safe. One of the main advantages of valerian is that it does not produce a “hangover” effect, meaning that no side effects are felt upon waking.[1] It is also useful for the treatment of anxiety, depression, and restlessness, as well.[2]

A Combination of Herbs Is Often Most Effective

Valerian alone may produce substantial benefits and can help you to fall asleep and stay asleep, but many studies show that using valerian in combination with other sedative herbs is extremely effective. Try valerian with hops extract (Humulus lupulus), which has been shown to increase time spent sleeping as well as time spent in deeper sleep.[6] Lemon balm and valerian is another effective combination, which can be used in children to help reduce restlessness and promote healthy sleep.[7]

How to Use Valerian Root for Sleep Improvement

Valerian can be purchased as a dietary supplement. The recommended dose ranges from 30 to 600 mg daily about 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime. You might also try valerian root tea, which can be found in natural groceries. Drink a cup of tea before bed to promote sleep.

Visit Natural Health Advisory Institute for more tips on how to relieve insomnia and get a better night’s rest.


[1] Valerian for sleep: a systematic review and meta-analysis
[2] Psychophytomedicine: an overview of clinical efficacy and phytopharmacology for treatment of depression, anxiety and insomnia
[3] Effectiveness of Valerian on insomnia: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials
[4] Valeriana wallichii root extract improves sleep quality and modulates brain monoamine level in rats
[5] Effect of valerian on sleep quality in postmenopausal women: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial
[6] Sleep disorders: a single dose administration of valerian/hops fluid extract (dormeasan) is found to be effective in improving sleep
[7] A combination of valerian and lemon balm is effective in the treatment of restlessness and dyssomnia in children

Chelsea Clark is a writer with a passion for science, human biology, and natural health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis in neuroscience from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. Her research on the relationship between chronic headache pain and daily stress levels has been presented at various regional, national, and international conferences. Chelsea’s interest in natural health has been fueled by her own personal experience with chronic medical issues. Her many profound experiences with natural health practitioners and remedies have motivated Chelsea to contribute to the world of natural health as a researcher and writer for Natural Health Advisory Institute.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Deep nourishing herbal infusions

As is the arc of many folk herbalists, one of the first revelatory herbal preparations I was introduced to was the nourishing herbal infusion. These herbal drinks are made with “weeds” such as nettle, red clover, oatstraw, red raspberry leaf, chickweed, alfalfa, dandelion, and horsetail that grow freely in meadows, woodlands, and fields and are thus readily available to us all. When harvested from land and soils not depleted by intensive agriculture, these plants are rich in many of the vitamins and minerals we require on a daily basis to build health, support immunity, and maintain our energy levels. I embraced the rich nutrition and daily ritual of consuming herbal infusions and found myself craving them. Whether it was the salty “green” taste of nettle, the light, quenching taste of oat straw, the astringent, black-tea familiarity of raspberry leaf, or the sweetness of red clover, I was drawn to each, and I knew I was craving more than just tastes. There is deep nutrition in weedy herbal infusions that can fill a glaring gap in our modern, processed diets. As herbalist Paul Bergner [1] points, out, “an ounce of many dried herbs contains far higher mineral content than even three ounces of fruits, vegetables, or other plant foods — sometimes more than ten times the amount.” As a passionate herbalist and vegetarian who endeavors to pay close attention to the nutrients in my diet, I found myself wondering: can nourishing herbal infusions replace a daily multivitamin?

Herbal infusions vs multivitamin

How to Prepare a Nourishing Herbal Infusion

First, a bit on nourishing herbal infusions. These are prepared a bit differently than an herbal tisane (the name for the preparation we typically refer to as herbal tea). Herbal tisanes use a teaspoon or tablespoon of dried herbs per cup of boiling water, whereas nourishing herbal infusions use roughly 4 tablespoons of dried herb per cup of boiling water (or a cup of dried herb per quart of water). Nourishing herbal infusions are steeped for considerably longer, too — at least 4 hours to fully extract the vitamins and minerals. I typically prepare an infusion with one cup of herb and boiling water in a quart jar in the evening, leave it to steep overnight, and enjoy 1 to 4 cups of it throughout the next day; this routine establishes it as a daily ritual, much like brushing my teeth or making time for exercise.

Nutritional and Therapeutic Benefits of Nourishing Herbs

herbal infusions - weeds

Burdock Root

Very high in chromium, iron, magnesium, silicon, and thiamine; high in cobalt, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, tin, vitamin A, and zinc [2]

Burdock also contains inulin, a prebiotic that feeds gut bacteria, and is a mild bitter; it helps improve appetite, maximize digestion, and stabilize blood sugar. It also acts as an alterative to detoxify the blood and normalize metabolic function. This action helps alleviate symptoms of internal metabolic disharmony, such as eczema, dandruff, and psoriasis [3] as well as gout, kidney stones, and rheumatism. Learn more about using and harvesting burdock root.

Nettle Leaf

Very high in calcium, chromium, magnesium, and zinc; high in cobalt, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, selenium, silicon, thiamin, vitamin A, and vitamin C [2]

Nettle’s salty, swampy, slightly seaweed taste hints at its high mineral and chlorophyll content. Nettle nourishes, supports and energizes the whole body and provides iron to counter anemia. Nettle also helps maintain even blood sugar levels [3, 4]. It is alterative and diuretic, detoxifying the body, purifying the blood, and assisting the body in nutrient and protein assimilation, neutralization of acid, and elimination of waste that may otherwise build up and manifest as arthritis, gout, rheumatism, eczema, and skin problems [5]. It helps to flush the urinary system of toxins to relieve cystitis and prostatitis and maintain urinary health. Its anti-inflammatory action helps relieve allergies and hay fever [6]. Read more about harvesting and using nettle.


Very high in chromium, magnesium, silicon, and sodium; high in calcium, niacin, and vitamin A [2]

Oatstraw nourishes, strengthens, and repairs tissues and muscles throughout the body. Its rich nourishment helps build deep immunity [7]. High levels of magnesium, calcium, and silica help build strong bones and combat osteoporosis. The rich vitamin B, calcium, and magnesium content in oats helps soothe and strengthen nerves in the case of nerve weakness or exhaustion [3]. Oatstraw infusion helps mellow the mood, ease anxiety, combat the effects of daily stress, resolve sleeplessness, increase libido, support heart health, and lower cholesterol. Learn more the health benefits of oats.

Red Clover Flowers

Very high in chromium and tin; high in calcium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C [2]

Red clover is a diuretic and alterative with an affinity for the lymphatic system and liver, helping the body to assimilate nutrients and remove metabolic waste products. It is helpful for conditions resulting from the build up of toxins in the body such as eczema, psoriasis, cystic lumps, and lymphatic swelling [8]. Red clover contains high levels of phytosterols called isoflavones, the building blocks for hormones which can dock onto receptors that could otherwise be occupied by the unnatural chemical estrogens we are exposed to in our daily lives. The isoflavones in red clover help balance hormones to alleviate premenstrual and menopausal symptoms. For further reading on red clover, visit Red Clover, Red Clover, Bring Healing on Over.

Red Raspberry Leaf

Very high in iron, manganese, and niacin; high in calcium, magnesium, selenium, tin, vitamin A, and vitamin C [2

Raspberry leaf strengthens the endocrine system and balances hormones, helping to regulate menstrual cycles. Its astringent nature is helpful for relieving diarrhea, while its anti-inflammatory properties soothe mouth ulcers and sore throats. Raspberry leaf is an excellent tonic for pregnant women on two counts: its high vitamin and mineral content is richly nutritive, and the alkaloid fragrine tones and strengthens the uterus in preparation for childbirth.  Note: tannins in raspberry leaf bind to minerals, limiting their absorption by the body.

For further study on these herbs and many others, consider subscribing to The Herbarium to gain full access to the Herbal Academys plant database, including some of the most beautiful and complete monographs to date.

Nourishing Herbal Infusions or a Multi-Vitamin?

After investigating the vitamin and mineral content of these nourishing herbs, which in many cases is considerable, I have an answer to my original question. Nourishing herbal infusions don’t replace a multivitamin persay, instead, they can be a vital component of a well-balanced diet in which you get your RDA of vitamins and minerals from whole foods instead of from a pill. Nourishing herbal infusions won’t extract fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and vitamins B-12 and D are not found in plants, so these must come from other sources (ideally food, or, in the case of vitamin D, from a few minutes in the sunshine) or by eating the fresh plant when palatable (e.g. nettle leaf, chickweed leaf, dandelion, and burdock root).  However, nourishing herbs are great sources of minerals, the rest of the B vitamins, and vitamin C.

nourishing herbs for infusions

At the end of the day, I’m thinking of Michael Pollan’s adage, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Nourishing herbal infusions are yet another way to incorporate plants into our daily diets to obtain vitamins, minerals, and other important plant constituents from wild sources and rebuild our cells in alignment with nature. In an ideal world, nourishing herbal infusions could take the place of daily coffee, sodas, or juices. But in an effort not to alienate every coffee-loving soul on the planet (including myself), I like to focus on adding wholesome nutrition to our diets as opposed to taking away the foods and drinks that we love, even out of habit. It’s a mental shift that allows new eating habits to take hold and helps us sustain a more wholesome way of nourishing ourselves without feeling deprived. Try adding nourishing herbal infusions to your daily sustenance and see how they impact your feelings of health and wholeness!

Jane Metzger is the Assistant Director at the Herbal Academy of New England, home of the online Introductory Herbal Course and Intermediate Herbal Course. HANE recently released its affordable membership program, fittingly called The Herbarium, featuring one of the most complete plant monograph databases to date.


[1] Bergner, Paul. (n.d.) The Healing Power of Minerals and Trace Elements.

[2] Pedersen, Mark. (1998). Nutritional Herbology.

[3] Hoffman, David. (2003). Medical Herbalism.

[4] Kianbakht S et al. (2013). Clin Lab. 2013; 59(9-10):1071-6.

[5] Holmes, Peter. (1997). The Energetics of Western Herbs.

[6] Mittman, P (1990). Planta Med; 56:44-47.

[7] Estrada A, et al. (1997). Microbiol Immunol. 1997;41(12):991-8. 

[8] Berger, Judith L. (1998). Herbal Rituals.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Our daughter and some of her friends often laugh at me when I use this hashtag on my Instagrams. Then I think back to my mid-twenties, I reflect on how silly that might sound to me as well.

The reason for my hashtag, when tagging the food we eat and share, the place we live and the people in my life is I want to continuously remind myself of my blessings. In this tough economic time where many of us are one or two checks from personal disaster, I know how blessed we are to have food, shelter, and love surrounding us.

Recently my boss told me about a man who snuck in the back door of a manufacturing facility while no one was looking. He took a shower in one of the bathrooms and then came out and asked to see the person in charge because he was looking for a job. Unfortunately, his actions were not received with the enthusiasm that he had hoped for. I heard another story from a Home Depot employee about how at night the homeless unplug some of the outside vending machines so they can charge their phones. In hearing both of those stories I think about how we must do better for each other. To be unable to shower or charge your phone while being homeless seems like something our country could and should address.

In a country known for our inventiveness and in a world that has opulence as one end of the continuum it seems to me the other end shouldn't have people in such need. These two examples speak to shelter and jobless, but what about all that will go hungry today? I know that a continuum is just that, a continuum, what if we were to narrow the gap? People say it can't be done. The large incentives needed to engage or inspired executives is imperative to attract talent. Or the wealthy need the tax breaks to keep their money in our country and to be the job creators. Or better yet, inheritance is already been earned and taxed so there is no need to tax it again. I say, that these things are true only if we believe them to be. We can stand up, get counted and legislate change if we think that narrowing economic margins is good for the majority.

I overheard a conversation recently where someone was comparing and contrasting the US and a third world country. Having traveled to many countries, some of which have been considered third world, I would ask what part are we taking about? The poor, the disparity between the rich and the poor, their social safety nets, or the way people treat the "least" among us? We can and must do better.

Because of the global view that I choose to see, I know that I have a blessed life where others do not. I know that when I share my abundance, more people get to have a #blessedlife. Wouldn't be great if all people could have the luxury of being able to live a blessed life.

How can you help create a life that lifts others up? Do you have something to share? Do you live a blessed life and how do you show your gratitude?

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


"That’s what birth is, its improv." ~ Jamie Rose Lyle

Jamie Rose

Three weeks before the estimated due date of her first child, Jamie Rose Lyle’s water broke and slow contractions began. She wasn’t worried about a thing. ”I knew I didn’t need medical interventions, I needed to give my body time.” she said. She spent the time laboring and listening to music. “Reggae was what I was grooving to.” said Jamie, “that song ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright was playing when my water broke.”

After 24 hours of labor at home, Jamie was one centimeter dilated. She went to the hospital and was given antibiotics and pitocin for the next five hours, then spinal anesthesia. “By the time we had medical intervention, it was welcome.” said Jamie. Finally, 44 hours after her membranes ruptured, and a half an hour of pushing, Jamie pulled out her baby boy.

Fast forward nine months and Jamie has started belly dancing. While she had prior experience with ballet, modern and ballroom dance, she had fallen in love with an improv style of belly dance called Tribal, and has even earned herself a spot in local troupe Gypsy Heart Tribal. When Carol Vance, the troupe’s director called to invite Jamie to dance with them, Jamie let Carol know that she and her husband has just started trying to get pregnant again.  

“Fabulous!” was Carol’s response. “Right from the start,” Jamie said, “I found support for dancing while pregnant.”  

With the challenges that often come with first trimester pregnancy, I asked Jamie if she ever wanted to stop dancing during that time. “No, I didn’t want to stop, not at all,” she said, “When I was dancing, I would feel fine.” So, for three and a half hours each Tuesday night, Jamie dances with her tribe and gets relief from her nausea and exhaustion.

Jamie likes that the troupe consists of four generations of women, most who have given birth themselves. She said she loves, “being around all those tummies that have had babies.” She also acknowledges that belly dance has its roots in childbirth and she often thinks of how other mommas, both current and through the ages are joining her in her experience, “right now and in time,” she said, referring to pregnancy, birth and midnight nursing.

Jamie also feels strong and more comfortable because of belly dance. Throughout our conversation she listed the ways her body feels as a result of dance; I really feel like the dancing helps me feel strong, my stomach muscles are holding up my belly, I literally feel like my back is so supported, I can walk more comfortably and everything because of belly dance, my hips aren’t tight, if i could just keep my muscles doing this, it feels really good, its the kind of movement my body needs right now.

And according to Jamie, she can do things with her body that she couldn’t do in her first pregnancy. For example, she can get into the traditional birth squat now, “and I for sure was not doing belly rolls when I was pregnant with (Jackson),” she said. Out of a vocabulary of 300 dance moves, Jamie said there are only two that aren’t comfortable, “just knowing that I can do those positions fully helps my confidence.”

Finally, in contrast to her first labor, where Jamie said she knew she had to try hard to relax, her goal is not to try so hard this time. She anticipates the improv nature of tribal belly dance to be one of the best preparations of childbirth and that it will help her with this. “Before when I danced, it was always choreographed, tribal is improv style which will be a huge help in birth." She said that all her belly dance performances have been while she has been pregnant and she has to decide which moves to do in live time. Just like dance, she said, “I just have to trust my body and not think too much and let myself go. That’s what birth is, its improv.”

Photo by Phoebus foto: A pregnant Jamie Rose Lyle dancing with her tribe.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Our daughter, Carly, is good at being thoughtful when it comes to sending cards and giving gifts. Last year for my birthday, she gave me a subscription to the quarterly publication Kinfolk, a high-end publication that highlights beautiful photography and stories from around the world. If left to my own devices, I most likely would not have stumbled upon this publication.


This spring issue contained an inspiring article about community entrepreneurs. It was just the uplifting reminder that my soul needed. I have had many conversations lately about the importance of community. Recently, in one of my communities, we were talking about how to share resources and be mindful of supporting other local communities with our spending. In another conversation, we were struggling with where people can go to engage in community outside of churches, temples, synagogues and mosques. As our dependence on our screened devices grow, our knowledge and practice of physical community growth seems to diminish. The Kinfolk article was a good reminder that maybe I need to spend less screen time to see and involve myself in strong communities of mutual support.

The article highlighted people and projects such as Bread Furst, where founder Mark Furstenberg hopes his store's presence makes "it seem possible for others to open neighborhood stores." Then came the dynamic Amy Kaherl, the director and co-founders of Detroit SOUP. Her mission is to feed people, grow the soul of a city, and create community conversation by providing a space and venue where "people are meeting and sharing ideas, jobs are being created and people are doing amazing work in the community." Kaherl's good will in action made me want to open a Seattle SOUP tomorrow. Finally, the article highlighted Tina Roth Eisenberg's Creative Mornings. Eisenberg is clear that real connections take place when people meet face to face. In the article she says, "We shouldn't be living in isolated silos of just information architects or just graphic designers. Magic happens when all of our creative trades connect" and "trust breeds magic."

All these leaders are growing and fostering healthy community in creative and diverse ways. The more I read about ways of creating community, the more I remember that we truly need each other—that in our beautiful differences we grow together.

What communities do you belong to? How can your small communities impact the bigger communities around you? Is there an idea in some other place that you can replicate in your community?

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Is Chocolate Good for You 7 Reasons to Eat Dark ChocolateI love chocolate. I keep a stash of dark chocolate in the pantry at all times for after dinner cravings or mid-day pick me ups. In fact, it is rare that a day goes by where I don’t eat at least a small square of chocolate. But is my love of chocolate a bad habit, or is chocolate good for you? I am happy to report that dark chocolate, specifically, is actually quite healthy; there continues to be new evidence for the various health benefits of dark chocolate.

Why is Chocolate Good for You?

Cacao, which comes from seeds of the tree Theobroma cacao, is the main component of dark chocolate. Cacao is full of compounds called polyphenols (particularly flavanols), which have a variety of health benefits. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants, which help to fight diseases, particularly of the brain and heart. And dark chocolate has two to three times more of these compounds and a higher antioxidant activity than green tea, which is well known for its health benefits.[1] Dark chocolate might be an especially effective form of polyphenols because of the way bacteria in our gut interact with the dark chocolate that we ingest.

Health benefits of Dark Chocolate

The list of reasons why chocolate is good for you is seemingly endless. Here are just a few of the impressive health benefits of dark chocolate:

  1. Improve insulin functioning. Eating dark chocolate can help with blood sugar regulation. It leads to improved insulin resistance, and can even effect β-cell functioning (the cells that produce insulin).[1,2] In fact, people who eat one ounce of chocolate two to six times per week are 34% less likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.[3]

  2. Protect against the effects of stress. Recent research shows that intake of dark chocolate can help to protect against the body’s negative reaction to stress. It seems that flavanols in chocolate can reduce the stress response by affecting hormone activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in the brain.[4]

  3. Fight dementia and improve cognitive performance. Dark chocolate can help to improve cognitive function in both young and older adults.[5,6] Flavanols in cacao are associated with a decreased risk of dementia and cognitive impairment. This may be because the flavanols can help to increase the number and strength of connections between neurons, which can help to preserve memory and improve cognitive ability.[6] They also increase blood flow, and blood flow to the brain helps improve cognitive performance as well.[5]

  4. Improve cholesterol and triglycerides levels. A systematic review of 42 studies found that chocolate intake is associated with reduced LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and an increase in HDL cholesterol.[2]

  5. Reduce blood pressure. Flavanols are effective blood pressure reducers, as well. People who eat flavanol-rich cacao products regularly have significantly reduced blood pressure readings.[7]

  6. Lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Eating chocolate can decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease mortality, as dark chocolate can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, has anti-inflammatory capabilities, and effects heart health in numerous other ways.[1]

  7. Fight cancer. Although research has not yet made a direct association between chocolate intake and cancer risk, many compounds found in chocolate have cancer-fighting properties. They protect against oxidative damage, suppress proliferation of cells, and protect from mutation.[1]

Scientists continue to discover new reasons why chocolate is good for our health. It may help improve mood, fight symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, and more.[8,9] So if you have been limiting your intake of chocolate out of fear that it was an unhealthy indulgence, don’t worry; you can now enjoy a square of dark chocolate after dinner or a few dark chocolate covered nuts for a snack without guilt. Just make sure you choose a high quality dark chocolate with a high cacao content (look for over 70%).


[1] Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2012;2012:906252.

[2] Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Mar;95(3):740-51.

[3] Clin Nutr. 2015 Feb;34(1):129-33.

[4] J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014 Jun 3;63(21):2297-9.

[5] Physiol Behav. 2011 Jun 1;103(3-4):255-60.

[6] Hypertension. 2012 Sep;60(3):794-801.

[7] J Clin Hypertens (Greenwich). 2014 Feb;16(2):101-6.

[8] Nutr Rev. 2013 Oct;71(10):665-81.

[9] Nutr J. 2010 Nov 22;9:55.

Chelsea Clark is a writer with a passion for science, human biology, and natural health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis in neuroscience from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. Her research on the relationship between chronic headache pain and daily stress levels has been presented at various regional, national, and international conferences. Chelsea’s interest in natural health has been fueled by her own personal experience with chronic medical issues. Her many profound experiences with natural health practitioners and remedies have motivated Chelsea to contribute to the world of natural health as a researcher and writer for Natural Health Advisory Institute.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


In my experience with plants as both a grower and an herbalist, I have seen firsthand the healing power of plants time and time again and it never ceases to amaze me. The vigor and vibrancy of plants is magical. They are one of the greatest life forces on earth and inherently hold the key to health. Plants nourish our bodies.

Numen: The Nature of Plants, a film by Brook Hollow Productions, an association with United Plant Savers, is a cornucopia of intuitive wisdom, science based knowledge, and exuberant passion and reverence for plants around the world dedicated to and in memory of the late Bill Mitchell, Co-founder of Bastyr University. The film opens with plant close ups and stunning time lapse photography of plants throughout their growing cycles, their intrinsic eye catching patterns and their symbiotic relationships with pollinators. Numen is defined as the spirit believed to by animists to inhabit natural objects. The film describes that we sense this force the most abundantly through plants.

I immediately visualized of the life cycle of the sunflower. When you close your eyes and imagine one sunflower seed in the palm of your hands, you notice the shape, the size, the texture, the color, the pattern and striations. Imagine placing it in soil and seeing the sprout cracking out of its shell. The roots push their way down into the rich dark earth at the same time the sprout forms a stem and cotyledons appear like magic. The stem stretches for the sun and begins to grow wider and taller. Leaves form and the stout square stem burrows strong roots into the earth. Soft rains fall. The stem grows and grows and new leaves form. The bud forms. The leaves once protecting the fragile bud begin to fold back, exposing the inward facing petals to the sunlight. The sunflowers tight bud slowly begins to blossom- a process which can occur within just a few hours. The bloom opens wide, fully embracing the life force energy of the sun, even turning with the sun. The sunflower proudly displays its inherent sacred geometry, the Fibonacci spiral. As it is meant to, it fulfills the very essence of its being, welcoming pollinators to drink its sweet nectar in the mutually beneficial relationship that is pollination. The sunflower-whose petals capture the very essence of the sun itself and whose sight is stunning against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, whose company is pleasant as it dances in the gentle breeze throughout changing seasons. As it fulfills the very nature of its purposeful life cycle, seeds form and become food for humans, small animals and birds alike.

Numen describes the intelligent and intuitive characteristics each plant intrinsically holds. Indeed the animated life force is recognizable in plants, if we take the time to notice their beauty and magic. Their shapes, sizes, colors, textures, heights- all vastly different characteristics which allow for their unique distinguishing factors. Similarly to personality and character traits recognized in a friend hidden amongst a crowd of people a unique laugh, the color of their hair, their vibrant eyes, and their smile distinguishes them amongst the masses. Identifying and getting to know plants can be seen in the same light. Recognizing a plant just as you would a friend is an excellent way to delve into the vast art of plant medicine, foraging, gardening and plant science.

The film immediately dives into some of the most quintessential concepts of humans in relationship to plants. When considering the most fundamental building block of life on earth: Kenny Ausubel, founder of Bioneers eloquently makes a critical point that” the history of humanity is the history of our relationship to plants.” Dr. Tieraona Low Dog points out the simple yet precise fact that “all people historically and today have relied on plants for their food, medicine and clothing.” Dr. Rocio Alarcon, an Ethno botanist is fascinated by the notion that “humans have been living approximately only five million years; agriculture has been around for only 10,000 years; plants have been around for 400 million years. You can imagine the evolution of these plants to have these incredible rich properties”

Rosemary Gladstar, world renowned author and herbalist explains how “herbalism is oldest system of healing used on the planet; plants are our teachers and we have evolved in relation to them; everything at the base of the food chain comes from plants. Plants were here long before humans and we have evolved in relationship to them” Dr. Hellen Oketch, Chief Scientist at Herb Pharm points out that “plants are the only organism that are able to transmit the energy from the source (the sun) into a form that can be used by humans and also states that t some of biochemistry found in plants is similar to some of the biochemistry found in humans.” Herbalist and healer Raylene Ha’aleelea Kawaiae’a, believes that “plants are our ancestors, our elders and that we should treat our elders well and respect them dearly because they have wisdom to share with us.” Bill Mitchell, ND and Co-founder of Bastyr University, concludes that “Our DNA contains so much material from the plant world. A lot of the DNA, the memory comes from the very origins of life. When life was evolving, most of the green material found in the ocean consisted of Omega 3 oils, the chloroplasts, Omega 3 oils which seem to be the fundamental oil of the universe. The body still needs omega 3 oils as they are the substrate to many chemical reactions. So we are connected to the beginning to life itself.” Matthew Wood, clinical herbalists states that “in the 19th century, herbalism was really part of the marrow of American society and was deeply entrenched and explained that 90 percent of the population knew how to treat themselves with herbs.” The film describes how in the late 1890’s and the early 1900’s in North America, you could walk into any drugstore in America and could buy hundreds of herbal products, especially liquid herbal extracts. Ausubel explains that “ many major natural medicine traditions going back, are all founded in these basic principles that nature is the source of healing” He goes on to explain a divergence, a conflict in medical philosophy between the natural medicine school and the conventional (allopathic) schools of medicine directly affected the future of healthcare in the U.S. and around the world. What was once considered health care quickly became sickcare. Ed Smith explains how “natural medicine began to die out as folk medicine after the second world war because people were enthralled with new science and technology and craved to be modern and how we are moving into a new era.” Rosemary Gladstar notices that less than one hundred years ago, herbal medicine was antiquated and pushed pills instead of herbal medicine and vitamins over fruits and vegetables. She explains that this new found modern medicine claimed to end disease and unfortunately influenced an entire generation to turn to western medicine and completely dismiss thousands of years of herbal plant medicine.

The disconnection has developed out of the fact that we began to not know where our food and medicine comes from and in turned the mindset developed that we are separate from nature. The sad effects of this massive disconnect is that we are now are seeing a rise in chronic illnesses. The disconnect has moved us farther and farther away from fresh air, clean water, healthy soil, safe food and ultimately our historic source for health and wellness-plants. Ausubel points out that “the huge toxicity directly related to drilling oil and all of the thousands of chemicals produced as derivatives are now poisoning the entire web of life, ourselves included. The whole idea of ecological medicine embodies that we are connected to the ecosystems around us and that we can only really be healthy when the land and the water around us are also healthy and if they are not, then it’s going to show up in our physical well being.” Author Mark Shapiro points out that a myriad of affects that have been researched and are documented. He points out the Center for Disease Control surveyed a group of random Americans and found that average American has 148 chemicals in their bloodstreams. Dr. Martha Herbert, Asst. Professor of Neurology at Harvard University states that these chemicals are “Wreaking havoc at the molecular level and then that cascades up to the cellular and organism and ecosystem level” The film goes on to explain the detrimental effects humans have caused throughout the last century but also provides hope in offering practical solutions that all of us are capable of being a part of. I have yet to see a film that sums it up as clearly.

With all this knowledge about the current state of the environment, the world, we are faced with a personal decision. There is a severe dilemma… We must choose a healthier way for the future of the planet. We must make smarter choices about our food, choices about medicine. We must make decisions that will improve the quality of our lives, not decisions which will contribute to our demise. The solutions: limit the use of plastics, shop local, buy local, adopt a diet in which 70 percent includes vegetables including dark leafy greens, a colorful array of fruits and vegetables, use fresh herbs in your daily diet; avoid big box stores, walk instead of drive, grow your own food and medicine, share your knowledge with your friends and neighbors, don’t use toxic cleaners; reduce, reuse and recycle. The larger lesson is to make a conscious effort in our daily lives to understand the interconnectedness and symbiotic relationships occurring all around us- between people and the earth, people and people, and plants, people and animals, , plants and animals and all the connections in between and to implement ways of honoring these connections in our daily lives. It is up to every single one of us to make small changes and adapt for the greater good. Holding reverence for the very thing that brings nourishment to almost all life… plants is the one thing that will truly open our eyes and hearts to healing ourselves and healing the earth.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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