Warming up the Cold Season

Here’s two of my favorite cold season drinks to help warm you up from the inside out: fire cider from the Northeastern Appalachians, and Chai tea from India. Both of these drinks have their basic set of ingredients. But, like any good recipe, they gain character as you experiment with and personalize them. Enjoy! 

Fire cider was given its name, due to its fiery spicy contents, usually infused in apple cider vinegar. Simply fill a glass jar with equal parts of chopped up garlic, ginger, onions, horseradish, and cayenne or hot peppers. You can then add whatever herbs you may wish to infuse, such as bitters (ie. Burdock or Dandelion root), or berries (ie. Jujube dates or Manzanita berries). Just make sure that it’s mostly the base ingredients, so that it’s still spicy hot. Then, pack it all down with a fork, and cover with raw apple cider vinegar, with an extra inch of vinegar above the herbs. You can also add raw honey, for an extra anti-microbial, nutritive, and sweet boost. Let sit for 2 weeks, strain, then rebottle. Label, “Fire Cider” with red marker, and drink a shot glass full everyday as a general circulatory stimulant, digestive stimulant, and cold-season immune tonic. You can also integrate fire cider into your food in other ways, such as via salad dressing. Play with how many peppers or horseradishes you add, to modulate the heat to your preference. 

Taking the train all over India, I became accustomed to the sound of the Chai-vendor screaming, “Chai-ya, Chai-ya, Chai-ya!” in most towns I passed through. The basic ingredients of Chai include Cinnamon, Cardamon, Ginger, Clove, and Black Pepper. All of these plants are energetically warming, or circulatory stimulants, and digestive stimulants too. I like to mix other herbs into my Chai blends, depending on my desired herbal actions. Here’s one of my favorite recipes, developed by my friend and fellow herbalist, Lauren Stauber. This blend includes relaxing and uplifting Rose, decadent and sensual Cacao, and anti-inflammatory Tumeric, for an anti-oxidant, circulatory stimulating, digestive, and delicious Chai blend.

(Ingredients are listed in parts by volume, or proportions)

Cacao Tumeric Rose Chai

Rose petals 1 part

Cacao nibs 1 part

Cinnamon 1 part

Ginger 1/2-1 part to taste

Licorice 1/2-1 part to taste

Cardamon pod, crushed 1/8 part

Clove 1/8 part

Black pepper 1/8 part

Nutmeg (optional)

Tumeric powder, add 1/4-1/2 tsp per T of herbs

Decoct (simmer) 1 T herbs plus Turmeric per 1 C liquid, via the double-boiler method: fill a cup with liquid, set that into a pot of water, and boil the whole thing. Use full or up to 1/2-diluted dairy or nut milk to decoct herbs into. Add a spoonful of coconut fat, butter, or other oil to a less fatty milk, as this concoction needs fat, to be most effective. Simmer on a low flame for 10 – 20 minutes, covered. Strain, and sweeten with honey if you wish. Enjoy staying warm through the cold season!


(photo by Joy Kudasik from the last day of class with 7song last year, at the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine) 



A prayer. Sparrows, butterflies, ravens, hawks, turkey vultures soar overhead. I'm sitting where, a few weeks ago, I saw a Diamondback Rattlesnake stretched across the road, in the backcountry behind town, wedged between Mount Raisin and Red Mountain, surrounded by golden waving grasses, dirt, stones, and sand of multiple hues between tannish white and peachy orange. Junipers and Acacias, Yuccas and Mesquites, and a blue true dream of sky that yes, encapsulates my sitting here under it, on coppery Earthen soil, a road that I've walked on before, and today walked to--- the low guttural caw of ravens, awkwardly riding the thermals, with one graceful hawk soaring far above them, gliding with nary a wing movement, every so often the subtlest angling of wings or tailfeathers, to direct the air. Deer in the forest, nibbling neon green fresh grass growth, fresh grass under cover of mesquites, oaks, and sycamores, streamsides, hilly, vines hanging, herbs underfoot. I smile as I run through here, then slow to savor and appreciate it--- reminds me of other forests I love, this small one that I jogged down the dried river bed to get to, who I've not yet even known for one season, but already find familiar and comforting, in its abundance of shady trees, and plant life. Here now, hillside--- surrounded by grass and sky, no covering trees shading, supporting, protecting, hiding. Naked sky, bright blue, completely exposed. Ravens cawing excitedly, sparrows' alarm call, the final cicada, one headless fly, then another. Sudden realization/ appreciation of where I currently am. Sun warming back, hunger in belly, parched throat, gentle breeze, the smell of dirt with every inhale. I could walk forever. I could stop and sit here forever. Anything could happen at any moment--- this stillness is pregnant with possibility, the birdsong and wind echoing into forever, a slight whiff of some sweet final remnant of summer on the wind, the overwhelming dryness, the golden hues surrounding me, resplendent against the blue sky mystery that wraps us all. What hope? Where? Deer strutting through the forest, one leg in front of the other, proud yet aware, and cautious. Creaking trees, swaying in the wind. Seeds buoyed by their pappus parachutes, drifting to lands distant, neighboring, or both to replant. One little seed bulging with all the genetic material to create a whole new plant, more seeds. Purple butterfly, encircling my head, then away down the road. Biting fly. Onwards. 


2014/ 10/ 26 - 2014/ 11/ 22

The satisfying feeling of going fast towards somewhere unknown yet known, with my Breath and Heartbeat echoing around the surrounding landscape, reminds me of personal promises made to this and other lands, and I recommit to running daily. Let this ending welcome a new beginning; let this new beginning be a solid reminder of the consistency of this cycle, and the humbleness it necessitates. I really want to run away, but really don’t know where I’d go, and how things could get better. Even if ignorance really is bliss, it’s already too late; I know too much to play dumb. Leaving is always an option; staying is more difficult, and questionable. Her fairy wings and pretty sparkles remind me that there’s no need to be so curmudgeonly all the time, if ever. May many more fun fantastic tea parties follow the one today, which was the first, under my care of the Herb Temple. My rapidly dying friend’s mysterious adventure into the unknown known fills me with sadness, but also an increased awareness and respect for the preciousness of this one transient life we have to live , with an increased inner resolve to not waste my time on anything unworthy of it, and live it it up. I quit my job, and am now embarking on a journey back to New Mexico and Texas, to collect seeds, explore relationships, renew my trust in how I dance with the Universe, and shake myself loose to allow the Wind to expose and revitalize my Heart again, and hear the echoes of our collective singing and screaming reflected back to me, across the canyon walls, as the miles blend together, and I fall asleep to the familiar, comforting, yet also deadening thud of rubber against pavement, the whoosh of the land rushing by--- and I pray. Sitting in the back of his steamed up truck with a misty fairytale landscape awaiting discovery outside, and our sleeping bags connected and the coppery coyote laying on my feet, anything can step out of the mist, declare me its child, and dash off with me into this wild wet wondrous world of unknowns; time to go for a jog, and key out some plants. Bitterly, I wonder if he forgot to introduce me, or if he just did not know how to introduce me? We’re camped next to a dried stream, with proud Mullein bearing second year tall golden flower arrangements still present, long dead candle-heads of flowers come and gone this season, and first year simple fuzzy basal rosette of leaves, all brightly arranged against the rocky soil under the Oaks with leaves already fallen, to the backdrop of more scraggly Oaks climbing a goldenly grassed hill, jacketed in its summer glory, ready for winter. Unable to sleep soundly due to colorful powerful dreams, I wake this morning to light incense and prayers for today, which lies between the Summer and Winter Solstice as the day in the year when the veil between the world is thinnest, transitioning between birth and death, heat and coldness, the known and unknown. After repeated self-affirmations of one’s own worthlessness and lack of belonging, these words sink into the strata of one’s deepest being, lodging themselves into the mythology of one’s life, and becomes true. Sky’s rapidly changing color from black into myriad rainbow colors, then soon into the bluest blue of simultaneous hope and the roof of all possibilities, unless you’re an astronaut; I’m just an herbalist, no astronaut, so the Sky really is the limit, but I’ll purposefully forget that, and ride on the wings of the nearest canyon wren, to the uplifting tunes of its soaring vocal melodies, to rise, weaving through, dipping under, and echoing around and far past all of these wild winding massive mountains, discovering their secrets, unveiling more, and walking, flying, and living through then back into the shattered infinite rainbows of a life of questions, lived courageously, joyfully, and gorgeously. Just when I thought a dream had fizzled out, there it stands again in the distance, waving at me with a wink and a smile, and wearing a super alluring costume of my favorite colors, laughing and dancing, pointing out the way, which has always been in front of me, but I’d just never really notice before, but had been walking it nonetheless, for it was a beautiful path to walk, and simply laid out ahead and below me, one step at a time. Water droplets showered down, veil-like, blown upon the wind, dancing elegantly with its elemental rawness of water rushing forward, lit by Sun, drawn down by gravity against the Earthen stones, tossed by windy air to dance as I too choose and wish to dance, as freely and elegantly, going with the flow while choosing my own route to follow. It was good to see your faces again, Mothers and Fathers, to feel your breath, hear your voices, and touch your hands. After eleven days away, tomorrow we return, but today I grieve the loss of travels and freedom, dread the return to what feels like purgatory or self-conceived Hell, and ponder the dreadful yet persistent, possibility laden question of where to go from here, what to do with my Life, and how to find joy, community, Home, belonging, hope, fulfillment, and make a meaningful livelihood, too. After waiting for almost an hour, the first gleams of sunlight have finally kissed the top branches of the Ponderosa Pine guarding our camp, with sunlight quickly sliding down the tree, and dancing through the pine needle strewn forest floor, jays arguing in the distance, the smell of fresh pines, and a stiff wintery wind calling me to step deeper into the unknowns of the forested wood, and bring my courage with. Everything has fallen apart, and is falling still; I have nothing solid to stand upon, and am sinking, falling, shattering, dying, getting crushed up and digested back into the primordial black mulchy unknown, and it’s painful, terrifying, heart-breaking, limb-wrenching, gut-tearing, tear-bombing, death-defying, because after all this, somehow I’m still alive, though feelingly only partially so, and partially wishing it weren’t so, but mostly not knowing at all, and knowing myself as utterly lost. Anything could always happen, but now, I’m preparing for all that could happen, to do it all at once, though I really just want to grow restfully and beautifully, and not too fast. With the sudden closing of our emotional connections, I wonder if it was ever truly there, to begin with. Once again, it’s packing time: things, emotions, all pieces of myself, all packed back into packages and bundles small and large, awaiting the next opportunity to open, blossom, and fall in love again, as we enter the winter of this year, the darkness of my Heart’s breaking, and the embittering pain of a million needles stuck into the rawest, most vulnerable places, the deepest chord of which is unrequited love. I am wholeheartedly grateful to the magical line that connects all things, that even though things are currently scary and uncertain in my life, I am still healthy, with options and welcomes, and ancestors that feed and watch me, especially as I sleep, through powerful story-telling and directive dreams that sometimes guide literally, other time symbolically, but always magically. My sadness has progressed, deep into the deepest, darkest part of my Being, to hide, weeping like a million Moons, with no Sun to illuminate their Beauty, or glistening tears, all drowned out by the sound of the rain bashing against stones, causing flash floods and landslides, washing the surface veneer of my external facade clean, with a hard flat smile that betrays nothing, but only to a trained eye, one that sees, all the dull heartbreaks of almost thirty years of existence, and much more beyond that, lie gleaming, polished and unpolished, yet blanketed behind eyes that are hard, yet beg to be softened by seeing, and being seen with honest acceptance. The heated waters slowly draw out, hour by hour, all the accumulated grief, stress, and worry lodged within my body, which I later toast out with the heat of the Sun and pureness of the blue Sky, walking forever into the Ocotillo covered hillside, into a landscape of prickly Acacias and hidden Chollas, a place where the abundance of surprises both painful and beautiful mirrors the wild gorgeous dangerous splendid nature of my own Spirit, untaming itself as quickly and painlessly as it can, quietly yet forcefully, with the shattering of a million false hopes to reveal, well, something. Walking the labyrinth during the pre-dawn thin-veiled hours of early morn, I watch the Sky changing colors, the shadows of the Stones contracting, as my own long shadow shortens, and I observe the tranquil inhale and forceful exhale of my Breath, measured to the steady rhythm of my walking feet, every step measured and calculated, one foot in front of the other, laying down my feet from toe to heel, outer to inner edge, noting the places where my feet contact the Earth, and that central rooting point through my sole, which extends itself all through my Body, a serpentine undulating powerful two-legged four-limbed twenty-fingered twenty-toed two-eye-eared one-nose-mouthed naked creature relatively skinny, quite healthy, somewhat gangly, and certainly awkward, lanking my way through this labyrinth, this symbolic microcosm of the great mandala macrocosm of Life, muttering prayers in my Mind, Breath, and Being, and watching them disappear with the dust of my footsteps, the frosted visible air of my Breath.



The nights grow longer. Time to go inwards. Describe your closest experience with Death. What happened? How did you feel? How did it affect your values and beliefs around Death and dying? What are you values and beliefs now, around Death and dying?