Category Archives: Spring

The Incredible Dandelion: Spring Health Supporter!

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We live on the outskirts of Golden at 6200 feet, which has been right about at snow line for the past month or so. The result is that, while even the bottom of the neighborhood is decked out in tulips and lilacs, we are still (im-) patiently waiting for the profusion of blooms to hit at our house. So today when I went outside to take some photos for the newsletter, all I could find in my backyard was a big, happy, sunny patch of dandelions–which reminded me how fantastic is our friend the dandelion. Let me count the ways:

Dandelion leaves are power packed nutritionally: One serving has more than a day’s supply of Vitamins A and K, and are high in Vitamin C, Iron, and Calcium. They are also a good source of trace minerals such as Manganese, Phosphorus, Potassium and Copper. The beauty of dandelion leaves is that they are a diuretic, meaning they help move excess fluid out of the body, which can be helpful during spring cleansing. On the flip side, they also replace minerals, as opposed to other diuretics which tend to leach minerals from the body.

Dandelion roots are wonderful medicine. I frequently add dandelion root to herbal formulas where gentle support to the liver is desired. This is helpful for liver conditions but also for spring cleansing, allergy support, or chronic inflammatory issues. Roasted, ground dandelion roots have also long been used as a coffee substitute.

Dandelion flowers are also edible and medicinal. The flowers can be thrown into pancakes and muffins, boiled in a sugar solution to make a lovely yellow honey-like syrup, or fermented to make wine. Studies suggest that the flavonoids found in dandelions help to prevent oxidative damage to cells and are protective to the liver.

So, even if spring hasn’t quite turned the corner into full bloom at your house, remember to look down under your feet and celebrate the return of the Dandelion. It has so many gifts to offer! (Also remember, please to only harvest in a place you know has been free from pesticides, runoff from industrial chemicals, and marking animals. 🙂

Enjoy!

Dr. Kaycie’s Top Ten Detoxifying Foods

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Strawberries are high in bioflavonoids that protect the cells of the liver. The whole plant can also be made into a medicine that is good for restoring digestive health.

Spring has finally arrived!  I don’t usually find myself waiting until the end of May to say this, but I think the snows are finally behind us, and the garden is planted.  Now that the weather has warmed somewhat, our bodies are also starting to warm and be ready for the exercise and outdoor activities of summer.  In addition to getting our bodies into ideal shape for the summer through exercise, we can also help to boost vitality through cleansing.  For more information on what spring cleaning and detoxification is, you can look at my article “What is Detoxification?” from last spring. There are many detoxification protocols out there, and finding the right one will depend on your constitution, health status, and commitment to the program.  However, an easy first step is to start incorporating detoxifying foods into each meal using the basic theory of detoxification: improve elimination of waste through optimizing the function of the digestive tract, urinary tract, skin and liver.  Here is a list of my top ten favorites:

 

10. Garlic

Garlic can help to reduce blood triglycerides and improve circulation and sweating to remove wastes via the skin. It also helps stimulate digestion.

9.  Apples

Apples are a great source of insoluble and soluble fibers.  The insoluble fiber helps to move waste through the digestive tract. When cooked, the pectins found in apples help to absorb excess cholesterol, delay absorption of sugars into the bloodstream, and bulk the stool.

8.  Dandelion Greens

Dandelion greens, which are commercially available in many areas, act as a diuretic to help remove wastes through the urine.  The beauty of dandelion greens is that they also replace any minerals lost through the process of diuresis.

7.  Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are thought of as one of the least allergenic foods available.  Unless you have an intolerance to all carbohydrate, sweet potatoes are a good source of lower glycemic carbohyrates that help to soothe the digestive tract and decrease inflammation.

6.  Cilantro

Cilantro and its seed coriander are calming to the digestion and help to dispel gas.  Cilantro also helps to convert blood cholesterols into bile which can aid in reducing blood cholesterol levels.  Cilantro extracts have also been shown to remove mercury from a water solution, so there is speculation about whether cilantro could aid in mercury detoxification when consumed.

5.  Seaweed

Hijiki, Wakame, and Kombu (all types of seaweed) have all been shown to increase breakdown of fats in the body.  Seaweeds are also a good source of iodine, which is necessary for proper thyroid function.  These two actions together help to boost metabolism and removal of excess fats from the system.  Traditional Chinese Medicine also regards seaweed as a detoxifier which mobilizes heavy metals and turns them into inorganic salts that can easily be excreted through the urine.

4.  Lemon

Lemon and lemon juice are wonderfully bitter and sour.  Taken especially before meals, they help to start the digestive process early, which makes the digestive absorb nutrients and eliminate wastes more effectively.

3.  Kale

Kale and other members of the cabbage family contain indoles, which help the body metabolize and remove excess steroid hormones such as estrogen. Members of this family have also been found to repair damage to the liver.  Kale is also high in fiber and chlorophyll to increase energy and optimize digestion.

2.  Flax

Flaxseed is high in omega 3 fatty acids, which help to balance cholesterol and reduce inflammation.  Even more important for detoxification though is the high concentration of soluble fibers that help to trap excess fats and cholesterol, bulk the stool, and ensure effective elimination of waste via the digestive tract.

1.  Beets

There is extensive research supporting the protective and regenerative effect of beets on the cells of the liver.  This effect has even been seen with molasses derived from sugar beets.  The pigments in beets have also been shown to have a protective effect against the formation of cancer cells. Beets are also great for assisting with effective waste elimination through the bowels.

Happy Solstice! Tips for easy home gardening and what to do now!

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Hooray for March!  My favorite bipolar season.  In the past week we’ve had powder days at the ski resorts, hot days of rock climbing in shorts and a t-shirt, rain, sleet, and a foot of snow in my front yard.  We have been lucky and mother nature has been giving us some moisture in the past couple of months, so the garden is starting to awaken.  After the snow melted away this weekend, we discovered the garlic I planted in November is starting to poke out some green shoots.  This means it’s time to start thinking about planting.

I almost don’t need to even mention the health benefits of gardening.  Aside from getting the freshest, most nutrient packed foods that are grown exactly to your standards, gardening deepens our awareness of what’s in season (and consequently what foods are best for our bodies).  Having the kids help also encourages them to eat more fresh fruits and veggies and teaches them about where our food comes from.

If you haven’t done a lot of gardening, you live in a place with limited space, or you don’t have a lot of free time to spend in the dirt, here’s a quick list of things to try to optimize your production this year, plus a reminder of what you should be doing right now:

Plants with the best effort/output ratio:

Cherry tomatoes–these can be successful from indoor sprouting, buying a plant from the store, or direct seeding to a pot or garden.  Sun Golds are our family favorite for flavor and abundance.

radishes–Very satisfying for the impatient gardener.  Generally you can go from seed to salad in about 3 weeks

zucchini–if you have some room in the garden and a good water supply, zucchini wins for easy to grow and maximum poundage.

peas–if you have a place to trellis, peas are my kids’ favorite for direct snacking from the garden.

kale–One or two kale plants usually keeps my family eating greens (and kale chips!) from late may to late November.

Plants that are best for limited space:

potherbs: Plant a large pot on the back deck with oregano, basil, cilantro and thyme for added flavor to summer dinners.  Lavender and chives are also wonderful in pots because they come back year after year.

Cherry tomatoes–Especially if you get a “bush” variety, these are a great choice for pots.

strawberries–You can buy a hanging strawberry garden that will provide treats right from the patio.

baby greens–Many seed companies make a “garden mix” seed packet that you can harvest as they grow, or replant throughout the warm months for salads all season long.

 

Fun perennials that will come back each year:  These are all nice because with a bit of effort at the outset, you will have garden treats for years to come.

Rhubarb

Strawberries

Asparagus

Horseradish

Grapes

raspberries

mint

And here’s what you should be thinking about for your garden in March:

What to plant outdoors now:

Potatoes

onions

chives

carrots

radishes

kale

peas

spinach

lettuce

What to sprout now:

tomatoes

eggplant

cucumbers

peppers

 

Happy Solstice!  Enjoy!

Fresh Herb Yogurt Dressing will make you abandon those bottles of Ranch

Pulling treats straight off the vine or out of the dirt is one of the greatest summer pleasures. The sweetness of these fresh delights need little else unless you want to make them into an actual meal. At which point there are endless possibilities, but somehow I have this image of strolling through my garden with a simple sauce in one hand to dip in & enjoy each new veggie. In this country we seem particularly obsessed with Ranch Dressing which leaves something to be desired both nutritionally and culinarily. Don’t get me wrong, I have had to do my fair share of dipping into those white & green flecked sauce filled containers surrounded by tasteless cold vegetables. However, when it comes to eating something enchanting from the garden, they deserve something better.

While it is convenient to squeeze dressing out of those plastic squirt bottles, whipping up this dressing does not take much effort. It is so simple in fact that I usually only prepare a small batch, just enough for the evenings meal but feel free to double, quadruple or multiple* this as desired.

My other favorite element of this dressing is you can make it yours by mixing and matching the fresh herbs you have available, whether they are straight out of your own garden, herb window box or sold to you in small bouquets from your local farmer, just use what you have available. Dried herbs can even be used in a pinch.

Start with greek or strained yogurt to have a thicker sauce, but any plain yogurt can work instead and is sometimes nice for a runnier dressing to drizzle on salads. You could also go the more classic Ranch Dressing route by thinning the dressing with buttermilk instead of the lemon juice and olive oil. Also, add more herbs, garlic, salt or pepper to your own personal taste. If you are feeling lazy about chopping the herbs and want to make a big batch just toss all of this in your blender and viola! Dressing for a week of harvesting, dipping and munching!

Yogurt Herb Ranch Dressing

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1/2 cup plain yogurt, use greek or strained for a thicker dipping sauce

1 tablespoon fresh herbs, finely minced or 1 teaspoon dried herbs (such as parsley, oregano, chives, thyme, etc)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 pinch salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk together the lemon juice & garlic. Let it sit briefly, for the garlic to mellow a bit. Fold in the plain yogurt. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking rapidly. Fold in the fresh herbs. Season with just a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.
Buttermilk Yogurt Ranch

1/2 cup plain yogurt or greek strained yogurt

1/4 cup buttermilk 

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh herbs or 1 teaspoon dried herbs (such as parsley, oregano, chives, thyme, etc)

salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together the yogurt, buttermilk, garlic, fresh herbs, salt and pepper. Taste. Add more herbs, salt or pepper as desired.

Use the blender for either of the above recipes, just toss in, blend and enjoy! Just know, the herbs will probably make the dressing more green rather than white with flecks of herbs.

*As a little tip, if you subscribe to Lilly’s Table you can put in your desired number of servings and it easily will double this recipe for you.

Rhubarb: Saturday Breakfast, Sunday’s Medicine

Here in the foothills of Colorado, we can tend to be a bit behind other parts of the country when it comes to food production; while friends in Arizona, California, and even Washington are currently enjoying peas, strawberries, and artichokes, we are just barely starting to see fresh leafy greens here.  So it is extra exciting to see my friend the rhubarb pushing its way up into the garden early in april.  We are on our second round of rhubarb here, hoping to hold out long enough for our first strawberries to ripen for our first seasonal cobbler out of the backyard.

Rhubarb is an interesting plant because it is one part food, one part medicine, and one part poison.  The leaves are best avoided in any situation, they are simply too toxic for use.  The stems are  wonderful eaten raw, stewed, or baked.  In Chinese medicine, rhubarb stems are said to be detoxifying and cooling to the liver, which makes it perfect for spring.  Rhubarb is in the same family as spinach and beets and similar to these has high levels of oxalates.  For this reason I would probably avoid rhubarb for babies under 10 months or adults with a history of kidney stones.

Rhubarb rhizomes have been used as medicine for over 4,000 years in China.  Chinese rhubarb root is most commonly known for its ability to relieve constipation.  It contains a class of compounds called anthroquinone glycosides.  These are the same type of chemicals in other classic constipation remedies such as senna or cascara sagrada.  English rhubarb rhizome, the type we commonly see in our own backyards (and sold at the grocery store) has similar action but is not as strong as its Chinese counterpart.

In our family, rhubarb stalks are actually best enjoyed by my kids sliced into sticks and dipped in a bit of sugar.  That said, we also love rhubarb compote (With or without strawberries) atop pancakes on Saturday mornings. Because this is such a favorite and so simple, here’s a quick recipe for both:

Saturday Morning Rice Quinoa Pancakes with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Pancakes:
1 cup brown rice flour
â…“ cup quinoa flour
3 Tbsp sweet rice flour
2 Tbsp sucanat
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
3 Tbsp melted butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups milk of your choice (we like coconut)

Strawberry-Rhubarb compote
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup rhubarb, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 Tbsp maple syrup

For pancakes: Whisk flours, soda, sucanat and salt together.  Mix butter, eggs, vanilla and milk in a separate bowl.  Add wet ingredients to dry, then mix together until just combined.  Cook as for normal pancakes.  For compote: Mix ingredients together in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until all the fruit is broken down and it looks like sauce.  Adjust sweetener if necessary. Spoon over pancakes and enjoy!

Sources:
Healing with Whole Foods: Paul Pitchford
Plant Medicine in Practice: William Mitchell
Potter’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Drugs and Preparations

Gardening for Family Health

I admit I have found it a bit of a challenge to sit down and write this week–it’s May 15th!  Here in Colorado, this mystical date is what we call “last average frost”.  In our house, this means turn over the soil in the garden, plant the squash and corn seed, transplant all the tomato, cucumber, eggplant, fennel and jalapeno sprouts we started back in March out to the garden, and put flowers in all the pots out front.  To us, this is the real beginning of summer.
This year is particularly exciting because we are starting to see some of the fruits of previous years’ labors arrive.  Fruit trees we planted 4 years ago are starting to put on their first apples, plums and pears.  Strawberries, raspberries, grapes, rhubarb and asparagus are returning in quantities ample for harvest this year.  And the drip system we laid last year is watering away without much hassle.  It’s still a fair bit of work and time, but we are starting to get into a rhythm.

Gardening has been wonderful for the health of my family.  There are the obvious reasons:  the produce is fresh and seasonal.  We know exactly what went into growing these plants, including the compost from our backyard tumbler.  There are no yucky chemicals to worry about washing off the food.  Also, the kids are so much more enthusiastic to eat something they planted themselves; tonight my kids wolfed down a bowlful of radishes they picked, which is not your usual 2 and 3-year old fare!

There are more subtle reasons the garden is good for our family health as well.  It is an ongoing project we all get to do together.  We all have our own gardening bag with gloves and tools, so going out there is shared quality time.  We all get to learn together about how our backyard ecosystem works:  butterflies and bees are pollinators, spiders and ladybugs eat aphids, and worms aerate and feed our soil.  It gives us a better understanding of where our food comes from and what is available in each season of the year.

In my view, the most important health benefit of gardening with the family is it helps teach lifelong health habits.  We learn the process of growing food from seed to seedling to plant to fruit to the kitchen.  This gives us an innate understanding of the true blessing it is when we sit down with good food to eat.  As parents, we do all we can to feed our families well to keep them healthy, and this is so valuable.  But when we garden with our children, it helps them learn to tend the earth and tend themselves with care for a lifetime.  So find a windowsill, a pot or a plot, get out there and enjoy!

Radishes Get Things Moving

I just pulled my first radishes out of the garden a couple of days ago. Last year when we visited Italy I bought a packet of mixed-color seeds, so it was very fun to pull up a handful of white, yellow, pink and red.  My husband and I noticed one particularly knobby white one which was so large we wondered if it was actually a turnip.  I sliced it in half and we each took a first bite–good flavor, tender crunch like a turnip…so we took a second bite, chewed for a second, then started running around with our eyes watering and tongues on fire with that intense heat only found in members of the crucifer family–wasabi, horseradish, cress all wrapped into one intense mouth explosion.  Wonderful!  Too bad I can’t read Italian to find out what variety we were actually eating.

That intense sensation tells us a lot about the character of the health properties of the radish; it is a mover and a shaker.  Traditionally in South America as well as the US, radishes have been used to improve the quality of digestion.  They have a stimulating action on the gallbladder; this means digestion and absorption of fats will be improved as well as removal of cholesterol and fat-bound toxins.  Studies on rabbits have even shown that an extract of radish will cause the gallbladder to contract.  This is excellent during the springtime when we want to detoxify the body.

In Chinese medicine, radishes have several uses.  One is to aid in purification; it is said that radish helps to purge toxins and detoxify old residues latent in the body in a way that is similar to what I mentioned above.  In addition to this, radishes are also used to thin mucus and help to move it out from the lungs, nose, and throat.  This can be particularly helpful right now when allergies are high.

The explosive property of radishes make them a perfect spring vegetable.  They add fire to our system to move out toxins and mucus built up from the winter months and get the body ready for summer.  So go pull up a handful and enjoy!

Sources:
“Healing With Whole Foods” Paul Pitchford
“The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.”  Michael Murray ND
Contractile effect of radish and betel nut extracts on rabbit gallbladder.
Ghayur MN, Gilani AH.
J Complement Integr Med. 2012 Jan 11;9(1). pii:

Food Introduction for Infants


During the springtime we focus on setting the stage for good absorption and low inflammation.  For kids and adults, much of this will include some sort of spring cleaning.  However, for infants, we focus simply on developing a healthy digestive tract and giving optimal nutrition.  Many parents ask me for information about when to start infants on different types of foods. The needs of each infant will vary somewhat; however, the following is a guideline for food introduction and timing.

A good rule of thumb is to wait until baby seems very interested in what you’re eating—reaches for the spoon or food etc.  Baby spends his or her last months in the womb storing iron to use in the first few months of life because milk is a poor source of iron.  For this reason, many of the first foods listed are higher in iron.  Rice cereal is often recommended as a first food; this is not necessarily a problem but it tends to be somewhat lower in nutrients and can be quite constipating so in this chart  isn’t recommended until 7-8 months.  Remember, at the beginning foods are more something to explore rather than a source of nutrition; let baby experiment and see what he or she likes.

At first, food should of course be pureed—a stick blender is a wonderful tool for this job!  Over time, though, baby may start to prefer food cut in small pieces (and soft!) that he or she can feed herself.  Some babies will quickly tire of the texture of pureed food.  Baby food in jars can be very handy in a pinch, but it is much more economical (and tastes better!) to make your own and freeze it in larger quantities.  When choosing jarred food, keep in mind whether you would want to eat it yourself—if the food is a nice color and tastes like the food (aka carrots should taste like carrots and be orange!) then baby is more likely to enjoy it.

Before 6 months, unless in a very specific situation that would require extra hydration, baby should not require any drinks other than breast milk.  Between 6 and 12 months water should be the only other drink; juices tend to be very high in sugar and unnecessary.

The reason for waiting for specific foods is to ensure that baby’s digestive tract is as well developed as possible to avoid digestive problems or other allergies.  Because of their high allergenicity, it is best to wait to introduce the following foods until 18-24 months, especially if there are known allergies or food allergies in the family:  Whole cow milk, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts.

Food Introduction Schedule

6 Months 7-8 Months 9-10 Months 12 Months
Banana Blackberries Papaya Yogurt (cow milk)
Prunes Carrot Nectarines/stone fruit Goat’s milk
Applesauce Spinach/Chard Mashed potato Barley
Pears Beet Peas Blackstrap molasses
Winter squash Cherries String beans Tofu
Yam/sweet potato Oatmeal Beans Onion/garlic
Blueberries (frozen for teething) Basmati rice Egg(yolk) Sunflower seeds
Avocado Broth Meats (very well cooked and ground) Egg (white)
Split peas Honey

 

 

Living with Food Allergies and Sensitivities

As I spoke about in last week’s article Figuring out Food Allergies and Sensitivities, there are a few types of sensitivities to foods.  These can manifest in a variety of ways, including joint pain, eczema, asthma, sinus and digestive problems.  Although there are many factors that may contribute to these types of issues, foods can and often do play a role.  So once you have figured out the foods to which you are sensitive, what can you do about them?  In essence, we have two options: foods to which you will always have a sensitivity (true allergens) and food sensitivities that can be modified and improved over time.

True Allergens
For some food allergies, the only solution is avoidance. Often allergies to things like shellfish, peanuts or tree nuts tend to be persistent throughout life.  The reaction to these allergens tends to be fast, and can be severe, resulting in inflammation in the digestive tract, skin or lungs.  This can manifest as stomachaches, vomiting, rash or even anaphylaxis. In the case of celiac disease, the reaction isn’t always so immediate or severe but the need for complete lifelong avoidance is the same.

If this is the case for you, the good news is that there are so many healthy and delicious alternatives.  Compared to 10 years ago, there are so many readily available foods that are well marked and free of common allergens.  Frequenting the natural foods aisle of the grocery store or shopping at a “health food” store can often make this process a bit easier.  This is because there are often fewer “hidden” ingredients such as egg albumin, corn syrup, whey protein, or wheat starch in some of the more natural brands.  All food products are now required by law to state common allergens contained in them, which also can make things easier.  Check back in weeks to come for more specific advice on avoiding common allergens such as gluten and dairy.

Food Sensitivities
For some food reactions, it is possible to eliminate or at least decrease your sensitivity.  I often see people with sensitivities to proteins in wheat, dairy, soy, egg, and many less common allergens that can improve over time.  Especially in adults, new allergies may appear or old ones may become more severe after significant illness, stress, or hormonal changes such as pregnancy or menopause.  Improvement will often be seen using a few basic approaches to decreasing reactivity to foods:

Avoid reactive foods

The first step to healing is to completely remove any allergens or irritants (I usually start with 4-6 weeks).  Often, just doing this will decrease or eliminate reactivity.  When we give the body a break from the source of irritation, swelling and antibodies will decrease.  This will allow the areas of chronic irritation to heal and become less prone to inflammation when they are re-exposed to the allergen.

Heal the digestive tract

Did you know that approximately 80% of the immune cells in your body reside in the large intestine?  The digestive system is our body’s first direct contact with much of the outside world, so it makes sense that much of our defense against bacteria, viruses and other invaders including allergens is here.  If there is any chronic irritation or dysbiosis in the digestive tract, our ability to properly break down and absorb foods will be compromised.  This can lead to further reactivity once food particles enter the bloodstream.  If we can correct any imbalance in the flora (either infectious or from a lack of proper bacteria), eliminate swelling, and heal the cells that line the digestive tract this can decrease our overall sensitivity to foods.  Beyond just avoiding offending foods, we can also add appropriate probiotics and herbs to heal the digestive cells which can further improve your results.  If appropriate, we can also use antiiflammatory herbs and colostrum to decrease the overall tendency towards inflammation.

Improve the function of the liver
The liver is the body’s processing plant.  It looks at everything that comes into the bloodstream, decides whether the body needs it or not, and packages it appropriately to be used by the cells or excreted as waste.  If it is functioning relatively slowly, things that should become wastes or broken down further may continue circulating in the bloodstream, which can cause increased inflammation.  When we boost liver function by eating foods such as beets, leafy greens, and artichokes, we can process wastes more quickly and decrease the probability of inappropriately reacting to particles in the bloodstream.


Home Grown Tomatoes–Healthy Garden, Healthy Food, Healthy People!

I originally wrote this piece for Dr Stephanie Smith’s Create Mental Health Week blog earlier this year; it’s a personal story about how gardening helps me create mental and physical health for me and my family.

“Only two things that money can’t buy and that’s true love and home grown tomatoes.”

-John Denver

It’s springtime again and my yearly obsession is in full swing: tomatoes! Every year for the past 10 years sometime in the middle of February I notice a warm breeze in the air and start dreaming. I dream of ripe, warm, luscious, juicy tomatoes picked right off the vine, sliced, drizzled with some good olive oil and a touch of sea salt. My alternate dream is of fresh, toasted sourdough bread, crunchy thick-cut bacon, a light smear of mayo, a fresh lettuce leaf, and thick juicy slices of a giant tomato from my backyard.

This year the process is particularly special. We just rebuilt our backyard and put in several new garden beds; we have been watching workmen transform a bit of the open mountain behind our house into a home for all our delicious dreams. We’re putting in fruits, vegetables and herbs, hopefully enough to substitute for the farm share we used to get weekly. Right now our garden is all anticipation, and for me is the fruition of many years of “halfway” gardening in various combinations of limited space, poor soil, pots only, unfavorable climates, or limited time. This year, we are fully committed.

Gardening for me is an invaluable asset to my mental health for several reasons. First and foremost, I love good food. Fresh, flavorful produce is one of my greatest passions in life, and the best way to get it is to grow it myself. I love to cook and to feed healthy, delicious meals to my family, and gardening helps me do just that. Secondly, I love plants. As a Naturopathic doctor and herbalist, I use plants as medicine, but even more than that, there is something amazing about getting to know the intricacies of how mother nature works. Each plant has its own ideal soil conditions, watering needs, and interactions with other living beings from soil microbes to the animals who consume it. For me to learn about and understand plants helps me feel more connected to the planet and to my spirit because it helps me understand how interconnected every living being on the planet is. Finally, gardening gets me outside, breathing fresh air, moving my body and getting my mind off of things. Somehow, fiddling around with the vegetables helps me lose track of time and lets the stress melt away.

But back to February. One of the most satisfying parts of gardening is that if you follow the process, you reap great rewards at the end. In February, I buy my seeds and starting medium, resurrect the seedling trays from the garage, and start counting down the days to planting. Mid-March, seeds go in, trays go under the grow light, and the watering and watching begins. 5 or 6 days later, we have sprouts, a couple weeks after that I transplant sprouts, a few weeks later transplant again, and a couple weeks after that we start hardening off so our baby tomatoes get used to living in the outdoors. Mid-May my tomatoes finally get to go to their home in the ground, and from there it’s just pruning, watering, and finally in August my BLT dreams come true! I’m excited about all the food we’re growing, but there’s just something about tomatoes that feeds the soul.