Monday, January 27, 2014

Oops, that isn't yours.

There is something brewing in the herbal community, and it isn't a cup of tea.
Once again one of our cherished old remedies is being usurped.
This time, it is coming not from big pharma or some large corporation, but seemingly from within.  A small family business.  I'm not going to name the remedy because that is unnecessary for this ramble.

For as long as I can remember (and I've only been involved for a couple decades), most herbalists lead very modest lives.  It's not easy to make a living working with herbs for a lot of reasons, much of that being our dedication to each other and the community at large, and an equal amount having to do with various rulings, restrictions, and laws.  There are exceptions of course, but generally speaking we live simply and happily among the plants.  Herb folks work hard.  They struggle with their products, working late into the night to prepare for events, lug tables across several states to set up in the rain, and turn the soil, plant the seeds, stake out their wildcrafting areas, lovingly harvest, painstakingly prepare... it's work folks.  Hard work.  For everyone.

This is compounded by the all too common occurrence of having the rug routinely pulled out from under the community.  It seems that every time there is an opportunity to make a profit that would improve our lot, either some upstart arrives out of nowhere and scoops up what we've worked for years building, or a corporation takes it for their own.
The best example of that I can think of to illustrate it would be when we had our herb shop and spent part of every single week teaching, speaking publicly, and writing how to use herbs for health.  Shortly after opening, a pharmacist came in to make fun of our product line - which quickly appeared on their shelves and has become the largest section in their very large store.  A chain drugstore took up residence in our small town, and also started carrying all the hip, new herbs.  When a "60 Minutes" segment came out extolling the virtues of St John's wort, our customers thanked us for teaching them about it, and bought it cheaper down the street at the drugstore.

Now the current issue has to do with the trademarking of a NAME of very common concoction that has been made, used, and sold for as long as I can remember.  The party in question is shocked that the herbal community is so upset, because THEY are new to the scene and THEY didn't know it existed before they showed up.  This is something that happens to everyone new to herbalism, except this is the first time something so audacious has been the result.  They say they were unable to find any reference to this product before they started (variously stated as 2010 and 2011) but a simple Google search using the term with the year 2005 (chosen arbitrarily) turned up many listings that were posted at that time, long before they ever sold their first item.

So why is this a big deal?  Because this is a very sad precedent that could tear apart the fabric that has been carefully woven by generations of herbalists from around the globe.
Consider what would happen if the following terms were trademarked:
All-Purpose Salve
Chest Rub
Lip Balm
Herbal Tincture
Elderberry Syrup
Rose Elixir
Herb Tea
Bone Broth
Lavender Soap
... and on and on.

These are terms that belong to all of us.  They describe what we do.

There are many terms that are unique to different fields of work of which I have no understanding.  I don't know much about computers if it happens behind the keyboard (see?) and if I'm talking to a mechanic about the car, my eyes glaze over.  That doesn't mean that the words they use to describe their work can be stolen.
We aren't being mean or (hah) jealous because we weren't the first to consider ripping off an entire community.  We are protecting the traditions and heritage that we all know belong to everyone.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Our New Apprentice

This month we've been getting lots of great help around here.  Here's a brief introduction to the newest staff:

Hi all!

So I know many of you have already heard about me (or worse, seen baby pictures of me) but I thought a proper introduction was in order since I will be working on the magazine.

Before I started working with my mother and my aunt I went to Kutztown University for professional writing. During that time I realized I knew more about herbs than I expected, having spent my entire life surrounded by them, but never really being completely involved. When my friends would catch a cold or have a huge presentation that was stressing them out, I would be able to give them tinctures or suggest an herbal tea for them to try. It was a happy surprise how many times we were able to see a real difference.  While I didn’t become the campus apothecary, I was happy to know some of my mother’s teachings stuck with me.

When my mother's and aunt’s businesses suddenly needed an extra set of hands and eyes, I jumped at the chance to work with them. Since I started it has been a whirlwind of new material, ideas, and experiences. I am often using the skills I learned in college with something that I may have learned that day.

And I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Nice to meet you all,


Monday, January 13, 2014

Grocery Store Preparedness

Note:  Since writing this article, I found myself with two young women in the house coming down with food poisoning at 1 in the morning.  Because of that experience, I'd add sports drink and ice pops to the list.  Since I didn't have them, it meant a middle of the night run for liquids, returning just in time to have a 7 month old thrown in my direction as her mother made a mad dash for the bathroom...

Grocery Store Preparedness
From the Nov/Dec '13 Essential Herbal Magazine
Tina Sams
Just this week, my daughter who is now a young adult caught a doozy of a cold.  Ignoring Mom’s pleas to take elderberry tincture, she quickly progressed to the deep wheezing of bronchitis.  I thanked my lucky stars that the herb shelf was lined with everything I needed to make some good syrup, and was grateful to have been busily making different medicines for the last couple of months.  However, it has not always been this way.  Not so many years ago, I would have found myself struggling to find a way to get her to a doctor, fill a prescription (most likely), and still get to work on time.  Whether or not I found someone to take care of her, I would have felt like a terrible mom.  This is the reality that the majority of us face.
Make medicines ahead when you can.
I have friends who are purists and consider every substance they consume or come in contact with, and friends who eat fast food every day, smoke, drink, and view veggies as a waste of space on their plates.  Most everyone falls somewhere in between.  The truth is that everyone is just trying to stay one step ahead of the wolves at the door, raise their families, and enjoy a little slice of life where they can find it.  We all have vices.  We are all in-betweeners in one way or another.  We all eventually find that an unexpected illness can upset the apple cart, and we open the cupboards to find them lacking the things we need.
At that point, it’s too late to place an on-line order and sometimes dragging our sorry selves to a store is about as realistic as wresting an alligator.  The very best thing we can do for ourselves right now is to get a few things stocked up.  I’m not talking about exotic herbs or even making up special concoctions to have on hand, necessarily.  Certainly it is wonderful to have prepared or pre-purchased herbal products like tinctures and syrups on hand, but if not, all is not lost.

A good starter list for the grocery store:
HONEY – raw and organic local honey is the best.  It can be used to whip up syrups, teas, and some very simple recipes.
LEMONS – Always good to have around.  They stay good in the crisper for a long time, but pure juice is also available in shelf-stable containers. 
GINGER AND REAL GINGER ALE – We get crystallized ginger from the bulk store down the road, and try to keep ginger ale on hand.  It’s not always easy to do because that ginger ale seems to vanish… Check the ingredient label on the ginger ale to be sure that there is ginger in it!
GARLIC – Garlic also lasts pretty well, but if you don’t use it much in cooking, consider getting the chopped bits in a jar.
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR – the real thing.  Check the label.  Often distilled white vinegar is just flavored, so be sure you’re getting the good stuff.
ELDERBERRY JELLY – we can often find this at the farm markets around here, but if you can’t, ask your grocer to get it in for you.
OLIVE OIL – besides all the other reasons to have this around, it can become a quick salve or rub when infused with essential oil or some garlic, ginger, cayenne, etc.
CHICKEN BROTH – Although it’s wonderful to make your own, an emergency supply when you’re suffering is better than nothing.  Adding lots of garlic and ginger (see above) will make it into something very good.
SICK FOOD – Crackers, Applesauce, Jello, and some Italian Water Ice have all been things that we NEEDED but didn’t have in the house.
A few other things we couldn’t live without:
RICE HEAT SACK – these go by a lot of different names, but basically it is a cloth sack filled ½ way with rice that can go into the microwave for a minute.  Great for muscle pains, cold feet, cramps, or just to soothe a sick person.  Much like a hot water bottle, but easier to use.  Ours is about 18” long and about 4” wide.  We use it a lot.
LICORICE ROOT STICKS – In 20 years, there’s never been a time when we didn’t have these in the house.  There really is nothing like them to soothe a sore throat or raw sinuses.  As a stir stick in any tea, they make a huge difference.  As a child, Molly often had a licorice root stick in her mouth.
TEA BLENDS – we have a lot of our own here, and I try to keep them made up with heat-sealable teabags for ease of use, but tea balls work just as well.  We also love a certain ginger and honey instant brew that can often be found in health food stores.  If you’re not growing and blending your own, be sure to have a variety on hand.

Now if you’ve got a moment, make up some of these medicines.  They’ll keep for a very long time, and you’ll thank yourself later.

Garlic Honey  - Fill a jar about 1/3 full with coarsely chopped garlic cloves and then fill to the top with honey.  Work out any air bubbles.  Use in tea (or eat the garlic and honey) when a virus attacks.

Ginger Elixir – Into a quart jar, chop a large hand of ginger coarsely.  Thinly slice one lemon and add to the jar.  Add a couple of cinnamon sticks or a tablespoon of pieces or powder.  Cover with honey and stir well.  Fill the rest of the way with vodka.  The honey/vodka ratio is usually about 1 part honey to 2 parts vodka, however we do it more by feel than by measurement.

Fire Cider –  Into a large jar, chop onions, garlic, ginger root, horseradish, and cayenne.  Some people add turmeric as well.  There are specific recipes on line, but I make it up as I go, depending on what is around.  Cover ingredients with apple cider vinegar and let sit until you need it.  To use, mix with a little of the garlic honey, taking about a tablespoon at a time.
None of the items on the shopping list will go to waste, and it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them since they are things that we use in every day cooking.  By keeping them in the house, I’ve saved myself (and my fellow shoppers) some very unsightly exposure.  If you’ve got your chicken stock frozen, your syrups lined up in gleaming bottles, and your tinctures ready to strain, good!  But if you’re an in-betweener like almost all of us, hopefully this will make you feel a little less guilty about that can of chicken noodle soup and saltines that might be the only thing that your little one is willing to eat today.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Hey there 2014! Come on in!

I might be one of the few to be looking back on 2013 with great fondness and waving a reluctant farewell.  As years go, it was one of the best.

Since my life is so wrapped up in how the magazine/business does, the unprecedented growth happening here has been the base from which every other good thing flowed.  After slogging along for 12 years, suddenly we had strong support, amazing surprises, and totally unexpected shoves into the limelight.  There were several instances of being blind-sided by good fortune.

One of the biggest lessons learned was that when things got stale or frustrating, taking a single step or action to make it better set all kinds of other things into action.  It should be noted that years of setting the stage helped make that happen, but since I really tend to drag my feet when it comes to changing things that have been *okay* it was a good lesson to learn.

2013 started out different.  I had to rearrange almost everything to accommodate the shift.  It meant putting my nose to the grindstone in a way that was pleasant but a little foreign.  No more thinking that tomorrow was soon enough around here!  There is still a little frustration over the fact that people seem to think either the blog, Yahoo group (that may be ending this year) or the facebook page ARE the magazine, not knowing that it is a printed, tangible product, but we're working on that...

We shared nearly 10,000 miniature magazines with herb folks all over the country.  Wherever herbies gathered, we were there.

We (along with Susan Hess) put together the first Roots & Wings Herb Festival, and found that our area is rich and full of exactly the sort of things we all want to learn about.  We met great people, enjoyed ourselves immensely, and look forward to a Spring Fest.

I accepted an invitation from a publisher to write a book on herbs.  That is on the front burner now and will be completed in '14, but it was a '13 blessing, to be sure!

My sister finally took the leap of faith to participate in one of the large wholesale gift shows here on the East coast.  Something that we'd always been intimidated by turned out to be just another fun and interesting thing to do, and we're all set to head out in a few days to do it again.

It's hard to say what happened.  Did we reach a tipping point?  Did my years of blathering all over the internet finally reach critical mass?  Was it the mini-magazine?  I have no idea, really.  All I know each year there is a secret unspoken goal that I don't think will ever happen, and this year it did.

On the home front, everyone is relatively happy and healthy.  The kids are making their way in the world.  Lots of exciting things are happening for them both, and we are enjoying being able to watch and breathe a sigh of relief after the years of parenting.  The hill is in the process of being re-planted with trees because the farm did too well :-) and is bare. 

So I am standing here with open arms welcoming 2014, challenging this new year to be as good as the last.  I've always felt that odd years were exciting and full of change while even years are the spacers that let us grow into that change.  At my age though, I don't have time for spacers.  They all need to count fully.

My wish is for everyone to experience positive growth in the coming year.  Learn, accept, grow, change - whatever it takes to find that sweet spot!  Happy New Year everyone!