Welcome to Green Gal's blog, where you'll find stories, recipes, gardening updates, and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems. This blog is written by a young woman entrepreneur who is also a beginning farmer-gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Herbology 101

Lower Campus this morning

Earlier this quarter, I was looking through the Recreation guide for interesting classes or workshops to register for and I came across an Herbology class through the Holistic Health Program. I am fascinated by ethnobotany--how different cultures use or have used plants, both medicinally and in general--so this class appealed to me immensely. My family and I have been utilizing holistic medicine (homeopathy, accupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine) since I was a child, so the class appealed to me as something I'm familiar with. I signed up for the three-day class and looked forward to learning about herbology in a more detailed and formal way than I had ever before.

Thursday was the first day of the class, and I took about 15 pages of notes in my small green notebook from 6-9 PM about a bunch of different plants and their uses, the history of herbology, what the difference between food, herbs and pharmaceuticals is, and what questions to ask when identifying or getting to know an herb (Name, Actions, Habitat/Origin, Temperature, Tropism, and Dosage). We sipped delicious, naturally-sweetened tea of licorice and lemon verbena while we learned about the incredible world of herbalism.

A few interesting facts I learned:

- The word "drug" has the root "droga," which means dried plant. Originally, drugs were dried medicinal plants.

- There are five flavors in Chinese traditional medicine, each associated with parts of the body and different actions/types of herbs. They are
* bitter (heart; drains & clears, stimulates digestion),
* sour (liver; astringent)
* sweet (digestive system; soothes, nourishes, tonifies--but not when consumed in excess amounts, as we often do)
* spicy (lungs; moves energy, expands, aromatics, mint)
* salty (kidneys; softens)

-Characteristically "warm" herbs--aromatics like cinammon and cloves--make the body warm. Use of them over time in teas or consumed with food can gradually make a person "warmer." The same is true with "cooler" herbs, like mint. Someone who is cold often or eats cold foods (vegetarians, raw foodists) should avoid "cool" herb teas on a regular basis, and should instead opt for "warmer" herb teas and spices.

The Herbology teacher, Darren Huckle, has a wealth of knowledge about plants and their uses. He has his own herbal medicine practice in town, and can talk for hours about plants. On Thursday evening, his final message was that it's important to always thank the plants we harvest. When a friend gives you a gift, you thank them. The same is true with plants. We must thank them for the gifts they provide--health, good flavors and beauty.

Yesterday, Ari and I collected yerba buena (which we thought was mint) on campus and made tea. It was really tasty, and so easy. The only time I've ever made tea like that was when I made pine needle tea in Twain Harte a few years ago.
Ari crushing up the yerba buena leaves for tea

This morning was the second day of the class. We arrived at 10 AM, and Darren told us that we were making tinctures. Of three "theme" options for our tinctures, I chose "De-Stress," which included lemon verbena, rosemary, lavender, and skullcap. After choosing our tincture themes, we set off for the UCSC Farm and Garden.

As we walked, Darren pointed out various herbs along the path and in the garden. We stopped to listen to him share their properties and uses, and we always took a small nibble of leaf or flower before going on. Some plants we collected for our tinctures. My pockets were brimming with fennel, lemon verbena, lemon balm, and rosemary. When we came across fruit-bearing trees, we could eat only those that had fallen to the ground. I had my first pineapple guava today and enjoyed a crisp apple as I learned how to tell the difference between hemlock and fennel.
Pineapple guava


We returned to the little house where the class takes place and began crushing up our plants to make our tinctures. We filled 8 oz masen jars with herbs and then added vodka as a preservative. We used the blender to grind up the herbs better and extract their essences out into the mixture. I ended up adding fennel, lemon balm and sage to the list of herbs Darren had recommended for "De-Stress." I now wait two weeks, strain the tincture, and place it in a dropper bottle for use whenever I feel stressed. The best part is, it's completely natural and safe--and it smells delicious!
My black bag of herbs, my notebook, the jar filled with my tincture herbs, and an interesting Chinese tea that Darren made for us in my unicorn mug.

We also each got a jar of salve, which has many actions, including protection against infection and healing. It can be applied to burns, cuts, dry skin and rashes. I will probably end up using it mostly as lip balm, but if the need arises, I will definiely use it in other ways. It has a base of olive oil, and it smells really nice.

I have learned so much in these two classes--and I still have one more this Thursday!--and it makes me feel a lot more comfortable with making my own teas or learning about herbs and their uses. One thing I definitely learned is how to learn about these plants: tasting, smelling and visualizing the plants really helps solidify their uses in my memory.

Today, Darren ended class with a message about his view of what medicine is. He said that while medicine is something that benefits the health of an individual, it should also be something that is healthful to the environment. Pharmaceuticals pollute waterways with chemicals and hormones. Herbal medicine, on the other hand, puts only natural substances into the waterways and can be obtained directly from nature, rather than created in a lab with chemicals. In this, of course, is the recognition of the damage herbalists and plant collectors can have when they overharvest a particular plant or a particular area. Darren's message was clear: make decisions that cause the least harm and be conscious of your impacts, both in everyday life, but particular when harvesting those delightful little sprouts of health called herbs.

Thanks for reading.

Happy Halloween!
Green Gal

Saturday, October 23, 2010


It's been quite rainy here in Santa Cruz this past week, and tonight's rain has been quite talkative...whispering drip-drops and pitter-patters all over the ground for hours. In a world devoid of concrete, the noises rain makes would be quite different. Living in a small dwelling like an Ohlone tule hut would bring you right into the middle of the rain. We live in houses with hard, thick surfaces that create drumming noises and separate us from the world of rain. A tule home would muffle the falling drops' noises, and the damp earth all around would cushion the rain's landing. The smells would be so pungent. Imagine falling asleep in warm deerskin and furs, hearing and smelling the rain as it falls right outside the thin walls of your tule home. Many years ago, before students dwelled on this forested hill, people lived like this, closer to the rain and in some ways, more in tune with that cycle of rain, nourishment and growth. Many people see the rain for its wetness, for its inconvenience. See it for what it provides to the living beings of the soil, the living beings who grow from and live in the soil: the plants, the banana slugs, the worms. Reach down and touch the damp earth with your fingertips, smell the rain and stop what you are doing, stop thinking about our human world, and be in the world of our universe, of our planet, of the complex web of life that connects us to all things, all things that feel the rain on their skin or drink its sweet nourishment. Sometimes, you have to stop everything for a minute and find that primordial human being within yourself, within the being that you've created, before you can let yourself return to the strange, complicated world we've made (and when you return, ask yourself for what or whom have you created this other being, the one you breathe through most days and face society with).

Allow yourself to breathe, take a moment to feel, to see, and to simply be. It feels more natural to me to do this when it's raining.

Yesterday, while leaving my theater class, I smelled and felt the recently-fallen rain. I smiled to myself at my private ecstatic joy of being alive and walked down a hill, stepping upon the leaf-strewn earth. I started getting that poetry feeling in my mind that starts nagging me with phrases until I either let them play out in my brain and forget them, or grab my notebook and start scribbling. I dropped my backpack on the wet ground and pulled my notebook and a pen from its depths. Here are the human words I wrote to try and describe the natural wonderfulness that I beheld:

Damp earth
fed by rain
yielding to the touch
to new life

dripping trees
magic patterns
of drip here
drop there
patter on my head
pitter patter

gray sky
lets the trees and grasses
dominate the color palette
new sprouts fed
the magically sweet rain

that drops on their head
on the damp earth
on the verdant painted trees
from the canvas sky.

something about the rain
and its reflection in puddles

and the scents that reach
my human senses

makes me pause
to collect my feelings
into thoughts
and scribble them on paper
never giving justice to what's here

striving hard to preserve
these senses and this reality
which tomorrow will be
inkily blotted
like the rain drops on the
that I write.

Thank you kindly for reading!
Green Gal

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Right Now

I am on a high right now for two reasons, from the coffee I had two hours ago, as well as (and more importantly) from the amazing evening I've been enjoying with my friend Tanya. We have History: The World to 1500 together and she lives two floors above me, so I've gotten to know her through early morning breakfast and time spent in the House. Every time we talk, we get into something REAL, and I gain insight into her perspective. Talking with her this evening, I realized how much I need to be involved in something with Native American cultural studies. It is my driving force; I am called to study the California Native culture, and I know I need to do something with that passion so I can benefit others. I went to a film screening of The Canary Effect last night, a film about the genocidal policies the United States government has had toward the indigenous people of this land. It hit home for me that Native American culture is not only the culture that developed before contact with Europeans, which is what I find so incredibly fascinating, but also the culture that exists right now and the issues that the Native peoples face because of oppression and injustice. I thought about how I want to teach what I learn about the Native culture to other people, and I've always thought it might be in a regional, state or national park setting, but why not in the Native American reservation setting? Why not teach it to the children whose ancestors I'm teaching about? I know right now that I need to study and learn as much as I can about the California Native cultures, and that at some point the right position will present itself. I believe that life opens doors when they should be opened, and it's up to us to walk through them and take those opportunities. I have so many opportunities on this campus to do things that I enjoy, but I need to find the ones that I feel most passionate about, and I need to leave time for myself to discover things on my own and read and draw and explore the natural world around me. Spending hours talking, listening to music and building friendships is so much more valuable to me than spending hours taking history notes. The history notes will get done when I have the pressure that I have to get them done, but opportunities of friendship like tonight don't happen every day, so when they present themselves I take them.

Earlier, Tanya introduced me to the quotations of Chuck Palahniuk. I love the quotes we read, and I'm interested in reading his work. Here are some that I found particularly worthwhile.

"All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring."
— Chuck Palahniuk

^ Do not be boring. Noted :)

"We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will."
— Chuck Palahniuk

^ TOTALLY reminds me of Gilgamesh.

"Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I've ever known."
— Chuck Palahniuk (Invisible Monsters)

"The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because its only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. If you can change the way people think. The way they see themselves. The way they see the world. You can change the way people live their lives. That's the only lasting thing you can create."
— Chuck Palahniuk (Choke)

Tanya just shared her blog with me, and I am in shock! She is very talented, even in the blog's most raw form without any editing or revision. I am definitely jealous. I need to write more, blog more, write poetry more, spend time with friends more. I love this evening and this life and being alive.

I feel the need to go do something outside, under the sky, barefooted, with no constraints or concerns. Beautiful, confusing, complex, happy life!

Green Gal

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sustainable UCSC, PTAGS & Gilgamesh

Knowing me and my crazy involvement in clubs last year, it's no surprise that I joined the sustainbility club through Stevenson College, PTAGS (Path To A Greener Stevenson). Tonight was our second meeting of the year, and I have realized that I come back from the meetings with lots of great energy to be sustainable and spread my passion for nature to all the world!

I have homework I should be doing, so if this blog seems poorly-written, it's because I'm rushing! I felt a great need to write a post since I am bursting with so many awesome experiences.

I want to share with you some of the things UCSC does to be sustainable--it's truly a way of life for many students at this campus, which is an inspiring change from the peer group I had in high school. Here's a list of some things that I learned from a handout from the Sustainbility Office...and I added some of my own from my observations:

- All new and remodeled buildings on campus meet LEED criteria
- There's a zipcar program on campus
- The entire campus is one big hiking trail, really, so walking is encouraged
- Students have access to free public transit in Santa Cruz county, and there is a shuttle system on campus to get you from class to class (I try to walk whenever I can...great exercise with all these hills!)
- Native and draught tolerant plants and very few lawns
- Low flow faucets, toilets and shower heads
- No dining hall trays--conserves water and students get less food when they're browsing, so there's less waste at the end of their meal
- Lots and lots of recycling bins
- Organic, local food in the dining halls--I get salad at every single meal, and College 9/10 dining hall has the most delicious guacamole...I eat there every night.
- Compost of food scraps in the dining halls and signs encouraging diners to get only what they'll eat to reduce food waste
- I would imagine it feels worse to litter in a forest than it does to litter in a city. I never litter, but I feel like litterers would feel extra guilty in a forest...

Go UC Santa Cruz!

At our PTAGS meeting at 7 PM, we talked about the garden we're going to be building on the Stevenson Knoll, which overlooks the bay. I can't wait to get my hands dirty with Earth! In springtime, I'll be able to take a class that will work on the garden :-) I was just informed at the meeting that UCSC has a Natural History Club...three hours of exploring the campus with Environmental Studies majors, learning about plants and animals on campus? I'm definitely joining! I will be sure to update the blog with pictures and information from my adventures with that club.

In other news, I'm currently writing an essay on The Epic of Gilgamesh (the oldest literary text known to exist, set in the Sumerian city-state of Uruk in 2700 B.C.E.), which I am excited to say has an interesting message about humanity and nature! I had three different prompt choices and actually wrote one essay yesterday, analyzing the epic and the characters from a Jean-Paul Sartre existentialism perspective. I didn't like what I wrote, however, and decided to address one of the other prompts: if the story is relevant to today and, if so, how. Here's an excerpt from the new essay I'm writing:

In today’s overpopulated, urban, consumer-centric world where mankind rules nature and exploits the land for profit, we face consequences of a much greater degree than any other time in humanity’s past. We’ve always been exploiters, changing the land for our benefit and needs. As we’ve developed more and more technologies that require immense resources, and as we grow and spread our species into every corner of our planet, we’ve almost reached our limit of exploitation. It seems that if we continue at this pace of consumption, we may topple into an existence that is toxic, ugly and detrimental to life on Earth.

Living in this world on the potential brink of irreversible environmental destruction, it’s hard to remember that we emerged as a species from the womb of nature. Humans and our hominid ancestors lived similarly to animals for thousands of years before sedentary societies began to develop and technologies allowed us to live more removed from animals and nature. Realizing that we come from nature and that there will always be some part of that nature within us (perhaps both biologically and psychologically), is key, even if we no longer experience Mother Nature as intimately as we once did. When people feel that they are part of something larger, they tend to respect it because it becomes a part of who they are. Their connection makes them want to protect it; for in protecting it, they protect themselves. But once they lose that connection, the lack of emotional attachment to the larger whole removes the sense of respect and need to preserve it. This is what has happened to human society’s relationship to nature, when examined as a whole.

Our relationship with Mother Nature is represented by the character Enkidu in the Gilgamesh epic. When he is created, he exists as a man among animals. In an almost Sartrean existential way, he is awoken to his humanity after sleeping with a harlot from the temple of Ishtar, and he becomes self-aware, leaving behind his prior existence of animal consciousness for the human consciousness which allows him to make decisions toward his future, and create for himself a human essence. He enters civilization, the other side of the spectrum of human existence, which was a relatively newer form of existence at the time the epic was being told. Humans had been surviving in the wilderness and as nomadic peoples in a natural setting for thousands of years before civilizations emerged. Mesopotamian society was just beyond the edge of this transition, and Enkidu represents this. Civilization changes him, removes the wild from him. He and Gilgamesh go on their adventure to destroy “evil,” and end up destroying nature. Like a child betraying a parent, Enkidu destroys Mother Earth when he cuts down the cedar tree, which symbolizes the Tree of Life, with Gilgamesh. Humbaba is guardian of the forest, protector of nature, and Enkidu encourages Gilgamesh to kill him. Humanity has taken away his respect for what he was once a part of, and that says something about the human condition. We exploit; it’s something we inherently do. Sartre would argue that there is no human condition and that Enkidu cannot blame civilization for his actions. Enkidu initially does blame civilization, by blaming the harlot, but then he realizes that he is the one to blame. He dies because of his actions, his betrayal of nature. Almost five thousand years ago, people were aware of this problem. The poet of this epic is warning us of our own issue of exploiting nature from the most ancient literary past that we have access to. That is relevant, and even more so when one considers how long this exploiting has been going on. This is a human problem being addressed in the distant past, and it still follows us today, especially today. It couldn’t be more pertinent to our current environmental problem. Enkidu’s death could be the fate of humanity if we don’t pay attention to the Gilgamesh epic.

This is a very rough draft of the first point of my essay. It will end up being much shorter and probably better written by Monday when I turn it in.

Now that I've used up a good half an hour of homework time, I'll post a picture that I took this morning on my way to breakfast and then say adios.

College so far has been the best experience of my life, and I am SO excited to continue learning inside and outside of the classroom.
Thank you for reading!
Green Gal

Popular Posts