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Herbal Smoke and Smudging

Cleansing your body and your space with herbal smoke has been practiced by many cultures all over the globe for centuries. There is quite a lot of controversy over the word “Smudging,” as it originates from the Native Indian tribes of the Southwestern United States, where white sage (salvia apiana) grows wild.

I personally use the word “smudging” more often than not because at this point in time it is the most recognizable term for the practice of lighting a bundle of dried herbs and wafting the smoke in a specific direction with a specific intent. This YouTube Channel gives a very succinct and accurate demonstration on the process. I personally grow my own white sage in pots that I move indoors over winter. I think a lot of the argument for cultural appropriation stems from the fact that there are a dangerous number of people going onto land they don’t have permission to be on and foraging for (stealing) wild white sage, to the point that the plant is now endangered in the wild.

Many European cultures have been practicing cleansing rituals similar to smudging for centuries. Working with herbs found in your native region, whether they are native plants or (like mugwort) invasive plants is one of the best and most sustainable ways you can create smoke sticks.

A few bundles I made before hanging them to dry

Take a walk around your yard or woods and see what grows naturally there. Be sure you aren’t touching poison ivy or something toxic, but if you see a plant that you don’t recognize, it is usually safe to rub a leaf or flower between your fingers and then smell your fingers. Does it smell pungent? Sweet? If there is a definite and pleasant aromatic scent on your fingertips, check a field guide (or the internet) to see if you can identify the plant. You are looking for a plant with a pleasing scent and high volatile oil content. Once you are certain you’re not picking something that could hurt you, ask the plant if you can harvest a little from it. Only take a little and always say thank you, preferably with a personal offering such as tobacco, hair from your head, or some water from your water bottle.

Remember that garden sage (salvia officinalis) works just as well for smudging as white sage; there is no reason to go to the hippie shop and drop a ton of money on a bundle that probably isn’t ethically harvested. It is safe and possible to grow your own white sage instead.

Me tying the knot at the end of a bundle during my Smoke Stick making class

Once your bundle has hung to dry somewhere out of direct sunlight for several weeks, you can tighten the strings and then light the end. Get it smouldering and walk around the house or cleanse your body with the smoke. I will likely teach more classes on this soon!

For more reading about herbal smoke versus smudging, see the articles below:

The Ancient Art of Smoke Cleansing

Smudging vs. Smoke Cleansing

Smoke Cleansing as an Alternative to Smudging

Maintaining a Healthy Urinary Tract

This is one of the articles I wrote during my Herbalist Certification course. It’s chock full of good information about urinary tract health, so if you have bladder issues, pay attention! References are cited at the bottom of the page.

(This is the image that came up when I googled “pee”)

Just like the book with the title referring to the opposite end of the digestive system, Everybody Pees.  There are many ways to maintain a healthy Urinary Tract system, but the fact remains that we all must do so or suffer detrimental health consequences.

The simplest method to making sure you don’t end up with urinary problems is to remain hydrated.  While problems can still arise due to other circumstances that your body may be subjected to, the simple act of drinking enough water is your biggest and best shield for protecting your kidneys and bladder.  Your urine should be almost clear, to very light yellow if you are drinking enough.  Generally speaking, if you “feel thirsty,” your body has already begun to dehydrate and you definitely need to drink.  On this same note, making sure you eliminate often enough is crucial.  It doesn’t matter how much your boss wants you to take care of a customer if your bladder is so full it might explode.  Take regular bathroom breaks and ignore your co-workers or friends if they make fun of you for going “too often.” Regular water intake and elimination is crucial for kidney function, and functioning kidneys are a necessity for life.

Some supplements that can be helpful in maintaining your urinary tract include cranberry juice (or a supplement pill,) blueberries, and probiotics such as yogurt or kombucha.  The berries contain high amounts of Vitamin C and help prevent bacteria from attaching to the uterine lining[1] (in women.) Wearing breathable cotton underwear and maintaining a clean genital area (without the use of highly-perfumed soaps or douches) will also help prevent any infections from taking hold. Men can avoid the risk of contracting a urinary tract infection by drinking plenty of water, eliminating often, and maintaining clean genitalia. For both genders, urinating and washing up after sexual intercourse is also a crucial key to preventing bacteria climbing up the urethra.

If, despite your best efforts, you do end up with a burning, itchy, painful sensation whenever you urinate, you probably have a Urinary Tract Infection. It is actually quite possible to treat a UTI without antibiotics, though if you attempt these methods without success it is best to see your doctor anyway.  Reduce or eliminate your intake of sugary, highly-processed foods, start taking a supplement of cranberry or acidophilus (probiotics are widely available in pill form,) or you can drink low-sugar cranberry juice and eat low-sugar yogurt.  Balancing the bacteria in your gut with the help of kombucha, water kefir, sauerkraut, or other fermented foods will absolutely help to bring balance to your other bodily systems via their antifungal and antiviral properties. [2]

As an adult with a UTI, you can avoid citrus fruits and make sure you drink lots of water, but you also have several herbal remedy options for treatment.  Provided you aren’t pregnant, breastfeeding, or have known kidney problems, horsetail can be a helpful supplement. A capsule of horsetail extract two or three times daily may be helpful for alleviating some of the symptoms of bladder and urinary tract infections, incontinence, and even bed wetting because it can relieve the urge to urinate. [3]  Parsley made into a tea/infusion may also help, as it is a diuretic and will increase the flow of good urine through the urethra, helping clean out the bad bacteria. Uva ursi is another herb that can help treat urinary tract infections if used on a short-term basis. And I have personally had success working with a tincture of corn silk when a burning sensation has come along.

Drink lots of water daily! It’s okay to pee!

Preventing kidney stones is another common Urinary Tract concern, but it is usually possible to prevent these with many of the same methods as preventing a UTI.  Drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, avoid highly-processed foods and sugars, and eat fresh, whole foods whenever possible.  If you have a history of kidney stones, you may also want to avoid eating too much sodium and try to get your calcium needs from foods rather than supplements. Beets, chocolate, spinach, rhubarb, tea, and most nuts are rich in oxalate, and colas are rich in phosphate, both of which can contribute to kidney stones. If you suffer from stones, your doctor may advise you to avoid these foods or to consume them in smaller amounts.[4]  It is also important to get most of your Vitamin D from sunlight exposure, rather than supplements.  The most natural method of acquiring your vitamins and minerals is always best.

With a good dose of sunshine and vegetables, regular exercise, and plenty of water, you too can maintain your body’s urinary system, avoid the unpleasant problems, and have happy pee.


[1] https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/stay-a-step-ahead-of-urinary-tract-infections

[2] https://www.culturedfoodlife.com/utis-yeast-infections-and-cultured-foods/

[3] https://wellnessmama.com/8592/horsetail-herb-profile/comment-page-5/

[4] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/5-steps-for-preventing-kidney-stones-201310046721

Forest Bathing for Health

Go ahead, call me a Woo Woo dirty hippie; I believe the forest heals you.

When your mind is in turmoil, you can’t get good sleep, you find yourself in and out of depression, you can’t focus on life, or you just generally feel like crap, go into the woods.

Find the biggest tree you can, especially if it’s a little off the beaten path, and touch it.

A huge old white pine on a Spring day

I find the most pleasant time of year to do this is early to mid-Spring, but I have done this healing exercise during all points in the year. On a sunny day in Spring it can really rejuvenate you, but if you are feeling awful in the dead of winter, this will also work–especially if you can find a big, old pine tree. They are so friendly and full of loving energy, and I find them to be the only ones really awake in the winter time.

Even if you are afraid to try this, or don’t think you’ll actually be able to feel the energy flowing into you from the great old tree, you could still get out into the woods. Hiking trails abound if you know how to find them. AllTrails.com is available (you can use the free version) to find new trails near you.

Just stand here and listen to the stream for awhile

Just BEING in the woods, watching a stream trickle by, hearing birds and insects flit about their day, or even (for the brave) taking off your boots and letting your feet touch the earth is helpful for your internal well-being. I will admit this sort of therapy works better on your mental health; walking through a forest will not necessarily cure you if you have the flu. But much like utilizing the power of flower essences, forest bathing is a kind of energetic medicine that every human on an instinctual level really NEEDS sometimes.

If you happen to live in a city and are unable to get to a forest, find your nearest park. Locate the cleanest, most isolated area and sit down. Let your bare feet touch the grass. If winter, find the largest tree and stand or sit near it.

I might sound crazy to you, but this really works. There is even scientific evidence to prove my point. Humans did not evolve in cities, or with cars, or machinery. Sometimes we just need to hit the reset button on our stress levels. Being in wild places near trees can help that.

So go out and find your special place. Make friends with a tree. Wiggle your toes in the grass. That will help your anxiety a lot better than any pill you can take.

Cleavers is Galium, but not all Galium is Cleavers

That title statement may not mean much to you unless you’re into herbs or foraging, but Cleavers are a common herbal remedy in much of North America and the UK. For the past two years, I have been operating under the exciting assumption that cleavers had graced me with their presence in my back yard and gardens. I encouraged its growth in my gardens and made a deal with the plant that I wouldn’t weed it out as long as it let me pick some to work with it as medicine and food. I was so excited to know that such a great medicinal plant had decided to call my place home!

I was wrong.

THIS is actual “Cleavers,” Galium Aparine

After crying internally and smacking myself repeatedly for my mistake, I am now in a forgiving mood. You see, there are over 600 species of Galium in the world, at least 60 of which are native or naturalized in the United States. I was positive what is in my yard was a galium, and after a little sleuthing and help from some people in a Facebook plant identification group, I have concluded that what I have in my yard is Galium Mollugo, a naturalized but not native variety that likely traveled over from Europe with other immigrants such as Dandelion and Plantain.

Galium Mollugo I have been seeing
This is the galium I’ve seen at my farm. Note the NON-Hairy stem

Galium Mollugo, a.k.a. “Hedge bedstraw,” is what has popped up all over my yard and farm. It’s so named because it smells really nice when dried, so was added to the old style beds that were basically mattresses stuffed with straw. Much nicer to sleep on something that smells more pleasant than the cow barn! It is an edible weed that I frequently add to stir-fry’s and omelets, and makes a lovely tea when used fresh. I usually tincture it fresh as well, for use as a lymphatic cleansing agent and nervine.

Fortunately for me, it seems that most galium species can be used interchangeably in a medicinal fashion. The only one to be slightly wary of is Sweet Woodruff, but I also have that planted in the yard on purpose because of its wonderful scent, so I’m much more positive about that identification. Sweet Woodruff is not meant to be ingested in large amounts due to the compound that makes it smell so nice, Coumarin. You can still use it in a tea or whatever, just not frequently or a lot of it.

I prefer to work with regular cleavers anyhow, and save my sweet woodruff for incense making purposes. Well… with my galium mollugo anyway…. which I’ve been working with thinking it was cleavers for like 3 years now…

At any rate, I wanted to share this post because while I pride myself on my ever-growing foraging skills, I’m definitely not infallible. Hopefully with the photos included here you can understand why I made the mistaken identification, and thankfully the entire species is a safe herb to work with. Don’t forget that it’s very important to double and even triple-check your identification of any wild plant before you eat it!

Quick Guide: Raising Ducks

You should know based on my farm website that we raise chickens and ducks on our small farm. We have two geese, but they’re more like pets so I can’t really say we “raise geese,” but goose needs are basically the same as ducks so you can probably take my advice on their account as well.

I’m writing this post because we got another batch of ducklings last weekend and want to brag about them while they’re still cute.

Duckling of 2021

Disclaimer: I don’t hatch my own ducks. I have tried and failed a couple of times, so I need to get better at using the small incubator we have. These ducks we bought from a local feed store, because I keep getting requests for duck eggs and just can’t keep up when most of the flock stops laying in winter. Pekins lay through the winter, so while I’m not a fan of white ducks, that’s what I got this year.

Ducklings are ADORABLE. And the sound they make is exactly the same sound you hear when you squeeze a rubber duckie. THAT SOUND IS REAL. And it’s second only to the sound of their little webbed feet slapping across the kitchen floor.

Rule number one: do not think that just because you’ve had chickens before means you can handle having ducks. Ducks are ten times as messy as chickens/chicks. We have to clean the ducklings’ box out every day when they are tiny, and every other day the bigger they get (when they end up in the basement pen we have set up, between being babies and teenagers.)

Rule Two: Unless you plan on spending every waking moment with that duck, DO NOT just get one duck. They need friends to socialize with. Chickens are not good duck friends, but they can get along well enough if that’s all you have.

Rule Three: Ducks, at every stage of life (this goes for geese too) NEED a water bowl. Those red and white plastic water jug things may work for chicks, but ducklings have to submerge their bill/face into the water to properly clear their nostrils for breathing, several times a day. They really do need a bowl. They will also swim in or bathe in this bowl, which is also necessary for getting their oil gland working properly for when they have feathers. If you can’t handle this mess, don’t get waterfowl.

These work great and are cheap

Those are my biggest concerns with most people. I raise ducks for eggs and meat, but we treat our birds very well and keep them clean and well-fed. Ducks have slightly different nutritional needs than chickens, so I like to give them a duck feed while they are young to help make sure they get the right nutrients. Once they are grown, they have no problem sharing the chicken food, and they do a great job hunting for bugs around the yard to supplement what I feed them.

Ducklings WILL poop on your sofa, just FYI. Also Nik is in love with ducks

Some crazy people even have a pet house duck that they put diapers and a leash on and treat like a dog. I’m not at that point yet… saving that for my crazy old lady years. But it can be done! Anyway, don’t get ducks if you can’t handle a mess or don’t have enough space for them. They are excellent at helping keep your yard insect-free (especially from Japanese Beetles!) and are all around a real joy to have. The slap of duckling feet running across my kitchen floor is literally my favorite sound in the whole world. And duck butts are adorable, no matter what age they are!

You can find all kinds of guides and books online about how to raise ducks. I wanted to give this short PSA since Easter is coming up and I’d rather not have to rescue more ducks that people dump after not realizing the care involved in raising them.

I also wanted to show off my ducks…

This was me with my very first duck ever back in 2017

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