Fighting Cancer Naturally

As far as I can tell, I don’t have any more cancer. Yet.

I felt a lump on my neck a few months ago and decided to have it checked out at the doctor. They ended up doing an ultrasound of my thyroid gland, which led to a biopsy, which eventually led to a very concerning discussion with a surgeon and an endocrinologist about the 50/50 chance of the lump they found being cancerous.

A month and a surgery later, I am without half of my thyroid gland. And yes, the lump was cancer.

The GOOD news was that for whatever reason (I’m honestly thinking divine intervention at this point,) I found the lump really early and there was no sign of cancer anywhere around or near it. Even the surgeon was baffled by that; he said the lump itself had managed to attach itself to the muscle in my neck (which explains why I thought I felt it up much higher than it actually was) and yet NOT spread to the muscle tissue, lymph nodes, or other surrounding thyroid tissue. In other words, just the lump itself was cancer.

Check out my sexy scar

I’m taking this as a sign to take even better care of myself than I normally do, which as you know is pretty darn good. Because I still have half a thyroid gland that also has two teenie weenie lumps that the doctors are “keeping an eye on,” I have to be on a certain medication to make sure that half of my thyroid doesn’t grow larger (to compensate for the missing half) and thus cause the little lumps to grow into cancer. The main side effect of this medication is bone loss. Fun, right?

Anyway, I’m telling you all this to segue into the reasons why I have currently decided to watch and monitor the rest of my thyroid and surrounding areas, rather than freak out and have everything removed. I have explained before how important the lymphatic system is for the human body to function, so I am exceedingly reluctant to lose any portion of that. And I certainly don’t want to be without any thyroid gland. Losing that completely would ensure I had to remain on some form of medication for the rest of my life. So what am I going to do instead?

For now, I am on a small dose of animal-based TSH that I have to figure out the correct dosage of over the next few months, via blood tests and feeling in my body. I’ll either feel low down like crap or super hyper and energetic… but what I want to feel is right in between. I need to get another ultrasound on my glandular area in 6 months and again in a year to see whether any cancer is growing back.

My end goal, if possible, is to shrink or completely eliminate the remaining tiny threatening lumps on my existing thyroid half. Can it be done? I think so. Let me tell you my plans:

Ever since Covid started, I have been taking mushroom supplements to assist my body in achieving optimal immune function. I started really getting into mushroom hunting in 2020 in addition to my regular foraging, so I have been able to find and properly identify quite a few medicinal mushrooms. Reishi (ganoderma tsugae,) Turkey Tail (trametes versicolor,) birch polypore (fomitopsis betulina,) Hen-of-the-woods (maitake,) and Chaga mushroom tinctures have been going for months at my house. I recently got a Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) mushroom growing kit for the holidays as well, and just harvested my first chunks of that to tincture.

All of my tinctures are made with 100 proof vodka and sit for a minimum of 6-8 weeks. Then I strain them and re-use the mushroom chunks in twice that amount of water, simmering them slowly for 2 – 3 hours. Then I strain that material again and combine the two liquids to form a double-decocted mushroom tincture. While the alcohol extracts most of the vital constituents from the mushroom, the water decoction extracts the polyphenols, vital nutrients mainly found only in plant materials. This technique ensures you get the most out of your foraged mushrooms, and creates a tincture that can last for many years if unused.

This past year I made all those mushrooms into medicinal tinctures myself, mainly from wild foraged sources. Turkey Tail and Maitake are of particular interest to me, given their being known for their anti-cancer benefits. At any rate, I now have a big 4-ounce sized tincture bottle filled with a combination of these tinctures. I take several dropperfuls daily in addition to my other supporting supplements.

Another measure I have taken is (of course) with my diet. The first step to helping fight cancer is to seriously reduce my sugar intake, especially processed sugars. I’m already a pretty big proponent of not eating highly processed foods, and I hardly ever drink soda or eat candy. I have also severely reduced my alcohol intake, which is making me feel better for a lot of reasons. But alcohol has always been bad for those fighting cancer, since it breaks down in your body into acetaldehyde, which prevents your body from repairing damage.

So I have to watch what I eat even more closely (no cake or cookies unless I bake with monkfruit or some other alternative sweetener.) And I get to eat more cheese and dark leafy greens like collards and kale, because the bone loss side effect from my meds requires me to increase my food-based calcium intake as much as possible. You won’t hear me complaining about “having” to eat more cheese…

I also am utilizing a special meditation technique taught to me by my very good friend Bryan Redfield, which basically help me visualize a special cancer-killing light shining directly on the part of my neck where the thyroid and surrounding tissue reside. Bryan has helped me deal with and think through a ton of emotional baggage surrounding this whole ordeal, and I am very grateful for his knowledge and support.

So far, those are my main steps for fighting this potential cancer. I’m also exercising and trying to maintain optimal physical health (fairly easy during farming season, but harder in the winter months as you know.) I’d love to hear from you (comment on this post) if you know of a certain food, drink, or herb that fights cancer as well. I’m determined to beat this thing out of existence! So I’ll take all the help I can get.

Real Roots Root Beer!

I’m making a blog post about this because the Facebook post went viral. I’m guessing you guys are interested in making root beer!

I had a lot of sassafras saplings coming up into my raspberry patch, so I went in there with my shovel and dug a bunch of them out. Sassafras roots always break off when I do this, but I got enough chunks of them to come up that I wanted to save what I could, as I knew I would find a use for them somehow.

I remembered once I smelled the roots as I chopped them up with my shears: sassafras is the flavor of root beer!

Now, people always throw at me that sassafras roots are dangerous due to their safrole content, which can give mice and rats cancer if you feed a lot of it to them. I was even told someone’s grandma died after drinking sassafras root tea daily for years. My take: don’t ingest sassafras every day and you’ll be fine! Safrole causes liver damage in large quantities, but honestly one of the ingredients in this recipe is dandelion root… which supports liver function.

This recipe is for making a root beer syrup that will be mixed in small quantities with seltzer water. NO amount of soda, naturally-made o not, is good for you to consume on a daily basis! Soda should be an occasional treat, not a nightly habit. The amount of syrup I made with this recipe is enough to last a long time, and because it contains quite a bit of sugar, it will last in the refrigerator up to a year.

Roots, slightly peeled stems, herbs and spices in the pot with water to boil

I’m not going to lie: I pretty much used THIS RECIPE for root beer syrup; I just tweaked the amounts of roots and spices used. I tend to just throw everything into a pot and hope for the best, for the most part… I’m sure I had a larger amount of root and bark material than this recipe called for, so my syrup probably has a slightly higher safrole content than it’s meant to. However, I’m not drinking this stuff every day so I am really not worried about it!

You simmer the sassafras roots and stems, dandelion roots, star anise, clove, and coriander seeds for awhile until it looks well incorporated (like 25-30 minutes.) Then strain the solids out and put the liquid back into the pot. Add your sugar and molasses and simmer a bit longer (10 minutes or so), stirring to incorporate the sugars. Then you just let the syrup cool and ladle it into two quart-sized jars. The magic ingredient at the end: one drop in each jar of wintergreen extract. Thankfully, I made some last year and it’s not only delicious but is also a source of anti-inflammatory compounds.

This spiced syrup will keep a year in the fridge if covered well. If it lasts that long…

I also made a small batch of syrup using JUST the peeled stems (also water and sugar, duh) so I came out with a lighter syrup to try. For my taste, I found about 1/8th cup of syrup in the bottom of a 12 ounce glass is perfect for flavoring plain seltzer water. It’s absolutely delicious and worth every step of effort to make!

Have you ever tried making your own root beer? Will you now? Please keep an eye on my Class Schedule! I’ll be teaching a lot more classes this upcoming year, so also consider joining my Email List to keep updated!

Summer Mushroom Foraging

I don’t usually have enough time to create a blog post over the summer and early autumn months, for what should be obvious reasons. The gardens look atrocious right now, as I have neglected clean up in favor of harvesting and preserving before it’s too late. I wanted to share a brief glimpse of some of the wild foraging I have been doing over the course of the season.

I’ve been getting braver every year with mushroom hunting, and have been learning to identify and eat/make medicine with more species. This year I’ve found morels, Berkeley’s polypore, black staining polypore, hen of the woods, chanterelles, craterellus ignigolor (an edible chanterelle lookalike,) black trumpets, small white puffballs, turkey tails, reishi (ganoderma tsugae,) and honey mushrooms. I think there are a few more varieties, but those are the ones I could easily identify and harvest enough to save at home. All mushrooms should be cooked before eating them, but some can just be lightly sautéed in butter. Most of the mushrooms ended up in my dehydrator to be dried and stored for later use.

Reishi and turkey tail mushrooms make incredibly powerful medicine that improves immune system functioning. Turkey tail mushrooms even have reported cancer-fighting benefits. Most of the other mushrooms I have been foraging mainly for eating purposes, but all mushrooms hold tons of vitamins and extra benefits that modern produced vegetables just can’t beat. Check out this list of some commonly foraged mushrooms!

In order to retain the mushroomy goodness in an easy form, I made a broth with a combination of a little of almost all of these. I simmered slowly for about 4 hours, then strained and poured this into ice cube trays so I can just pop one into whatever soup or water I am boiling (like for pasta or rice.) The ice cube size keeps the amount of broth small enough not to change the flavor of what I am cooking, but still add precious vitamins and minerals to my food. The broth itself is a medicinal powerhouse but I can honestly say taking a sip of it was not a tasty experience. I also started tinctures of the reishi and turkey tail, which I need to strain soon (now that I think about it) and remove the mushrooms to do a water decoction. Different constituents are extracted with different methods, so I do a double decocted tincture with my foraged medicinal mushrooms. Then I strain and combine equal parts decoction with the alcohol extraction to create a tincture fit for fighting bodily crime.

Mushroom broth

For whatever reason, life and the Great Spirit have given me the gift of being able to learn and recognize both plants and mushrooms with more ease than most people. I am very grateful for this, and hope to share it with more people as time goes on. If you would like to book a foraging class or hire me to come walk your land and show you all the edible species right under your nose, please utilize the Contact Us form. Obviously winter is not the best time to forage, but I can help you from now through early November, or any time starting in early April through the rest of the year. I occasionally arrange foraging classes on my own, but I can be available for private functions as well. I can do Herb Walks, Mushroom Walks, Edible Walks, or even teach a class on how to make some simple medicines or foods with the ingredients we find.

Keep an eye on my blog and Facebook or Instagram pages for more foraging posts and finds! And go watch Fantastic Fungi if you haven’t done so yet. It’ll blow your mind!

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!

Favorite Herb This Week: Black Birch!

Black Birch (betula lenta) is definitely one of my Top Ten favorite herbs of all time. And luckily for me, it’s ALL OVER the place here in Northeastern Connecticut!

A young black birch I saw on my walk today

Black birch and it’s brother, White birch (also known as the Paper Birch) can pretty much be used interchangeably medicinally speaking, so I have been trying to only work with black birch trees because the white birch are kind of endangered due to the bronze birch borer and a condition called birch dieback (Source). Birch trees can be tapped in the early spring to collect their sap (a great drink in and of itself) in order to make birch syrup, and the inner bark can be harvested to make a flour substitute, though I would only ever try this on a recently fallen or cut tree.

See the horizontal lines in the bark, along with the light/white patches?

It is never recommended that you harvest bark directly from the trunk of the tree, as doing so could accidentally girdle it and cause it to die. Instead, ask the plant’s permission to harvest a branch or two and simply prune them off if it tells you it’s okay. Always leave an offering for the tree, such as a pinch of tobacco or kinnickkinnick, or a few pieces of your hair in way of thanks. Then take them home and carefully strip the bark off each section of branch, being sure to capture the cambium layer. You can also add the buds to your concoction.

Harvesting and scraping bark is always done in late winter or early spring, hence the ugly sweatshirt

My absolute favorite thing to make with birch bark is an infused oil. Some of my birch oil jars have sat for months before I remembered to strain them, but it always works out as the batch just gets even stronger. Add a few drops of birch essential oil and voila! You have the BEST topical painkiller for muscle and joint aches. I think this year I will try making a small batch of tincture as well, as I hear that is useful internally for joint pain. I’ve had arthritis since my early 20s and farming really hurts my back some days, so every little thing I can find to relieve the pain helps!

Birch buds in January

Black birch twigs are useful as fire starters, and fresh twigs can be chewed by adults as a breath freshener and by toddlers to help relieve teething pain.

What do you think? Do you ever work with birch bark? Remember, I can sell you some of the oil I make if you’d like to experience birch’s magical healing properties!

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