Final Products

Here we are again. Sitting on the forest green sofa where I am taught to swallow my pride and reveal my heart. Three years ago I sat on this couch feeling lonely and embarrassed. I barely knew Teresa back then. She was simply a friend of my mother’s and I was now her completely exhausted patient. In 2013, I returned home for spring break twenty-five pounds thinner than I had been in the fall. My complexion was inflamed with acne and my thoughts were overwhelmed with personal criticism. Talking about my miserable body image was usually off limits. But Teresa gave me an avenue through which to crawl out of my cave of self-deprecation and into the loving embrace of herself, my family, and God.

I continued to struggle against my weight, my skin, and my mind for the duration of my academic career. Not because Teresa did not give me good formulas and thoughtful guidance. There’s only so much an herbalist can do when their patient continues to skip meals and abandons their medicinal regimen. Not until the winter of my fourth year did I realize that I needed to take time to care for myself… and doing so would increase my faith and love for the divine.

Tea and Flowers

So here we are again. Tears in Teresa’s eyes as I sit among eight of her best clinical students. Talking about my journey through school and my tussle with pain. And how we’ve come so far over these three years and especially over the course of this short two-month program. How marshmallow root has aided my digestion and white clay cleared my skin. And how her guidance has cleared my heart.

As the students put together nourishing broths, uplifting teas, and digestive tinctures, I discover how peony root works remove stagnation in the liver and red clover buds work to purify the blood. I also learn how a team of nine women can work with medicinal insight and a heartfelt compassion to help a patient overcome illness. I feel nourished on this sofa, not abandoned or alone. And here, I can feel God with me through these women. And through the taste of medicinal herbs.

For updates about the PLT Summer Internship, click here. We also post updates online using #PLTinterns. To get these updates please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Adaptogens taste like summer


And the earth brought forth grass and herb yielding seed… and God saw it was good.
-Genesis 1:12

The summer solstice is here and Teresa and I are preparing for the afternoon festivities. Today we will be having a medicine making open house during which herbal school alumni and family friends are invited to harvest from the garden, process their own plants, and leave with a batch of homemade medicine. But if we weren’t in the celebratory spirit before, we both are now… I’m making bonbons!

The yurt comes to life with the very utterance of these two syllables. A well-known favorite among her students, the restorative treats are a recipe for delectable health and wellbeing. Basically, a combination of nut butters, raw honey, coconut oil, and dried fruits create a variety of euphoric taste sensations. Then we add a medicinal dose of adrenal adaptogen herbs and the result is a sweet tasting powerhouse to help the body combat symptoms of fatigue and exhaustion.

After scouring the Herbal School library, I found several books that explain why these herbs have such a soothing effect on the body. In Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, I read the following physiological explanation:

“Adaptogenic herbs support the entire neuroendocrine system, in particular the adrenal function, thus counteracting the adverse effects of stress. Adaptogens also help the body with its natural adaptive responses to stress. They do this by exerting a biochemical influence on the hypothalamus and its two main systems to signal stress—the HPA [hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal] axis and the SAS [sympathoadrenal]” (Winston, 72).

Adrenal adaptogens are all about bringing back a sense of homeostasis to the body. For the solstice recipe, our adaptogens of choice are ashwagandha and maca powder. Although I was previously more familiar with maca, I am curious to learn that ashwagandha in particular a calming, rather than stimulating, herb and is known in ayurvedic medicine as prolonging life and increasing stamina (Winston, 141). When mixed with sunflower seed butter and honey these herbs make medicine an indulgent experience.


Sunflower Solstice Bonbon Recipe:

Adrenal Support in Celebration of Summer Health and Vitality


½ cup sunflower nut butter
¼ cup raw, local honey
2 T. ashwaganda powder
2 T. maca powder
½ cup coconut flakes
½ cup chia seeds


Mix the nut butter and honey in a bowl until the contents achieve a fluid and homogenous consistency. Then add the maca and ashwaganda powder until the mixture becomes more firm and dry: comparable to that of cookie dough.

Prepare the topping by placing the coconut flakes and chia seeds in their own separate bowls. Using a spoon, melon scooper, or gloved hands, scoop a quarter sized ball of bonbon mixture and place it into your topping of choice: coconut flakes, chia seeds or both! (Note: the toppings can be substituted for other dried nut powders, cocoa powders, or dried fruits).

Roll the bonbon in the topping until it is round, firm, and evenly coated. Place the individual treat in a mini baking wrapper. Offer with love and devotion and savor the blessing of tasty medicinal treats.

Yields approximately 20

Warning: yield is subject to fluctuate. You may have to add more powder to the mixture if the desired consistency is not achieved. Firmness is correlated with the oiliness of nut butters, viscosity of honey, etc. and therefore not standard.

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Lessons of the garden


I am the original fragrance of the earth; I am the heat in fire and the life in all living beings. Know Me to be the seed of all creation, original and eternal.

-Bhagavad-Gita 7.9

I inhale the fragrance deeply. Tucked into my favorite corner of Teresa’s herb garden, I relish the earthy salve of freshly tilled, luxuriously saturated Virginia red clay. I can’t explain why its texture and aroma are so intoxicating to me. Maybe it’s the antidepressant microbes getting to my head again… the scientists say they’re in the soil. But I think it’s because God is there. This scent reminds me of him.

Today, Teresa and I had scheduled some website maintenance and other online projects. However, after last night’s tornado-esque storm sabotaged our Internet connection, we had no choice but to shift gears into our favorite mid-morning pastime… some tender loving garden time. The sun is back out and we are happy to let its rays warm our skin.

I now absorb myself in the deeply meditative act of weeding. My main target is the abundance of invasive bamboo grass that encroaches the domain of our illustrious lemon balm patch. I feel sort of funny choosing to protect one weed from being overtaken by another… but some weeds are more medicinal than tedious. Here at the school we harvest lemon balm for use in a wide-variety of calming teas due to its sedative qualities. Bamboo grass just takes over.

Beyond the immediate objective of cultivating the garden, I imagine myself to be tilling the fertile ground of my own heart as well. This analogy is one I read from Caitanya Caritamrita, a Vedic text that discussing the science of bhakti yoga, the art of love in servitude. Ultimately, devotional service culminates in Divine intention: offering one’s very life to the glorification of God. To find the inspiration to make such an offering is considered a blessing in itself, and therefore, “when a person receives the seed of devotional service, [one] should take care of it by becoming a gardener and sowing the seed in his heart” (Caitanya Caritamrita: Madhya-līlā, Chapter 19, Text 152-156). Nourishing the seed includes a process of weeding the harmful mentality of greed and envy so there is ample opportunity for love to germinate and blossom with compassion.


As I endeavor to cultivate compassion outside of the garden, there is a book I have turned to for guidance and inspiration. The Journey Within, by His Holiness Radhanatha Swami gives the practical and deeply realized insight of a Vaisnava monk who dedicates his life to inter-faith celebration and universal upliftment. According to him, “spiritual life is the science of cleansing the heart and exploring the joy of living in harmony with the Supreme being, each other, and nature” (128). With these meditations in mind, I hope to act as a steward of the Earth and an instrument of divine love. The garden feels like a fitting place to start.

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When we suffer


A gentle breeze traces its fingertips across my cheek and through my hair. As the wind gathers speed, I watch branches sway with a vibrant display of pulsing foliage. The Earth exhales audibly, and I am surprised at how reminiscent this sound of the rustling forest is to my memory of waves crashing upon the Baltic coast. Both seem to whisper, hush.

My own fingers return to the worn, but sturdy pages of my summer reading. Their color is precisely that of the cream-line milk I picked up from my neighbor’s farm on Saturday morning, a great blessing in a world of flash-pasteurization and homogenization. Mind racing to angelic pastures and milk-laden riverbanks, still I lament for large-scale normalcy of slaughter within our dairy industry and pray that I can somehow help reduce ­their suffering.

Jar of Milk

My attention now turns to the human form of suffering in  In a vivid portrait of pain, his initial moment of revelation is presented through the story of a seven-year-old burn victim. He paints the following image.

As a medical student, he was asked to simply hold her uninjured hand for the purpose of calming her down and allowing the surgical resident to remove the dead skin from her body. Although he tried to distract her from her own screams by asking about home, family school… the confrontation with extreme pain surpassed his attempts at small talk.

I could barely tolerate the daily horror: her screams, dead tissue floating in the blood-stained water, the peeling flesh, the oozing wounds, the battles over cleaning and bandaging. Then one day I made contact (Kleinman, xii).

Out of despair, he resorted to more honest inquiry. His question was simple:

How do you tolerate this pain? What does it feel like day after day?

She responded initially with shock and ultimately… honesty. Gripping his hand more tightly, she began to narrate the pain. No more screaming. Now she connected him to a sensation that moments earlier left her isolated in extreme suffering.

The purport of this story is that “the experience of illness has something fundamental to teach us about the human condition, with its universal suffering and death” (Kleinman, xiii). Beyond prescribing illness, a medical practitioner must cultivate compassion for the actual patient because ultimately, the process of healing is one that connects us to the Earth, its inhabitants, and God.

For members of Western societies, the body is a discrete entity, a thing, an “it,” machinelike and objective, separate from thought and emotion. For members of many non-Western societies, the body is an open system linking social relations to the self, a vital balance between interrelated elements in a holistic cosmos. Emotion and cognition are integrated into bodily processes. The body-self is not a secularized private domain of the individual person but an organic part of a sacred, sociocentric world, a communication system involving exchanges with others (including the divine) (Kleinman, 11).

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A tonic for the heart


I stand barefoot in the garden. The late afternoon hours now arrive with a cool, methodical rain. While harvesting a healthy bundle of Motherwort, Leonurus cardiaca, I take a closer look at the mane of microscopic flowers that nestle themselves around the axis of each opposite-extending leaf pair. The blushing, orchid-shaped flowers are pleasant to the eye and sharp to the touch. I photograph the long-cherished plant while Teresa prepares to discuss the herb in her presentation on Nature As Medicine: Plant-Based Healing for Anxiety and Depression. She tells me that Motherwort is amazing. A member of the mint family, known anti-depressant and, as implied by the species name cardiaca, is “a gentle, strengthening tonic for the heart.”

There is a long history of herbal-based remedies for mental clarity and overall wellbeing. According to Ranchor Prime, “the sages [of Vedic civilization] carefully studied and recorded the herbal and medicinal properties of the forest.” But rather than simply consider the physiological uses of harvested plants, “the forest provided a place of peace and harmony with God where the spiritual goals of life could be pursued by forest sages” (Prime, 23).

Nature as Medicine

With nostalgia, I think back to my own experience of Vedic culture. It was the Fall of 2014 and I myself was a pilgrim of the Vaisnava tradition as I again walked barefoot through the sacred land of Vrindavan, India. We looked for Krishna—a Sanskrit name for God—in the landscape and cherished the forest as His home. It is here that I decided that the forest of Vrindavan is my home, too… even more than the lush forest of the Shenandoah. However, today I see these forests as united, and I remind myself that Vrindavan is always there present when carried in the heart.

The spiritual world is here and the material world is here. The difference is in your consciousness. When you have spiritual consciousness – you are in the spiritual world.
—Sacinandana Swami

My Home Is Deep in the Forest

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Welcome to the yurt

The YurtThe yurt is a special place. Despite standing 14 feet high at the tip of the ceiling dome and 7 feet high at the circular walls, the weather-proof canvas structure rests comfortably amidst the lush forest scenery. The perfect balance of ancient wisdom and contemporary design, a wooden platform secures this up-scale version of the traditional Mongolian housing, a design used by nomads for thousands of years. Our lovely little yurt…the perfect home for a backyard apothecary.

Upon stepping foot through the elegant glass door, I am overcome by an aromatic coziness completely illustrative of Teresa’s own welcoming nature. Directly to my left, wooden shelves cradle hundreds of labeled mason jars, filled to varying capacities with an assortment of dried herbs, crushed flowers, and spices. For myself, I brew a blend of dried spearmint and peppermint leaves, bundled in an organic coffee filter. After adding a dollop of local, wildflower honey, I join Teresa upon the couch.

Above me, raindrops tap the clear skylight with the sound of gently popping kernels of corn. We sit next to a flickering fire. As the hearth radiates from below, twinkle lights illumine the perimeter. Our attention finally turns to the MacBooks sitting on our laps and together we update the running list of indigenous herbs that we identified last week’s herbal first aid workshop.

Jars of HerbsEspecially after reading the Green Pilgrimage initiative, I am thinking a lot about how sacred spaces must be navigated in an ecologically conscious way. Green Comfort is an example of how ancient wisdom can be integrated into contemporary design through the use of practical methods of stewardship. From architecture to prayer, indigenous customs can be imbibed within our daily lives in uplifting ways.

It’s been decided. I’m living in a yurt for good.

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Speak to the earth, and it will teach you

Gathering Herbs

I follow her into the forest. Teresa descends a narrow, earthen path into the lush foliage surrounding the apothecary grounds. She reaches towards a nearby pine. From the tip of the branch, where the mature and deep emerald needles end, Teresa plucks a batch of soft, youthful and vibrantly light green ones. To my surprise she places them into her mouth and, in her gentle Southern drawl, begins to glorify their pleasant taste and extraordinary health properties. Sort of citrus-y… and full of Vitamin C, just like an orange. She tells me. If you were starving in the woods, you could survive on these alone.

As I gather a similar collection of budding pine and place it in my mouth, I relish the familiar taste of citrus astringency, the similar antiseptic quality of orange pith. The texture is waxy like a succulent plant and the inside is no softer than a very thin mung bean sprout might be. For the rest of the day I run back and forth between the apothecary and my favorite patch of pines. Another student laughs at my newfound addiction. At least it’s a healthy one.

Teresa and I spend many moments walking through the woods identifying wild, native herbs and nibbling on hidden superfoods like stinging nettle seeds. I am inspired by her sense of knowing and connectedness with the living scenery. But most of all, I admire her constant acknowledgement of herbs, plants, and other living organisms as divine emanations for us to learn from. To me, her relationship with the forest is captivating and reminds me of a passage from Vedic Ecology through during which Indian Environmentalist Pancavati Banwari is quoted as emphasizing our inherent unity with the forest.

[We] are also a part of that forest. It is not that [we] are outside the forest. In India, the world is mahavan [or the great natural forest where all species of life find shelter]—[we] can reorder it, but [we] cannot be outside it.” (Prime)

As I acknowledge my inherent connection to all of life, I begin to cultivate a deeper sense of responsibility and stewardship than I ever found through Environmental Science lectures or textbook readings. The direct experience that the very plants that grow outside my window can nourish and sustain me becomes the platform off of which I cultivate reverence and prayer for the artist behind the scenery.

Forest Flowers

7 But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
8 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you.
9 Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. (Job 12:7-10)


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It seems I ran away again.

Rappahannock CountyIt seems I ran away again. Not away from home nor exactly to it… But to to an unstudied alcove of the serenely bizarre landscape in which I spent my childhood years. Rappahannock County. Just far enough from the bustling streets of college towns and downtown shopping districts. Where rolling hills are cohabitated by retired hippies and good ol’ boys alike. My mama always was a good ol’ hippie. I might have been one, too.

Upon discussing my geographic origins with fellow Virginia natives and university peers, I discovered a general unfamiliarity with this sliver of the Shenendoah Valley. Although it lies a mere hour and forty-five minutes south of Washington, D.C., the rural lifestyle is far from Northern Virginia normalcy. Many UVA students cannot imagine living in a county where the residential population is outnumbered by cows, the closest grocery store is a thirty-minute commute, and the graduating class of the public high school consists of a whopping forty-five students.

What I can’t really explain is the glorious—and quite unusual—relationship between people and land, reminiscent of Helen Macdonald’s portrait of Evelyn’s Travelling Sands. While there are plenty of misty Blue Ridge vistas and luscious forest sanctuaries in which to relish solitude, overall, the county is a ramshackle wildness in which people and the land have conspired to strangeness (Helen McDonald, H is For Hawk).

We have rituals here. Some inhabitants are likely to smudge sage along the river’s edge, honoring nature’s abundance and praying for divine guidance. Others choreograph masked dances for annual pagan theatre performances. Yet another villager burns sacred cow dung in their backyard agni-hotra fire ritual while the neighborhood church holds a Christian baptisms in the local swimming hole. There is a diversity of faith and persuasion, but all is connected to the land.

Green Comfort SchoolA seven-minute drive from my childhood home, I have come to explore the opposite corner of Castleton Village where the Green Comfort School of Herbal Medicine resides. Here, Teresa lives with her family in the lush landscaping of herb gardens, weaving herbal medicine into a practical career, spiritual path and means of expressing compassion for others. The physiological processes of healing are honored in correspondence with its emotional and faith-based dimensions. Such a form of medicine does not condone the sort of antibiotics that can be found in contemporary hospitals or pharmacies. Rather, it recommends the balance of ancient wisdom with modern scientific research, culminating in an integrated means of wellbeing, sense of environmental connectedness, and deepening of personal awareness.

Here we are. Let’s call it home for now.

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