An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

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A rare spring beauty of Southern Appalachia

Oconee bell (Shortia galacifolia)

Oconee bell (Shortia galacifolia)

Beauty is a word for the ineffable. It is a word to describe vast feelings that arise within us when we’re in a meaningful relationship with an experience. Birth and death can be beautiful. A bright moon, a child’s laughter, a shared meal, so much in our day can be beautiful when we’re present to it. When we call something beautiful, we are stating that we are aware of being called to a higher place as a witness in this life.

A flower called me to this highest of places. Though it is not a striking flower, something about its rarity, its subtlety, its survival in adversity gives this Southern Appalachian flower the beauty of empowered presence.

The Oconee bell (Shortia galacifolia), or in Gillian Welch’s song Acony Bell, grows in the mountains near the wild and scenic Chattooga River. It can be found in Oconee County, South Carolina, where it gets its name, and also near Highlands, NC, northeast GA, east TN and western VA.

When I saw this plant bloom for the first time on a sunny day in March, I got down on my knees and knelt with it. Another life was here before me. It was a life I wanted to know more deeply. Time passed, yet it didn’t. I continue to call upon the Oconee Bell in my mind’s eye when I need to be reminded of the message of its life and existence.

This flower led me to my favorite Gillian Welch song describing the beauty of its life. This time of year I find myself humming this tune. Hopefully I’ll learn to play it on my hammered dulcimer one day.

The fairest bloom the mountain knows
Is not an iris or a wild rose
But the little flower of which I’ll tell
Known as the brave Acony Bell

Just a simple flower so small and plain
With a pearly hue and a little known name
But the yellow birds sing when they see it bloom
For they know that spring is coming soon

Well it makes its home mid the rocks and the rills
Where the snow lies deep on the windy hills
And it tells the world “Why should I wait
This ice and snow is gonna melt away”

And so I’ll sing that yellow bird’s song
For the troubled times will soon be gone

An Herbal Approach to Healing Chronic Heath Complaints such as Inflammation and Stress


September 14th, Saturday, 10-3pm

Learn how to heal common health complaints with gentle herbs. Join herbalist and therapist Holli Richey in a class that will include plant walks, herbal medicine making and an overview of  the ecological pattern of health and disease.

Simple spearmint infusion.

Simple spearmint infusion.

An Herbal Approach to Healing Chronic Heath Complaints such as Inflammation and Stress

Stress provokes the neuro-endocrine-immune systems, and over time can cause an imbalance which looks like a chronic health condition. This class will focus on how to assess the impact of stress and inflammation on the body, and how to return to balanced homeostasis using an ecological approach to herbs. We will also focus on Supporting our Gut–Brain Axis: Herbs for mental and digestive health. The gut (the enteric brain) is considered by some as the secondary brain, and even perhaps the primary brain. This class will focus on herbs that support GI and brain/mood health–and interestingly enough there are a lot! Nature is telling us something.

At the Chattanooga Arboretum & Nature Center:   Contact CANC for details and registration.    $60

Crabtree Farms Fall Plant Sale – Saturday, Sept 8th

Come by Crabtree Farms, Chattanooga’s urban educational sustainable agriculture farm, for their annual fall plant sale. I will be speaking about creating an herbal “farmacy” in your yard and how to use it. Or, if you have already started an herb garden, but aren’t sure that you’re putting it to use, you’ll likely go home with some new appreciation for the medicinal qualities of your garden and some confidence in how to use it. My talk is at 10:30am Saturday, and it is followed by great talks on composting by Bud Hines, and an organing gardening Q & A by Joel Houser.

About Crabtree Farms, from their website:

“Crabtree Farms was founded in 1998 to bring urban sustainable agriculture to Chattanooga. The mission of Crabtree Farms is to promote research & education in sustainable agriculture.  Crabtree Farms serves the greater Chattanooga community through education and advocacy programs that teach about growing food sustainably and choosing local produce.”



Holli Richey is now a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild

After years of formal study and practice, I am excited to announce that I have been accepted as a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild, the governing body of clinical herbalists in the United States. I am proud to be a practicing herbalist, where to heal is to honor the vitalistic principle of supporting the body’s innate healing capability. My practice is committed to respecting the ancient wisdom of traditional medicine men and women, as well as learning from contemporary research methods. As a professional clinical herbalist, I look forward to advancing the profession of herbal medicine with empirical research, while remaining grounded in the truth; that herbal medicine is the people’s medicine, an accessible, living body of healing wisdom.

Annual Spring Native Plant Sale at Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center

Spring Equinox at the Chattanooga Arboretum.

THE SPRING SALE DATES: Friday April 27th and Saturday April 28th, 9-5pm

The annual spring native plant sale at Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center (Reflection Riding) is always a huge success. Very few garden centers and nurseries offer such a wide selection of plants native to the Cumberland Plateau and Ridge and Valley ecosystem.

Shepherd’s purse both edible and medicinal

Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), a member of the mustard family and a European native seeded throughout North America, is an annual nitrogen fixer that finds its home in disturbed soil in need of some fixing.

A precious weed is how I think of shepherd’s purse. In late winter, a basal rosette of clasping, dandelion-like, toothed leaves appear, followed in early spring with long, graceful stems of flattened, heart-shaped seed pods, staggering their positions around the central stem, appearing to upwardly climb to the tip where the remaining cluster of tiny, white flowers bloom.

Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), a member of the mustard family and a European native seeded throughout North America, is an annual nitrogen fixer that finds its home in disturbed soil in need of some fixing. The name comes from the shape of the seed, resembling the bags shepherds carried in the Old World.

According to “Wildman” Steve Brill, an urban forager in New York City’s Central Park, the sticky seeds inside the purse cause minute insects to adhere to them, while the shepherd’s purse seed carnivorously assimilates the insect into the baby plant. Fortunately, we’re not minute insects, or else this plant wouldn’t be so precious.

Early spring greens of shepherd’s purse are very edible. When the plant flowers, the leaves become less tasty.

Although the leaves can be eaten raw in salads, more often the raw greens are soaked overnight or cooked, the way various Native American tribes prepared them. The seeds can be ground into flour, or added to other flour sources for nutrient variety.

According to Minnesota herbalist Matthew Wood, shepherd’s purse contains flavonoids, carotenoids, potassium, amino acids and vitamins A, K, and C.

Medicinally, the above-ground parts of shepherd’s purse are used as an astringent, drying agent for kidney troubles, weak bladders, diarrhea, dysentery and excessive menstruation. Woman who have uterine fibroids have found benefit through shepherd’s purse’s ability to tone and lift the uterus. Historically, shepherd’s purse was used as a substitute for ergot, a fungus on rye plants that was used as an oxytocic drug stimulating uterine contractions.

Externally, shepherd’s purse has been used as first aid medicine for nosebleeds and wounds that won’t stop bleeding.

In Germany, where medicinal plants go through rigorous scrutiny, shepherd’s purse is approved for nosebleeds and excessive or irregular menstruation.

If you have shepherd’s purse growing nearby, an aesthetic use for the heart-shaped seedpods is to add stems of them to bouquets as a dainty filler. Since there’s no real risk of shepherd’s purse becoming unruly, let it do its soil healing. Eat the foliage and then cut or mow it before the seeds dry on the stem if you don’t want it to spread.

Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tuesday Evening the 24th, Fun Class: Kitchen Cabinet Remedies: Appetizers with Herbs & Wine (Food as Medicine)

Join us for a fun evening in the Mediterranean Herb Garden at the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia in Athens. Experientially learn the benefits of culinary herbs through your senses.

What you have in your kitchen herb and spice cabinet can be your first aid kit, your medicine cabinet, and your path to maintain health. Appreciate the rich and exciting history of culinary herbs and spices while learning the active phytochemicals which give them their healing properties. The class will receive recipes to use herbs and spices as medicine and food. Includes wine with herbal appetizers, take home teas and recipes.
May 24th, 2011, 6:30-8:30

Members of the Garden: $30; Non-members: $36.

Register for the Evening Class:

The herb garden at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens.

Native Medicinal Plant Walk and Talk

At the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens, GA

Saturday, March 26

10:00 am- 12:00 noon

Holli Richey, MS, MAT, Clinical Herbalist

Meet at Shade Garden Arbor

Members $15; non-members $18

On an instructional walk through the State Botanical Garden trails and gardens with clinical herbalist and plant enthusiast Holli Richey, enjoy the native spring ephemerals in bloom while hearing stories of how people have used Solomon’s seal, bloodroot, trillium, spiderwort, as well as common trees and other perennials, for food and medicine

Devil’s walking stick has many medicinal virtues

One of the Dr. Seuss-looking plants is called devil's walking stick.

The names of a plant, both common and scientific, describe something about the visual appearance or medicinal actions of the plant. Redroot and bloodroot are red. Yellowroot is yellow. Lamb’s ear and hound’s tongue resemble the anatomy of the animal, if one uses the imagination. And puke weed will, indeed, make one vomit. One has to wonder what the story is behind a plant named devil’s walking stick. The scientific species name gives a clue (Aralia spinosa), if one speaks Latin.

The reason behind the name is clear once someone tries to grab the stem. Each spring, in filtered light along the edge of woods, a quick-growing, pithy stem shoots up, punctuated in segments with very sharp spines that are hard to notice until it’s too late. At some point, someone must have exclaimed, “This must be the devil’s walking stick!”

From a distance, though, the plant belongs to the category of silly-looking Dr. Seuss plants. A single, slender stem, which can reach 20 feet tall, is topped with huge, divided leaves collectively in a diamond-like shape. At the very top, in early summer, a giant puff of yellowish-cream-colored blooms attracts hundreds of wasps and butterflies. By fall, the flowers become berries that turn from green to purple-black, weighing over the skinny, shrub stem. The stems to which the berries are attached also turn from green to magenta. In the winter, the whole plant dies back to store energy in the root and send up colony sucker shoots the next spring.

The botanical family to which devil’s walking stick belongs is Araliaceae, or the ginseng family, but devil’s walking stick hasn’t been found to have quite the vitality-enhancing qualities of ginseng.

Instead, devil’s walking stick, native to the Southeastern U.S., keeps a low profile as a remedy for toothaches – another name is toothache tree – and rheumatism.

Cherokee Indians and old-timey Southern herbalists have used the inner bark and berries as anti-inflammatory pain relievers for aching, arthritic joints and sore, decaying teeth with inflamed gums.

Eating a couple of the purple-black berries raw is OK. In order to eat more, Tommie Bass, a Southern Appalachian herbalist, recommends cooking them first, and then making them into jelly.

Their taste is a little tingly and bitter. The color of the berries indicates they are a rich source of antioxidant flavonoids. Infuse them in brandy to use as an aid for rheumatism.

Cherokees also used roots in a salve as a dermatological aid for sores and swellings, such as boils.

Since the strangely ornamental native plant is an attractor of birds and pollinating insects, one might consider adding it to a butterfly garden where it will receive afternoon shade.

To propagate devil’s walking stick, gather the berries and plant in the fall or spring. Another option is to dig up a sucker and transplant it in the spring. The plant will form a colony, so give it a space where that won’t be a problem.

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