Recently I’ve had two different pilates clients come in with broken toes. This is uncomfortable under the best circumstances, and especially so when we’re doing our heel raises! Both of them got a Comfrey leaf (Symphytum officinale) from the sprawling plant outside the studio. Cut a strip off, mash it up a little so it gets juicy, and wrap it around your toe overnight with a bandage to hold it in place. One woman had spectacular results, her toe healed much more quickly than she feared it would, and she was delighted to realize she was familiar with the plant, via her grandmother, as “knitbone” and was able to tell her 90 year old mother all about using it. The other just got her leaf late last week so we’ll see how it goes.
Also late last week, I taught a class of 3 women, all hard working, all with office jobs, all stressed out and dispirited. We did a restorative-type of workout, ending with a long back stretch, then on our way out I stopped them all in the garden and introduced them to Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum). She’s an adaptogen, meaning she helps the body adapt to stressful environments. “Adaptogen” is a great classification coming out of the far East- a Russian scientist coined the term in the 1960’s, and research on Siberian, Chinese and Indian herbs such as Holy Basil, Rhodiola, and Schisandra is finally being translated into English so information is becoming more available to us over here. She has a delightful, pungent smell and taste that’s reminiscent of Italian Basil, but with a big kick of Anise or Cinnamon or something spicy, and a freshness that’s unmistakable. Traditionally, I’m told, special pots are thrown in India just for these plants, and people keep them right outside the door of their home. Everyone eats a leaf as they pass by daily, and so are constantly receiving what my teachers have termed a ‘tonic level’ dose (as compared to a harder hitting, higher quantity ‘medicinal’ dose). I encouraged these 3 women to stop at a garden center like the little one on the nearby highway that also sells produce, and see if they have any left even this late in the season. She’ll appreciate being rescued and can be a huge help to our lifestyles.
I make an easy sun tea from my Holy Basil, clipping 2 or 3 stalks (flowers are good on this Basil) and putting them in a quart jar with water. After a few hours the tea is tasty. Last weekend I made a jar on Saturday morning and forgot it, leaving it on my desk with the windows of the studio open, it was in the mid-80’s both days, until Monday morning. I expected to have to throw it out, but a deep sniff and a cautious sip told me the ‘tea’ was perfectly fine, deeply flavored and vibrant with nothing at all ‘off’ about it!
I also enjoy a daily dose of a Holy Basil Elixir I made last summer. I filled a gallon jar with stalks, filled it about ¼ full with local honey and ¾ brandy (I use E&J, because I was told it was the purest and haven’t embarked on a brandy research project yet!) This sat for several weeks, with frequent upendings and shakings as the honey slowly dissolved in the brandy. Finally, after maybe 2 months, I strained it into large bottles. The elixir is delicious and uplifting, and I usually carry a dropper bottle of it in my purse with me for stressful weeks.
I'm beginning to display my herbal knowledge in more tangible ways like this at the pilates studio. I hope that my clients can develop more personal interactions with a few plants that speak to them, and this also reminds them that I can teach them more than pilates.
There's great complimentary work to be done between the plants and movement, between diet and exercise, between the mind and the body. That's something I teach already- new clients are surprised at how much they need to think about moving, and experienced clients continue to discover new feelings and sensations as muscle and body awareness grows. The plants provide those lessons to the rest of the body systems as well, completing the circle of self.
Fun Fact: I'm an herbalist and a movement coach. Not a doctor, or a pharmacist, and not pretending to be one on TV.
This is a public space, so my writing reflects my experiences and I try to stay general enough so it might relate to you. This does not constitute medical advice, and I encourage you to discuss concerns with your doctor. Remember, however, that the final say in your wellness decisions are always yours- you have the power to choose, you are the boss of you.
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