Saturday, December 28, 2013

Happy Solstice ... And Other Stories!

Last Saturday was the winter solstice. Once more we acknowledged this sacred time in ceremony. For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, it is not only the shortest day of the year, the end of fall and the beginning of winter, it is also the end of the natural year and the beginning of the new. It is such an incredible privilege to have been able to live in this awesome, mysterious world through another fall and another year, and to be able to greet the arrival of winter and the new year.

Normally I would post this on the day of the solstice, but this year the wisdom and mystery of this time brought a different teaching in the region where I live and I wasn't able to get online until yesterday. During the last few minutes of our ceremony it started to rain ... and it didn't stop until early Monday morning. Aside from the fact that rain is somewhat unusual in these parts at this time of year (although the winters have been getting warmer and rain more common in the last couple of decades), what was also different was that the temperature stayed steady around the freezing point. For two days the ice accumulated. Starting on Saturday evening, whenever I went outside I would hear a sharp crack and a huge branch would come crashing down about every 30-60 seconds . Every 5-10 minutes a tree would come down as well. I have never seen anything like it. By the end of it even tiny little blades of grass had 2-3 cm (about an inch) of ice on them!

The view from our front door Friday afternoon.

Although they are calling it an "ice storm", it wasn't very stormy. Just very calm with a gentle, steady rain. But by the end of it the devastation was incredible. It is with great sadness that I witness the harm that has come to the tree people where I live and in the surrounding region. The repercussions for our society in the area affected have also been profound. Hundreds of thousands of people were without power and, as I write this a week later, tens of thousands still are - including us!

The area a bit to the left of the previous photo.

I live in a rural area. Our driveway winds 300 metres through woods before you get to our house. Our power went out Saturday night when one of the falling trees snapped the power line. The power went out on the street where I live a short time later. The power on our street wasn't restored until Friday afternoon, but we won't get ours until at least the end of next week because that is how long it is going to take to get crews in here to trim the trees and fix the power lines. We had no electricity, heat or water (as we have a well) initially, but luckily my son Sean, who is an electrician apprentice, was able to find us a generator online (they are completely sold out or rented out within a couple of hours drive of the areas affected). The generator that we were able to get isn't a very powerful one. All we have hooked up is the furnace and the lights and plugs in two rooms. Just in time too! By the time he got it hooked up on Wednesday morning it was a couple of degrees above freezing in our house. The whole situation was exacerbated by the fact that on Tuesday we went into a deep freeze while about half of the people affected still didn't have their electricity restored.

The view behind our home. As a reference point, the large white pines in the background are about 20-25 metres tall.

In spite of the destruction, when we walked through the fields after the storm everything looked so magical coated in thick ice and glistening in the sunshine. I couldn't take any photos at that time because the batteries were dead in both of my cameras. I wasn't able to charge them until Thursday. The photos I have provided were taken Friday afternoon. By that time some of the ice had melted and everything was covered by a fresh blanket of snow that fell on Thursday.

As devastating as these natural disasters are, they are part of the natural cycle of things. They provide a means of transformation and renewal. Traditional peoples understood this. However, in our modern society we are over-populated and we attempt to build permanent homes and infrastructure. We have created a situation where we are usually at odds with natural rhythms and cycles in order to maintain our lifestyle. We also tend to think too short-term and don't have very much resilience or adaptability built into how we do things. We tend to put most of our eggs in one basket (like petroleum).

A Canada goldenrod stalk (Solidago canadensis) reinforcing a significantly larger column of ice.

Living through this has provided me with some very powerful teachings. We currently live in a home that I rent in a rural area just north of Toronto. It's a moderate size home by today's standards (probably about 3,000 square feet). My kids each have a bedroom plus I run classes and clinics out of our home. One room is a designated classroom and I also have a consultation room and my working office. Nevertheless, I feel the weight of having to have so much space and stuff. A short distance south of me there are endless new subdivisions where even the townhouses are 1,500-2,000 square feet. Semis are 2,000-2,500 and detached homes can be anywhere from 3-6,000 square feet. Then there are the luxury "communities" which are completely over the top. There is even one subdivision a short distance west of me where the "homes" are 8-15,000 square feet. Personally I think that this is insane! I grew up in an older suburb of Toronto where most families did just fine in 1,000-1,500 square feet bungalows which only took up a small portion of their lots. There was lots of green space, kids played outside most of the time, and everyone knew their neighbors. This storm was rough for me, but I can't imagine what it would be like in one of those monster homes without electricity. I hope that they learned something from this too!

I look forward to a time in the next year or two when I will move further out into the country to a smaller place that is more manageable along with some close friends. We are part of an intentional community that has been developing over the last few years. We still haven't found the right land, but hope to soon. Although I'm going to be roughing it for a bit longer, I'm extremely grateful for the lessons that I've learned from my current circumstances about important ways to build more flexibility and resilience into my home, and for the importance of community. I would not have been able to manage without the help of family and friends.

As always, as I walk the land I am always observing what's going on. I'm paying careful attention to how the land responds to these conditions. I've learned a lot about the ability of the many species of trees that live on the land where I live to be able to withstand an ice storm. Some species were only affected in a minor way. Others were devastated. Since we are expected to experience more of these kinds of weather events in the coming years, this is important information in terms of what trees we decide to plant in the future. I haven't had the opportunity to explore every corner of the land due to falling branches and ice, but this is what I've found so far starting with the species that are the most resilient and working down to those that were the most damaged: Norway spruce (Picea abies) > white spruce (Picea glauca) > eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) > balsam fir (Abies balsamea) > tamarack (Larix laricina) > red pine (Pinus resinosa) > white pine (Pinus strobus) > black walnut (Juglans nigra) > sugar maple (Acer saccharum) > rock elm (Ulmus thomasii) > white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) > ironwood (Ostrya virginiana) > pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) > chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) > high-bush cranberry (Viburnum opulus) > common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) > red oak (Quercus rubra) > white ash (Fraxinus americana) > red maple (Acer rubrum) > hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) > American beech (Fagus grandifolia) > American elm (Ulmus americana) > Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) > silver maple (Acer saccharinum) > white willow (Salix alba) > paper birch (Betula papyrifera) > trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) > blue beech (Carpinus caroliniana) > yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) > American basswood (Tilia americana) > black cherry (Prunus serotina) > peachleaf willow (Salix amygdaloides) > Manitoba maple (Acer negundo) > Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila). Of course, this is only the result from one storm with no wind, and many of the trees around me are relatively young to medium age. Other storms might produce slightly different results, but this is still very useful information.

Here we have motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) similarly encased in ice.

There is also the much bigger picture. Due to global warming, the area where I live is expected to get more ice storms, more violent thunder storms, more tornadoes, and more extremes of weather in other ways such as years of drought and years of excessive rain (last year Toronto experienced its heaviest rainfall and worst flooding on record). This is going to be the new norm, not just here, but pretty much everywhere. As much as we may empathize with other people when we hear about various natural disasters in the news, it's not the same as when it happens in our own backyard. By now most of us have experienced natural disasters first hand, or at least have family or friends that have. It is my hope that this and other similar occurrences will help us all to wake up and realize that the way we are living is unsustainable. If we don't act on a major scale very soon, the world that our children and grandchildren inherit is going to be a very different and challenging place.

Getting back to the solstice, I would like to send out prayers of healing at this sacred time to all of the people of the world. I hope that this will be a year of greater healing and wisdom; that we will begin to open our hearts more fully and tread the long and difficult path necessary to help create a more balanced, harmonious and sustainable future.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

How Clean Is Too Clean?

There is no doubt that good hygiene is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Improvements in hygiene, access to clean drinking water and regular access to a variety of foods were the most important elements that improved our health and longevity in the last 100+ years. Although these were not always concerns in the past, they became issues as a growing proportion of the human population began to live in an urban environment. These factors did more to improve our health than all of the "advances" of modern medicine combined. The only medical advancement that comes even close is the development of antibiotics. Although antibiotics continue to be mostly over-used and misused, their contribution to reducing the number of people who die from acute infections can not be denied.

Today it's hard to believe that until fairly recently doctors who advocated good hygienic practices were once ridiculed and marginalized by the mainstream of their profession. Times have certainly changed, but consistent with human nature we have now swung too far to the other end of the spectrum. In recent decades we have developed a neurotic obsession with cleanliness and fear of microbes that is detrimental to our health and the environment upon which depend. These days it is very common for people to poison their bodies, homes and workplace with toxic cleaning products, antibacterial personal hygiene products, and others. I am even finding it increasingly difficult to buy clothing that isn't "antibacterial" or "antiodour". These products are coated with antimicrobial substances such as triclosan , or silver or copper nanoparticles. These substances are absorbed through our skin and wash out into the environment. In both cases they are associated with some pretty detrimental effects (for example, see

Nanoparticles are the rage these days. They are showing up in many products that we use and consume. They are virtually unregulated and we know almost nothing about what they do in our bodies and the environment. Among the few things we do know is that they can be absorbed through our skin, they accumulate up the food chain, and we are beginning to see deleterious effects of these substances on living organisms (for example: see

Nanotechnologies are just one of the latest in a long history of our failures to adhere to the precautionary principle. Industry is creating new technologies faster than we can keep up with and there is insufficient regulation to manage their risks. In the corporate run consumer society that we have created, these things will be released into our environment in millions of ways long before we have even a fraction of understanding about what they do to living organisms in the short-term, never mind the next seven generations. As is typical, some people are making a lot of money while in the long run society and the biosphere pay the price!

Elecampane root (Inula helenium) primarily helps our immune system to respond to pathogens rather than directly attacking them.
It also contains prebiotic constituents that promote the growth of friendly bacteria in our respiratory and digestive tracts.

One of the problems with the mainstream medical reductionistic interpretation of the discovery of disease causing microorganisms was that microbes became the bad guys. In reality, infectious microorganisms are just the tip of the iceberg and focusing medical interventions at that level is a completely superficial approach. Life is much more complex than that. From an holistic perspective we need to get to the root of why someone is getting sick in the first place. This has more to do with what we eat, and how and where we live than what pathogens we are exposed to. On a daily basis we are exposed to millions of potentially pathogenic microorganisms without necessarily getting sick. In addition, there are trillions of microbes that live on our skin and the surfaces of the mucus membranes that form the lining of our internal organs. The number of microbes that live on and in us actually outnumbers our body cells by an approximate ration of 10:1! This is possible because these organisms are much smaller than our body cells. In many ways our body is more like an ecosystem than a distinct entity. Recently microbiologists have begun to refer to the organisms that live within and on us as the human microbiome. It is an ecological niche that is part of us and we are part of it. These populations of microorganisms that live with us form an interface between our bodies and the rest of the world. They work together with our immune system and the epithelial cells of our skin and mucus membranes to help create an environment that is mutually beneficial for both us and them (for example see: and

In this world everything is interconnected and has its place in the larger whole. By using microbes as a scapegoat and going at them with guns blazing we have been able to conveniently avoid the real issues which are what we eat and how we live, and our antimicrobial obsession is actually contributing to the underlying problem. Not only are we poisoning ourselves and the environment with all of our antimicrobial products, but these products indiscriminately kill other microorganisms as well. Most of the microbes that we come in contact with on a daily basis are either benign or beneficial in most circumstances. However, the antimicrobial products that we use don't discriminate between beneficial microbes and those that are potentially harmful. When we kill off a lot of the symbiotic microorganisms that live on and in us with things like antibiotics and hand sanitizers we alter the human microbiome in ways that creates an environment less able to support friendly microorganisms and the health of the cells of our body surfaces. The friendly microbes actually help to keep the potentially pathogenic microbes in check, both directly by competing with them, and indirectly by creating an environment that is less conducive to their growth and cooperating with our immune system to aid its functioning as well. When we disturb the balance of the microbiome, we inadvertently create an environment that is more supportive to the proliferation of the unfriendly microorganisms and less supportive of the health of the friendly microbes and our body tissues.

In the last couple of decades scientists have finally begun to study the human microbiome and a growing body of very interesting research is accumulating. What they are finding is that there is a strong relationship between the population of microbes that live on and inside us and our general health. They are also finding that, just as our muscles need a certain amount of stress (exercise) in order to improve their strength and endurance, so does our immune system. Like all organs in our body, our immune system needs a healthy amount of stress in order to develop and function properly. To much stress will overwhelm it, but too little stress will also weaken it or lead to other kinds of dysfunction. When we look at life, the ecosystem and our body from an holistic perspective, this makes perfect sense and it's been a fundamental principle of the natural healing paradigm for millennia. But when scientists approach the world from a linear reductionistic perspective it is difficult to see the multifaceted connections between things. These can only be seen if we take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Immune tonics such as the fruiting body of hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) help to normalize our immune function
and reduce excessive inflammatory responses such as those associated with autoimmune conditions.

More recently, some medical researchers are finally coming around and realizing that it's time to try and figure out what most of the microbes out there (other than the ones that are causing diseases) are doing. Not surprisingly, they are finding that a healthy microbiome is essential to our health in many ways. This is extremely important if we are looking at health from an holistic perspective. I have discussed this from a number of angles in previous posts and no doubt will again in the future. However, another important trend that is emerging has to do with our relationship to pathogenic organisms. There is a growing body of research that indicates that by reducing our normal exposure to pathogenic microorganisms as a result of increased levels of sanitation, it is basically screwing up our immune system and contributing to the development of many chronic inflammatory illnesses such as allergies, asthma and other autoimmune conditions. What this research indicates is that the greater the level of sanitation in a country, the higher the incidence of these kinds of conditions. This has led to the development of the "hygiene hypothesis", which basically states that exposure to a broad range of pathogens is necessary for the normal development of our immune system. Without this exposure our immune system develops with less of an emphasis on responses that are intended to fight infection and a greater tendency towards immune responses that promote inflammation (for a detailed explanation of the hygiene hypothesis see: One unfortunate consequence of this is that it seems to be one of the factors that have resulted in women more commonly suffering from autoimmune conditions than men. Some researchers believe that this is because in our society we encourage young girls to be cleaner than young boys (see:

Although there is still some resistance among many medical researchers to accept these findings, a relationship between hygiene, sanitation and chronic inflammatory conditions is being demonstrated for a growing number of conditions. Some of the more recent associations include type 1 diabetes (see: and Alzheimer's disease (see:

The moral of this story is that, although good hygiene is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, too much emphasis on hygiene can be just as detrimental as not enough. To address hygiene in the context of a healthy lifestyle there are a number of principles that need to be kept in mind:

It is best to avoid the use of toxic cleaning products, cosmetics
and other personal hygiene products.

It is best to only use natural household cleaning and laundry products, cosmetics, soaps, etc., and avoid the use of chlorine based products and synthetic disinfectants. Many of these products are easily absorbed through our skin and some are even toxic if inhaled. It is also best to avoid chlorinated or brominated water: we don't want to drink it, swim in it, or bathe in it. This means that if our household water source is chemically treated municipal water, we should invest in a decent water filter for drinking and a shower filter for showering and bathing. All of these products are toxic to the environment, our body, and they disturb the balance of microorganisms that live in and on us.

Garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris) essential oil is an excellent antimicrobial that is a common ingredient in
natural hand sanitizers. It can be added to home made natural cleaning products as a disinfectant.

"Antimicrobial" and "low odour" clothing and personal hygiene products
are best avoided even if they are "natural".

"Antimicrobial" or "low odour" clothing are best avoided for reasons that I stated above. Hand sanitizers are unnecessary and often contain toxic ingredients such as triclosan. Even natural hand sanitizers such as those with antimicrobial essential oils are not recommended. Research has indicated that these products are usually no more effective than plain soap and water, but they are potentially a source of toxicity and both synthetic and natural hand sanitizers disturb the balance of bacteria on our skin. That being said, periodic use of natural hand sanitizers in circumstances where soap and water are not immediately accessible is OK. We also need to be a bit more cautious when we are travelling in distant countries because the strains of microbes will be different there, especially in warmer climates where there tends to be a broader range of parasites. Once more, soap and water are still the best option, but it doesn't hurt to bring a natural hand sanitizer for situations where it isn't possible to wash our hands.

It is best if we practice moderation with regard to personal hygiene.

A good natural soap and water is the best way to clean our skin. Antibacterial soaps are not recommended. Soap is itself naturally antibacterial. However, too much soap and water is also not good because it will also disturb the natural balance of our skin microbiome and it strips the natural oils from our skin making it drier and more prone to injury and infection. The truth is, most parts of our body do not require soap unless they come in contact with something that is oily or associated with a high risk of infection (like dead animal tissue). Over most of our body surface the primary thing we need to remove is sweat. Most of our sweat is water-soluble, so rinsing with water is sufficient and soap unnecessary. Although water alone will not remove excess sebum (the oily secretion that lubricates our skin), if some parts of our skin tend to be on the oily side, toweling dry is sufficient to remove the excess oil. Using soap in these areas will temporarily remove too much sebum and in the long run stimulate our sebaceous glands to secrete more sebum thereby making our skin even more oily.

There are a few exceptions. Water alone is insufficient to wash our hair. It is best to use a gentle, natural shampoo, but don't use so much that your hair is "squeaky clean". It is best to leave some of the natural oils in our hair. It is also preferable for most people not to shampoo their hair more than every other day. In the long run, the more we wash it, the oilier it gets.

Another exception is our armpits which contain lots of apocrine glands that secrete a different kind of sweat that includes fatty components. It is the metabolism of these substances by bacteria that produce odour as our sweat is pretty much scentless. Because of the fat content of these secretions, water alone is insufficient to clean these areas.

Our anal region is another area that requires washing with soap due to the presence of fecal matter. However, our genital region is very sensitive and it is best not to use soap in this region. This tends to be an area where people are more obsessive and tend to overdo it. The disturbances of the skin microbiome in this area of our body that result from using soap and water and other personal hygiene products (when used) is one of the contributing factors to the development of fungal or bacterial infections of the vagina. Rinsing with water and toweling dry is good enough in this region of our body.

Our hands and feet are the last two areas that require soap and water. This means that when we shower, aside from shampooing our hair, the only areas of our body that require soap are our armpits, anal region, hands and feet. Rinsing with water and toweling dry are good enough and preferable for the rest of our body. It is also important that we make sure that the skin in areas of our body with folds and creases is properly rinsed and toweled dry because these areas tend to be moist and can be breeding areas for unfriendly microorganisms if sweat, sebum and dead cells are allowed to build up.

Good clean water is the best thing for washing most of our body most of the time.

The last thing that needs to be said here is that showering or bathing in chlorinated water is bad news. Not only does it disturb the balance of our skin microbiome, we can absorb chlorine into our body through our skin and by inhaling it. Once it is in our body it reacts with organic substances forming organochlorides which are very toxic. This means that it is best to only shower or fill our bathtub through a good shower filter that removes chlorine. Also, bathing in general isn't recommended even if we eliminate the chlorine from the water. It just isn't a good idea to sit and soak in dirty, soapy water, even if we shower afterwards to rinse off. Bathing is particularly problematic for women because the chlorine and soap in bath water will enter their vagina and disturb the balance of vaginal microbes making them more susceptible to vaginal yeast or bacterial infections. That being said, relaxing in a warm bathtub with some essential oils is a great way to reduce stress as long as there is no chlorine or soap in the water.

Be clear and calm, not paranoid.

A friend of mine once told me that she was becoming so concerned about pathogens in our environment that she was afraid to touch door handles and shopping carts. I told her that next time she felt that way she should lick the door handle and feel good about it and she'd probably be less likely to get sick! Although I was being somewhat facetious, I was also partly serious. I walk into a local supermarket these days and there is a hand sanitizer station at the entrance so that people can disinfect the handle of their shopping cart. Then there's bottles of hand sanitizer at the checkout so that people can disinfect their hands after handling money. I see the same kind of thing in a lot of public places. Of course, we are now expected to goop on the hand sanitizer before entering a hospital as well. The irony is that the microbes that we are bringing into the hospital are usually a lot less of a concern than the ones that are already there. Hospitals are breeding grounds for super microbes that are resistant to most of what we can throw at them. This is mostly because of the over use and misuse of antibiotics and chemical disinfectants. Hand sanitizers are one of the things that are contributing to the development of these organisms.

A few years ago I heard an interesting radio interview with a respected microbiologist. He was discussing the issue of how our society has gone overboard in our war on microbes and mentioned hand sanitizers as an example. He said that people would be better off washing their hands with yogurt than hand sanitizers because the bacterial culture in yogurt will compete with any potentially pathogenic organisms on our skin and help to maintain a healthy microbiome instead of disturb it with toxic antiseptics. He was making a point, of course. He wasn't advocating that we wash our hands with yogurt.

The bottom line is that exposure to microbes is a normal part of life. Most of them are benign, many of them are beneficial, and some of them are pathogenic. Under most circumstances our microbial community and our immune system will keep them in check. Even if we do get sick occasionally, periodic infections, as long as they are not really serious ones, are good stress for our immune system just like regular exercise is good stress for our muscles, cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The best thing we can do is be healthy in body, mind and spirit. Eating well, regular exercise, a moderate level of hygiene, reducing stress and exposure to toxicity, and a good attitude in life are our best protection. It will help to ensure that our immune system and our body as a whole are strong and healthy. If we aren't healthy, no amount of sanitation, hygiene or toxic products are going to keep us from getting sick.

Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is a great friend when fear and anxiety get the better of us!

Unfortunately, it's easy to succumb to fear. On one side we have reductionistic medical practitioners stuck in their narrow linear world view. On the other side we have more fear being propagated by various industries trying to sell us a multitude of antimicrobial products. And then we have the media sensationalizing everything in order to get our attention. To a large extent they are more of the problem than the microbes that they want us to fear by distracting us from the real causes of illness (what we eat and how we live), encouraging us to poison ourselves and our environment with all kinds of toxic products, and by promoting fear, for fear has one of the most powerful negative affects on our health and well-being, and more specifically our immune function.

In my life I eat pretty well most of the time, exercise fairly regularly, avoid toxic products as much as possible, don't let stress get the upper hand most of the time, and follow my heart and live my life to the fullest. I follow the guidelines that I outlined above when it comes to hygiene. I also don't worry about microbes. I take necessary precautions when it is required, but when I consider it to be required is far less often than most other people. For instance, I have no problem hugging or kissing people who are sick. I don't freak out if someone coughs or sneezes near me. I'm also not the least bit concerned about touching money or surfaces in public places unless there could be some kind of chemical contamination (even here I don't get stressed about it, I just avoid it as best I can). I wash my hands with soap if I'm digging in the soil, after I have a bowel movement (soap isn't necessary when we urinate because urine is water soluble), after I pet one of my dogs (for an interesting related article on dogs see: or any other animal if they are stinky (but not if they're relatively clean), if I possibly come in contact with animal feces or rotting animal tissue (which can happen when one of my dogs rolls on something nasty), if I touch raw meat, or if I get something oily on my hands. I rarely wash my hands before I eat because mostly I'm just touching things in my local environment where all of the microbes are already a part of me. However, I'm a bit more cautious when I'm travelling and potentially coming in contact with strains of microbes that I'm not used to.

Although some people might be shocked at my relaxed attitude to pathogens, I am strong and healthy and almost never get sick. That being said, I am not advocating that everyone do what I do. I know what my body can handle and what my limitations are. This is not something new for me. I have lived this way for 35 years. Each of us has to make our choices in accordance with our current level of health and circumstances. We can wash our hands as much as we want (with natural soap and water) and don't have to kiss people with the flu. What we do need to do is stop poisoning ourselves, live well and do our best to not live a life governed by fear.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

More on Chaga!

There's been a lot of interest in the post I did in September on Chaga and the Wild Harvesting Dilemma. As a supplement to that, I've just put up a video on YouTube taken from an Herbal Field Studies field workshop last August in which I discussed chaga.  Enjoy!

That being said, in the couple of months since I wrote that post I have seen a disturbing acceleration in the number of products containing chaga on the market. It's being added to vitamin supplements and various kinds of powdered supplements, and most disconcerting of all in food products as well! Sadly, this is the result of a lot of companies trying to cash in on the chaga craze at the expense of chaga, the environment and the people who really need it. It's also just a marketing gimmick! In most cases these products don't contain enough of the fungus to have any health benefits. However, they may have enough in them so that if these products are consumed on a regular basis for a long time our body could get used to the chaga and it won't work as well if some day we really need to use it. This is why I never recommend the use of vitamins, powders or food products that contain medicinal herbs! This is not an appropriate use of these medicines. They are not meant to be consumed in minute quantities over very long periods of time.

Aside from the fact that minute amounts of chaga (or any herb for that matter) in a multivitamin or chocolate bar are not going to do much for anyone, the bigger issue here is that chaga is difficult to cultivate and the cultivated fungus is significantly inferior to the wild harvested source. As a result, it's wild harvested chaga that these companies are using. For reasons that I explained in my previous post on this topic, wild harvesting chaga on a commercial scale simply is not sustainable. Even if the level of consumption stays at the current rate (and it is actually increasing rapidly), within a few years this fungus is going to be severely depleted in the wild like other herbs that have been over-harvested such as ginseng (Panax spp.) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis).

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is now rare, endangered or extinct in most of its former range due to over-harvesting.

Even if it was useful to consume chaga in this way, it should not be used on a commercial scale until good quality cultivated sources are readily available. That also goes for other wild harvested herbs and foods unless they are species that are very aggressive or "invasive" by nature and the scale of harvesting isn't too large.

I strongly encourage anyone who uses herbal products to only use those that are manufactured from certified organically grown sources. In the case of chaga, if you love and respect herbs and Nature, you might even want to consider complaining to stores or companies that sell or manufacture these products. If we can raise the level of awareness of these issues maybe things will change before chaga goes the way of other herbs that have been over-harvested.

So, you might ask why I'm putting out information on the medicinal uses of chaga at all? Firstly, although the current popularity of this fungus is not a good thing, I'm hoping that some good can come of it by using it as a vehicle to help raise awareness of these issues. Secondly, I feel that it is a very important part of our healing process that we engage with Nature as much as possible and learning about herbs and making our own medicines is a great way to do that for those who are so inclined, as long as it is done in a respectful manner. Teaching people how to do this is one of the ways that I can help people to connect with Nature and the medicines that they use, as well as how to do it in a way that honours our relationship with the world we live in. Finally, chaga is an awesome medicine (when used correctly)! Nevertheless, due to the significant reduction in wild populations, I have significantly reduced my use of it to those conditions where it really excels, which are conditions of the bone marrow and autoimmune conditions that don't respond as well as I would like to some of the other herbs that I typically use for these types of conditions. I also only use it at a proportion of no more than 20% of a formula. For all of its other uses chaga works no better than many of the other herbs that I use. I also encourage everyone else to use it similarly to reduce our impact on wild populations.

Unfortunately, chaga is primarily being promoted for use as a general tonic, which leads to the greatest amount of consumption. Although it can be very effective as a tonic when used correctly, it should not be used indiscriminately. However, under the current circumstances I no longer recommend its use in this way. There are many medicinal mushrooms and other herbal immune tonics and adaptogens that are available commercially from organically grown sources that work just as well. There's no need for chaga to be used as a general tonic.

Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) is an excellent tonic mushroom that is readily available from organically grown sources.

If you do wish to harvest some chaga for personal use, it should only be harvested in areas where there is no evidence that anyone else has been harvesting it. There should also be a fair bit of it around so that you only have to harvest from a small percentage of the fungi. Chaga often grows high up where we can't reach it, so look up. If you only find one that is growing at a level that you can reach but there are at least a few in the area growing up high, it's fine to harvest it. Look for fungi that grow out past the surface of the tree and only harvest up to 50% of any given fungus. Make sure that you leave some of the outer black crusty portion and don't cut it deeper than the surface of the tree.

Although chaga is traditionally used as a tea, it is best to make a tincture of it. The amount of fungus required per unit dose is much smaller for tinctures because they extract the chemical constituents and are assimilated more efficiently. There are some people who claim that medicinal mushrooms can not be extracted as tinctures. This isn't true! Most of the people who make these claims are affiliated with companies that use expensive high-tech extraction methods that you can't use at home. Some have been propagating this misinformation to encourage people to use their products. The key to making a tincture is that the fungus must be chopped very fine, basically to the level of a very course coffee grind. It is best to use a menstruum (extraction medium) that is 60% water, 30% alcohol and 10% glycerin. This menstruum will efficiently extract polysaccharides and other constituents that don't like alcohol, but still extract those that like alcohol efficiently as well. Finally, the herbs should be macerated (soaked in the menstruum) at least three months before you press and filter it to make your tincture.

It wasn't my intention to keep harping on this topic. There was a lot of action on my previous post on chaga, so I decided that it would be nice to put up a video on it. The video was recorded about a month before I did that post. It was coming across that butchered chaga during that field workshop that inspired me to finally write that post, although I had been thinking about it for some time. After seeing a growing number of ridiculous products containing chaga appear on the market over the last couple of months and then watching that video a few times while editing it, I felt like there was a bit more I needed to say about it. So there it is! The next post will be about something else...