All posts by rebecca

Rebecca Wong has a BA from the University of Waterloo and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She studied at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine under respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le, and graduated from the East West School of Planetary Herbology under Michael Tierra. She received training as yoga teacher at The Branches in Kitchener/Waterloo, and is currently studying to be a Therapeutic Yoga Teacher, specializing in yoga for depression, anxiety and burnout.

The Waayyy Behind Book Club – January 2023

It’s a brand new year! Welcome to the January 2023 edition of The Waayyy Behind Book Club, where I talk about the books I’ve read this month.

There were no entries in The Waayyy Behind Book Club for the last couple of months because my mother died, and I found it difficult to post anything during that time. I didn’t stop reading though! Reading was the way that I coped.

Here are the five books I read this past month. The first being Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri. Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize back in the year 2000 for her book, The Interpreter of Maladies. I remember reading that book many years ago, but I no longer remember what it was about! More recently, I read The Namesake, which was about a child of immigrants trying to assimilate into a new culture, while still holding true to himself.

Whereabouts is a bit different. Here, Lahiri is still exploring the themes of loneliness and belonging, but this time as a single, older woman. Childless and husband-less in middle age, she is beginning to question her life choices. Ultimately, she is happy with where she is, as an immigrant living on the periphery of a culture and a country. She gets along well with her neighbours and colleagues, but she also knows full well that she is at odds with the stereotype of what a woman should be. Her parents feel let down and her neighbours don’t know quite what to make of her, even as she follows her own heart. It’s a thoughtful book.

The second book I read this month was Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women by Kate Manne. I have never really considered myself a feminist. That doesn’t mean I disagree with the idea that women should be treated equally to men, or that they shouldn’t be able to make their own life choices. But, perhaps because my own choices have tended to line up with societal norms, I have never been able to work up much of a passion for their mission.

Manne helped me to see how much work is yet to be done. Statistics show that women still don’t earn as much as men (even when doing the same job), they still don’t advance into the top positions in their line of work (even with equal or superior qualifications), they don’t receive equal justice when facing the law (particularly those of racial minority), or equal medical care (most scientific studies still exclude women), and they still do more than their fair share of domestic, non-paid work (even though male participation has ticked up in recent decades).

Manne perceives that the problem is less that women are thought of as inferior to men, as might have been the case in the past. Rather, it’s more that men have learned to expect superior treatment, or superior consideration, and then get upset if they don’t receive it. If this comment has raised your hackles, I suggest you give Manne’s book a read. It’s well well-written and she’s quite persuasive. I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down.

The third book I read this month was The Plague by Albert Camus. This book was on my reading list because of the recent pandemic, but it’s really not about a pandemic at all. It was written in the aftermath of World War Two, and here the plague is used as a metaphor for feverish idealism, or dogmatic thinking. When enough people think they have the right to enforce their opinions onto others, even to subject people to cruelty in order to get their way, the world has gone horribly wrong. Camus speaks through the voice of the doctor here, and he appears to be saying that our only true goal in life should be to help others survive and endure. It’s not about forcing others into our own point of view. And if killing is involved, we’ve definitely lost our way. I found it a profound read.

The fourth book I read this month was Watership Down by Richard Adams. It’s a classic book that has been on my reading list for years, and I have to say, I absolutely loved it! This is a wonderful book! The premise seems a bit silly: a group of rabbits leave their home warren and, after surviving many trials and hardships, aspires to set up a new one. Why should we care about a group of rabbits? It’s why I put off reading this book for so long. However, it turns out to be a novel that is not so much about rabbits as it is a thoughtful story about good leaders, and bad ones. And about how each of us has our own special skill, and when we find the courage to use that skill for the benefit of the entire community, we all become stronger. What’s not to love about that?

The final book for this month is Falling Upwards by Richard Rohr. It’s another book I would highly recommend, particularly for the middle-aged and older. Do you ever wonder about how you’ve lived your life? Could you have done it better? How can you even tell? Well, Rohr has some pointers for you, and I found them both thought-provoking and reassuring. ( Hint: if you’ve failed a lot, you’re doing better than you think!) It turns out that success in the second half of life requires turning the first half of life completely on its head. Rohr uses stories from ancient Rome, the Middle East, and the Bible to make his points, and he is persuasive – and encouraging.

So, there you have it! My list of books for this month. If you are interested in any of them, check them out at your local library. Until next month, happy reading!

Honeysuckle Flowers

My neighbour is an avid gardener. I envy his green thumb. All spring and summer long, his garden is filled with flowering bushes and perennials. It looks like a paradise compared to mine.

Along the fence between our two properties, and supported by a trellis, there grows a honeysuckle vine. I love to watch its delicate pink and yellow blooms in the summertime as they wave in the wind, surrounded by the lush green leaves. It makes me feel all soft and warm and relaxed inside, like I’m living in Italy, or somewhere else along the Mediterranean and couldn’t be luckier.

The thing that astounds me about those delicate pink flowers is just how tiny they are. We used to sell pounds and pounds of honeysuckle flowers in our store, and it blows my mind how many bushes must have been needed in order to produce a single pound of this strong anti-viral herb. The acreage of honeysuckle fields in China must be enormous.

Since the advent of COVID 19, honeysuckle flowers have been hard to source because they are considered among the most potent of anti-viral herbs, and are the chief ingredient in many Chinese medicinal formulas for colds, flus and viral infections. Production has had difficulty keeping up with the immense demand. It’s no wonder that the price per pound has skyrocketed.

Why are honeysuckle flowers so popular and valued? Well, they are used for both the prevention and treatment of all sorts of infections. Scientific studies of honeysuckle flowers have found them to have broad spectrum inhibitory actions against staphylococcus aureus, B-hemolytic streptococcus, E. coli, bacillus dysenteriae, Vibrio cholerae, Salmonella typhi, Diplococcus pneumoniae, Diplococcus meningitidis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis [1,2].

In addition to their potent anti-viral [3] and anti-bacterial ability, honeysuckle flowers also have marked anti-inflammatory and anti-pyretic properties, which means they bring down fever and help to combat inflammation everywhere in the body [4]. They are particularly effective for heat and inflammation in the upper chest and lung area [5], helping to soothe sore throat and thirst, as well as heat stroke, irritability, and insomnia.

In addition to that, they are also known to be particularly effective for all sorts of skin issues, including lung abscesses, skin sores, lesions, ulcerations, warts, and furuncles, and can be used both internally and externally for those problems.

It’s because of these potent anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-pyretic, anti-inflammatory, and skin soothing properties that honeysuckle flowers are featured in a number of our products. They are a prime ingredient in our Chrysanthemum tincture, as well as in our Prime Herbal Mouthwash and our Mu Shang herbal deodorant.

In doing research for this blog post, I’ve also discovered that honeysuckle flowers have been shown to benefit digestion! Studies show that honeysuckle flowers decrease the absorption of cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract of rats, thus lowering cholesterol levels.[6] They also increase the excretion of bile acid and gastric acid, thus improving motility in the stomach and intestines.[7] They’re pretty amazing flowers!

I often think of honeysuckle flowers as being like echinacea root in Western herbalism. It’s often the first herb TCM practitioners reach for whenever they have an infection, or feel an onset of viral symptoms. I miss the days when honeysuckle flowers were cheaper and more readily available. Hopefully, once COVID 19 infections start to recede worldwide, we’ll have an easier time finding this delicate, beautiful, yet powerful herb.

  1. Xin Yi Xue (New Medicine), 1975; 6(3):155
  2. Jiang Xi Xin Yi Yao (Jiangxi New Medicine and Herbology); 1960;(1):34
  3. Guang Dong Zhong Yi (Guangdong Chinese Medicine), 1962; 5:25
  4. Shan Xi Yi Kan (Shangxi Journal of Medicine), 1960;(10):22
  5. Shang Hai Zhong Yi Yao Za Zhi (Shanghai Journal of Chinese Medicine and Herbology), 1983; 9:27
  6. Ke Xue Chu Ban She (Scientific Press), 1963:387
  7. Jiang Xi Xin Yi Yao (Jiangxi New Medicine and Herbology); 1960;(1):34

Listen: A New Year’s Resolution for 2023

We are now a couple of weeks into the year 2023, and I’m feeling the pressure to create a New Year’s Resolution, as I always do. It happens every January. Our success-oriented culture encourages us to take stock of our lives, and implement changes to improve who we are. To become more accomplished. To become more successful. To create superior versions of ourselves.

Except that this year, I’ve decided to sit that whole thing out. I’m weary of trying to improve myself and become a better ‘me’. I’m tired to trying to be fitter, or happier, or healthier. At the age of 52, I am finally starting to accept myself for the way I am, deficiencies and all. So, instead of trying to fit into someone else’s cookie cutter version of how they think I should be, or look, or act, I have decided to stick with what I’ve got and be happy as I am. It just feels right to me right now.

My mother died 7 weeks ago. This has no doubt affected my thinking. At the time of her passing, I thought I was handling it well. I was supported by kind family and friends who checked in on me constantly to see how I was doing. I spilled out my heart to them and was pleased that I was able to let it all go. I was living in the moment, feeling all the emotions and not holding anything back, just letting it all pass through me. I was fully present and felt completely alive.

But over the last number of weeks, my grief has become heavier. No longer the sharp pain I felt at her passing, it is now more of sadness, a weariness. More worrisome, I’ve been feeling numb and fatigued, a sure sign of nervous exhaustion. I know all the characteristics now. I’ve been down this road before. I know that if I don’t stop and take care of myself, worse symptoms will arrive before long.

And so, feeling the full weight of all that stress, and grief, and sadness, I’ve decided that this year, I will not try to become a better ‘me’. I will not push myself into exhaustion. I will not become more pleasing to others at the expense of myself.

This year, I want sit still enough to hear the deep whisperings of my own heart. I want to hear my own breathing and watch what is going on in my own mind. I want to sit still enough, with openness, curiosity and kindness, until I can hear my own voice. This year, I will listen.

Chrysanthemum Flowers

My mother loved to garden. She would spend many summer hours out in the back yard happily trimming and weeding and planting and watering. She grew plenty of annuals, like marigolds and snapdragons in garden beds along the back edge of our lawn, but along the walls of our house, she grew tall perennials, like climbing roses, morning glories, and hollyhocks.

Just outside our back door, she also grew several different colours of chrysanthemum flowers. There were the burgundy ones right outside the door, and then yellow and white chrysanthemums beside them. “Oh, look! My mums are blooming!” I remember her exclaiming one year. She would do the same for the tulips in spring, and the roses in summer, but for some reason I remember her exclaiming about the chrysanthemums in particular that one year. The name just stuck in my head, as it is so similar to the word “Mom”.

I think the connection was also reinforced by the importance chrysanthemum flowers have always had in our business. Chrysanthemum flowers are probably the very first Chinese herb I ever learned, as Julia would always foist bags of freshly dried flowers on us all winter long. One of their main uses is for the prevention and treatment of colds and flu, so Julia was adamant that we have some in our cupboard at all times. If we didn’t have the actual flowers, then she would provide us with packets of chrysanthemum granules to dissolve into cups of hot water.

The anti-bacterial and anti-viral effect of chrysanthemum flowers is so widely known in China that a tea prepared with them is typically served in most Chinese restaurants all winter long in place of black tea. In fact, you can probably use this little fact as an indicator as to how authentic your Chinese restaurant is. The anti-bacterial effect of chrysanthemum flowers has even been backed up by scientific studies, which show they have a particular action against staphylococus aureus, B-hemolytic streptococcus, and shigella sonnei bacteria. They also have an inhibitory effect against leptospira when taken at a high enough dose [1].

Chrysanthemum flowers aren’t just used for cold and flu prevention, though. They are also used for the treatment of headaches, particularly when they occur alongside a viral illness. This is possibly due to their vasodilative effect [2], and may be why they have also been shown to be helpful for coronary artery disease. In one study, 164 patients with coronary artery disease were treated with the equivalent of 50 grams of dried chrysanthemum flowers daily for 2 to 4 months. 86.5% of patients reported an improvement in their symptoms, while 45.3% showed improvement on a subsequent EKG. [3]

Chrysanthemum flowers are also well-known in Chinese medicine for their ability to treat red and inflamed eyes. In fact, they are the most commonly used herb for the treatment of eye disorders in China.

Finally, chrysanthemum flowers are used to lower high blood pressure. In one Chinese study, 24-30 grams each of chrysanthemum flowers and honeysuckle flowers (the combination of herbs used in our Chrysanthemum tincture) was able to reduce high blood pressure after a treatment of just 3 to 7 days. In this case, 35 out of 46 patients showed a reduction in high blood pressure, as well as a decrease in symptoms of dizziness and insomnia that are commonly associated with it. [4]

As the cold and damp weather of late fall starts to descend, there is no better herb to have in your pantry than chrysanthemum flowers. They are so pretty to look at, and their taste is mild and pleasant.

Be aware that their action is quite gentle though, so you will have to use them in great quantity to have an effect. Julia used to recommend drinking at least 2 full pots of chrysanthemum tea daily (about 8 cups). However, when you combine chrysanthemum flowers with honeysuckle flowers, their anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects will be enhanced, so fewer cups of tea should be necessary to achieve the same effect.

  1. Yi Xue Ji Shu Zi Liao (Resource of Medical Techniques), 1974; (1:2):113.
  2. Zhong Yao Xue (Chinese Herbology), 1998; 97:99.
  3. Zhe Jiang Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao (Journal of Zhejiang Province School of Medicine), 1978; 4:9.
  4. Xin Yi Yao Xue Za Zhi (New Journal of Medicine and Herbology) 1972; 2:32.


“Your brothers are weird!”

“You are the only normal person in your entire family!”

Those were the sort of things that people said to me as I was growing up. There were other insults too, but those were the ones that chilled me to my bones. They hurt because they made me doubt the value of my entire family. They made me feel like I had no safe space to go. After all these years, there is still an empty hole in my heart where a sense of belonging should be.

Ostracism hurts. It particularly hurts when you’re young and trying to find your place in the world. Life would be so much easier if we could all be born into families and communities that welcomed us unreservedly, and with open arms. Sadly, for many of us, that is just not the case.

At the time, I responded to those comments with a bashful smile, just grateful to be acknowledged as “the normal one”. But really, I felt anything but normal. I was terrified. If the rest of my family was considered weird, then how could I possibly know what normal was? I figured I was most likely “weird” too. The only reason why it wasn’t as evident was because I was so quiet. As a result, I became afraid to speak, to act, to live. If I actually showed up, then people would realize that I was weird too, and I would be just as excluded as my brothers were.

Staying quiet may have been the safer route, but it wasn’t any less painful. Because if you don’t speak up, you are never heard. You are also never seen. No one ever knows who you really are. I might as well have been a ghost during all those years and I certainly felt like one a lot of the time. My brother once told me that he admired my courage in leaving home so young. But it wasn’t courage that led me to leave. I was dying in my hometown. I had to find a way to escape. That’s not courage; that’s fear.

It’s taken me a lot of years to break down the walls of isolation and fear that I built up during my childhood and adolescence – and even into my adulthood. Because when I escaped from my hometown, I didn’t really escape the problem. I just brought it along with me. Marrying into Mike’s family seemed like a good solution – a brand new family, just like that! – but eventually brought to light all the destructive coping strategies I’d been too distraught to notice before. The people-pleasing, the fawning, the co-dependency. What a mess! The only good news is that I now feel like I finally understand the problem. That’s a big milestone, in and of itself. Along the way, I’ve also learned a lot of things, and picked up tools to help me on my continued journey.

Traditional Chinese medicine has been one of them. I never knew how closely linked my emotions were to the state of my body until now. Somatic yoga is another. I needed to learn to feel into my body, and listen to what it needs, and somatic yoga has a particular ability to bring you back inside your skin. Meditation is another good tool. I’ve sat and rocked myself through the force of a lot of old emotions, with tears streaming down my face until they finally cleared. Finally, and most importantly, there’s compassion, both from others, and from myself. Healing really only works if we feel cared for, seen and understood. Crucially, I had to learn to love myself, and it wouldn’t have gone nearly as smoothly if my husband hadn’t been there to light the way.

Which is why I am working on opening up a yoga studio here. I want to create a place of support for others who may be struggling like I did, but who may not have the same level of support. A place of caring and community where a stressed and dys-regulated nervous system can finally begin to regulate itself. A place of calm and healing. If you’re interested, stay tuned for updates. We’ll be getting started in the months ahead.

The Waayyy Behind Book Club – October 2022

Welcome to the October 2022 edition of The Waayyy Behind Book Club, where I talk about the books I’ve read this month. These books will generally not be current reads. I tend to fall way behind what is new and popular (hence the name of the book club!), so these books will typically have been around for awhile. If any of them sound intriguing to you, you can check them out at your local library or book store.

I read only three books this month, which, oddly enough, may be a good thing. I tend to bury myself in a book when I feel scared, upset or overwhelmed, so fewer books means I’ve generally felt more grounded this month.

The first book I read this month is called Barkskins by Annie Proulx. I have been a fan of Annie Proulx ever since I read her Pulitzer prize-winning book The Shipping News, which was heartfelt and wonderful! If you haven’t read it yet, you should give it a try. At some point in the book, you’re going to decide you want to move to Newfoundland. I guarantee it! Proulx also wrote Brokeback Mountain, so that is another place where you may have heard her name before.

Barkskins is a long book, covering several centuries of time. The timeline follows two different families: the Sel family of French woodsmen, and the Duke family who own forest land. Along the way, we skip through many different characters, following the course of their entire lives. Once they die, the story line is picked up once again by one of their descendants.

Because these characters are skimmed through relatively quickly, the main character is actually the North American forest. I enjoyed reading about the thick, dense woodlands in 1700’s French-Canadian Upper Canada. I could feel the darkness of the tree cover, see the dense waves of migrating birds overhead, and feel the coldness of the streams, so rich with fish that you barely needed to use a net. The risk-filled lives of the early pioneers were also well-documented. Few women survived the harshness. Gradually, the dense woodlands from the beginning of the book are cleared away, until virtually nothing is left in the 2000’s. Proulx conveys this loss beautifully. The final character is a woman whose genes come from both the Sel and Duke families, and it is her personal mission to save the forest.

CBC made a TV series based on the book, and that’s how it caught my attention. I haven’t seen the TV series yet, but I am intrigued. Did I like the book? Yes, with qualifications. I thought some of the characters were skimmed over too quickly, so I didn’t get to know them as well as I would’ve liked. There were also parts of the story where I lost interest. I guess that’s one of the dangers of a book this long, with a scope this wide.

The second book I read this month also has an environmental bent. It is called Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I kept hearing reference of this book, over and over again, from herbal friends, and environmentalist friends. I can see why; it is beautifully written. Robin Wall Kimmerer is of Native American heritage and also happens to be a professor of environmental biology, so she is able to weave both cultures together in a very poetic way.

Her aim is to get us to love and respect the land again, as Native Americans did, and to help us understand how our lives are interwoven with those of the plants and animals around us. In the book, we learn (one of) the Native American stories of creation, the ecological reasons why the ‘three sisters’ (corn, beans and squash) grow so well together, watch as she attempts to teach the value of the earth to doctoral students while camping in the Smoky Mountains, and laugh with her as she attempts to reclaim the pond behind her house so her daughters can swim in it. She made me wish I knew more about biology and ecology. She made me wish I could have her as a teacher.

The final book I read this month is called Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple. Personally, I loved it! I loved it so much, I even watched the movie adaptation on Netflix, and liked that even better. (It stars Cate Blanchett. How could you not love it!) The book is a bit of a quirky read, with the story being told through the eyes of Bernadette’s daughter, who is desperately searching for her mother. She has assembled a time-line of letters and emails, and through these third-party documents, we see what poor Bernadette has been going through, and why she might have tried to escape. It’s funny and heartwarming, while also gently skewering North American upper middle class culture. Any mom would find it hilarious. Those who aren’t parents probably won’t get half the jokes, but it may help you to realize how hard it can be to stay mentally stable while raising kids.

While I liked Barkskins and swooned over Braiding Sweetgrass, I think it’s safe to say that Where’d You Go, Bernadette? was my personal favourite this month. It captured too well the feelings that I’ve been struggling with these last number of years.

So, there you have it! The list of books I’ve read this month. Feel free to comment on any of them. While you’re at it, let me know what you’re currently reading. I’m always looking for my next favourite book. Until next month, read on!

The Wonder of Progress

“You have to understand that many of the people we treat have underlying struggles with mental illness. It affects their ability to follow our suggestions and also to create change in their lives,” my mentor explained. My heart immediately softened and I felt a well of compassion growing within me.

This particular bit of advice followed a rather bizarre incident last week where a client unexpectedly lashed out at me. She was asking me how I had gotten her contact information and accused the clinic of stalking her. Well, I had her contact information because she was on our patient list, and I was only calling to check up on her. A paranoid confrontation was that last thing I expected.

The clinic I’m talking about is not at Sensible Health. It’s a free clinic in northern California, set up to provide herbal treatment to low-income individuals who might not otherwise be able to afford it. I work there remotely, under the guidance of a mentor. The patient I am talking about was known to have a difficult home-life, with a lot of stress and anxiety at work.

Before calling her, I had looked over her chart. I noted the persistent difficulties with stress. The occasional episodes of great emotional turmoil. Her tongue pictures showed a considerable coating of phlegm, and that caught my attention. I had just attended a webinar on anxiety and depression, and in almost every case, we saw that same, hazy mist of phlegm across the tongue. I was beginning to see the pattern.

More troubling was the knowledge that my own tongue had a similar coating of phlegm. My own tongue had the same “heart crack” that pointed towards emotional issues. All my life, I have been in denial, but I am finally starting to face the music: I have persistent issues with anxiety and depression too.

When I was growing up, my mother dismissed my feelings regularly. I guess that’s where a lot of my anger comes from. If I told her I was feeling sad, or depressed, or unhappy, she would say, “Well, you have a tendency towards that anyway, don’t you?” And it seemed to me that she was using that label to dodge any responsibility for how I was feeling, or what I was going through.

Then again, I tended to dodge responsibility for it too. I have always considered my tendency towards moodiness and depression to be situational. Meaning that, if I wasn’t in this particular situation, then I would be fine. It was the situation that was the problem, not me.

But there was something about the combination of that woman’s tongue pictures, as well as her irritable defensiveness, that finally brought me home to the truth. I am also 52 years old this year, and there’s something about being in your 50’s that calls you to pause and take stock of things. I started to ruminate on the situation. Ruminating is my specialty, after all ;).

I began to wonder what might have happened if I hadn’t gone through what I did. Would I still have this tendency towards anxiety and depression? Then I started to wonder if everyone who goes through difficult early life experiences has the same type of emotional problems. This seems logical too, but also unfair. Survivors should be rewarded for their tenacity, not doomed to a life-time of emotional dysfunction. And yet, in the majority of cases, this appears to be what happens.

Over about the last 5-10 years, I’ve been trying mightily to change things. I’ve been meditating regularly. As I sit in silence, I imagine a mother figure loving me unreservedly – be it Mary, the mother of Jesus, or Kuan Yin, the eastern version of a compassionate, feminine being. I do tonglen practices to open my heart and extend compassion towards myself and others. At first, I found it very challenging, but I’m getting better at it.

Negative self-talk and poor self-image are the other, big cornerstones of my mental and emotional problems, so I’ve been trying to change those things too. There was always an extremely critical voice in my head, that shouted me down whenever I messed up, or failed to be perfect. I started to call this voice Mr. Critical, and as I became more aware of that voice, I would shove it away whenever I heard it. I would yell at it and tell it to “Get out of here!” I would imagine brandishing a bat, and warn him there will be violence if he says another word. All of this may sound absurd, but it has made me feel safer. For the first time in my life, I feel protected.

The other morning, as I climbed out of a deep sleep, I began to hear a voice in my head. But instead of the constant negativity of Mr. Critical, this voice was curious and funny. I can’t quite remember what it was saying as I awoke from my dream, but I remember the feeling it evoked. It was one of friendliness and humour. I remember thinking, “I like this person. This is a good person to have around”. The voice felt like me, like my true self. Someone I have barely known throughout my life because it’s been hidden behind a thick veil of emotional issues.

Using herbs has helped too. As I continue with my training, I’ve begun to notice a pattern between an increase in “dampness” in my system, and a definite slump in my mood. Without fail, they always occur together. This has been fascinating, and has also brought me greater confidence. It has given me another tool to use when depression threatens to overwhelm me.

The patient who angrily confronted me at the beginning of this piece will no longer be coming to the free clinic. Her misdirected anger ruffled too many feathers, and the director decided to remove her from our patient list. My heart goes out to her. We might have been able to help her. Having struggled for years with my own tangle of emotions, I have an idea how she must feel.

As for myself, the road ahead is finally becoming a bit more clear. I’ve gathered enough tools into my tool-belt that I can walk with a little more confidence, and just a little more joy. With time, I hope to be able to offer those tools to others, but for now, I’m just relaxing into this new version of myself. I’m breathing a little easier and enjoying the feeling of progress after years of hard work. For perhaps the first time in my life, I can finally say, it’s nice to be here.

Poria Mushroom

The cigarette-like shape of poria cocos mushroom

When it comes to healing, you will almost always hear mention of one type of mushroom or another. As fungi, they are rather fascinating. Neither animal nor vegetable, they exist in a category all their own. According to their DNA profile, they are more closely related to humans than plants. And like humans, they create their own vitamin D in response to sun exposure. They also “breathe”, exchanging gases with the atmosphere in order to survive. When submerged in water, they experience something similar to drowning. These very human-like qualities may be one reason they are so uniquely helpful to us in periods of stress or illness.

The 6 healing mushrooms you’ve probably heard about before include: reishi, lion’s mane, chaga, shiitake, turkey tail, and cordyceps. These mushrooms are well known for their ability to boost your immune system (reishi), increase your memory and concentration (lion’s mane), fight free radicals (chaga), lower cholesterol (shiitake), prevent cancer (turkey tail), and increase energy (cordyceps). But there is another commonly used mushroom that seems to always get lost in the shuffle. I’m talking about poria mushroom, also referred to as hoelen, tuckahoe, or Indian bread.

Poria mushroom is probably one of the most commonly used herbs in all of Chinese medicine. Reishi mushroom may grab all the headlines, but you’d be hard pressed to find a TCM formula that doesn’t include poria in one form or another. Poria is like the hard worker in the back of the office that never draws attention to itself, but is perpetually on-call.

In Chinese medicine, poria is used to “remove dampness”, which essentially means that it’s good for conditions of edema [1]. If you have fluid accumulation anywhere in your body, poria mushroom can help. What makes it such a great diuretic is that it is rich in potassium salts. This means that when you ingest poria mushroom, it frees up interstitial fluids for excretion without causing potassium depletion. That’s unusual for a diuretic substance, and it’s what makes poria particularly valuable for people who have a weak constitution. It removes fluids without draining your energy.

Like other, better-known mushrooms, poria also strengthens your immune system and can protect against cancer. In one study [2], patients undergoing chemotherapy experienced increased immune function, improved liver and kidney functioning, increased appetite, and decreased adverse reactions to chemotherapy drugs.

And then, like many other mushrooms, it also has a sedative effect on the mind. In Chinese medicine, poria can be used to treat insomnia, calm palpitations, and heal emotional and mental agitation. In one study from China [3], it was even successfully used to treat chronic schizophrenia.

You can find poria mushroom in any Chinese herb shop, typically sliced thinly and then steamed and rolled up tightly into a cigarette-like shape. Gentle enough to act as a food, you can add poria mushroom to soups and porridge to help remove excess fluids from your body. You can also prepare it as a tea before bed to calm your mind and improve sleep. We use it in our Meta Plus tincture to strengthen your Spleen and improve the movement of energy through your body.

The next time you think of healing mushrooms, don’t forget about poria. She may be less flashy than other mushrooms, but she’s a valuable ally in your quest for improved health.

  1. Shang Hai Zhong Yi Yao Za Zhi (Shanghai Journal of Chinese Medicine and Herbology), 1986; 8:25.
  2. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi (Journal of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine), 1985; 2:115.
  3. Zhong Xi Yi Yao Za Zhi (Journal of Chinese and Western Medicine), 1982; 5:14.

Death Dreams

My grandmother died about two months before I turned 18. She was my last surviving grandparent.

I should have gone to visit her on the day she died. Just a few days before, she had been taken by ambulance to the hospital, complaining of chest pain. I had a piano lesson just down the street and could have stopped by. Instead, I drove right past the hospital and went home. “I have homework to do,” I remember saying to myself. “I’ll go next week”. And though I did have a test the next day, it was likely cowardice that stopped me. At the age of 18, I was still very uncomfortable around illness and death.

To be fair, none of us thought she was dying. My mother had visited her just the day before and said she was looking better. I think we all believed that this little incident was just a slight setback. That she would continue to live for many more years. For almost a decade, we had marvelled at her strength as she dressed, fed, and generally took care of my grandfather, day in, day out, as he struggled to recover from a series of strokes. The only health problem she had was high blood pressure.

But after my grandfather died, she seemed suddenly weak and lost. Her strength evaporated. Without him as her anchor, she began to fade, drifting slowly out to sea. When she was brought into the hospital with chest pain, it was just two months after his death. She died less than a week later, her heart literally breaking into pieces.

For years afterwards, I beat myself up over my failure to visit her. I could have been the last to see her. I could have reassured her when she was frightened. I could have been the recipient of her last words. Instead, she died alone while I went home and prepared for my test. I don’t even remember if I did well on it.

After my grandmother’s death, my mother began to have these weird, vivid dreams about her. In these dreams, my grandmother would come to visit, and they would converse. They would talk about how my brothers and I were doing, and what my mother planned to do that day. “These conversations seem so real,” my mother would say, “like she’s really there.” At the time, none of us believed in ghosts or spirits, but the very vividness of my mother’s dreams made us wonder. Maybe my grandmother really was there, watching over us from beyond the grave. It was a reassuring thought.

After Julia died, I remembered my mother’s experience all those years ago, and fully expected Julia to visit me in my dreams too. I wondered if she might have something to say to me, some message from beyond the grave. I began to wonder what she might say. And then, I grew scared.

Julia and I had been friends for many years, but things began to change as she declined. Her mind became increasingly cloudy, and her judgment withered. Even so, she would never admit to it. As far as she was concerned, she was still the smartest person in the room, and that made her very hard to live with. Little insults that used to be bundled up a bit more carefully, were said more bluntly and then repeated over and over again. I’ve always considered myself a patient person, but I lost my temper with her on more than one occasion. She was really pressing my buttons, and I had a lot of difficulty coping with the situation.

Now that she was dead, I wondered what Julia would make of it all. What would she remember? If she could speak to me again, what would she say? Would she visit me in anger? Would she plague me with nightmares? Would she assault me with insults, over and over again, as she had done in life? There were some nights when I went to bed apprehensive, not sure what I might meet with in my sleep.

When Julia finally did arrive in my dreams, it was almost disappointing. I dreamt we were working together in the kitchen, and Julia was talking as she wiped dishes with a towel. I suppose I was doing the washing, although that wasn’t clear to me. As she worked, Julia would glance at me from time to time, but mostly she was talking to someone else. A blurry third person was in the room, and it was to her that Julia directed the bulk of her attention.

In this dream, Julia seemed happy. She was her usual talkative self. I felt no particular venom being directed my way. She behaved in death very much as she had in life, and I awoke feeling immense relief. I don’t know how these death dreams work, but if Julia is haunting anyone’s dreams, it is not mine. If she is visiting wrath upon anyone, it is not me. I can rest easy, for now at least.

This past year, I’ve been making a determined effort to show myself more kindness and compassion. To forgive myself for not being a perfect person. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve been really working at it. This includes my behaviour towards Julia, my failures with my own grandmother, as well as any number of other things in my life that I could have done better. Daily, I remind myself that I did the best that I could with the resources that were available to me at the time. I can’t ask any more of myself than that.

During one of my last visits with Julia at her nursing home, I kept trying to get her to sit down and talk with me. But she wouldn’t sit. She never would. Thinking she was still at work, she would putter off, wandering the halls, checking doors and turning off lights. She would wander around and around the floor, much to the annoyance of the nursing staff, no doubt. On that particular day, after failing once again to corral her, she said something in Mandarin to the nurse beside her, and the nurse laughed.

I thought perhaps it was an insult. Julia was famous for her insults and she’d been spreading them around pretty generously by the end. But the nurse turned to me and said, “Julia says you are good,” and she laughed again. “You like your daughter-in-law?” she said to Julia. “You think she is good?” “Yes, good,” Julia repeated, and then she continued on with her walk, wandering off around the corner.

I sighed with relief that day, pleased that, after everything we had been though over the years, she still thought of me as a good person. In her very clouded mind, the feeling that stuck was a positive one.

I expect Julia will visit me again some night in my dreams. It may be sooner, or later, but I believe she will come. When she does, I hope it will be a good visit. A friendly visit. A death dream that heals.

The WaaYYY Behind Book Club – September 2022

Welcome to the September 2022 edition of the Waayyy Behind Book Club! Here’s what I’ve been reading this month. Let me know if any of these books appeal to you and I can tell you more. If you’ve already read one of them, let me know your opinion. I’d love to hear it. And if you’re currently reading a book that you just can’t put down, I want to know about it! I’m always looking for my next great read.

The first book I read this month is called Empire of Things by Frank Trentmann. To be honest, I didn’t finish it. I couldn’t finish it. I thought I would like to read a history of the world, as viewed through the things we owned and purchased. But I didn’t. The book became a chore, and I just didn’t care. So, I dropped it. To be clear, I don’t think it’s a bad book. I just couldn’t interest myself in the subject matter long enough to complete it.

The second book I read this month is called Group by Christie Tate. This book was fascinating and I couldn’t put it down. I pretty much swallowed it whole, finishing it in just two days. It’s about a woman who attends group therapy to heal her emotional issues. She is very open about her struggles with an eating disorder, and discloses all in her quest to find a stable and fulfilling relationship with a man. The crux of group therapy is to learn to open up to others and share all of your inner feelings, and Tate is honest about her difficulty in doing this at first. By the end of the book, she is a pro and conquers many of her inner demons. We get to watch along the way, and it makes for an incredible read.

The third book I read this month is called Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. He is a Swedish author with a string of popular books, among them are Bear Town and A Man Called Ove,. In Anxious People, the focus is on a small group of people who happen to be viewing an apartment when a bank robbery takes place nearby. The robber holds them hostage in his attempt to get away. The set-up may sound tense, but there’s plenty of humour, and as the hours tick by everyone learns the value of compassion and kindness, in true Fredrik Backman style.

The third book I read this month is really short, and is called The Silence by Don DeLillo. It was written before the pandemic, but it is eerily similar to what we all just went through, which is why it piqued my interest. In this story, all electronic devices suddenly no longer work, so there is no TV, no cell phone service, no radio, and even planes can’t fly. Everyone is grounded, with nothing to do but talk, and the book explores each character’s discomfort with this lack of distraction. Having just been through a similar situation during the last two years, where we’ve been forced to stay in our homes for an indefinite period of time, it’s incredible how much the author gets right.

I also read The Bluest Eye this month, by Toni Morrison. It is a book that has been on my reading list for a long time, and it’s brilliantly written. A poor black girl from a dysfunctional family fervently wishes she had blue eyes. It’s a sad story about a girl who loses herself to others’ expectations. All but the most well-balanced teen-aged girls will understand her feelings keenly, so it really resonates.

Finally, I read The Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell. This was a page turner about a young, teen-aged girl who has gone missing in a neighbourhood where there has been a string of sexual assaults. Cate Fours and her family just moved into the area, and she has her suspicions, but is she right? The plot twists and turns as the police follow all the clues, but their investigation hampered by a rush to judgment. And then there are all the secrets.

So, there you have it! All the books I happened to read this month. I welcome any questions or comments. And if you’ve been reading a book that you just love and want to talk about it, leave me a message. I love to talk about books. 🙂