A couple weeks ago while up in the mountains, on the early morning rides to the trailhead, and the exhausted ones back to the base camp, Greg and I became enthralled with a podcast on survival stories. Tales of people sliding down ice faces and getting lodged in crevices on Mt. Rainier, getting buried by rock slides, and mauled by grizzlies.
It’s admittedly a kind of disaster porn, gripping survival stories that are suspenseful, incredible, and trigger the perfect hit of adrenaline and dopamine. Yet there’s also a feeling that listening to tales where people face extraordinary physical challenge or life threatening circumstances, and make it (this is key), is constructive. There’s always a lesson involved, the narrator weaving in expert advice on surviving quicksand, avalanches, and the importance of sharing hike itineraries. Some of these stories have felt like a fire drill, inspiring a playbook of possibilities---what would we do if we were caught in a lightning strike on a mountain, for instance?
While hiking the other day we chit chatted with a hiker on the summit who’d been in several Ironman races. If you don’t know (like I didn’t know two weeks ago) what an Ironman is, it’s where you swim 2.4 miles, go for a 112 mile bike ride, then run a marathon, consecutively, starting at sun up and hopefully ending before sundown. He was in good shape. Physically prepared for the task of hiking mountains you could say. He also casually shared that he dislocated his shoulder while hiking recently on one of the high peaks.
Back on our own, we discussed what that would be like, to dislocate your shoulder while hiking up and down these sometimes, very steep rock scrambles. Greg is an extraordinarily prepared person, always bringing more gear and first aid supplies than most people. Naturally this discussion drove Greg into planning mode, prompting him to say, “Yea, I should probably add some splinting supplies to my first aid kit.” Then I chimed in with, “Yea, because even if we didn’t end up using it, there’s a chance we could help someone else with it.” Preparedness sometimes feels excessive and a chore in a time of plenty, especially when everything is going right, but that time when it’s really needed, it could be lifesaving.
Alice and Amy, my housemates (and so much more), are also very good at preparing. They want to be sure that they and their community (and any hungry mouths that show up at their door) will eat well this winter. They’ve been relentlessly canning, drying, and freezing for months now. Blueberries, raspberries, cherry tomatoes, dilly beans, garden sauce… the kind of materials that make for good dinners in February. They do it as much for others as they do it for themselves. All of this work, their well stocked pantry, and generous hearts make them an oasis in any emergency.
This year feels important to be ready with supplies and nimble in how we deploy them. It’s obvious from the canning jar/lid scarcity, that many people have this on their minds. While I’m not hustling to can food everyday, I’m doing my best to squeeze in a little extra for leaner months, making sure my tincture inventory is wisely provisioned, freeze some of my favorite berries, some wild greens, and whip up whatever condiments I might crave in future times. I’ve got gallons of acorns and walnuts stashed, just in case they’re needed. I’m doing my best to get ready for the big mystery that is a pandemic winter. It’s my hope that what I squirrel away may be of help to myself or anyone who crosses my path. And remember Ironman? The hiker who seemed more physically prepared than I will ever be? Shit still happens. It’s no doubt there are times when I owe my survival to those who prepare beyond my capabilities or rescue me when I’m stuck.
Thank you to all the rescuers, stockpilers, and forward thinking wizards who plan and prepare to be of service. May all the berries, love infused sauces, fire ciders, herbal salves, and krauts see us safely through any blizzards, power outages, illnesses, or lonely heart feelings that come our way, till the flowers return and we can mingle again carefree. May we too have the courage to both help and be helped.
Oatstraw was one of my first herbal loves. In 2009 I spent a year getting acquainted with plant spirit medicine under the tutelage of Sage Maurer at the Gaia School of Healing. Every class we would sip strong infusions in a circle, sit quietly, and notice where we felt the herbs move in our bodies, how they spoke to our insides. When I did this with oatstaw, I remember feeling swaddled in a meadow of sunshine. I wrote in my plant journal, “childlike sweetness, I will make you whole, repair you.”
This class, and during the more intensive parts of my herbal education, were probably my peak tea drinking moments to date, and no doubt when I also reaped the most physical benefit from plant relationship, where I could feel it so acutely changing my body. Eleven years later, I’m still mountaineering up the learning curve of self care routines, and don’t drink tea with the same vigor---but I should. Now immersed in a parallel world studying pieces of a whole with a sharper eye, I understand a bit more of why oatstraw rang a bell in my body so true.
Oatstraw infusion is thick, almost creamy, sweet, and oh so soothing. A mild sedative and anti-inflammatory, this herb was pitched to me by Sage (and my first herb teacher Chris Marano) as nervous system food. Drinking oatstraw infusion on the regular pampers any frayed, frazzled, nerve frizzies with a milky bath of calm. Oatstraw will chill out the anxious, brighten the depressed, and revive the burnt out. One of the major ways oatstraw can work her magic is via nutritive prowess. She’s endowed with copious magnesium, up to 400mg/1oz dried herb. And while oatstraw is so much more than her magnesium content, the contributions of the element in nourishing our nervous system cannot be understated.
Magnesium is the universal fairy dust that makes it all work, linking plant to sun, and animal to earth and sea. The eighth most common element from the earth’s crust and fourth most abundant mineral in the body, we need a constant presence of this element on the insides of our cells. Sea water is particularly lush with magnesium, the third ranking element just after fellow electrolytes, sodium and chloride, in abundance. Chlorophyll, the molecules that make plants green, have a ring structure much like the heme group in hemoglobin (the molecule that carries oxygen in our blood). Magnesium sits right in the center of chlorophyll’s ring. Plants require proper amounts of magnesium to facilitate efficient conversion of sunlight into plant energy. No magnesium, no life. Again, the fairy dust.
As far as humans go, magnesium is an essential key needed to unlock and support many processes in the body, including 300+ enzymatic reactions and counting (many of which are nervous system related). Magnesium stabilizes our DNA and helps preserve the fidelity of its message in replication. It helps synthesize the body’s most important internally produced antioxidants, glutathione. Most notably magnesium soothes reactivity, regulating nerve firing by blocking calcium from entering cells, and relaxing contractions. This list from Alan Gaby’s Nutritional Medicine, one of my newest, most prized, humongous textbooks, shows clearly the vast reach of magnesium in the body and potential consequences of not enough.
Gaby says that in his clinical practice,
Magnesium deficiency was one of the most frequently encountered nutritional problems. Many patients who were suffering from one or more of the symptoms described above observed improvements that were directly attributable to magnesium supplementation. p.143
This sentiment is easy to find echoed amongst other doctors with a nutrition education. Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Aviva Romm both have great articles on magnesium for further reading from a clinical perspective. I recommend these articles especially if you want to try supplements. The bottom line is, most people just simply aren’t eating enough magnesium in their diets.
Hunter and gatherer societies are said to have consumed an average of 600mg of magnesium per day, while the average American according to a USDA estimate, take in only about half that, with women consuming 228mg/day and men 323mg/day. These intakes don’t even meet the 320mg RDA, and 75% of women do not achieve this benchmark through diet. Some argue that the RDA is too low, and really only avoids frank magnesium deficiency.
Furthermore, stress depletes magnesium and low stores of magnesium makes us feel more stressed out. Excess alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and phosphorus (found in meat, cheese, soda pop) can also mess with our magnesium supply. Prescription drugs such as diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, oral contraceptives, allergy and asthma medications may interfere with magnesium absorption and retention. Essentially, most of us are set up for magnesium failure. We’re not eating enough of it and the amounts that we do have are constantly pillaged by common, beloved vices of western civilization.
After having some success treating my teeth grinding with magnesium supplements (magnesium glycinate), I started experimenting. Since then I’ve treated my exertion headaches with magnesium and no longer have spontaneous eye twitches (a sign of low Mg). I also feel more even keeled, less anxious, more whole. These successes have brought me back home, to the kitchen and garden to discover how to multiply this mineral ally in my life with a bit more subtlety than a pill (though supplements definitely have a place here and I still use them as needed).
I compiled a short list of herb/wild food sources here. As you can see a certain amount of diligence and attention is needed to go this route. Keep in mind too, the magnesium content is variable with the soil these plants are grown in/how they are grown, thus these aren’t rock solid numbers.
I’ve started to rekindle a daily oatstraw infusion routine (for the 90th time?!) and encourage you to do the same or seek out this calming mineral in any way that’ll set you up for success. Here’s a tutorial on making nourishing herbal infusions from the master.
Herbal Vinegars can help here too. Excellent at extracting minerals from plants, you can make your own strong bones/calm body vinegar infused with calcium rich/magnesium rich herbs. Here's another article from Susun Weed on this easy preparation. Our strong bones vinegar is sold out currently as I work on securing more apple cider vinegar, but it will be back soon!
Wild & Herbal Sources of Magnesium:
Wild Rice: 52.5mg/cooked cup Oatstraw: 400mg/1oz dried herb*
Seaweed : Kelp 121mg/100g, Wakame 107mg/100g,
Burdock Root: 48.8mg/1 cup boiled and drained
Dandelion Greens: 25.2 mg/1 cup boiled and drained
Purslane: 68 mg/100 g
Amaranth: 160mg/1 cup grain cooked; 73mg/1 cup leaves cooked
Nettles : 51 mg/1 cup blanched leaves
Lamb’s Quarters: 41.4mg/1 cup cooked greens)
Mint: 169mg/1oz dried
*Source: Nutritional Herbology
Pumpkin seeds: 738mg/cup
Hemp seeds: 179mg/30g
Sunflower Seeds: 150mg/1 cup
Buckwheat: 85.7mg/1cup cooked groats
Oats: 276mg/1 cup cooked
I usually sneeze with abandon this time of year but fortunately, goldenrod can help me overcome an allergic response to the molds and mildews that thrive in this damp autumn weather. Often scapegoated for the very reaction it remedies, a tea of goldenrod flowers will help dry up a runny nose or weepy face and bust through congestion. The purposeful, tall flowers decorate fields as flaming staffs---late summer fire warriors blessing human friends with relief, readying us for the path of autumn, lightning our hearts with seas of gold. I remember a snippet of my dream last night where I was thinking about recipes for goldenrod. This prompted some internet surfing today.
I came across this great goldenrod recipe roundup from Chestnut School of Herbs, listened to this Solidago song prayer, and checked out some of the recipes, including Fannie Merrit Farmer’s Eggs Goldenrod recipe originally published in 1896 (no goldenrod, just inspired by, in case you’re wondering). I decided to make Ms. Wordsmith’s cake, with my own twists of course. Check it out on the menu this week. There are also some magnesium rich goods including sunflower seed cakes, power crackers, and soup custard cups.
Carly lives and eats from a hilltop in Cummington, Massachsuetts and part time in Schenectady, NY.