My grandma had just died in the seven months before so when I moved into my grandpa’s home to live as I attended college, her fingerprints were everywhere.
Jars of legumes lined the kitchen shelves, nestled in with a collection of well-worn cookbooks. Lists in her pretty script detailed the contents of the upright freezer. Row upon row of historical fiction waited for me in her library; many of these became my friends over the next year and a half. A small closet downstairs held gallon jars of dried rose petals from the gardens that she and my grandpa had tended with care. Everything neat, orderly, welcoming.
I felt quite lost and insecure in that season of life. I was in the tender beginning stage of believing there was more to me than struggle. I believed I was meant to be a teacher, like my grandma before me. My dad had frequently told me how much I reminded him of his mom; I hadn’t take much of an interest in really sitting with her and getting to know her when I was a teenager and as she was dying I lived over the ocean, in England. Too far for visits. And certainly far more concerned about how I was going to pay rent than about anyone back home.
But now I had a chance to wander and wonder about this woman who had raised ten babies in challenging circumstances, who loved fiercely, who seemed stubborn and strong in so many ways that I needed. This time spent in her lingering presence was part of my becoming. Part of my coming home and deepening my roots.
Maybe not all who wander are lost.
I’m not a gardener like she was but have, since that young age – that time spent living in her home – been deeply interested in herbs and plants and their healing properties. Believed that the earth, if we care for her, provides the best of what we need. That food and plants are the best medicine. Not just for the body, but for the soul. If you have experienced the balm of sharing a hot cup of minty tea around an old table, permission to belly laugh and sob and share the deepest parts of you with another human being, then you know what I mean.
And while my relationship with food and this body of mine has not always been peaceful, I have always loved puttering and playing in my kitchen – tossing out rules and learning to listen and trust my instincts. This has been healing to me. It connects me to the women, my mom and paternal grandma, who have gone before me, who helped form me, and who I miss so profoundly that mere words do not suffice.
Looking back I see so clearly that all those years I thought I was lost and wandering that I was actually anchored and held deeply as I found my way back home.
I am neither herbalist nor medical doctor but love to glean from both. I enjoy diving into research but also hold deep respect for wisdom traditions that have spanned millennia. And I believe that we are the experts of our own bodies – that no matter who says what, we each possess an internal compass, an amazing gift of intuition, that when heeded directs us to that which we most need in each season. Becoming a better listener can be one of the myriad gifts of slow and simple living.
Yesterday, a lovely book* I preordered finally arrived, and beckons me to explore some new ways of using the herbs, roots and mushrooms of my small apothecary. Part of slow and simple living for me is constantly weaning things down to the essential. Rejecting the notion that more is always better, whether we are talking about essential oils, clothing, books, opportunities, or herbs. I explore, investigate and then continually do the work to wade through hype or fear of missing out and quietly craft my personalized “back to basics” lists. I love that this book focuses on everyday ingredients that many of us already have in our kitchens.
I usually use leftover glass jars to store my legumes and herbs, like my mama and grandma before me, but was offered some deep violet, glass jars to try out for preservation of my herbs or homemade body care products. They provide ultra-violet filtering and an airtight seal (as evidenced by my non-scientific sniff test after two months of use) which helps maintain freshness and prevent picking up other scents. There is a sale going on right now in case you want to check them out.
Just so you know, I did not receive money for posting about these Infinity Jars, but was given a choice of which products I would like to try out. I chose a couple 250 ml screw top jars and a 15 ml little guy that we have been using for tamari in my daughter’s lunch or enzymes when travelling. I appreciate the freshness aspect of these jars** but do wish they were stackable which would help save space in my tea/herb cupboard. They’d look cute all labeled and lined up on open shelving, I think.
Over the long weekend that is approaching as I write, I will love up my new book and play some more in my kitchen. I have plans to grind up some of my licorice root to make a simple cinnamon tooth powder; the Peppery Borscht will be added to my menu plan (yet another reminder of my mom); I will make a little rosemary-lavender blend that in one randomized, double-blind study demonstrated improvement in hair growth after seven weeks in half the participants.
And all the while I will remember my grandma who unknowingly passed down to me a love of plants and puttering in my humble kitchen. I will breathe in deep – the fragrance of these herbs, roots and spices but also of the knowledge that I am continuing, in my own way, a heritage of serving and nurturing people through my work in the kitchen, through teaching and my love of simple food and medicinal plants.
I have come home.
*affiliate link to amazon.com