Saturday, May 31, 2008

Wild Edibles!

Above is the amazingly fragrant black locust tree, whose blossoms are edible and wonderfully delicious! Thanks to Anthony from Raw Model for teaching me about this! Every other part of the plant (including the pod) is toxic, though, so you only want to eat the flowers...which are blooming now. Here is a nice article on the flowers and some ideas for them (eaten raw like popcorn, on top of salads, cooked into alfredo sauce, etc.) The flowers look like pea flowers, and in fact, they are a member of the same family (they are legumes).

I'm so happy to know about the black locust flowers. I really love eating food from trees (these flowers, mulberries, maple sap and syrup.) Tree energy is such a strong powerful is really nice to become more familiar with what our tree friends have to share.

The summer is just beginning! We may name Fridays "Foraging Friday" to share information about all the Wild Edibles available all around Pittsburgh.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The 5-minute meditation

When people are first starting to meditate, or are trying to get into the habit of meditating regularly, I suggest meditating for five minutes, twice a day.

There are many reasons for this. First and most importantly, it beats all the excuses your mind has for not meditating: I don't have time, there's so much I have to be doing, I can't just sit and think about nothing.... Most everyone can spare 5 minutes! Five minutes in the morning before getting out of bed, and five minutes in the evening, before going to sleep. Or try five minutes once you sit down at the computer before going online and checking email. Set a timer, close your eyes, and just notice your breath.

For people who wonder if five minutes is too short of a time to meditate, or get any benefit: try it. You'll find it's not such a short time after all, especially if you're new to meditation! Five minutes is plenty of time, especially because all we really have is this moment. In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle says, "Even if you meditated on your breathing for two hours or more, which some people do, one breath is all you ever need to be aware of, indeed can ever be aware of."

When I sit to meditate, my mind often does things like, "Oh, you need to clean the cat litter! It has to be done NOW!" to try to trick me into getting up. But almost everything can wait for five minutes. And then miraculously, once five minutes is up, changing the cat litter - or whatever it is - suddenly isn't so important. We start to notice things like that, things our mind does to try to keep itself front and center. And the more often we meditate (not the longer, but the more often) the more we get the hang of the tricks our mind has. Doing five minute meditations is an excellent way of making meditation a daily habit.

When should I go longer?
When and if you feel like it. You'll know. There will probably come a day when you will feel so good and peaceful meditating that you'll naturally want to set your timer for another ten minutes, fifteen minutes, or not at all. And if that day doesn't come, that's ok, too. Just keep going with five minutes and even after just one week of doing this every day, I am confident you will notice changes in the way your life unfolds.

Things you may notice are:

  • not getting frustrated when waiting in line. Instead you'll naturally take the time to do a five minute meditation!
  • When you find yourself stressed you may naturally know to come in to your breath to help yourself relax.
  • you may find yourself rising earlier and having more energy throughout the day
  • you may find you fall asleep easier, and sleep better during the night
  • you will become much more aware of the thoughts you think. Becoming aware of our thoughts, and then choosing what we wish to think, is the key to changing our life.
  • you will become much more familiar with the workings of your mind
  • answers to questions or problems may pop into your head during the day
  • you may find yourself inspired to do....who knows?!

Doesn't that sound great? And it only takes five minutes.

~In Peace,
Melissa Sokulski
Birch Center for Health

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Harvesting Comfrey

Today I harvested comfrey from our garden to dry. I like to make oils with the dried comfrey leaves: I steep them in olive oil for a few weeks then put them into our massage oil blend. Comfrey is an excellent healer! The homeopathic remedy made from comfrey (Symphytum Officinale - it's botanical name, often shortened to "Symph" in homeopathic lingo) is used to help the body repair broken bones.

To make a great salve for insect bites: mix comfrey oil with plantain oil (made by steeping plantain leaves in olive oil) and heat some grated beeswax into it. When it cools it will be a salve you can use it to rub on mosquito bites - the plantain oil takes away the itch and comfrey helps it to heal. This is actually an excellent remedy for black fly bites (which I used when I lived in Maine) - those bites actually break the skin, unlike mosquito. The plantain I'm referring to is not the tropical plantain similar to the banana. I'm talking about Plantago major and minor, which are weeds that grow everywhere - in lawns as well as in the cracks of city concrete. They are edible and can be used in salads, smoothies and juices! (I've been using them regularly in my juice feast.)

Here is a picture of some beautiful motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) we have growing:

It hasn't flowered yet. Once it flowers, it is great to make a tincture with. You use all the above ground part of the plant; cut it up and steep it in alcohol (I use 100 proof vodka, which is 50% alcohol, 50% water.) A few drops of the tincture is a nice remedy for menstrual cramps and stress, among other things.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Treatment Tuesday: Turning a Breech Baby

Many people may not know this, but acupuncture is quite successful in turning breech babies! American tudies have shown 60-70% success rate, while Chinese studies put the success rate at 80-90%!. And the treatment is comfortable and easy: just heating the outside of the (mother's) little toe with a moxa pole.

A moxa pole is a cigar-shaped stick made from the Chinese Herb Ai Ye, commonly known as mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris. A Chinese species of Artemesia - similar to vulgaris - is also commonly used.)

The point on the outside of the little toe is Bladder 67: the last point on the bladder meridian, which runs from the eye over the back of the head, down the back (connected to all the organs by points along the spine), down the back of the legs and running on the outside of the foot to the baby toe.

At the Birch Center we often combine this treatment with acupuncture (though it can be done alone.) The acupuncture treatment helps relax and balance the energy in the body and is often helpful at any stage in pregnancy. Often the mom reports feeling the baby become very active right away or later that day. We send her home with a moxa pole and diagram of just how to do the treatment, and let her spouse or friend continue the treatment until the baby has turned (usually to be checked by midwife or doctor.)

The treatment is usually done at the end of the pregnancy: after 36 weeks. This is so that once the baby turns it has less chance of turning back around.

For more information you can visit our website:, or give us a call at (412) 381-0116.

Thanks for visiting our blog!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Meditation Monday: What is Meditation?

written by Melissa Sokulski, L.Ac. of The Birch Center for Health

Meditation is essentially about two things: a quiet mind and a relaxed body.

To quiet the mind, we select a focus, or a place to put our mental focus to take it out of the thinking realm.

Focuses can be anything: the breath, the body, a sound, a word, an image, an area of the body, a candle... the list is almost endless. The purpose of the focus is to quiet the mind.

My three favorite focuses are the breath, the body, and the sound “ah.”

  1. The Breath: The breath is probably the most common focus of meditation because it is always present. More that that, once you become aware of the breath and comfortable in that awareness, you can use it anytime, wherever you are. In a stressful situation: become aware of the breath and immediately you will relax and calm down. If you are waiting in a grocery line or anywhere, instead of becoming frustrated use that opportunity to become aware of the breath and meditate.

    In his book A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle says (p. 245) “Even if you meditated on your breathing for two hours or more, which some people do, one breath is all you ever need to be aware of, indeed can ever be aware of.”

    A recent example for me occurred just after I had lost a lot of blood. I was up too soon and doing too much, and I began to pass out, which has never happened before. I put my head down but it wasn’t enough; I was quickly losing consciousness. Luckily a friend was here who knew to get me lying down with feet up, but she had to practically carry me from the table to the couch. I focused totally on my breath and was able to maintain a pinpoint of consciousness and not pass out completely. Once I was down with me feet up, my consciousness came back fully. Had I not been so used to using my breath as a focus, I’m sure I would have passed out.

  2. The Body: Sitting in meditation, close your eyes and become aware of how your body feels. Begin at your feet and work your way slowly up to the muscles of your face and scalp, releasing any tension you feel. Once relaxed, see if anything calls your attention - any areas which feel tight, achy, hot, cold, sore, etc. If so, place your attention there. Don’t try to do anything to change it, simply watch the area. If it shifts, find another area which calls to you. If none do, focus on the places that are supported by the earth: your bottom, legs, feet, and relax into those areas. Once here, I usually naturally switch my focus to my breath.

  3. The Sound, “Ah”: “Ah” is a universal sound. It is often a sound in the word for “God” in many languages: God, Allah, Rama, Buddha. It is easy to make this sound and it causes no stress in the facial muscles: simply drop the jaw slightly (which is a more relaxed position that having the mouth closed) and release, “ahhhhhhh” with the exhale. Repeat all the way through each exhale and feel the vibration in your body. After however many repetitions or a time you’ve chosen (5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc) then quietly sit and feel your body. I like to repeat “ah” six times, then focus on the feeling in my body. (It usually feels quite tingly and alive.) Eventually my focus shifts naturally back to my breath.

While I sometimes shift focus from body to breath and back, it is never because I am bored. Becoming bored with a focus is a sign that you have gone back into your thinking mind: only then could you feel “bored.” My focus sometimes shifts naturally if an area of my body calls to me: becomes stiff, achy, tingly, etc. Wordlessly I shift focus there and observe, without trying to change anything. It may shift or not, and eventually my focus simply switches back to my breath, which is sort of my “home base” in meditation.

Next week: How to build a meditation practice and the 5 minute meditation.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to everyone!

I hope you are all enjoying your day. Dave and I were hoping to get out in the garden to do more planting and weeding, but if you live in Pittsburgh you know that didn't happen (hail, thunder, lightening, rain.)

But we are definitely enjoying the day!

My mother's day juice was delicious: a huge bunch of lemon balm and three types of mint from the garden with apples and strawberries - yum!


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wellness Wednesday - Fresh Juices

So, many of you know that I am embarking on a juice feast, which means I am feasting (not fasting!) on the juices of fruits and veggies and lots and lots of greens and nothing else. Why? Well, I did put lots of the personal reasons in the blog Melissa's Juice Journal, but mainly so the body can rehydrate, alkalize, cleanse and rebuild.

At first I thought I'd mainly be drinking carrot, apple, beet juice, which was my favorite juice. But now...that's way too sweet for me. Right now I am drinking Tabouli Juice: tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, carrot, orange bell pepper, onion, garlic, lemon, mint, parsley and greens. It's only day 12 and my tastes have changed that much!

One question that sometimes comes up is: how do you get enough protein?

Here is the answer given by David and Katrina Rainoshek, of (I put in bold the main things I am using for protein)

"Protein is made from amino acids as building blocks, and amino acids are in everything. Our best protein sources on the Juice Feast are: the 2 lbs of leafy greens which are approximately 30 percent protein; Blue-Green Algaes such as Chlorella, E3Live AFA, and Spirulina (65% protein); Green Superfood Powder Concentrates such as Vitamineral Green and Pure Synergy; and bee pollen. The World Health Organization estimates that we need around 35 grams of protein each day, and we meet or exceed these protein requirements on a Juice Feast. In fact, I (David) have done weight training and muscle building while Juice Feasting, which would have been impossible with any lack of protein. John Rose, my mentor, has done this for years during long Juice Feasts. Finally, It is commonly known among the world of Plant-Based eaters that if you are consuming enough calories in a day, it is impossible to be protein deficient."

Bee pollen is actually really interesting...Paul Pitchford wrote about it in Healing With Whole Foods, and I actually quoted it in my blog on Day 1, April 26.

I've been keeping track of my juices in the blog, and there are links to other people's juice journeys as well.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Captain Vegetable!

Since our newsletter (which went out yesterday) had an article about Acupuncture and the Treatment of Allergies, I figured we'd do something a bit different today. If you don't get out newsletter but would like to be added to the email list, you'll find a subscription box on the right side of this blog (below "About Birch Center"), or visit our website at, and you'll find the subscription box there as well.)

Today, to celebrate the long promised link to my juicing blog (Day 11!), I present to you Captain Vegetable! From Sesame Street. Maybe you remember this from when you were little? I do.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Gift for You

Many of you know that when we recommend supplements, oils (flax, hemp), emergen-C, green drinks, herbs, remedies, - and organic raw cacao (chocolate) and maca for the raw foodies out there, - we often also recommend They have the best prices I have seen, and great shipping (free for orders over $60 and only $4 flat fee under that.)

Recently I ordered supplements from them for my current juice feast (I'm still working the on the blog...will post the link soon, I promise!) and they gave me this referral code to share with you: MEL526.

If you decide to order from them, you will get $5-off your first order using that code.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Happy May Day! Thankful Thursday

Today is May Day! Happy May to everyone. Here is a picture from the Bryn Mawr (my alma mater) website of their May Day celebration...dancing around the may pole.

It's also Thankful Thursday. I have been enjoying keeping my gratitude journal. I really like putting a pen to paper as well as writing on the computer. There's a difference somehow, and I feel I can tap in more deeply.

Today I am thankful for the rain (for the garden!). Also for our marvelous garden, which is sprouting so nicely. I am also grateful that it didn't frost or snow a couple nights ago!

I am so grateful for our wonderful practice and clients. I love that we are able to help so many people feel so much better using traditional Chinese medicine.

Finally,I am thankful to be juice feasting! Today (Day 6) I am starting to shake off that tired groggy feeling that I've had the past five days, and I'm starting to feel more energetic. I slept all the way through the night last night (something that has only happened a few times, even since childhood.) I am keeping a written journal about it, but I also plan to post a day by day journal online, and when I do I'll be sure to provide the link.

Have a wonderful day!