At the Market: Nourishing Herbal Infusions and the Gift Economy

Sunday, March 4 at the Westfield Annapolis Farmers Market, I’ll be introducing nourishing herbal infusions. I’ll offer samples of nettles, milky oats, red clover, and linden.

Nettle leaf is a good spring potherb, full of protein, vitamins, minerals and chlorophyll. It has a special affinity for the kidneys and for blood. Milky oats (oats and oatstraw picked in the milky stage) are a prize when it comes to helping relieve stress as well as debility following long periods of stress or illness. Red clover is a lymphatic and respiratory herb as well as a restorative. And linden has multiple actions, but may best be known as a nervine and heart tonic.

“Nourishing” implies two things: a larger amount of the herb is used and is steeped longer, though I’ll provide directions for using less, if folks prefer. “Nourishing” also implies a closer relationship to food. The closer we can align herbs and foods, the better off we tend to be. Each of these herbs is a “first degree” remedy, meaning they can all be used as food. Second-degree herbs include carminatives and spices. Third-degree herbs are the medicinals that we use for a time to help our bodies return to equilibrium. And fourth-degree herbs are the potentially toxic herbs or those in need of special preparation; pokeweed here in the Mid Atlantic is one example or aconite (monkshood) used in Chinese medicine.

As an herbalist, I love plants and see them all as multi-faceted gifts. Some we just need to see and touch, or if trees even hug and lean in, forehead to bark, to feel the gift. Others, including herbs, we need to take into ourselves to enjoy their gifts. All plants are gifts in the sense that they convert solar energy into food for many, many species. Without them, Earth would not be…Earth. So, exactly how can one put a price on such gifts?

The introduction of the nourishing infusions marks my foray into the “Gift economy” that Charles Eisenstein writes about in Sacred Economics, which is about how money has fostered scarcity and boosted competition among people while promoting growth at all costs and the destruction of community by monetizing activities that previously were given and received among members of a community.

Trying to manifest the “spirit of the Gift” in daily life is a new thing and a risk as we are so far removed from it. People may not know what to make of it. What this means in the context of offering nourishing herbs at the farmers market is this: I cannot specify a price to you, otherwise it would not be a gift. Also, I cannot predict the fruits of what may come from your using the herb, so how can I suggest what its value to you will be? All I can really do is tell you what my costs are. If after you make the infusion and find it to be helpful, then perhaps you can provide a return gift.

Early money was a stand-in for acknowledging gifts when the recipient did not have something wanted or needed by the giver. It has, of course, evolved into something quite different, quite anonymous and free of obligation for giver and recipient. Gifts imply an obligation on the part of the giver: to feel completely free and egoless in providing the gift and to pay enough attention to know what the recipient needs. Gifts also imply an obligation on the part of recipients: either to share a story of how the gift affected them, share a gift, or to pay it forward in some way to someone else in need.

Need, too, underscores the essence of old gift economies, in which, as Eisenstein points out, gifts went to those most in need. Our context for “need” today often points immediately to those who are economically disadvantaged. But to me, when I think of herbs and what they can do for us, I think of healing—something we as a society are so in need of in so many ways, no matter our annual income. These four herbs—nettles, milky oats, red clover, and linden—may be just the thing you need if you are stressed out and so amped up all the time that you find it hard to relax. Digestion is the basis for robust health and if we are to digest properly, we truly need to relax. These herbs can help provide that.

So, if you are inclined, please stop by on Sunday. I’ll have the herbs available as sets of the four, but also individually bagged. I encourage you to try a sample of each and if you are not certain you will use them, do not take them. If you do take them, be sure to use them…and share with me how they affect you by e-mail, phone or at a future market—March 18, April 15 or April 29. The herbs will also be available April 1 when my partner will be standing in for me.

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