Kelsey Barrett is a clinical herbalist who studied traditional European medicine and initiation into the world of herbalism in Europe and taught clinical herbalism as director of the Berkeley Herbal Center in the USA.
She now has a private practice in California, where she coaches patients on transformative strategies for lifelong wellness.
We caught up with her to talk about optimising habits and daily routines to feel energised as the seasons change. We begin with series #1, followed by #2 next week.
IRMA: You live in Northern California and your main goal for yourself and your clients is to connect with the local wild landscape. How do you develop a sensitivity to your environment so that you can benefit from its values?
KELSEY BARRETT: The only way to develop a subtle sensitivity is through daily practice. The refinement of any sensory skill is about observation and experimentation.
It’s easy to connect, but it’s about slowing down to receive.
Cultivating a relationship with a plant is like getting to know a friend. Most people have a daily relationship with coffee or tea. However, there are dozens of delicious medicinal herbs that can support your body. Personally, I love rosemary in the morning, which gets the blood moving and oxygen to the brain. I feel more alert and grounded than when I drink caffeine. To explore a new relationship, pick an herb that grows around you or that you can buy in a shop and drink it every day for a month or a week. Observe how you feel.
We live in a disembodied culture. Removing stimulation can help us get back into our sensory bodies, but it takes discipline. What would it be like not to have a screen in your bedroom an hour before bed? How would it feel to rest only in the moonlight? To pick a flower and put the petals in your bath? To pick an herb from your local walk and make a cup of tea?
IRMA: Why is it important to match the food you cook and the environment you live in with the season we have?
KELSEY BARRETT: When we align our diet with nature’s growth cycles, we can gently detox and deeply nourish our bodies with ease. Unlike the extremes of keto diets and juice cleanses, we can do it all with the guidance of the seasons.
Every spring there is an abundance of detoxifying greens. Cleavers, or Galium aparine, is a plant that cleanses the lymph system and blood. Coincidentally, the lymphatic system is used a lot during the winter months as it absorbs fats and transports them through the bloodstream.
In Northern Europe, a traditional preparation is to make a cold infusion of cleavers with spring water and drink it daily for a month. When we detox with cleavers in the spring, we cleanse our bodies of the heavy fats we’ve eaten over the winter.
At this moment for autumn, the four elderberry trees on our farm are in full fruit. Elderberry, Sambucus spp, is a clinically proven antiviral. I recently spent an afternoon making 20 jars of elderberry jam with a warming 14-spice blend I learned from my Iraqi mother-in-law. We can fend off winter bugs while enjoying delicious jam on our oatmeal and yoghurt all season long.
Bushra’s Spice Mix
1 part clove powder
1 part ginger powder
1 part cinnamon powder
1 part turmeric powder
1 part cardamom
2 parts allspice powder
2 parts black pepper
2 parts rose hip powder
2 parts nutmeg powder
2 parts cardamom powder
2 parts long pepper powder
Mix the spices together in a bowl. Pour into an airtight jar and store.
IRMA: What is your recipe for a healthy life?
KELSEY BARRETT: The definition of health in many traditional systems is balance.
I work primarily with women and find that most are stretched thin, overworked and exhausted in our modern world.
Experiencing pleasure in the body can help restore a sense of balance in the face of stress and fatigue. At our 50-acre farm and retreat centre, Redwood Dreams, I lead women through a half-day herbal embodiment retreat where I serve them ‘adrenal cocktails’, herb-infused medicinal bone broths and herbal teas. We also massage the herbs into the skin!
Most people are undernourished and under-mineralised due to the lack of minerals in our soil. If you feel tired in the afternoon, instead of reaching for caffeine, enjoy an adrenal cocktail. Fresh orange juice is rich in potassium, which feeds the adrenal glands. The natural sugars provide fuel for the liver to produce energy. Sea salt provides trace minerals to nourish the nervous system and coconut water contains electrolytes to support hydration. I have many clients who have made the switch in their daily routine and feel a refreshing boost of energy.
4-6 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
¼ cup coconut water
1 generous pinch of sea salt
Mix all ingredients in a glass and enjoy!