William Siff, Ethnobotanist and founder of the herbal drink brand Goldthread joins me today to talk about ways we can practically use plant medicine. When I say plant medicine it can be as simple as items you already have in your cabinets (things like cinnamon, herbal teas for digestion, turmeric for inflammation). Believe it or not, William makes this topic entertaining, sexy and inspiring. I have already started to incorporate his suggestions into my daily habits. Enjoy!
Listen to the episode here:
- Boosting the Immune System [00:05:35]
- Plant Medicine [00:09:27]
- Shifting to Herbs [00:27:32]
- Spices and Herbs for the Digestive and Nervous System [00:33:08]
- Teas [00:38:53]
- Flavors and Aroma [00:39:45]
- William’s Search for a Healthy Path [00:44:45]
- Raising Kids with Plants [00:53:49]
- On Goldthread [01:00:24]
- Delivery Mechanism for Herbs [01:06:31]
- Knowing Your Herbs and Spices [01:14:53]
- On Acid Reflux and Antacids [01:21:56]
- Teaching Children About Nature’s Gift and Wisdom [01:27:22]
- Hosting Plant Ventures [01:30:08]
William Siff – Incorporate Plant Medicine into Your Everyday Life
Our guest is William Siff. William Siff is an ethnobotanist. William has a lot of expertise, he’s a licensed acupuncturist, clinical herbalist, health educator, public speaker, and one of the Founders of Goldthread, which is an herbal drink that comes from plant-based medicine. The thing I’m interested in is whether can we find people that can make our self-care not only easier but do it in a way that feels attainable.
What I value about William’s message is that let’s look in our own cupboards, let’s start there. Do we have ginger? Do we have cinnamon? Can we have a mint tea after dinner? Small reasonable ways to support ourselves, our digestion, our sense of well-being, and inflammation, every day a little bit. If we have a little bit of a budget, nothing crazy that we can throw at it, let’s talk about some of the little bit more exotic things that are out there and how we use them. The other wonderful thing is if something is good for inflammation, chances are it might be good for about 3 or 4 other things.
What I appreciate about it is a little bit each day is that whisper to our good health. We’re not going through life ignoring our health and then having to hit it with a sledgehammer with either prescription medication or emergency medicine. Are these little subtle and realistic ways, whether it be the budget or in time, that we can support our nervous systems, our sleep, and all of these important things to make it easier? I came away learning a lot and I felt inspired because it felt doable. I hope you enjoy the show with William Siff.
Since you are in the know, regardless of whether it’s to manage stress or boost or support your immune system, is there stuff that you go, “I’m going to take a little extra with this.”
Yeah. I’ve been asked this question a lot and, generally speaking, immunity is an outgrowth of good health. In terms of the best way to boost the immune system, it’s about making sure that there’s not a lot of extra toxic burden on the body, in general. The fastest way to influence that or the most efficient way to influence that is to clean up the digestive system. Most of the immune system is situated around the gut and that’s for good reason.
Bacteria and microorganisms are riding in on our lunch and our dinner all the time and the body clears that stuff out and that takes up a lot of the immune system’s, energy. The body’s lymphatic system, the digestive system drains into the lymphatic system into the gut and that purifies what’s going to get into the cells ultimately. If the lymphatic system is overburdened with undigested gluten or whatever we’re eating that’s clogging up the system, it drains energy away from the immune system.
The external pathogens, be the respiratory like what’s happening right now or anything else, it doesn’t have the same degree of force field capacity because most of the immune system is bogged down in the gut and the gut lymphatics are all clogged and so on and so forth. I try to get my diet cleaned up and make sure that I’m running as efficiently as possible. I use all kinds of plant medicines to augment that, of course.
The whole notion of boosting the immune system, if you don’t have an immune issue that you’re contending with acutely like sniffles, sneezing, runny nose, and coughing, the idea of boosting immunity doesn’t work exactly. It’s like getting all dressed up with nowhere to go. All that alertness that your immune system has is putting energy somewhere where it’s taking it away from something else. You don’t want to overstimulate yourself in that way. That’s a complicated answer.
I want to go a little further into that. Let’s say someone is pretty healthy, their diet is good, and they’re getting rest, above average healthy. They’re not crazy, that’s all they do, and they have no life. They’re doing a little better than most people with what they’re eating and they’re managing stress and things like that. If they were getting something where the immune system was getting bogged down, let’s say you, even though you’re a little more extremely healthy and you started getting the sniffles. What would you do for yourself?
From the plant perspective?
The thing I am excited to talk to you about is plants. You’ve got naturopaths that you can talk about zinc, vitamin D, elderberry, and all these things. I try to learn everything on a 3rd to 5th-grade level.
There are people who have been doing it for so long. There are not that many people. Sometimes you can go to an acupuncturist, which you are as well, and they say, “Make this tea and drink it.” Besides what we say, it’s like, “It’s stinky but it does make me feel good.” We don’t know about plants, most of us don’t know. It’s something that we are underserved in our regular practice and it’s something I’m excited to learn from you. I love the idea of going back to something that the earth has already provided. It’s out there, it exists, and we are meant to be in harmony.
There’s no doubt about that.
For you, as somebody healthy, vital, and conscious of what you’re eating, what would you do from a plant perspective to say, “I’m going to support my immune system.” The idea of boosting it silly, I don’t know.
It’s a nomenclature, they’re words. You can use the word boost your immune system and it might mean that you’re boosting it via the digestive system or via the nervous system, for example. Anything that is like a leakage of energy or a place where energy is being congested or it’s not flowing properly becomes a drain on vitality and vitality includes immune health and immune function. There are some go-to’s. One of the first things I made sure to have a lot of is the Fort Knox of herbs, the Santa Monica HQ. Ginger and garlic.
A lot of the culinary spices that are sitting in the spice rack have the dual function of improving digestive secretions and digestive enzyme secretion and what we call in ayurveda, kindling the agni, or making sure we have robust breakdown power to combust our food and get the nutrients out of them. That same power that comes from the aromatic oils and those fragrant spices liquefies excess secretions and increases circulation of lymphatic fluid, blood circulation, and anything.
If you start to get congested, what first starts to happen is the mucus membranes get involved because they’re trying to trap the pathogen and wash it out of the body. The immune system itself slides around the mucus in the mucus membranes when it’s healthy. The mucus membranes are constantly secreting mucus. In that mucus are immune factors and they slide around there and they grab onto things when they get into the body, including the respiratory system.
[bctt tweet=”Most of the world has a healthcare system that’s based on plants.”]
There’s something called respiratory mucus, of course, but also associated lymphatic tissue where the mucus drains. It can get out of control and you can get too thick, turbid, and congested, and it’s not flowing right. That’s when inflammation sets an infection and secondary infections. Ginger, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, and asafoetida, there are so many herbs that are sitting in our spice rack that will liquefy and thin out the mucus secretions and get expectoration to come out.
If you’re going to cough it up, it’ll help you cough it up. If it’s got to drain out of your sinuses, it’ll help you drain it out of your sinuses. At the same time, in ayurveda and Chinese medicine, we say that the mucus or the congested mucus starts in the digestive. They say that the source is the digestive system and the container is the respiratory system which includes the sinuses. When people eat something that they have an allergy to like milk or something like that, one of the first signs is they start to get mucusy. That’s the body’s immune system turning on and saying, “We got to wash something out of here.”
If you’re not queued into those signs, those mucus membranes get compacted and squished down and the mucus does not flow properly anymore. I keep saying the word mucus over and over but they’re important in this whole scenario for lots of reasons. Especially in an environment like this, California, where it’s dry, but lots of places are dry because a lot of people live indoors in the winter and they’re dried out from wood stoves and indoor heating and stuff, the mucus memories have to stay moist, pliable, and resilient.
At a microscopic level, they’re not an efficient barrier function anymore. When something gets in and it wants to attack your throat and use your throat as the place that it gets into the rest of the system, the mucus membranes are the barrier between outside our body and inside our body. Once something gets beyond, the mucus membranes in our esophagus, our digestive system, or our respiratory system get into the lymphatic system. Keep them moist and healthy.
There’s a class of herbs called demulcent and demulcent means demulcent CE or moisture increasing. A lot of them we know. Aloe vera is a great one. There’s one called Slippery Elm and Marshmallow Root. In ayurveda, there’s one called Shatavari, which is a root of special asparagus. In Chinese medicine, they often use lily bulbs. Chia seed is another one. You put them in water and the water rushes in and breaks open the cell walls and out outcomes what’s inside, which is mucilage. Mucilage is slimy and gooey and it’s like mucus.
When you consume that, it restores the barrier function and the flexibility and the mucus membrane health, in general, to a lot of different tissues that the immune system relies on to do its job. That’s a good thing to have around. They hydrate us too. When you consume them, you’re consuming a gel and that gel is what’s in intercellular fluid. That gel is a lot more able to retain moisture and hydration than water.
When we consume water, a lot of times, it just moves through the system. When we consume gelatinous or mucilaginous plants, it helps us to retain moisture. Moisture is important for millions of reasons. I’ll hit the surface of these things. Another one people have heard about are elderberry, acai berry, or rose hips.
You think enough of elderberry to have it in the line. You have so many things to choose from. I want to continue down this path but also maybe then when we get into Goldthread, you can say, “This is why I chose these special lavender, lemon, and Hawaiian ginger.
After practicing clinically for twenty years, what I realized ultimately is that people come in with the same root causes of disease or ill health and they’re predictable.
When you talk about this stuff, it hits me. I’m a good soldier, if you said, “Do this.” We’re doing a lot of this stuff at our house. It also strikes me as almost like we’re rebellious children by nature. Here are these plants, like the parents, they’ve been around forever. Even simply when you’re discussing ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon, in a way, it’s almost like, “What do they know? They’re right there.” We’re always thinking it’s something incredibly exotic or in a pill or what have you. It was funny because when you were talking about it, I thought it’s funny sometimes when it’s something we’re familiar with and maybe we need to understand how to use it, we almost don’t give it credit.
There’s no doubt about it. In a lot of ways, people have thought about plant medicine as this stepsister to Western allopathic medicine that’s been outcompeted and doesn’t hold validity and stuff like that. In most of the world, that’s not the case. Most of the world has a healthcare system that’s based on plants. You can think of it like a pyramid where the base of the pyramid is the thickest and that’s where plant remedies, saunas, hot and cold hydro therapies, and breathing techniques, lots of things that are accessible to all that are non-invasive that strengthen the foundations of health.
They hit all the touchpoints of health that we need to pay attention to on a daily basis no matter who we are. Digestion, sleep, stress, endurance and energy levels, our endocrine system, and so on. You go up the next rung of the pyramid and you’ve got people like me who are acupuncturists, naturopaths, ayurvedic doctors, nurse practitioners, and chiropractors, people who still use the tools and the trades of natural medicine but in a more highly specialized way.
We’re not talking about an earache, cold, or a couple of nights of insomnia, now we’re talking about lupus, chronic migraines, or something. We’re still using non-invasive, non-toxic, and relatively inexpensive methodologies but we’ve dedicated ourselves to being able to do it in a specialized way. The next level is allopathic medicine and that’s mostly drugs, surgery, and advanced diagnostics. You go to the top and it’s emergency medicine.
When I teach this in different settings like in a public health setting, I talk about intact healthcare system looks like that because it’s resting on a foundation of nature, natural elements, and universal applicability. Socioeconomically, it’s the most affordable and accessible. Ecologically, it’s the least deleterious to the environment. We have more and more gardens and plants and flowers and things that we value in the forest. Stuff like that means we’re taking care of the environment at the same time.
As you move up the ladder, it gets more powerful, more toxic, more expensive, and more invasive. That doesn’t mean at all that they’re not all necessary. It means, proportionality, we’re doing it inverted and people are going to the strongest things first and they’re going to the strongest things that often repress symptoms or suppress the response of the body. Later on down the road, a few ear infections in childhood becomes some psoriasis ten years later because we didn’t follow the wisdom of the body and of nature.
That’s not always easy, especially if you’re already behind the eight ball and you already have these chronic degenerative conditions because of choices we’ve made in our diet. Some of them are out of our hands but a lot of them aren’t out of our hands. It’s harder to use natural medicine when you are getting a triple bypass up here on the top of the pyramid when it could have been dealt with by making sure you had plenty of olive oil and garlic in your diet and hawthorn berries, and you were dealing with stress, you’re getting plenty of antioxidants, you are exercising, and all that.
No matter where you are on that pyramid though, even if you were that person who had that heart surgery, you still have to go down the pyramid. You can’t cheat the system because if you want to get healthy and I don’t mean just existing but if you want to help that problem in a serious way, you need to then augment your diet and lifestyle. You start to use those things, like, “I got to go get acupuncture now and I’ve got to get some massage. I also have to use this turmeric to make sure my inflammation is not so intense. I have to take care of my blood vessels by having rose hips and hawthorn and other rich pigmented plants in my diet and so on.”
Most of the world still exists in that model because it’s expensive to have that high-tech medicine. It’s only necessary in a lot of ways from my feeling at this point in cultures that are bulls in the China shop. In terms of the amount we’re using, it’s an assumption that we should all be engaging in that form of medicine, advanced, intense pharmaceutical interventions, and so on. That’s not the case. I often too will say the spice rack, if you knew how much potential was in your home now and what these things can do if you use them every day for extended periods.
I was in India before all this and there’s curry and turmeric and culinary tropical spices in every meal. It’s not a lot though. A couple of teaspoons you might consume on a daily basis. If you consume a couple of teaspoons every day for weeks, months, and years, that starts to add up. That’s the best way to use plant medicine in my opinion after working with it for twenty years. Get it interwoven into the lifestyle seamlessly in all aspects of our diet, our cuisine, our bedrooms, our bathrooms, and everything. All of a sudden, you’re starting to saturate the system with these unique plant compounds without even knowing it. They accumulate over time and then you start to see what the real power of this thing is.
I read a lot of books where it always defines American culture as the teenager of the world because we are young. Part of what’s so great is, like, “I can do it. Don’t tell me what to do. I know the answer.” it’s all of that. Also, there is an immediacy to everything where it’s like, “I’ll get surgery. I’ll take a pill.”
You’ve seen so many patients and so many people over the years. How do you get people to shift and take a look at what you’re saying to where it’s being a little bit more conscious or putting a little effort into a strategy about, “How will I get some of these things into my everyday diet?” Besides people being sick and not feeling well, having big rashes, and headaches, and they all do anything, is there any way to get people and make it feel like it’s achievable, not only that but the patience for the long-term benefit?
That’s the art of clinical practice and the real trick that we all have to learn if we’re going to be successful at this. I started my practices outside of Boston in working-class environments. I practiced in Maine and stuff like that where I treated a lot of lobstermen, lobster women, fishermen, clamors, and stuff like that. If people are sick, that’s the first hook because they’re asking for help. First of all, I’m psyched up about this stuff that I will transmit to people.
I will get them psyched on it one way or the other as my mission. I decided early on that if anyone ever walked in to see me when I was getting my feet under me as a practitioner, I’m like, “How do I do this?” I said, “If someone walks in to see me, I must be able to help them in some way. Otherwise, why would they come to see me? I’ll make sure that I don’t have to try to fix everything. I’m going to try to help them in any possible way that I can that comes to me and I’m going to have faith that something will happen.”
That intention coupled with the fact that I started practice in herbal pharmacies and herbal areas that I started because I had seen the Asian models and I liked that model of having the herbs surrounding you and the doc in the back, taking the pulse, looking in the tongue and in the front, there are all these herbal remedies and people could walk in off the street and they didn’t have to always have an appointment.
A lot of times, I’m like, “Let me see your tongue. Let me take your pulse.” Someone is coming in and I could tell them things about what’s going on before they even told me anything. That would begin the dialogue. I would start with small victories with no attachment to them. Anything small that we can implement that makes a difference that people say, “I felt a little bit better when that happened.” We’ll then awaken some aspect of the life force that wants to be well and better.
That’s the only thing I want to have a dialogue with, the part of someone that’s healthy because the part that’s unhealthy is going to tell me stories and try to do all kinds of justifications and everything. Oftentimes, it’s got a hold of people if they’re sick and they can’t contend with it because it’s conditioned responses and stuff. I try to get in their dialogue with the healthy part and therefore I have to be in touch with my own healthy part. That’s esoteric but that’s how it worked.
The apothecary made it so that people could come in with low commitment levels, stock up their pantry with things, get some stuff, maybe buy a vitamin, or something like that. Once people would get some results, then they would say, “I always want to have that thing in my pantry. What about this? My daughter got some poison ivy today. What do you have for that?” I then became the neighborhood apothecary.
It’s individual because every circumstance is completely different. We still have a model of healthcare where even in these alternative or natural spaces people can shop around. Oftentimes so, they can go a certain degree or down a certain path with a practitioner. They’re like, “Let me try something else,” or, “Let me change it up.” It’s because they’re paying out of pocket. It’s a whole nother aspect of this, which in a lot of cases, it isn’t the case where profit and healthcare are not intense as they are here.
You were talking about the demulcents and things to keep you hydrated. A lot of times, when you hear about flu season, people think it’s a drop in temperature but it’s a drop in moisture. To your point, it’s not having that protective barrier because there’s less moisture. We have a humidifier in our bedroom because our youngest daughter, when she was young, she’d gotten stuffed up and we couldn’t get her clear. Even Laird is the person who will expel off the nose, he doesn’t care.
We put her into the shower and it was one of those things. They put a cool mist on her. I wouldn’t say we’re alarmist but it was one of those things where it was like, “This is serious.” Ever since that point, he’s always put a humidifier in our room. When we’re in Hawaii, in Kaui, you don’t need that, it’s moist. You started moving into elderberries and things. Because of the way you have this relationship with plants, if it’s realistic to ask this, are there these groups that do certain things?
It’s not an unrealistic question. Maybe you could share. It’s also important for people to realize this is science, this has been a practice, people have paid attention, and these are used in specific ways. It’s not like, “We’ll throw some stuff together and you’re good to go.”
That’s what I was referring to when I was talking about the saturation method in the sense that there are certain touch points that we all have to deal with or that we are all touching upon or experiencing in a body on a daily basis whether we’re consciously aware of it or not. We wake up, we assess, “How’s my ur appetite? How’s my digestive system? How’s my energy level? Did I get enough sleep? What was the quality of my sleep? Do I feel tense? Do I feel relaxed? Do I feel excited? What’s the quality of my elimination today? That’s interesting, it’s not the same time today,” or, “It’s been great this week.”
“When am I getting tired at night? Am I going to sleep and getting to sleep?” We’re always paying attention, “What’s my core energy? What’s my libido like and my mood and outlook? How’s my relationship with my emotions? Am I feeling anxious or stressed or anything?” We’re always paying attention to these things. If you took all those things, you could relate them to a certain system of the body. We’re talking about the nervous system, the digestive, the endocrine system, and the detoxification system, which includes the intestines, the liver, and all of that stuff, our hormones. That’s what we’re referring to when we’re living in the body assessing these things.
There are groups of herbs that I’ve groupings that when I’m seeing a person at this point in my practice, I try to make sure that I touch upon every system and make sure that there’s something in their daily repertoire of things that they’re consuming or interacting with. It enhances or improves or catalyzes or amplifies all of these core systems of the body that make up our foundational level of health. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, in fact, it’s not dramatic, that’s the idea.
What does that mean? Practically speaking, I was talking about the agni or the digestive fire, that’s a big concept in ayurveda. When we have proper agni or digestive fire, that means we’re capable of digesting our food and extracting the nutrients and assimilating them into the cells. If we’re not, that means the gut holds onto the food too long, it starts to get bogged down, fermented, and blood sugar issues start to happen, food allergies start to happen from that, and inflammatory gut problems start to happen from that, of course, all manner of things. That’s called ama or dampness in Chinese medicine, it’s the residue of what we don’t digest. There’s a relationship between these two things.
What improves agni? What improves digestive capacity and robustness? It’s things that we already have in our diet, culinary spices. Every culture that has longevity has a cuisine of longevity and it always incorporates medicinal plants. That’s true for the Mediterranean region, Southeast Asia, Vietnamese, or Thai cooking, or Greek, Italian, or whatever. Any place that there’s ever had a longevity tradition where people live to ripe old ages in good health compared to our diet and our background always incorporates these things.
Everything in our spice rack has a story, it comes from somewhere where they’ve incorporated it into a cuisine. if we cook with these things, if we consume these things on a daily basis, we’re going to be firing up our digestive system. If we cook them into our food, that fires up our digestive system when we eat them and it catalyzes all those secretions and all the different enzymes that break down our food properly.
[bctt tweet=”As an herbalist and an ayurvedic doc, my mission has been to get herbs into people.”]
There’s a whole nother group of herbs called aromatic relaxants and these are things like lavender, chamomile, peppermint, lemon balm, linden flower, rose, and to a certain scent, you could say tulsi or Greek mountain tea, there are all kinds. These historically and currently have been consumed after meals. When you’re eating it, it’s like a molten process of volcanic lava and juices and fiery secretions that are swishing around your gut breaking things down. There has to be a yin to that yang process.
When you’re done with that, the body has to restore its mucus membranes, and it has to cool out to assimilate properly. It’s like, “That’s enough acid, that time is over. Now it’s time to alkalize everything and make sure everything’s juicy and relaxed.” Those types of herbs, the aromatic relaxants, are historically consumed after a meal to relax the gut, the enteric nervous system, where all the nerves are in our gut because there’s a lot of tension in that process.
When you’re digesting, it’s like a washing machine, you’re squishing here, jiggling that, and squirting this. It’s a lot of muscle action. You need to relax the gut. These things, through their aromatic oils, are anti-spasmodic, they relax, and they create space so that the gut can relax. When the gut relaxes, the mind relaxes because there are many nerves here. That puts us into rest and digest mode and that’s our assimilation phase. We get into digest mode and then we have to go into rest and digest mode.
Do you think people should do those in teas mostly? What’s the most effective way for the relaxant cycle? It’s funny when you say that and then you think about how many cultures serve mint tea after the meal. It’s not caffeinated so it won’t impact your sleep.
You can do it in a number of ways. In fact, that’s a good point you brought up because I often will joke about that. There are certain herbs that have made it through the gauntlet of our society. You can go to a Denny’s or something and you can find black pepper on the table for the agni and you can have a cup of mint tea at the end of the meal for the other part, and then you got this yin yang relationship of good digestion. That’s good digestive hygiene, those two groups. There’s a real historical precedent for that.
For people who don’t, black pepper is Bioperine. Your absorption rate of what you are, especially something like turmeric or something, goes way sky-high when you couple it with black pepper. We never connect that there are reasons for all of it.
Of course, flavor and aroma make a big difference when you’re smelling. Like tomato sauce from down the hall, grandma’s cooking, and you’re smelling it. Those aromatic oils from oregano, marjoram, and thyme are floating through the atmosphere because they’ve been volatilized from the cooking. They hit our olfactory epithelium, which is this piece of tissue, and right on the other side of it is the brain. Those aromatic oils bind to the receptor sites on that tissue. That initiates the secretion of digestive fluids. You can tell, people start salivating when they start to smell things cooking. It’s that primary.
Are we attracted to the fragrances that we’re cooking and that gives us the medicinal effect or is it the other way around? Our bodies knew they were medicinal so they become attracted to things that know are medicinal for it. Regardless, it’s both ends. Your question is, how to best consume them? The thing that I often have to work with people on is that we live the way we live. I want to make sure people get these things into them and we’re traveling and we’re doing things.
It’s not always possible to have a nice pot of tea and chill out after a meal but sometimes it is and that’s optimal because you’re creating the context around which the plant is going to do its work best, you’re already chilling out. There are times when you might substitute. You don’t have time to cook the culinary herbs into the food, for example, and you have to take some shot of bitters or some shot of some agni enhancing little potion or elixir that you’ve made or you slice up some ginger, squirt a little juice of lime on there, a tiny pinch of rock salt, put it on a spoon and down it.
Wait ten minutes and you’re going to be hungry. The same is true after meals, you can take these things as capsules, tinctures, or liquids. Powders, oftentimes, in ayurvedic medicine, we use them. There are lots of ways to hack it and do what you need to do. The question is don’t take a day off because your life is erratic and you’re waiting for it to calm down because life is not gonna stop being erratic. You can use all sorts of delivery mechanisms for these herbs to make sure that you’re covering the basic principles I’m talking about.
Bitters is another good example. My sister lives in Sweden and I took my daughter to Denmark right before all this. There’s a long tradition in Europe, Southern Europe, Italy, and so on, of drinking aromatic bitters prior to meals. Bitters are herbs that taste bitter and a lot of them we know, there’s dandelion, artichoke leaf, wormwood, and lots of stuff that grows here in California. Bitter herbs do similar things to aromatics in terms of increasing digestive capacity. They have a little bit more action on the liver system, which is a whole nother story.
They’re often concocted into combinations of bitter herbs with aromatic spices. I bring a lot of them home. The last time, I brought twenty bottles from Denmark. They were on my carry-on and they were clinking. It was not legal to do that. I had all these great combinations and they had these old recipes and I was going to all these old wine stores to find them. The tradition is to have a shot of it before meals and get the digestive system stimulated.
If you’re not cooking for yourself or you’re maybe out to a restaurant, you might order one. They have them in bars and restaurants. You don’t get enough to get drunk or anything. You have a little shot. You have big bitter receptors in your tongue and when you taste something bitter, it stimulates through reflex action, all these gastric secretions, and it’s a healthy practice. It’s another way to do it if you’re not just cooking them into your food or your cooking in general.
Let me ask you about stress. You said your daughter, is this is your only child?
No, I have a son.
I didn’t even get into the fact that you have, since a teenager, in your own way before maybe even studying, had an interest and a relationship with plants and a calling toward them. One would say, “I am not like William. I barely notice certain things. He must be born more peaceful and more natural.” Sometimes it’s that perception. You had a health issue that led you to go deeper and practice. It’s not an inner ear but you had something.
It seemed like it was. When you say born more peaceful, I probably the opposite. What got me into this was searching for a healthy path in a place where a lot of the modeling is not healthy. When I was a teenager, where I would look to go to hear myself was nature, and I didn’t know at the time what was going on. I grew up near Walden Pond and I used to run and swim there five months out of the year through the forest.
I’d spend as much time out there as possible and it was the place where I’d feel most sane in the midst of things. Like any teenager, you’re confused about stuff. I was lucky because I found early on that nature is where it’s at, that’s what has the answer because it’s quiet, still, and I could hear myself. I’d always walk out of there feeling like I was cleansed. Swimming in that lake and running through the forest, that’s where I go to wash everything off and come back into the world.
There are many moments that makeup what gets you on a path. I remember distinctly on one of these runs through the forest in late summer seeing all these plants in bloom, all these flowers, and all these different things, and seeing them and taking note of them in a way I’d never had before to the point where I stopped, got off the path, and walked into the field. I was examining these flowers. For the first time in my life, I was maybe noticing a flower at 17 or 16 or something.
Of course, I’d noticed them but I mean I noticed it, like, “What is this thing? What are all these things?” It was such a diverse blooming meadow. It was beautiful, there were bees and butterflies, and the whole thing. I was like, “This is alive. What is all this stuff?” I started getting Peterson Field Guides and I’d read about them. The thing I first saw was called a balloon flower and I read about it, “This thing is good for your digestive system and your respiratory system if you can make tea out of this thing if you get sick.” That’s crazy. I couldn’t believe it.
Native Americans had done this and I was like, “How come I didn’t know about this?” I started to expand and look at all the other ones. I’d look at the trees and then I’d be like, “How come I didn’t even know what these things were called? These trees, I know what they look like, I didn’t know their names, I didn’t know anything about all the things that you could use these plants for. When I started to find that world and teach myself botany and understand that all of these plants had a use and function.
That’s more what I started to get into and wrecked my attention towards, which is the study and the understanding of how people use plants, traditional people, in different ways. It’s not just medicine but medicine is a part of that. This was the beginning of that interest. I was into it with my teams. It was pretty early on when I went away to college.
Did people go, “That’s weird.”
I kept it to myself, to be honest with you. Until to a certain point, it was like a hobby, it was like collecting bottle caps or something. I had a backpack and it had my water bottle, a ganja pipe, my Peterson Field Guide, a few other things, and my bathing suit. That’s my kit. When I’d go out, I’d want to find a new thing. It’s like like bird watchers, you want to see something you’ve never seen before. You’re like, “I got a plan to walk out to this meadow that’s up this mountain near this pond because I’m likely to find this plant that I haven’t found anywhere else.”
It would be like a quest and it would get me out into nature even more and more. It all started to spiral into, like, “This is what it’s like to be a naturalist or something.” In school, when everyone was drinking beer and I was certainly drinking beer, I one day woke up dizzy, the room was spinning, and the world was spinning. Back in the days when you could hitchhike, I hitchhiked from the University of Rhode Island in the middle of the night in the winter to the University of Massachusetts to go to a party with some friends. It was a raucous weekend.
I woke up dizzy and it set me on a path. I couldn’t quite read and I couldn’t quite concentrate because I was always preoccupied with this little bit of spinning. I went through all the diagnostic tests and it was the inner ear things and everything was inconclusive. I stepped it up and the next thing you know, I’m getting MRIs in Boston medical centers. Still, everything was inconclusive but the symptoms persisted. All the way, I was also self-studying and I was like, “I’m going to have to fix this somehow.”
I went right to the plants and started juicing and I was pretty much orange from the amount of carrot juice I was drinking. Everyone was going out to the bars and I would be in my room like a witch concocting things on a stovetop, throwing all these things together from all these old herbal books that I would find and experiment on myself. I progressed and learned an enormous amount through those experiments about all kinds of things physiological that were going on with me.
At a certain point, I went into Chinatown in Boston and I went into one of these Chinese pharmacies and I happened to meet this amazing Chinese medicine doctor. He took my pulse, looked at my tongue, and it was like reading my fortune. I was like, “He seemed to know all these things about me. I don’t know how he knew it.” Most importantly, he was reassuring. He was like, “This is no problem.” I told him all these things and all these tests and he’s like, “None of that stuff. No problem. All you need is this.”
He brings me over to his cupboards and he opens these drawers and smells these things and I’m like, “That jives with me because that sounds what I’ve been doing anyway.” He took it to another level of expertise and made me all these things. As you said, the crazy teas would smell up the whole house and stuff. I loved the smell. I was enthralled by the whole process. I consumed these and it didn’t take too long before not only did my symptoms go away, it took a month or so, but my mind changed dramatically.
I didn’t even realize the coupling of the mental and psychological components with the physical problem. I didn’t grasp the mind-body connection experientially until that moment. My sleep was improving, my digestive system was improving, and the symptoms were going away. My energy was better, my mood was better, and my outlook. I was like, “Everything gets better when one thing gets better.” That was it, this is what I want to do.
I spent a lot of time traveling. My brother had a nonprofit that works and still does with indigenous people all over the world in a human rights capacity so I was able to go as a project director to the Amazon, Panama, and all these places where people are still living a traditional lifestyle. I got to see another layer of plants in action. Long story shorter, that’s how I found my way into it. It was a series of steps and I thought, “If I can do this thing that I’m doing…” I don’t play the oboe and I don’t collect baseball cards. It’s 20 years of plant medicine, that’s what I do.
Do your kids rebel against it? What’s the dynamic there? Let’s shift to you from being the professional informed acupuncturist, botanist, and all these things. Let’s flip you to a parent who is communicating with teenagers. Your daughter is a young adult. For the most part, it feels like people mellow down a little around 17 if they are going to buck you. They see the light at the end of the tunnel, like, “I’m almost out of here.” They have probably a little more freedom and they’re not bucking it hard. Your son is getting. Those are the ages. Was there anything as a parent that you’re a person who does know better? As a parent, being like, “This has also got to be their personal discovery.”
When they were growing up, that was the period of time when I owned and operated a working herb farm in Berkshires and Massachusetts. I was also doing my clinical practice and I was running apothecaries so I was doing a lot of things. They grew up on the herb farm where we lived so it wasn’t separate from our house. They spent an enormous amount of time watching me walking around with people and teaching them about plants. They were out there while I was growing things.
Of course, they were helping me in the fields and hanging around, more than helping and mostly hanging around. Because I’m skilled in medicine, I didn’t freak out about things. A lot of people have the inclination to treat their children naturally but when the rubber hits the road, it’s scary and it’s like, “There’s a fever, I can use the Tylenol or I can try to make this tea and get it into them.” One road is simpler than the other one and also less scary because if you don’t have a background, you sometimes feel like, “I think this will work. The test case shouldn’t be at this moment, 3:00 in the morning, with a 102 fever.”
I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing but I was trained. They saw me treating them always with natural methods. A lot of times, I would go out into the gardens and the fields and I would be getting stuff for them and bringing it in. They saw the connection between that and health early and often and constantly. Honestly, in their case, it wasn’t a period. It wasn’t they were that skilled at it but they never made the association strongly between chemical medicine, pharmaceutical medicine, and health.
They never thought, “I’m not feeling well. We should go to CVS and go into the Robitussin aisle.” It never even crossed their mind because there were many remedies available. They would come to me and I would make them what they needed and fix them up and it seemed to have persisted, especially with my daughter who has given me infinite amounts of stories where she’s taught her friends how to do this or that and the other thing. It got into the DNA pretty sufficiently, luckily, to understand the connections between digestive health.
They’ve been close to all my activities. I never forced it upon them. There was nothing else that they needed. There was never a lack of something because when practiced properly, plant medicine not only cures symptoms and makes you feel better but it makes you feel good, strong, and healthy. I gave her my birthday present and one of them was a home medicine kit because now she’s back because she’s out of the school system back here.
We, fortunately, have an apartment back there so she can still maintain her own zone and we can too, which has been great. I gave her a little home medicine kit and in it are herbs from all of those categories that I mentioned. There are things for the digestive system but then there are also things for the nervous system. If you’re having a sleepless night, she’s got tinctures of California poppy, passion flower, skullcap, and all these relaxing mildly hypnotic sedative herbs that she knows well how to use and how to consume them before sleep to start to ramp down the nervous system so it naturally digests all that stimulation that’s in its circuitry. She knows that works for getting good sleep.
I’ve given her different things. I gave her a diffuser with aromatic oils and things that will improve her mood or improve her concentration. I gave her a little bowl with a resin burning kit so she can burn some frankincense when she wants to get into a different head space and get creative. I’ve given her different things like skin stuff because she’s at that age where she’s concerned about her complexion and skin stuff.
[bctt tweet=”There are many moments that make up what gets you on a path.”]
She was completely going down the wrong path and I was like, “Let me give you some spray and some hydrosols of lavender, rosemary, and tea tree, that’ll be a good facial astringent. You can add this kind of oil on there to nourish and moisturize.” I taught her some stuff, along with my wife, how to take care. The rebellious time was when she was wearing synthetic perfumes. With one of those perfumes, I couldn’t even have her in the house. It was like, “Forget it.” It was toxic.
That’s 12 or 13 years old.
It’s gross. I was like, “I don’t know how they can sell that stuff.” It emits a force field a hundred yards away that, to me, is a repellent and not an attractor. It’s clearly deranging her brain to have that close to her brain and her sinuses. I’m like, “That’s got to go.” There was a little fight around that because all of her friends had those things. That’s what happens. I remember the Drakkar Noir days, way back when. I taught her the value of natural fragrances, flowers, roses, jasmine, and the things that make you feel good and have a long history in India and all kinds of places of attracting and aren’t going to give you a brain aneurysm. I got through that one.
You’re on this path and you have a robust practice doing all these different ways you’re expressing your skillset in multiple ways, growing it, having the apothecary, and doing all these things. What makes you go, “I’m going to try to figure out how to get this goodness and get into the beverage business.” I understand when you have a practice and you’ve treated patients and you have a body of work that you go, “I could chunk in my mind ten things that would help a lot of people down the middle.” Someone coming in with something that needs to be specifically diagnosed. How did you get to the place where you created Goldthread and what was your thinking behind that?
You hit upon it. When you spend 10 or 15 years in one-on-one interactions all day and every day, thousands and thousands of patient interactions, I love it and I loved it but I was also finding people coming in with the same root causes of their problems. I was ending up having the same conversations with everybody a little bit too late. I was running these apothecaries where it was like a little public health institution where people could come in and get over-the-counter advice. There are allergies going around because the cottonwood seeds are floating around. Everyone’s coming in with allergies.
I see that and I’m like, “Here’s how you deal with this with plants instead of having to, later on down the road, end up with larger problems.” I started having more and more of those conversations about the bigger implications of plant medicine for societal health, for public health. Frankly, in my mind, it started to become for ecological health too because it was like, “The clock is ticking. We can’t be healthy without a healthy environment.” That includes our social environment and our work environment.
I was the boy with the fingers in the dyke. You put a thing in here and then another thing comes out because if the root causes of the problems are rooted in either choice or choiceless lifestyle things, it was like, “Let’s have the conversations because I’m a good communicator.” I started doing more of that and having classes and going to the conference circuits and speaking at different places. That was the methodology.
I was like, “I saw that as an extension of practicing medicine is getting across context and the philosophy that’s underpinning these medical systems that I’ve been practicing and I’ve internalized, and that includes the herbs.” It then was like, “What could I do to make an impact and keep that platform growing?” The reason I’m speaking with you is probably that I met you somewhere where the drinks were and the drinks become a vehicle to introduce people to this concept or this lifestyle that includes medicinal plants as an everyday item to improve or enhance health.
It follows the direction that is happening culturally, especially in certain circumstances. It would have been everywhere now and hopefully, it’s going to accelerate, especially right now. People are reaching for healthier things when they’re on their lunch break. They’re looking for functionality in their food or medicinal healing cuisine or medicinal healing diets. We’re trying to improve functions while we’re ingesting things intertwined and that’s big in the beverage space. Kombucha kicked open the doors.
When I saw kombucha years ago, it was this gross-looking wad of phlegm in a jar that weird people put in their cabinet and took little shots of and now it’s mainstream. There are a lot of other things that are moving in that direction. People are going to the beverage cooler for a speedy recovery or adaptogenic functions to help buffer the negative effects of stress or immune improvement or digestive enhancement or whatever. It’s all over the place, especially here in Southern California but it’s growing.
I was right in with that trend line. I had made these teas for years in the apothecary where people would come in for the same problems. Whether someone comes in because they’re having some acid reflux or they’re having some lack of appetite or they’re having some food allergy, or whatever, I wanted to have a digestive tea that would cover all the bases. It wasn’t necessarily going to cure their thing but it was something they could do on a daily basis regardless of whether they saw me clinically or not.
Someone else would come in with some kind of nervous system issue, “I’m not sleeping, I’m in between jobs, and I’m stressing out. I’m waking up with bad dreams at 1:00 in the morning and now I’m tired all the time.” Give him the nervous system tea. Someone else would come in with energy issues, give them energy, and adaptogen tea number two. I made them so they tasted good, they worked well, and people could come in. The people that were working for me would dole them out by the pound. Those were the prototypes of the drinks.
With those mixtures, they would go home and sip the tea. You had the herbs already formulated for which thing and then they would go home and sip it.
They came in a French press.
The fact that you’ve now made it something I can see, grab, and go. You said it at the beginning of the interview, “Live where you’re at.” Instead of you going, “Everyone should go to a Chinese medicine apothecary.” It’s going, “We’re going to hand it to you.” The notion of people having something and over time going, “That does make me feel good.” You then can have those bigger conversations. I had the rose one right before I was going to speak to you. You have lavender and Hawaiian ginger. Maybe you could break it down to which one covers which zones. If people go to look for it, they go, “I’m in need of this, the green one.”
What you said too is true, it’s a delivery mechanism for these herbs. The intention was to make them strong enough so that they did something but they also tasted good. As an herbalist and an ayurvedic doc, my mission has been to get herbs into people. If people get herbs into them, I’ve seen again and again, without sounding too fufu or woo-woo, it awakens something. It amplifies the sensation of your own physiology because they’re so novel in their flavors and their functions that you can feel them doing something.
Thousands and thousands of these bottles are being consumed every day across the country, which would never have happened if I was working one-on-one with someone. I was like, “We’ve achieved the width and the breadth of what’s possible here.” Everyone’s getting a dose of these things. Many people are able to go in and get a dose. There are fourteen grams of herbs. When I’m in a clinical interaction, it varies. Fourteen grams is half an ounce.
If I’m seeing a patient a lot of times, I’m giving them raw herbs or even a pill or a liquid equivalent of raw herbs. I’m trying to get in 14 to 28 grams a day or something like that, either the equivalent in a capsule or a tablet or something like that or the raw herb. Raw herb is important because the flavor profile of herbs initiates a whole cascade of physiological actions. Without that flavor, you miss a lot of what the signals to the body through the receptor sites on the tongues and all the rest of the body of what to do or what’s happening or what’s going on.
Regardless of 14 or 28 grams, sometimes a little more as a daily dose. I managed to squish fourteen grams of herbs into each one of these bottles, which is great because most of the time, that won’t taste good but I found a way to make them taste from experience. People aren’t just going to have something that’s like, “Maybe there’s a little something in here.” They’re like, “There is something in there and it does something on the spot.”
I’ll say one other thing that’s important. You said Hawaiian gingered, it made me think of that because that’s from Kauai, from your hood right down the road from where you guys are. This is another reason why I was so into the drink companies because it allowed me to go all over the world and meet the farmers and get the raw materials and set up the relationships and do a fair trade relationship while also making sure the quality is the best quality I could ever find.
These drinks are like little works of art. I put a lot of effort into making sure that they’re the right stuff. There was ginger growing all over the world and I was like, “I’ve got to find the Hawaiian ginger sourced because it’s fruitier, more floral, and aromatic.” Every single one of those drinks has a story like that. The honey rose you drink comes from a plant called Honeybush, which is a relative of Rooibos, which is the red tea that grows in South Africa.
This particular honeybush is a big shrub that is cultivated in some places but we get ours from wildcrafted sources that are wildcrafted by these people called Khoisan people. They’re the ancestors of everybody. They’ve been drinking this tea for a hundred thousand years. We’re getting something that has that level of antiquity and they’ve been gathering it the way they’re gathering it for our supply chain for countless thousands of years.
To me, it’s a magical thing because when you’re consuming that, you’re consuming that environment and you’re consuming the elements that are in those coastal mountains of South Africa, the air, and the water patterns. When I was getting the Hawaiian ginger, the people were gathering it but I was at the farm, and it was at that time of year when the humpback whales were jumping all over the place and there are rainbows everywhere. You can see the humpback whales breaching and the rainbows from the ginger farm. These people are picking this stuff and I’m like, “If people knew what they’re getting when they consume this, they’re getting all that stuff.”
Clients call it the Mana. When they talk about the Mana from the land or even certain people, it’s all those things that you can’t put your finger on that make that specific place unique to them whether it’s the sun, the way it shines, the whale, the ocean, the people themselves, and the soil, it’s all of it. Have you tried the turmeric from Kauai?
Yeah. I get it from the same farm.
Laird has turmeric. We have a friend named Benny Ferris and his dad has been growing there for a long time before turmeric was popular. You can open it and sometimes different ones are sharp and bitter. This one is smooth, you can bite it. Laird juices it in an Angel Juicer and then mixes it with other things. It’s so smooth.
To your point, you put some of that in a glass and mix it. Another trick we do is mix it with some kombucha and drink it that way. It goes in your body and all of a sudden, you’re like, “I feel extra power going.” It’s all of that. You have turmeric from other places and that’s different from that. They also grow Kauai, that white ginger that is a little spicier.
That one is also nice. The skin is so thin that it doesn’t ship as well fresh. What you said is important, the energy of the plants themselves. There are fewer biodiverse healthy hotspots environments. We’re lucky enough to be able to consume things that grow in those types of environments. In places in China, you can get the same herbs growing on the median strip of the highway. The herb trade is like every other trade, you have to understand how it’s harvested and where it’s grown. It absorbs all that energy from the soil and it makes a difference between a superfood super herb or something that is reminiscent of that or a facsimile of that.
We’re beginners here. You’ll have people who do go to Chinese doctors and that’s more of an acceptance of a cultural thing. You’ll meet people from anywhere in the US. It was something that their aunt told them or their mother told them and then they grew up doing it. It’s from all walks of life. For me, I love the idea of, as you said, it being around a hundred thousand years. There’s a reason all these things have been around and the practice of them and the development of them is an art and a craft.
A lot of people feel either overwhelmed or don’t know how to penetrate. It’s like, “Do I have to take everything for it to count? Can I start with one little thing?” What I’m asking is if you had somebody who was a beginner and they didn’t have anything specific that needed to be diagnosed or maybe they do, how would you say would be a great way for them to introduce themselves to this? It’s a form of practice and sometimes because there are many beautiful options, it almost keeps people because nobody taught them.
You have to make a habit of it.
It does have that cascading or systemic effect over time. How would you say to somebody who might have to forge it on their own, where would be a good starting point if there’s a book where they could start to understand maybe from 30,000 feet what it looks like?
Before I got to the book level, I was going to say that whenever someone comes in to see me or whenever I recommend anything, it always starts with the digestive system. It always starts with the most biocompatible herbs that you can integrate into your life that don’t have some challenging effect on the body and they’re ones that you’re attracted to naturally, maybe they’re a part of your heritage. For example, we talked about one of them, ginger. It’s not too hard to incorporate ginger into the diet in a number of different ways and feel the impacts and the benefits.
Herbs have thousands of chemicals in them. They all do many things. It’s rarely you see a circumstance where it’s like, “This herb is for that problem.” It’s not like that. Herb ginger is good for inflammatory conditions, digestive conditions, immune conditions, arthritic conditions, and all kinds of stuff. Starting with the culinary spices, which might be things that you grow in your garden like basil, cilantro, parsley, and things in your spice cabinet, and making sure that you’re getting a diversity of culinary herbs into your cooking and into your food.
Make sure that you do that as a practice and that you develop a habit around it. I am writing a book and one of the things is there’s a portion of it that’s a five-week thing for people, how to get going with this. The first thing I say is working with these digestive herbs and there’s a choice of the ones I’m talking about. Pick a couple and add them to your diet for a week or two in this way and in this quantity, meaning you’re getting enough in that you’re having well-spiced food.
By spice, I don’t mean hot spice, I mean well-spiced in terms of a diverse amount of culinary spices. It could be that you’re having cumin and fennel, which aren’t spicy to the tongue but they’re spices. You watch them and see how your digestive system improves your appetite. Maybe your weight changes. Maybe you’re not as full or as bloated or maybe you’re not gassy after your meals so you have better energy.
Your mind might not be as foggy for the same reason because you’re digesting better. Make a believer out of people by improving their digestive function. As I said at the beginning, when you improve digestion, you improve your lymphatic system, you improve your elimination systems, and you improve everything when you improve one major core system like that. You branch out from there. There are a lot of nutrient-dense plants, things such as nettles. There’s a teacher that I had years ago who said, “When in doubt, get nettles.”
[bctt tweet=”Everything in our spice rack has a story, it comes from somewhere where they’ve incorporated it into a cuisine.”]
The reason is that there are certain herbs that are still wild vegetables like sorrel or plantain. There are a lot of them that are weeds. Dandelions are another one. In a lot of countries, there are spring greens, they consume them first and the first thing is out of the ground. I’m not talking about necessarily cooking them all the time because you can make them as teas. A practice that’s common in my line of work is to give people a bag of something like nettles mixed with horsetail and alfalfa and raspberry and all these nutrient-rich green herbs.
You put an ounce of them in a French press, you pour hot water over it, you leave it for a bunch of hours, maybe six hours or even overnight, you press it down and it comes out looking black and tastes vegetal. What’s in there is a whole bunch of trace elements and minerals and phytonutrients that are easily assimilated. If people consume something like that type of infusion for a month, all of a sudden, you’re upping their nutritional status and it’s not even requiring them to change around their whole dietary pattern. It’s almost like a stop-gap.
It’s hard to change our whole dietary pattern but it’s not hard to consume a quart of liquid no matter what your lifestyle. I don’t care when you do it. By the end of the day, that jar full of dark green vegetable liquid is gone. People find a massive difference in their health, especially if they’re not used to doing any of this stuff.
All of a sudden, they’re getting all these great bioavailable nutrients, which are important for every metabolic pathway we have. Like nettles, all of these herbs are also mildly diuretic and they help the kidneys to flush out androgynous waste and so on. If you had stiffness or joint pains or gout or something, it can all be improved and you get this rippling effect from one simple remedy. People get inspired to look further and they look further. That’s how I do it.
You were talking about the top of that pyramid, that emergency medicine. It’s funny because it focuses on dealing with the symptom and not the cause. I appreciate the emphasis on, “If we improve the whole system, all of these things will improve,” instead of, “Your knee, your shoulder, your heart, and keeping everything so separate.” I know we’ve gotten into the habit of that as our culture is like, “What’s wrong with you?” It’s like, “This specific thing.”
Resiliency and responsiveness, that’s the reason. One of the criticisms of plant medicine is sometimes it’s like, “I tried and it didn’t do anything.” That’s oftentimes because we become blunt objects when our systems are resilient and responsive. It doesn’t take huge sledgehammers to get them to respond, the immune system is ready to go. Also, pain management, a lot of times. If we’re deep in it, the body doesn’t respond as fast.
It’s not a judgment, it’s demarcating what does what and having realistic expectations about everything. Of course, a drug is strong and it comes with a cost. Of course, an herb is milder and there’s also an associated benefit that is there holistically and globally for the body if we’re actually in a position where we can respond to a plant prompting rather than a strong chemical-mediated thing. There’s so much to talk about when it comes to this subject. It’s endless.
I’m going to ask you one more question. Later, I would love to have you come back. Is acid reflux a total BS?
Not at all. The treatment for it is BS because people are using acid blockers.
They give you antacids, which I’m always confused by that.
Acid reflux starts the liver function. One of the main functions is to eject bile into the small intestine, and it does that for many reasons. One of the benefits of bile is to alkalize the hot digestive secretions coming in from the stomach into the upper chamber of the small intestine. When things go from the stomach into the small intestine, it’s called chyme and it’s mostly digested and the small intestine modifies it with some more things and it starts to slowly absorb as it moves through the intestines.
The duodenum, which is the top end of the small intestine, is super hot because it’s got all this acid in it. It needs the bile to come from the liver to alkalize it and neutralize that acid. If the liver stops doing that efficiently, the small intestine gets too hot and the small intestine tells the stomach to turn down the thermostat and chill out, which means the stomach holds onto the contents of digestion too long.
It doesn’t secrete as much acid because the small intestine is saying, “I don’t want to burn a hole in me. The liver is not doing its job so you’re going to have to hold up until we can deal with the food coming in.” The stomach is like, “Fine, I’ll hold up. I’m a team player.” Now it’s sitting there and it’s not secreting enough juice and the food is hanging around too long. You get what’s called upward moving wind, it starts going in the wrong direction. Instead of going down, it’s going up because it’s not meant to hang out too long and the transit time is too long.
When it does move into the small intestine because it hasn’t been digested as well because the acid secretion or the agni as I was saying is not as robust, that’s when you get all the bits of undigested protein fragments and so on that aren’t supposed to be drained into the body’s circulatory system and get into the cells and so on. That’s when the inflammation starts and you start to get the feeling of being too full and you can’t digest this and you can’t digest that.
People start using acid blockers to dull that down and then they start to reduce the things they eat that cause it so they start to go on these elimination diets so it’s like, “Now I can’t digest that. Now I can’t digest this.” The diversity of what we’re able to eat and digest becomes smaller and smaller and we’re never getting to the root cause. The liver has got to get its bile going.
There are a ton of reasons why that’s not happening and one of the chief ones is stress and lack of movement and stuff because the liver’s circulatory system and its ability to eject things are compressed when all these nerves are compressed. It trickles out bile instead of putting it out in a quantity sufficient for alkalization and so on and so forth. When the inflammatory pattern starts, it goes in like a circle because the liver has to deal with that too.
On the pyramid, you’re dealing with a symptom up here that had its origin oftentimes in diet, stress management, lifestyle, lack of sleep, or lack of movement in pumping the lymphatic system so that the liver can do its job. You get to a thing up here where some guy gives you this pill and you walk out. It’s one thing to give a pill and say, “Now we have to rehab you so you can get off this pill.” That’s responsible but that doesn’t happen.
People get on a pill and are like, “That’s what’s happening from now on.” That’s ridiculous and that doesn’t work. I like to get the understanding of people so you see causation so then it’s a matter of choice. It’s common sense. You can see the progression of what affects you, how, and to what extent. It’s like, “I have a choice. I don’t want to feel like this. I want to feel like this.” If you don’t have that understanding, it’s like, “I don’t know what’s happening.”
You said it and you know better certainly than me but when you see people that have still this part of themselves that is able to believe and get the perspective where a lot of times when people are in this position, they’re not feeling good. Let’s say their liver is that way because of stress. It’s almost like they never get a chance to get their bearings and see it straight and they march along into, “Here’s my pill. I’ve been identified as somebody who will take this pill for the rest of my life.”
They almost never get that one chance, in their perspective, to say, “Let me take a look at this and have that opportunity.” I always think that that’s an interesting thing because you say common sense but we forget how many people walking around are not feeling great and they don’t know what it feels like to even feel good. That part of their spirit doesn’t get to come up and say, “I’m going to participate and I’m going to do this.” It’s like, “Tell me what to do and I’ll do that and deal with it.”
It’s important to teach the kids. This is the stuff that should be in the high school curriculum or junior high school, the basic understanding of the body’s mechanisms and how to operate this thing so that you don’t walk out with, “What do I do?” It’s a simple idea. It’s amazing that we’re missing it, that we’re not just giving a basic understanding of how not just to understand how the physiology works but how to sense it working in real-time through feedback.
You eat this thing, how do you feel? How do you know how you feel? How do you sense how you feel? Is it agreeing with you or not agreeing with you? You do this behavior, you do that behavior. It’s creating an operator’s manual but that’s about sensation, sensing our own thing that we’re living in. That’s when common sense can happen because it’s not just theoretical or abstract, we’ve been ingrained with cause and effect from the standpoint of feeling. The feeling is missing and not information.
Look at the mating habits of an obscure fruit fly on an island off the coast of Indonesia, we have information coming so fast and furious. A lot of times, the behavior does not change no matter what. It’s more about feeling. Lack of health is called a crime against nature’s wisdom and bringing people to health is bringing people into a felt relationship with the natural world in such a way that it becomes much more permeable, the barrier between us and the natural world. That’s the wisdom that true health should create at the level. It includes and incorporates that.
Will, I was looking forward to talking with you but I feel fortunate to have had this time with you and people who have been able to be your patients have felt the same way because you have a natural gift for explaining it. Also, you do vibrate where if people weren’t excited, they’d be like, “I want to take a look at that.” If people want to find you, and there are a lot of them, for people who want to explore Goldthread and where they can find it, maybe you could tell me.
I forgot to answer that question about the drinks. I gave you some indications about how cool they are.
The colors are beautiful.
If people got a lot out of this, they’ll gravitate towards them because they are the real thing. We’re in 3,000 places, around the country. We’re in Sprouts, Gelson’s, Bristol Farms here in Southern California, Wegmans on the East Coast, Stop & Shop, and Whole Foods in New York, New England, and the Rocky Mountains. Generally speaking, there’s independence in all of the grocery chains in every region of the country now that we’re in.
I would be terrible at answering all these things but they’re in there. People can find them, they can get them off of our website of course, on Amazon, and all those types of things like Instacart. I started an Instagram. I worked off the Goldthread Instagram and my peeps told me, “Start one,” so I did. If you want to find me, I’m on Instagram. You can email me at WilliamSiff@gmail.com. We’ll see what happens with this pandemic.
We were hosting Plant Ventures here at our Santa Monica HQ and going all over the place, that’s a great way to get an hour-long hit of this because I bring herbs out from my travels in a backpack and I pass them around and people smell them and try them and spray them on themselves. I make special tonics and everyone gets a sense and I give them a little lesson on how important they are, where they come from, and all that. Those will probably resume. I’m working with Artisan in New York on what should be a pretty epic book. I’m going to try to get as much into it as I can.
You might want to get off social media if you’re focusing on writing a book right now.
Luckily, I’m mostly talking and transcribing. I go down a hole when I do the writing. I love it but I get way too technical, which even happens when I’m talking.
It’s important because some of it feels intuitive but also it’s all those years of experience. It’s important.
One quick thing, the last thing, I’ll be remiss if I didn’t do this because you mentioned that acid reflux thing and if someone was reading and has it, they’re probably like, “The guy didn’t even tell me what to do.” I thought I should tell you about a couple of herbs. If you symptomatically have acid reflux, to help with the symptoms, you need those demulcents and that includes marshmallows, slippery elm, aloe vera, and even chia seeds, things that are going to coat the mucus membranes and neutralize the acid.
That’s good symptomatically to consume those when you’re experiencing the symptoms and you can get the raw herbs or the capsules. The raw herb, you stick it into the glass. You’ll see the glass of water if you get some slippery elm powder or marshmallow powder, it’s going to start to turn into this gloopy glob of liquid and you sip on that. It’s like sipping jello or something. It neutralizes the acid.
As far as a digestive component, most of the time, people have to find out if they’re allergic to something and get off of something for a period of time at least. The most challenging things are gluten, soy, and dairy, the allergenic foods that clog up and cause inflammation. I start with those first. Is it a night shade or something? If it’s something, it’s something that’s in your diet all the time, that’s the first clue.
There’s an ad, I won’t even say the brand, where the guy is eating a chili dog and then he wonders. I’m like, “Maybe stop eating the chili dog.”
You do that and then you get some bitters going in your diet and that’ll get the liver moving, some roasted dandelion, some Chaga, or something that tastes bitter. Eat more arugula, more dark and leafy greens, and things that are bitter. Not coffee as much in this case because of the acids in the coffee. Coffee is a great bitter, it’s a matter of when to consume it. Those are some things. If people have acid reflux and they want to know more, send me a message and I’ll send it to you.
Thank you for that. When we’re allowed to, I want to bring the family for a tour.
I look at both of your Instagrams and it would be fantastic to get in that sauna and dive in.
William, thank you.
Thanks for having me on. It was a great conversation.
Thanks so much for reading. If you’d like, rate, subscribe, and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me, @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.
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About William Siff
William’s formal education and Masters of Science in Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine was enhanced by apprenticeships, intensive trainings, and field work with traditional medicine cultures around the world. William’s uniquely broad range of professional experience and expertise make him an especially effective practitioner. Beyond his work as a licensed acupuncturist and clinical herbalist, William is an ethnobotanist, medicinal herb grower, botanical products formulator, educator, entrepreneur and author. He combines classical training with deep, hands-on understanding of the plants and remedies themselves from Farm to Pharmacy and beyond. His extensive first-hand knowledge and experience of natural medicine in practice in traditional settings around the world is incorporated into his work with patients through his ability to communicate ancient natural medicine principles in a widely accessible way.