Dr. Steven Gundry & Ashley James
- Importance of removing lectins from beans
- Leaky gut causes leaky brain
- All diseases come from the gut
- Why nightshades are bad for us
- Why we should consume olive oil
- Go-to foods to eat that support our gut
Hippocrates mentioned thousands of years ago that all diseases start from the gut. Now we’re finding out that his statement is true based on different researches on health and nutrition. In this episode, Dr. Steven Gundry talks about which foods harm the gut and which foods heal the gut. He also shares why we need to remove lectins from our diet and how we can destroy lectins.
Hello, true health seeker and welcome to another episode of the Learn True Health podcast. I’m so excited you’re here. Today is our interview with Dr. Gundry. He wrote the book The Plant Paradox, and I have to say, it was quite controversial. I know you’re going to love today’s interview. Dr. Gundry talks about removing anti-nutrients from your diet. If you, as you listen, want to learn how to do that, come join the Learn True Health Home Kitchen. Go to learntruehealth.com/homekitchen. I’ve been filming for several months. There are many videos in there, and I teach you how to remove these anti-nutrients from your diet—the oxalates, the lectin, the gluten, and how to eat a whole foods diet filled with nutrient-dense foods that heal the gut, prevent heart disease, reverse disease, and nutrify the body. Go to learntruehealth.com/homekitchen, sign up, and start cooking food that heals the body.
Awesome. Thank you so much for being a listener. Thank you so much for sharing this podcast with those you love. Enjoy today’s interview.
[00:01:06] Ashley James: Welcome to the Learn True Health podcast. I’m your host, Ashley James. This is episode 431. I am so excited for today’s guest. We have, this is going to be such an interesting interview, Dr. Steven Gundry. Your book is The Plant Paradox, and from everything I’ve seen, people either love it or hate it. There’s no in-between. I’ve not met someone who’s lukewarm about your book. People are either passionately for what you do or passionately against what you do. I think it’s going to be fun to have you on the show today and share what happened for you to discover and create The Plant Paradox, and how your system is helping people reverse disease and heal their body. Welcome to the show.
[00:02:03] Dr. Steven Gundry: Thanks for having me.
[00:02:05] Ashley James: Absolutely. I have interviewed several whole food plant-based doctors that reversed disease with plants. They are up in arms about what you do. They say it’s just ridiculous that someone would cut out legumes, beans, and plants that contain lectins. They think that these are very healthy foods. I’d love for you to start by sharing. Obviously, there’s so much controversy around that, especially with doctors who claim that the opposite of what your diet is healthy. How do you handle that kind of criticism?
[00:02:50] Dr. Steven Gundry: I just show them the data that I show in my book and it’s subsequently published. There’s actually no getting around the fact that the harm of lectins has been known about for actually well over 100 years. In fact, just to use an example, there are three papers in the literature in monkeys showing that the lectin in peanut oil is a major cause of the hardening of the arteries—of coronary artery disease in monkeys. When you remove that lectin from peanut oil and give it to monkeys they don’t get coronary artery disease. Recently, I published a paper in circulation showing that lectins are a major cause of an autoimmune attack on the inside of blood vessels. That when you remove lectins from human’s diets, that they’re markers for an autoimmune attack on their blood vessels minimizes. We can say I’m telling people falsehoods but in fact, this is all published data that I write about.
[00:04:20] Ashley James: How does one go about removing lectins from their diet?
[00:04:25] Dr. Steven Gundry: That’s actually pretty easy. Recently, I had, on my podcast, Dr. Joel Fuhrman who actually I am a big fan of. A few years ago, when The Plant Paradox, came out, I believe he was pretty vocal that how dare I take beans away from people. I don’t take beings away from people, I merely ask them to destroy the lectins with the pressure cooker. While I had him on the podcast and we were chatting, it turns out that he actually pressure-cooks his beans. He does not eat his beans unpressured-cooked. Sometimes, the noise gets in the way. I had beans three times last week. Believe me, they were pressure cooked. I have nothing against beans, but we have to know our enemy, and we have to know how the plant decided to protect itself. The good news is, for the most part, you can neutralize the enemy by some simple tricks.
[00:05:41] Ashley James: You brought up a really good point that plant protects itself. Explain what lectins are. How does the plant create it, and how does our body react to lectin?
[00:05:51] Dr. Steven Gundry: Lectins actually were discovered almost 150 years ago now. We use lectins to blood type. There was a very famous lectin diet, it was well-hidden, called the Blood Type Diet. Lectins are used by plants as a defense mechanism—one of the defense mechanisms—against being eaten and of having their babies—their seeds—from being eaten. Lectins are proteins. They’re what are called sticky proteins because they actually look for sugar molecules to stick to—specific sugar molecules. Those sugar molecules line the inside of our gut, they line the inside of our blood vessels, they line the inside of our joints, and they line the space between our nerves.
The theory is if lectins can break through the wall of the gut and they’re very good at this, Dr. Fasano from Johns Hopkins a few years ago proved that gluten, which is a lectin, causes leaky gut by binding to the sugar molecules in the gut and breaking the tight junctions. There’s no question that this happens. Why do they do that? Because quite frankly if you can cause an animal to not feel well, to not thrive, then a smart animal says every time I eat these particular plants or these plant babies I don’t do very well. I think I’ll go eat something else. The animal wins, the plant wins, and everybody’s happy.
Then humans arrived. As most of us know, we’re not very smart. When we eat something that bothers us, let me give you an example, heartburn is caused by lectins. Instead of avoiding lectin-containing foods, like for instance, a hot pepper, which is loaded with lectins, we instead take Prilosec or Nexium and we keep eating these things. That’s really dumb because, actually, there’s a beautiful paper in humans that shows that in normal human beings who were asked to take one of these proton pump inhibitors for one week—one week only—they had dramatic changes in their ability to remember things, process—one week. I can’t believe Larry the Cable Guy thinks that not being very smart is worth a corndog.
[00:09:03] Ashley James: How do lectins cause heartburn?
[00:09:05] Dr. Steven Gundry: Lectins actually break down the mucus lining, that mucus is a mucopolysaccharide—a sugar molecule, and exposes the covering of our esophagus. The mucus is used up by a lectin attack and then the acid irritates it. I used to have horrible heartburn. I used to eat Tum’s left, right, and every day. I haven’t had heartburn in 20 years now.
[00:09:36] Ashley James: Amazing. Tell us a little bit about your story. Your background is so extensive. Reading your biography, it’s amazing what you’ve accomplished through the years and what you have given to the medical space. You have helped so many children and so many cardiac patients around the world, but you yourself had health issues. You uncovered this particular way of eating to heal yourself. Tell us a bit about your personal journey with recovering your health.
[00:10:15] Dr. Steven Gundry: I was a very famous heart surgeon, children’s heart surgeon, and transplant surgeon. Very famous for inventing devices to protect the heart during heart surgery, but I was 70 pounds overweight despite running 30 miles a week, going to the gym one hour a day, and eating a healthy low-fat, primarily, vegetarian diet. I had high cholesterol, pre-diabetes, and arthritis. I used to operate with migraine headaches doing baby heart transplants, I don’t recommend it, but somebody had to do it. I thought this was normal because I was assured it was normal because my father was very much the same way.
It wasn’t until I met a fellow I described in my books by the name of Big Ed from Miami Florida who in six months’ time following a diet, very much like what I described and taking a bunch of supplements from a health food store, he cleaned out 50% of the blockages in his coronary arteries in six months’ time. He had inoperable coronary artery disease. I was totally shocked that that could happen. I was taught, as most doctors are taught, that coronary heart disease is progressive. Yes, we could maybe slow it down, but eventually, it’s going to get you. To watch an individual—now many individuals—reverse coronary artery disease with food and supplements changed my life.
I was ready to discover this. Believe it or not, as an undergraduate at Yale, I had a special major in human evolutionary biology—basically epigenomics. I had a big thesis that my parents had. I’m actually staring at it in my bookcase right now. I actually put myself on my thesis and I lost 50 pounds in my first year, another 20, and kept it off for over 20 years. I started treating patients that I operated on with my program to try and keep them from visiting me again. Lo and behold, not only did they not visit me again, but their diabetes went away, their arthritis went away, their high blood pressure went away, and their autoimmune diseases went away. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years.
[00:13:10] Ashley James: I love it. Lectins, are they proteins?
[00:13:15] Dr. Steven Gundry: Yes, they’re proteins.
[00:13:16] Ashley James: They’re proteins. Everyone’s heard of gluten at this point. I’ve been gluten-free since 2011. So many people have heard that gluten can cause leaky gut. There’s also this new thing that we’re hearing about called leaky brain. Have you heard of this?
[00:13:37] Dr. Steven Gundry: Have I heard? What do you mean? I’ve been studying and writing about it.
[00:13:40] Ashley James: Tell us more about leaky brain.
[00:13:43] Dr. Steven Gundry: It turns out, there is an incredible gut-brain connection that is being elucidated, actually, with every passing day. I wrote quite a bit about it in The Longevity Paradox but my next book, which is entitled The Energy Paradox, gets even more into that. What we found, we now have some pretty nice sophisticated tests that look at the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier is basically a barrier that keeps everything out of the brain. For instance, if you had a malignant brain tumor, we can’t give you chemotherapy by swallowing it or through your veins because the chemotherapy won’t get past the blood-brain barrier. We actually have to inject chemotherapy into your spinal fluid. That’s how impenetrable the blood-brain barrier is.
In people with leaky gut, a great number of people actually have a breakdown of that blood-brain barrier. There is more and more and more evidence that conditions like Parkinson’s, like Alzheimer’s, and like plain old everyday dementia is in large part coming from leaky gut and causing leaky brain. You don’t have to look very far to realize we have an epidemic of dementia, and we have an epidemic of leaky gut. In fact, this certainly was known for a very long time. Hippocrates 2,500 years ago, the father of medicine, said all disease begins in the gut. He didn’t have a human microbiome project, but he knew this. The fascinating thing he was absolutely right. All disease does begin in the gut, and the good news is, all disease can be reversed by reversing leaky gut.
[00:16:03] Ashley James: How do we heal the barrier for our brain? How do we heal leaky brain? By focusing on the gut?
[00:16:11] Dr. Steven Gundry: Correct. Leaky brain comes from leaky gut, not the other way around.
[00:16:15] Ashley James: Got it. How do we heal the gut? Is it as simple as removing lectins from our diet?
[00:16:20] Dr. Steven Gundry: It’s not as simple as that. For instance, I just gave a paper at the American Heart Association Lifestyle and Epidemiology meeting in March where we looked at people who were gluten intolerant, who did react to gluten. These people were gluten-free and yet they still had leaky gut. We found that 70% of people who are gluten-sensitive also react to corn vigorously. Sadly, most gluten-free products have corn in them. We also found that in this report, taking away other major lectin-containing foods like brown rice, like peas for instance, like legumes, like the nightshade family—tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes—then and only then did these people stop their leaky gut.
It was not only just being gluten-free, but it was also actually being lectin-free. In fact, as I wrote about The Plant Paradox, you can take people with celiac disease, which is the extreme form of gluten intolerance, and you can put them on a gluten-free diet for a year and a half and 70% of those people on a gluten-free diet will still have celiac disease by biopsy, which is the gold standard, even though they’re on a gluten-free diet. My premise is it’s because most of the gluten-free foods that they’re eating have lectins other than gluten. This is what I just showed in that paper I gave in March.
[00:18:11] Ashley James: So many people who are gluten-free don’t avoid oats and oats getting gliadin, which is such a similar protein. I always tell people to try to avoid oats and then try to avoid them for a month. Avoid them for a month and then add them back and see what happens. Very quickly people notice a difference once they’ve been abstinent from it.
[00:18:31] Dr. Steven Gundry: Yeah, there’s no such thing as gluten-free oats because you’re right, they could cause reactivity of those proteins. As my daughter who’s a horsewoman always reminds me, the only purpose of oats is to fatten a horse for winter.
[00:18:50] Ashley James: Wow. That’s interesting. It reminds me of looking into the idea of eating chicken. People who want to bulk up at the gym are told to eat chicken. People who want to lose weight are told to eat chicken. That’s paradoxical in and of itself. It’s like wait a second, one person wants to bulk up and they’re told eat a bunch of chicken like the bodybuilders, and then people who are on Weight Watchers and stuff are told to just eat chicken, it’ll help you lose weight. But it doesn’t. That’s a paradox. There are foods that people think are really healthy, but they have to look deeper like you do.
What about resistant starch? So many of these foods you’ve mentioned, which contain lectins, are also full of resistant starch, which helps to feed the good gut bacteria. This is the paradox. It’s something that could help us but also is harming us at the same time?
[00:19:45] Dr. Steven Gundry: The good news with most of these resistant starches is that you can destroy lectins with the pressure cooker. The only lectin that has not been capable of being destroyed is gluten. You can pressure cook gluten for an hour, two hours and it will not break. All the other lectins, in general, will break. Oats is also a problem. We’ve had a number of people try it and it won’t work, but there are two grains that don’t have lectins because they don’t have hulls and that’s sorghum and millet. I have a lot of sorghum of millet recipes. The other great news is that the best resistant starches are tubers like sweet potatoes, taro root, yucca, or green bananas. They’re fantastic sources of resistant starches, and they don’t have any lectins in them.
[00:20:47] Ashley James: I noticed that you didn’t mention any nightshades. What are nightshades, and why are they so bad for us?
[00:20:55] Dr. Steven Gundry: Two reasons, the nightshade family that we think of have pretty impressive lectins in their peel and their seeds, the flesh doesn’t. Traditional cultures have always peeled and deseeded tomatoes or peppers before they eat them. The nightshade family came from America and, believe it or not, even goji berries are nightshades. They actually came from America and were taken to China and trade. They were called wolfberries in America. Even goji berries are pretty nasty little lectin sources.
If you go over to Italy and talk to chefs, which I do all the time, they will tell you that you cannot make tomato sauce without peeling and deseeding your tomatoes. If you go talk to the Southwest American Indians, you know that you have to peel and deseed peppers before you eat them or grind them in chili powder. In fact, what’s really hilarious, is those chili pepper flakes and seeds that we put on our pizzas we’re actually the byproduct of making peppers safe to eat.
[00:22:14] Ashley James: Oh my gosh.
[00:22:15] Dr. Steven Gundry: Oh, yeah. That’s why they exist because they were thrown away.
[00:22:19] Ashley James: That’s so funny. What about peeling a potato, just a regular Yukon potato, would that make it safe?
[00:22:27] Dr. Steven Gundry: Yeah but there has recently been discovered a new class of lectins, which are called aquaporins. There is an aquaporin in potatoes, there is an aquaporin in green bell peppers, there’s an aquaporin believe it or not in spinach. I have, sad to say, a number of, particularly, women who have autoimmune diseases and leaky gut who we’ve been befuddled as to why they get better but not all the way. These women, for the most part, react to the aquaporin lectin in spinach. When we take their spinach way, and they’re usually big spinach eaters, they finally get better. Why haven’t I had a podcast on that? Because I don’t want to have mass panic. Most people don’t react to the aquaporin in spinach, but those that do it’s pretty impressive.
[00:23:34] Ashley James: It’s like if you’ve tried everything and it’s not working, try this one thing, but not everyone. Does aquaporin become destroyed by pressure cooking it?
[00:23:47] Dr. Steven Gundry: Probably, nobody has actually done the experiment but I do have people that eat potatoes and I do ask them to pressure-cook it. So far so good.
[00:24:00] Ashley James: Because they’re discovering new lectins, what can we do to stay on top of this information? Is your book updated? Does your book have the aquaporin information in it, or should they follow your podcast? What’s the best way to make sure we stay on top of this information?
[00:24:21] Dr. Steven Gundry: My podcast covers these subjects. For instance, between my Plant Paradox book and The Plant Paradox Cookbook, it was discovered that pecans have a lectin that in some people it actually causes an autoimmune attack on the pancreas. We put that into The Plant Paradox Cookbook that probably pecans are not your best not to eat, particularly if you have an autoimmune disease or if there’s any question of diabetes.
[00:25:03] Ashley James: Are there any nuts or seeds that are safe?
[00:25:07] Dr. Steven Gundry: Oh, yeah. For instance, walnuts are quite safe, pistachios are safe, macadamia nuts are safe, for the most part, hazelnuts are safe, and Brazil nuts are safe. You notice I’m not mentioning almonds. There is a lectin in the peel of almonds that a number of my patients with rheumatoid arthritis react to. That’s why we recommend either blanched almond flour and/or Marcona almonds—the peeled almonds. Again, it’s very interesting that there are a number of cultures, particularly Spain and Portugal, where the mothers teach the daughters how to soak and peel almonds before they’re eaten. Again, you start looking at cultures and say why do they do this? Because it’s kind of a lot of work. Why not just eat the skin?
[00:26:13] Ashley James: When I was six years old my mom took me to a Naturopath. He put us on a specific diet, and it turned out that Naturopath was Dr. D’Adamo. I grew up on the O blood type diet. It changed my life. I was very sick. I was just sick all the time, and my mom was sick too. He had a practice in Toronto. Overnight, my life changed. It was phenomenal. One day I was sick, the next day I was healthy. That’s how quick it was shifting my diet to the O blood type diet. Then, of course, when I was 13 I got incredibly rebellious and started eating everything my mom didn’t want me to eat. I got to develop sickness again. Then through my 20s, I was very sick, and in my late 20s and through my 30s I spent trying to get my health back and reversing all the diseases I gave myself by eating the wrong foods.
I’ve lived this several times. Eat the wrong foods, get sick. Eat the right foods, get healthy. The waters can be muddy for many of us especially those with autoimmune because, like you said, some people react to this but not to this, some people react to this, not to this. Where do we start? Should one do an elimination diet? What’s a good place to start? Because not everyone reacts to all the lectins like you mentioned.
[00:27:41] Dr. Steven Gundry: I’ve published a paper of 102 people with biomarker-proven autoimmune diseases whether they’re lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, or MS who were put on my program for six months. At the end of six months, 95 out of 102 or 94% were biomarker negative and off of all immunosuppressive drugs. That’s not a bad result. My first principle, The Plant Paradox, is it’s not what I tell you to eat that matters, it’s what I tell you not to eat. It really is. That’s an elimination diet. Interestingly enough, the carnivore folks, have taken my recommendations to the extreme. Since all plants are out to get us one way or another, that total elimination of plants is a rather impressive elimination diet.
I happen to think that they’re going to be sadly mistaken because there are some really great things, particularly the soluble fibers in plants that our gut microbiome is dependent on. As people found in The Longevity Paradox, and they’re going to learn more in The Energy Paradox, we are absolutely positively dependent on messages and transmitters that our gut microbiome makes that keeps our mitochondria working properly, that keeps our brain working properly.
Taking away the known causes of leaky gut, and that includes more than just changing the type of plants you eat. It’s primarily trying to eliminate, for the most part, antibiotic overuse, which is rampant, not only in us but in the animals that we eat. Eliminating the non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen for instance like Naprosyn. One ibuprofen is literally like swallowing a hand grenade. Eliminating the antacid drugs like the proton pump inhibitors like we mentioned earlier. They totally changed the bacterial flora.
Eliminating artificial sweeteners like Splenda, just as an example, completely changes your gut bacteria. Something that many of us are passionate about trying to get glyphosate roundup out of our lives. It’s probably not doable, but glyphosate is a major disruptor by itself of our gut ball—really good at causing leaky gut.
[00:30:59] Ashley James: You said that ibuprofen is like swallowing a grenade. Can you elaborate on that?
[00:31:06] Dr. Steven Gundry: I could give you an hour lecture. Long ago, the original nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory was aspirin. Aspirin was used extensively in our arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Of course, people know that it cause stomach bleeding. A class of drugs in the same family were developed that wouldn’t cause stomach bleeding, but the drug companies knew that the bleeding wouldn’t actually be caused in the small intestine. You couldn’t see down into the small intestine with gastroscope so you would never know it was there. Believe it or not, when these drugs came out, they were prescription only. Things like Motrin was a prescription, things like Naprosyn was a prescription. There was an FDA black box warning that you could only use these for two weeks at a time because they were so dangerous.
Now, of course, they are the largest over-the-counter drug there is. There is children’s Advil for instance. What these do, and this is documented and google it sometimes, great fun. These are drug company research that shows that these destroy the lining of the small intestine causing leaky gut. I can’t tell you the number of people that I see, young women and men who were athletes, who suffered an injury and were put on high-dose non-steroidal anti-inflammatories by very well-meaning orthopedic surgeons, and they, in turn, developed autoimmune diseases. I write about some of them in my books. When we stopped these medications and sealed their gut, lo and behold, their autoimmune disease went away.
[00:33:07] Ashley James: How quickly can one recover their gut? How quickly does it take to seal the gut once they have eliminated the foods that have been causing holes in it?
[00:33:22] Dr. Steven Gundry: Great question. We’ve seen it turn around as early as three months. One of my more troublesome patients with multiple autoimmune diseases all her life took about nine months, but there are other things that are part and partial with healing the gut. The vast majority of people have very low vitamin D levels. As I write about in The Longevity Paradox, vitamin D is essential to tell stem cells that help repopulate the gut to grow and divide. Without vitamin D, they just kind of sit there and twiddle their thumbs. The vast majority of people I see with autoimmune disease and/or leaky gut, they have very low vitamin Ds when I see them.
I’ll give you an example of a woman I just saw today from Southern California. She’s in her 40s. She developed ulcerative colitis five years ago, out of the blue. We think we know why but she was put on an immunosuppressant and then came to see us a year ago. She was positive for antinuclear antibody, which is an autoimmune disease marker that most people associate with lupus—very positive form. She had a very low vitamin D. We’ve now been seeing her for a year. She stopped her immunosuppressant a year ago. She’s had no episodes of ulcerative colitis since. She is negative for antinuclear antibody and has been actually since we started the program. She’s a pretty happy camper.
[00:35:28] Ashley James: I love it. The idea, for those suffering from autoimmune, that they can completely go into remission—I mean, that’s a dream come true. There are so many people suffering. They’re told by the average doctor that they’re going to be on medication for the rest of their life and this is their new norm. It’s so frustrating that so many doctors are still in this old way of thinking that once you’re in a diseased state you’re going to always be in the diseased state. They don’t look to nurturing the body through food and shifting diet and lifestyle to heal the body. You must be really waking a lot of doctors up showing them that there’s a way to heal. You’ve obviously published so many articles on helping people to reverse autoimmune. Are you starting to see that doctors are listening and prescribing your diet?
[00:36:29] Dr. Steven Gundry: Particularly in functional medicine, I don’t do functional medicine, I do what I call a restorative medicine. I’m not quite sure what functional medicine means. I have good friends like Mark Hyman and Jeffrey Bland in functional medicine, and that’s fine. But I think there are more and more people interested in the fact that Hippocrates was right. That all disease comes from the gut, and that we really ought to be looking at the gut as to where we need to do our work. Somebody tell Kelly Clarkson that you can’t reverse Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Kelly found my book. She had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, she was on thyroid medication, now she doesn’t have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and she’s off of medication. Her doctors told her hey, you’re going to be on thyroid for the rest of your life.
[00:37:35] Ashley James: I love it. I love hearing stories of success of people being able to reverse diseases and get off of medications.
[00:37:44] Dr. Steven Gundry: I’ll tell you another funny Hashimoto’s story. Usually, we’re so busy that the first visit in our office they see my PA and then the next visit they see me. That’s usually three months or six months after the first visit, depending on the severity. I’m seeing a woman in her late 50s for the first time after she had seen my PA. I say, “Why’d you come here? She said, “Well, I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.” I said, “Oh is that a fact?” She said, “Yes, I’ve had it all my life.” I had seen her new results and when we first saw her she in fact did have both markers for anti-thyroid antibodies and Hashimoto’s. This time they were negative and I said, “Well, that’s interesting you should say that because you don’t have Hashimoto’s.” She said, “What kind of quack are you? Of course, I have Hashimoto’s that’s why I’m here.” I said, “Well, yeah. You used to Hashimoto’s but you don’t now.” I flipped her lab results open and she said, “Oh my God. It is true. You can get rid of this.” I said, “Yeah, look at that.”
[00:38:59] Ashley James: I love it. Once her antibodies go down do the hormones restore themselves? I know of some people who have completely eliminated—the antibodies are virtually non-existent in their labs but their thyroid is still not functioning optimally. Are the lectins causing harm still to their thyroid levels?
[00:39:24] Dr. Steven Gundry: A lot of times, people who have had it for a long time, they’re immune system has destroyed—their thyroid gland. For instance, type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys the beta cells in the pancreas. But having said that, we always, once we get these antibodies turned off, start weaning off thyroid medication. We actually just started this weekend with a woman from San Francisco, a fairly young woman, who we now have negative for anti-thyroid antibodies and we’re starting to wean her thyroid know, and we’ll see. The good news about thyroid medication is that you can take both T4 and T3 and do a good job of replacing what the thyroid does, but that doesn’t mean we should actively allow Hashimoto’s thyroiditis to continue. Because one of the things that got me interested in this in the first place is this autoimmune attack takes many forms, and you could have multiple autoimmune diseases at the same time.
Recently, there’s increasing evidence that Parkinson’s disease is actually an autoimmune disease, which to me makes a great deal of sense since I and others are convinced that Parkinson’s disease comes from the gut, not from the brain.
[00:41:05] Ashley James: Fascinating. I have heard there’s a relationship between MS and Parkinson’s and MS is autoimmune, so that doesn’t surprise me. Have you seen someone reverse Parkinson’s through healing their gut?
[00:41:19] Dr. Steven Gundry: We’ve seen it stop. My father had Parkinson’s for 20 years without changing his medication at all. If you know anything about Parkinson’s that’s impossible, but we got to him early. My mother was a very good person about denying him the foods that he loved. He made it to 91 and then actually died suddenly of a bladder infection. Getting to 91, 20 years with Parkinson’s pretty doggone good run.
[00:42:01] Ashley James: Very cool. We’ve talked about gluten and lectins, are phytates or phytic acid, I know they’re anti-nutrients, are they also lectins?
[00:42:11] Dr. Steven Gundry: No. Again, the plant has lots of tools to prevent itself from being eaten, or to warn the predator that you really don’t want to eat me, or try to make the predator not thrive. Phytates are one of these methods. I actually think and agree with some of my vegan colleagues that there’s a lot to like about phytates, but this is all part of the anti-nutrient system. One of the things that we have to realize, for instance, since lectins are proteins, rats and rodents are primarily grain predators. Rats and rodents have 10 times the amount of proteases that are enzymes that break down proteins than we have. They’re very well equipped to go after these lectin proteins in the food that they eat.
When people point out we look at these great rat and mice experiments where whole grains are really good for them. That’s great. They have a great protease system that breaks down these proteins, we don’t.
[00:43:50] Ashley James: Are you suggesting that we shouldn’t get our protein primarily from plants?
[00:43:58] Dr. Steven Gundry: Oh, no. Are you kidding? I am a plant predator. I tell my patients that we should actually be gorillas who live in Italy. By that I mean we should be eating huge amounts of leaves and pouring olive oil on them.
[00:44:21] Ashley James: Very interesting. Why consume olive oil?
[00:44:26] Dr. Steven Gundry: Great question. As I wrote in The Longevity Paradox, there are three groups of people who live in blue zones, and blue zones are those areas of the world that Dan Buettner, the journalist, described as having incredible longevity. I’m actually the only nutritionist who has ever spent most of his career living in a blue zone and that was Loma Linda, California where I was a professor. When people talk to me about blue zones and say I don’t know anything about blue zones, I said, “Well, I guess I didn’t live in one for most of my life.” Anyhow, three blue zones use a liter of olive oil per week. That’s about 10 to 12 tablespoons a day.
There are some fascinating head-to-head studies done in Spain called the PREDIMED study making 65-year-old people use a liter of olive oil per week versus a low-fat Mediterranean diet. Lo and behold, at the end of five years, people who used the olive oil had actually gained memory compared to when they aged 65, while the low-fat group lost memory, the people in the olive oil group had a reversal of our disease, whereas the low-fat diet group increased their heart disease, and we could go on and on.
[00:46:02] Ashley James: Could we gain the same benefit from eating olives instead of drinking or consuming olive oil?
[00:46:10] Dr. Steven Gundry: Yeah, and I actually ask people to do both. I actually have a product that I sell that is the combination of incredibly high polyphenol-rich olive oil, olive leaves, and olives that are pressed into little pearls that look like caviar. They’re called polyphenol olive oil pearls. It turns out, interesting fun fact, there are far more polyphenols in the leaves of fruiting plants than there are in the fruit. For instance, there are far more apple polyphenols in apple leaves than in apples, there are far more polyphenols in black raspberry leaves than there are in black raspberries, and so on.
[00:47:03] Ashley James: It’s nettle season right now so we can go out in nature and harvest nettles, which the leaves are rich in polyphenols. I learned recently that if you grow sweet potatoes or yams, you can harvest some of the leaves and eat them much like spinach. That is such a delicious thing to grow in your own backyard. I know a lot of people are looking into growing their own food given that they’re all at home and want a new hobby and that they’d like to have some sustainability and have some healthy food. I know you tell us what not to eat, what are some of your go-to foods to eat that are very supportive of our gut and just are very healthy overall?
[00:47:51] Dr. Steven Gundry: Great question. Avocados are a great choice to start with. The family of chicories: radicchio, chicory, Belgian endive, and curly endive are some of the best foods you can possibly eat to help your gut buds. Jerusalem artichokes and artichoke hearts are just loaded with a type of sugar molecule that we can’t digest called inulin but our gut buddies think it’s the best food that they could possibly eat. That along with the cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, bok choy, and Swiss chard. All of these actually have some pretty fascinating compounds that actually tell the immune system in your gut to calm down and relax a little bit. They’re called the AHR receptors if anybody wants to look them up, but pour olive oil on them, please.
[00:49:10] Ashley James: Interesting. I think the olive oil thing—it’s so controversial depending on who you talk to. There’s a handful of doctors that say that we shouldn’t consume any oil. That any oil, no matter what kind of oil, even if it’s cold-pressed virgin olive oil, raw cold-pressed coconut oil or all the kind you could buy in the supermarket, that they’re all bad for you and that they cause damage to the endothelial lining of the cardiovascular system. Once the oil is exposed to oxygen, it creates free radicals, so you’re actually absorbing free radicals into the body. What do you say to that? Are the benefits of olive oil outweigh those negatives?
[00:50:01] Dr. Steven Gundry: All I say is why don’t you look at the actual human controlled trials where that has been tested, and the results are exactly the opposite. One of the most famous trials was the Lyon Heart trial where they looked at a diet that was supplemented with alpha-linolenic acid oil from purslane and compared that to the low-fat American Heart diet. It was a 5-year study, it was randomized. They stopped the study at three years because the group given the Mediterranean diet with the alpha-linolenic acid oil, and large amounts of it, did so much better in new episodes of MIs and unstable angina that it was not fit to continue the trial.
Anybody can look it up—the lean Lyon Heart diet—and anybody can look up the PREDIMED trial and see a head-to-head of high-oil versus no-oil or low-oil and the results always come out that it wins. The olive oil wins, the alpha-linolenic acid wins. People say this becomes rancid. Yeah, olive oil could become rancid. That’s why you want to buy it from a high-volume source, and you want to use it quickly.
Interestingly, olive oil is the least capable of oxidizing of any oil. It even beats coconut oil as not being oxidized with cooking. We’ve had two of the world’s oil experts on my podcast and they both confirm that olive oil is the safest cooking oil. People say no, no. It smokes and that means it’s oxidizing. That’s not true at all. It has a low smoke point but smoke has nothing to do with oxidation. People have been cooking with olive oil for over 5,000 years and the results speak for themselves.
[00:52:16] Ashley James: I don’t think when you burn olive oil it tastes that good anyway. If I were to eat olive oil, I’d eat it raw anyway. The idea of cooking with oil just concerns me, especially it doesn’t particularly taste good when you burn it. Very, very interesting. Where would one buy oil that is very high quality? Where’s the place to buy oil in the highest quality form?
[00:52:45] Dr. Steven Gundry: They can come to my website Gundry MD. We have an olive oil list that has 30 times more polyphenols than any oil that’s ever been tested. Having said that, you’re not all going to come to gundrymd.com. Believe it or not, Costco has an excellent olive oil. It comes in at a tall square bottle. It says Toscana on the label, and I use it as my everyday oil. That’s a good source. There’s another very good company out of California called Bariani. Again, I have no relationship with these companies. They just have a very high-quality oil. There’s a company out of Napa and Sonoma Valley called O, just a big O olive oil company. All small producers, all organic. Those are good choices.
[00:53:38] Ashley James: Very cool. You had touched on mitochondria. Obviously, you’re coming out with your book The Energy Paradox. Can you give us a little bit of preview into this book? How does your method help our mitochondrial health?
[00:53:55] Dr. Steven Gundry: Well, it turns out, we’ve done just the best job of destroying our mitochondrial function. You couldn’t design a better lifestyle, a better diet than the standard American diet for destroying mitochondria. In the book, I talk about how—and I talked about this actually in The Plant Paradox as well. Mitochondria are the energy-producing organelles in our cells. They’re actually ancient engulfed bacteria. They carry their own DNA, but they are bacteria that live inside our cells.
If you think of them as workers on an assembly line, they have periods of time where they’re going to do one shift, but currently, in the United States, we’re asking them to do three shifts with no time off. They actually produce a labor slowdown because they don’t want to work that hard. That labor slowdown is the cause of pre-diabetes, insulin resistance, and cancer. We got to have them have some time off. That’s why fasting, intermittent fasting time, restricted feeding actually gives our workers some much-needed rest and recreation. The more we do that the more work they’re able to do for us and do it better. That’s a little teaser.
[00:55:52] Ashley James: I am such a big fan of fasting, and I love that you brought that up. Since mitochondria are bacteria, when we take antibiotics, do antibiotics harm our mitochondria?
[00:56:11] Dr. Steven Gundry: Indirectly because it turns out, as I write about in The Longevity Paradox, that the bacteria in our gut actually talk to their sisters in the cells. They actually tell the mitochondria how things are going in the outside world. The more diverse those bacteria are and the happier those bacteria are, then the better the mitochondria function. We used to conjecture that there were text messages that we hadn’t been able to measure, but they had to be there. It turns out, we’ve discovered a large number of those text messages—they are real things that we can measure. The book is about we ought to have a diverse group of bacteria in our gut, we ought to give them what they want to eat, and they need to tell their mind everything’s great.
[00:57:21] Ashley James: Since researching and writing The Energy Paradox, what changes have you made to your lifestyle or diet?
[00:57:31] Dr. Steven Gundry: Actually not a whole lot because The Energy Paradox is where The Longevity Paradox would naturally take me. If you actually look at the people who enter my office, fascinatingly, fatigue is one of the biggest complaints. At least 50% of the people I see are fatigued for apparent no reason. The Energy Paradox grew out of that. Believe it or not, there are really good reasons why most normal people are fatigued.
[00:58:25] Ashley James: Since the last few months have been really crazy with the COVID-19, have you done anything to change your lifestyle or diet to give extra support to your immune function?
[00:58:41] Dr. Steven Gundry: As most people know, I’m a huge fan of vitamin D. I’ve never seen vitamin D toxicity, neither is my friend Dr. Mark Hyman. There are now four human papers showing that people with low vitamin D are much more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus and are likely to do poorly with it—that is die. Whereas if you have an adequate or high vitamin D level, you’re much likely not to contract it and/or much likely not to die. That’s number one. Number two, sugar dramatically suppresses our white cells’ ability to engulf bacteria and viruses. I’m releasing a podcast about that. The less sugar or things that we turn into sugar the better. What’s really fascinating is a paper from 1973 showed that white blood cell function dramatically increased daily during five-day water fast and that the longer you fast the better your white blood cells work and aggressively ate bacteria and viruses.
Additionally, that same study showed that even orange juice, even fructose would dramatically suppress your white cells ability to engulf bacteria for up to six hours after you had that beverage—even orange juice. The idea that drinking orange juice right now is going to help you fight these viruses is actually exactly wrong.
[01:00:35] Ashley James: You said that foods that convert to sugar, which would be plants, would be carbohydrates. Are you saying that we should look at more of a low glycemic diet right now?
[01:00:48] Dr. Steven Gundry: Right. Here’s the problem with a lot of my well-meaning patients. You can take a resistant starch in its natural forms like say yucca, taro root, turnip, or even almonds for instance. You can grind it up into a fine powder and make a flour out of it. Unfortunately, and I’ve seen this much too much, those will rapidly turn into sugar even though what you originally started with isn’t sugar. For instance, I had Dr. David Kessler who was the head of the FDA when the food labeling law came into effect back in the Reagan era. The food labeling law was incorrectly made because of food lobbyists and not tell the truth about how much sugar.
One of the things I have people do is on the back of the label read total carbohydrates, subtract the fiber, and that will give you the amount of grams of sugar per serving in that product and it will shock you. It will have nothing to do with what they put has the sugar content on the label. For fun, since there are four grams of sugar per teaspoon of sugar, divide the number by four and you will see the teaspoons of sugar per serving. You will shudder when you see it.
[01:02:36] Ashley James: Right. You can take a healthy food, if you dehydrate it and turn it into flour, it reacts totally different with the body. You could eat chickpeas—pressure-cooked chickpeas—or you could eat something like a chickpea pasta. Chickpea pasta is going to convert much quicker to sugar, give you a larger sugar spike in the blood. Even for those who are not diabetic, they still will have that. Whereas if you ate pressure-cooked chickpeas, it’s a slow steady release of sugar.
[01:03:08] Dr. Steven Gundry: Covered in olive oil.
[01:03:10] Ashley James: Covered in olive oil.
[01:03:13] Dr. Steven Gundry: And throw some mushrooms in.
[01:03:15] Ashley James: Oh, man. Mushrooms are so great for the immune system. Get your vitamin D. Let’s just clarify that. What form of vitamin D is best, and how many international units should someone be taking a day?
[01:03:30] Dr. Steven Gundry: Vitamin D3. The bare minimum should be 5,000 IUs a day. For me, my 5.000 gets me vitamin D level above 120 nanograms per ml, but during this season, I’ve doubled my vitamin D to 10,000. If I think I’m coming down with something, and I’ve said this before, I actually take 150,000 international units of vitamin D3 three days in a row. Now I’m not telling people to do that. I’m telling people that’s what I do. For instance, when this all started and I decided to keep seeing patients, even though I wasn’t feeling anything, I took on a Sunday, 100,000 international units, on a Monday 5,000, on a Tuesday 25,000, and then I continued on 10,000. I just load up with it.
I just saw one of my patients in Santa Barbara last weekend. Her vitamin D level is 244. I assure you, she’s not vitamin D toxic, and she doesn’t have an elevated calcium level. I think we’ve underestimated what a normal vitamin D level is. The Cleveland Clinic Lab now says that a normal vitamin D level can be up to 150.
[01:05:08] Ashley James: Amazing, amazing. I know people whose vitamin D level is 10.
[01:05:15] Dr. Steven Gundry: I know, it’s really scary.
[01:05:17] Ashley James: I have known MDs to say they don’t want to see it above 30. They’re scared if you’re above 30. They want you to stop taking your supplements. Whereas NDs want you at least to be 60, but many NDs I’ve met don’t want you above 90. They’re afraid that if you get above 90 that that could cause toxicity. You’re saying that you’ve never seen toxic levels. Because of course, the worst-case scenario is vitamin D toxicity could cause kidney failure. At that point, it’s almost too late. We definitely don’t want to harm ourselves with supplements, but you’ve never seen that happen in prescribing large amounts of vitamin D.
[01:06:01] Dr. Steven Gundry: I measure vitamin Ds on people every three months. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. I’ve never seen vitamin D toxicity. I have some patients who taught me in their late 70s they run their vitamin Ds in the high 200s and have all of their lives. When I first met these people I couldn’t believe they weren’t dead, they didn’t have kidney failure, or they didn’t have calcifications and kidney stones. They didn’t. When I was researching The Longevity Paradox, it turns out that people with the highest vitamin D levels have the longest telomeres. If you like the telomere theory of aging, and it’s a good one, why wouldn’t you want long telomeres?
[01:06:54] Ashley James: That’s exciting. What form of vitamin D is best? Obviously, you said D3, but I’ve seen supplements where it’s like a dry capsule, and then I’ve seen the liquid form as drops.
[01:07:06] Dr. Steven Gundry: Great question. Turns out that Dr. Michael Holick from Boston University, probably the most famous researcher in vitamin D, showed that vitamin D is absorbed whether or not there is any fat around. So a dry vitamin D is perfectly fine. Most vitamin Ds in capsules or gel caps. Interestingly, I see a number of people who use vitamin D drops. As a general rule, those people have much lower vitamin Ds than people who swallow the little gel caps. Most of my liquid folks I change over and I’m delighted to see that their vitamin D goes up.
[01:07:53] Ashley James: I was using a liquid and my vitamin D went down and down and down and I kept using more and more and more. I got so frustrated I switched to a capsule even though I heard from a Naturopath how could that work? There’s no fat in it. I was like well I’m going to try this now. My vitamin D went up. I was told it’s not going to work but my labs say it worked.
[01:08:18] Dr. Steven Gundry: Dr. Holick showed that it has nothing to do with fat even though it’s a fat-soluble vitamin.
[01:08:25] Ashley James: Should we take it on an empty stomach, with food, or does it not matter?
[01:08:28] Dr. Steven Gundry: It doesn’t matter.
[01:08:30] Ashley James: Love it. What did you eat in the last 24 hours?
[01:08:35] Dr. Steven Gundry: Let’s see. When did I eat? Last 24 hours I had nothing for breakfast, I had nothing for lunch, and I had some sautéed calamari and a Chinese cabbage salad with olive oil and rice vinegar on it. That’s what we had.
[01:09:08] Ashley James: Very interesting. Now your diet has helped people to reverse autoimmune conditions. You’ve also helped people to reverse cardiovascular issues and weight loss. Weight loss is the biggest industry out there. You look at all the diets and people are just yo-yoing. Every diet seems to work for a short amount of time. They blame themselves. The diet stops working, they blame themselves, they fall off the bandwagon, and they go back to eating the state American diet, but people are left feeling broken, right? They failed. What we’re looking at is it’s not their fault, it’s the diets fault because there are so many wrong diets out there. You’ve had great success in helping people with weight loss. Why does removing lectins help with weight loss?
[01:10:09] Dr. Steven Gundry: As I write about in The Plant Paradox, there are actually some very interesting data looking at one of the lectins called wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), which is present in whole grains, whole wheat. It binds to the insulin receptor on muscle cells and also on fat cells. In muscle cells, it actually blocks insulin from letting sugars and protein into the muscle cell, but in fat cells, it actually continues to pump sugar into fat cells. I go into more of this in The Energy Paradox. We’re set up with our diet to literally starve our muscle cells and feed our fat cells with lectins are a big chunk of that. Also, it turns out, that it starves the brain and so your brain is constantly hungry despite how much you eat or not eat.
[01:11:19] Ashley James: Wow. So when someone removes that, they’re all of a sudden not feeling so starved? They’re not feeling hungry all the time?
[01:11:28] Dr. Steven Gundry: Yeah.
[01:11:29] Ashley James: Very cool.
[01:11:31] Dr. Steven Gundry: The other thing that we have to make sure we understand is that we took over the world because of our ability to go prolonged periods of time without eating. Where the fat ate for a good reason. It is absolutely normal to go periods of time without eating. In fact, do you really think our ancestors crawled out of their cave and said what’s for breakfast? There wasn’t any. There was no storage system. We had to go find breakfast. If breakfast occurred at lunch, or breakfast occurred at dinner that’s when we found food. I actually tell my patients, when we get into this, to embrace the hunger. There is nothing horribly wrong with going a period of time without eating. In fact, just the opposite. It’s really one of the smartest things that we can do for long-term health.
[01:12:32] Ashley James: Actually, I haven’t eaten today, and I’m not going to eat today. I love fasting. Hunger is probably the hardest part about fasting, but hunger goes away.
[01:12:44] Dr. Steven Gundry: It goes away quickly, very quickly.
[01:12:45] Ashley James: It’s kind of like going to the gym. Just get your shoes on and go to the gym. The hardest part is actually getting your shoes on. Once you’re there, it’s easy. Starting a fast is the hardest part, and then following through is the easiest part. I love all the science that’s coming out about fasting. What resources could you point us to for those who haven’t really dived into fasting yet?
[01:13:14] Dr. Steven Gundry: There’s a lot of good ways to learn about it. I certainly spend a lot of time talking about it in The Longevity Paradox, one of my New York Times best-selling books. My friend Jason Fung has some good books about it. I think Dr. McCullough and I would agree that for most people who have been following the standard American diet that a prolonged water fast of 3 to 5 days is probably the dumbest thing to do because heavy metals and organic pesticides are stored in fat. They’re released into our circulation and we do not have a good detoxification system. I’ve got a lot of podcasts out on that, so please be cautious.
[01:14:05] Ashley James: Right. Always proceed with caution when fasting, especially if someone’s on medication. I agree. I like some of Jason Fung’s work—easy to digest. I particularly like—he has a video on YouTube called the 2 compartment syndrome. I think that’s a great place to start. Intermittent fasting is something where it’s gentle enough that people can ease into it. I actually did a whole series with a man who has invested his own personal money into labs doing fasting to show the heavy metals and pesticides being released in the body and how to best remove them while fasting. He found that, dramatically, if you were to use a sauna while fasting and also consume activated charcoal while fasting throughout the day, they saw a dramatic decrease in heavy metals and pesticides being released from the fatty tissue into the bloodstream.
There are ways to combat it but we have to be aware of it. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been such a pleasure having you on. I definitely would love to have you back to talk more about your next book when it comes out. It’s been such a pleasure having you on the show today.
[01:15:28] Dr. Steven Gundry: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.
[01:15:31] Ashley James: Awesome. Thank you so much. It’s been a real pleasure, and I can’t wait to read your new book when it comes out.
[01:15:37] Dr. Steven Gundry: All right. It’ll be out right after the first of the year, 2021.
[01:15:43] Ashley James: All right. Sounds great. Terrific. Thank you so much. Have a great day. Take care. Bye
[01:15:46] Dr. Steven Gundry: Take care.
[01:15:48] Ashley James: I hope you enjoyed today’s interview with Dr. Steven Gundry. Did you know that the Learn True Health podcast has a Facebook group? Come join us. It’s a very supportive community. Just search Learn True Health in Facebook. Come join the Facebook group, or you can go to learntruehealth.com/group. That’ll redirect you straight to our group. It’s a free group, a very supportive community to support you in your holistic health success, support you in your true health journey. Come join the Facebook group, and please, go to the website learntruehealth.com. You can find all my episodes there—all 431 of them now and counting. You can find free wonderful resources. You can find my course.
I have a month-long program where I teach you all the techniques—the NLP techniques—for eliminating anxiety, decreasing stress, and increasing focus on productivity in your life. Go to learntruehealth.com, and on the menu, you’ll see where it says free your anxiety and click on that. There’s a great video there for you. Lots of resources to explore. I have a search function on my website. You can search for topics that you are interested in learning about. You can also go to the Facebook group and search for topics there. There’s a search function on Facebook as well. There are so many resources that I provide through my membership, the Learn True Health Home Kitchen membership, through my free your anxiety program, and free resources at learntruehealth.com.
If you have any questions for me, please feel free to reach out to me. Just ask questions in the Facebook group. I love helping, I love supporting you guys in achieving optimal health. If you’re interested in becoming a health coach just like me, check out IIN, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. That’s the program I took. I absolutely love it. It’s 100% online. If you’re quarantined at home right now you could be becoming a health coach. Go to learntruehealth.com/coach. That’s learntruehealth.com/coach and there, it’ll give you access to a free module of IIN, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s online programs so you could see if health coaching is right for you. It’s a free course so go ahead and take it and see what you think about it, experience it for yourself. Learntruehealth.com/coach.
Awesome. Thank you so much. You are so wonderful, and you so deserve true health. I’m really glad that you took the time today to honor your body and honor your mission for achieving optimal health through learning more about what you can do naturally to support your body’s ability to heal itself. Have yourself a wonderful rest of your day.
Get Connected With Dr. Steven Gundry!
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Dr. Seth Gillihan and Ashley James
- How CBT is different from other therapy
- What the Think Act Be approach is
- Mindfulness-centered CBT
- How to get rid of worrying
- Focus on what’s real
- Service is a crucial part of self-care
During this time of uncertainty, many people are always worrying. Constant worrying leads to anxiety and stress and doesn’t help us and our situation. Ph.D. Seth Gillihan joins us in this episode to talk about what mindfulness-centered CBT is and how it is different from traditional CBT as well as other forms of therapy. He tells us that we need to worry less and instead focus on what we have. He also gives some tips on how we can reduce stress in our lives.
Hello, true health seeker, and welcome to another episode of the Learn True Health podcast. Today’s guest is Ph.D. Seth Gillihan. He specializes in mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral therapy. He has some wonderful things to share today, and I’d love to make sure that you know the best link to go to to get access to all of his stuff including his online courses, which I just love, learntruehealth.com/calm. That’s learntruehealth.com/calm. If you find yourself in a bit of anxiety, panic, or worry these days, you’re going to love his training and his system because it’s going to bring you back to center, bring you back to a place of being grounded, peaceful, and focused, and give you a lot of clarity. Enjoy today’s episode, and please, share it with those you care about who also would love to master their brain, their heart, and their mind and increase their mindfulness. Have a wonderful rest of your day and enjoy today’s interview.
[00:01:06] Ashley James: Welcome to the Learn True Health podcast. I’m your host, Ashley James. This is episode 430. I am so excited for today’s guest. We have with us Ph.D. Seth Gillihan I. You are a licensed psychologist, and you’re the host of the weekly podcast Think Act Be. I’m really excited to have you here because you specialize in cognitive-behavioral therapy, and that’s something that is so cool. To me, it’s one of the coolest things in the world. I know we were talking about how it might be really dry and boring, I don’t think it’s working at all.
I think it’s so cool that you can help someone to shift their mind, their behavior, and their results in life. That we can reprogram ourselves and that cognitive-behavioral therapy is not painful. It’s not like Freudian where you sit and have to relive your childhood over and over again and cry. No, no. It’s actually just really quick. You get to the root of it and you shift your behavior, which shifts your results and you can shift your whole approach to life.
It’s really exciting that people can break free from phobias, anxiety, and issues that have plagued them their whole life. I love that you’re an expert in it, you’ve written several books in it, you have a wonderful online class so people can, right now in the comfort of their own home, start to shift their life. This is the perfect time to do it. I’m just so excited, Seth, to have you here today. Welcome to the show.
[00:02:45] Seth Gillihan: Thanks a lot, Ashley. Thanks for that warm introduction. Yeah, I think that is right about CBT. It does tend to have that reputation of being somewhat dry and maybe a kind of formulaic approach, but hopefully, by the end of our talk today, we’ll show that that doesn’t have to be the case. There really is a lot more to it, and the techniques can be very quick and effective, but can also be quite deep.
[00:03:13] Ashley James: I love it. I love it. Before we dive into learning from you today and learning tools for shifting our life, I want to learn a bit more about you. What happened in your life that had led you to want to become a psychologist that led you to want to help people in this way?
[00:03:33] Seth Gillihan: It’s an interesting question because the answer really has changed over the past couple of years. I’ve been doing cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness related approaches for the past, gosh, I don’t know, 10, 15 years. Mindfulness really is in the past 10 years and CBT longer than that. I wasn’t prone to a lot of anxiety or depression growing up, so I wasn’t quite sure what drew me to it initially. In hindsight, some of it might have been seeing family members struggle with those things. Unconsciously, on my part, wanting to offer some kind of help and not really knowing what to do.
I was inspired by my grandfather’s life of service. He was a physician for over 50 years in rural Eastern Kentucky. I knew I wanted to do something some way of being of direct service to people, and I wanted to do it as effectively as possible, which got me into CBT and later into mindfulness. But it was only really through my own prolonged sickness that I’m actually still recovering from that. I really found what to me feels like a really holistic integration of mindfulness and CBT that I’ve started calling mindfulness-centered cognitive-behavioral therapy because it’s not about tacking on this third technique.
We can do cognitive stuff and behavioral stuff and here’s some mindfulness stuff if you need it, but viewing our spirits as central to who we are and to everything else that we experience. Putting mindfulness in that place really of priority within the approach and letting it lay the groundwork for everything else that we do. As we’ll talk more about it, it’s much more effective to address our thoughts and our actions when we’re coming from a place of really being centered within ourselves rather than being off-kilter and then that kind of frenzied chaos we often find ourselves from. It’s hard to make really positive changes from that place.
[00:06:14] Ashley James: What was the first aha moment that you had, your first experience with cognitive-behavioral therapy? What was the first oh my gosh, this is amazing—like body tingles amazing shift for you?
[00:06:30] Seth Gillihan: I still remember the first time reading about what cognitive therapy was. I was reading an interview with Dr. Aaron Beck, one of the founders of the CBT approach. This was probably around 1999 or so. I was in a master’s program at George Washington University. I was in the library late at night, I was reading this interview, and I thought wow, this just makes so much sense this idea that our thoughts—the things we tell ourselves—have so much to do with the way we experience the world, the emotions we experience, and how we interact with other people. I carried that with me and it was probably a few days later I was in the kitchen in our little apartment in Washington DC where my wife and I were living at the time. We hadn’t been married that long, and we’re probably arguing fairly often at that point. There was a good bit of tension in our relationship at times.
For some reason, it stands out in my memory. I was in the kitchen and I was getting ready to bake a frozen pizza. I don’t remember what the specific thought was but some thought about my wife went through my mind. It was some kind of interpretation of like she thinks such and such or she’s treating me in some way, and I caught it at that moment. I was like oh wow, that’s an interpretation. The way that I am seeing my wife at this moment where the story that my mind is crafting about who my wife is or what her actions mean has everything to do with the way that I’m seeing her and the way that I feel about her because I recognize such a close link between that story—the kind of negative view of my wife—and this kind of feeling I had toward her of probably just feeling she wasn’t being very nice or wasn’t very generous.
I realized, at that moment, wow, this really can revolutionize relationships, which obviously is such an important part of our experience and our well-being in life. From that moment, I think that’s when it really hooked me and I realized the power and the potential of it.
[00:08:59] Ashley James: How has this type of therapy helped you in your health?
[00:09:12] Seth Gillihan: I guess this goes back at least a couple of years now, maybe coming on three years when I realized. It turned out to be toxic mold poisoning my now former office, or my old office, or my mold office. I only got out of there a few months ago. So thankfully, since then, it’s been slow and uneven recovery, but the world’s better than it was two or three years ago. This has been going on probably at least for five years, really when the umbrella of this really began. Just the stress, the uncertainty, and all the unknowns and the questions about what is going on with my health? Why can no one figure out why I have no energy? I can’t sleep, my brain is fuzzy. All this wide range of nonspecific symptoms that wasn’t clear why they all should hang together.
I ended up getting quite depressed through that. Actually, I had a podcast guest on. We talked about treating depression and the power of shaping our behavior in a way that boosts our mood. I looked at my life and I realized wow, my activities really have shrunk down to almost nothing. I mean, I spend a ton of time in the kitchen preparing food for these specialized diets that I was on. I wasn’t seeing anyone because the illness had led to a lot of vocal problems including growth. My vocal cords, I had to have surgery for it to have removed. My world has gotten quite small as it often does when we’re going through a chronic illness, and that tends to lead to depression.
As I was reading this book in preparation for my interview with this guest who’s also a psychologist, I thought, you know what, I’m going to put this into action. I’m going to do CBT on myself. So that led me to really think about what are the life-giving activities that I can build back into my life that I’m actually able to do now even with the physical limitations that I have. That included building a pretty extensive garden in our backyard. In hindsight, I didn’t realize it at the time, Ashley, but it was kind of rebuilding me as much as I was building it. I felt just compelled almost not against my will, but more than I was willing myself to just throw myself into the work of building this garden. At a time when I had very little energy and I was in a building these eight raised garden beds and doing all this learning to figure out how and what to plant and figuring out the watering schedule and all that, that really was a big part I think of the process of beginning my healing. I still experience those benefits now as the crops are coming in again. It feels like there’s that resonance in the life in the garden and in the life within me.
[00:13:38] Ashley James: I love it. I love it. I love it. There are so many ways that nature or gardens metaphorically represent our life and our health. I think that’s so beautiful and healing that as you built that garden you also built that inner garden as well.
[00:14:05] Seth Gillihan: I remember the day. It was one of the first really warm days last year and the whole garden had grown. The way I’d built it was there were four beds on the outside part of the garden, and the inside was for triangular beds arranged in a way with the long edges facing in so it formed a kind of diamond on the inside. There’s an opening in the middle. I was working on that opening and I knelt down on both my knees to pull something out of the ground or something. It just hit me at that moment. It felt like an act of reference, it felt like an act of worship. I used it as exactly that to just say thank you, I can’t believe here I am, I’m feeling well. I’m surrounded by all this green and this energy. This is not Seth Gillihan who went to graduate school to become a psychologist and learn CBT, this was something different. It had a much more overtly spiritual feel to it then. I think I would have a little wigged out by me ten years earlier, but that’s what happened.
[00:15:26] Ashley James: I love it. We grow so much so we look back to ourselves 20 years ago. I’ve been thinking a lot about 1999 transitioning into the 2000s and that was 20 years ago. It just feels like yesterday but it also feels like a whole lifetime. I’ve had these thought exercises of what kind of conversations I’d have with my 19-year-old self back in 1999. What kind of conversations would I have, how different am I, and what’s the same? That thinking then in 20 years, what’s my life going to be like when I’m 60? Who am I going to be when I’m 60, and who’s still going to be me? What’s still going to be me and what’s going to be different? Because we are growing, and that’s good. That’s a good thing.
We want to grow and change. We want to shed what’s no longer serving us. We want to shed the anxiety or the habits that are no longer helping us whether it’s something obvious like alcoholism or smoking, or if it’s something less obvious like maybe quick to interpreting things in a way that sets you up to feel like a victim, or not allowing you to quickly resolve issues and instead go to anger or other negative emotions. This is part of the wiring of the brain, and we can shift it. If we can look at our life like what’s no longer serving me and what can I shift? Maybe it would help if you could explain what cognitive-behavioral therapy is because a lot of people who have not been to a therapist, we all think therapy is basically what Hollywood has portrayed for us.
There’s a stigma that only sick people go to therapy, and I don’t think that that’s the stigma for the millennials. I’ve seen more and more that in the millennial, in the younger generation, that therapy is seen as something that we go to to become even better or at least like for preventive medicine. I have a friend and I’ve told her story on the podcast before but I have a friend who is in her late 30s, she has a 5-year-old daughter, she has a wonderful boyfriend who’s the father of their child, and she is a personal chef for people—wealthy families in Seattle. She’s constantly traveling to these different houses and cooking for them and very, very busy.
She said on Facebook one day, “People ask me how I keep it all together,” because she’s constantly go-go-go between having a wonderful relationship with her boyfriend, being a great mom, being there for her daughter, and running her own business. How does she do it all? She says, “I see a therapist three times a week. Therapy for me is what allows me to keep my sanity, and it is something that people should do like they go to the gym. You take a shower, you should go to a therapist because if I didn’t go to therapy, I’d be blowing up at my daughter. I’d be putting my stress on to other people in my life instead of processing it. I don’t bring my work home. I don’t bring my stress work home. If I’m stressed about something I process it, I don’t project it onto other people, and that’s what therapy has done for me.”
She said that there are certain generations that still think that therapy is something that you have to wait to get sick and then it’s taboo. It’s like they’re touched with the plague or something if you’re going to go to therapy, whereas other people are beginning to see that therapy is something that you go to the gym for your physical body, you go to a therapist or a counselor for your mental and emotional body. Maybe if you could explain the different types of therapies. Cognitive therapy is so vastly different from Freudian, for example, which is the stereotypical therapy that we’ve been exposed to if we’ve followed Hollywood.
[00:20:02] Seth Gillihan: I love the comparison to the gym because we’re not surprised when someone who goes to the gym is in really good shape, but as the example you gave shows, we might be surprised when someone who’s really well-adjusted emotionally goes to therapy. But it could be that someone is able to cope with things because they go to therapy, not that everyone has to be in therapy. There’s certainly no shame in it. The way you describe it is how I tend to see it that it’s really for anyone at any level of things they want to work on whether for really debilitating issues or because they feel like they just want to get more out of life and live as fully as possible.
The therapy we’re most used to seeing, if I ask someone to describe what happens in therapy, they’ll probably imagine someone comes in and maybe lies on a couch. Maybe some people still have that image from classic Freudian psychoanalysis where the analyst is sitting behind the person. Maybe they imagine sitting face-to-face, but the person who’s there for treatment does most of the talking and focus on issues with their mother or things from early in life. That is the kind of more traditional Freudian or the psychoanalytic or what’s now called psychodynamic approach. It’s influenced by Freud but not exactly the type of therapy that Freud delivered because the real analysis is four times a week and it was for many years.
With Freudian or psychodynamic therapy, there is a lot of focus on the past and in talking about a person’s earliest relationships. The emphasis is on things that a person isn’t really aware of. These unconscious conflicts, so conflicts between different parts of my psyche. The part that I identify with that I’m aware of called ego and then the id, which is the more primitive drives like drives for sex, power, and domination. On the other hand, the super-ego, which is like our conscience. It’s sort of seen as a battle between these forces and most of the id and superego are said to be unconscious. They’re operating outside of our awareness. If that’s your model of what the human mind is, then it makes sense you need a therapist to walk you through that and help you to uncover these unconscious drives and motivations and to integrate them more so they’re not exerting these effects that we’re not aware of.
A lot of what happens in the therapy relationship in Freudian therapy is about what takes place between the therapist and the client. People may have heard of this idea of transference that the way that I treat the therapist is going to be based on earlier relationships. For example, if I tend to see authority figures as overly controlling, then that’s how I might respond to the therapist, not because of anything the therapist is doing, but because I’m projecting those early experiences onto them, so a lot of the therapy is going to require understanding, identifying, and working through those transference reactions. That’s a very different set up from CBT where the emphasis is more on things that all of us can learn and observe within ourselves. That each of us is seen as the expert on who we are. That we know ourselves better than other people do, and then we can really become our own therapists.
That’s done through really understanding the CBT model, which is about the relations between our thoughts, our emotions, and our actions. That there are links between those that we can recognize and start to shift in a way that serves us. A quick example is if I have a tendency, when someone doesn’t respond to my text messages, to think they don’t like me or they think I’m not you know worth their time, to first of all recognize that as the story that we’re telling ourselves. It may or may not be true like that story that I was telling myself about what my wife did as I was making that frozen pizza back in DC. Recognizing the stories we tell ourselves and then we can examine whether they’re true, or maybe there are alternative explanations. Is there any other reason why someone might not have texted or responded to my text? Maybe they didn’t get it, maybe they’re busy, maybe it got buried in other messages, maybe they’re homeschooling their kids in the middle of a pandemic. It could be anything.
That’s something we can all learn to do. That’s one of the emphases within CBT, and it’s also highly collaborative. It’s not that I am, as the therapist, have this specialized knowledge that you’ll never have access to and you’ll require my input and interpretation to figure things out, but rather, I have some tools that I’ve been trained in that may be helpful to you. It really is going to take the two of us coming together to figure out what’s going to work for you through trial and error and through really this evidence-based approach of trying things out. See what works, keeping what does, and trying new things as we need to. The cognitive part is about our thoughts. The behavioral part is about becoming more aware of our actions and the things that influence our behavior and the effects of our behaviors. Again, an example might help.
If I’m someone who has a lot of social anxiety and I also am dealing with a low mood, then I might pine on this choice where I can go to a party or I can stay at home. If I look at the different payoffs for those different choices, then I have a better chance of making one that’s going to really serve my longer-term goals. The short-term payoff for not going to a party that I know it’s going to make me feel socially awkward is I’ll get some relief. I don’t have to face that anxiety and so that avoidance will be rewarded in the short-term, but the downside is, I don’t have the eventual enjoyment of going to the party, I don’t feel a sense of accomplishment from facing that fear, and my mood is going to tend to be worse because I’m going to continue to be isolated and alone. By understanding those payoffs, I can choose the action that’s going to have the best long-term outcome.
The cognitive-behavioral approaches are the first two waves of CBT and then mindfulness came along as a third wave. I’ll pause for breath there in case you have questions.
[00:28:06] Ashley James: With cognitive-behavioral therapy, the client is not seen as a victim or seen as broken. They’re seen as someone who’s the expert of their own person, and you are a collaborator with them as their therapist. You are a collaborator, you have tools, they’re the master of themselves, and you’re helping them master their inner world and then their effect on the outer world.
[00:28:37] Seth Gillihan: Yes. That’s a nice way of saying it. Yes, definitely not broken. I always ask in the first interview about a person’s strengths because those strengths are the things we’re going to emphasize that are going to help a person to address the things they want to change.
[00:28:58] Ashley James: Brilliant. I love it, I love it. I’m so passionate about cognitive-behavioral therapy because everyone can benefit from it. Is there anyone that shouldn’t do cognitive-behavioral therapy?
[00:29:13] Seth Gillihan: That’s a really good question. Going back to Aaron Beck, he was kind enough to write a blurb for my second book on CBT. He said something to the effect of these principles would be helpful basically for everyone. I tend to agree with him. We would need to tailor the approach for different people. Maybe a person needs a certain level of cognitive ability, I mean, minimal level, not like you have to be a Rhodes Scholar or something to do this because the approaches really are frightfully simple when you come down to it.
[00:30:01] Ashley James: They’d have to be able to follow directions, basically.
[00:30:04] Seth Gillihan: Yeah, they’ll be able to follow directions. I mean, there are definitely people who don’t want that kind of approach. They would rather be in a more exploratory therapy, or an insight, or in at one, or there are some people who come and they really don’t want to work on things between sessions. Maybe they want to but they know that there’s a really high likelihood that they’re not at a place where they’re going to follow through on an activity plan that they come up with the therapist and it’s going to end up being a punishing experience like all right, great. You go out to work on those things. I’ll see you next week. Then they come back and have to say, yeah, I didn’t do any of that stuff.
That may not be the best therapy for someone in that position. I should say, as much as I love CBT, I’ve also had major reservations about it over the years. I want to put that out there. I don’t think that everyone should do it or if someone’s doing different kinds of therapy they’re doing the wrong therapy. There are lots of types of therapy that could be effective, but if someone is interested in CBT, I can think of very few cases where it wouldn’t probably be helpful.
[00:31:34] Ashley James: You’ve taken CBT and you’ve shifted it. As you said, you had some reservations. You’ve seen where it could be improved upon and that you’ve brought in more mindfulness, more of a spiritual approach. Tell us about your approach to CBT.
[00:31:53] Seth Gillihan: That’s a really nicely worded question, Ashley, because you asked about the more spiritual aspect, and that’s really what I came to. This goes back to what you asked about my own experiences and developments along the way. Through that period of my illness, there were so many nights where my energy would just get worse and worse throughout the day and by the evening, I would just feel completely despondent and suicidal at times and just lying on the couch so many nights just despairing and feeling like I had reached the end of myself. Yet there was something in me that kept me going. I didn’t understand it because all I wanted to do was just stop, was just give up. I don’t know what that would have looked like, although, as I said, there are times when I thought I should just do everyone a favor and end my life.
I realized in one of those moments when this phrase is going through my mind—I’ve just reached the end of myself. I’ve reached the end of myself. But I realized that that wasn’t the end. That there was something else there. It felt, at that moment, like I needed to come to that place in order to find what was next. What I found next was my spirit was there. My spirit was undiminished by anything that I’d been experiencing. That it was as big, as vibrant, and as alive as it had ever been. That it was unperturbed by anything that was happening on the surface of my life. I felt such strength coming from it. When I felt like I had nothing to give that it was this spirit within me that was me and yet was more than me that I was drawing strength from, that I was drawing sustenance from. I felt like it was that spirit that actually drew me back to CBT, which seems a little bit funny to me that that feeling of something eternal and grand drew me to such a mundane approach—something that is so concrete and nuts and bolts.
What I love about it is that it feels very integrated. That the sacred in my life is intimately tied to something as simple as what I put on my calendar. That really is what led me to see. I understood as I realized the spirit within me in this connection to the spiritual, I realized that’s why mindfulness tends to be so effective. It’s not just a way of hacking our attention system and not focusing on the future because that makes us anxious, but that our spirit is like our bodies. It exists in the present. When we really come into the present moment, we open to our experience just as it is, we invite ourselves to connect with our spirits, and that is such a vital place. That’s a place of such vitality. I actually thought about calling the Think Act Be approach, that’s my shorthand for mindfulness-centered CBT. Think for cognitive, Act for behavior, and Be for mindful presence.
I thought about calling it spirit-centered CBT, but I thought that might be a little less accessible for people. People might scratch their heads a little too much with that, but to me, it feels interchangeable. That really is what it’s about. It’s about operating from that spiritual connection. It’s why I think CBT is more effective when it comes to that deeply grounded place. I think that CBT can help us to move toward that place of connection with our spirits. It ends up being this really beautifully circular process, this virtuous circle of spiritual connection drawing us to right action, right thinking, which in turn reinforces our spiritual connection and really keeping us healthy and grounded and continuing in that direction.
So much in my life has changed over these past few years as I’ve been drawn, not even really through. It hasn’t felt like all right, I made a decision. I’m going to start living a mindful CBT type of way, but it’s just what I’ve been drawn to. That’s really strongly affected my work and my approach with CBT because it felt superficial, it felt like it wasn’t really getting at the heart of what people were coming to me for. Yet there were times when so many people, I had seen in working with them, these really profound breakthroughs they had made just through mostly a cognitive and behavioral approach, but they really had been able to come home to themselves in a way that did feel deeply spiritual.
[00:38:22] Ashley James: I love it. I think we’re spiritual beings at our core. If you could remove the blocks to get us there, if you can remove any blocks to allow us to get back to being connected with the source, then that would just enhance all the quality of every part of your life.
[00:38:47] Seth Gillihan: Yes. That’s exactly how I think of it. That we are spiritual at our core. You were saying earlier it’ll be interesting to see in 20 years, when you’re 60 and I’m 65, who we are. I love thinking about that because I believe there is that core about us that will endure. So many things will change but something will be the same, and I think it is that eternal core within us—that spiritual core. Yes that we naturally tend toward that connection if only we remove the blocks that keep us from being there. That’s [you and I 00:39:30] right now about cognitive and behavioral approaches. That’s how I think about them. That the idea is we’re removing those things that are blocking us from our natural inclination towards spiritual connection.
I used to be so self-conscious to talk about these kinds of things so explicitly. I have a very strong background in science. I moved away from a fundamentalist Christian upbringing after college. There’s kind of squeamishness about things that are overtly spiritual, but what I realized is that I guess I care less on the one hand, but also I think all of us are aware that we are something beyond these minds and these bodies. Whether we call it spirit or something else, there is something eternal about us.
[00:40:33] Ashley James: You said I care less and I think that’s interesting. I think it’s an interesting saying, but I don’t think it’s accurate. I think you care as much as you’ve always cared, but you don’t care about what other people think as much.
[00:40:50] Seth Gillihan: That’s right.
[00:40:51] Ashley James: Your care has shifted. You probably care in a different way. Something that we heard—my husband and I, followed this guy, it was pretty neat. He said a lot of very interesting Tao spiritual sayings, and we liked following him. This was like an online radio show 12 years ago. He said, “It’s none of your business what other people think of you.”
[00:41:24] Seth Gillihan: I love that.
[00:41:26] Ashley James: We had to hear it a few times and he said it over and over because, at the time, my husband was so self-conscious he wouldn’t hold my hand in public. I mean it was bizarre. Bizarre, right? I’m your wife, hold my hand. He got it. He was just so worried his whole life. He was so worried about what everyone thought of him, and he was constantly creating these alternate realities in his mind where people were judging him for things. It’s just made up, right? This is what we do. We’re meaning-making machines, but we typically like to go to the worst-case scenarios in our minds. When he heard that it hit him like he almost fell over. It’s none of your business what other people think of you. It just gave him so much freedom. After hearing that he just let it go. He stopped worrying as much about what other people thought of him or stopped caring as much about what other people thought. He’s a very caring person, but he stopped making up these realities in which people were judging him.
I’ve had an experience in the last few months where I had a really good friend who I felt very close to. I’d known her for a long time and then I found out that she was telling lies about me—very horrible, nasty, and really hurtful lies. I had poured so much support into her over the years. I had helped her. I’d invested in her with a lot of money, a lot of time into her business, and any possible way I could help her. At one point she was living on our couch. For over the years, we helped her and helped her and helped her and helped her and helped her. We were doing nothing but just being supportive friends and then she turned around and she said these really, really nasty things to another friend about us that were not true. I mean, they’re all lies, but in her mind they were true.
At first, obviously, I was very hurt. I was very angry, but then I sat back and I asked myself what reality does she live in in which she interpreted my kindness as evil or my support as a friend as that way? She must be living in such a sick world or such a warped reality to have interpreted my generosity as something other than just generosity. Then it hit me. I started laughing. I went from just being angry and so deeply hurt because someone I considered where my best friends betrayed me, but I didn’t make it about me. I was thinking about like wow, what’s going on in her life that that’s her reality? That’s really like a scary reality she’s invented for herself. Then I started laughing because I got that.
I spend so much of my time worrying about what other people think of me. I create, in my mind, like I’m worried that people are going to judge me because I didn’t pluck the chin hairs today. Oh gosh, I got out of the house without plucking these chin hairs. People are just going to be judging me. I left the house and there’s a tear in my pants or whatever. In my mind, I’m worrying about what other people think of me. I’ve decided that they’re going to worry about what I think they should worry about, but she created. What she made me realize is that there’s no use in investing your energy in inventing things for people to worry about because people are going to come up with their own stuff. They’re going to make up their stuff about you that is so wrong, that is so off-kilter that you would have never guessed, that you should have been worrying about that.
I laugh because why invest energy into worrying about what other people think when people are going to come up with their own stuff to judge you on, and you can’t control it no matter how virtuous you are, no matter how good of a person you are. I mean, even people interpreted Jesus the wrong way. No matter how good you are, there’s going to be people that don’t like you, but it’s not about you. It’s them and their life and their baggage. Don’t invest any of your energy in making up what to worry about because they’re off doing their own thing inventing their own stuff about you, and it’s not you, it’s them.
It gave me a lot of freedom. It was a hard lesson to learn to lose that friendship, ultimately, but at the same time, it was a beautiful lesson she gave me. When I walk out of the house with my chin hairs unplugged, I rest assure that the people who love me will see past them no matter what, and the people who are judging me are going to invent their own things and probably not even see the chin hairs because they’re just going to be making up their own stuff. I can live my life just connecting with those who love me and moving on and letting go of the worry of judgments. When you said that, it reminded me that when we focus on worry, we’re self-creating so much anxiety and stress, and it doesn’t serve us.
It’s actually really interesting, why is it that we have this mechanism? Because it doesn’t help our survival. In fact, it harms our physical health to have a mechanism in which we are constantly in anxiety and worry. That doesn’t actually help us survive anymore so why do we do it?
[00:47:31] Seth Gillihan: I think as best we know, it’s because when we were being selected for it was helpful. There was a time when your neighbors rejecting you could be a life or death matter. If you were excluded from the clan, then that could be a matter of survival. But, yes. Now, it’s completely counterproductive that we spend all our time worrying about things that don’t happen. As you pointed out, worrying about the wrong stuff. We get it wrong. We probably worry about dying from the wrong things. It’s probably not that thing we’re worried about that’s going to get us, it’ll be something else, but I love how you described it. It’s not like we have to trick ourselves into thinking no one’s ever going to think anything bad about you or you know you’re never going to get sick, but you don’t know what it’s going to be, so you may as well stop trying to figure it out. Just live what’s in front of you.
I think so many of us are asking ourselves that question, Ashley. Why am I spending so much time unproductively in my head—doing things that aren’t helpful, thinking in ways that aren’t helpful? I think it does go back to that. Our minds are trying to do us a favor. They think they’re doing something positive for us. That they’re keeping us safe by warning us about all these potential disasters, and that’s why I think we really have to retrain our minds because our default is toward threat, danger, and insecurity.
[00:49:14] Ashley James: Yeah. How much are we still running on default? How much are we still running on the tools we had as a child where it’s that survival brain? At some point, we have to become our own parents. We have to raise ourselves. I’ve been looking at this a lot, thinking about this a lot, this idea that we are adults that are still children in many ways. We look to the government as our parents. Take care of me. Take care of us. I feel good that the government is going to take care of us. Some people give over their power to their doctors. It becomes a parental relationship where it’s like take care of me. I am helpless. I don’t know what to do. Take care of me. We revert back to becoming a child where someone else has the answers, and we can just go about our day because someone else is going to handle it.
Being a parent now, we have a 5-year-old, and watching how to be a 5-year-old again where someone’s doing all of the major decision-making for you. Where someone is feeding you and putting a roof over your head and all you have to worry about is playing with your toys and having fun all day. Anytime something bad happens you look to your parents to solve it, right? At some point, we grow up, but even in my 20s, when I was looking at this recently I’m like, when did I stop blaming my parents? When did I stop? Something happened and I was like I can’t believe I spent my 20s still blaming my parents. If they only did this right then my life would be bettered. I was like wow. At what point did I figure out that it’s me, I’m responsible for it.
No matter how good or bad your parents were as being parents, it’s not their fault your life is the way it is because you are the one who gets up every day and does what you do. Catching myself and going, what parts of me are still at the default setting where I haven’t grown up—I haven’t grown myself up—I haven’t gained the tools? Looking at what parts of me are still acting like a teenager—rebellious teenager still acting like a child, still handing over my power, and looking for someone else to solve my problems. I’ve been going through that mental exercise lately. It’s interesting that you say that. Cognitive therapy and especially your form of cognitive therapy that really includes mindfulness is also about helping us grow up. Grow up and grow up those parts of ourselves that are still acting like that survival mode, especially if anyone is running around feeling anxiety right now and running around in worry and feeling overly stressed out. That’s when they need your tools for sure. Can you teach us some things? I’d love for the listeners to learn especially since stress is so bad for our health. Are there any tools that you can teach us to help us decrease stress?
[00:52:38] Seth Gillihan: Yes. First of all, I’m glad that you saw through that idea that your parents were to blame for everything in your 20s because we can hold on to that belief well beyond in our 30s, 40s, 50s, or older. I think that’s a positive thing. I think I discovered some of that later in life, not blaming my parents, but looking to the medical establishment to fix me. When I’d exhausted what mainstream medicine could offer with tests, labs, and things. Then it’s going to be this practitioner, it’s going to be this type of therapy. I definitely got help through a lot of those, but I kept reminding myself it’s not going to be that one person that’s going to be the Savior that I’m looking for. I’m not going to find that one diet that’s going to tell me to eat this and don’t eat that. I’m going to have to figure these things out the best I can for myself through trial and error and just listening to my body.
It is such a stressful time and such an anxious time for so many of us. The mindfulness-centered CBT approach that I use, the emphasis, it’s not on short-term like rescue fixes like a Pepto-Bismol for anxiety. If you’re anxious take this, this will knock it out. Try this trick or this technique. I think a lot of the practices that can be helpful in the middle of anxiety, but the most effective approach is to build the type of life where anxiety is not the dominant force or stress doesn’t have the upper hand. It starts with very basic wellness exercises like literally moving our bodies and attending to our sleep. Treating sleep as a sacred activity and honoring our bodies and our minds with the foods that we put in them and what and how much we drink. It starts there.
My approach, to be honest, for my first few years of doing CBT, I really ignored those kinds of somewhat superfluous details. Maybe a person was drinking six bottles of Diet Coke a day then maybe they’d be a little jittery from anxiety, we could talk about that, but I wasn’t attending to just the overall wellness in the machine, so to speak, and attending to the machine of our bodies and how that affects our minds and our spirits. I think starting there or thinking about the way we treat our body as being as important as anything else in dealing with anxiety. But then in terms of more specific practices, obviously, the parenting idea made me think of an exercise that I often encourage people to do.
Think about the bookends of your day from one being when you wake up and the other being as you’re going to sleep or preparing for bed. When we wake up in the morning, it’s common that we wake up with a lot of anxious arousal because our stress hormones, cortisol, and norepinephrine are going up during that time because we’re preparing to mobilize for the day. That can jolt us awake. That can launch us headlong into our day and our busyness. Going back to the premise of mindfulness-centered CBT, starting our day from that wobbly place of being out of balance, it’s not going to set us up for having the best kind of day.
Even taking a few moments when we wake up just to say hello to ourselves. I’m thinking about the reparenting idea that you talked about. When a parent goes into their, let’s say, two-year-old’s bedroom in the morning and then your child wakes up, the parent doesn’t say, hey, you’re awake. All right, come on. Let’s go. They don’t grab them, bring them out of the crib, and overwhelm them. At least I hope not with a lot of energy and intensity, but they say, hey, good morning. How are? How did you sleep? Whatever questions you ask a two-year-old. Our kids are older than this now. I don’t know if we asked them how’d you sleep last night, but you greet them. You connect with them.
I think we can do that to ourselves, just say hello to yourself in the morning before you jump into your day. Maybe it involves taking five calming breaths in the morning can be a useful exercise—lying in bed, just feeling your body, and coming into your body as you emerge from sleep. Then asking ourselves what kind of day do I want to have rather than what our default question is something like how are things going to go today, or I wonder if there are going to be problems today, but those questions really make us feel like victims as we start our day. What is today going to do to me? I hope I can survive today versus what do I want to bring to this day? Who do I want to be? How do I want to serve today? Where can I find opportunities to show love? Where do I want to direct my attention today?
Those kinds of questions, it’s such a different emphasis. All these things, again, for me this is not an academic exercise. These things I rely on even as recently as this morning. I woke up and my first inclination was all right, got to get upstart that blog post that came to mind last night. I thought, no. Let me just yes spend a few moments here and see what it’s like to start the day that way. That’s number one. That’s a long explanation, but really, the beauty of most of these things is they take anywhere from a few minutes to a few seconds. It only takes a few seconds to say hello to yourself before you get up and do whatever is next.
[01:00:05] Ashley James: Would you recommend journaling or meditation, or do you have exercises for people to follow in the morning?
[01:00:14] Seth Gillihan: I do. I have a couple of decks that I’m excited about because I think they work. They’re card decks. They’re just literally a deck of cards with a practice on each card. The one that’s been out for I guess a couple of years now is more general CBT approaches for probably anyone could find helpful. Then I’ve got one coming out soon that’s focused on anxiety, rumination, and worry. Both of them have practices that can be and some of them are for any time of day, some of them are specific to morning—kind of setting your course in the morning, and some of them are useful at night.
There are different types of meditative activities. One is called thank you goodnight where you do write down things you’re grateful for from that day, but I like a gratitude breath exercise that you can do anytime. I found it to be useful like if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall asleep. It’s easy to turn to worries or frustrations like why am I not falling asleep? If I fall asleep now I’ll only get four and a half hours, come on. We can redirect that energy with every breath cycle. Bring to mind one thing, one good thing in your life. Inhale, exhale—at least I’ve got a bed. Inhale, exhale—some specific friend, I’ve got a refrigerator, or I’ve got a house. All these things and we don’t have to try to force ourselves to feel grateful, but just direct our attention to the things that we have. It’s a meditation, but it’s also training our attention to notice what’s going right in our lives instead of what’s going wrong.
[01:02:29] Ashley James: I love it. I had a man named Michael Weinberger on the show a few times. He has manic bipolar, has attempted suicide several times, and his life has been plagued with mental health issues. He found therapy to be essential. He got to a place where he needed tools in order to just not kill himself that day, basically. What he found that his morning routine was the difference between whether he was going to kill himself or not. His morning routine was—he would wake up and ask himself, on a scale of 1 to 10, where is my mood? Where am I on a scale of 1 to 10? Whether it’s happiness, sadness, or whatever. He might wake up and be like a three, and then he would write down or text or something—write it down in a journal three things he’s grateful for. Then ask himself again, on a scale of 1 to 10, where am I?
He’d notice that always, his mood would improve simply by taking the 90 seconds it takes to write down great things he’s grateful for. No matter what, no matter how bad he felt, he’d get out of bed and take a shower. That would shift his mood. But he had a certain routine in the morning in that there was an inward reflection, just checking in with yourself, how am I feeling? Not judging it, not making a story like because I feel this way my whole day’s going to be… No, just checking in like hey, how are you doing? Just like you said. Then he’d write down three things he’s grateful for and then he’d check in again.
Another thing he added to his routine was reaching out to someone, anyone, and just letting them know that you are thinking about them, you care about them, or thanking them for something. It could be someone professional like hey, when you helped me with that thing, I just want to let you know that it really meant a lot to me. Thank you. You could reach out to your wife, your husband, your kids, or your mom and say thank you, I love you, or I’m thinking about you. Just connect with someone. It could be a text, an email, phone call, or in person—every day. Basically, just get out of yourself and thank someone for the impact that they have had on your life. He ended up taking all these things and making an app so that people can log into the app, and the app also has reminders that you can set for medications. It’s like a mental health app that he created.
[01:05:26] Seth Gillihan: Oh, wow.
[01:05:27] Ashley James: In the morning you press the number, on a scale of 1 to 10, how are you doing? Then you type in the three things you’re grateful for, and then it has reminders set up for mindfulness, for connecting with others, and letting them know that you’re grateful for them. He created his app because those were his tools that helped him to like to stay alive and on track towards mental health. Now he’s much more stable. It’s just really neat that a lot of parallel with what he noticed really works. He was at a point where he was ready to break. Those tools really helped him, and then you’re saying these same things. It’s just really neat that there’s a lot of parallels there between the two.
You really help people with anxiety, and you have this online course. Listeners can go to learntruehealth.com/calm, that’s learntruehealth.com/calm to gain access to your course. Tell us about your course. Also, I’d love for you to teach us something about eliminating anxiety.
[01:06:36] Seth Gillihan: Great. I’m really excited about this course. I’d wanted to do one for a while and finally did one this year. It’s a pretty deep dive into mindfulness-centered CBT for anxiety, stress, and worry. It’s 24 lessons. A person could do it over for weeks if they wanted, six lessons a day. I’m sorry, that would be ambitious. It’s six lessons a week. Or they can space it out longer than that. Really, it’s up to the person. Once they enroll they have lifetime access to the materials. Each lesson begins with a guided mindfulness exercise or 24 different mindfulness exercises. You were asking earlier about some specific practices, we offer a lot of different ones. A person can sample a lot of different approaches and find what works for them.
Then there’s a video-based lesson for each day focusing on recognizing and reducing stress or finding cognitive tools or behavioral approaches that help us to deal with anxiety. Then I spend a full five lessons talking about worry because worry is such a common issue that so many of us struggle with and also a really difficult one to break out of because it’s mental. It’s easy for our minds to do it automatically. Worry actually is really interesting, and maybe I’ll focus here in terms of ways of reducing anxiety because worry, I think we often think of worry as I’m anxious and worried. Almost like worrying is something that happens to us. It is somewhat automatic, but it’s also something that we do. It’s a mental behavior that becomes a habit because it feels safer in a way to worry than not to worry.
We will tell ourselves things like why I should worry because it shows that I care, or I can prevent bad things from happening if I worry. All these beliefs and assumptions that reinforce our tendency toward worry. The problem with worrying is that it’s self-reinforcing. If I’m worried about my plane, for example, and I’m thinking about is everything okay? Those sounds I’m hearing during the flight, is that a bad sign? I’m looking at all the faces of the crew and seeing are they worried? Imagining what I would do if the plane suddenly dropped in altitude. I’m suffering as all that’s happening, but when the plane lands, the lesson that my brain is going to take from that is not well that was silly, I shouldn’t have worried, but it’s going to be thank goodness you worried because you got the plane here safely.
We don’t think that rationally, but when things go badly in our lives, our brains want to know why. They’re going to look to see what happened before things turned out okay. A lot of the time the answer is you worried. The lesson is we better worry next time because that’s how you keep the plane up, that’s how you keep people from thinking badly of you, right?
[01:10:31] Ashley James: Oh my gosh. There’s a payoff.
[01:10:34] Seth Gillihan: There’s a total payoff.
[01:10:35] Ashley James: We see that worrying gives us something because we’re still alive, we’re still safe, and so it must have been the worrying that got us there.
[01:10:41] Seth Gillihan: It must have been, yes. Thank goodness for that worrying. Imagine what might have happened if I hadn’t. It’s our magic feather. We believe that. Again, probably not consciously and cognitive therapists can believe in the unconscious mind. We want to break out of that cycle by not arguing with our worries, not getting into a back-and-forth with them. If the worried mind says what if the plane crashes? Then the most effective long-term response is to say that’s a possibility that could happen. That’s not going to lower anxiety immediately, most likely. No, I don’t want to crash.
[01:11:35] Ashley James: Because in our mind the plane is still crashing so the body is still reacting to it. The body is still in stress mode.
[01:11:40] Seth Gillihan: Yes, exactly. We can reassure ourselves and say there are 20,000 planes land safely every day in the United States alone. That might give a little bit of relief, but then the mind is going to come back with how do you know? How do you know your plane’s not going to be that one? Because it does happen. It’s not like it’s impossible for planes to crash. We can get out of that back and forth like what if. Okay, now it’s good, it’s probably not going to happen. It’s probably okay. Oh no, but what if? Saying, yup, that could happen. Treat worry like an annoying bully that keeps trying to get a rise out of you. Saying you’re stupid. No, I’m not. Then, of course, all you’ve done is guaranteed that the bully is going to keep teasing you. But if you say like yup, you’re right, I’m an idiot. The bully is going to be confounded.
With worry, the same thing. You could say, yup, that’s a possibility. That’s not something that ultimately I control. But then we don’t have to stay there. We don’t stay there. Okay, this plane might crash. From there, we want to say what is in my control? What do I actually have power over? I can choose where I direct my thoughts, I can choose how I spend my time, I can choose whether I try to get engaged in conversation with the person I’m flying with versus I get annoyed with them because I’m trying to keep the plane up—even though I’m not to pilot.
[01:13:11] Ashley James: My worry is keeping this airplane in the air.
[01:13:16] Seth Gillihan: That’s right. Don’t break the spell. Are you insane? That’s where mindful presence comes in is using our senses then to focus on what’s real, to get out of that fantastical thinking about possible plane crashes. It’s all fantasy and telling myself the plane’s not going to crash. That’s also a fantasy, that’s also a made-up story of the mind. We can focus instead on what’s real. I think focusing on what’s real, again, it brings us into a real connection with ourselves, and it’s also where long-term peace can be found.
[01:13:58] Ashley James: For those who have anxiety about their future now because of the long-term effects of the COVID shutdown, people are worrying about their long-term security. Whether their job is at stake, or whether the food chain has been affected, or whether they’re schooling. I have a friend who is in school, in college. I was just talking to him last night. He graduated with his AA online. They had to transition to online classes, and then he’s going in to get his next level of education at another university. They’re considering having it be online even though he’s going in as a music major. These are classes that require me to be with someone.
He goes, “I have to learn every instrument that an orchestra plays.” He knows how to play nine instruments professionally, but he has to learn the entire orchestra for his master’s, and he has to learn how to play quartets. It’s just he was telling me all about the different things that he’d had to do in person. He’s really concerned, again, it’s a genuine concern because this university, which is in California is like we’re not sure your next semester is going to be in person, and that’s months and months away.
People have legitimate concerns, but as you said, it’s a fantasy. We can fantasize over the worst-case scenarios or we can fantasize over the best-case scenarios. Either one is a fantasy. Focusing on the worst-case scenarios induces anxiety, worry, panic, and stress. But how do we prepare? There’s a difference between lamenting and preparation. How do we prepare for our future even though it’s uncertain and take the actions we need to take now to be the most responsible we can be, but not give in to worry and anxiety?
[01:16:09] Seth Gillihan: Great question, Ashley. There are two things we need to prepare for. One is we can prepare for the unknown. We don’t know what it’s going to be, but we can prepare as best we can. I mean, to be honest, I’ve had some fears about getting coronavirus for one, but also the possible disruptions to the food supply chain. I found that’s kind of a hot button for me even though I’ve never really wanted for food, but that does trigger some anxiety in me. It’s not an unreasonable thing to do to prepare as best we can. I’m not renting a pod to stockpile food in. I think having a certain amount of food on hand is probably a good idea, but then also recognizing the limits of our control. If I try to guarantee that my family will never go hungry that there’s no way to guarantee that. That’s going to reinforce our anxiety because we’re going to be trying to control the uncontrollable.
There are some good studies showing that the more we try to be certain about things that can’t be known, we actually increase our level of uncertainty and make ourselves more anxious in the process. It’s this double process of preparing realistically and also accepting the limits of what’s actually in our power. That goes for the virus too. None of us ultimately know or can completely control whether we contract the virus and how it turns out for us if we do. But that doesn’t mean we just throw up our hands and say whatever will be will be. I’m just going to let fate run its course because fate will depend, to some extent, on our actions, so we do what we can.
We also need to ask not just how do I prepare for the outside world but how do I prepare my internal world for whatever comes? That to me actually is striking me as the more important question because there are going to be challenges that come, and we don’t know exactly what those are going to be, but we do know we’re going to need strength, we’re going to need courage, and we’re going to need grace to get through them. I would want each of us to be asking ourselves that question as much as anything else. Again, it’s a bigger version of that question we might ask ourselves first thing in the morning. Who do I want to be regardless of what happens with my courses, my career, my health, or my family situation? How do I want to respond to challenges? Where do I want to look for my strengths? How can I deepen my spiritual connection in a way that it’s available for me? What’s my mission and my purpose in life and how can I enact that regardless of what happens? I think that may be the best preparation we can make.
[01:19:59] Ashley James: Oh my gosh. That makes so much sense. Imagine six months ago everything seemed so certain, right? The economy was doing so well. The economy was great. Everything was great. We didn’t have the coronavirus, the murder hornets.
[01:20:22] Seth Gillihan: It was greater than we knew.
[01:20:24] Ashley James: Exactly. It was great. We live in that idea that the parental figure is this certainty that we’ve invented in our minds, certainty that everything’s going to keep going the way it’s going, certainty that the future is going to be the same. We’re just going to keep going as status quo. I can plan out my life because it’s always going to be fairly the same. We, in our lifetime, have had several things shake that to our core like 9/11, right? Obviously, this virus is another example. We’ve had big events happen every twenty years or so that completely shake us to our core and make us realize that we cannot keep planning for everything’s always going to be certain to a certain extent. To a certain extent, everything’s going to be guaranteed like the sun’s always going to come up tomorrow. We always think that the library is going to be open. Just the amount of what we take for granted. That taking for granted is like this idea of the parental figure that we give over our power to in our thinking. Then, all of a sudden, now it’s not certain.
Our life is not certain and we have worry and fear because we’re constantly worrying about this fictitious future because we’re making up in our mind what if I don’t have any food? What if I’m homeless? What if this, what if that, what if this. We’re just imagining threat after threat after threat, which triggers the stress response in the body because the body goes into the fight-or-flight mode whenever we imagine worst-case scenarios. We’re actually feeling a physical—that’s why we have panic attacks. Physically in the now, our body’s having a real tangible physical reaction to a made-up future, to a fictitious future. We’re having a physical reaction which makes it feel even more real, so it doesn’t feel fictitious.
I’m imagining the grocery store is empty. Of course, not being able to feed my family, now I’m in stress mode. I go into anxiety, and now I’m having somewhat of a panic attack. I’m feeling the panic so now I’m actually feeling something in the now, which is real. Then it seems certain in my mind. It really all comes down to mindset because it’s not certain. We cannot live in that anything is certain in the future. As you said, we can only control who we are in the now. You said wake up and say who do I want to be right now? That’s what we can control. Never assume that the future is going to be any one way—good or bad.
Now we could plan. We should always plan. I like the analogy of planning for an earthquake. I live in the Pacific Northwest, apparently, we’re going to get a really big earthquake one day, and people worry about it. They stress about it. They’re imagining these worst-case scenarios in their mind. That’s not actually preparing, that’s lamenting. Preparing is like let’s get together the family, create a family plan, have some seven days of storable food, or whatever, and have a first-aid kit. Have everything you need to have and prepared for these different possibilities. You’ve got the storable food, water, emergency kit, and everything that you should have. Then you move on with your life. You’re not waking up every morning living like the earthquake is today.
I think that people who are in constant worry and anxiety wake up every morning imagining that their worst fears are going to come true. They’re just creating a fictitious reality, which we all do. We all imagine the future. Even making a grocery list is imagining a fictitious future because we haven’t done it yet. Anything that we’re planning to do in the future we haven’t done yet so it hasn’t happened so it’s fiction until we can do it and then it’s a fact. But what future are you imagining because that impacts your physical body right now?
Your stress levels are directly impacted by the fictitious future you’re imagining. So which one are you going to imagine? I’d like to prepare for the possibility that we might have a disruption in our food chain so I have a garden in the backyard, we’ve got storable food. Just that level of planning, but I don’t lament and I don’t let it affect my physical body right now. I don’t allow it to impact my stress levels right now in my body because I’m not going to constantly imagine a fictitious future in which I don’t have food for my family. That’s a big difference.
[01:26:02] Seth Gillihan: It’s a huge difference. What you’re suggesting is that by stepping out of worry, we actually get better at problem-solving.
[01:26:12] Ashley James: Yes.
[01:26:13] Seth Gillihan: We think we can solve problems in our heads, but we don’t take that what if question the right way. We said what if there’s an earthquake? We just think oh no, would that be bad? And just treat it like a mental issue. But if we treat it as a real question, what if there were an earthquake? Well, I would need X, Y, and Z and you prepare as best you can. Then the rest is fantasy. Yeah, we figure out what we can really act on and focus there.
[01:26:47] Ashley James: Do you have anything else you want to make sure that you teach us today or that you covered today? Was there anything else that you were really excited to share today?
[01:26:59] Seth Gillihan: I think we’ve touched on this to some extent. You had alluded to when you were talking about the morning routine for your guest. So much of our stress and our anxiety comes from and feeds a kind of self-focus. I know this so well, Ashley, from a lot of my life but most intensely from when I was really sick and our struggles really tended to focus our energy and attention inward. That makes sense on the one hand just like it’s completely understandable during really stressful times like now that we’re anxious, worried, and focused on our own well-being, but the more we can deliberately get out of our heads and direct our attention toward others, the better it is for all of us. Obviously, for the people that we’re attending to but also for ourselves. We end up swallowing our own tail in a way when we’re struggling and just burrowing deeper into our suffering, but if we can get out of ourselves it can be quite liberating.
Maybe it means asking if there’s someone who may also be struggling. That we can reach out to or just connecting with someone around us. It’s a way of showing ourselves that we can be of service to others even were not feeling 100%. Even if that doesn’t miraculously make us feel better, at least it might bring a greater sense of meaning into our lives at a time when it might feel like there’s not much point to us because we’re feeling so low. Service is something that I try to think more about and I want to emphasize too that it’s really a crucial part of self-care is asking how we can conserve others.
[01:29:20] Ashley James: I love it. Once we get outside of our own head and we focus on helping others there’s so much peace that comes with that. There are many studies that show that people who are depressed have the depression lift, that people who are in service in some way, volunteer in some way, they live happier longer lives.
[01:29:47] Seth Gillihan: Yes. I like this idea of even if all you feel like is you are a broken empty cup, to just offer that up, to offer up whatever you have in service.
[01:30:03] Ashley James: The links to everything that Seth does is going to be the show notes of today’s podcast at learntruehealth.com. Tell us a little bit about your books. You have a few, and you’ve got your online course, which listeners could go to learntruehealth.com/calm to gain access to. Tell us about each of your books so that our listeners can know which one would be best for them.
[01:30:30] Seth Gillihan: Great. The two most recent CBT books aren’t actually books but they’re there card decks that people seem to find quite useful. One is just called the CBT deck. That’s for more general daily practices. Its 101 practices. So 1/3 of the deck—roughly 1/3—are more cognitive approaches, so there’s the Think cards. Then there are behavioral exercises that are the Act pile of cards, and then the Be cards are mindfulness-based practices. They’re brief things that a person can do each day. These are practical exercises for bringing mindfulness-centered CBT into our lives. To be honest, I’ve actually used the cards a lot myself because I depend on these types of exercises as much as anyone. Probably by the time this show comes out the CBT deck for anxiety, rumination, and worry will be available. That’s a few more practices—108—because I had more than would fit on 101, plus 108 is kind of an auspicious number in some traditions.
Those practices are under the Think Act Be approach but really focused on dealing with an anxious mind or a mind that’s stuck in unproductive trains of thought like dwelling on regrets and things like that. For someone who’s dealing with a lot of anxiety, I think that the more recent deck may be the more useful one. Then I’ve got a couple of books for those of you who are interested in self-directed CBT in a book format. The earlier one came out in July 2016. It’s called Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive-behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks, and that’s the workbook for managing anxiety and depression. As the title suggests, it’s divided into seven lessons across seven weeks, and it’s really my effort to make my therapy approach into a self-guided workbook format. There are worksheets, exercises, and things to go through there to bring the practices to life.
I have a more recent book that came out of 2018, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy Made Simple. It’s not a workbook so it’s not a step-by-step approach, but it’s divided in chapters on mindfulness. It incorporates the Think Act Be approach. There’s a chapter on self-care. It’s really a broader approach to managing difficult emotions using mindfulness and CBT. For those who just want a daily short reading with an invitation at the end of each day’s reading—each day is about a page long—a really good friend of mine, fellow psychologist, Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh and I wrote to each other every day for a year, go back and forth taking turns who wrote, just writing each other messages with reflections on a quote for the day, and an invitation to do some specific practice to bring mindfulness and CBT into our lives each day. That book is called A Mindful Year. That came out, I guess, in 2019.
Those are the books. I hope people find them useful and get a lot out of them.
[01:34:38] Ashley James: That’s so cool. That book where you wrote each other letters, that’s really neat. Did you ever include any information? Do people feel like they’re reading your personal letters back and forth?
[01:34:52] Seth Gillihan: I appreciate that, no. It’s a good question. Our initial entries, there were a lot more. There were probably two or three times the length then we had to edit it down to because it would have been about 1,000-page book. Coincidentally, I just reread today’s entry, which I had written and I described briefly some of my wife’s and my struggles with conceiving, fertility, and having miscarriages along the way. We did try to incorporate things from our lives that would make it feel like really two human beings we’re writing to each other but also trying to keep it broad enough that people would find it applicable for their own lives. We’re getting nice feedback about that, that people are finding these surprising connections with the day’s entry and something that they’re dealing with that day. As I reread it, I also find wow, gosh, that’s really timely. I wrote this three years ago. So yeah, that’s that book.
[01:36:02] Ashley James: Very cool. Do you have any stories of success that you’d like to share either from people who’ve read your books, or worked with your decks, or even your podcast? Do you have any stories of success of specific people who have had some great results working with your content?
[01:36:25] Seth Gillihan: Yeah. I get a number of emails from people just out of the blue. People who have used the book or a deck and found it useful. I’m always touched because it’s the most, I think any self-help writer could hope for, is that people are actually not just reading what you write but finding it useful. There’s a young woman who just had a heartbreaking story about losing a family member recently and dealing with substance use issues and just overwhelming depression and anxiety. Having gone through one of the CBT books and just finding it comforting. I don’t mean this to sound self-congratulatory but just to describe what the person’s experiencing to be was not just that they were reading a how-to book but that there was a real voice on the other end, that there was a person who didn’t know them but understood somewhat intimately the kinds of things they were going through. I have to say, Ashley, thank God I’ve had some of the struggles that I’ve had because otherwise, I would know much less about what it actually means to struggle and to suffer and to be afraid and to feel lost. She just described—she was still working on things but said she no longer felt hopeless. She felt like she had hope, and she was going to get through it, and was grateful that she had tools to do that. I’m always touched by those kinds of stories.
[01:38:27] Ashley James: I love it. Do you have any other stories of success that you’d like to share in working with people?
[01:38:37] Seth Gillihan: I treated a man for— this was actually a longer course of CBT. It’s kind of slow going, and he was uneven at times. This was someone who had dealt with a lot of trauma and loss as a child and really despised himself, just was filled with self-loathing and he saw himself as pathetic and assumed other people did too and assumed that I would see him in that way. I think this was where a lot of the mindfulness was helpful. The behavioral things that we worked on and the cognitive techniques certainly played a part, but so much of it was just about staying present with someone, being witness to someone’s experience, and letting ongoing relationship with someone be direct evidence against their assumption that they would be despised and abandoned by everyone.
Over the course of a couple of years, and this was someone who actively and expressly wanted to die—wanted to end his own life—and saw that as an inevitability. It’s scary as a therapist when someone tells you that because suddenly it can feel like a liability, but if we focus on it as what’s my risk here, I think that people quickly detect that? And no, this is no longer about my well-being, this is about your legal defense. The person was not in immediate danger so it wasn’t like hospitalization was necessary, but by not making that the focus, by making it okay for a person to have thoughts of suicide at times and to have a part of him that sincerely wanted to die, I think there was a kind of mindful acceptance that had to be there to allow. That I had to bring to the therapy room to allow all that experience to be there in a way that helped this person to feel fully embraced exactly as he was even with his suicidal thoughts.
That really became defining in a way of our relationship that that feeling of acceptance even of that perhaps most distressing part of his experience, I mean, from the point of view of a therapist. Through the course of our therapy, this person gradually was able to start to question the beliefs he had about himself about his own inadequacies, failures, and assumptions about how other people must see him. Eventually, this just broke my heart in the best possible way. This person told me that he actually cared about himself and he actually loved himself and I’m just blown away. I could not believe when he said this because that idea of loving himself, probably for a lot of us, just made him feel really squirmy for the longest time, ugh. Feeling of like loving myself, eek. I can’t possibly imagine directing that kind of regard toward this person. Eventually, he did.
That goes back to the point you made early on, Ashley, about how we don’t come to therapy because we’re broken. I think we’re driven to therapy by the part of ourselves that’s whole, and that wholeness was still there. It was there the whole time, and it was finally able to express itself more fully across the course of therapy. It’s that kind of experience along with my own personal experience of spirit-centered CBT that restored my excitement about CBT. That it’s not a superficial approach, it’s not a collection of hacks. It’s not just a way of tinkering with thoughts and behaviors, but it’s as deep an experience as we’ll allow it to be.
[01:43:42] Ashley James: Beautiful. Thank you so much, Seth, for coming on the show today and sharing with us. I definitely urge listeners to check out your podcast Think Act Be, and also go to learntruehealth.com/calm to check out your membership. Of course, the links to everything that Seth does including the cards, the decks, and the books are going to be in the show notes of today’s podcast at learntruehalth.com.
It’s been such a pleasure having you on the show. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and mental health impacts our physical health. We can’t separate our mind, our heart, and our body. We are one, and we need to take as much time to foster a healthy heart, a healthy mind, along with a healthy body. I’m glad that we got to spend time today really focusing on that. It’s been such a pleasure having you on the show, and I’d love to have you back.
[01:44:48] Seth Gillihan: That’s beautifully said, Ashley, I really appreciate talking with you. Thank you for having me on your show. You really asked lovely questions and clearly know a lot in this area and care a lot, so thank you very much.
[01:45:04] Ashley James: I hope you enjoyed today’s interview with Seth Gillihan. Check out his online course. I think it’s such a valuable resource for us, especially in these trying times. Go to learntruehealth.com/calm to check out Seth’s online courses and all his materials—his resources. I know he’d love to see you there and love to see you join his online platform.
If you have any questions, feel free to jump in to the Learn True Health Facebook group and share, or if you have any great insights from today’s interview or any interview that you listen to, start up a conversation in Learn True Health Facebook group. We’d love to see you there, we’d love to connect and communicate with you. Go to learntruehealth.com/calm for more of Seth’s information and access to his online course and materials. Then go to learntruehealth.com/group, or just go to Facebook and search Learn True Health and join the Facebook group, join the discussion, and join a community that wants to support you and your success. Have yourself a fantastic rest of your day.
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Rosalee dela Foret And Ashley James
- Benefits of taking in nettles
- Benefits of taking in dandelion
- Bitter deficiency syndrome
- Benefits of taking in or applying plantain herb
- Uses for mallow
- Know the poisonous plants such as death camas, poison hemlock, and water hemlock
- Astragalus and codonopsis strengthen lung function
Did you know that some of the weeds that grow in our gardens and parks have medicinal properties? In this episode, clinical herbalist Rosalee de la Foret enumerates some of these medicinal plants. She talks about what we can do with each weed and how they benefit us.
Hello, true health seeker and welcome to another episode of Learn True Health podcast. Clinical certified herbalist Rosalee de la Foret is here today to teach us all about wild-crafted herbs that are in our own backyard, and how we can utilize them for our health. She reversed an autoimmune condition that the doctor said would be impossible to reverse. In fact, she shouldn’t even be alive right now, and it’s all thanks to natural medicine that she is here today thriving healthy and teaching us how we can do the same.
Rosalee wants to gift a copy of her book to one of our listeners, so please go to Learn True Health Facebook group and in the Learn True Health Facebook group, there’ll be a post, you can comment there, and one of the comments will be chosen at random. One person will be chosen at random to win a copy of Rosalee’s book, her Wild Remedies book, which is so exciting. So please go to the Learn True Health Facebook group. You can go to learntruehealth.com/group, that’ll take you straight to the Facebook group, or search Learn True Health on Facebook and join the group so you could potentially win a copy of her book.
Join the Facebook group anyway because it’s a wonderful, healthy, and supportive community. I believe we’re about to hit 4,000 people. Everyone is so supportive and loving. I love how the community has grown together to help each other. There’s a great search function in the group, so if you’re looking for you could type the word asthma, allergies, or acne—it’s a lot of words I’m thinking of—shampoo, air purifier, and water purifier. We’ve had these so many great discussions about these kinds of topics—natural household cleaners, cosmetics, and everything that you can think of we’ve had great discussions. There are wonderful threads with lots of information where dozens of people have come together and share what they use, their experiences, and their reviews on different products, so you can get great insights into this holistic health world from this whole community, and it’s free.
So come join the Learn True Health Facebook group. I’d love to see you there and potentially win a copy of Rosalee’s book. Awesome. Thank you so much for being a Learn True Health listener. Thank you so much for sharing this podcast with those you love. Let’s help as many people as possible to learn true health.
[00:02:48] Ashley James: Welcome to the Learn True Health podcast. I’m your host, Ashley James. This is episode 429. I am so excited for today’s guest. We have a wonderful woman on the show specializing in herbs, and what I love is that she’s going to teach us about how to explore our own backyard because remedies are right around the corner. Rosalee de la Foret, it is so wonderful to have you on the show today.
[00:03:19] Rosalee de la Foret: I’m so happy to be here, Ashley. Thanks for having me.
[00:03:21] Ashley James: Absolutely. Now your latest book is Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. I think all listeners just got tingles. It’s so exciting especially in this era where we’re rediscovering what it means to be self-sustainable. To be able to go into our backyard and craft a remedy or craft something that is healing for the body is so wonderful. In fact, now, it’s nettles season—stinging nettles. I have a cooking membership called Learn True Health Home Kitchen, and we just filmed how to forage wild nettles and how to make delicious stinging nettle soup.
[00:04:08] Rosalee de la Foret: Oh, yum.
[00:04:09] Ashley James: Oh, it’s so, so, so, so good. That’s just one of the many things that people can go into their backyard or go into a park nearby and find these delicious herbs, not all of them are delicious, but these very healing herbs out there. You also specialize in mushrooms so we’re going to have a great conversation today, and listeners are going to really enjoy learning from you. Before we dive into that though, I want to learn a bit more about you. What happened in your life that had you want to teach people how to explore the world of herbalism?
[00:04:47] Rosalee de la Foret: Well, I have been interested in natural health for a very long time. I was kind of an odd teenager. When I got my driver’s license when I was 16, I remember thinking I was just so excited because now I could drive myself to the health food store. Not a lot of my friends were like that as you might imagine. I remember doing things like getting out Vitamins for Dummies at the library and making flashcards so I could learn what vitamin A is, where it’s found, and the deficiencies associated with it. I’ve long been interested in natural health in that way, and I just dabbled here and there as a teenager, early 20s using natural remedies and supplements for minor health conditions.
It was when I was in my early 20s, I came down with a really mysterious illness. I had this crazy fever. I would get a fever at night only, and it’d be kind of low-grade, but it was very persistent. Actually, it would be high-grade at night, and then in the morning, it would be down to 99. At night, I would have this 103 degrees fever, and then in the morning it would be 99. I wouldn’t have a fever at all during the day, and I’d get this fever at night, it was so bizarre. I had these incredible aches and pains. I could barely move. I was in my bed for like a month. I was just in my young 20s, and I just thought I had a cold or the flu because I had a fever. At that time, that’s the only thing I thought you ever got a fever for was a cold or really the flu.
I just thought I had the flu, I just stayed in bed, I was in a lot of pain, and didn’t get out of bed much. I had this rash that would move around my body too, so I’d have this rash on my legs, and then the next day it would be on my chest. It was very itchy and salmon-colored like it’s kind of bright orange color. Anyway, totally bizarre, and just for that whole month I just waited to get better. I didn’t get better and ended up going to the hospital. At the hospital, they kept me there for four days, and they took all sorts of blood samples. I had actually started going to a wilderness survival school prior to this, so they were testing me for all sorts of things because I just thought I must have caught some kind of weird disease from wildlife or something, so they tested me for all sorts of stuff.
I couldn’t find anything wrong, sent me home, and then two weeks later, I remember I was in the grocery store and I got the phone call and they said that I had a whole team of people working on it. The person on the phone said, “Well, we figured out what it is. It’s a very rare autoimmune disease, and it’s called Still’s disease. You should come in.” I went in to see my doctor, and she said, “Well, I talked to your team of specialists. There was an immune specialist there, but really, there is nothing we know about this disease. There’s no cure for it. You can expect a steady decline in life with a life expectancy around 40,” and she gave me a brochure about it and told me that there was a Yahoo discussion group that I could talk to other people who had this disease because it’s very rare. But she basically said there’s nothing we can do for you.
Obviously, that was a state of shock. I was this, what I had thought, healthy 22-year-old, and then I was just given this terminal illness diagnosis. For two days, I took it really hard and just kind of the pits of despair wondering why me? After two days, I just snapped out of it all of a sudden, and I was just like no this is not how this is going down. I got every book I could about rheumatoid arthritis because even though my disease was very rare, I knew it was very similar to rheumatoid arthritis. I just got all sorts of books, and I learned about things that are pretty well known now, but back in the early 2000s were not well-known. Things like intestinal permeability, how important vitamin D is, and overall diet.
At the time, I was very interested in natural health, and I was eating what I thought was a very healthy diet, which was all organic, lots of wheat, lots of soy. That was the basis of my diet were those two things and vegetables, but obviously, lacking in so many ways. I learned all about this stuff. I totally overhauled my diets, got rid of wheat and soy. I slowly started working with other practitioners, acupuncturists, Naturopaths, herbalists. I drank a lot of really strange gross tasting Chinese herbal medicine teas. Those are not really designed to taste well, but I would drink them down dutifully, really studied up on vitamin D, and started supplementing.
Anyway, I did all of these things, and six months later, I had no symptoms. It was a huge paradigm shift for me because, before this, I was already interested in natural health, but I thought it was for boo-boos, like minor things. If you had some serious condition, obviously, you would go to the doctor, but that’s what I did, and I got no health from this whole team of specialists at a hospital. That was just a huge paradigm shift for me. One thing that was really fascinating to me is I went to see all of these different practitioners and none of them said—and they’re also called alternative health realm—none of them said you have this named disease for which there is no cure therefore you are doomed. What they said was after a two-hour intake or all of that kind of stuff, they said who are you, and how can we better facilitate overall health?
It was through all of that that I didn’t have any symptoms six months later. It was, obviously, so amazing to me on so many levels. I proudly went back to my doctor because, obviously, she would want to know about this. I basically single-handedly cured an autoimmune disease. I was in my young 20s, just very like, oh yeah I’m going to go tell her all about it. I went. I scheduled an appointment and I went. I was like, “I just thought you’d want to know that I no longer have debilitating pain in my joints, no longer have the fevers, I no longer have the rash, I have no symptoms, and I’m feeling great.” She asked what I did, and I said, “Well, I think it really revolved around the herbs I took, overhauling my diet, and really changing things.” I remember very clearly what she said. She said, “There is no scientific proof that your diet would affect an autoimmune disease.” She said, “Glad you’re better, you were probably misdiagnosed.” Even though I had all of the symptoms, how could I have been misdiagnosed? But that was all she had and she showed me the door, which I can understand looking back. I can see my 22-year-old self proudly walking in and claiming all these things.
As a doctor, she’s looking for evidence-based medicine and one person saying something didn’t really set off her bells in any good way, but I knew it in my heart. I knew that I was better, and it was so astounding to me. I really started to think about how many other people out there have my same experience whether it was Still’s disease or some other chronic illness and were just told that’s a name disease that we don’t have a pill for yet, so good luck. I wanted to help other people. As I mentioned, I was already in Wilderness School at the time, and I was studying plants. Through that school, I was studying them through the lens of ethnobotany, so doing a lot of fieldwork, and learning how to identify plants, learning how to harvest them sustainably, learning how to use them for food and basketry. But after that, I really sat into my calling and I knew I wanted to be a clinical herbalist.
I went to many different herb schools. I have done over 10 years at different schools and just learned everything I could about how to use plants as medicine. That’s how it all got started was with that one door being shut and deciding to walk through another.
[00:13:30] Ashley James: That is so cool. I’ve actually interviewed people and doctors on the show that have reversed their autoimmune conditions using diet, herbs, supplements, and supporting the body in its ability to heal itself. They’ve come up against the same resistance in the medical community. One of the doctors that I interviewed recently, she’s gone on to create studies where she’s getting whole groups of people with MS and reversing it, publishing her findings, and proving. We just need to get enough people with Still’s disease to copy what you did and then show that you can get the same results.
It’s frustrating that the medical community pushes back so much when new discoveries are created. I actually interviewed a gastroenterologist Ph.D. He teaches medical doctors, and he specializes in doing surgeries of the intestines. He discovered and found a new illness, a new diagnosis, which is small intestinal fungal overgrowth. We never experienced that 50 years ago, that wasn’t even a thing, but it is a thing now. He tried to publish it, and there was a huge resistance. That the medical community didn’t want to accept his findings because it was new. It’s really interesting that he found how much resistance there is to anything new.
We have to push back in big ways. We have to figure out how to get this information out there, and how to get studies together. As I mentioned, get a group of people with Still’s disease together, or get a group of people and then do a study, continue to prove and show that what you stumbled upon really works. I also have had many guests, listeners, and clients who have had type 2 diabetes reversed it with natural medicine and diet and then gone back to their doctors who are treating them for 10 or 20 years, continuing them on medication for many years, and the doctors don’t want to know how they reversed it. That blows my mind.
The doctors that these people have told me about that were their doctors. I know that not all doctors are like this, but so many of them who treat people for an illness, continuing to give them drugs year after year when there are ways to no longer have that illness. These doctors aren’t interested in learning how to heal the body naturally, that blows my mind too. That’s why I do this podcast, and that’s why you’re doing what you do, so we can help people to advocate for themselves. Obviously, you want people to have a good doctor. We can’t wait and just give our health over to the doctor, we have to educate ourselves.
I love what you do because what you’re teaching, especially in your latest book Wild Remedies, we can learn how to support our body’s ability to heal itself every day of the year. Go for your physical and see that you’re getting healthier and healthier, continue to work with good doctors, fire the bad ones, hire the good ones, and know that we have to take our health into our own hands.
There you were, you had reversed Still’s disease, a disease that has no cure and you’ll have it for the rest of your life and you’ll die in your 40s. Here you are, very healthy and vibrant. How old are you now?
[00:17:47] Rosalee de la Foret: I’m actually turning 40 this year.
[00:17:48] Ashley James: So you’re an 80s kid. Me too, I just turned 40. You’re vibrant and healthy and you’re still free of all the symptoms of Still’s disease?
[00:18:00] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah. I’ve never had them since.
[00:18:02] Ashley James: I love it. That’s so cool. Yes, autoimmune conditions can be reversed. I’ve had so many guests on the show who have reversed their own, and it is so inspiring because people who are trapped in that vicious cycle of having autoimmune flare-ups, I’ve been told by so many specialists that this is their life, this is the new normal, and that they’ll never really get better, and then they believe them. So it takes people like you to share with them that there is a possibility, there is a way that they can escape that prison and have a body that’s healthy and vibrant. What had you want to write Wild Remedies?
[00:18:48] Rosalee de la Foret: It begins with a trip to Ireland, actually. In 2017, I’d published my first book Alchemy of Herbs. People had asked me—as soon as the first book was published—the question was, when are you going to write your second one? I was just so burnt out from that process. I was like never. I have no interest in that whatsoever, but I went to Ireland that year. I was visiting a friend. During that trip, I also got the chance to meet Tori Amos, who is my heroine. She’s a big influence in my life. She’s a piano composer, singer, and songwriter. I had the chance to meet her, and I gave her a copy of the book. She asked me, “How do you get the best results with herbs?” She went on to ask something about how do you take the herbs?
At the time, I was totally like I’m meeting Tori Amos, she’s asking me a question, but I hope I said something semi-intelligent to her, something about bringing plants into our life, and then it’s not just the one thing we do but it’s all the things we do. We had that conversation, and days later, I just kept thinking about that question from her, how do you get the best results from herbs? I just really thought about it from so many different angles. It just hit me, it was one of those things that just landed in my lap. It was so clear, that’s what you will write a book about.
Just after that, I thought I will write this book with Emily Han, who’s a colleague of mine and now a friend. I called her up and I said, “We need to write a book about this.” She was like, “Okay, you’re right.” She knew too. The book is really about—it’s kind of getting back to my herbal roots because as I mentioned, I first began learning in the field, learning with the plants themselves, nature connection, and observance was a really big part of my learnings. Then I steered off on to this clinical herbalist path where the focus was more on herbs that you buy and formulas, just kind of a different focus.
This book is coming back full round to really talk about the importance of nature connection. The healing that’s found there on a personal level as we get to interact with nature, looking at the ecology that’s outside of our doors beyond even just us and the plants, but also all of the creatures there and all of just the beauty and wonder that’s found within there, and being able to then participate in all of that, and recognizing that as humans, we are a part of this earth and not apart from it, and learning how to sink ourselves back into those rhythms. So living through the seasons, changing our habits or the things we do as the seasons change around us, and also learning to identify and recognize all of this plant medicine and plant foods that grow so abundantly around us.
A lot of the book focuses on weeds because (1) that’s what people find around them, but (2) it’s because I know that those weeds that show up so abundantly around us are the plans that can for so much profound healing. You mentioned stinging nettle earlier. That stinging nettle is in both of my books, and I was just thinking about that today because that’s one I would never want to be without. It has so many amazing healing properties and in many locales grows abundantly, and it’s just right out there waiting to be interacted with.
[00:22:32] Ashley James: Nice. I love it. That’s so cool. Since launching your book Wild Remedies, have you had any feedback from your readers?
[00:22:44] Rosalee de la Foret: Yes, absolutely. We’ve been doing a lot with the book. As far as we know, about 20,000 copies sold already. We have a Facebook group, and there is just so much interaction going on there. People are posting recipes, and I’m getting tagged on Instagram every day. Numerous times a day people are making the recipes, which is so much fun to see people getting out, people wondering what the plants are that are growing around them. We’ve had over 200 reviews so far on Amazon as well, so I’ve been getting lots of feedback, lots of emails. In fact, I spent this morning trying to go through my inbox again because I’m getting hundreds of emails every couple of days. It’s been really, really wonderful, and a lot to take in too.
[00:23:37] Ashley James: Very cool. Any specific feedback you’ve gotten from Wild Remedies that stands out? Any stories of success you’d like to share?
[00:23:45] Rosalee de la Foret: At this point, with the book being less than a month old, most of the feedback has come around the joy that people are experiencing of going outside. Right now a lot of people are still sheltering in place and practicing social distancing, which can feel isolating, which can be depressing on some level, and certainly just even anxiety about the state of the world we’re in. A big part of the book is about getting out and using awareness and observation to see all the beauty that’s out there, whether it’s beautiful flowering plants or the little snails that are sliding along the leaves. In general, that’s the biggest feedback that I’ve seen so far as people being able to set down their feelings of isolation, set down anxiety, set down the sadness, and take a step out into the world.
When I say interacting with the plants around them, I happen to live in the wilderness, but my co-author, Emily, she lives in LA. We wanted the book to be very applicable to everybody, whether they’re in suburban, or urban, or rural environments. That’s what I’m hearing from people too. One of the exercises in the book is to find nature and unexpected places especially for those urban dwellers, and people finding beauty out there even if they live in a land that has a lot of concrete. Nature is always there, the plants are always there, and creatures are always there.
Being able to observe that and feel that that’s been definitely the biggest feedback. Because the book has been on my mind and something I’ve been really tapping into too is sometimes I don’t realize how anxious or worried I’ve become with everything that’s going on, or just even sadness, missing my friends, or plans that didn’t get to play out this year, or all of that, and worry for people on the front lines. I don’t even realize how much I’m holding that in until I go outside, take a walk, and I take time to slow down and see all of that.
I feel that connection to nature, it’s something I’m sure so many of us are aware of but it’s so easy to just be like yeah, yeah, yeah nature connection, sure, sure, sure, but there are so many studies these days about showing how important being outside is and how that really plays a powerful role in our overall mental well-being. There’s been some popular headlines in the news from time to time, people showing doctors in certain countries are prescribing nature in order to help people, and it’s really based on studies. There was a 2015 Stanford University research study and it looked at the brain activity of people who went on a local nature walk and compared it with those who walked on a high-traffic street. The conclusion was that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk for depression and other mental illnesses.
There’s another study that looked at 1000 residents in Sweden. In that study, the researchers concluded that the more often people visited urban green spaces, so again, it doesn’t have to be some idealistic mountaintop or anything but urban green spaces, the less often those people reported stress-related illnesses, they reported less burnout, less insomnia, fatigue, depression, and even feelings of panic. There is lots of information out there showing how important nature is in terms of that scientific realm. That’s so fascinating to look at. I like to talk about it, remind people about it, but I think when we get out there and have that moment of feeling more calm, more centered, more peaceful, feeling that in our bodies how joyful it can be, that is the biggest proof, right?
We can look at the studies and find them interesting, but when we feel it in our bodies that’s the most profound. To have that joy and be able to say yes, I want more of this, and to make it a regular habit that becomes really, really important. There are so many studies looking at even stress hormones specifically and how you can reduce those. Even just 20 minutes outside can significantly reduce stress hormones. Tell you what, Ashley, I think a lot of people could use that right now.
[00:28:27] Ashley James: If we took your book, Wild Remedies, and we went outside—I could go in my backyard. I live on five acres out in the woods in Snohomish. This is just 30 minutes away from Seattle. Those who don’t have that luxury of being out in the woods like me could go to the local park, or just find trails, find places where there’s trees, grass, and nature and go for a walk and see if they could find. It’s like an adult scavenger hunt, like a holistic scavenger hunt—see how many wild remedies they can find in their neighborhood.
What’s really exciting about stinging nettles is that they grow everywhere. I thought they only were in the Pacific Northwest until I started looking into them, and they’re everywhere. Let’s start with stinging nettles. Tell us about stinging nettles. Why would we want to forage for them and use them especially now since this is the time to harvest them?
[00:29:35] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah, this is the time of stinging nettle. In fact, later today, that is what I’m going to be doing is harvesting stinging nettle myself. With nettle, the thing that just jumps out immediately with nettle is how nutrient-dense it is. Many of us know that our modern-day fruits and vegetables, ones that are commonly found in the grocery store, often have less nutrients or even missing nutrients from their former selves. We tend to breed out nutrients by making fruit sweeter or tastier in some way. If you think of the original tomato, it was not anything like what we know today. They were small, they had a very different taste, and over time, we bred them to be bigger and bigger and juicier and sweeter. But in that situation, we have also bred out a lot of the nutrients.
We can also lose nutrients because of monoculture farming and growing crops in nutrient-depleted soils. If the nutrients aren’t in our soils they aren’t in our food. Whatever the reason, many of our foods just don’t contain the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that they once did. Stinging nettle is a great way to get those nutrients back into our lives because they are one of the most nutrient-dense plants out there. Just eating them, having them as teas, they are just so chock-full of minerals and vitamins. They bring us a lot in that regard. Because of that, getting that potent nutrient intake, especially if we are eating them or taking a strong tea regularly, they have a lot of vitamins and nutrients specifically for bones.
I’ll often say there’s the side effect of eating nettles includes things like stronger more luxurious hair, stronger nails and teeth, and healthier bones. They really do affect that in a strong way. That deep nourishment is a really important reason to enjoy nettle and a reason why I think most people can really benefit from enjoying nettles. They are quite tasty too, so that’s a fun aspect of them to be able to enjoy those nutrients and this delicious green. They do not taste like kale and they do not taste like spinach, but it’s in that same genre of this dark leafy green that has just so many vitamins and minerals in there.
Another reason that nettles is incredibly important for many of us today is that regularly using them can help us reduce or modulate inflammation. It can do that in a variety of ways. One way that I commonly recommend it to people is for seasonal allergies, which is this inflammatory response going on. Nettles can help modulate that response, and they do that in interesting ways. You could be drinking nettle tea whenever your allergy season starts. Many people report that when they do that their allergy symptoms that year are lessened. That’s one way to prevent that process from happening. I love that. I can only imagine all the processes that must be going on in the body to make that happen and just all the inflammation that’s being modulated. People are seeing results with their seasonal allergies but must be feeling it in their bodies on many different levels.
You can also take something like freeze-dried nettle, and that can be used for acute allergy symptoms, again, modulating that inflammation. There has been a couple of really cool studies look at how a fresh alcohol extract of nettle leaves can reduce inflammation and blood glucose levels on people with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. I’m sure I don’t need to tell your listeners that there’s a whole approach to working with people and helping to reverse that process, so I don’t mean to say that nettles are the one quick stop solution, but they can be a part of an overall protocol. One of the studies that looked at that fresh alcohol extract for people with type 2 diabetes, they concluded that nettle may decrease risk factors for cardiovascular incidents and other complications in patients with type 2 diabetes. It can lower blood glucose but is seen in decreasing risk factors for cardiovascular health as well.
Another way that it can help modulate inflammation is with musculoskeletal pain. It’s high in vitamins and nutrients and sometimes the depletion of those vitamins and nutrients can lead to musculoskeletal pain. By having that restored, that can affect things. It’s really high in magnesium, calcium and so that’s one way. There’s also another kind of strange way. If everyone knows what we’re talking about stinging nettles, they do sting, right? That’s where they get their name. If you brush up against them with your bare skin they will sting you. They have these little needle-like prickles all over them especially on the stems and underneath the leaves.
What those do is they’re these hollow point needles and when you brush up against them they actually inject your skin with their special little juice there, and you will have a mild reaction. It can be a little rash, and it could be a little painful, a little itchy. It’s very mild though. It’s not that big of a deal unless you really go for it. But we know that the sting of fresh nettle can actually bring blood flow to an area, can bring healing hormones, and will decrease pain.
That’s an old folkloric use of stories of women going off into the forest to harvest fresh stinging nettles to help with their arthritic hands. But that researchers have actually looked into this too, and there were two studies done showing that fresh nettle brushed up against: one study was the thumb and one study was the knees, and both showed that that can reduce pain and inflammation, which I just thought was kind of hilarious, Ashley. Can you imagine calling in for that to be a volunteer for that study? Yes, you can whip me with fresh nettles. Here’s my thumb, here’s my knee.
We do know from tradition and science that fresh nettles sting is actually therapeutic. People can get worried about getting that sting. For myself, I don’t have arthritis and stuff so I don’t necessarily go looking for that sting. When I harvest fresh nettles I do wear gloves and that sort of thing, but I often do get stung just because it would brush up against with my arms or something. It’s really not that big of a deal, but in terms of eating it just because I know people often wonder about this, when you eat the nettles you want to blanch them, which immediately gets rid of the sting with them. Eating them is not an unpleasant experience once you blanch them. They get rid of their sting.
[00:36:50] Ashley James: For those who don’t know what blanching is, you put them in hot water. That’s what blanching is. You can steam them, or you can put them in a soup, or you can put them in hot water to make a tea, and then they’re no longer stinging you. However many thousands of years ago, Roman soldiers used to rub their bodies with stinging nettles in order to stay warm at night. I thought that was interesting because that sting does bring blood to the surface, makes you feel warm, but I’m sure it would also help with their aches and pains from just being soldiers, which is really cool. I wonder if they also ate them—rub their bodies with them and then ate them.
[00:37:33] Rosalee de la Foret: It would not surprise me. I was in France a few years ago. My husband is French and we go to visit his family. We were in central France in the same area where the caves of Lascaux are, those very ancient caves and with all of the art there. We were walking around these caves and I found all of these stinging nettles there. They believe that people were living in the caves 35,000 years ago, and to find all of these nettles growing around the caves, it really made me think of like wow. It’s probably impossible to imagine how long nettles and humans have been interacting together.
[00:38:16] Ashley James: It’s considered a weed. It’s also high in K2, you mentioned the minerals. It really is great for joints and helping the body build healthy bones because the K2 is needed along with those minerals in order to lay new bone tissue, and then you’re out in the sun getting vitamin D. That completes the perfect picture. It’s high in antioxidants and polyphenols, so it’s just fantastic food all around, and it’s free. We just have to go outside and find it. It is in every area. I can’t think of an area it wouldn’t be other than the Antarctic. Stinging nettles, aren’t they in Asia, Africa, North America, and South America? Aren’t they everywhere?
[00:39:11] Rosalee de la Foret: They do grow in many places. I’m not sure about all of those areas. I’m not saying they don’t, I just don’t know about that myself, but it would not surprise me. There are several species of nettles as well. We have our native species and other species that have moved in. They find their niches wherever they like to grow. They like really protein-dense soils, and they do like a bit of shade, but they also like a little bit of sun. You can find them in forests, along the edge of meadows. Once they’ve settled themselves in their little niche, they can do quite well there.
[00:39:46] Ashley James: I interviewed Naturopathic physician Dr. Jenn Dazey who specializes in teaching botany at Bastyr University. She wrote a book called Naturopathic Gardening, and she has this theory about soil and weeds. Weeds are herbs and are just what you’re teaching. She says that when the earth is disrupted, it’s like a wound. Let’s say we scratched ourselves, our skin is broken, and we’re bleeding. That’s a wound. The body creates this scab over the top so that it can build new skin. When the earth is disrupted, the earth is like an open wound. The earth wants to immediately create a poultice and a scab to heal the exposed earth. It brings in fast-growing weeds as some of the first plants to heal that opened or disturbed soil much like our body would.
When she said that it changed my opinion about weeds. From being these pests to being the healers of the planet and our bodies also. Oftentimes, stinging nettles will grow where the earth has been disturbed as well or nearby, so I thought that was really neat. What other wild remedies are really common like dandelion? We could talk about dandelion, everyone knows dandelion. Let’s talk about dandelions, and then tell us more about ones that maybe we don’t know which are in our backyard.
[00:41:30] Rosalee de la Foret: Dandelion, it is one that I love to talk about. In terms of healing the earth, that is just the perfect example, so it’s a great segue herb there. Dandelion has this very deep taproot that goes into the earth. It pulls up nutrients and then brings those nutrients into the soil around it as well as the plant itself and then also helps to break up hard-packed soil as well. It can help aerate the soils, bring nutrients from deeper in the earth back up into the topsoil. It’s a wonderful healer in that regard. We have some lawn purists out there who tend to hate dandelion. I think many of us were just taught to. We didn’t question it. We were just told dandelion’s bad and they should be removed from lawns.
Billions of pounds of herbicides are poured onto dandelions every year mainly by homeowners in the attempt to find that perfect lawn, which is ironic on so many levels. Because one, we’ve been basically taught to poison the earth that we live on, which is just horrific to me. But also, so many of those chemicals that are used are known to be carcinogenic, can promote the growth of cancer, and increase the incidence of cancer. Whereas dandelion is a herb that is widely celebrated for helping people who do have cancer, so that’s an interesting thing there that so many people are poisoning a plant that so many of us could benefit from these days.
Dandelion, like stinging nettle, is wonderful food as well as wonderful medicine. The first medicine I think it brings is joy. Personally, I would just see the dandelion coming out of a crack in a sidewalk, I just love that sign of resilience and this idea of finding beauty in all these places and that dandelion can take root there to grow. Right now on my lawn and around here—I live in an agricultural area and so there’s dandelions and lots of agricultural fields. Those yellow blossoms will just fill a whole area, and I just think that is so beautiful. It’s reminiscent of the tulip fields in Amsterdam. It’s that beautiful. They’re so prolific and so gorgeous. That’s really fun just that joy there. If we wait a little while, then of course those flowers will go to seed and then the plant gives us free wishes—another joyful thing. So many things to celebrate with dandelions.
As food, all parts of the plant can be used as food. The roots can be used as food. As I mentioned, they are nutrient-dense. They pulled up all those great riches from deep down in the earth. The roots have a bit of a bitter flavor to them. I like to pickle them or put them in stir-fries if I’m eating them as food. The roots are tremendous for the liver. That’s their claim to fame is that they really help the liver function well. I regularly enjoy dandelion roots, even though I don’t have known liver issues, just as a way of supporting my liver health because that little organ of ours does so much. The more that we can give it a little boost and support its healthy functions, the better.
Eating the root is great, but probably my favorite thing to do with dandelion roots is to chop them up, roast them, then simmer them, and make what some people call dandelion coffee. It doesn’t really taste like coffee, but it does—because you roast the roots—have this rich roasted flavor that’s reminiscent of coffee. Essentially you’re making a tea, but it does have a little more of like an oomph to it. That’s one of my favorite ways to enjoy dandelion. It just tastes so delicious. That’s a great way to just enjoy it as food and as medicine and support for the liver. It’s also often added to bitters blends, and the leaves are used as bitters too, so might as well talk about bitters, which is one of my favorite topics.
In herbal medicine, the bitter taste of herbs is really important. So many of our foods today, we’ve talked about this earlier with stinging nettle, we bred our foods to be sweeter oftentimes. This is what we’re going for. We’ve often removed the bitter flavor from food. You think about wild salad greens versus iceberg lettuce. There are so many salad greens out there that are making a comeback today that have that bitter flavor to them. I grew up eating iceberg lettuce. That was the salad that you ate was iceberg lettuce. Anyway, even romaine lettuce, which is a little bit better nutrient value than the iceberg lettuce, still does not have a lot of flavors.
That bitter flavor is so incredibly important. It signals to our whole body that nutrients are along the way and we need to get started and ready for it. For example, if you can think of having something that’s bitter, and a great example is a dandelion leaf. If someone happens to have chewed on that, but any bitter flavor will do, what happens when you have the bitter flavor is that you immediately start to salivate more. That saliva then helps to break down carbohydrates, and it begins that whole digestive process. It creates this whole cascade of events that gets our digestive system up and moving: releases hydrochloric acid in the stomach, pancreatic enzymes are released, from that, peristalsis is stimulated. The bitter flavor also stimulates the release of bile from the gallbladder as well as the production of bile in the liver.
The bitter taste is like 101 for our digestive system. Herbalists, we love to talk about how so many of our modern-day digestive issues could be traced back to a bitter deficiency syndrome, which is basically that we aren’t eating bitter things that helped to stimulate our appetite. Dandelion leaves are a great way to do that, as are the roots as I mentioned. This time of year with these greens in the springtime, those greens can be younger, fresh, and tender. They have a bitter taste, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s not take a bite and make a face kind of bitter. It’s more of a there’s kind of a spark to it almost. It’s definitely an enlivening taste because there is a little something there.
Dandelion greens have been used as—some people call it—a bitter tonic but like a bitter springtime digestive aid for so many years. It’s a big tradition in Europe that goes back thousands of years undoubtedly. My husband, he says he remembers going out in the springtime with his mother to wild fields and harvesting dandelion leaves. That was just something you always did. Everybody knew to do that. His family is from the Alps, and in the Alps, they have really traditionally heavy foods in the wintertime: preserved meats, lots of cheeses, and potatoes—so really heavy foods. Eating bitters and drinking bitter drinks is a tradition that still lives on there. I can see why we just need to. You need that bitter oomph if you’re going to eat that really heavy food for a long period of time.
This time of year, having those bitter greens is a great way to get digestion going. One of my favorite ways to do that is a dandelion pesto. You basically make a pesto-like you’d make a basil pesto but you make it with dandelions. It’s slightly bitter but you’ve added some lemon juice, some salt, some nuts, and it kind of tames it a little bit, but I often bring that to potlucks and share it with friends. It’s a great conversation starter because people are what is that? It’s always a crowd-pleaser, and you get to talk to people about how amazing dandelion is. Hopefully, if somebody’s there who is still spraying dandelions, you can open up a conversation that why people might want to stop doing that on so many different levels, but mainly the joy of having free food available to you like the dandelion pesto.
The flowers, of course, are gorgeous too. They are high in lutein, beta carotene so they are also nutrient-dense. I didn’t mention that about the leaves, but the leaves are high in potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and also beta carotene. The leaves and roots are also really high in inulin, that prebiotic that is so wonderful for our healthy gut flora as well. There are so many reasons to enjoy those, but it’s the flowers, again, joyful. Those are edible too. I love this time of year when they’re so plentiful, I love adding them to salads. Yesterday I made a socca bread, which is chickpea flour-based bread. I decorated it with dandelion flowers, violet flowers, and dandelion leaves and made this pretty botanical scape on top of the bread. That was really fun. They’re joyful to add these. People make all sorts of things with the dandelion flowers too from jams, jellies, and all sorts of preserves as well.
[00:51:06] Ashley James: Really?
[00:51:07] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah.
[00:51:09] Ashley James: That’s awesome. We can eat the flower, the leaves, and the root. What about the stem?
[00:51:14] Rosalee de la Foret: The stem is filled with this milky latex that is especially bitter, so it’s not very fun to eat, but that is a folkloric remedy for warts. You harvest that stem, and if you break off the stem, you’ll see it immediately exude this milky sap. It’s kind of sticky, and you apply that to warts every day. The thing with that is it has to be super consistent. I often recommend internal things as well, but even though we don’t want to eat the stem necessarily, it also offers some medicinal benefits which I just love that with dandelion. It is so incredibly generous. It’s beautiful, it’s joyful, its food, its medicine, its abundant. We could go on and on about dandelion.
[00:52:04] Ashley James: I’m so excited because my son loves eating everything in nature. Now I can tell him he can eat dandelion flowers. Are there any contraindications for eating dandelions at all that we should know about?
[00:52:16] Rosalee de la Foret: No, there’s not. The thing about the flowers is that the petals themselves are kind of sweet to blandish. Actually, a flower head is filled with a whole bunch of those actually—every little petal you see is an individual flower so it’s the flower head. Below it there’s these green parts, the bracts and the sepals, those are kind of bitter. You can eat them, they’re fine, but for a sensitive palate they might find that those green bits are too bitter, so you can separate those if you want. That’s really the only thing. Of course, because so many people do spray, you just want to make sure you’re harvesting from a good area, that’s another thing.
One thing is that if you do eat a lot of the leaves and the roots, they are really high in inulin, which can cause some digestive discomfort if somebody eats a whole bunch of them. Also diets that are high in inulin can reduce blood sugar levels and insulin levels. If somebody’s type two diabetic and is needing to strictly monitor that, they would just want to keep that in mind, but of course, I’m in favor of using plant medicine instead of the medications when possible. That could be a way even to bring healthy healing foods into your life and reduce dependence on those things.
[00:53:42] Ashley James: Love it. Very cool. Inulin, I love that it helps with feeding the gut the food it needs to make healthy gut biome, and then it also helps with the blood sugar balance. You talked about how it’s so supportive—the roots—are so supportive to the liver. I used to have liver problems. I had an inflamed liver. My liver was sticking out. You could actually see my liver stick out. It was really bad. I felt a difference when I drank roasted dandelion root tea. I would drink that all the time and I really noticed a difference. I drink there’s some blend with burdock root and dandelion together, but I would actually feel a difference. My liver inflammation would go down drinking it all the time, so there was something to that. I thought that was really interesting.
In my local grocery store, it’s a health food store/grocery store, they often sell, this time of year, wild-harvested dandelion leaves in the lettuce section. For people who can’t go out and harvest their own dandelion leaves, they actually sell it. I always think that’s interesting. Another reason not to spray beside the fact that people are giving themselves their dogs and their children cancer by spraying pesticides in their backyard to kill the beautiful dandelions, dandelions are great for supporting the bees. We’re at a very fragile point right now where if we lose our bees, we lose, I believe, a third of our food supply won’t be pollinated. The other third of our food chain is pollinated by bats. By continuing to spray and kill off weeds, we’re harming the pollinators. Thus, we’re going to end our own food supply. That is such a huge problem.
By stopping spraying and embracing these beautiful weeds that are then supporting our pollinators, we’re supporting our own health and the ecology of the planet. There are many reasons why we should stop spraying and instead embrace it. These dandelions are beautiful, and if we see them as healing plants instead of as pests—healing for us and also supportive of the bees—then we’ll be changing our mindset for a holistic mindset. You mentioned earlier magic bullet—no one herb is a magic bullet. It’s a really interesting mindset. The mindset that there’s a magic bullet out there for something like just give me the prescription, give me the penicillin, just give me the magic bullet, and let me get back to my life. Let me just chemically alter my world to change my lawn, to change my body, just give me the magic bullet.
That mindset was marketed to us for over 100 years. Before penicillin came out, people, when they were sick, would go take a month-long vacation if they could and go to a place of healing where they could rest and recover. They’d spend weeks or months recovering their health and using herbs. Penicillin came along and it was marketed as this magic bullet. Here are drugs. Drugs are the magic bullet. You don’t need to forage in the woods anymore, you don’t need to rest anymore, and you don’t need to take care of your body, do hydrotherapy, and take herbs and all that backwater stuff. Now we’ve got this modern stuff, so here, take this magic bullet. Over 100 years of marketing has led us, several generations, into this thinking that we can just sit back and wait to get sick and can then chemically alter our bodies or our reality with a magic bullet. That’s just not the case.
I know our listeners agree with me that there’s no magic bullet, that that is simply a fantasy world that we’ve been marketed to, and that gaining and maintaining true health requires diligence, requires us taking action, and questioning the reality that we were raised in. Questioning this reality like why do you spray your lawn? Because my parents did because my neighbors do, and that’s just what we do. Let’s question that reality. Question the reality of why do you consider these weeds to be pests instead of herbs, right? The change starts with questioning the reality we have and the belief system we’ve been raised in. Instead, looking at the world through a different lens—through your lens, through the lens of how we can use nature around us to heal us.
I’m really excited about your book because I think that teaching everyone how to forage healing foods and the craft their own herbal medicine is probably one of the most empowering things we can do right now, but it does start with changing our mindset. If people are still in the mindset of looking for the magic bullet to chemically alter their environment or their body, they’re not going to see the world filled with natural remedies. They’re going to see this world where they have to chemically alter it to their liking. We just have to start to shift our thinking, but I’d love for everyone to embrace weeds as herbs, respect them, try to foster them, and love them instead of spraying them. I’m excited that you brought that up.
Tell us about some more really common wild herbs that are available that we may not even realize like dandelions, which are so powerful.
[01:00:13] Rosalee de la Foret: Before I move to the next herb, I loved everything you just said. Actually, I was nodding my head up and down a lot. One of the main themes in the book that was so important to my co-author, Emily and I, is the theme of recognizing interdependence, which is basically what we’re talking about right now. We mean that on so many different levels. A big part of the book is understanding how to forage for plants really ethically and sustainably so we can rely on future harvests and help to make the world around us a better place with more resilient plant populations. But recognizing the interdependence there of not only the pollinators, as you were talking about. Dandelion is a really fun way to observe all the different creatures that rely on the dandelions from the bees like you mentioned to ladybugs crawling around on them.
There are also some surprising ones too. In addition to honeybees there’s also native bees, bee flies, and hoverflies. They all love the dandelions. Small birds including goldfinches and sparrows will eat the seeds. Mammals also forage for the dandelions: rabbits, groundhogs, pocket gophers, deer, elk, and even bears are known to eat dandelions. There’s so much going on with this. We are all on this circle together. As you said, we poison the earth around us, not only are there not dandelions to help us, but then there are the poisons that we’re dealing with our children, our animals, and then all of the creatures there. This is a really important message, and it is a mind shift on so many levels.
That’s a big part of Wild Remedies too is that it’s not simply about using dandelion roots for your liver, which is powerful and so important, but also recognizing all of this. All of the interdependence and the reciprocity that we can give back to the world around us. That’s an important part of medicine, and a really important part of what we all need to hear right now because that mindset shift is one of the most crucial things in terms of overall healing for ourselves and in the planet as well. It was all beautifully said. Thank you for that.
In terms of the other plants, we could talk about the one that comes to mind. First is plantain. Plantain is this weed that’s low growing to the earth, loves to grow on those disturbed soils, and we definitely think of it as a Band-Aid. It takes these downtrodden disturbed soils especially where people love to walk, and it’ll just thrive there. Plantain was actually the very first weed that I learned when I started on this journey. I was in a class, and I was learning about how to make lip balms and healing salves. The teacher started talking about plantain. I had lived in the Dominican Republic where we ate lots of plantains, the banana-like fruit. She started talking about plantain and how abundant it was. I was like wait, what? Plantain grows here? This tropical plant, I just couldn’t believe it. She’s like, yeah. I remember she said, “It’s right out on the driveway. It’s everywhere on the driveway.” I was like, “Really?” And she’s like, “Yeah, let’s go see.”
So we went up to the driveway, checked it out, and then I got to know plantain, which is a plantago genus, not the plantain fruit. It’s not related to the banana.
[01:03:58] Ashley James: It’s not related at all? There’s no relation?
[01:04:01] Rosalee de la Foret: No relationship whatsoever.
[01:04:02] Ashley James: Of no relation.
[01:04:03] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah. A completely different genus, red plantain the banana plantain.
[01:04:09] Ashley James: You were so disappointed.
[01:04:10] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah. I definitely like okay. That was day one of my herbal learning experience. I started off as a complete newbie and learned about plantain. If people don’t know what I mean when I say plantain, I’m sure you would recognize it if I pointed it out, then you would probably start to see it everywhere.
[01:04:30] Ashley James: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I just searched for it—broadleaf plantain—and I’m like yeah, I pulled a few of those out of my garden for sure. I don’t know if you call Toronto Eastern Canada, I guess you’d consider that Eastern. I’m from the other side of North America, now I’m living just outside of Seattle in the Pacific Northwest. I remember there was a plant that looked just like this. It’s just these broad leaves that are all kind of sprouting out, and then there are these little things that shoot up and they have those seeds on them, right?
[01:05:11] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah, they have a very prolific seed head. There are several different species and many of them are used interchangeably. The broadleaf is the one you’re looking at. There’s also a narrow-leafed one that’s very common, but they both have these very prominent parallel leaf veins that stick out. That’s an easy way to identify them, but plantain loves to grow where people walk. There are some native species here in North America, but most of what we see are weeds that were brought over from Europe. They quickly earned the name white man’s footstep because they would be found growing in the wagon’s trails as white people headed west. It’s very prolific, and as I said, it’ll grow and it’ll thrive in places that many plants would not.
It’s an easy weed to dismiss. It’s common, it’s ubiquitous, but man, this thing is a powerful healer. Plantain is really powerful for acute situations as well as chronic situations. I love that because I just love how versatile it is. For acute situations, it’s very famous for helping with bee stings, or wasp stings, or any kind of insect stings. It can really soothe painful bites or sting, and it can work right away. Basically, what you do is you get a bee sting, wasp sting, whatever the case, and you harvest a leaf. You chew it up, make a mulch poultice out of it, and then place that over the sting. It will take out that sting and the pain immediately, and it will greatly reduce the redness and swelling. It is so amazing. I’ve used it like that many times, but it had been quite a few years since I used it. Just last summer, I got stung by a wasp. Gosh, that’s so painful.
It was just one of those like aw. I didn’t realize what was happening, I figured it out and just headed over to the plantain patch, started putting a poultice on, and changed them out every 20 minutes. The pain relief was almost instantaneous and then the redness and swelling were not that bad for a wasp. That one is just a good one that everyone should know. It works great for kids. Not only is it like actually reducing their pain, but the idea of chewing up a leaf and putting it on your body, kids often like that and it distracts them from the situation as well. Once kids know it, man, I’ve been around so many kids that they know. They get stung and they’ll just go for the plantain leaf themselves. Lots of stories of kids even helping out their parents. Oh, you got stung. Let me find you a plantain leaf.
Once you know how to recognize it it’s super easy to find. It’s so wonderful for that. Another great attribute it has for acute situations is it’s what we call a vulnerary herb, which is a wound-healing herb. It can promote the knitting of tissues together and the healing of tissues. We can use it on all sorts of things like cuts, scrapes, burns, and blisters. All of those things are great first aid application for that. Again, it can be used as a poultice. It can also be used as a salve, which is where you make a remedy where you infuse oil with plantain leaves, and then once that’s really well infused then you strain off the leaves and add a little beeswax and make a salve with it. It’s one of my most used salves because it’s great for just about anything.
It’s a really powerful healer in that regard too, but as I mentioned, it’s also great for chronic conditions. That ability to heal skin and knit tissues back together is also really great for our digestive tract. I’m glad we’ve already talked about no silver bullet miracle cure with herbs because that’s definitely not how I teach about herbs, but they can be a powerful part of an overall healing process. I often recommend plantain for people who have suspicions of having a leaky gut or intestinal permeability. Again, we want to be using the nutrients, we want to be thinking about diet really carefully, but plantain can also be used as a way to help heal the digestive tract all the way through.
You can also use it for any kind of inflammatory bowel disease. Basically, any kind of inflamed in tissues, whether that’s on the outside or through our digestive tract. Plantain is really fabulous for that. I like it for that as a tea. You drink a strong tea of the plantain. It’s like bathing all of your tissues in your digestive tract with these healing abilities. You can also use it as a mouth rinse and use it to heal mouth wounds like a canker sore, for example. For acid reflux where tissues are inflamed. Lots of ways to use that internally, but it’s one that I use all the time for that.
Another way that I rely on plantain a lot is for coughs. Plantain works really well for a particular kind of cough, and that’s that dry hacking cough that can be really painful and just seem endless. I will often get this kind of cough at the end of a cold or flu. I lay down at night and I’m ready to drift off into sleep and then I’ll just start coughing and I can’t stop. Plantain is perfect for that kind of cough. It just soothes that coughing reflex, helps reduce the inflammation that’s going on there, and just stops that spasmodic coughing.
It’s also really great for coughing due to particles in the air like dust or wildfire smoke. When the wildfires have been bad and the smoke has been in the air really thick, I often rely on plantain as well as another plant, mullein, to help with that. Just restoring lung health and helping reduce that irritation that’s going on in the lungs. Plantain is one that just grows at our feet and is so easy to dismiss. It’s one of my most used herbs and has so many healing abilities within it.
[01:11:26] Ashley James: Very interesting. It’s one of those weeds I never thought was worth its time being in my garden. Now, boy am I wrong. That’s so cool. That’s so cool. What else? What other wild herbs/weeds? What weeds should we stop thinking of as weeds and start thinking of as herbs?
[01:11:56] Rosalee de la Foret: All of them. Absolutely all of them. Another one that comes to mind is mallow. Mallow is in the malva genus, and it also loves to grow in disturbed soils like all of these do. It can often be the bane of gardeners. Gardeners especially seem to hate this plant and want to pull it up, but it also is wonderful food, wonderful medicine. It is definitely seen as an invasive weed, but historically, it was a highly prized medicinal as well as food. It’s interesting how these things can change, but I’d rarely see a gardener who gives a whoop of gratitude when they see a mallow in their garden. It’s usually the other way around, but I still feel that big surge of gratitude when I see it because it is so generous in its food and medicine.
When you make a tea out of mallow, The result is this thick—I hate to use the word slimy because people don’t really think like mmm, slimy I want some of that—but it is like this mucilaginous, slimy, gooey result is this tea. We call that in the herbal world it’s demulcent, but basically, all these mucilaginous properties have come out into the tea. It’s similar to aloe vera—the insides of aloe vera plant, it’s demulcent. Even if you just make up some oatmeal and it becomes kind of like goopy, that’s also demulcent quality. Basically, it’s a thick substance that’s very soothing and very cooling.
I mentioned that plantain is great for those dry irritated coughs. I often combine it with mallow and mullein, as I also mentioned, but I often combine it with mallow because it has that additional softening, soothing, cooling, and moistening properties. I love to talk about coughs because I grew up thinking I have a cough, that’s bad, take cough syrup, okay. Basically, the cough syrup is relaxing those muscles and just stopping the cough from happening, but in herbalism, we really want to know what is the type of cough and then how can we help support the body’s healing process.
In this situation, if somebody is coughing because of irritation, because of dryness, but if we just stop the cough, then that means that the dryness is still continuing and that irritation is still continuing. Oftentimes, if there are dryness and irritation, there’s inflammation that’s still continuing. We can use herbs instead of just stopping the coughing reflex. We can use them to support soothing those tissues, relieving the irritation, relieving the dryness, and mallow is just so amazing for this. I use it, as I mentioned, for wildfire smoke in the air. Even just the dryness of summer or the dryness of winter when we have heating going on and drying the air. All of those things can bring dryness to the lungs, and mallow is a great way to just soothe them in a really gentle way. Any of that hot, dry, dusty, or smoky air, mallow is just amazing for that.
Another time we can have that dryness and irritation causing us problems is sore throats like with a cold or a flu symptom or just the dryness again of smoke or dry air. Again, that mallow is soothing, it’s moistening, and it has that thick substance to it and just can be really relieving of all that kind of irritation. Mallow, which is high in polysaccharides and those polysaccharides are known to have immunomodulating activity as well. They can help the body in strengthening the immune system, ward off infection. That’s all wonderful ways to use it.
Historically, it was used for wounds and that’s a way we continue to use it today. It was famous historically for wounds. Today, I often use it not only externally but I mentioned plantain actually internally to heal digestive issues and mallow is really great for that as well, and I often combine the two of those. It makes great food if you’re familiar with mallow. If you aren’t and you’re listening to this, just do a browser search for mallow and find it.
Malva neglecta is one of the common ones, but there are species that grow all over. I bet you’ll recognize it because it’s so common. In the late summer, it produces these fruits. I was told to call them cheese wheels because they do look like a cheese wheel, but they’re really cool tasting. They’re really cooling, I should say, and they taste great. There is a crunch to them, and so they’re really fun to add to like salads. This is like a different textural kind of thing, but they are pretty tasty and delicious.
I have a recipe in the book for roasted dandelion roots and those mallow cheese wheels. Roasting them with apples and cinnamon. It’s a fun wild food treat. Great food and medicine. Again, that soothing quality of the mallow is just so important. I love how that is as herbal medicine it’s just so practical. It’s like oh, I have heat and dryness. I’m going to take this thing that’s really cooling and soothing, and it works so well as that. Once you get used to using your medicine like that there’s just no going back. You’ll know that you need mallow in your life.
[01:17:29] Ashley James: I love it. I’m excited to learn more. There is a weed in my garden. There’s no chance this thing could be herbally helpful at all because I think the devil himself made this weed, creeping buttercup.
[01:17:46] Rosalee de la Foret: That family, the ranunculus family, they have some great medicinals in there.
[01:17:56] Ashley James: No way.
[01:17:58] Rosalee de la Foret: Within that family, but a lot of the buttercups aren’t known to be used medicinally. When they bloom early in the year that is pretty fun. I don’t know a lot of medicinal uses for that particular plant.
[01:18:15] Ashley James: Okay, so I’m just going to keep pulling it out of my garden.
[01:18:17] Rosalee de la Foret: Especially because I know where you live, it can really want to take over.
[01:18:22] Ashley James: It takes over. I’m constantly fighting it, but it’s worth it to be able to have our own garden filled with beautiful fruits and vegetables. It’s totally worth it. You’re less into gardening and more into wildcrafting. I was going to ask you a gardening question.
[01:18:42] Rosalee de la Foret: Actually, I have quite a big garden. I do.
[01:18:44] Ashley James: You do? Okay. How do you manage slugs? How do you get rid of slugs?
[01:18:48] Rosalee de la Foret: Here, I have the best secret for managing slugs.
[01:18:53] Ashley James: I thought you would.
[01:18:54] Rosalee de la Foret: Move to the other side of the mountains then you don’t get slugs.
[01:18:58] Ashley James: I was wondering if you had slugs in Eastern Washington. That’s so funny. When we first moved here, again, I’m from Toronto. I’m from the province of Ontario in Canada. Like Michigan and like the East Coast, we have really bad insects in the summertime. When we first moved here, there was no screen door on our balcony. I kept saying we need to get a screen if we’re ever going to open this door in the summertime we need to get a screen. My husband who’s from here was like what do you mean we need to get a screen? I’m freaking out thinking we’re going to be eaten alive by mosquitoes and black flies. Come spring and come summer, there were no mosquitoes. Rarely, once in a blue moon, I’ll see a mosquito and there are no black flies here.
I thought this is crazy because my entire existence I thought the planet was covered. I thought the whole northern hemisphere was covered in mosquitoes every year. I didn’t realize there was a region of the world where mosquitoes did not take over. Then out came the banana slugs and it was a particularly bad year and these things are like a foot long just sliding across the backyard. You could see them, they’re huge, huge slugs, and they were everywhere. I couldn’t walk barefoot because I’d step on one.
[01:20:20] Rosalee de la Foret: I was just going to say, they make you think twice about being barefoot.
[01:20:22] Ashley James: Worst sensation. I feel so guilty when I kill something, and I’m like oh my gosh, you’re walking through your backyard and it’s like stepping on a water balloon that’s slimy. You just feel so bad. Slugs are everywhere. I’m combating slugs. I think I’m going to spread diatomaceous earth. You live in eastern Washington so you don’t have a slug problem. That’s quite hilarious. It’s so funny. It’s so funny. That’s hilarious. I’ve got mushrooms growing in my garden, which means it’s healthy soil, good mycelial network in the soil, so that’s good. I don’t know anything about mushrooms though in terms of how to harvest them or which ones are safe so I don’t ever venture that way.
But I did have a run-in with an herb that popped up in my garden. This is two years ago so I’m forgetting the name of it but it looked like this herb that I know is safe. I ate a bite of it and I’m like oh, it tastes just like licorice. I thought this is so cool, it’s growing in the back. It’s a wild herb. It’s just so neat. Then my hands started to shake. I’m like uh oh. I looked it up and I actually took a picture of it, sent it to my local gardening group, and they said oh that’s—and again, I’m forgetting the name of it but they’re like that’s a poisonous weed that will kill you. I thought oh my gosh. I called poison control. I didn’t die, obviously, I’m still here. It really snapped me back to the reality that we can’t just go around eating.
There’s a man in 2012 that died in Washington State from eating this weed, so we can’t just go around picking anything and eating it. We have to know. We have to just verify and know, but that snapped me back to reality like herbs can be, depending on which herb, it can be as dangerous as taking the wrong medicine, as taking the wrong drug. We just really want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing and identifying. That’s something you teach in your book, right? To identify the good ones and the bad ones, the poisonous ones and the not poisonous.
[01:22:44] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah, I’m so glad you brought that up. That’s definitely step one is always be 100% sure of the plant you’re harvesting. In the book, we have beautiful botanical illustrations—watercolor illustrations—that we had done specifically for the book for each plant, but also in the beginning chapters, we talked a lot about plant ID and understanding botanical terms. We like to make it really fun for folks and so it starts with looking at botanical parts at your grocery store. You notice the plants in the produce section and learning to recognize plants is really just learning to see patterns. At first it can seem intimidating, but our minds are really great at recognizing patterns. Once you understand different leaf patterns they’ll just jump out at the landscape at you.
The other thing is that I have always been taught this and I always continue to teach it. The most important plants to identify growing near you are the hazardous ones. That’s where you start when you learn how to do plant ID is you learn about potentially toxic plants. You learn them really well, and you learn how to ID them really well. It’s not like there are hundreds of them but there are some ones that are very, very important to know. Where I live, all around my house, I have death camas, which is aptly named. It’s one of the most poisonous plants in North America and can definitely cause instant, or I shouldn’t say instant, but very painful death.
[01:24:13] Ashley James: Wait, what’s it called again? I got to search this up. What’s it called?
[01:24:16] Rosalee de la Foret: Death camas.
[01:24:18] Ashley James: Death? The word death is in it?
[01:24:19] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah, it’s very aptly named.
[01:24:21] Ashley James: Oh, look. I type in death and camas pops up.
[01:24:23] Rosalee de la Foret: There you go. It’s a very common plant. It grows here in eastern Washington. It grows all over though. Not as common where you live, but it’s not related to camas, but camas is a very important edible food here in Washington State. Before they flower they can look pretty similar so it’s a really important one to know. There’s all the poison hemlock, water hemlock. I wonder if that might have been what—
[01:24:47] Ashley James: That was poison hemlock. That was it.
[01:24:50] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah, that one is very, very important to know to not eat. That plant family, the umbelliferae family, is a really good plant family to know to be able to differentiate them because there are some important medicinal and edibles like the carrots are in that same family, parsley is in that same family. You want to be able to recognize those. We have a whole section in the book where just getting to know your local potentially toxic plants. The thing is once you know those, it’s not like it makes every other plant safe, but there is an empowering sense to be like I know the potential hazards in my area.
If you headed off into the woods you would want to know are there rattlesnakes there, should I prepare for ticks, or is this a flash flood area? Just all of those times when you would want to know what are the potential hazards around me? That’s one of the things you want to know. Again, for me, a really empowering thing to be able to look around the plants that grow around me, to be able to identify them, to know which ones are food and medicine, which ones are beautiful, which ones are potentially toxic, all of those things are so important.
Another one that makes me think of is foxglove. Foxglove is a really powerful medicine that most people don’t use it as medicine as much anymore because it is very difficult to administer and can easily cause death. The heart drug, digitalis, is actually based on constituents found within foxglove. It’s a beautiful plant, grows prolifically where you are. It’s so much fun to enjoy it. We don’t really use it as medicine anymore, but when it’s young, it can look like mullein, which is a very safe medicinal plant. It can look like comfrey. But once you know the plant it’s not hard to tell them apart. It’s just in the beginning plants can look very similar before you really suss out their differences.
You really want to know what you’re harvesting. Dandelion doesn’t have poisonous look-alikes, but it can have plants that really look like it. Once you know the secrets of dandelion, you’ll be able to tell two dandelions apart from other ones as well. Definitely very, very important. Extensively, in our book, we went through helping people to identify plants correctly. There are also great ways to learn plants local to you. Native Plant Societies in North America, Canada, and the United States. There are Native Plant Societies where you can meet up with other people who are plant geeks.
You can find herbalists, other people doing plant walks, and interpretive centers. There are local field guides. There are lots of ways to learn plants. Obviously, I’m biased, but I find the whole process of getting to know plants just to be joyful—incredibly joyful to be out there listening to the birds, feeling the sun on your face, and getting to know all the creatures that go around you, but also incredibly power empowering. Again, when I go on a walk, I know all the plants that grow around me. I do know what I could eat right now, today.
I could go out and make a meal from the plants that go around me. Not only a meal but those joyful remedies as well. The dandelion jelly, wild rose petal honey, or stinging nettle soup as you mentioned, which is one of my favorite wild food dishes as well. There’s so much joy out there and that’s what keeps bringing me back is that joy. We’ve been talking about how herbs are not a magic bullet for anything. It’s very popular within natural health as we have all these things that we should be doing. We should sleep well, we should exercise, and we should eat well. Obviously, I agree with all of that. Those are the foundations of our health, but if we leave joy out of that, it becomes a list of to-dos, and a list of should. It becomes less and less fun.
For me, being with the wild plants and using Wild Remedies is incredibly joyful and it’s not a should, it’s an I get to. I get to go out into the forest today and spend time there to feel calm, feel more relaxed, enjoy all there is to offer, to harvest some nettles, to fill my basket, and appreciate all of the beauty and wonder out there. I get to bring them back to my kitchen. I get to make a nourishing meal. I get to enjoy this nourishing meal that is so tasty and delicious. That becomes the foundation of health. From that spring so many.
From the nutrients of the nettle I have more energy that allows me to have more movement in my life. That increased movement allows me to rest more peacefully at night and get a better night’s sleep. As we talked about all of the other side effects of having more energy, to more luxurious hair, to better skin. We didn’t even talk about skin with nettle, but that’s another important gift of nettle is how it can help bring vibrant skin to the surface. All of these things build upon each other in beautiful ways, and again, I love that it is inspired by joy and beauty and less about shoulds or to-do lists.
[01:30:11] Ashley James: Very cool. Yeah, we can have so much fun with this. Make a game out of it. Especially if you have children, or if you have a husband or a partner, we can go make a game out of it and do some kind of wild foraging game like who can identify the most medicinal herbs or something like that, so we can make it fun. I’d like you to think about the last 24 hours, how many herbs have you used in your personal life in the last 24 hours?
[01:30:51] Rosalee de la Foret: Wow. That would be a lot especially with spring here. I’m constantly grazing outdoors. I already mentioned that last night I made socca bread and I put wild violets on it, dandelion flowers and leaves, and some other things from my garden like chives and pansies. I served that with a dandelion pesto, so I put that on top of it after it was eaten. As a drink, I had violet syrup that I just made. The violet is another plant we can go on and on about but the violets are just so amazing right now. They have this really incredible scent and flavor to them, so I made a syrup out of those. I made it by making a strong tea and adding a bit of honey to that just as a little preservative and then I use it up pretty quickly because I use little honey so it doesn’t have a long shelf life. But then I added that to sparkling water—a tablespoon of that to sparkling water.
Last night, having that meal, I was pretty thrilled with myself actually because it was so beautiful and such a priceless thing. You can’t really buy violet syrup of that quality anyway. It’s all of my own making. I went out to the meadow, I harvested the violets, and I made the tea. The tea from purple violets is just so incredible. It’s a beautiful purple intense color. I had all those experiences and was able to enjoy that. Another plant that I have been enjoying a lot lately is hawthorn. Hawthorn is a plant that I regularly use and often widely recommend as well. It’s an amazing cardiovascular tonic, and there are so many benefits to hawthorn especially in regards to heart health. You don’t have to have heart disease to enjoy or benefit from hawthorn. I think of it as the kind people will say eat your carrots to have healthy eyes. It’s just something you do.
I think of hawthorn as like heart disease is very prevalent, might as well enjoy hawthorn regularly. Hawthorn is really high in oxidants and flavonoids, modulates inflammation, which is often the underlying cause of what’s going on with heart disease. So many studies out there showing vast benefits of hawthorn both for prevention as well as for people who have moderate to severe symptoms of heart disease. The berries are just delicious, and so they’re really fun to add to your life. I love to make a vinegar extract from the hawthorn berries. In the fall, I harvest lots of the berries, fill them in a jar—fill up a jar with them—and then I fill that with vinegar. I often just use apple cider vinegar. Cover that with a lid that doesn’t have metal on it, and let that sit for a while. Sometimes I’ll add honey to that.
A straight-up vinegar I’ll use as a base for salad dressing. Every time I’m eating a salad I’m getting the hawthorn in there. Then when I add honey to it, that makes what we call an oxymel, and that is a really delicious way. Again, I’ll add it to sparkling water and it’s this tangy, sweet, and sour drink. It’s this beautiful red color so it’s gorgeous. It’s really fun to make. It’s like a wild food mock soda, I guess. That’s another wonderful way. I’ve had lots of hawthorn in the past 24 hours as well. I’m about to go harvest the stinging nettle as I mentioned. I had a tea this morning that had oat straw, nettles, hawthorn, lemon balm, and lemon verbena in it.
That’s what’s coming to mind right now in terms of wild foods. I‘m a big fan of herbs and spices and cooking. My husband made this breakfast today with lots of vegetables. He uses an amazing amount of spices there. This is a running joke. I asked him like, “This tastes so good, what spices did you put in here?” He says, “All of them.”
[01:35:30] Ashley James: Yes, I love it. I love it. You mentioned lip balm, salves, what other ways are herbs seeping into your life that are unexpected? Like for skincare, hair care that kind of thing.
[01:35:50] Rosalee de la Foret: I definitely love the lip balms and salves. I love infused oils actually. One of my favorite infused oils for this time of year is to infuse violet flowers and dandelion flowers into an oil. Both of those gently move lymph and just support lymphatic function. It’s a beautiful oil to make. You can add a little bit of essential oil to it once it’s done. That makes a great oil for all over the body but especially in places that are rich in lymphatic tissue, so it’s a wonderful breast massage oil just to keep breast tissues happy and healthy, axilla or armpit areas as well. That’s a lovely way. I make all sorts of infused oils throughout the year, I’m kind of famous for them especially amongst my friends who have already started making requests for the year.
[01:36:42] Ashley James: I love that you said that. I’m kind of famous. I’m kind of a big deal. I’m kind of famous with these oils. I’m like yeah, you are.
[01:36:50] Rosalee de la Foret: I’ve given away so many herbal medicines, and after a while, I began to realize that’s what my friends really wanted were these infused oils. Infused oils, which then can be made into facial creams, which I also get a lot of requests for. I infuse wild roses into oil, that makes a beautiful one. I grow holy basil in my garden, which is an amazing herb. That one I just started making infused oils with that recently, and I’ve already had many requests for it again this year, so lots of infused oils. There are so many applications for infused oils in terms of moisturizing your skin, obviously, but also, you can use it for pain relief. I do arnica infused oil, cottonwood bud infused oil, which is oh my gosh, that smells so good. Cottonwood bud oil is great for pain relief but also doubles as a perfume because it has such this heady lovely scent.
I use herbs for shampoo. I like to infuse nutrient-rich herbs into tea, and then mix that with castile soap—makes a really great shampoo. That’s kind of an unexpected way. It can also be a body wash as well. Let’s see, what else? I love to do baths with plants. One of my favorite baths is to make a really strong chamomile tea, and by that I mean two cups of the flowers infused into a quart and a half of hot water for 20 minutes. You make this really strong tea, it’s super bright yellow. You strain off the chamomile flower so you’re just left with the tea, and you add that to bathwater. So profoundly relaxing especially if my shoulders get tense or just my whole body is tense.
Obviously, the hot water is relaxing, just relaxing in the bathtub is relaxing, and then the addition of this really strong chamomile tea is also really lovely.
[01:39:00] Ashley James: There’s this Korean spa in Seattle I love going to, and it’s only for women. They call it The Naked Spa.
[01:39:11] Rosalee de la Foret: I’ve been to The Naked Spa.
[01:39:12] Ashley James: Okay, okay. You know what I’m talking about. You know I’m talking about. Oh man, I love it. Before you get into the hot tubs, you can pour this tea on you, and it’s so wonderful, so relaxing. It’s antimicrobial. I forget what herb that is.
[01:39:32] Rosalee de la Foret: They use mugwort in that.
[01:39:33] Ashley James: Mugwort, that’s right. So you can use mugwort as an antimicrobial to wash away fungus, virus, and all that stuff. In the light of COVID-19, have you changed any of your home remedies, or have you added anything in the last few months for your family?
[01:39:52] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah, definitely. I feel like I haven’t been doing new things, but it’s been an inspiration, we could call it, to really double down on the things that we normally do. One thing, Ashley, is the hawthorn. As I mentioned, when something that’s coming out in the news a lot right now is that people with hypertension and heart disease are having more serious complications with COVID-19. They’re also seeing these issues with blood clotting coming out. I feel like things are changing so often so I don’t know. By the time this airs, there might be even more news or different news about it, but that’s what’s going on right now is there are lots of things about the blood clotting and involvement with cardiovascular disease.
I don’t have those things but it made me think I might as well just enjoy hawthorn even more, and I’m in no way trying to insinuate that hawthorn is going to save anybody from COVID-19—the severity of the symptoms. However, what COVID-19 is showing us is that the healthier we are the better chance we have at either having asymptomatic, being asymptomatic, or having reduced symptoms. It’s a reminder to me how important hawthorn as well as all the lifestyle choices that go along with healthy cardiovascular function can be, but hawthorn is definitely showing up a lot in our lives right now because I think might as well support the heart as best as we can. Something I often feel, but again, especially inspired right now. Hawthorn being really important.
We’ve been using a lot of teas that are wonderful for modulating immune system care. What I mean by modulate is there’s definitely herbs that we know that boost the immune system. You take it and then suddenly you have increased NK killer cell activity or increased macrophage activity. We know that we can boost the immune system in that way, but herbs are pretty amazing and that we’ve seen time and time again through studies because obviously, this is not something we can inherently know, but that herbs have a balancing effect. They act differently in somebody depending on what’s going on. When we talk about seasonal allergies, which can be an intense immune response, we can take these immunomodulating herbs. Boosting the immune system further, they actually modulate the response and help calm this excitability that we’re seeing.
Anyway, these herbs are wonderfully modulating for the immune system and can help just support the immune system. Many of these herbs are tonic in that we take them for a long period of time. It’s not something like you take it and then suddenly you can leap buildings in a single bound or anything, but it’s something that you take daily over a long period of time to see the benefits. A big one for me is an astragalus. It’s a root that comes originally from China, but Western herbalists have adopted it widely because there’s really nothing else like it. It is nourishing, it’s sweet in flavor, it can be added to so many different things, and it’s just a wonderful way to support your immune system day in and day out.
We’ve been using lots of astragalus in decoctions, which is simmering the root. With that, I often combine it with codonopsis. Both of these are really wonderful herbs for the lungs. They support and strengthen lung function, which seems to be also an important thing to be doing right now. Those three are at my big list. Sometimes, I taper off my vitamin D supplementation at this stage, but I haven’t spent that much time in the sun this spring and so I’ve kept up with vitamin D, which also seems to be very important. All those things that I already have naturally dialed in because it’s not my first day. I’ve had a serious chronic disease, and I’ve taken care of myself ever since.
I think these things—we mention them, they’re so profoundly important to the best of our ability, to get that restful sleep, to get movement in our lives every day, and eat those nutrient-dense foods. As I’ve mentioned before—joy, I think that is such an important part of it too. I know that can be a hard thing right. So many of us are going through varying levels of sadness. Some of us are safe sheltering at home. Some of us are essential workers on the front line. There are so many things going on right now that the world’s topsy-turvy and it can be easy to be falling into anxiety and fear, which is only natural. But the more we can counteract that purposefully with joy the better. In whatever way we do that is a good thing.
I love The Office, the TV show, so I’ve been watching an episode or two of that a day because it makes me laugh and it just takes my mind off things. Laughing is so important right now. In addition to my walks, that’s part of my daily therapy is to laugh in whatever way. Even the passing of the seasons, that is such a powerful thing for me too. It makes us see how precious life is to see the wildflowers come and go so quickly. We can’t hear the wildflowers are blooming, and they will soon be gone, and so it’s that reminder to be present and appreciating things day in and day out and just the joy that surrounds us when we really get to do that.
It takes away the monotony for me. I think of before when I lived in cities, actually Seattle, it was so easy to ignore the seasons with indoor air climate control and being able to get whatever vegetables I wanted whenever at the large grocery stores. It’s easy to just lose sense—it rains nine months out of the year. It can be monotonous in some ways, but when we tap into the seasons, there’s so much richness there. Seeing what birds are coming and going, being in tune with the seasons, recognizing those differences, how slight, seeing the plants come and go—it’s all a beautiful thing.
[01:46:21] Ashley James: I love it. I’ve had several expert guests on this show about how to get rid of parasites. It’s really interesting that we, in our modern age, believe that we’re infallible to parasites because we’re humans, not animals. We live in houses, not in woods, and so of course, we don’t have parasites. Meanwhile, one in three people has a parasitic infection and don’t know it. One of the experts I interviewed, Dr. Jay Davidson, said that our ancestors, even just our grandparents our great-grandparents look 100 years ago, we would regularly deworm ourselves every year with the same herbs that we would give our cattle. Farmers would take the right doses but take the similar deworming herbs that they would give the animals because they knew we needed to cleanse our body.
That was something that we did through trial and error for thousands of years is take herbs and take certain foods that help to remove the parasites from our body. What wild herbs do you take to prevent parasitic infection?
[01:47:42] Rosalee de la Foret: I can’t say that I really take herbs with that intention, but those bitter herbs that I mentioned before or just bitter in that sense is widely used for getting rid of any unwanted creatures growing down there in our bowels. That bitter flavor is something that, I mentioned, when we have a little bit of bitter, it can be enlivening and bring a spark. When you get intensely bitter things, it’s just as bad to us as it is to parasites or whatever. That is the idea, by having these bitter foods, it’s basically sending out a signal like this is not a good place to call home. You want to leave now. Those plants are widely used for that. We call them vermifuge herbs or vermicidal herbs, but it’s rare that we use herbs necessarily to kill. If they kill parasites, then it’s going to be very difficult for our own bodies to handle it, so it can be on that toxic scale. But we can use them to basically show them the door like all right, you don’t want to be here anymore. Those bitter herbs are really important for that.
One of the most famous for this is gentian root. That’s one that doesn’t grow here. I really love to use the herbs that grow around me, but I did fall in love with gentian root. It comes from the Alps in France where my husband’s from, and I love to visit it there. It has been a bit over-harvested, so now I only get cultivated sources of it. You could call it a disastrously bitter herb. It’s not pleasant in any way, shape, or form. In terms of its bitter flavor at the very intense, but widely effective. You could take it in a capsule as a way to avoid taking that super bitter flavor.
One thing I like to do is make my own herbal, I call herbal pastille after the French word, which is basically like an herbal pill. You basically take powdered herbs and mix them into a little ball and then add just a bit of honey to hold it together. Those bitter digestive pills you know can be used for digestion, but again, those bitter flavors are not loved by parasites. So gentian often makes up a big part of that.
[01:50:18] Ashley James: Very interesting. One of the herbs that is relatively safe for us, but not safe for parasites, is mimosa pudica seed, and that’s from ayurvedic medicine. I was surprised to see a mimosa pudica tree growing out past Monroe, Washington. I think it was in Sultan, big beautiful tree. I thought it would only grow in India. Maybe there are different variations of it, but that’s one of the things that Dr. Jay Davidson talks about. As you said, certain ones are really harsh and can be harsh on our bodies as well as harsh on the parasites. We want to do everything we can right now to bolster our immune system and support the terrain of our body so we can have the best outcomes possible when we come in contact with any kind of virus or any kind of pathogen.
You had mentioned violets a few times. Before we wrap up today’s interview, can you tell us about the medicinal properties of violets? Is this just the wild violet flower that you’ve been making these delicious teas out of?
[01:51:37] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah. The violets I’ve been using are at a friend’s house. The story goes that she got a clump of violets from her friend 20 years ago and planted them in her garden. Now, she has like millions of violets. I mean it just covers the whole sidewalk there where she lives. It was several years ago that she just happened to mention. She has mentioned it offhandedly to me like I got all these violets. They just are invasive and they spread everywhere I was like what? Wait. Tell me more. Now, I go every spring and I get to harvest so many of them. Violets are beautiful plant medicine. You can use the leaves and flowers. The roots can be slightly amidic or make you want to throw up, so those have been used therapeutically in the past, but we don’t use them so much today. Mainly the leaves and the flowers.
We talked about similarly how plantain and mallow especially have that soothing demulcent quality. That is also true of violets. When there are dryness and irritation, violets are really wonderful for that, so kind of the same thing. It’s kind of funny we talked about all these herbs that do that because there’s not a lot of soothing cooling herbs out there, we just happened to talk about them today. Violets are really great for that, great for the dry coughs. I mentioned that they do support lymphatic health. I think of our lymphatic system as this big waterway that’s running throughout our body. Just as rivers and streams can run smoothly or they become stagnant or swollen, same with lymphatic vessels. Violet helps keep things moving cleanly, clearly.
Wild violets love to grow near running water. They will grow on string banks. I like how that it reminds me of how they can be used to keep our internal waterways running really well. Violets are used to break down hardened cysts especially chronic ones. I mentioned it can be used as a breast massage oil. It’s used for fibrocystic breasts. It’s all of those. Anytime there are hot conditions, especially hot dry situations like maybe a rash, it’s really great for moistening that, soothing that as well. Violet is lovely for the nervous system, it’s very calming.
Anytime there’s stress and panic, violets can be used to soothe and calm things. In Iran, they love violet medicine, and they use violets in really interesting ways that we don’t necessarily do in Western herbalism, but I just know from researching it. Now, I’m excited to try it out. There, they use violet for promoting sleep, for example. They use it specifically for people with insomnia, so that’s another way to use that.
Part of the reason that violets can bring joy and help us be more calm is the medicine we make from violets is so profoundly beautiful. I mentioned, you harvest these especially the purple ones. You can use pretty much all violets in the same way, but the viola odorata, which has a beautiful scent to it. There are a couple other purple flowers that have the scent as well, but not all of them do. But if you can find the purple flowers that have the scent, it’s such a unique violet scent and you really cannot find that anywhere else except from the fresh flowers. That’s very hard to capture that for the long term. Anyway, you make a tea from that.
The violet flowers are also used for litmus tests because they’re very sensitive to the pH of the water. When I make violet tea, it actually turns blue. It turns this deep dark sapphire blue. Then if I add just a little bit of lemon juice to it, I’m talking a couple of drops or so, then it turns into this brilliant purple like amethyst little purple or definitely gem-colored. That’s really fun to make medicine with that. I make mocktails with that. I made the syrup, he just made ice cream with it with coconut milk. It’s like a coconut milk ice cream with violet syrup. It’s beautiful. It turned out a pale color when you’re diluting it with all that coconut milk, but it was just really beautiful.
The syrup, as I mentioned, you can drizzle that on whatever you want. I like to add just a little bit to water and drink it in that way. It’s beautiful but it’s also wonderful medicine as I mentioned, it’s great for moving the lymph and addressing stagnant lymph as well as for dry coughs too. Then the leaves are great food and medicine as well. Both flowers and the leaves make a wonderful tea, but you can take those young leaves and add them to your salads. They’re delicious. A bland taste and have a ton of flavor to them, but a great addition to salads as well.
[01:56:57] Ashley James: Very cool. So unlike drugs where most drugs people take because they’re already sick and then they get on a drug, some herbs you can take preventively like you can take as a supplement to feed the body more nourishment to support the body in being healthy. You can figure out how to get these wild herbs into your life every day to increase your vitamins and minerals and fight all the phytonutrients, anti-cancer, antioxidants. Then there are certain herbs that you can take when you have an acute situation. In fact, many drugs, pharmaceutical prescription drugs, are actually based on herbs. They figured out—I mean the most common one everyone knows about is aspirin. Aspirin is a pill, you can buy it in a store. You go to the pharmacy, you buy some aspirin, but aspirin is actually from willow bark.
What’s really interesting is that if you take too much aspirin you can go blind, you can go deaf. I actually had a friend who had aspirin. He had a really bad toothache, and it was like a Friday night. It was so painful that he just started taking aspirin like crazy. By Sunday he was blind and deaf, and he was freaking out, obviously. He gave himself aspirin poisoning because he thought to himself aspirin is healthy because it’s natural, and therefore, I can just keep taking it like candy to get rid of this pain. He soon discovered you can’t. You can probably kill yourself if you take too much aspirin. What’s interesting is if someone were to take the willow bark and make a tea out of it or something and try to get the same medicinal properties, if you take too much of it, there are other compounds that would cause you to start throwing up, that would cause your body to reject.
When we isolate something out of nature—nature has these fail-safes in place. So if you take too much of some herbs, not all, your body will reject it or your body will throw up and try to get rid of it because it’s too much like willow bark. But if we isolate it and make into a drug, then it actually becomes something that could kill us if we take too much of it. It’s interesting to see that in nature, there’s more of a balance. We want to make sure we know how much to take and how much not to take, and know what we should take what we shouldn’t take. Just like drugs, you want to have the same level of respect with herbs. But herbs have a lot more safety than many drugs do. I think it’s very interesting this whole world to dive into and to learn from. I know that my listeners will absolutely love learning from your latest book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine.
Now you’re giving away a copy of your book to the listeners. They can go to the Learn True Health Facebook group, and you’re going to be giving away a copy of your book, which is really exciting. Thank you so much for offering to give one of our listeners your book. I know that all of our listeners should go out and grab your book because now, the state parks in certain states are reopening. We’re going to have access again to nature, for those who didn’t. This will be such a fun thing to do for the whole family to go out and wild forage and discover this whole pharmacy in our backyard. It’s so beautiful what we can do. Again, with caution, with safety, and with education we can step forward in a very respectful manner into nature and find our remedies. Is there anything you’d like to say to wrap up today’s interview, Rosalee?
[02:01:01] Rosalee de la Foret: I keep thinking about joy today. It is a powerful thing in these times to choose joy with all the uncertainty going around. I would like to leave by encouraging people to get outside and just to observe and experience what’s out there and be open to finding joy and happiness in the simplest of things. Watching a butterfly flutter away, listening to a songbird, feeling the sun the wind on our bodies. If you can get outside even for a little bit, lay on the lawn or anywhere and lay down and just feel the joy of being outside, the fresh air that’s there. I think that is some of the best medicine that we can find right now. The further we want to sink down into that—identifying plants, getting to know them, using them as our food and medicine—the deeper and more profound that joy becomes. It begins with that first step of just getting outside. That’s the step I’d encourage everyone to take.
[02:02:09] Ashley James: Beautiful. All the links to everything that Rosalee does is going to be in the show notes of today’s podcast at learntruehealth.com. Rosalee de la Foret’s website is herbswithrosalee.com. You are welcome back on the show anytime. I know you have even more to teach us. We had this whole section planned out on people, plants, and energetics that I thought that was really fascinating. You teach people how they can understand their symptoms and their energy to pick out the right plants for them. I’d love to have you back on at some point to dive into that. I think the listeners would really enjoy that.
[02:02:52] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah, that’d be fun. I’d really enjoy that as well. I really like this format that you have of allowing so much time to really sink into these conversations. I’ve been enjoying it while listening to your podcast and then to being a guest, it’s nice to be able to really talk about these things in depth.
[02:03:10] Ashley James: Yes, let’s go deep. It’s so funny when I first launched this show I got a negative review. They’re like this is too long. I’m like then don’t listen.
[02:03:19] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah, it’s not for them.
[02:03:20] Ashley James: Then go listen to something shorter. This is not for people who want short podcasts. I want to go deep, I want to get lots of information, and I want to really get value. I’ve had listeners say sometimes it takes them a week to finish an episode but they’re so happy because they’ll always play it when they’re in the car. I had so many listeners say that an episode that really intrigues them they’ll listen two or three times and take notes. That’s when I knew I needed to transcribe the episodes, so we got a transcriptionist. We transcribe them so listeners don’t have to—I mean, you can take notes if you want to—but they can go to the learntruehealth.com website and they can read through the transcription to find, and we try to make them as accurate as possible.
There’s always goof-ups in transcribing, which are comical, but they can go through and see things so they can reference what you said as well. It’s really exciting that my listeners love the deep long conversations where we get to go into all this wonderful information and learn so much. It’s like taking a college course from you. We just dived in and learned so much from you today, and I can’t wait to learn more from you. I can’t wait to get your book Wild Remedies. I know my listeners would love to get your book as well. Of course, having you back on the show. I can’t wait to dive into understanding more about how to identify what plants we should use for ourselves. That’s going to be a lot of fun. So yeah, please come back on the show.
[02:04:50] Rosalee de la Foret: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. Thanks, Ashley.
[02:04:51] Ashley James: If you enjoyed today’s episode and if the Learn True Health podcast makes a difference in your life, please consider joining my membership. For less than $10 a month you can support me to continue doing this podcast, and you can also support your health because I’ve made a membership site where I teach you amazing delicious healing recipes including a recipe I talked about today, the stinging nettle soup, which is so delicious. It’s the most delicious nettle soup I’ve ever had. That recipe, among many other delicious healing recipes, is in the Learn True Health Home Kitchen membership. So you’d benefit this podcast to continue to do the work that I do, and you benefit yourself and your family by joining the Learn True Health Home Kitchen.
Go to learntruehealth.com/homekitchen and give it a try. For under $10, you’d be getting access to all these great videos that I keep making for you every week with these amazingly delicious healing recipes. I keep saying the word delicious, but they are, they really are delicious and they’re healing foods. So it’s like this win-win situation. Help yourself, also help the podcast. I’d love to see you there. I’d love to support you in your health and healing success, and I can’t wait to see you there. Go to learntruehealth.com/homekitchen and check it out. Thank you so much for being a listener of the Learn True Health podcast. I so appreciate you, and I hope you have an excellent rest of your day.
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