Despite living in the rarified air of the Rocky Mountains near tree-line our summertime give us an amazing array of plants in our alpine forests, meadows and wetlands. Like most Summit County locals, I'm usually running or bicycling through our landscape at a fast clip, rarely taking the time to step off the path and soar the beauty and wonder that creates the dappled botanical canopy below and above. When I do take the time, it is a treat.
I was fortunate to grow up in a family that valued gardening and herbalism and was even more fortunate to stumble upon the profession of naturopathic medicine. My studies included a healthy dose of botanical medicine, nutrition, the research that verifies and modifies age-old uses for each, along with the usual sciences of a doctor. Dr. Kim Nearpass and I met while on our final years of graduate school and residency, and in 2003, made the move to her home State of Colorado. Keeping with the root meanings of both physician and doctor (docere = teacher), our goal is to educate and empower people to participate in their own healing. We work with the body's innate healing power, utilizing the least invasive therapy appropriate for the situation – lessening dependence on pharmaceutical drugs.
For the last 15 years, we have been practicing naturopathic medicine at our location along Frisco main street, and every summer, I have been leading herb walks in the forest. The dates I have set for summer 2018 are below. They may change, so please call our shop, Backcountry Herbal Apothecary, at (970) 668-1700 to RSVP.
Thursday, July 5 starting at 10am
Sunday, July 15 starting at 9am
Saturday, August 25 starting at 9am
The herb walks always start in the parking lot called “Zach's Stop” at the Southwest corner of 2nd Avenue, beyond the Peak One neighborhood in Frisco. I have a list with around 50 different plants listed, and we can usually discuss 2-3 dozen of them during the course of an hour. Suggested donation is $5 for adults, with kids free.
One of the books that I like to reference on herb walks, “Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies” by Linda Kershaw, describes the value of herbals this way. “All animals, including humans, depend on plants for survival. Throughout human history, plants have provided us with food, clothing, medicine and shelter. Our recent ancestors needed to know which of their local plants were edible or poisonous, which could heal or harm, and which could provide materials for making implements, clothing and shelters. Today, many of us spend our lives in artificial environments, isolated from our natural surroundings. Most of life's necessities are mass produced elsewhere and purchased as needed. We no longer forage for food and it is easy to forget that the air we breathe, the food we eat and many of the drugs we use come from plants. Recognizing wild plants and knowing how they have been used in the past increases our appreciation of our environment.
Many of the plants that grow wild in the Rocky Mountains are also found in towns, cities and roadsides across the continent; millions of dollars are spent each year controlling weeds that might be better used for food or medicine. An appreciation of how our ancestors survived through the centuries, using many of the plants that surround us every day, may help us to bridge the gap between the artificial world in which we live and the natural environment in which we evolved.”
Modern studies are proving there is measurable, reproducible value in connecting people with the outdoors. For a humorous take on the idea of prescribing time outdoors, take a look at the faux commercial online called “Nature Rx”. Even if you cannot make it to one of the dates, we have set aside for herb walks this summer, make sure you get out to enjoy the streams, rivers, canyons, meadows, forests and mountains this area has to offer. Nature is one of the most valuable healers. Spend some time out there!
Not long after starting our practice serving Summit County in 2003, Dr. Kim and I co-founded the Backcountry Herbal Apothecary, which serves as a doorway to our naturopathic practices, the practice of Tami Clark, LAc, and several excellent practitioners of massage therapy. We are Summit County’s place to find high quality, local Western and Eastern herbal and natural products to benefit your health and well-being. We believe in the healing power of nature, honoring and preserving the health of our planet, as well as our customers and patients. For this reason, we carry products that are sustainably produced. Our herbs and essential oils are the highest quality, either organically grown or sustainably wild-crafted. The supplements we offer are professional line products, which are held to the highest standard. We also carry a variety of natural body care products and gifts, most created by Summit County and Colorado artists.
Written by Dr. Justin Pollack, ND (You can also find this article in the Summer issue of "Listen, Share and Be Kind".) Photo from AANP attendee several years ago
Photo: Allen and Patty Stretton
Written by Dr. Kim Nearpass
Early on in school, we learn about the basic survival needs: food, shelter, oxygen water and sleep. Until recently however, little was understood about the functions of sleep and how it affects our physiology. We all know how miserable it feels when we don't sleep well, decreasing our mood, energy and ability to focus. Recent scientific research has proven the vital importance of sleep on nearly every human function.
It's helpful to understand some basic sleep physiology. A healthy, balanced night's sleep contains a mix of REM (rapid eye movement) and deep, NREM (non-REM) sleep. The percentage of each type of sleep varies during different stages of life, but both are required to maintain optimal physical, mental and emotional health. REM sleep, the time when we experience dreaming and immobilization and relaxation of our voluntary muscles, allows us to integrate and “file away” our daytime experiences. During periods of NREM sleep, our brain activity switches to a meditative-like state that enables us to reflect upon, distill, strengthen and solidify our memories. A pattern of alternating REM and NREM sleep throughout the night allows us the opportunity to make repairs and heal what has been upset during the wake state.
Sleep researchers have shed light on how disruptions in the various stages of sleep can affect our health and well-being. Routinely sleeping less than the recommended 7-8 hours per night weakens your immune system, leading to more frequent illness and increased risk of cancer. Inadequate sleep also increases the risk of Alzheimer's, fertility challenges, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, as well as decreasing longevity. Inversely, sufficient quality and amounts of sleep balance emotions and improve learning, memory, creativity and decision making.
Poor sleep is a serious problem in our culture that provides endless stimulation and values productive, long work hours. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), 50 – 70 million Americans report sleep difficulties, and over 9 million Americans take some form of prescription sleep medication, Zolpidem, (aka Ambien) being the most popular. Unfortunately, studies show that not only do these medications fail to support normal, healthy restorative sleep patterns, but they also weaken brain cell connections during sleep and lead to shorter life spans. Even occasional use of prescription sleeping pills (1-18 times per year) results in a 3.6 times increased risk of death.
All of this information can feel overwhelming and may increase anxiety that could worsen our sleep. The good news is that many solutions for poor sleep exist. Naturopathic medicine offers a wide range of safe and helpful herbs, nutrients, homeopathics and physical medicine treatments. In addition, your Naturopathic or medical doctor can help you identify any underlying weaknesses or imbalances that may be obstacles to quality sleep, such as hypoxia (low oxygen) or hormonal imbalances. In addition, the research that helps neuroscientists understand sleep mechanisms and physiology can also be used to help us adapt our behaviors to promote better quality and longer sleep.
In his brilliant new book, Why We Sleep, researcher and professor Dr. Matthew Walker offers these “Twelve Tips for Healthy Sleep”: