We chat with Friend of Ned Chef Tara Thomas about taking control of your health by nourishing yourself and your community, and we discover some of her favorite medicinal herbs and botanicals.
Ned: Your dedication to the environment and sustainability is really admirable! Everything you do seems to come from a place of deep love and reverence for the natural world. I know you grew up in the Pacific Northwest where you’re literally surrounded by nature. (I used to live in Vancouver and saw a bear one time outside the public library — true story!) And you recently moved to the concrete jungle of New York City. You of course now have the beautiful Hudson Valley in your backyard, but I’m curious how you connect with nature in the city and how important that is to you, especially with this past year.
Tara: I’ve kind of struggled with my connection to nature whilst living in NYC. I moved here August of 2019 from Portland, OR. I had to ground myself to learn about this environment. I was disappointed for a while and wanted to escape, but through community building and finding those who care about food in the way I do -- I’ve found my sweet spot. For one, the community garden is certainly an oasis in this city. To be involved in regenerative agriculture in an urban space is so inspiring. To nourish in the largest food apartheid area has opened me up to a community who is so underserved and to see the brightness that healthful food can uplift the spirits is a joy. I plan on expanding upstate to my lovely friends who are creating up there. I just love to farm and cook in new environments to truly be intimate with the land!
Ned: So, winter-2020-me invested in a grain mill and a masticating juicer and delighted in feeding a sourdough starter and growing wheatgrass — you know, like everyone else on Instagram. Winter- 2021-me, well . . . not so much. My mom passed away this past year and I’m struggling to balance homeschooling and work as we trudge into week nine of our third lockdown. I know a lot of people are in a similar boat, and I know from experience how easy it is to backslide into unhealthy habits during stressful times. And yet, it feels more important than ever to focus on being healthy. Can you offer some simple tips on nourishing yourself and your family when your energy — and maybe finances — are low?
Tara: Absolutely connect with your community. More than likely there are farms and/or organizations who have lovely food to share with you. I think cooking with what you have can be scary if it feels scarce in ingredients, time, etc. but that’s where the magic happens. Truly give yourself the time to meditate while cooking your food, to be intimate with your ingredients in your kitchen and see what you create with that intention.
Ned: So, I’m a mama and after giving birth, I felt like my hormones were running the show, and I was just along for the ride — and it was a wild ride! I’m curious how you work with food to find healing and promote balance and what simple things people can try. Do you have much experience with seed cycling or other natural ways of healing? What are some of your favorite medicinal herbs and botanicals?
Tara: I love seed cycling, so helpful! I love cannabis, mushroom tinctures, rhodiola tinctures and herbal teas - especially clover!
Ned: The natural world and all its fruits hold so much healing power! Our motto is “Plants Before Pills” / “Minerals Before Meds” / “Farms Before Pharma”. How does this resonate with you and the important work you’re doing?
Tara: It resonates because as a Black Woman I’ve been mistreated in the medical space, so I always felt an agency to my health with that. I’ve found refuge with herbal remedies and an overall holistic approach to living to accomplish a joyous life. I want to inspire others and especially children in marginalized spaces to really take agency on their health through intuition.
Ned: I spent the holidays binge watching The Victorian Kitchen Garden. Have you seen it? It’s a BBC mini-series from the ‘80s that follows master gardener Harry Dodson’s year-long endeavour to revive a long fallow walled garden on an old English country estate using only Victorian-era plants and growing methods. It’s easy to romanticize the past, but it’s truly remarkable what care was put into food, from seed to table. Interestingly — and you probably know this already — the nutrient composition of food has steadily declined over the past century since the Victorian era, so much so that the food we’ve traditionally relied on for certain nutrients are themselves deprived of those very nutrients. This is especially true for magnesium, which is so essential to our health and wellbeing. I know it’s hard to get enough magnesium from diet alone these days, but can you recommend some good food sources /simple magnesium-rich recipes?
Tara: Absolutely any kind of dark leafy greens, seaweed, seeds, beans, nuts, mushrooms,and vinegar helps absorb nutrients. Take that and think of the different forms these elements can take to become a delicious and nutritious meal!