eat your flowers! here are my 5 favorites

My med-school bestie is starting her first(ish) garden this year. She’s mostly growing veggies in pots, mostly on the porch of her Seattle apartment. She’s found gardening to be a positive thing in her current pandemic reality, soothing and exciting and rewarding.

We’ve been talking about plants a lot, and as you might expect, I am overwhelming her with ideas.

During our call last night, we talked about flower power: specifically, which are edible and delicious and easy to grow. I promised her a short list, which I’m sharing now with you.

1. Roses:

My front-yard roses always look ragged because I take a nibble whenever I walk past. Some varieties are tastier than others, but the best can taste much like they smell. Rose petals give a great mood boost, with a fair bit of astringency to tighten and tone tissues. Just make sure you eat only unsprayed roses; those you’ve grown yourself are best. Preserve your harvest with rose petal honey, one of my favorite rites of spring. (Catch the video here.) 

2. Daylilies :

These are super hardy perennial plants with prolific, if short-lived blooms. They don’t have a ton of flavor in my experience, but they’re great for a solid, floral texture. You can eat these raw, but they hold up to cooking. Pick flowers or buds and add to soups for a spot of color and joy. If you plant them, they will spread — so you can share bulbs with your neighbors and lift up your neighborhood. (Pictured above.)

3. Calendula:

It’s hard to imagine any herbalist would leave Calendula off a top-plants list. This sunny plant is incredibly easy to grow, self seeds prolifically (but is easy to remove if, for some reason, you want to), shines in the garden for much of the year and offers great medicine for acute and chronic conditions. Its mild flavor makes for easy garnish on salads, or a sunny wintertime tea. Medicinally it’s used to heal wounds externally and internally, and helps keep the lymphatic system moving as it’s supposed to. (That’s important for immunity!) 

4. Lavender:

If you’ve been watching my (mostly) daily plant walks on Facebook and Instagram live, you know that lavender is my plant of the year for 2020. Look for an in-depth post about why coming soon. The short version: Lavender leaves and flowers are mood elevating, calm inducing, digestion enhancing and overall microbe busting. A perfect plant for these times. 

5. Nasturtiums:

Unlike many edible flowers with unremarkable flavors, Nasturtiums carry considerable kick. All part of the plant are significantly peppery. Add flowers to spice up salads or garnish other dishes. Toss in some leaves where you’d otherwise add mustard greens — a close cousin. Pickle the green seeds (shaped like little brains) for a homemade alternative to capers. The flowers and leaves are high in Vitamin C and offer antimicrobial benefits as well.

 Honorable mention: Violets were my 2019 plant of the year, and they deserve a spot on these kinds of lists. The only reason I’m leaving them off the list is that they’re mostly done flowering for the year. Note that there are many kinds of Viola going by different names: pansies and Johnny Jump Ups are different species of the same plant.
If you’re able to get outside this weekend (or better still, get into a garden), I hope you’ll look at the flowers around you with slightly different eyes. Remember, it’s not cool to take other folks’ plants without permission. But if you’ve got a pot or a plot with some flowers in it, consider whether they’d make an edible addition to your weekend meal plans.
This is just a quick list, and is by no means an exhaustive one. Did I miss your favorites? Shoot me an email and let me know.
—Dr. Orna
P.S. I’m still doing my online plant walks most weekdays. I generally go out on Facebook at 3pm PDT and jump over to Instagram at 3:30pm. This changes sometimes based on my patient schedule, and I note the times on both platforms each morning. The walks are recorded if you can’t make it live, but it’s more fun if you join!
P.P.S. If you’d like to talk about how plants and I can help you with your personal health questions, just drop me a line. If you’re in Oregon, click here to book your appointment.

no one is free until we all are free.

In the midst of a pandemic, the most recent series of assaults and deaths of black Americans at the hands of white ones has erupted in protest of systemic racial oppression.

As a naturopathic doctor, one of my core principles is to treat the underlying cause of disease. Sometimes the cause is not eating vegetables. Sometimes the cause is 400 years of systemic oppression.

Right now, the COVID19 pandemic is disproportionately sickening and killing African Americans. I’ve written about this in my Saturday C0V1D Reading Roundups. (All people of color are getting hit hard, but this week I want to keep the focus on African Americans.)

Why is this happening?

  • Disparities in access to medical and preventive health care.
  • Healthcare providers dismissive of black medical concerns. One example is Rana Zoe Mungin, a 30-year old teacher who died of COVID19 after being turned away for testing twice. (Here’s a discussion of the phenomenon from New Hampshire Public Radio.
  • Well-earned distrust of the medical system. (See this article from The New York Times.)
  • Physiological repercussions of historical trauma. (Check out this great Instagram post by my colleague Dr. Gaynel Nave.) This trauma is also current and ongoing.

And it’s not just COVID killing black people. It’s racist police, racist neighbors, a racist medical system and a whole country built on the backs of people of color.

Some recent names, in case you hadn’t heard them: George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY. Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, GA. Tony McDade in Tallahassee, FL. Dion Johnson in Phoenix, AZ.

As a doctor, I stand for treating root causes. That means I stand against racism in all its forms.

For those of us with the privilege of light skins, what can we do?

  • See and acknowledge the racism in society and in ourselves
  • Dig into the past and current history of anti-black oppression. 
  • Seek out and listen to black voices (as well as those of indigenous and other peoples of color.) 
  • Then amplify those voices. 
  • Speak and act in solidarity with anti-oppression movements. 
  • Support black individuals and businesses.

There is a lot to do, whether or not you take it to the streets.

You know I’m not someone to stay silent. But I’ve had a tough time this last week finding my words — because I got stuck looking for the right ones.

Here are two quotations from black women that I’ve been holding close to my heart.

First, from my childhood friend Renee White, quoted with permission:

“White folks need to dismantle white supremacist structures. We need to see that work done loudly, publicly, and embracing the professional and personal toll that will be required. I figure since the very existence of my people puts us at risk then that’s the least they can do. I’m done being gentle with my words. I know my white friends can handle it.”

Second, from creator Kandise Le Blanc, whom I don’t know personally:

“I want your activism to be questioned and challenged and criticized by Black people. I want you to grow from your mistakes so we can grow as a nation”.

(Read her whole piece here.)

Silence is complicity. So I am speaking up.

I will work against any system that continues to diminish, target and murder people based on the color of their skin. I am imperfect in my actions, and remain committed, as I have throughout life, to increasing freedom and equality in this world.  

If there was ever a time to be courageous, it is now. The world is at a tipping point. What we say now and do now will define life for generations. I hope you will join me in this work.

For freedom,

—Dr. Orna

P.S. There’s a tremendous amount of great stuff happening on Instagram this week, where many people are working to actively amplify the words of black people. Below are some of the folks I’m following and reposting, plus resources many folks have shared. I encourage you to check them out.

Some awesome people to follow on Instagram:


Antiracism resources.

Compliation of resources, donations.

Activist and support resources.

masking up during the pandemic: is it necessary? is it safe?

In the US, we’re having a big debate about the efficacy and necessity of face masks during the pandemic. Masks are the hip new seasonal accessory for some. Others are literally up in arms protesting their use.

As a physician, this is my conclusion on the debate: Masking up is a no brainer.

Here’s why:

Masking up is not about you, it’s about keeping other people safe.

Those other people might be people you don’t know, like my elderly parents and their spouses in a COVID19 hotspot. (I’d really like to see them alive again.) Those other people may be people you count on — grocery store workers, gas station attendants, your mail carrier, healthcare providers — people who have little to no choice about interacting with you, little to no choice about coming in to work. Those other people may be people you love and thought wouldn’t get really sick — or die — because they are young, able, and so on.

Although most of us will eventually be exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID19, we’ll have the best chance of beating it the longer we wait.

We’ve flattened the curve enough that many places have enough hospital beds and maybe even ventilators for the sick. But also, the more time passes, the better we understand how this virus works and how to stop it. Postponing exposure also gives us time to switch up habits that make us more vulnerable, and up our game to build immune resilience. (I’m doing a weekly series of talks on this topic. Register here.)

Masks, including home-made ones, offer imperfect protection — but significantly more protection than nothing. There’s lots of persuasive evidence that community implementation of masking recommendations (or requirements) slows the spread of viruses.

(This review is posted on a preprint site, with mostly excellent discussions of its limitations in the comments. Those are worth reading, too, as it’s scientists weighing in and not the usual flame war.)

Can masks cause harm?

There are two answers to this. If people use masks incorrectly, or if they ignore other protective practices such as physical distancing, that can worsen the risk picture. And yes, some people do have more difficulty breathing in masks. Most folks, though, acclimate quickly. In some cases, masks actually improve respiratory health. Overall, more people wearing masks means more protection for everyone, even if that protection is imperfect.

That doesn’t mean living in a mask 24/7. Physical distancing is still important. Take breaks, outside and away from people, as often as you need and are able.

Some people legitimately suffer in masks, and the rest of us masking up protects them. People with COPD, for instance, may not be able to manage a mask — but they’re also more vulnerable to viral infections. Some people get headaches from masks, some get panic attacks, some see their blood-oxygen levels drop.

If you can’t acclimate to a mask, minimize time in public places, and emphasize outdoor venues rather than indoor ones. Ask friends to mask up around you for your own protection. Ask for help with outings that would increase your risk. It’s imperfect and unpleasant, and you shouldn’t have to do more because you’re only able to do less. But consider the alternative.

We don’t need everyone to wear masks, we just need most people to do so. (If 80 percent of folks use even relatively ineffective masks, it could reduce mortality by as much as 65 percent according to recent models.)

How do face masks work to limit spread of the current virus?

When we breathe, speak, sing, sneeze or cough, we release respiratory droplets that can carry virus out into the world. Some of these droplets are relatively large, and gravity grabs and drops them relatively quickly. That’s where the 6-foot rule for physical distancing comes from.

But smaller droplets, and those propelled by singing, coughing and sneezing, can travel significantly farther and persist in the air for longer.

Having a mask in place catches or slows the droplets (how many depends on the mask material), reducing the risk that someone will catch the virus from you.

Face mask basics:

  • It needs to cover your nose and your mouth.
  • Wash your hands after touching your mask.
  • Launder your masks frequently.

Face mask FAQs:

Will breathing my exhalations make me sicker? No.

But the CDC and WHO were against it before they were for it: Science evolves. The original recommendations against masks were based on 1) concern about sufficient supplies for medical workers and 2) concern that masks would provide a false sense of security. Cloth masks are easily improvised, made or purchased. We’re deep enough into this pandemic to implement hand washing, physical distancing and basic mask hygiene.

But they’re taking away our freedoms! Your freedom has never extended to harming others.

I’m a first generation American and deep believer in the value of freedom and our First Amendment rights. But while opposing masks may be rebellious, it adds nothing to our liberty.

It’s also such old news. What’s happening now is a very clear echo of fights over masking during the 1918 flu pandemic. Anti-mask folks back then trotted out the same arguments we’re hearing today — and they got sicker.

Masks turned out to be helpful then, they look to be helpful now.

The difference is that today we should know better based on that experience, and we are literally shooting the messengers — workers, likely getting paid minimum wage, whose job it is to enforce mask rules put in place by their employers.

One more reason to mask up: If most of us do it, masking up may be as effective as locking down. The sooner we get on board, the sooner we get past this tough time.

P.S. In the weeks since I first wrote this, an avalanche of evidence has come out supporting the efficacy of masks. Here are a few links for you.

• June 13 summary of research in The Washington Post.
“Association of country-wide coronavirus mortality with demographics, testing, lockdowns, and public wearing of masks,” Prepublication article, June 15.
• “Efficacy of face mask in preventing respiratory virus transmission: A systematic review and meta-analysis” from Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, May 2020.

P.P.S. And here’s one more article, this from Smithsonian, explaining how to clean your masks.

Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash