Podcast 043: Salad Isn’t Salad & Back-To-School Herbs

This week, Ryn leads off with some thoughts on salad: why it’s often boring and nutritionally deficient, and how to boost it up with some wild greens, herbal pesto, spice blends, and feral berries – and how to get these from the grocery store when it’s not spring or summer.

Katja goes over some herbs that can help with the stress, fears, and excitement swirling around this transitional season – for both kids and parents – along with strengthening strategies to improve immune resilience so the classroom germs don’t get you.

Herbs discussed include violet, dandelion, garlic mustard, lamb’s quarters, plantain, linden, nettle, mulberry, blueberry, barberry, basil, sage, parsley, dill, cilantro, radicchio, arugula (hey, salad diversity is what it’s all about!); plus hawthorn, chamomile, tulsi, rose hips, elderberry.

Mentioned in this podcast:

  • Herbstalk’s Harvest Festival – THIS SATURDAY, September 1st, from 11:00am to 4:00pm, in Jamaica Plain. Katja’s class on Back-to-School Herbs is at 1:00pm, but the whole day will be full of fantastic classes, herb walks, and vendors. So if you’re in the Boston area, check it out!


If you like our podcast, you might like learning from us in a more intentional way – like with our Family Herbalist program! It’s a great way to start incorporating herbs into your daily life, to keep you and your loved ones healthy and resilient all year round!

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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja: 00:15 Hi, I’m Katja!

Ryn: 00:15 And I’m Ryn.

Katja: 00:15 We’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn: 00:19 And on the Internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. We’re not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja: 00:27 The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States, so these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everybody’s body is different, so the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope they’ll give you some information to think about and research more.

Ryn: 00:47 We want to remind you that good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision in considering any course of therapy, whether discussed on the internet or prescribed by your physician, is indeed always yours.

Katja: 01:01 Hey, this week we’ve got some shout-outs: one to Jacob and his cayenne glycerite and one to Tabitha in North Carolina. Thanks guys!

Ryn: 01:14 Hi, thank you!

Katja: 01:17 What do you want to talk about this week?

Ryn: 01:19 Well, I would like to talk about salad. [laughter] I would actually. Yeah. I’m sort of realizing that this has come around as something I’m paying attention to at the end of the summer instead of the beginning.

Katja: 01:31 Okay. But it is really, really hot.

Ryn: 01:33 We’ve had a heat wave in Boston. I think this is our fourth one this year, something like that.

Katja: 01:39 Yeah, some ridiculous number. You know also why it’s late this year?

Ryn: 01:46 Why is that?

Katja: 01:47 It’s because with braces it’s been really hard for me to eat salad. So I didn’t make any salad and I’m only just getting to a place where I can kind of eat it, so we just haven’t had salad in the house for a long time. I’m so sick of not eating salad and it’s so hot and, I don’t know, I think that’s why.

Ryn: 02:05 Yeah. Anyway, you can have salad all year long, no problem. Especially because what I kind of wanted to get to today was that maybe you don’t have this problem, and if so cool, but I had a problem for many long years. My idea of salad was four pieces of iceberg lettuce and a sad tomato, and probably a few cucumber pieces were in there somewhere.

Katja: 02:28 That’s it?

Ryn: 02:31 Some kind of oily dressing, I don’t know.

Katja: 02:34 Probably not any dressing. You don’t like dressing usually.

Ryn: 02:37 Right. But if you were at a restaurant and you were going to get a steak and then they brought you a salad, it would be those things. But we make salad a lot and it can be awesome, so here are some ways to make your salad more awesome.

Katja: 02:56 Yes, because it turns out green leafy things are herbs. Make your salad herbalism!

Ryn: 03:03 We like to start with some wild greens, or as close to wild as we can get. There are a lot of plants out there in the world that you can eat right off the ground or right in their raw form. You may choose to wash them, especially if you’re not sure about the dirt. But be sure about the dirt, because it really matters. You want to know what’s there. If there’s mercury, lead, glyphosate, or whatever else is going on, you want to be aware of what you’re consuming. Know your dirt, know your ground, know your plants. If you do find some places where they don’t spray and where there’s not contamination, then you’re in luck because there are a lot of really fantastic green leafy plants that you can eat raw, no problem. Here’s a couple that we really like. Violet leaves are really tasty. They’re tender, they’re mild in flavor, but they can be a really easy thing to slip into a salad, even for skeptical people who aren’t sure about this whole weird flavor thing.

Katja: 04:11 And they’re shaped like hearts.

Ryn: 04:15 They are shaped like hearts, so that’s nice. Violet leaves are quite nice. Dandelion leaf is a really good food. It has a bit of a bitterness to it but it’s not too much, it’s not too troublesome. Dandelions are really, really nutrient dense. They’re very mineral rich and those bitter tastants are really good for you as well.

Katja: 04:40 Tastants? [laughter]

Ryn: 04:40 It is a real word; it is a thing that tastes.

Katja: 04:42 I think you just made that up. [laughter] “The flavor particles.”

Ryn: 04:51 Well, those are good for you. Those are going to stimulate some digestion and you know, that was one of the reasons people built a habit of having a little salad before a meal, because the salad had bitter greens in it. It had maybe dandelion, maybe radicchio, or at the very least some arugula. Right? Something with a bit of a bitter note because that’s going to stimulate your digestive secretions and gets you ready to digest whatever else was in your meal. With dandelion you get all of that in one lion-toothed package.

Katja: 05:25 Elsie has just joined in the fun and she would like to nominate something meaty for the salad.

Ryn: 05:33 Don’t worry, we’re going to get there. A couple other leafy things that you can put in are wild greens that you can grow in your garden. Garlic mustard is a plant that people in our neck of the woods consider an invasive, a nuisance, but garlic mustard is really, really wonderful. It tastes just like it’s named, it tastes like garlicky, mustardy green leafy goodness. The reason it’s considered invasive is because it is quite abundant. One thing that I’ve observed in the past few years is that garlic mustard can have multiple generations of the plant within a single year. You can have some plants that are growing up in the early springtime, and garlic mustard is one of the first things to wake up in the spring around here and to start to grow up and leaf out and go through its thing. Then it will flower and then a little while afterwards it will have these seed pods and they’ll fall. I’ve seen patches of garlic mustard that I’m sure we’re on at least their second, maybe even their third, round of a whole new generation of plants in a single year. Because of that, it’s able to spread really rapidly and to cover a lot of ground really quickly. So, that’s why it gets that label of invasive, but the flip side of invasive is abundant. That means that you’re pretty much never going to get in trouble for harvesting garlic mustard. I can’t imagine any park service people or whoever else getting annoyed at you for that because they were probably going to come and try to dig it up, spray it, or something anyway. So again, be aware of where people spray. But if that’s not a concern, then garlic mustard is really tasty, really quite pleasant in a salad, adds that pungent note to it. Another mild green is lamb’s quarters. Lamb’s quarters is in the Chenopodiaceae family and there’s a bunch of different plants in there that have some wild green potential. Lamb’s quarters is a pretty mild green, it’s not pungent, not really bitter or anything, but it is quite nutritive. You can think of it kind of like wild spinach. Again, it’s super abundant. It grows all over the place, so you probably have some near you. There are some things that we’ll occasionally add a little bit of to a salad or that we’ll just nibble on as we’re out for a walk. But these are a bit tougher and if you do choose to include them, maybe just one or two leaves per person rather than a whole bunch. I’m thinking here of plantain, and that’s Plantago major or Plantago lanceolata. These are a bit fibrous and, in particular, they have some ribs down the middle. If you were really going to go to the trouble, you could slice those out. Otherwise, you can just have something that’s a bit extra chewy and either spit out the fibrous bits that you can’t chew or just go ahead and swallow it, it won’t kill you. You’ll be all right. So, that would be plantain leaf. Then how about a tree? We don’t usually think about eating trees in this way, but I’ve been known to occasionally grab a linden leaf off a tree and a chew that up raw, no problem. You could give that a shot if you’d like as well. Linden leaves have a pretty pleasant flavor, it’s fairly mild. It’s very similar to the flavor you get when you make tea. But that is one that I’ve found you can chew up, it’s just gonna take a bit more dedication.

Ryn: 09:31 Okay. We’ve got our like green plant leafy stuff base. Another thing I like to add to salads lately is pesto, and pesto is kind of a whole thing unto itself. I went through a lot of years of my life before ever discovering pesto. It’s one of many things I have to thank lady bird for introducing me to. [laughter] Pesto is really fantastic, it’s not super complicated, and you can make your own. The basic ingredients for pesto are some oil (it can be olive oil or you can choose others; olive oil is the most common one), some green leafy stuff (which could be any of the greens that we just talked about, you might also consider nettle), and then you’re going to need some nuts. Classically pine nuts and walnuts are involved, but you can experiment with some other nuts and try them out. Pine nuts and walnuts have a similar crunch factor, I guess, like it’s not quite the same as biting into a raw almond or something. They’re a little softer and a little more oily. So if you are choosing other kinds of nuts, you might go that way. Maybe you could slip and Macadamia or two into there, that could be alright.

Katja: 10:56 That could be fun. I do love pine nuts, they´re very fancy.

Ryn: 10:56 So, you have those [ingredients] and you mix them all together and then–tada–pesto. You do it in the blender and make sure everything incorporates well. A moment ago I mentioned nettle as something to consider when making pesto and it’s so fantastic. I would have included this in the list of things to just throw in as salad greens as well, but you do get stung. It’s not that bad. I make it a point whenever I wander by a nettle plant to eat one of the leaves because they are so incredibly delicious when they’re raw. It’s really hard to describe because there’s a bit of the umami flavor going on. There’s a decent amount of protein in nettles.

Katja: 11:49 Yes, I was going to describe it as proteinaceous.

Ryn: 11:53 There’s that and there’s like a mineral saltiness to it. You can taste the amount of chlorophyll that’s in there, so they’re just great and you don’t have to eat them raw for that. You can throw them into the blender with a little oil and some pine nuts and make yourself some nettle pesto. That is good stuff. The next ingredient that I put in my salads these days is some spice blends. These are particularly good to add if you do use pesto, especially if yours came out on the oily side, or if you are, say, putting a can of sardines into your salad bowl, particularly if they were packed in oil and there’s going to be a lot of excess oil there. I don’t really enjoy my salad being wet, I don’t want it to be soaked. So, if I do throw some sardines in there, I really like to prepare the fields, by laying down the greens, then putting some pesto on there, and then putting a bunch of a spice powder (maybe about a tablespoon all told) in my single-serving bowl-sized salad. That will absorb a bunch of the oil. This is actually good in both directions because the spices will help you digest the oil, absorb the fatty acids and make use of them. The oil will at the same time help you to get more of the phytochemistry that’s contained in your spices.

Katja: 13:25 Yeah, because some of it is oil soluble.

Ryn: 13:28 Yeah. When you ingest the oil, it’s the old solubility, but it’s also the fact that ingesting the oil triggers your body to produce certain digestive fluids at a higher amount than if there wasn’t really much fat in your dinner, so you get better absorption of the phytocompounds. This is particularly important if you have a yellow spice blend that has some turmeric in it, but most of the spice blends will benefit from being consumed together with something a bit oily. My favorite spice blend right now is berbere spice, which is from Ethiopian cuisine. That’s some really good stuff, and I’ve been eating it for a while but I never stopped to look what was in there until earlier today so I’ll just pass this on. It includes chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and some basil. There’s also an herb from that part of the world called korarima, which is actually related to grains of paradise, which puts it in the Zingiberaceae (or Ginger) family. It’s another one of those pungent, deep warmth herbs. In berbere there’s a bit of rue, some black seed or Nigella sativa (some people just call it nigella seed), and some fenugreek. There is some ajwain, which is an herb again that’s native to that part of the world and also to Southeast Asia, and it’s similar to caraway or other herbs that have a bit of that pungency and a bit of that astringency.

Katja: 15:16 A bit of that rye bread flavor.

Ryn: 15:18 The overall feeling and taste of the berbere blend is that it’s fiery, it’s spicy, it’s got a lot of complexity to it, so I really enjoy that. I’ve also put things like some garam masala, or some chili powder, garlic and black pepper, whatever appeals to you. Okay. Another thing I like in my salad is some berries. Thinking about wild berries in particular, if you have a mulberry tree around you, those are super generous, really abundant, incredibly delicious, and they are a guaranteed superfood. Mulberries are really wonderful, wild blueberries grow up in our part of the world around here, there’s also a lot of barberry and barberries are really nice.

Katja: 16:18 They are really good.

Ryn: 16:19 They have a little sourness to them, I like those a lot. We were just talking to a student last night who was up in the Pacific northwest.

Katja: 16:27 Washington state, I think she said.

Ryn: 16:30 She had just been discovering salal berries. So if you’re up in that part of the country, maybe you already know about salal berries, but if not, then check those out because they’re really cool. They’re in the same botanical family as blueberry, but they’re also very closely related to wintergreen. It’s this very intriguing heather family, blueberry relative, wintergreen close relative kind of situation, so those seem really neat. But sometimes it’s winter or sometimes you don’t have a clean pristine field to go gathering your garlic mustard and lamb’s quarters from, so I wanted to name a few things that you can get from the grocery store that can make your salad cooler than usual salad.

Katja: 17:23 Yes, we do live in a city.

Ryn: 17:23 You can usually find some fresh herbs there. Some of them aren’t super great to throw right on a salad that you’re going to eat raw, like rosemary or thyme. But sage leaves and basil leaves are really fantastic in a salad. If we have nothing else around, no other wild greens growing or it’s that time of year, we might base a salad around some arugula and radicchio because they still have some bitterness and pungency.

Katja: 18:02 You know, radicchio these days–when you get the red radicchio–they are pretty bitter. I mean appealingly bitter and pleasantly bitter, but it’s not kind of bitter, it is definitely is bitter for real.

Ryn: 18:13 Really good arugula should have a notable pungency to it, it should be a little bit peppery. So those, because they’re almost always available. Then some basil leaves, some sage leaves, sometimes the grocery store also has dandelion leaves for sale, you can get parsley, dill, cilantro. Look at all of the fresh herbs that are available and think about having those be the foundation of your salad rather than some lettuce.

Katja: 18:46 If you’re super lucky, you can get some pea greens, the little leaves from fresh pea plants. One other thing I just thought of to add to your list is scallions. They’re really tasty. They’re not as much in the dragon breath direction as onion, but they have so much more phytochemical complexity than a lot of other plants because, again, it hasn’t been bred out of them.

Ryn: 19:20 You know, red onions–they’re not too intense, but they definitely still have isothiocyanates and other good sulfur compounds going on in there. So, putting all of that together, last time I made a salad, I did this: I took a generous handful of dandelion leaves and I coarsely chopped them (or just torn them into bits; sometimes I’ll do that), another big handful of basil leaves, a big handful of arugula, a couple tablespoons of pesto, a can of salmon, a handful of pine nuts, half a handful of raisins, and a tablespoon of berbere spice blend. I’ve actually had that about three times in the last week because it’s really good. This is also a way that I’ve been trying to expand my relationship to canned fish, because for a few years now I’ve been just opening the can of sardines, eating right out of the can, having some crackers or something, and just get on with the world. But this is definitely the superior way because it has green stuff, purple stuff, bitter, pungency, and lots of more going on there and I feel it. I feel it in my guts that this is easier for me to digest. I’m sure that some of this is psychosomatic, but I eat that meal and I feel, [roar] [laughter] “now I’m nourished; I can go and do things”. I was turned onto this whole idea of this as a way to get yourself to eat fish from Kim. She still exists out there in the world I imagine, but just haven’t caught up with her in a little while. She was a friend, a student, and was co-teaching with us for a bit, but she spent like half a year once pretty much living on greens and sardines. And she was unstoppable.

Katja: 21:23 She was really busy, so she was like, “I have no time to eat, so this is what I´m eating”. And blueberries, that was the other thing she ate. She was like, “I have no time to eat, so this is what I’m eating. It will be the same thing every day, but it will be really, really good”. Yeah, she was mighty.

Ryn: 21:42 So that’s it you guys, salad isn’t salad. That’s way truer than truth isn’t truth, just for the record.

Katja: 21:51 Or we could say make your salad be solid, like make your salad integral. Make your truth integral too, that would be good.

Ryn: 22:01 Get some life in there. Alright, so what’s on your mind lately?

Katja: 22:06 Well, it’s back to school season and if you have a kiddo of any age heading back to school–and even college–then there are some herbs that can be helpful for you. I’ve been thinking about this particularly because this weekend is the Herbstalk Harvest Festival and that’s being held at Spontaneous Celebrations in Jamaica Plain right here in Boston. If you’re local, you can check out more about it at Herbstalk.org, and I will be teaching there on Saturday at 1:00 and I’ll be teaching a class on herbs for back to school. So, I was just sort of thinking about it and thought this is all really fun, interesting stuff and I think I want to share it with everyone, so that even if you’re in the far reaches of Western Manitoba and you can’t come to Herbstalk this weekend, it’s okay because you can still get it right here on the podcast. Some of the things that I was thinking about: especially if you have young kids, there can be first day jitters, but actually that could happen for kids of any age. Now if you’ve got teenagers, that’s a whole separate issue; maybe they are really into herbs with you or maybe they think all of mom’s herbal mumbo jumbo is just a bunch of mumbo jumbo and they’re not interested. Well that’s fine, they’re going to have to find their own way. But if you have young ones or kids who are interested, it can be really helpful. I came up with a really nice elixir blend that will be just lovely–not just for kiddos but for mom too, because first day with the kids back at school, especially if it’s their first time at school, sometimes that can be rough. Or especially if they just left for college, boarding school, or something, it’s not necessarily easy. It’s the first round of empty nest and that’s tough. So, make a plan for you too. My plan is (in roughly equal parts) to make Linden Hawthorn Chamomile and Tulsi Elixir. An elixir is a tincture that is half tincture and half honey. I like to infuse the honey with herbs as well so that every part of this elixir is herbal. Lately I’ve been infusing fresh Tulsi leaves in honey. In the past, we’ve also infused fresh linden flowers into honey. And one thing that I really have on my list for next year, it is like the number one part of my garden plan for next year, is that I want to make a bunch of chamomile infused honey. It doesn’t matter which part you infuse in the honey except that it has to be fresh plant matter, you cannot infuse dried plant matter into honey. So you’re going to put your fresh plant matter right into the honey, let that infuse, make the rest of them as tincture, blend them up together and it is going to be delicious, and also so calming. First off, linden, hawthorn, and chamomile are all really soothing, really calming. Tulsi is very uplifting and sort of encouraging, and hawthorne and linden both have that action of soothing the heart and the nervous system. If you do have a jitter aspect, if there’s a little bit of fear, or if you’re the parent of a new student who’s going away and you’re feeling a little like, “oh my goodness, a part of my heart is being pulled off into school and I’m not there”, then the hawthorne really is a beautiful addition for that. That actually can be a really nice blend when you get home from school again, too. When you come home from school, there’s been a lot of stimulation through the day and it really is important to take a few minutes to settle down from that and just relax a little bit. Then sometimes there’s homework and homework can be difficult to settle into. I’m a big proponent of having a good solid wiggle and then a nice cup of chamomile while you’re doing your homework because that can help you feel calm and also focused. Especially with high schoolers or middle school kids who have a lot more homework, maybe some rosemary is a good idea because maybe they’re tired after their day at school, they still have to focus and that is a little challenging. In that case, a nice cup of rosemary tea can be really, really good.

Katja: 27:08 Then I wanted to talk about the back to school germs that always seem to follow kiddos home and that’s not very convenient. There’s a lot that can be done and it’s really quite simple to help your family to really ward that off. One of our favorite things to do is a thyme steam. [To do] a thyme steam, you’re going to boil some water in a big pot (like a soup pot full of water), get it up to a good rolling boil, set it on a table, and get yourself a towel so that you can make a tent over this pot. Then you’re going to toss a good big handful of dried thyme right into that pot and put your head right over it so that you can breathe in all of the very smelly volatile oils. Now if your kids are little, then one thing that I used to love to do is make a tent over a table and everybody can lay inside the tent. That way it’s not quite as intense for the little ones breathing it in, but they are still getting those volatile oils down deep in their lungs and it’s a little safer. They’re less likely to burn themselves this way, especially because you’re going to get into the tent with them. Why is this so great? Well, thyme has a very effective anti-microbial action, especially in the respiratory tract, but the thing is you have to get it to the respiratory tract and it doesn’t go there easily just by drinking tea. Mostly you lose the volatile oils and they don’t get all the way to the lungs that way. Instead, we want to get those volatile oils directly into the lungs and fortunately your nose is a direct pathway to do that. If you just breathe in the smelly steam and breathing way down deep into the lungs–now, it’s going to be hot and thyme is quite pungent, so it’s also going to smell pungent and that smell is going to be hot–it is very, very effective. If it is too much for your kiddos, then peppermint can be just as effective. Even chamomile can actually be quite effective and won’t be quite as hot and intense of a smell to breathe in. But this is one of my favorite ways, especially if you know that people around you are sick. It is a great way to clear out those passageways, and the problem is that you’ve breathed in a bunch of pathogens, so let’s kill them on contact, let’s get right to where they are and clear them out and be done with it. That’s why I love a thyme steam, also beautiful for congestion. If you’re super congested, trust me, this will clear out your sinuses so that’s very good. But your kids might actually prefer some rosehip and elderberry syrup because it is a sweet treat and really, really nice. Rosehips are super high in vitamin C and lots of other great things–antioxidants, bioflavonoids, the whole nine yards. Elderberries also have all that vitamin content and a lot of other antioxidants and bioflavonoids, but they have one other bonus.

Ryn: 30:45 Yeah. What’s going on there is that elderberry has in it something called anthocyanins, and these are actually some of the color compounds that give it that dark blue-purple color. Some of those anthocyanins have a function that’s called neuraminidase inhibition. Sounds really fancy, but it basically just means that there’s this enzyme called neuraminidase and these components from the elderberry inhibit the activity of that enzyme. Well, what that enzyme does in the case of the flu virus is the flu virus basically uses that enzyme to spike through your cell walls and inject its genetic material into the cell so it takes over and turns to the cell into a little virus factory. Elderberry breaks off that spike essentially so that the flu virus can’t get into your cell and it can’t replicate itself. So you’ve inhibited its capacity to complete the virus life cycle.

Katja: 31:43 By disabling a virus’s ability to do that, you actually are creating a situation where yes, your immune system still has to fight the viruses that you have inhaled, but they can’t replicate. So this job is going to be so much easier than if the viruses had gotten in there, replicated, made a million copies of themselves, and now you actually really get sick. Elderberry syrup is indispensable. At this time of year it’s still pretty hot outside, so you could take a nice rosehip and elderberry syrup, put maybe a tablespoon of it in a glass, and then add some fizzy water and it’s like a really healthy soda. It’s something that’s like a treat for the kids, but also it’s going to boost their health, boost their immune system, and keep the whole family healthy. I would have that at least twice a day and you can’t go wrong. They’re going to love it, you’re going to love it, and it’s going to be super helpful. So that’s what’s on my mind, and if you want more, come to the class this weekend.

Ryn: 33:04 Yep. That’s on Saturday, September 1st.

Katja: 33:07 At 1:00. Although, the event is happening I think from 10 until five, something like that.

Ryn: 33:14 There’s going to be lots of good stuff there. Check it out. Get some vitamin community into your life. Yay Herbstalk! Yay spin-off Herbstalk events! [laughter]

Katja: 33:28 Well hey, this weekend while I’m teaching, you’re going to be in Vermont running through the woods.

Ryn: 33:36 Yeah, the MovNat folks are doing a new thing. It’s an immersion event, and they’ve been very secretive about it so I’m not really sure what all we’re going to get up to, but I’m expecting to climb some trees, crawl around in the woods, and probably get thrown into a pond or two. I’m really looking forward to it, to go out there and find some edges and push on them, and just spend some time in a natural environment moving around and getting in touch with my physicality. It sounds good.

Katja: 34:09 Yeah, that’ll be pretty exciting. Then the weekend after that, we’ll be in the woods in Royalston with our students. It’s going to be a really woodsy, woodsy start of the fall for us, I’m so excited.

Ryn: 34:22 That’s a good thing. We hope you guys get to spend some time outside, too. Thanks for listening in, we’ll catch you next time. Bye.

Katja: 34:32 Bye!


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