Podcast 212: Fallow Month

In ancient agriculture, the farmers observed the need to let fields rest every year or two, so they could recover their fertility. Letting the fields lie fallow in this way actually yielded more food than trying to force them to grow every year.

We can apply this same insight to the learning process. You cannot cram in more information forever, just by gritting your teeth and bearing down. Humans need time to process and integrate what we’ve learned. The best way to enhance that processing & integration is by getting out of your brain and into your body.

Take time to practice what you’ve learned, to engage your senses and your hands. Dig, grow, tend; taste, smell, touch; make, try, play; share!

Taking a fallow period to focus on the hands-on aspects of herbalism is one of our favorite tips for people who are learning. There are lots of ways to study, and lots of ways to enhance your learning. We’ve collected our best suggestions into a FREE COURSE for you: Herbal Study Tips! This fun course is designed to make all your learning – whether that’s with us, from other teachers, from books, or from the plants themselves – more exciting and effective.

Herbal Study Tips Free Course
Herbal Study Tips Free Course

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Episode Transcript

Katja (00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism. And today Ryn is leading the very first plant walk of the season, which is very exciting. And I meant to have this pod recorded two weeks ago. And so here we go. It’s happening right now. And let’s see. The other stuff that I’m supposed to say before I jump in is that I’m not a doctor. I’m an herbalist and a holistic health educator. And nothing in this podcast is medical advice, because we’re not doctors. There you go. That’s enough, right? You know the deal. I am really excited to talk to you today about this idea that we have, or this new concept that we have started this year in our school called the Fallow Month. And the idea that this is built around is an agricultural term, fallow. Fallow referred to fields that were not in production. They were resting. Because very early on in humans’ forays into agriculture, we discovered that fields cannot constantly produce food. They have to rest. The soil has to rest. It has to be rejuvenated. It cannot always be producing and giving things. Sometimes you have to give back to the soil, and you have to let the soil rest. And so people learned that you needed to rotate the fields. And some of the time, at any given point, some of the fields are resting. And those fields are referred to as fallow. Often the sort of schedule that it came down to, at least in historical European agriculture, was a three-year cycle. So the first year a field would grow crops. And the second year it would grow crops. And the third year it would lay fallow. It would rest.

Katja (02:24):
So, that idea is absolutely accurate, right? First off, you have to be putting compost and stuff like that into soil. You actually always have to be regenerating the soil. But also just every so often the soil just needs a break. It just can’t be working all the time. The thing is though, it doesn’t just apply to soil. It also applies to people. And that’s not a popular concept in our culture, because our culture right now is about go, go, go 100% of the time. But the reality is that humans cannot do that. We do, in fact, need to rest. And when you are learning things, you can’t be studying all the time. You have to take time to rest. If we think about elementary school… Well, actually this is true even through to college, although in college you can kind of override it by scheduling things creatively. But there’s always this idea of the winter break, the summer break. And then usually there’s some shorter break in the fall and a shorter break in the spring, right? Because students can’t study day in and day out constantly without some kind of break. Yes, I know kids had to go work in the fields and all those other things. But still, that was around the timing of the break. The break still needed to happen. You just can’t study all day long. In fact, they have done studies on this. And since we’re talking about school, elementary school in particular, that is a study that comes right to mind.

Katja (04:08):
So, the trend in elementary school is for ever shorter recesses and shorter lunch breaks. So when I was in school, we got like multiple, I think, half-hour long recesses plus lunch. And nowadays kids get like one 15-minute recess and 15 minutes for lunch. And these are like little kids, you know, like first and second graders, like elementary school kids. They’re packed into these rooms with lots and lots of other kids and expected to just cram in fact after fact, so that they can pass standardized testing even at a young age. And that takes away space for creativity. But also in order for the curriculum to fit all that stuff in, it takes away time even just for playfulness and rest. And so a group of teachers got to thinking about the impact that was having on the children. And they started experimenting with long recess. And so they went back to the longer recesses and having more of them. Two or three recesses. A morning recess and an afternoon recess and a longer lunch break. And what they found was that the kids who had more and longer recess were more attentive during class and were better able to retain the stuff that they learned. Wow, that’s amazing. Now, this was not like a formal study that was written up in a journal. This was a study that a group of teachers did in their school. It was sort of like an independent experiment to see if this was really a good idea.

Katja (06:00):
Maybe if this was some sort of study that had major funding behind it, maybe it would be more commonly implemented in the schools. But I kind of doubt it. Because right now the real trend is, whether we’re talking about elementary school or your work life or even just in hobbies, the real trend is just keep grinding it out all the time. Just keep grinding it out. That’s how to have value. So, let’s take those two concepts and think about what that means for us. Where us is mostly adults who are studying herbalism and generally trying to fit the study of herbalism into our lives around a full-time job, or a full-time job plus parenting, or taking care of elders and children, or whatever else that you do in a day that you’re responsible for. Still trying to fit in your studies. You’ve got limited time in which to study. And so the kind of impetus is to feel like you have to use every bit of that time to study, study, study, study, study. Cram in more facts about more herbs and just shove it all in there.

Katja (07:27):
But your brain needs a little bit of time to macerate. There you go, good herbal word. You need some time for the things that you’re putting in to just sort of swim around in there and figure out where they need to settle in. Build some connections between different things that you’ve learned, maybe from different sources. Start weaving that information together. You need time to just kind of put stuff on the back burner and just let it infuse, right? Just let it get become ripe in your mind. Otherwise, it’s just a jumble of facts. And it’s not very organized. And it’s not easy to access when you need it. So, that plus the reality of burnout, that you just can’t push all of the time. And especially if you are a person who wants to be an herbalist professionally, a person who cares for others with herbs professionally. Or even just at the community level. Maybe you’re not doing it as a job, but maybe you still are performing that function in your community. People who do this for their families. People who are studying herbalism from another care profession, maybe a nurse, or a massage therapist, or a psychotherapist, or something like that. What we’re talking about in all these areas is care.

Katja (09:05):
And when you care for others, that’s wonderful, but burnout is the natural progression of that. If all you are doing is giving to other people all of the time, then things aren’t coming back to you. You’re not being nourished and fed. You still need time to rest. And so as we are trying to help our clinical students to build in healthy habits around burnout. And to help our students who aren’t in the clinical programs yet also to be thinking about healthy habits around avoiding burnout. That, combined with the reality that you cannot study all the time, combined with the reality that herbalism just simply is a tangible thing. It’s not all in your head. It’s not all abstract. You do have to use your hands to be an herbalist. All those things together led us to this idea of building fallow time into our school’s cycle every year. So, this year we arranged our school calendar into trimesters.

Katja (10:19):
So, the first trimester, which we’re sort of coming to the end of now, is January, February, March and April. So, the first three months of that, those are study months. That’s fantastic. We do a lot of live events. We have our clinical students in clinic and in clinical case review every week alternating. We have a lot of live Q&A sessions for students at every level. We maybe have other live events like workshops on the weekend or whatever else. And students are all studying, studying, studying. Watching the videos or listening to the MP3s while they run errands, going through the PDF quick guides, and organizing their notes, and all that kind of stuff. Study, study, study. But then in the fourth month – so for the first trimester that’s April, right now – we just take a break. Everybody has a finite amount of time. And if you are always studying, there’s no time for you to try making tinctures, and salves, and new tea blends. There’s no time for you to test out what you’ve learned by building protocols and experimenting with them with yourself, your own body. Or experimenting with your friends to see how that works for you. There are so many active parts of herbalism that we have to make space and make time for those. Those things also free your brain up from that abstract kind of studying and allows that part of your brain to rest. Allows all those facts to just sort of swim around and macerate back in there while you are working on the tangible parts of herbalism.

Katja (12:11):
So building in this cycle, this sort of three months on, one month off, three months on, one month off. And that month off is not like oh, I guess I’m not an herbalist for the month of April. No, no. It is taking a step away from that abstracted thinking to do a bunch of tangible work. And really let yourself just be immersed in the tangible work of all the things that you’ve learned for the past three months. Then okay, May comes. We all kick into study gear again May, June, July. And then in August we shift gears again. And instead of doing that abstract study work, we’re doing the hands on kind of work. And we do it one more time for the third trimester. That is September, October, November. And then December you are back into that tangible kind of work.

Katja (13:07):
So, this kind of a schedule, we are really working to encourage several different factors at the same time. And all of these factors feed each other beneficially. So, the concept of avoiding burnout by allowing your brain time to rest from that abstract cerebral kind of work. The concept of not getting lost in the booky part, the thinky part of herbalism. And making sure that you do have time to do the tangible part. To go back and press out all those tinctures that have been sitting around on your counter for how long, right? Because there is only so much time in a day. And you don’t have infinite time to study. So, in order to do that tangible work, we have to stop doing something else. And so for this one month we stop doing some of those things that we’ve been doing. And we use that time for the tangible stuff. It feeds into itself. We need the break from the abstract work in order to rest our brains. And we need to take a break from the abstract work in order to have time to do the tangible work, right?

Katja (14:20):
So we’re really excited about this concept. We’re really excited about how our students are using this time. And on one hand I kind of wanted to get this episode of the pod out, like right off the bat at the very beginning of April. But I’m actually kind of glad that it ran a little late. Because the students are just doing such cool stuff with this time. Everybody’s pressing out tinctures. That is one universal thing, right? Because I guarantee you if you’re listening to this podcast, you probably have a tincture that needs to be pressed out. I have a whole shelf of them over there, tinctures that need to be pressed out. That’s just the reality of herbalism, right? You’re like ooh, there’s ground ivy right now. I’m going to get that going in a tincture, and then I’ll have it for next fall. And you sort of forget about it over the summer. It really only needed to be in there for a month, but you just sort of forget about it. Until you need it, and then you finally go and press it out. Or if you’re anything like me, maybe you don’t actually press it out. Maybe you just like open the jar, and like scoop out some that you need, and just put the lid back on. You’re like I will press this out later, right? So, I know that that is true for more than just me. So, of course that is one of the things that all the students are doing. But they have formed different study groups where they are testing out protocols.

Katja (15:55):
All of our clinical students are going back through the cases that they worked on in the first trimester and testing out the protocols that came out of their favorite cases. Testing that out in their own body to see like hmm, was the tea that I blended for this person tasty? Like is it going to be super drying, which is actually what that person wanted? Or is this going to be way too drying, because in this case the person didn’t want that? Or, you know, all those different things. Did I come up with a protocol that fits into a busy lifestyle? Or did I build this protocol for this person that actually has way too much stuff in it? If you are moving towards clinical work in your practice or community work too. If you are going to be recommending herbal protocols to other people, I will tell you this is one of the most important things you can do. Practice the protocols that you give other people. That’s where you’re really going to notice oops, I gave this person way too much stuff to do in one month. I should have only told them half of this information. And I should have saved the rest until the following month. Because this is actually too much to do in a month.

Katja (17:14):
Or oops, I blended this tea for this person. And I thought it was going to be really tasty, and it is really not tasty. And I should maybe check in with that person, and see if they are enjoying this tea, or if they would like me to re blend it a little bit differently, you know, whatever. And you don’t have to have a fallow month schedule built for yourself to do this. If you are working with other people, just do it all the time. Do it constantly. Every time that you make suggestions to people, try it out for yourself, even if it’s just for a few days, just to make sure was that a good protocol? You may not be experiencing the same sorts of things that that person is experiencing. But it still does give you a chance to see kind of like what you have given them. How that feels in your body. Does that match up with how you want that person to be feeling in their body, and how they would like to be feeling in their body? That kind of stuff. So, the clinical students are working on that a lot.

Katja (18:18):
There’s an herbal swap getting organized. So, kind of the same concept as a cookie swap that lots of people do around Christmas and the winter holidays. But an herbal swap where everybody is looking at the tinctures they’ve got, and the salve, and the this and the that. And maybe there’s something that you got really excited about making. And maybe you made two quarts of a particular tincture. And you realize I’m not going to use two quarts of this tincture. I’m going to use like four ounces of this tincture. And by then I should make fresh. So, that’s the perfect thing. When you come into your apothecary and realize oh, I have way too much of something. The best thing to do with that is share it with other people. So, I’m very excited about a swap. That’s going to give all the students who are participating in it the chance to try things that other people have made. The chance to try things that maybe they wouldn’t have made for themselves, or maybe that plant doesn’t grow around them, or whatever else. It just maybe is a plant that they haven’t thought of working with yet. So, that’s going to be really exciting.

Katja (19:30):
Another thing that I think is a really cool idea is starting community apothecaries. So, some students live in areas where there are several herbalists and several student herbalists. Some of our students are even in study groups themselves. We give discounts for study buddy groups, where a group of two or three or seven or however many people decide they’re going to work on a course or a program together. Then if everybody enrolls at the same time, we make a special coupon for everybody. So that everybody gets discounts on what they’ve done, because they’re working as a group. So, in all these different kinds of situations, students are working on community apothecaries, so that they can kind of combine their resources, especially when they have extra of something. Combine their resources so that the whole community can benefit from that. If somebody needs something. If suddenly everybody gets the same cold, or the flu is going around, or whatever, then they know there’s a community stash of resources that everybody can turn to. So, that’s a really cool idea.

Katja (20:47):
But all these things take time to organize. They take time to just sort of think through. And that kind of thought work is really different than studying about all the properties of a particular herb and how that applies to the nervous system. And how you can apply that for folks who have ADHD versus folks who have MS versus folks who are dealing with Parkinson’s disease. That’s very like brainy thinky kind of work. And this other work of like let’s get the community together and create an apothecary. Let’s get a bunch of friends together and do a swap. Let’s go through all of our old cases and just try the stuff that we told people. It’s a really different kind of thought process. So, I’m really excited about how this is playing out in our school. And I wanted to share the idea with you. Because even if you are not enrolled in our herb school… Which if you’re not, think about it. It’s a pretty cool school. Even if you’re not enrolled in our herb school, or even if you’re not even a student anymore, you know, whatever. Is it even possible to not be a student anymore when you’re an herbalist? I think you’re actually always a student.

Katja (22:05):
Think about how you can schedule your herb time to allow yourself this kind of a cycle where you switch up the types of work that you’re doing. The types of learning that you’re doing. Giving yourself time to do the thinky kind of study, and then also giving yourself time to do the hands-on kind of study. That way you are not having to try to split your time and always feel like you don’t have enough time to focus on things. And that’s when you end up with tinctures that need to be pressed out months and months and months later. But this way you can have time where you focus on the brainy parts. And then you focus on the hands-on parts. It really allows you not just to give that shift in the way that you think in your brain, so that the stuff that you’re learning can kind of settle in and build some connections. But it also gives you the chance to really fortify the reality that herbalism can’t just happen in your mind, and in books, and in videos, and whatever else. It has to happen in your real tangible life, in your real kitchen, in your real buckets of dirt on your porch, wherever. And it’s not enough to just learn all the facts. But you have to try the stuff out, because every body is different.

Katja (23:43):
And so even if you learn that hops is a very strong sedative and will help almost anybody go to sleep. You have to try that yourself, because it does not work for me. Hops does not settle me at all. It’s extremely agitating for me. Which makes a lot of sense, because I have a very strong anaphylactic allergy to cannabis. And they’re in the same family. So, it’s not super surprising that oh wait, that kind of makes sense that I would be really agitated by hops. But I didn’t think about it ahead of time. I didn’t realize that until I experienced it. And I was like, what is going on? Why am I having this like backwards reaction to this plant that should be putting me to sleep? Oh, I bet it’s because it’s a relative of cannabis, right? So, all of these kinds of things are things that you can never get every detail in a book. You can never get every detail in a class. Because there are just too many bodies in the world, and every single one of them is different. Every single one of them reacts a little bit differently. When you try it out in your body, in your friend’s bodies. You can take all the extra stuff you have in your apothecary. Package it up in in small packages. Give it to your friends. And give them like a little survey page to share how it felt in their body. And then see was it the same for everybody? Was it different for everybody? Can you draw conclusions about the energetics of each group of people and how they responded?

Katja (25:24):
All that kind of work is not optional. It’s not like that would be a cool idea, but I don’t have time, because I have to keep studying. That is the actual work. That’s the far more important work. Okay, you have to do the brainy parts to just get it in there, so that you know what you’re looking for. But it’s that work. That how it feels in your body. How it feels in the bodies of your friends, and your family, and your community, and total strangers who cross your path. All of that is where all the facts that you learn are going to settle into knowledge. And at that point you won’t forget stuff. At that point it will just come automatically. People talk about intuitive herbalism. And the way you build intuition is you learn something abstractly. You try it tangibly. You try it multiple times. You feel it in your body. You also see how it is in other people’s bodies. That starts to settle in, and now it becomes intuition like muscle memory.

Katja (26:34):
Like the reality that if I say describe the flavor of an apple, already the taste of an apple is coming into your consciousness. It just automatically does that. You don’t have to think about well, it might be hard to describe. Like it might be hard to put that into words, but the flavor comes immediately into your mouth, the memory of the flavor. That happens because you know it in your body. The only way to know it in your body – not in your head, but in your actual body – is to do it. To do it, to do it, to do it. Okay, yes, sometimes you’re in a moment where you just really need something. And you just say ah, I need a plant to help with this. And maybe something pops into your mind. And that is serendipitous and wonderful. And I don’t want to take away from the reality of things we don’t understand. But even that happens more the more that your knowledge settles into your body. Because you’re starting to make connections that you’re not even necessarily fully conscious of the more that you experience things physically. And it’s those connections at that really deep level. That then when you need something, and you think you don’t know the answer. And you’re just like aaah, I don’t know the answer. I need the answer to this problem. And something pops into your mind. It is the results of all those deep connections, of that longtime relationship building with the plants. And in order to do that, you have to stop studying sometimes.

Katja (28:22):
Now obviously keep studying. Studying is important. It is. But you have to take a break from studying sometimes to then just do some experiencing. So whether you organize your study time into trimesters, like we have done in our school. Whether you just declare every Saturday is experiential learning time. However you organize it for yourself, the organization is a little less important. The actually important part here is that you are making time to step away from the brain learning part, the studying part, and move into an experiential learning time. And you regularly repeat that cycle where you do some thinking work, and then you do some experience work. And then you repeat it. It is like hmm, I’m gathering a bunch of data with which I can do experiments. Okay, now it’s time to do those experiments. Oh yeah, this is really excellent. All right. I’ve worked with all that information. Time to move back and get more information that I will circle around and do more experiments with. All right. Well anyway, hopefully that concept will be helpful for you. And you can see some ways to implement it in your life.

Katja (29:43):
And we will be back in May. Well, Ryn will be back shortly from the plant walk. But we will be back with new episodes of the Holistic Herbalism podcast in May. Until then we will be sharing some of our favorite episodes that we have done over the years. One of them coming up is an episode about not seeking to be perfect. Which I had saved it a long time ago in a tab, because I was like boy, I think I need to see this again. And the other day I was closing tabs. And I think that tab has been open for like a year. I don’t even know. And I saw it. And I was like, what is this? Why do I have this open? And I started reading the transcript. I was like oh, this is why I have this open. I needed to hear this again. And so that one we will be sharing, and then Ryn will pick one of his favorites as well. So, I hope that you enjoy those. And then we’ll be back live. Well not actually live – because this is a podcast, and you can listen to it anytime you want – but with fresh new material in May. And we can’t wait to see you then. Or we can’t wait to talk to you asynchronously then. All right everybody, bye bye.


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