Happy spring! It’s officially May and I haven’t posted in quite some time so I thought I would do a little check in. As many of you know, I spend my free time in the spring and summer cultivating my mini-homestead and wildcrafting herbs in the mountains. This spring has been no different. I live on a little over an acre, between Duvall and Monroe. About half of the property is devoted to recreation and food crops, including an orchard and raised beds. The other half is reserved for native plant restoration and food forest. As I work in the forest or cultivated areas, I often reflect on topics related to health and well-being.
Last weekend, I worked in the native plant restoration area. There are a lot of strong feeling words that people use for non-native plants, and I share this sentiment at times. But I can’t help but notice the similarities between healing gut flora imbalances and the process of forest renewal. Invasive plants populate areas of extreme disturbance, much in the way that our gut flora imbalances often appear after illness or antibiotic treatments. Sometimes antibiotics are needed and lifesaving, but much like the land after a clear-cut, our gut mucosa needs to be healed to restore an abundance of healthy flora.
As I cut back the elm leaved blackberries and dig out the thistles, I think about the damage the soil I’m standing on has sustained: mechanical degradation that removes protective plants and topsoil, while the heavy weight collapses pore structure. Often, before the bare soil can be covered by protective regrowth of plants, rains saturate and cause run-off of essential nutrients. If invasive plants are taking over an area, it means that the soil needs major remediation. Nature does this without bias for native or non-native plants. Dense, fast growing, thorny shrubs keep out large mammals and prevent further damage, and a variety of plants transform nitrogen from the air and replenish the soil.
Much like the recovering forest, when our gut health is disturbed, it isn’t enough just to weed with antibiotics and plant new flora with any old probiotic. The underlying imbalances that caused the disruption to begin with need to be addressed. The cells lining the digestive track need to be nourished so that they can repair damage and create a robust substrate for the gut flora to live upon. Sometimes botanical medicines with antimicrobial properties are helpful to interrupt rampant growth of unhelpful flora species, and probiotics are selected for strains that match each person’s unique needs and restore helpful flora.
Restoring gut health is an important part of any person’s return to wellness. And as a naturopathic doctor, I would say that time in nature is also an important part of returning to wellness. I hope this spring you find your way into the forest, and if you need help with gut repair, you find your way into my office.
Dr. Alicia Tremblay, ND
Ps. As usual, this information is for general knowledge purposes, and is not a personal medical or health recommendation. Please see your naturopathic physician for a personal medical or health recommendation.