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A toast to the wild side of healthy living.

Byline: Nancy Sheehan

Natural Living Expo

When: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 15, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 16

Where: Royal Plaza Trade Center, 181 Boston Road West, Marlboro

How much: Admission is $12, which covers both days. Kids under 12 free. Keynotes additional. For information see or call (508) 278-9640, ext. 2.

Herbalist and author Guido Mase has some wild ideas about health.

"The cause I'm trying to advance is the idea that we need a little wildness not only in our outside spaces but we also need to bring wild plants into our bodies,'' Mase said in a recent interview, "And that's the gist, I think, of what herbal medicine has to offer -- the re-wilding of our insides.''

The benefits are many of going a even a little wild, he says, and might begin with eating the flowery upstarts on your lawn instead of dousing them with weed killer.

"If you add some dandelion greens to your salad, you're doing herbal medicine,'' he said. "You're ingesting wild medicine, and over time, this has profound effects on physiology -- on digestive function, liver function, the whole background level of toxicity that is part of modern living.''

Mase will show you some simple ways to take a walk on the wild side during his keynote lecture from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the 8th annual Natural Living Expo Saturday and Sunday at the Royal Plaza Trade Center in Marlboro.

Other keynoters include Gabrielle Bernstein, New York Times bestselling author of "Spirit Junkie'' and several other books; energy healer Eric Pearl, who has been extensively featured in national media including "The Dr. Oz Show''; Collette Baron-Reid, an internationally known medium and intuition expert; complementary health pioneer Brian Clement; and Bernie Siegel, physician and celebrated author of "Love, Medicine and Miracles.''

The event, which drew about 8,000 people last year, also includes more than 200 exhibitors, 90 workshops, yoga and fitness classes, a meditation room, healthy food vendors, free natural products samples and cooking demos. The expo is presented by Spirit of Change Magazine, New England's largest holistic health publication.

After his talk Saturday, Mase will sign copies of his book, "The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter and Tonic Plants'' (Healing Arts Press, 2013). To write the book he drew on many years experience with wild plants, beginning with his childhood in the Italian Alps, the son of an American mother and Italian father. Mase is founding co-director of the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, a nonprofit herbal medicine clinic and school in Montpelier, and teaches as a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild.

The roots of Mase's book can be traced to 1989 when, at age 14, he moved from Italy to his mother's native Kansas City, where herbalism was not commonly practiced.

"In Italy it's still part of the culture,'' he said. "In the spring you go out and get dandelion greens. That's just part of normal life. You gather elderberries and you make jam. You make elderflower tea in winter if you have a cold. But in the United States I missed that. I didn't realize how much I missed it until it was gone, as is so often the case. That's why I made it my mission to tell folks 'You know, you don't have to leave the city. Cities are awesome. But let's get into some of these wild plants.' ''

But, let's face it. It's much more convenient to just go to a drugstore and pop a pill. So what is the advantage of going the extra length to find an herbalist or whip up your own plant-based potion?

"You can treat a lung infection or skin infection using herbal medicine but I don't think that's the real benefit,'' Mase said. "What herbal medicine really has to offer is this idea of daily habitual use to maintain optimal health, in the form of tea, in the form of cocktails to be perfectly honest, you know, adding some bitters. It's herbal medicine right there when you put bitters into your Old Fashioned. Although herbal medicine can treat disease, I think it really shines at prevention.''

Increasingly, clinical studies back up age-old herbal wisdom. Several recent studies, for example, indicate that the berries of the hawthorn tree could be a beneficial treatment for cardiovascular diseases. It may be a long time before the complicated, synergistic properties of herbs are completely understood in a scientific way. In the meantime, Mase says, we might let eons of history be our guide.

"Modern culture comes with some tradeoffs,'' he said. "We can handle some of the tradeoffs really well in terms of modern diseases if we have some of our wild roots still in our lives. These plants have been walking along beside us since before we were human, really. So we've taken ourselves out of the foraging world where we were eating wild herbs all the time but our bodies still miss that stuff, and we still need it for utmost functioning.

"So go to the pharmacy if you're really sick and get what you need to feel better. But my argument is you will need to do that less often if you incorporate wild medicine into your life.''

Then what are the first steps, especially for an urban dweller with limited or nearly nonexistent growing space?

Besides the beneficial dandelions, clover, plantains and lamb's quarters that show up in an untreated lawn, graciously volunteering to better our health, Mase suggests planting a few herbs in your community plot, balcony container garden or windowsill and seeking out an herbalists' shop. "They're starting to pop up all over the place, which is great,'' he said.

Or perhaps you could just go out for a cocktail.

"To be perfectly honest, the way I'm seeing it is through these high-end bartenders,'' Mase said. "It's crazy. I talk to these guys and they're like 'Yeah I have a hawthorn tincture and I add it to this cocktail and it's supposedly good for the heart, right? So people come in and I can make them a heart tonic cocktail' or 'I use milk thistle seed to prevent a hangover.' It's really interesting and we joke about it. But the way for herbal medicine to get into the mainstream might actually be through the bar.''
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Title Annotation:Living
Author:Sheehan, Nancy
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 14, 2014
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