The human heart feels things the eyes cannot see, and knows what the mind cannot understand”

– R. Valett

Dr. Holcomb will be out of the office beginning July 15 in order to be with her family and to support her father who is undergoing open-heart surgery for aortic valve replacement.  For now, Sweetgrass will reopen July 26th.  Dr. H will be available via e-mail and she will be checking her office messages frequently through out her absence.  As we all could not live without our heart, please take this time to honor yours!

Located between the left ventricle of the heart and the aorta, the aortic valve serves as the gateway between the oxygenated blood in the heart and the rest of the organs that await this valuable nutrient.  Once blood oxygenates the body, it returns to the lungs in order to release carbon dioxide and receive fresh oxygen.  After this process the cycle begins again.  The very nature of the heart is that of rhythm, precision, nurturance, connection, and knowing.  In Chinese medicine the heart houses the Shen – or spirit/mind –  which is reflected in memory, sleep, thinking, vitality, and our general “presence”.  This Shen is visible in the eyes which will be shining, vibrant, clear, and focused.

Current science is showing the amazing connection between the heart, brain, and emotions – what we feel, think, and experience writes a story on the entire body and beyond.  Our heart, an organ that has been described as a “triune” due to its neurological, hormonal, and electromagnetic functions, is quite an incredible thing.  Studies show that its electrical and magnetic forces create a field which extends ten to fifteen feet beyond the body where it then mingles with other signals.  Similarly, a study conducted in 1999 showed that when two people are within speaking distance, the electromagnetic field from one person’s heart will influence the other’s brain wave activity.  What’s more, synchronization of the brain waves with the heart is more likely to occur when the person has a coherent rhythm.  This is powerful!!

Perhaps what most know of the heart is Love.  From passion to compassion, we place this integral foundation of human existence in the heart.  Quotes like, “All you need is Love.” and “Love is my Religion” speak to the simple truth – without Love we are lost.  The cultivation of Loving-kindness from the Buddhist tradition represents the essence of Love beautifully and helps us create more compassion in the world.  This meditation is offered to you all and to Dr. Holcomb’s father – may all lives be filled with love.


You will offer this five times – to yourself, a good friend, a neutral person, a difficult person, and finally to all sentient beings.  Change the “I” word accordingly each time… 

  • May I be filled with loving-kindness
  • May I be well
  • May I be peaceful and at ease
  • May I be happy
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” Trust the energy that courses through you.  Trust and then take surrender even deeper. Be the energy. Don’t push anything away. Follow each sensation back to its source in vastness and pure presence. Emerge so new so fresh that you don’t know who you are. Welcome in the season of monsoons. Be the bridge across the flooded river and the surging torrent underneath. Be unafraid of consummate wonder.  Be the energy and blaze a trail across the clear night sky like lightning. Dare to be your own illumination.”

On Thursday April 28th I had surgery to repair the lining of my abdominal wall that was torn in three places (hernia repair).  As we all know, taking time from the activities and flow of daily life is challenging for many reasons and learning to surrender is a lesson that many, myself included, must learn.  For me, a doctor of Naturopathic medicine, this whole surgery has been a process of letting go.  This injury was something that, despite my efforts, I could not heal naturally (although this leads into the debate of what natural actually is…).  The meditation, Qigong, acupuncture, Bodytalk, yoga, and so on, helped me to manage over the years, but none of these modalities led to complete healing of the tears.  For years I kept imaging that there was something I had not tried – and certainly there are many things I did not try – but in the end, a trip to the hospital, some surgery, and all of the pieces involved in such a trip, were the way my abdomen had closure.

People have been asking me if I used the conventional medicines – the anesthesia, antibiotics, painkillers, antiseptics.  Hoping, I suppose, to hear that I did it all “naturally.”  At my acupuncture appointment the day before the surgery I did think about the stories we have heard of Chinese docs conducting major surgeries with only acupuncture needles to block the pain.  But thinking about it was as far as I wanted to go.  And yes, I did use all of those medicines, with gratitude and awe – they are powerful.  My main goal from the natural side of things has been to support my healing, help my body process the pharmaceuticals, and  clean up any residual side effects.  While I hope to be a beacon of natural healthcare in this world, I do believe that we have discovered all forms of medicine for a reason.  And this is something I tell my patients daily.  We must realize that anything can be a poison or a medicine – it all depends on the intent and on wise and prudent usage.  We also cannot forget that everything in this world is formed from nature – even the ugly, toxic, and tragic parts.  This said, there are forms of healing that promote deep, profound, lasting change, and there are forms that simply palliate, masking the true issue.  Herbalist and wise woman Susan Weed talks about this quite a lot in her teachings – (see an earlier post I did on her).  She speaks of Seven rivers of healing: “The First River: embrace emptiness, The Second River: investigate options, The Third River: restore energetic connections, The Fourth River: strengthen and feed health, The Fifth River: incite strong responses, The Sixth River: take pills, The Seventh River: destroy obstacles. The ordering of the Rivers is based on the frequency and severity of harm, including side effects. They are ordered by this thought: First, do no harm.”  In my process I am choosing to use all of these rivers – including the last three.  Personally, after years of processing the need for this surgery, I surrendered to the magic and mystery of all medicine.

Aside from this discussion of my process – I thought I would share with you all the protocol that I am using to support myself through this surgery.  I hope that it might be of use for anyone else who might need to go down the fifth through seventh rivers.  It is a comprehensive protocol to minimize damage, promote healing, and to help the body detoxify.

1. The weeks before surgery I made sure to eat a clean diet, take 2000 mg of fish oil daily and 100 billion cfus of probiotics daily, avoid alcohol, and drink Metabolic Detox Complete (a liver support vegan protein powder)

2. The morning of surgery take 1 dose of homeopathic Arnica 1M (high potency)

3. Take Arnica 1M as soon as possible after the surgery and every two – four hours for the next two days

4. Homeopathic Ledum 1M – for puncture wounds – I took two doses the day of surgery and two doses the day after

5. Homeopathic Ruta – 1M – for fibrous tissue healing – this might not have been completely necessary as Ruta is really for the tendo-osseous junction and there was no junction in the middle of my abdomen- but I figure it is great at convincing the body to heal connective tissue.

6. Topical Oxicell-SE from Apex Energetics – applied to the surgical site, Kidney 1, Kidney 27, and on the cervical lymph chains – a cream with glutathione – “the mother of all antioxidants”

7. Topical castor oil to the liver and abdomen – enhances detoxification

8. Scar Oil – formulated by Hill Botanical – Vit E, rosehip, chickweek, sea buckthorne, tamanu oil, helichrysum and niaouli essential oils – applied topically to the abdomen three times daily

9. UNDAs 1, 20, 243 (I would have preferred 258) – for liver detoxification of the pharmaceuticals and inflammatory compounds – and really to help every cell in the body detoxify

10. Probiotics – 100 CFUs mixed bacteria- daily to replenish the good bacteria in the gut

11. Fish oil – 2 grams daily to help modulate inflammatory cytokines

12. Metabolic Detox Powder – a great multivitamin and support for healing

13. Wobenzyme PS – enzymes that help reduce the inflammatory process

14. Ligaplex I and II from Standard Process – to help the body build strong connective tissue post surgery

…Whew.  Combine all of that with meditation, Qigong, and rest and that is enough.  So far the healing has been quite quick. I look forward to meeting with the surgeon to see what his assessment is…

One thing I am reminded of through this process is that when the obstacles are removed, the body has the powerful innate wisdom to heal; the wound closes, the swelling disappears, the pain minimizes.  On a day to day basis it is easy to forget about the Vis/Qi/Prana that keeps us all alive.  I am in gratitude for this unseen force that allows for healing – it is what guides me as a Naturopath, what fueled all of those amazing people who helped me at Bozeman Deaconess on Thursday, and what makes each day a bit easier during recovery.

Please realize that the protocol I used above was designed for my own unique health needs.  It is a good general protocol for surgery but we are all individuals and require slightly different substances in the healing process.  It is always best to consult with a professional.

In gratitude.

Dr. Holcomb

First – I would like anyone who is reading this to take a moment to send your good thoughts and a healing prayer to the people, animals, plants, ocean, and land in Japan.  They are all suffering an immense tragedy and even though it might feel far away, we are all changed because of this event.  While sending positive intentions may seem trite, our thoughts can alter the world as they set the stage for physical change.  It begins with one person and cascades from there.  Please believe that you can and do make a difference – no matter how small.

Second – I am being asked daily about our risks here as the radiation is headed this way.  For those who think that this is simple fear mongering or the concern of apocalyptic thinkers, please reconsider.  This is a link from the New York Times demonstrates how the Earth’s weather patterns are dispersing the radiation from Japan – note the West Coast of the US on the far right of the map:  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/16/science/plume-graphic.html .  Scientists are saying that the amount reaching us will be minimal and pose little risk to our health.  In my opinion, we will never completely know the full range of health issues that occur from an incident such as this nuclear meltdown.  Hopefully, it will be minimally consequential but we must consider the bioaccumulation of radiation in our soils, oceans, and hence in the foods we consume.  In Japan measurable levels of the reactive elements such as uranium are already being found in eggs, animal milks, water sources, and the soil.

Let me make a very important point – the degree to which radiation will effect you depends on your previous health status. When working with people who are concerned about this meltdown there are many factors I have to take into consideration: iodine levels in the body PRIOR to exposure, antioxidant status, calcium status, ability of the organs of elimination to function, and so forth.  Dr. David Brownstein writes, “I believe this crisis should highlight the need for each of us to take a more active role in our own health care decisions. It is important to take the proper steps to achieve your optimal health before a crisis arises. Many times these steps include eating a healthy diet and taking the correct supplements. My experience has shown that ensuring an adequate iodine level is one piece of the puzzle to obtaining your optimal health.” I could not agree more.

Why are so many people talking about iodine levels?  We know that nuclear radiation causes an increase in thyroid cancer as was seen after the Chernobyl incident.  This occurs because our thyroid binds iodine – and if deficient will bind radioactive iodine present after a meltdown.  Our thyroid gland sits approximately 2/3 of the way down the front of our neck and is responsible for a multitude of actions in the body such as regulating metabolism.  Iodine receptors are also found throughout the body in many other tissues including breast, prostate, uterus, ovary, gastrointestinal, and adipose (fatty) – essentially every cell in our body uses iodine.  If a person is deficient in iodine there is an increased risk for the environmental radioactive iodine to bind to the cell and cause damage to the DNA.  Ultimately, DNA damage is what leads to cancer.

Radioactive iodine is, however, not the only concern from such an incident as we are witnessing in Japan.  Strontium-90 is part of a radioactive fallout as well.  If the strontium rains down on a herd of grazing cows for instance, it accumulates in their fatty tissue and eventually in their milk.  When that milk is consumed the strontium-90 is incorporated into our bones as it is used similarly to calcium.  As with radioactive iodine causing altered DNA, a similar situation occurs with the strontium potentially leading to bone cancer.

And finally ionizing radiation is also a concern.  We are all constantly exposed to this type of radiation from the environment, too much is a health hazard.  Once again we are concerned about alteration of the DNA and RNA which leads to cellular mutation and general disruption of biological function including the potential of cancer.

So the question becomes – what to do?  The first step is minimize exposure – through food choices, location, and activity.  The second step is assess your health – what are your iodine levels?  Calcium levels?  Antioxidant status?  Are you exposing yourself to environmental toxins daily that decrease your baseline health status – including chlorine, bromine, pesticides, fluorine, and so on?  As doctors we are recommending between 6-50mg of iodine (bioavailable) depending on your previous status, thyroid health, size, age, and overall demand.  Studies show that around 13mg a day is an average dose that will prevent consequences from radioactive iodine – this is over 100 times what the normal American consumes.  Our RDA (recommended daily allowance) is in the mcg – microgram – range.  In this situation we are talking about mgs or milligrams.  Contact your healthcare provider to discuss more on this topic as there are risks to taking too much iodine.

I hope that this information has proved helpful.  If you have any questions please contact me – Dr. Holcomb Johnston – at (406) 585-9113 or dr.holcomb@sweetgrassmedicine.com.  Below are a few links that will help you gather more information.  In peace…









While reading some wise words from herbalist Susan Weed I came across her version of a common paradigm for healing that Naturopaths are taught “The Six Steps of Healing”.  It was great to revisit this information, to mull over it, and to let it steep into my essence.  In the realm of healthcare it is easy to get locked into palliation – people want to feel better immediately – and if they don’t, they often go looking somewhere else for a solution.  I will say this again and again – symptoms are merely an expression of a deeper disharmony.  Our rational minds take the symptoms as the actual illness when in fact they are merely expressions.  An example of this is the classic fever.  People spend thousands of dollars each year on doctors’ visits, Tylenol, and other suppressive therapies designed to eliminate a fever.  We are confused!!  Fever is our body’s natural way of eliminating the microbe that is potentially hazardous in the first place; it is the attempt to literally fry whatever invasive organism found its way past our initial immune barriers.  Because a fever is uncomfortable, however, we try everything in our power to stop it – getting lost in the symptoms rather than looking at the greater picture.

Susan Weed reminded me to spend more time with my patients explaining how the symptoms are not what we are treating.  Medicine is both an ART and a science.  The art piece is finding the root of the patient’s illness, choosing the correct levels at which to treat it, and helping the patient to understand what the goals are in the treatment.  Thank you Susan for sending this wisdom my way again and for strengthening my conviction that medicine is not only science, it is art too.


Step 0 – Do nothing. (Sleep, meditate, unplug the phone or clock.) A vital step.

Step 1 – Collect information. (Low-tech diagnosis, reference books, support groups, divination.)

Step 2 – Engage energy. (Prayer, homeopathic remedies, ritual, crying, visualizations, color, laughter, aeromatherapy.)

Step 3 – Nourish and tonify.  (Herbal infusions/vinegars, love, some herbal tinctures, life-style changes, physical activities, moxibustion.)

Step 4 – Stimulate/sedate.  (Hot/cold water, many herbal tinctures, acupuncture, most massage, alcohol.)

Step 5a – Use supplements.  (Synthesized/concentrated vitamins or minerals, special foods. These are more potent and less “natural” than step 3.)

Step 5b – Use pharmaceuticals/drugs. (Synthesized alkaloids, hormones, etc. Overdose may cause injury or death.)

Step 6 – Break and enter. (Fear-inspiring language, surgery, invasive diagnostic techniques, biopsies, etc.  Side effects are inevitable and may cause permanent injury or death.)



I was just reading an article by Dr. Mercola and came across this:

As Mark Hyman, M.D., editor-in-chief of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, wrote:

“As a species, we once ate a complex unrefined wild diet consisting of a wide variety of plant and animal foods rich in phytonutrients, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Now, our monotonous diet triggers different and diseased patterns of gene expression.

The USDA reports that the top nine foods eaten by Americans are:

  • Whole cow”s milk
  • 2 percent milk
  • Processed American cheese
  • White bread
  • White flour
  • White rolls
  • Refined sugar
  • Colas
  • Ground beef
  • All of these foods are foreign to our genome that evolved on a Paleolithic diet. This mono diet creates altered patterns of gene expression that lead to disease, including food allergy or sensitivity.”

    Whew!  That list completely overwhelmed me.  I am amazed (although it is not really a shock) that these are Americans’ top foods.  Where are the greens, the fresh fruit, anything that is not processed?  In this holiday season I ask you all, for your health, to make home-cooked meals and to add one ingredient that is new for you – and not processed!  Nourish yourself as you celebrate and see how it changes your world.

    A fast and easy recipe.  Enjoy these as breakfast or with as a savory base for dinner.  Experiment, feel free, and have fun!
    Gluten Free Crepes –
    1 cup coconut/almond/hemp milk
    2 eggs
    1/4 tsp xanathan gum (found in the baking section)
    2/3 + cup of gluten free flour (I blend my own from sorgum, teff, tapioca, buckwheat, arrowroot, brown rice, etc. – but you can by a pre-made mixture)
    1 tsp sea salt
    1/4 cup sunflower oil (canola works well too as does walnut, grapeseed, etc)
    Dash of vanilla extract
    …I believe those are all of the ingredients off the top of my head…
    1. Place them all in a blender and liquify  (or mix by hand until all the lumps are gone)
    2. The batter should be very thin and runny but with more consistency than water – add more milk if it’s too thick or add more flour if it’s too thin…
    3. Heat a crepe pan, skillet, or any pan that you can access the side of the crepe easily with – to medium-high heat.
    4. Pour about 1/4 a cup of batter and smooth into a skinny-big pancake with the flat side of a large spoon
    5. Cook on one side until small bubbles form in the crepe or until the sides of the crepe start to lift off of the pan
    6. Flip (WEEE!! – hard) and cook for about 30 seconds to a minute on the second side
    Use your favorite toppings – I like to grind hazelnuts, sprinkle coconut flakes, pour maple syrup, and spread on apple butter for a few…

    Men’s Medicine

    Over the past few days I have been rereading one of my teacher’s books – A Family Herbal – by Rosemary Gladstar.  During my time at the California School of Herbal Studies I got to meet this incredible woman and to spend a day creating herbal wonders with her.  Perhaps the most memorable creation were her “Zoom Balls” a luscious treat filled with uplifting and invigorating herbs along with tahini, almond butter, honey, and cacao.  Rosemary is one of the people who kept Western botanical medicine alive – diligently working with the plants, learning their medicine, and disseminating her wisdom in a tangible and effective manner.  Rosemary is dedicated to United Plant Savers, www.unitedplantsavers.org, an organization dedicated to conserving endangered medicinal plants in North America, and has her own school of botanical medicine through the Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center – www.sagemt.com.

    So why do I speak about this woman when the title of this post is “Men’s Medicine”?  An excerpt from her book explains the story:

    When I opened an herb store in 1972 in the midst of a lively alternative community in Sonoma County, California, most of my customers were women.  They came to buy herbs for themselves, their children, and sometimes their partners.  I can remember the occasional male customer who ventured into the store.  He would generally wait until no one else was in the shop, slowly wind his way to the front counter, and begin talking about everything under the sun but the specific problem that had brought him there.  I’d find some quiet way to create a space for him to talk about his prostate problems, or herpes, or impotence, or even heartbreak…

    Being young, I figured that men weren’t comfortable talking to me about their health problems simply because I was a woman.  I hadn’t yet discovered that men seldom talk about these things with other men, either.  I also erroneously thought, as many people do, that men don’t have the same degree of complexity of physiological function as women.  After all, where are breasts, the womb, the ability to give birth?  I find this rather limited perspective amusing now, and I apologize for it, having discovered how complex, marvelous, and cyclic the male system is.

    What is finally being acknowledged is that men’s bodies are just as complex as women’s, and that men have many concerns about their health — they just deal with them differently.  Women talk about their problems.  They seek help. They turn to other women.  Women spend a great deal of time talking together about their feelings, their desires and dreams, their health, and men.  These are not topics that come up often in men’s circles…”

    I find this too in my practice – a predominance of women and children.  This is no surprise as approximately 60-80% of annual visits to the doctor’s are by women.  By the time a man comes into my office his affliction is usually quite severe – excruciating pain, elevated blood pressure, deep dark depression, and so on.  There are many reasons for this discrepancy – sociocultural constructs of the masculine and feminine, different daily demands, genetic make-up…it is complex and subject to extensive philosophical discussion.  Similarly, as I am a young female doctor, many men would rather seek a man for their healthcare – a desire that is completely understandable!  I remember the looks on the faces of the young migrant Mexican workers in a clinic where I worked when they found out I was doing their sensitive male-exams!  They were not happy…

    All of this aside, Naturopathic medicine is not only medicine for women and children.  It is preventative medicine, wellness medicine, lifestyle medicine.  From sports performance to neurotransmitter balancing, prostate health to weight loss, effective, natural alternatives exist.  Men’s health and wellness does not need to be kept in the dark and saved only for emergencies.

    I have gratitude to Rosemary for including a whole section in her book on recipes and suggestions for men’s health.  As winter continues to deepen here in Montana, it is important for all of us to nurture ourselves during these short days.  For many it is easy to hibernate, to invert, and to disconnect during this time.  Personally, my goals for the holiday season are to make the special men in my life some fantastic and delicious botanical treats.  Recipes such as “Good-Life Wine”, “Male Toner Tea”, and “Chai Hombre” seem like perfect gifts to nourish the male body, mind, and spirit…

    Men’s Medicine – Quick tips for Prostate Health

    1. Wear padded bike shorts on those rides!

    2. Drink plenty of water.

    3. Eat foods rich in zinc : oysters, eggs, molasses, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, almonds, sesame tahini, greens.

    4. Include seaweeds in your diet.

    5. Take your Omega 3 essential fatty acids.

    6. Include a high-quality probiotic in your daily routine.

    7. Get your spine aligned for proper nervous function to your pelvic region.

    8. Use hydrotherapy – sitz baths, end each shower with a cold spray to your pelvic region, take a relaxing bath.

    9. Get that prostate exam even if you are dreading it.

    10. Stay sexually active AND practice safe sex.

    11. When you have symptoms – burning, incontinence, pain, irritation, erectile dysfunction, blood in your urine, etc. go see your doctor!!