Over the weekend, I taught my monthly apprentice class here at the farm. This time the topics were the urinary system and the adrenal glands. While we talked quite extensively about the filtering power of the kidneys, it was our conversation about the adrenals that caught the most attention.
Several months ago, I spoke about adrenal health to a large crowd in Asheville, N.C. It was quite clear when it took me nearly an hour to get back to my booth that this is a topic that strikes a nerve with many people. When you understand how these tiny glands work, it’s not hard to see why they’ve garnered such interest.
A Body in Balance
Until I began to study the adrenal glands, I, like so many others, thought they were only involved in the “fight or flight” reaction. I imagined that we really only make demands on them when we are in crisis or are undergoing extreme emotional stress. This is bad enough, as many of us live lives that move from one crisis to another, but we ask more of these glands than I knew.
The truth of the matter is that this part of our endocrine system is tasked with maintaining balance in our body. This means that anything that causes an adjustment in the smooth running of our internal works must make a demand on the adrenals. When we stand up quickly, our adrenals are tasked with ensuring that hormones are released to increase blood pressure to our extremities. When the temperature changes, when our thought-life becomes angry or depressed, when our blood sugar drops because we forgot lunch, all of these situations demand something in our body to step up and attempt to regain equilibrium. That, my friends, is a responsibility that lands squarely on the shoulders of the two glands that sit on top of our kidneys.
Currently, our culture is not geared toward optimal health of our adrenals. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for us to experience peace in our bodies: We eat on the run or not at all; traffic jams cause unreasonable anger; and we glory in how much we can sacrifice our health and comfort for our careers.
What to do?
There’s a class of herbs called adaptogens that are specific to helping the body to handle stress. Adaptogens include herbs like eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), but the unfortunate thing is that many of these herbs can be difficult for the home gardener to grow on their own.
There is one very beautiful plant that just about anyone can grow and use for the health of their adrenals. The fuzzy leaves and cheery blue blooms of borage (Borago officinalis) are the perfect tonic. In fact, borage is also a well-known mood lifter. The texture is a bit funny, but if you get past that I think you’ll find that this is an herb that you can truly love. Both the leaves and blooms can be used in salads, and the delicate, blue flower can be used to decorate baked goods or drinks for friends.
As I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t need an adrenal boost, so why not add this plant to your garden plans? We grow it all over the place. It’s an excellent companion to strawberries and tomatoes, and it’s an annual that’s easy to direct-seed. In fact, it tends to re-seed itself and will appear in new places throughout your gardens year after year.