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Jaunts: in and around Ventura County | VENTURA COUNTY

Herbal Comforts

Women's health walk will explore the medicinal uses of native plants.


Stroll into the hills behind Ojai and as you go high enough to take in the sweeping views of the green valley below, thoughts of menopause or PMS are probably the furthest things from your mind, even if you're a woman.

But when herb experts Lanny Kaufer and Amanda McQuade Crawford head for the hills around this mountain-ringed town, they see a whole pharmacy of natural remedies for hormonal ups and downs, and whatever else ails you.

On Saturday, they'll lead a women's health herb walk into Los Padres National Forest where they'll identify and talk about medicinal plants for hot flashes, breast tenderness and other female discomforts.

The mile or so leisurely walk, which begins behind Thacher School at the east end of the Ojai Valley, runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a lunch break on the trail.

Kaufer and Crawford are hardly babes in the woods when it comes to herbs. For 21 years, Kaufer has been leading herb walks in the Ojai Valley, teaching people about the edible and medicinal native plants in the area. He helped found the Ojai-based Sunbow Ecology Center, which is sponsoring the Saturday herb workshop.

Crawford, an herbalist, splits her time between Ojai and New Mexico. In Albuquerque, she started and co-directs the National College of Phytotherapy. ("Phyto" means plant.) In Ojai she opened and runs the Ojai Center of Phytotherapy. A Vassar graduate, she studied at Britain's School of Herbal Medicine.

Although not a medical doctor, Crawford wrote a book last year titled, "The Herbal Menopause Book" (The Crossing Press; $16.95). She'll be at Local Hero Bookstore in the downtown Ojai Arcade for a book signing Monday at 7:30 p.m.

In the book, she explains what happens during menopause, hits the pros and cons of hormone replacement therapy, and devotes most of the book to use herbs for easing menopausal discomforts and problems such as erratic menstrual cycles, mood swings, depression, night sweats, heart disease and osteoporosis.

The book includes a dictionary of herbs, what they are used for, when they shouldn't be used, and how to prepare teas and tinctures from the herbs. She provides herbal recipes with lyrical names that combine several herbs to treat problems.

"Engine cooler" and "Cool as a Cucumber Tea" are herbal concoctions--chasteberry seed, motherwort herb and dong quai root to name a few of their ingredients--that ease hot flashes and night sweats during menopause.

"We don't consider menopause to be a disease," Crawford said. "It's a normal life passage." While hormonal supplements may be appropriate for some women, she says, others can weather these times with natural approaches like herbs, improved nutrition and exercise.

While the medical community has been lukewarm about herbal remedies, interest is picking up, according to Crawford. "Patients coming are already taking alternative (remedies). Doctors want to take classes."

Herbs have a good safety record, but Kaufer and Crawford caution against dabbling in medicinal herbs without taking classes, reading books, going on herb walks with someone skilled in identifying plants, or seeing an herbalist.

"It's an art and a science," Kaufer said. It's tricky identifying a plant from a picture. Some herbs have side effects, some shouldn't be used during pregnancy, and others can cause an allergic reaction.

Once you learn about herbs and how to spot them, it's fun and economical to pick your own, Kaufer said. Freshly gathered wild plants are much more potent than store-bought herbs, he said.


Lanny Kaufer and Amanda McQuade Crawford will lead an herb walk Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cost is $45; preregistration encouraged; call 646-6281. Participants will meet at 8:30 a.m. at the Herb Garden, 109 Montgomery St., Ojai, to carpool to the trail at Thacher School, 5025 Thacher Road. Bring lunch, water, sunscreen and hat.

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