Note: This post was previously published here as a part of my freelance work.
Jennifer Capozzi is an inspiration. After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as a child, she set off on a long exploration of managing her illness via holistic approach. Currently, she assists individuals to support them on their own personal journey toward a plant-based holistic lifestyle. Her work is tailored to the individual client, addressing personal needs and helping them gain a clear understanding on how they want to feel; not just physically, but emotionally and energetically. Her method incorporates avenues of seasonal foods — crafting recipes, implementing herbs blends, and creating unique adornment rituals with medicinal essential oils.
If you are interested in working with Jen and live in the Philadelphia area, be sure to check out her workshop ‘Food As Medicine’ taking place at Greensgrow Farms on Saturday, April 9th. She & Greensgrow have been so kind as to extend a 20% off promo code for anyone interested in signing up. Just enter fp20%off49 (case sensitive) at checkout.
If you’d like to work with Jenn and do not live in the Philadelphia area, please reach out via email (email@example.com).
What started this “food as medicine” journey for you personally?
When I was sixteen I experienced what some physicians consider a ‘perfect storm’ — traumatic stress, in conjunction with having one too many vaccinations administered within a short time period, which resulted in what is now termed ‘non-hereditary rheumatoid arthritis.’ My onset was also a rare occurrence — 18 years ago, it did not exist in the medical world. I was not able to actually begin any form of relative treatment for RA until I was 21. By that point I had only 40% range of motion and full deformities in my hands not to mention decreased liver function. I was put on a cocktail of chemotherapy drugs, immune-suppressant injections and a heavy duty anti-inflammatory, along with physical therapy 5 days a week. By 23 I almost lost my liver from the meds, most of my hair fell out and I threw up every time I had to get an injection. By my late 20s I had exhausted every pharmaceutical drug combo and nothing was working to manage my RA. I kept looking for answers. I knew that there had to be a way to heal my body, not to deplete it through conventional medicine.
What was exceedingly helpful as I began researching and trying out different herbs, nutrients and diet options was becoming gluten-free and vegetarian, which helped tremendously with decreasing inflammation, but brought to the surface a bigger issue that is overlooked in our healthcare system, which is addressing the pain, depression and anxiety that comes along with such a terrible disease. Through this process of sampling various pharmaceutical meds and quickly experiencing their numerous side effects, I started to ask my body what it really needed in order to feel better. I had already cultivated an awareness of how my diet effected my RA positively, so each step brought be closer and gave me more insight, I believed that there had to be a better way. Thus jumping both feet first onto the path of weaving together herbal medicine, seasonal diet and the universe serving up (just in time might I add) the desperately needed resource of medicinal grade essential oils, I truly began the healing process. Essential oils were a key aspect in not only supporting my immune system but, more importantly, helped me address and work through the depression and anger that ensues from being in a state of chronic pain. I started studying with an herbalist as well as pursuing my certification for medicinal essential oil practitioner. I knew that there had to be the right recipe that would repair my body.
As a woman who has dealt with — quoting my rheumatologist here — one of the worse cases of RA he has ever seen (he cried on my 30th birthday because he honestly did not think I would live this long) – speaks volumes to the power of plant medicine and one’s own determination and will to not let conventional medicine be the only course of treatment. I chose a different route and I would not be here if I didn’t fight for a better life and a different option – one where I am empowered, confident, in tune with and happy to be present in this body and excited to see repair as I age…rather than choosing to accept and believe that my only future would be riddled full of joint replacements, drugs and ultimately a wheelchair. There is always another option, that road is not always the easiest, but I am forever grateful that I chose this route. I wouldn’t be here nor would I have found what I love if I had not believed there was a way to heal.
What are some big misconceptions that you’ve debunked along the way?
Calorie-counting and that the latest food trend is always just a fragment of a larger picture. Superfoods and supplements can have a place and time, but it’s never a cure-all. It’s all about working in concert with how your body is feeling and responding to what you are eating. Lastly, that not every essential oil or herbal tincture is created equal. Do your research. Get to know the practices and people crafting these medicines and ask yourself if it resonates with your body and your beliefs.
If you were to recommend that our readers make one swap in their diet, what would it be?
The greatest swap I would say is to expand your container and join a CSA. This act alone is a promise to yourself, that you are worth the commitment and it challenges you to try new recipes, get creative and, most of all, to become in tune with what it means to truly eat seasonally. Reconnect to the land. It speaks volumes to choose to swap out your carrots from a chain grocery store (which were shipped a great distance to even get there) with carrots from your local farmer. This is the most effective way to invest in nourishing and supporting yourself, by investing and nourishing your local community. There is something that resonates deeply by engaging with our food through local farms, CSA’s and farmers’ markets — we get to know our farmers, we can ask questions about their methods, we can gain a tremendous amount of insight through these interactions, which ultimately lead us to having a better appreciation of where our food really comes from.
What are some of your favorite plants/herbs for good health?
I could seriously sing songs about kale — it is one of my favorite greens to eat! Kale is high in fiber and iron. As a vegetarian, it has been a key element in my diet to keep my red blood cell count and iron in balance. Not to mention it just makes me happy.
Stinging nettles is another green that is wonderful if you can procure some fresh nettles (just make sure you have some thick gardening gloves on), you can sauté them in coconut or olive oil, incorporating them into any meal in place of spinach or other green. Nettles are high in iron, potassium, calcium, vitamin A and C. This plant has been such a help to me in managing my RA to help remove uric acid from my system, which causes inflammation. Nettle tea is one of my favorites. It’s simple, yet addresses so many internal body systems — kidneys, urinary tract, digestion, circulation — flushing out toxins while nourishing each organ as it passes through. When each of these body systems are supported and operating at optimal capacity it promotes radiant skin, we can absorb nutrients efficiently and our bodies can assimilate them appropriately. Nettle tea is wonderful hot or cold. I love serving my nettle tea with a dollop of raw honey…a few pieces of fresh ginger and a spoonful or coconut oil served hot!
Who are some figures in wellness industry that you look to for inspiration and knowledge?
I am constantly inspired by so many people! Being here in Philadelphia and having such an incredible resource like Greensgrow Farms has been one of the key lifelines in my business, sourcing beautiful seasonal and local produce that allows me to in turn, craft nourishing foods for my clients. I am fortunate enough that many of these farmers, herbalist and chefs I have met along my own journey have become my friends. One of whom, Matt Volz who runs Greyrock Farm in my hometown of Cazenovia, NY continues to inspire me. Matt has integrated some old farming methods, utilizing draft horses to work the 200+ acres, producing some of the most gorgeous fruits and vegetables a girl has ever seen. The farm share Matt has put together is one of the most well-rounded offerings I have seen, each item is outstanding in its own right — raw milk, breads made from local grains, fermented foods, grass -fed beef, pork and chicken from the farm. I think most folks have this idea that farm life is a simple life. It is in the fact that we get back to the basics, but in order to achieve that it takes a tremendous amount of conscious and consistent effort to keep that vision clear and in focus, not to mention a passionate commitment to that lifestyle. Every time I go home, I stop by Greyrock before I head back to Philly. It’s a reminder to myself to keep my vision clear.
Deb Soule from Avena Botanicals has always been such an inspiration to me… She is a legend in biodynamic farming and that energy shines through in her herbal products. If you ever find yourself in Rockport, Maine, do yourself a favor and stop by to see Deb and her incredible herbal gardens. She pours so much sacred love and ritual into cultivating her herbs.
One of my favorite blogs for the past few years has been My New Roots by Sarah Britton. Her blog has been immensely helpful to me on my own journey. Sarah has this natural way of story telling and how her daily practices inspire her to take certain comfort foods and reinvent them into a rejuvenating experience. Ultimately, this is what we all want when we eat, we are initially trying to satisfy our hunger, but, in peeling back that first layer of the onion, we are also trying to satisfy our emotional need to be comforted and supported. All food has an energetic aspect to it — when we consume certain items, an internal conversation takes place. We just need to tune into that dialogue.
What does “free” mean to you?
“Free” to me is being able to move through life fully present, not bound by the stories of my past, but able to enjoy my current moment. Curating daily life with a clear intention that connects me with how I truly want to feel and my heart’s desires. Most of all, “free” to me is living life guided by my intuition, not by what I ‘should do’ or imposed expectations or thoughts, but my own. Intuition is being in tune with each part of ourselves — mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Being in nature, I am grounded and in awe of the immense possibility that surrounds me. It is that energy that consistently reminds me to keep going, to let go of the fear of forging my own path, rather take a cue from the landscape around me, there is always another way. The path less traveled can feel insurmountable, but keep climbing, trust your intuition — the view is always worth the trek. . . enjoy the journey, be open to wherever it leads.
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