Herbalist, author, speaks in Pittsburgh
MoodtopiaIn Town for Private Event

Herbalist, author, speaks in Pittsburgh

Chana-Sara Silverstein offers advice and perspective.

Courtesy of Chana-Sara Silverstein
Courtesy of Chana-Sara Silverstein

What Ruth Westheimer did for sexuality, Chana-Sara Silverstein wants to do for moodiness. As for whether Silverstein will host a decade-long radio show, pen 40 books and star in a Sundance Film Festival documentary is yet to be seen, but Silverstein believes she is on her way.

Along her taboo-breaking trek, the New York City-based homeopath, lactation consultant, doula, master herbalist and mother of seven visited Pittsburgh last week for a private event in the South Hills. Prior to the engagement, she spoke about mood with high school students at Yeshiva Girls School and explored the topic in a separate conversation with the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

Life presents a cycle of emotions, but certain feelings can be tamed, explained Silverstein. Whether it is through the employment of plants or aromatherapy, rearranging a space or choosing to wear particular colors, various strategies exist for combatting moodiness, she said.

Silverstein, the author of the recently published book “Moodtopia,” is a big believer in herbs.

“You’ve got a teenage girl who’s getting her period. She is a grump. She is kvetchy. She is moody. Give her a little motherwort. Give her a little bit of linden. Give her a little bit of oats. She’s going to be able to handle that transition a little bit better,” said Silverstein. Similarly, for older women experiencing menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes or
who are “grumpy and short-tempered,” take a little herb [to] ease the transition.”

Silverstein’s path to public herbal advocacy began nearly 20 years ago when she started as a lactation consultant (she’s helped more than 25,000 babies breastfeed). For patients with regular urinary tract infections, Silverstein suggested “herbal mixes to help stimulate their immune system.” The recommendations worked, and through word of mouth, her practice grew, she said.

“I never pooh-poohed Western medicine. I would say, ‘Let’s get a sonogram of your sinuses. Let’s get a culture. Let’s get a blood test to check what your white count is.’ So nobody felt like I was like just the alternative voodoo type,” she said.

Aspects of Silverstein’s professional journey are recounted in her book, as is her daughter’s harrowing tale. Two hours after Silverstein’s daughter experienced numbness in her arm, the otherwise healthy 26-year-old became a quadriplegic. Weeks of hospitalizations and tests revealed Silverstein’s daughter had transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord.

“They didn’t know what it was from,” said Silverstein.

When doctors finally decided Silverstein’s daughter should be transferred from the hospital to a nursing home for permanent residence, Silverstein refused due to the recommended institution’s lack of sufficient physical or occupational therapies. Thus began a battle between Silverstein, medical professionals, elected officials and hospital executives. While Silverstein spent her days as a patient advocate, evenings were dedicated to sneaking in acupuncturists, massage specialists and craniosacral therapists.

“Everyone was coming in at 10 o’clock at night. This is at NYU,” said Silverstein. “Oh, I was so bad. They kicked me out every day.”

Prior to this experience, Silverstein had written a book proposal for “Moodtopia.” No one bit. Silverstein realized what she needed in her own life was what she planned to put in print, so she adopted a particular attitude. She put a large sign on her daughter’s hospital door saying, “You cannot enter if you’re not happy and smiling.” She moved wires, machines and furniture in order to amplify her daughter’s view. She postered walls with photographs and art, and placed live plants and cut flowers to offset the previously drab space.

She also sprayed essential oils throughout the room “because I didn’t want my daughter smelling death and blood,” she said. “What happened was we became a conversation piece, and the nurses would visit us more because we smelled great. And my daughter ended up getting better care because we were a positive place.”

Four years later, Silverstein’s daughter has defied medical odds and now walks with a cane.

The story accounts for a small portion of the book and only “about three minutes” during a public talk because the purpose is not to host “a pity party, it’s an empowering party,” said Silverstein.

Whether in the case of her daughter or the numerous clients she has assisted through the years, Silverstein recognizes her place in the process. “God’s the ultimate healer. Not me,” she said.

Still, she added, “We’re not in control of what happens to us in life, just how we will respond.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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