Nettles and Dandelion Flower Beltane Blessed Home Brew Beer
Happy Beltane Beautiful! Awoke feeling the need to create and thinking why not celebrate Beltane by making something new to embrace the deeply rooted symbolism of fertility long honored at this holiday time? We're wearing our bee keeping gloves, perfect with their long sleeves, to harvest this prickly one or I just can't get any help around here due to her stings!
Nettles (Urtica dioica) is absolutely an amazing superfood and a tonic for all ages and conditions. Keep your eyes open for it growing wild. I 'sort of' cultivate it as well by planting in wild places on our property. Be warned, it has mint-like tendencies toward being invasive so take a moment to think about where she can run wild and will it affect your neighbors? Not all people love Nettles but I do believe if they get to know this one, most cannot help but fall in love!
Nettles is so mineral rich that it benefits from a long steeping period (8 to 12 hours) before straining to extract all the goodness. Think of it this way, we move rocks out of the garden beds. It takes a bit more time for 'minerals' to move out of plant material too. Fresh nettles provides the best flavor for fermentation, although you can definitely make beer from dried nettles. However, be careful. While it is pretty much impossible to make a too-strong herbal infusion from the fresh herb due to the water contributed by being fresh, you can overdo it with the dried. Measure well. Fermentation, like baking and cheese and bread making, asks this of us. As we practice we get that intuitive knowing more developed.
I'm coming from the perspective that you have either fermented before or are of the jump in to try new things anyway type and will do a bit of research first. Cleanliness is very important. I usually re-cycling flip top Grolsch beer bottles from any beer supply stores. You can get them for the deposit of 5 cents each. Or any beer bottle cleaned well of labels and residues will do but you need to invest in metal caps and a capping device if you don't have the flip top kind. Do not use wine bottles as they explode like bombs and we lost them all, but the champagne bottles worked great! We had a dirt flow basement and began cheering each time one exploded for the Earth as we learned the hard way.
To sanitize bottle and working equiment, I prefer to rinse all bottles and lids with a strong antimicrobial Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) infusion which has a rich history in beer making a well, Some use a bleach solution but this has many environmental issues around it washing into our Earth and residues making it into our bodies. I shy away from the commercial cleaners they offer too. Not sure what it is. Stephen Buhner offered this tip in his great book, Sacred Herbal Healing Beers, which offers an anthropological walk through time with humans and our fermentation practices.
1 pound fresh nettle (Urtica dioica) leaf or up to 8 ounces dried nettles
1 good handful of dandelion flowers - (gives some added hypnotic loveliness)
1 gallon water
1-2 ounces fresh grated ginger root (Zingiber officinale)
2 organic limes (what i have) but lemons work great too - get organic
1 pound brown sugar or quality imported brown cane sugar you can find
Beer Yeast per package instructions for 1 gallon*
*we small batch here in 1 gallon glass fermenting jugs. Gives me more variety over time. They're easy to find on-line with beer yeasts unless you have a local fermenting supplier shop.
We'll be loading the fermenting jug tonight and then 'waking up' the yeast in that sacred honoring sort of way. More pics to come as we progress through. See below for some helpful tips we follow. Fermentation is a dance with the forces of the moment and if lucky we can catch a bit of the magic in each bottle. Enjoy and may your day be blessed, worries few, and may you create something beautiful in honor of Beltane. xo- Jen
On-going Herbal Journeys at ElderMoon School
15% Class Discount until midnight tonight is still in place!! Use Code: ELDERMOON15
Live class begins this month, May 27, 2017. On-line classes, councils, and lodges are start anytime.
Afterthoughts: Tips for Success with Fermenting in our small batch way ...
Coltsfoot - Tussilago farfara
Coltsfoot has a bit of a different rhythm than most spring beauties around here and gives us some visual depth and relief from the varying shades of winter's predominant shades of grey. Love grey but so welcome other colors! It's a low-growing perennial with fleshy, woolly leaves and is a member of the Asteraceae (daisy) family, Coltsfoot produces a single golden-yellow flower head with no surrounding leaves. It's among some of first blooms in spring, before much greenery has jumped up. You'll find it among rocky moist places and rises only about 6-8 inches in height, though once the leaves emerge, it can get a bit taller. As the flowering stem dies, the hoof-shaped green leaves begin to appear. Yes, a different way than most plants.
Yes, there's some good strong medicine here but did you know there's edible parts? Coltsfoot flowers can be eaten and tossed into salads to add a wonderful aromatic flavor and color. These nibbles help us get in rhythm with the season as we march forth to our busier time of year. Shy away from road side harvesting for all the obvious reasons of nasty runoff. While it grows roadside frequently, the best way to seek it is to consider rocky stream bed edges. When I lived in Phoenica, NY we had none on our side of the Esopus creek but you would find me wading across the stream, always cold and sometimes waist deep, with a basket held on top of my head to gather from a massive patch directly across the water. I couldn't resist their waving little faces in the sun, even with painful water temperatures! Definitely makes one hardy.
Medicinal Parts & Preparations
"Recovery from orthopedic injury, and to increase flexibility.
Coltsfoot offers a road map for repair and recovery from any orthopedic injury or challenge as it holds much helpful information about our bones, muscles and the realm of movement in our physical bodies. It also helps us with flexibility in the physical body as well as in our attitude towards all change. Coltsfoot also helps us more easily revise and expand our definition of reality as new truths come to us." - Green Hope Farm
Watch for 'Common Name' Confusion: The common name is Coltsfoot, latin name Tussilago farfara, and these pics will help you seek the right plant. There is also a 'Coltsfoot' known as Western Coltsfoot or Butterbur, latin name Petasites palmatus which looks very different and is a completely different plant. Just a heads up to clear any confusion if you're searching the web for information and live where both grow.
Dosing is Everything
When researching Coltsfoot you will see many warnings due to the (pyrrolizidine alkaloid) compounds that give this plant its healing edge when things are serious in the respiratory system. It's usually worded something like this, "Despite serious safety concerns, people take Coltsfoot for lung problems such as bronchitis, asthma, and whooping cough (pertussis). They also take it for upper respiratory tract complaints including sore mouth and throat, cough, and hoarseness." This compound is found in Comfrey leaf as well and you may be aware of all the concerns surrounding Comfrey? Ease your concerns and avoidance tactics with the stronger medicine plants and come learn the wise medicine ways. We need the stronger plants but we also need to know how to dose safely. Most of the bad media is from improper dosing. The same is true for improper dosing of acetaminophen, as you will go into an unstoppable liver failure with what many see as a safe medication when taken incorrectly. Here at ElderMoon School we covered Comfrey in depth to eliminate confusion and walk strong with our stronger medicines in our Monthly Herbalists Councils, open to all so do check them out, For now let's speak of wise ways with Coltsfoot.
First thing to remember, Coltsfoot is not a tonic designed for long term dosing. We take this plant for acute health situation of the lungs, as mentioned and quoted correctly above. This means we take an infusion, tincture, or syrup/elixir for a couple of weeks to get through an acute situation with the respiratory system. You would not take this regularly for chronic lungs issues, such as COPD, asthma, sarcoidosis of the lungs, lung cancer, and emphysema, to name a few. So let's choose one to break this down a bit. Let's look at the epidemic we have around asthma. Listed above as a condition to take Coltsfoot, it would be wise to take for a few weeks for an acute flareup of the chronic condition. So think of it this way, such as with hyper-reactivity of the lungs (which looks like increased asthmatic episodes) in response to a flu. This happens for my son. I know when a virus has landed in his body because the asthma symptoms flare sometimes two days prior to any other symptoms and I start to treat for the flu preemptively. Should it come and settle deeper into his lungs then I treat directly with Coltsfoot a week or two. Make sense?
Here's another example: If someone has sarcoidosis of the lungs (an inflammatory disease that affects multiple organs in the body, but mostly the lungs and lymph glands), then they would take Coltsfoot for a few weeks for an acute flareup or complication that started because they have an underlying chronic condition. Let's say they got pneumonia. The Coltsfoots is meant to address the acute situation of pneumonia with strong medicine for short term dosing. The person with the chronic lung condition can take other tonifying respiratory plants on a long term basis to address the underlying chronic condition and this tactic strengthens their resistance over all.
Much of the lousy media around certain plants happens when people are desperate for a cure of a chronic condition, think "Hey, it's a plant so it has to be safe no matter what.", and then diagnose, dose and treat themselves incorrectly with a medicine plant that traditionally treats acute conditions.
Does this makes sense? Do send questions so we can dispel the lousy media and walk with solid wise choices for when we are sick by knowing the strong medicine plants well, along with safe dosing.
Dosing with Coltsfoot is Simple:
For Adults take the Infusion 1 cup 3-4x/day; Tincture 1/4-1/2 teaspoon 3-4x/day; Honeys, Syrups, Elixirs, Vinegars, and Oxymels are taken by the tablespoonful every 2-4 hours or as needed. These doses can be taken for up to 2-3 weeks but most will many will barely need two weeks of treatment for lung ailments of the acute type like respiratory flu or cold, bronchitis, pneumonia, and chelation of something inhaled that is noxious leaving congestion and coughing. Whooping cough (pertussis) will need a full three weeks as it tends to be quite persistent. Then switch to others such as Mulein leaf and Elecampane root for longer treatment. Do not exceed three weeks with Coltsfoot on these doses. Always consider other therapies, lifestyle changes, and diet to support respiratory health.
I have given Coltsfoot to all three of my children, as well as guided mothers and fathers in my community for decades now on when and how to take this plant so please ignore the exaggerated warnings - 'never give to children' that are made by people who do not know this plant well. Consider the child's weight and reduce the dose accordingly and give to children older than one that need respiratory help. It is safe for short term dosing as described. Children under one, I love to treat with Chamomile always. Bathe them in it and watch miracles happen!
Coltsfoot is also found in many well made herbal cough drops so once a child is able to manage a cough drop they can have these too.
Coltsfoot Smoke Blends
Inhaling burning plants is nothing new to humans, You will find some people who enjoy blends that have Coltsfoot added, and some people waft the smoke in a home where there are colds and flus to help settle the lungs much the way White Sage and Mullein leaf are burned. A small amount of gently wafted smoke near someone who is sick provides antimicrobial and antispasmodic properties quickly and efficiently to the lungs. Seems counter-intuitive, yes, if your thinking of it like a cigarette. Rolling and smoking when sick is not the best or intended way. Think gentle wafting of the smudge-like burned smoke for quick assistance. While this is not my favorite way to work with Coltsfoot, I do have the leaf in smudging blends for clearing the air, particularly when airborne microbes are attempting to survive in my home.
Coltsfoot & Thyme Cough Syrup
May your explorations of Coltsfoot be rich and beautiful as we lean into our wild plants for walking strong these days. xo- Jen
Hello Beautiful One. Happy Spring Equinox to you. I delivered a turkey carcass to the wild animals last night and stood in my garden, that has two feet of snow. Thank you for the water! It's my time to whisper to the sleeping but stirring roots and seeds of plants I'm longing pretty deeply for this time of year. Our beloved wood stove, considered a family member here, is still blazing away and such a blessing. My beautiful southern friends are posting Magnolia and daffodil flowers and my whole body wants to crawl through the pic to just peer into the flowers and sit in the sun with them in receptive pose. It's coming, I know. Our bodies know this too and stir as the roots and seeds do. Tiny shimmies and shakes are happening. Can you feel it?
So what is your body saying?
Maybe all is great. Or maybe you've noticed yourself struggling with frequent colds or flus this late in the season, digestive discomfort and GI system trouble, skin outbreaks or mysterious rashes, deep fatigue that comes over you rapidly, cobra dancing with feeling depressed, anxious, or angry with mood swings, sleep trouble, or maybe menstrual irregularity for us women? Our bodies begin the spring cleaning now on the metabolic level and we can join in and help with a few simple remedies from your new or expanding home apothecary. Here's a few herbal and food-as-medicine ideas to support the full swing of Spring.
Medicinal Roots Still Rule
While we need the roots to prepare for winter, we also lean on them for leaving winter and preparing for spring. The following formula is an old favorite of mine but working with any one of these root medicines will do. The body needs a medicine that can dig down deeper into not only our tissues, but also our complicated physiology and psyche, which may also be a bit complicated these days. Taking this 'Hepatic Holy Trinity' formula is a beautiful yet simple master plan for us folks learning to slow down more so we can work and play our lives in a different way. Finding a new rhythm, yes, can look like listening to the cycles of Nature. We all welcome the grounding medicine of the roots too as we release what is no longer needed and strengthen our readiness for the increased activity of the season ahead. Preparation and deep rest with supportive plants is part of the medicine. There are many activities in life that require similar care 'before and after'. Working with winter on many levels and the medicine of the North on the medicine wheel is included in this. Keep this formula in your medicine bag for support down the road.
Hepatic Holy Trinity Formula
This simple formula supports eliminations, digestion, liver and gall bladder health, renal function, and the recycling of hormones for the endocrine system to support sleep and hormonal shifts that are synchronized and smooth. I have found this to be particularly helpful with eliminating excessive systemic estrogen as well, an epidemic in our culture due to many causes that are more than 'menopause'. It's not just for women anymore.
1 part each of Dandelion root, Yellowdock Root, and Burdock root.
-Tincture fresh or died fall dug roots are perfect and these three are usually found growing near each other. Dried root is fine to tincture as well if that is all you have access to. Since a tincture takes at least 2 months to get ready, see the next option.
- If you don't have these in house then purchase a 1 ounce tincture of each and mix them together and take until the bottle is gone.
- Making a decoction with dried roots is easy and may be more cost effective. Purchase 2 ounces of each and mix together in a glass jar and label. Add 2-3 tablespoons to a quart of simmering water and simmer with lid ajar for 20 minutes. Cool a bit and enjoy. Continue for a few weeks until the herbs are gone. Store the decoction in the refrigerator and warm on stove each day for your dosing.
- Try making a spring tonic syrup with the dried herbs. (link below on how)
Dosages: as a tonic take two droppersful (60 drops or ¼ tsp) tincture 1-3x/day; 6-8oz. root decoction per day; 1-2 tablespoons syrup per day. I take the higher doses. Take at night a few hours after food intake. Go to bed early.
Food as Medicine
This formula and variations of it are well known and very easy and efficient for supporting the Liver and Gall Bladder, particularly during seasonal shifts. The recipe is basically a delicious salad dressing and has a wonderful refreshing effect upon the Liver and Gall Bladder. One can drink it periodically as a Liver/Gall Bladder tonic or taken every day for a week as part of a Liver & Gall Bladder flush prior to or after fasting or for tuning up through the seasonal changes. When I prepare for plant dieting and spiritual retreat I will enjoy this for about a week prior. Plan to drink it in the evening or when you’re settling in for the night as this is “rest and digest” food. I make sure I have an empty stomach or haven’t eaten in at least 4 hours. I absolutely love this formula and have enjoyed this for decades now. Not all medicine has to be horrible tasting.
Liver & Gall Bladder Flush
A Short Laundry List
Other supportive ideas for embracing what 'appears' to be a slow spring:
Now lists are just that, lists. This one does not require that we do everything, which could be quite enjoyable but yes, hard to execute. Choose one edible support idea and one pleasurable external idea if that seems easier to embark upon. You can always pick more as long as the stress factor is reduced. You get it.
What else works for you? I love hearing about other delicious ways to support this seasonal shift we crave. We're in this together. Thank you for sharing.
May your journey be safe and beautiful. xo-Jen
Is this your year to engage your inner herbalist?
Take a leap just for you. I did and I'm venturing into a new part of the music world and it's hard and sometimes I find myself shying away from my study time. Getting back on path is a regular practice for us all, right? Here's to trusting you and putting your whole self into it!
Discount 10% Through 3/31/17 Happy Equinox!
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The Great Mother Plant
Let's visit White Sage, or Sacred Sage, Bee Sage, Ceremonial Sage, or Salvia apiana. These are the most common ways to address her by name. She is akin to the 'Great Mother' and has that quality of clearing, protecting, healing, and nourishing that we often associate with mothering.
She has the most delicious smelling, aromatic, silvery-green, soft yet firm leaves. Her leaves are widely recognized as a cleansing herb, to purify the mind, body, and sacred space by dispelling negativity and unwanted, unsettled energies. She also supports purifying sacred items and tools, can be carried in a small medicine pouch or even a pocket to ensure personal and spiritual safety, and brought into ritual and ceremony for manifestation, healing and connection to the divine.
Did I lose you with the 'she'? Yes, being a scientist, herbalist, and medical professional that willingly, openly, even ecstatically, anthropomorphizes Nature, happens. It’s actually how I connect for the deeper lessons Nature has for me. Science can become a barrier sometimes with its dependency on only that which can be measured. Each has it’s place in supporting learning is how I see it. Besides, where do the scientists get their 'hunches' anyway? So bear with me on this if it offends or challenges in any way.
Here are some more thoughts about this plant that is struggling to survive our thirst for these properties she gives so easily along with safe tips for taking her into your body.
This writing can be considered a “plant profile’ for those of you building an apothecary and are currently in herbal studies with me or elsewhere. My hope is it's just a good read to keep us all at the same table with how to support ourselves in finding our medicine but to also support the continued existence of White Sage. Yes it's being challenged with over-harvesting by humans.
So let's begin with the leaves of this plant which as I said are a silvery-green, and if you rub the fresh leaves between your palms, a refreshing, hypnotic, deeply cleansing, and relaxing scent is released. Now cup your hands over your nose and mouth and inhale deeply. You can do with dried leaves as well by just rubbing on gently. There’s nothing like it and I think maybe time pauses when we do this! At least it feels that way and I would definitely agree that this is one plant that can bend our perception of time.
Our Native People of this land began the tradition of burning Sacred White Sage to ward off unwanted spirits and energies, and so it is a steady and true element in ceremonies and rituals for seeking blessings of health, prosperity and protection.
Sacred Sage can amplify any clearing and protective techniques that you already practice. As a plant, and a living being, White Sage also has a Spirit. The Spirit of this plant is dedicated to offering these blessings of protection, clearing and health and also supports the unraveling of DNA rooted diseases within lineages, be they physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. Their walk with White Sage did not stay with just burning for these reasons. As you will see there are many medicinal and nutritional benefits to taking this plant internally or applying externally that support health and healing.
White Sage - Getting To Know Her
Common Names: White Sage, Ceremonial Sage, Bee Sage, Sacred Sage
Latin Name: Laminacea Salvia apiana
Height: 3-4 Feet – but it can take 3 years to reach maturity. White Sage flower stalks will add two to five feet to the height and will have tiny ‘insignificant’ flowers that are dotted with lavender. Strict botanists actually label flowers as ‘insignificant’. It just means small but by no means are they insignificant to the herbalist (or the bees).
Hardiness: Perennial in Zones 7-11
Flower Color: Pale lavender
Other Characteristics: full sun, evergreen, silvery-colored, soft, slightly sticky when picked (resins) water conserving, hollow stemmed
Uses: Aromatherapy, Incense, Medicinal, Ornamental
Growing tips for the adventurous:
Native to the Southwest, White Sage loves dry conditions, especially in the winter. Over winter, whole stems may turn black and die if the ground becomes too water saturated. If the condition is prolonged the whole plant will die, and it can do so quite quickly. In its native southwest it's hard to water White Sage too much in the summer due to the dry conditions of the region, which is why it thrives there. But, in other areas where summer humidity is high, White Sage may be impossible to grow successfully. Try keeping it in a pot and know to water lightly and ONLY when dry.
Another option is to grow it as an annual.
I do this with Rosemary as well which is quite particular about temperature, moisture, light, and being moved around. During the blooming season, late April to early June, the bees flock to the plant and provide a gorgeous, vibrational-symphony for the garden. The stems break quite easily so plant in places away from areas where it might be bumped or have the hose dragged across it accidentally. It can recover but in her own time, maybe.
Growing it in a large container that is moved in and outside will help with high levels of humidity. Let it be dry. When moving the plant it's best to move from outside to a cooler place like a garage with light before moving inside. Drastic temperature changes with movement make this one very unhappy. The smell and aromatics will not be as potent in potted plants. I've tried and tried and notice that being in Earth is the best. Makes sense.
Let’s Talk Smudge Sticks
Some have long rants about smudge sticks. Disrespectful accusations of ‘new age’ and 'woo-woo’ fly around, as some partake in ridicule of ancient ways. If I were to walk back along the thread of DNA of each person’s lineage that behaved this way, I would find a grandmother that burned plants for spiritual connection and physical and emotional well being. Disrespecting where we are from is never my way. Finding ways to remain reverent in the face of disrespect is important work and a skill that we all must practice, yes.
Dropping deeply into the study of the incense world is a journey through time with plants and people together and I love this richly woven path we share. Burning plants for gentle inhalation is nothing new.
We humans have receptor patches deep in our sinuses that can deliver medicinal molecules that travel on the inhaled smoke or steam directly into our brains and through our capillary beds deep within our lungs (the slower route). This is one way to get the medicine in. I make my own loose incense and cones for much of what is out there is adulterated with toxic chemicals today and will make you truly sick since we have such direct routes into the body. Incense burning, or the burning of plants of any kind is rooted farther back than any written records of plants healing people. Through ancient writings we do have testimony of ‘positive changes in behavior, mood, and wellness’ when inhaling different plants that are burned. Maybe it began simple as prehistoric people threw cedar or juniper logs and twigs on a fire and then noticed how enjoyable the smoke was and they felt better?
Have you noticed that White Sage smudge sticks have been getting larger and larger over the years, as if bigger is better?
Here's what it looks like in my life around smudging tools: I have one small working White Sage at all times, along with a stick of Palo santo, another sacred and protected tree from South America, a stick of Osha root from our southwest, and my homemade smudge sticks with local aromatics I love to burn. This is plenty for my work and personal needs. Oh yes, and Rose and Neroli hydrosols for aromatic mists, currently. So know what you need. Gather your tools, even if only one, for this can be all you need. Please think about conservation of resources when honoring your medicine. Most of all, enjoy your work with these powerful plants.
If you feel the need to enjoy the smudge smoke, try burning a single leaf while in prayer or clearing energy. Burn White Sage thoughtfully for it is one our most sacred plants. I have a small jar of single leaves that have dropped here and there that I save for this way of simple smudging. I also offer as gifts to Nature, the elements, when I harvest medicine, tucked into prayer bundles, or whenever I’m inspired.
Safe Suggestions for Accepting The Medicine
It is one of my everyday plants, be it single leaf smudge, rubbing fresh leaves or follow below for other ways.
It’s a spirit plant deeply honored by our Native Americans. I love to drink it by putting a leaf in my cool water daily. There’s a calming effect that's not sedating like other plants. Better decisions come from us remaining calm in the process. It enhances any medicine you take and can protect you from the toxicity of many medicines too.
White Sage contains a compound called miltirone which scientists are finding to act like Valium to relieve anxiety. Eucalyptol is also present and is what we know comes from Eucalyptus and may give us hints into why White Sage is so antimicrobial.
There are many more that have been identified but I shy away from so much dissecting of a plant in an attempt to know it. So yes, we can all benefit from the support of these compounds taken in, especially these days, and this is available through the smudge inhaled gently or taken orally in very small doses. Why do we take it in? To keep calm. To stay reverent and in the moment. To honor our healing path which is multi-leveled. To bless our way and our space and tools. To repair our souls and coax it forth for a better expression of ourselves in our walk here on this Earth.
White sage is very powerful, so if you wish to brew a hot cup of tea to address a cold, or other condition, be it physical or soul level, prepare it this way:
Some believe that the essential oil of White Sage is too strong and so too dangerous and discourage use strongly in this form–not only for internal use, but external use as well, mixed into massage oils or spray mists. Others disagree. I love plant people with they're passionate opinions! Let respect rule among us. Here’s my take for decades now: Producing essential oil takes massive quantities of plant material and this plant is already becoming endangered due to over harvesting. Couple this with the fact that it's hard to grow. There are other options here too and other plants for smudge through mists that work well and are easier to grow. I do not support White Sage essential oil use because it's not sustainable.
This holds for any of the native plants, particularly with a threatened existence. Their properties do not need to be consolidated. I suggest stay with my favorite standard dosage is 1 leaf per day or less and only when truly needed.
Many sources say it should not be used 'medicinally' at all. I disagree. First we would need to define the word 'medicine'. My understanding is much broader than some. Many who know this plant well will adopt the ways of the ancients and learn how to be safe with conservation of the plant tended to as well. So yes, I do agree with being reverent and aware of your medicine. Find and know your medicine. Study a bit and keep the plant close in dried form for tea for drink or bathing or take as a tincture as you study. We learn far more by cultivating that closeness to a plant than keeping our knowledge of it only coming from a book or the internet. If a plant is threatened due to many factors, how will you act with this knowledge? What will you choose so you can be a part of the solution within the sustainable movement around a threatened medicine plant? And please release the ‘more is better’ mindset and dispel this where you can.
The Benefits When White Sage Is In Your Apothecary
All salvias have medicinal qualities. Culinary Sage, Salvia officinalis, makes fantastic medicine and is easy to walk with, especially if you’re just starting out with herbs. If you have access to White Sage, I’d encourage you to try the White Sage leaf in your water bottle, just to experience where that sort of relationship with a plant might lead you.
Here’s a quick overview of the medicinal properties of White Sage, Salvia apiana:
Yes, Now The Warnings:
When OVERUSED, meaning too frequent or in too high of a dose, there is a strong alkaloid compound known as thujone that could irritate the body. Strong medicine must have strong compounds in order to be considered strong. So there should be no surprises when the scientists find such compounds in a plant. In fact let's welcome this. So, too much of this compound will increase heart rate, cause mental confusion, lead to vomiting, restlessness, and kidney complaints.
Instead of feeding fear here, I am asking us to see the wisdom in knowing strong medicine so we can call on it when needed. Be wise. Keep your medicine close. Take it in and take it safely. Know it well in your mind AND your body and walk strong with it. Honoring White Sage....
1,000 Thank Yous for Your Support
Yes, it's that day again where we're all so full of many thoughts and feelings about endings and beginnings. What did we see go well. Yes, the sweet medicine! What was wobbly and needed shoring up. That would be the 'rooty medicine' for me. What failed beautifully? Yes, and gave us some bittersweet lessons to chew on. All good medicine is how I see it. I found the last quarter of the year to be a time of needing to coax my soul forward more than in the earlier part of the year. Going into hiding or subterranean mode is easy for the soul. But it's not what the world needs from us now. Somehow this took some tracking and a real honest look, as I found my footing and my voice as to why. I'm wondering what it was like for you?
As you walk towards this New Year 2017, may you follow that deeply woven thread of that which leads to thriving and flourishing with a dynamic, responsive, bold, and beautiful 'you' . Honor that flutter in the belly that is definitely the good ju-ju to drive your steps forward to that which you seek. Birth your unique gifts. Feed them well. This Earth needs you to do so, and surely it's why you're so blessed with them.
I'm offering a FREE seat to our 'Birthing an Herbalist in 13 Moons' on-line interactive course for 2017 AND a seat for the 'Becoming the Roots - Medicine Making Course' as part of my honoring for where I've been and where I'm heading with ElderMoon School. Support is outrageously given from Nature. Sometimes obviously so and sometimes in ways where we are asked to look with new eyes or from a slightly shifted angle. I pray your vision and sensing, your knowing and courage, your playfulness and ability to bless, as well as receive blessings, rises within you.
Follow the links for details for the courses and the FREE seat entry below- Keep It Simple - Do It Anyway - Trust. Let me know which course you're interested in or give me a bold 'BOTH' and I'll enter you in each. I'll be checking my email for entries in the wee hours of the morning and then complete the drawing as the Sun rises on our first day of 1/1/2017. Walking with you, boldly, into 2017. I get so intrigued and excited for this every year!!! May you some sweet good luck to jumpstart your New Year. xo-Jen
There's many reasons why this plant has circled the globe with us! Some plants will always walk close to people and this is definitely one of them.
Let's talk Chocolate
I have met only one person who did not like chocolate and one who was allergic in all of my travels. Have you ever pondered why this tropical plant's seeds are so popular and how places, like Switzerland who cannot grow Cacao, have become well known for their chocolate? Some plants have this ability to inspire humans to accomplish such feats. I've included a recipe for a powdered hot chocolate here that is becoming part of my gifting this year and just had to share the recipe because it's that good. Try it, I'm serious!
A quick peak at some of the benefits include:
That's just a few. More to share in another article later. Promise!
The darker the better is the caveat. Quality matters.
Cultivate a taste for the more bitter, quality made chocolate and you will find that you only need a small piece to satisfy that urge. Poor quality or milk chocolate makes us crave more because the body is looking for the medicine and nutrients which are basically diluted (or adulterated) in these forms. Hence, you have to eat more and more, which increases sugar and caloric intake. This is so not necessary so stick to fair trade, dark, and organic too. Yes, the bars are more on the cost side but actually less expensive on the health maintenance side of the equation. Supporting the families that work hard in the tropics with these indigenous plants deserve to get our global honoring too through supportive purchases. That makes for good medicine all around.
Cacao & Ishpingo Tree Replanting and Prayer Dedication Project
I'm heading to Ecuador in February 2017 to see my teacher Rocio Alarcon who is from the rain forest. She has planned a reforestation project in an area devastated by clear cutting and oil drilling to satisfy our oil hungry country that is destroying many things, one of which is the WATER. This was no small feet either as the government first wanted to plant grass and foreign trees. Rocio presented an impeccably sound ecological management plan for the same area that would serve the area better and it was accepted! We will be reintroducing two native tree species and one is Ecuadorian Cacao (...squealing with toes wiggling... excited is an understatement!). Why is this as important as getting away from oil? The rain forests are needed to maintain our global ecosystem. With 20% destroyed and 20% not functioning well, we have a dilemma. Replanting must happen along with seeking alternative lifestyles that are more energy efficient. It starts one tree at a time.
Should you wish to send prayers and dedicate a tree(s) to your family or any person, place, or cause...
I'm carrying my small Ecuadorian handmade bag from the women of this area with these small, private, sacred, paper, prayer bundles tried with string or twine that you prepare and contain your intimate prayers between you and the Earth Mother. They will be ceremonially dedicated to a tree(s) in honor of who you decide needs such dedicated prayers. The trees are $11 and grown by native women in Ecuador. If your heart calls for this, email me for my address and details (see below). I'm truly honored and so excited to be a part of this. Your name or place or cause will hang on a small tag in the middle of the rain forest in honor of your prayers that will either be buried with your tree(s) or burned in ceremony to release the prayers. Join me in making small actions ripple out for real change to grow.
OK Jen the recipe... Did I mention my favorite recipe for hot cocoa?
This makes a powdered hot cocoa mix without milk. You can add 1-2 tablespoons to warming cow, goat or coconut (my favorite!) milk for the best hot cocoa. The trick here, get the best quality ingredients you can find! It makes all the difference.
-* You decide how sweet but even with 2 cups it is not very sweet. Start with one cup and taste test before adding more. I like it more bitter. Maple granules are great too.
-Place all ingredients in the food processor and whirl until the chips are all finely ground.
-Find great bottles or use mason jars and make a home-made label (with all your known and easy to pronounce ingredients!)
- Add 1-2 tablespoons whisked into a mug-sized amount of warming milk of your choice until steaming hot. Pour and enjoy!
Cinnamon, Cayenne, and Cardamom are traditional additions but other spices can be added to your liking. I'm thinking about dripping some Sweet Orange Extract in my next batch! I also add to Lemon Verbena tea as I was taught by my teacher to drink at 6am on an empty stomach to get all the benefits of the cocoa.
Yes, a more detailed article about Cacao and cultivating intimacy with a tree even though it may not grow near us is coming. Consider this as part of your initiation process ;) The beauty about the plant world is that not all medicine has to be bad tasting, harsh, or hurt in some way. So grateful for this.
Much Love, Jen
ElderMoon School of Herbs
EMS has on-going Herbal Classes, on-line and in-person, to support the expanding desire among us to know the plants intimately as part of one's healthcare system for ourselves and loved ones. Deepening our relationship with the plants is where it all starts. 'Begin anyway' is our mantra. Have a look around and email if you feel called or have questions.
Tree Donations and Prayer Bundles for Ecuador? Email me directly for my address and details at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for supporting small businesses and grassroot projects world wide. Change does happen from our seemingly small efforts. It just may be the only way. xo-Jen
We have made the walk from water to earth many times as humans, yes? I think about how we came from the ocean as a species. We grow in a fluid inside our mother’s wombs similar in makeup to the ocean before we ever take our first breath. And we walk the Medicine Wheel each and every year from the water of the west in autumn to the earth of north in winter, until our very last breath. Every year. And it’s now. It seems so simple, and for me falls easily into being good medicine, to take in nourishment from a sea vegetable that grows in the rich mineral baths of our sweet oceans. Shoring up our reserves is the task here and seaweed from our original mother, the mother of us all, provides nourishment and supports restoration for the deep journey inward during winter where we are asked to crystallize our experiences and feelings into wisdom, all the while meeting the physical demands of colder weather, opportunistic microbes, and a culture that does not support slowing down and honoring such ways of being. We must do it anyway and support each other along the way. Seaweed is here and has been since our beginning, and embodies the support needed to make such a journey. I offer here some simple ways to work seaweed into your life as a practice of honoring this walk from the teachings of the west to the north, and from water to earth.
Kinds of Seaweeds in my Apothecary-Pantry
Sea vegetables spend their entire lives luxuriating in the world’s largest, oldest, most complete mineral bath. They soak it up and are among the richest sources of iodine, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, manganese, and all other trace minerals essential to the growth and repair of our bodies. Getting precise numbers for the mineral content of each variety is difficult because it varies based on the seaweed type, growing location, water temperature, water depth, climate, and season. Often the exact numbers our scientists want actually fall into ranges which make the rest of us happy.
My pantry and apothecary currently have: Kelp – (Macrocystis pyrifera) ‘Giant Kelp’ and (Nereocystis luetkeana) ‘Bull Kelp’, Winged Kelp (Alaria esculenta)
Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosis), Dulse (Palmaria palmata), Hiziki (Hizikia fusiforme), Kombu (Laminaria japonica)
The Quick List: Amazing Benefits of Seaweed
Our Daily Seaweed Vitamins
Have a look at the teaching video on making my daily Seaweed Vitamins that my students receive in Lesson 6 of the course 'Birthing an Herbalist in 13 Moons' at ElderMoon School of Herbs. Enjoy!
I grew up in quite a toxic environment among poorly raised apple trees on farms that sprayed often here in the Hudson Valley of New York. As a child we would play in the spray as if it was a sprinkler. Then drink and bathe in the well water and eat the fruit of these poorly mistreated trees. When I walked to the herbal medicine world in my early twenties it became so obvious that chelation of toxins from my tissues was a major task for me.
So I did my homework. I ditched commercial vitamin pills and decided that daily seaweed would start the process of release on the inside while I drastically changed the outside of my life to support a more chemical free footprint for myself and family. We are open systems with our natural world. We take in and excrete what is in Nature. Focusing on remaining open, discerning where and how I will live, and supporting eliminations has kept me from descending into the fear of illness based on such a childhood.
Gingered Carrots with Wild Atlantic Wakame
I leave you with a nourishing favorite from my kitchen. Wild Atlantic Wakame, also called Winged Kelp or Alaria is Alaria esculenta. It grows in thick beds on low surf-battered rock ledges and the company I love harvests by the tides of the full and new moon in early spring before the leaves of the trees have returned. It’s the most challenging seaweed to harvest due its remote locations near rocky islands off the coast of northern Maine. Delicate and easy to eat, I often encourage those new to seaweed to start with this one. It’s delicate in taste and texture and easy to work with.
ElderMoon School Current Offerings
Are you hearing the call to go deep with the plants? Me too. Always! Knowing the plants for healing is in our bones and is our original medicine system. This is the birth place of all other schools of medicine. Come learn how to incorporate simple remedies for yourself and loved ones. Most Courses are Discounted 15% through 11/30/16. Our Give Back: 5% of all course fees are donated to reforestation efforts in the rain forests directly through the smaller organizations of 'TreeSisters' and Rocio Alarcon of 'The Iamoe Center' in Ecuador. Together We Rise.
Walking deeper into Autumn is the calling of now. Some embrace this. Some resist. Truth is, it’s that time. What do your Autumn rituals look like that help prepare your body and spirit for the long nights and deep inner-workings of Winter? It's different for each of us. Moaning may be part it for some and this is a sort of self-soothing mantra that says, 'yeah, this is hard.' There are those bigger questions tossed on the table each year for review and a revisiting of old wounds and stories that seek easing through releasing. Here we are, walking again, to the watery west of the annual Medicine Wheel. What's coming up for negotiation deep on the inside? And what do we need to be getting okay with as this time of year teaches us about the cycles of things?
I'm feeling it: the getting okay with letting go. The getting okay with releasing. The getting okay with grieving a bit to flush the heart and soul. The getting okay with death...
We’re taught to be sun-worshipers. We're eternally encouraged to “let in the light”, “meditate", "sun-sip on the inhale" (drawing in the shards of light as we squint towards the sun), "vacation in the tropics", and "stay up" late with artificial lighting as a way to extend the daytime. So culturally we’re deeply in need of cultivating the desire to know and prepare for our journey into the dark, our time of restoration, our time of visioning and dreaming. It begins now with unloading what is no longer needed.
There are those among us who know and honor this. To name them is tricky. Categorizing people is something I've had to un-learn. Let's just say there are those who naturally tap into their ancient-self, their indigenous soul-self, the self that awakens their endocrine system for being the compass used to navigate the cyclic nature of things versus the brains desire to force life into a linear way only. These people often know darkness and the value of being able to navigate it well. They can vary greatly in age and are of all faiths and backgrounds. They know that death is a part of a larger cycle and to honor release and death is part of how life actually continues to jump up and be.
If your mind is set on the linear journey from birth to death, then winter can easily put you out of sorts. Do you catch yourself whining about the weather, or the microbial world that affords us chelation from our deep tissues, or the fact that it's dark at 5pm now for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere? I speak to this way of being because I too fall into the deep sighing when my body feels cold and everything seems to just take more energy.
Accepting death is not meant to be easy.
There is sorrow to navigate. Grieving is part of this too. Culturally speaking in our ultra-pasteurized and ultra-homogenized ways, we have forgotten how to make something beautiful and delicious that supports life out of our honoring death and grief. We are being asked to call on our deeper, wiser self for some indigenous soul resurrecting around how to honor time as a cyclic being and grief as an "enzyme of the soul that changes our sorrows to a life giving substance that changes us and supports flow and moving forward in life" (Martin Pretchtel, the Smell of Dust on Rain: Grief and Praise). This is what makes life delicious. This is what can help us change our attitude towards the darkening time of the year. Accepting death and grieving losses are also part of the ingredient list required for making that life supporting substance we all crave. And yes, working like this supports that deep sigh too, like a flower floating down a stream, it will support beauty wherever it flows.
So how do we honor Autumn as a way to honor grief and death as part of life?
We practice, practice, practice. Every year. We learn the art of letting go. We learn it from the trees and dying plants, the dropping of seeds, and from the stilling of the Earth as it draws vital energy down deep to prepare. We learn it from the quiet places in our hearts as we allow our tears to flow without question. We learn it from each other as we lean into those that offer assistance and bear witness without analysis and judgment. And we learn it from our ancestors, those who’ve gone before us that do return to support.
How do we prepare to move toward the darkness of Winter?
Our bodies will crave the benefits of sunlight. So give it a little extra love by being outside as much as possible without sunglasses. Fifteen minutes a day does the body good. The natural light through our eyes stimulates the pineal gland deep in our brain to synchronize or re-calibrate our bodies with the Sun and Moon for proper sleep and hormone washes through our blood that we need to be well. Consider moving up and down with the Sun and Moon. Have less and less light in your house each night ’til you get to the Winter Solstice, and then have no artificial light at all that day. This is how we honor cycles. It's considered a tall order for some but so is the lack of synchronicity with these cycles on our well-being. Plan to be home and quiet once it's dark enjoying loved ones and tending creative desires. Our brains actually enter a completely measurably hormone and electrical state that is different when we are fully awake and out and about or deep in sleep. Spending more time during this time of year, in this state of being, supports our immune system and our ability to transition well.
9 Stellar Autumn Ritual Ideas:
Remember: ritual is consciousness in action that helps to shift or change our present moment forward. It is a highly creative and personal process so add to this list and scratch what doesn't work for you. You'll find each year it might change a little. That's perfect! It's your unique dance with the Earth as it changes in rhythm with cyclic time.
#1 : Consider stocking up your winter apothecary or pantry:
#2 Make an Autumn Altar, Ancestor Altar, or Grief Altar:
An altar is a place of honoring. It's a doorway to the unseen and sacred. Clear a space on a windowsill or table or outside. Bring items from nature as well your favorite candles, beautiful bowls, crystals, stones, pictures and any objects you hold sacred. To keep my altars fresh, I visit it daily to tend and arrange new items, bring fresh flowers or food offerings, to pray and smudge or enjoy the glow of the candles for a few moments. Build an altar each day for a week to memorialize different losses in your life. Keep them small and meaningful. Give your altars an amount of time that feels right and then deconstruct them gently with gratitude to clear the space for another time when called to make another one.
#3 Gather Seeds, Final Harvests, Play With Leaves:
You can gather for next year or, if you’re a lazy gardener like I am, gather the flower heads where the seeds are resting and place them where you want that plant in next year’s garden. Make a seed rattle: This year I gathered Poke berries and harvested the small black seeds, placed them in a small glass jar and I rattle a heartbeat rhythm over my body while at my altar to call in the healing of Poke. My teacher Rocio refers to this sound of seeds as the "sound of creation". Maybe you would love to gather the final growth of Mugwort, Lavender, Rosemary, or Juniper and make your own smudge sticks to dry for winter honoring. Maybe play with the leaves by working them into artwork, or piled high for jumping into, or worked for compost, or just look deeply at them each day as they begin to change (it's the cooler nights and shorter days that trigger the color change). Sit with a tree, feeling its leaves dying and falling, its vital energies returning to its roots deep in the Earth.
#4 - Enjoy the Farmer’s Market:
As the days get shorter, I cherish the final weeks at the market. I love when the apples come in and robust squashes and broccoli and greens. I have to visit the soap woman for winter stocking up and gift giving and then there's the cheese man and the bread man and the cut flower woman! I have a market basket and make this a ritual with some cash for honoring my local folks who work so hard to make my world beautiful and delicious.
#5 - Make an Herbal Cordial:
I love and make cordials for winter sips by the fire. Now is the perfect time to start one so they’re ready for your winter celebrations and gifting. My favorite Autumn Cordial this year? Rosehip, Ginger, and Orange Cordial. (Well, it's been a favorite for years actually!) Fill a jar 1/3 full with rosehips (fresh is best, or dried at the health food store), chopped fresh ginger root to bring it to 1/2 full and then zest and fruit of one organic orange. Fill with brandy and allow to sit for a 1-2 months, shaking daily (or a few times a week is fine). Strain and add honey to the sweetness you like, or none at all. If alcohol is not for you then try mulling spices for cider or apple juice.
#6 - Make Special Foods:
My son fell in love with Apple Crisp just this year. He needed some practice working with the peeling and cutting of the apples for baking. Eating this made him highly motivated! We've started making this weekly and it should tapper off soon! Maybe for you this year it's Pumpkin Bread, Corn Bread or Kneaded Bread? My soup making is a ritual that begins every Autumn. Ever since I had my first child I have honored this as soon as I start grabbing my wool sweaters and thick comfy socks and slipper. Every weekend I make a huge pot of something we enjoy all week. I lean on the bone and mushroom stock recipes above as my base and this keeps my bones warm and soul nourished. And I have an already made gift for friends in need too.
#7 - Honor Fire:
Allow the first fire of the season to be sacred. Take your time. Stack the wood, or arrange many favorite candles. I make an initial offering of cornmeal, sage or food I've made to the fire every year to honor the trees and the fire that release the heat for my family to be warm. Plants make their bodies from the energy of the fiery sun too, which we then ingest at every meal to grow ours. As we move toward the cooler months many desire to be more intimate with fire, be it the distant sun, the candle flame, or the hearth fire. Lean into this transition. Honor fire in your personal way.
#8 - Listen to Water:
The rain falling softly in the dark of morning caught me today. Sitting with water and listening to the sound that comes from its dance with our world initiates flow. Season changes often present with congestion in our bodies, our emotions, and our thinking. Creating a simple ritual with water to honor this season of the West on the Medicine Wheel helps us stay in flow. Water is the teaching element of the West. West is the teaching element of Autumn. Drink more water. Visit your favorite water place in Nature and bring a gift. Sit and listen to rain or a stream or the waves. Plan your sacred bathing ritual with herbs or bath salts in the bath during the full or new moon to honor flow. No tub? Enjoy foot soaks the same way. Allow your tears to surface, carried deep within your sorrows, to ease the congestion on your soul as you make you way in this one beautiful life.
#9 - Make a Bitters Tonic:
This was on the top of my list last year and I made so much that I don't have to make more this year. Honoring the making of 'Bitters' is definitely an Autumn ritual for my family. I'm getting it out, strained, and bottled beautifully for taking as a seasonal tonic and when I over-indulge with the heavier eating of the holidays. We need this digestive support to keep our inner digestive fire strong through the dark, cooler times. Bitters will help you. Recipe ideas are in the link. Enjoy!
Maybe choose one thing and dedicate yourself to it in honor of the rhythmic dance with the seasons. While these supports always work wonders, what has amazed me most is the benefit of acceptance around what is happening as Autumn gives way to Winter. This acceptance is cultivated from doing the seasonal work of honoring, releasing, and rooting in. Once we shift from linear time to cyclical time, our perspective and attitude around Winter changes. Some actually are surprised to find themselves enjoying Winter’s darkness just by accepting and embodying a few rituals, maybe even just one ritual, that brings your sacred into your everyday. Walking with you.
Much Love, Jen
Finding your good, right medicine is the walk of the healer. We begin with healing ourselves by connecting deeply to the plants. Come learn the walk of an herbalist that is unique for you. Being a home herbalist is just like being a home cook. We tend our tribe this way. We have the right to know and honor the plants this way. Herbal Courses are on-going on-line and in-person and Discounted 15% through November 2016. New Moon Lodges are Free for Women wanting to learn about synchronizing with the cyclic nature of the Moon.
What trees teach me about honoring the medicine in their bark...
Trees are sanctuaries. They hold the map of the past through their whole body, as unique as a fingerprint, but reach upward and outward toward a future we sometimes struggle to see. As a small child my closest relationship to any tree was White Pine. When I close my eyes, I can still feel the sway of the sixty foot White Pine I climbed to the top of regularly to my favorite spot where I could wedge my little six year body into a nook and safely drift about on the wind with the branches. The floating feeling in the belly holds moments akin to flying. I would bring bread and seeds as offerings to the mama birds nesting up there and sometimes nap softly to the rocking of such a great mother dancing with the wind. I climbed up there for years until we moved away at fourteen but never has my connection to White Pine been changed by geography.
Fall is traditionally the season for bark harvest and it may be one of my most satisfying medicine making tasks. It requires I lean into my relationship with a tree and these relationships are different than with smaller herbaceous plants. Yes, we can have different relationships with and honor the plants, trees, animals, insects, people, and even the elements, landscapes, and microbial world.
The task of whittling bark with my sons over the years has always been enthusiastically received here. This was how a good knife and the care of such tools was first introduced to them. When whittling, the mind also enters that hypnotic, trance-like state of being, much the way gazing at a fire captivates us to higher thinking. The therapeutic medicine is already working just by being available to such a connected, receptive state. Rushing about, task oriented, with a connection to time that is stressed and manic will never produce a medicine nearly as potent as one made with the process honored. Seeking connection to the trees is the beginning. Knowing how to find, tend, intuit, harvest, and make good medicine that can live near you, in your home apothecary, is what I speak to here.
Let's Talk Bark
What is bark to you? Some describe is as being like our skin and this is in some ways true. Bark is constantly growing and changing based on the needs of the tree and the influence of its surroundings in the local environment. We can see this within the rings of the tree and how widely spaced or close together they are and scientists study this fingerprint of the weather the tree endured within its life. Elevation changes how trees grow as well and they are smaller and smaller with higher elevations in some regions.
Interacting with the world around them determines what strong chemical constituents a tree will make. We make medicine from the plants, or in this case the trees, that make chemical compounds to ward off insects, disease, sun damage, and other elemental and environmental exposures. Their protective medicine made for their health is what we take in and stimulate within our bodies. It's so simple but still full of such magic for me in that we can literally be this connected to the plants and trees. Many forget. But many are remembering too.
Trees are part of a network system within a forest and so they’re very design includes interacting within community as a way to thrive and protect themselves and make strong compounds along the way. Bark contains the growing cells of the tree, as well as the cells required to transport water and sugar for photosynthesis on a cellular level. Bark is always interacting with the rest of the tree, the surrounding trees, the mycorrhizae in the soil, and is constantly reading and responding to any changes in its surroundings. Demystifying plant magic with the science surfacing today that proves these connections to be true does not remove the magic for me. I hope this is true for you. It is still truly amazing how trees, plants, people and all living things create form from water, sun, air and earth.
So just under the thick outer bark is the layer we seek for medicine making. The outer bark is not the place to harvest for this is a hardened protective coat. We are seeking the cambium layer that is the alive and actively responding part of the tree. It can be white, green, yellow, even pink, and is generally smooth, moist, and clearly alive as a thin layer of active cells that surrounds the entire tree just under the tougher outer bark.
What is Ethical Wildcrafting?
"Ethical Wildcrafting' was a term coined decades ago in the herbal medicine world and is the practice of harvesting plants and trees conscientiously, to avoid damaging the health of the population or the overall ecological system they thrive in. It’s especially important here because if you don’t harvest bark properly, you will literally kill the tree. The basic principles of harvesting are simple:
This issue is close to my heart, as I’ve watched plant populations decline as people violate the sanctity of the natural world in the name of fear and greed. Ignorance is no excuse either. Honoring the basic principles of land stewardship means simply being a human who acknowledges the interconnection of all things in the natural world. Every action we take on a piece of land requires the natural world to respond to it. So we would be kind and wise to ask ourselves how our choice affects the whole. Harvest intentionally and teach the people around you to do the same so our natural world stays abundant, potent, and thriving.
Follow United Plant Savers as a great resource for staying aware of at risk and endangered plant and tree species.
The Unintentional Death of a Tree
Maybe you can imagine the impact of removing one tree because of poor or unintentional reasons. The most common way to kill a tree fast and efficiently is by ‘girdling the tree’, or removing a section of bark around the entire circumference of the trunk of the tree. Please do NOT remove bark all the way around the base of the tree like this. Girdling kills the tree because the leaves and roots can no longer connect and transport water, nutrients and sugar between the tree top and roots. This leaves the tree to starve to death. Girdling is one thing if you’re carving a homestead out of the wilderness for it’s a time-honored way of clearing forest, but it’s something entirely different if you’re just doing it because you don’t know any better or are filled with greed or have blatant disrespect. And all of this affects the medicine.
We're being asked to think in terms of the ecology of restoration instead of consuming and taking. 'Having enough' is built into the restoration way of being.
How to Harvest Bark
Tools & Timing:
Harvest bark when the nights become cool, the days are warm and crisp, and the leaves are changing color and just starting to fall. You want the tree’s energy to be focused on shunting all of its activity down to the Earth for winter. This concentrates the medicine into the moving part of the bark we spoke of called the cambium layer.
What Tree is Calling You
Common species that make great medicine include White Willow, Wild Cherry, Witch Hazel, White Oak, Sassafras, Black or Silver Birch, Black Haw, White Pine, Cedar, Juniper, Hemlocks, Spruce and more depending on the part of the world one lives in. It’s wise to also find the trees you are seeking medicine from in the early fall so you can positively identify them when they still have leaves. As you spend more and more time with the trees, you will know them from the bark which is always quite unique. Once your tree is located, simply return when the time for harvesting arrives. Choose a smaller tree so you can reach the branches or get a pole pruner. These scouting trips are part of your connection, relationship, and honoring of the medicine within the bark of the tree that calls. Be aware to never harvest on state lands at all or other's property without permission.
While scouting and finding your tree, do taste the tree. Cut or pinch off a little twig, after intuiting a sense of permission and affirming this is ‘the tree’ I seek. Chew on it until you get a good sense of the flavor. Then spit it out if need be. With a little experience, you’ll be able to tell how strong the medicine will be from this tree. Even if you’ve never tasted this medicine before, know that strongly medicinal barks will affect your mouth almost immediately. Willow and Witch Hazel suck up all the spit in your mouth (astringent), sassafras makes your mouth feel watery and slippery,(demulcent), black birch tastes like root beer or wintergreen for some (aromatic), Wild Cherry tastes a bit nasty but is identifiable as such, Pines taste just like the sap smells (aromatic) and these essential oils travel quickly up through your sinuses and down to your lungs. If you don’t notice anything, even if you don’t know what it should taste like, move on and be sure to only make medicine from a tree you absolutely know.
If you’re not routinely tasting the plants you harvest, i suggest getting into the habit. This is one of the skills of an herbalist for testing quality, just as you would use all your senses to choose vegetables or fruits. The medicine person does the same for evaluating the medicine. Medicinal content changes throughout the season and from year to year, based on where each tree is in its growing and reproductive cycle, and what its life has been like this year. This is true for smaller herbaceous plants too. If a particular tree isn’t strong enough this year, come back next year and see what it says to you.
Time to Harvest
So now you’re sure you’ve got the right tree, and it tastes great (or terrible) so you know it’s got some magic and good medicine in it.
Next I offer a gift to the tree. This a traditional way of working and you can decide what works for you. A moment of silence, a song, a prayer, some of your lunch or water, or a handmade something that honors the tree you are taking medicine from.
The next step is to harvest the bark. Choose a small branch, maybe the size of your wrist or smaller. Find a place where the branch branches, then identify the collar, or the fatter part at the base of the branch. Use your pruners or saw to cut the branch just beyond the collar; if you cut into the collar itself, the tree won’t heal well and could rot from microbial invasions at the site. Make your cut parallel with the collar, so water won’t collect in the cut. Don’t let the wood split or crack, cut it cleanly so you don’t hurt the part of the branch you’re leaving behind; if necessary, cut part of the way through from the bottom up, then finish by cutting from the top down. Remember that the priority is to not hurt the tree: don’t take more than the tree can spare, don’t take more than you can use, and don’t make cuts that will hurt the tree long term.
For smaller quantities needed because you know a large branch is too much, I cut thumb-sized branches and estimate how many to fulfill my needs. You get better at this estimating with time and practice.
Time to Whittle
Bring the branches to your place in the sun, like me here, bring inside by the fire if it's too cold out for you. Look them over carefully and wipe off any dirt, lichen, insects etc. Use the pruners to remove tiny twigs and pile them up for they’re medicinal but you don’t need to save them unless you have a use for them. I often add pine needles to my bark preparations, just for the record. So now you can cut the branches into smaller pieces at this point to make them more manageable, 1-2 foot sections work well. When you’re ready to whittle the bark, sit with one end of a branch in your non-dominant hand, and the other over your lap in front of you. Use your knife to whittle down the length of the branch, always working the knife away from you so there are not accidents, removing long strips of bark. You want to make sure you get the cambium layer, the inner bark that contains all the good medicine, but not the wood. Remember, the cambium can be white, green, yellow, or pink, and is generally smooth, moist, and clearly alive. If you’re shaving off wood, make your cuts shallower; if you’re leaving the cambium on the wood, go back and shave it again. If you’re struggling to shave the bark, try switching knives because sometimes a different size, shape, or well sharpened blade does the trick. When you’re done, the branch should be all wood with no bark visible. Unneeded parts make good kindling for the fire.
Making the Medicine
To make bark medicine, you can tincture it fresh in alcohol or vinegar, infuse it in olive oil for topical uses, or dry it for later uses of bathing, teas and decoctions, or syrup making.
Drying Bark: Spread the bark in a single layer on a drying rack in a cool, dark place, and stir regularly until dry, a few days to no more than a week. Even better is a dehydrator. Once it’s dry, store in jars, or bags away from light and well labeled. Dried bark is useful for teas and decoctions, ground into poultices.
Fresh Bark Tincture or Vinegar: Bark, because it is so fibrous and dense, needs more liquid to extract all the medicine so fill your jar with the fresh whittled bark and don’t pack it too tight. Most barks prefer lower alcohol content, too, so use 40%-50% alcohol (vodka or brandy work well). Next fill the jar with the alcohol or vinegar and cap tight and shake. Label well with the common name, latin name and date. Shake a few times per week, store away from direct light and you can strain and use after two months. It will keep for more than 10 years.
Dried Bark Tincture: I fill my jar 1/2 full with dried bark if you have or needed to buy it already harvested. Then fill with your vodka or brandy or warmed vinegar, cap and shake a few times per week for 2 months, labeled well. Strain, re-bottle and label for use.
I hope you decide to give this a try! It’s so easy and satisfying, especially in the dead of winter when you clear up that cough with your own White Pine Bark vinegar or tincture, or help a brutal headache with White Willow Bark you made yourself with the tree right outside your window that you love deeply, or eased postpartum swelling or hemrroids with a Witch Hazel Bark sitz bath. I love hearing your successes and failures with medicine making as we all learn equally from both. Do let me know how it goes! My recipe for Root Beer Syrup is always better with fresh whittled Black Birch Bark. Enjoy. xo-Jen
Herbal Courses On-Line and LIVE at ElderMoon School
Offerings at ElderMoon School of Herbs
Learn how to make your own herbal remedies. Begin anyway! Your inner herbalist is calling...
Learning how to make herbal medicine preparations is key to having a good experience with the plants as healers. It's our birthright to know how. Come learn these ancient techniques our ancestors utilized in crafting medicine from their direct and personal relationship to the medicine plants. Presented in a relaxed and easy format, the focus is specifically on building your skills as a medicine maker and I walk with you throughout the course to guide you through. I've been medicine making for over 25 years and love showing people all the little nuances that actually bring you to successful and potent medicine making for yourself and your beloved people. This is the first step to honoring the plants as medicine carriers. We begin with honing your new skills and creating your own home apothecary space for holding your medicines in a sacred, protected way. xo-Jen
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Birthing an Herbalist in 13 Moons - On-Line Course - includes 'Payment Plan' options - this foundational course is more than a take tis for that. We begin with you, where you stand in the moment you say "yes", and your land and space for building a sustainable and beautiful relationship with the medicine plants and your own dynamically evolving apothecary. Yes, it's primary healthcare for most of the world and has it's rightful place in your hands as a primary healthcare system too. Join me. Just begin.
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine