Of Dandelions…

With the arrival of Spring here in the mountains of northeastern California, I eagerly look for the showy flowers of the simple dandelion. I have used parts of the whole plant for decades now. The fresh young leaves can be used as a wholesome addition to spring salads. It can be blanched or sauteed like spinach or endive. They are great in sandwiches, the tender leaves being laid between slices of bread and butter and sprinkled with salt. The addition of a little lemon-juice and pepper varies the flavor. The leaves should always be torn to pieces, rather than cut, in order to keep the flavor.

I use the fresh blossoms in tea cakes, muffins or wine/mead, even dyeing. I will dry them in Spring to add to other flower petals I collect throughout the summer to create aromatic teas for the cold winds of winter. I powder the dried leaves and root for a highly effective tea that quickly reduces excess fluid in the body. Our ancestors recognized the gifts of the dandelion to treat a wide variety of illnesses and brought it with them when they came to this country.

Collect the leaves, roots and flowers now while they are young and tender … and receive its many Blessings!

Fermentation for Wellness

It is interesting to read in the news that over half of COVID-19 fatalities occur in folks who have gut problems. Learning how to improve one’s gut health may prove to be a useful tool in these times. I gave a workshop on fermented foods last year, and thought I would provide a copy of the handout I prepared for the class.

I found myself making up a couple of quarts of pickled asparagus, carrots, celery, peppers, onion and garlic this afternoon. Crunchy fermented veggies are so satisfying to munch on straight from the jar. Fermenting fresh vegetables also extends their shelf life…. So here you go …

Fermenting foods is an ancient practice which can increase the bioavailability of nutrients in food and can support optimal digestion. According to Ayurvedic Medicine, all disease begins and ends in the digestive system. Recent medical research has turned its interest toward microbes and their ecological relationships within the gut as key players in maintaining the health of the body.

It has been determined that toxins can accumulate in the body and circulate through the blood when digestion processes are not working properly. Incorporating naturally fermented foods into our diet may aid digestion and prevent toxic accumulation by returning the digestive tract to its homeostatic function.

Historically, fermentation has been used as a way of preserving foods and drinks long before the days of refrigeration. During the process of fermentation, microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast or fungi convert sugars and starch into alcohol or acids. The beneficial effects of fermented foods on health were unknown at that time, so the process was used to preserve foods, enhance shelf life, and improve flavor.

Fermentation preserves raw vegetables without heat, so it retains their vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Natural fermentation has been found to preserve and enhance B and C vitamins in vegetables, make nutrients more readily available, can aid in digestion and may support the immune system…

Fermented foods became an important part of the diet in many cultures, and now has attracted scientific interest. Why? Because the microorganisms which contribute to the fermentation process have recently been associated with many health benefits. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) have been highly studied. During fermentation, these bacteria synthesize vitamins and minerals and produce biologically active peptides with enzymes are also well known for their health benefits. Some of these peptides are known to lower blood pressure, while others are being studied for their anti-cancer and anti-microbial properties.

Naturally fermented foods are what you want to create to give your body a dose of healthy probiotics. Eating foods packed with good bacteria may boost gut health. DIY fermentation is the best way to go…..

Fermenting vegetables is a simple, inexpensive process that has been used for thousands of years. It is simple, easy, and requires little preparation or work. Most of the time involved is spent waiting. Home fermentation takes about a half-hour of chopping or shredding to produce a jar full of delicious crunchies that can feed you for weeks.

RECIPES – These recipes use a quick fermentation method without sugar, and leave the vegetables crisp and crunchy….

I. Spicy pickled vegetables

2 cups water
1 to 1-1/4 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (organic with the “mother”)
1 jalapeño sliced, or red pepper flakes
1 large carrot cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds or diagonal slices
1 to 2 cups chopped cauliflower or small cauliflower florets
3 small stalks celery (use only small inner stalks from the heart), cut into 1-inch-long sticks
Sweet peppers
1 bay leaf
1 cabbage leaf.

Heat the water and stir in the sea salt until it dissolves completely. Set aside and add the vinegar when cool. You can be make this ahead of time and store in a sealed glass jar in a cool, place until ready to use.

Set a quart-size canning jar in the sink and fill it with boiling water to sterilize. Empty the jar and tightly pack the vegetables and bay leaf inside to within 1 to 2 inches from the top of the jar. Pour the brine over the vegetables to fill the jar to within 1 inch from the top. Wedge the cabbage leaf over the top of the vegetables and tuck it around the edges to hold the vegetables beneath the liquid.

Set jar on the counter and cover with a fermentation lid or use a standard lid which you loosen it a bit each day for the first few days, then every other day, to allow gasses to escape. Let the vegetables ferment for three to five days, depending on the indoor temperature. Vegetables will pickle faster in warmer climates. Make sure the vegetables stay packed beneath the liquid and add salted water (2 teaspoons sea salt dissolved in 1 cup warm water) as needed.

Check the taste after a couple of days using a clean fork. When the vegetables are fermented to your liking, seal the jar with a regular lid and refrigerate. Vegetables will continue to slowly pickle in the refrigerator. They will keep for about one month. Taste for saltiness before serving and, if desired, rinse gently to remove excess salt.

Keep vegetables immersed in vinegar syrup by placing an onion slice or cabbage leaf on top of contents.

II. Fermented Cinnamon Apples (Yield: 2 quarts)

3 medium organic apples (chose apples on the sweeter side like Gala or Honey-crisp)
2-4 cinnamon sticks, crushed or 1 teaspoon powder.
1 lemon, juice & zest
4 T. sea salt
7-8 c. water

Combine the cinnamon, lemon juice, zest, sea salt, and filtered water in a medium pot. Heat over medium heat until barely simmering and salt is dissolved. Remove from heat and cover. Let steep and cool 30 minutes.

Wash apples well and slice the tops off 2 of the apples for packing the jars. Quarter the apples and slice very thinly. Pack them tightly into two sterilized quart jars. Press down gently.

Fill the jars with the salty water and cinnamon mixture. Place a reserved apple top in each other jars to submerge the slices in the liquid. Cover with a paper coffee filter or cheesecloth. Leave at room temperature for 5-7 days, testing around 4 days to gauge how sour it is. The longer it’s left at room temperature, the more sour (and less sweet) it will be. The fermented apples will keep for 3-6 months in the refrigerator.

III. Ginger Kombucha (Makes 1 gallon)

3 ½ quarts of water
½ to 1 cup white sugar
4 bags black tea (or 1 tablespoon loose tea)
4 bags green tea (or 1 tablespoon loose tea)
2 cups pre-made unflavored kombucha (from your last homemade batch or store-bought)
1 scoby per fermentation jar
2- to 3-inch piece fresh ginger (see Recipe Note)
Six 16-oz glass bottles with plastic lids, swing-top bottles, or clean soda bottles.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar to dissolve. Drop in the tea and allow it to steep for ½ hour at least or until the water begins to cool. Add the remaining 1 ½ quarts of water to the batch and stir thoroughly. Remove the tea bags or strain out the loose tea. Stir in the pre-made organic kombucha which inoculates the batch.

Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon glass jar and if you have one, gently slide a SCOBY on top with clean hands. Cover the mouth of the jar with a few layers of cheesecloth or paper towels secured with a rubber band.

Keep the kombucha at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, and where it won’t get jostled. Ferment for 7 to 10 days, checking the kombucha and the scoby periodically. Do not disturb.

After 7 days, begin tasting the kombucha daily by pouring a little out of the jar and into a cup. When it reaches a balance of sweetness and tartness that is pleasant to you, the kombucha is ready to bottle. By now, a SCOBY should be floating in the fermented brew… With clean hands, gently lift it out of the kombucha and set it on a clean plate. Cover to keep it moist. Measure out 2 cups of the tea and set it aside for the next batch.

Peel and slice your ginger allowing for 1 teaspoon of ginger per bottle. Sterilize your jars by filling them with boiling water. Let them sit for 5 minutes, then empty them. Place your fresh ginger in the jars, and pour the fermented kombucha into the bottles using a small funnel. Fill them up to the “shoulder” of the jar leaving room for further carbonation and gas escape. Store at room-temperature out of direct sunlight and allow 1 to 3 days for the kombucha to carbonate. If you bottled in plastic bottles, the kombucha is carbonated when the bottles are rock-solid; if you bottled in glass, intermittently open one of the bottles to check the carbonation… listen for the “fizz” sound of gas escaping.

Once carbonated, refrigerate the kombucha for at least 4 hours to chill. The kombucha will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. If desired, strain the kombucha as you serve it to catch any bits of ginger pulp. Enjoy!

Autumn Equinox

I awoke early this first day of Autumn, 4 am to be more precise. I found myself welcoming this fog-filled morning on my front porch with a cuppa coffee in hand. It was cold … the first real cold morning I have felt since Spring. I greeted the morning stars, in particular, Orion. Soon that constellation will be dominating our night skies as we circle through the winter months. Orion is an old friend, one who has heard many of my heartfelt discourses in the early morn or late night hours….

The morning found me organizing the herbs I have been gathering over the summer months. Actually, my Hawthorn Tincture is created over a period of 4 months. I collect the flowers and the first emerging leaves in early June. I place them in a jar to tincture in alcohol until September when the berries ripen on the tree.  I then add the crushed berries to the mixture and let it age another 4 weeks. Hawthorn is a heart ally, oxygenating and balancing the Heart as it ages.

Each year I tend to my own personal first-aid herbal cabinet in preparation for potential illnesses we might experience with the changing of seasons. I grow some of the herbs in my gardens, others I gather in the wild landscape. Most of my herbal preparations are safe to use for coughs, fevers, viral infections, anxiety, insomnia, salves for burns and rashes. I really didn’t think I had foraged very much this year, but when stripping leaves from dried twigs and filling jars with their aromatic gifts, I realized that I had prepared exactly what I needed. The scent and oil from stripping catnip leaves left me feeling quite euphoric….

I prepare a basic apothecary to dip into for medicinal teas and compresses. Many herbs are common weedy species and easy to grow in the garden or forage in the wild. My herb cabinet consists of 24 key herbs: Alfalfa (nourishing); Dandelion Root (diuretic); Catnip, Lemon balm, California poppy, and Hops (sedatives and nervines); Red Clover (tonic for blood and liver); Plantain (coughs, bronchitis, diarrhea, dysentery); Mullein (coughs, bronchitis); California mugwort (promotes vomiting); Mormon Tea or Ephedra (bronchitis, sinusitis); Yarrow flowers (common cold, hay fever, stomach discomfort, induces sweating); Feverfew (fever, arthritis, tinnitus, vomiting); Peppermint and Spearmint (used to treat so many ailments); German Chamomile (antispasmodic, sedative) and of course, dried Rose petals (cardiac tonic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-parasitic). They also have a delicate flavor when infused for tea…

My basic preparations: Goldenseal Tincture (antibacterial, antiviral); Hawthorn tincture (heart health); Black cottonwood salve (inflammation, arthritis pain); Chickweed and Plantain salve (bug bites, rashes, skin irritations); Lemon balm and Feverfew salve (for joint and muscle pain); and Elderberry with Chokecherry syrup (coughs, bronchitis).

For those of you who are relatively new to preparing and storing wild herbs, make sure to store them in airtight containers in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Label them clearly, making sure to post the year of collection. Herbs lose their potency over time … I try to replace their contents every year. All in all, a handy home apothecary to use for mild ailments.

Thank you Sara Steffey McQueen for you gift of the goldenseal root from your woods. It made an EXCELLENT tincture!

All Blessings to my friends in both the northern and southern latitudes….Namaste.

Of Feverfew….

As early as the 1700’s, feverfew was used widely in Europe for headaches, as well as for tooth and stomach pains. Feverfew was also used for joint inflammation, especially in the early stages of arthritis. Feverfew was described as “surpassing anything previously used against headaches and as “the aspirin of the 18th century” back in the day….. It is well known to lower fevers and dilate blood vessels to induce sweating. That’s why I keep some in my cupboards for winter illnesses.

Feverfew is used today for the treatment of migraines and accompanying symptoms. It has been known to relieve cramps, relax nerves, and induce a soothing effect on the nervous system. In women’s health it is appreciated for its menstruation-promoting effects and is also used to regulate labor pains to ease the birthing process.

This fragrant herb has similar medicinal abilities like aspirin, and its’ anti-inflammatory properties can help ease the pain of sore muscles, joint pain, and/or arthritis. One of the best ways to use Feverfew for joints and muscles is in a homemade herbal salve in combination with other inflammation herbs. I make mine using feverfew with plantain (Plantago major or P. lanceolata) or lemon balm.

To make feverfew infused oil for salve, mix together four ounces of fresh chopped leaves with one pint of olive or vegetable oil. You can heat this over a medium heat but do not boil (this is probably best done in a double pot if you have one) for one hour. Let the mixture cool and strain, squeezing out as much of the oil as you can. This can be applied to inflamed areas. It can also be turned into a salve by adding between one and one and a half ounces of grated beeswax to warmed oil which should be stirred to blend thoroughly.

To use in tinctures or as a tea, all parts of the leaves or flowering tops can be used either fresh or dried. Fresh young leaves can be added to salads, but sparingly. A dosage of no more than 3 to 5 leaves a day is recommended for treating pain and headaches.

Feverfew has a cumulative effect so it works best when taken in small does over longer periods, especially in treating migraines.  A decoction or infusion of the leaves can be used as a wash for skin lesions and sores.

To make a tincture, fill a pint sized canning jar with fresh or dried feverfew. Cover the plant material with vodka to cover. Put on a lid, shake gently and place in a cool, dark place for 6 to 8 weeks. Shake the jar gently each week. Strain through cheesecloth squeezing the material gently. Place tincture into a new jar. Take 20 drops twice daily for effective treatment.

Doorstep Herb Walk…

Dawn comes early this time of year. The brightening sky woke me up at 5 am and encouraged me to venture out of doors with a hot cuppa coffee in hand. I ventured downhill to view Ash creek, forever curious to observe nature’s activities in the quiet stillness of the early morn. I had walked less than 100 yards from my house when I noticed s small, flowering shrub tucked in my neighbors yard. Somehow, I had missed seeing this plant in my 26 years of wandering my rural neighborhood.

It’s peculiar flowers and heady scent drew me close. “Viburnum” it said to me, speaking its name as clear as a bell in my mind. I was startled by its direct communication and openness to me, and gathered a flower and leaf to properly identify it when I returned home. I offered it a gift of tobacco in gratitude while inhaling its sweet honey-like fragrance.

Cramp bark contains several compounds found to enhance health, including ellagic acid (a chemical with antioxidant benefits). It is a natural remedy for arthritis, chronic pain, High blood pressure, inflammation, low back pain, menstrual cramps, restless leg syndrome and tension headaches. The best time for me to collect some branches for the bark will be in autumn. Duly noted…

One of my favorite herb walks is what I call my “doorstep” version. I merely walk out the door and identify as many medicinal herbs and their uses within a one block radius.

This morning proved abundant with over a dozen herbs including alfalfa (nourishing), amaranth (controls mucous, stomach irritations), choke cherry (coughs, congestion), cleavers (urinary tract and skin), dandelion (tonic and diuretic), gum plant (bladder infections), hops (sedative, tonic, antibiotic), cramp bark (nervine), wild lettuce (pain relief), pineapple weed (calming sedative), mallow and mullein (coughs and colds), honeysucke (coughs), plantain (anti-inflammatory), blackberry (tonic), Old World rose (mild astringent, diarrhea), cranesbill (astringent, excessive bleeding), and California poppy (sedative, analgesic).One really does not have to venture deep into the woods to find plants with medicinal benefits. As a matter of fact, disturbances created by humans provides ample habitat for these “weedy” species to emerge. Take a walk around your block with a good herbal identification book in hand….you never know what you will discover!

Of Blessed Sage…

I live in sagebrush country, on the Modoc Plateau to be more precise. A unique bioregion in northwestern California where most of the flourishing vegetation is described as the “Sagebrush Steppe”.… If you choose a careful path through this massive volcanic plain you could walk through millions of acres with sagebrush as your constant companion. Where I live, there are 10 different species of sagebrush which range in size from several feet high to only a few inches. Most are woody shrubs, but my favorite is “white sagebrush” or “western mugwort”, Artemisia ludovuciana.

This plant is VERY aromatic plant and can be found in almost every state in the United States, several western provinces of Canada and in Mexico. It is only found near water where I live….open creek beds mainly. I keep an eye out for it in early summer. It is easy to spot due to its silvery colored leaves. It belongs to a genus of famously medicinal plants by many Hispanic and Native American cultures. It has been used extensively to treat sore throat, colds and diarrhea, as poultices and rinses for skin problems, for ceremonial cleansing–a very important role–, as incense, to make mats and rugs, and in various charms. Recent research found the leaves to indeed be antimicrobial and antioxidant.

The Spirit of this plant has been called upon for thousands of years for its cleansing and protective attributes. You can literally smell and feel these qualities when handling the herb. I personally use the plant for deodorant and cleansing purposes. The benefits of burning sage as a smudge are many. It is used to purify, dispel negativity, as a curative for some conditions, improve ones mood, to cleanse objects, reduce stress, boost cognition and energy levels. I collect a small number of stems for my personal needs in late spring or early summer. I either bind them tightly together to make a smudge stick or weave them together to make a sage “wand” for aromatic purposes. To make a white sage wand is very similar to making a lavender flower ribbon wand. Directions can be found on the internet….

Gifts from Broadleaf Plantain…

Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) is commonly found on disturbed soils. It is known as a “camp follower” brought to the North American continent by migrating peoples. The species is native to most of Europe and northern to central Asia. Our ancestors knew of the medicinal gifts of these plants. It’s kind of interesting that so many plants with highly versatile medicinal properties have naturalized and flourished in our country are now called “weeds” in disdain. I easily found it in the front yard of my daughter’s home. Lots of it. Although Broadleaf Plantain can be found where I live, the abundant numbers of them here in the City made my eyes pop. Wow! Look at all of them!

It is an interesting fact that Plantain is one of the most powerful, abundant and widely distributed medicinal plants in the world (Wikipedia). It is one of THE MOST studied medicinal plants in modern research literature. No kidding! Investigations into the healing compounds present in the plantain leaf and its seed have been published in 4400+ research articles. What is known about this plant is that it has been used widely since ancient times for its antibiotic, antiviral and anti-inflammatory gifts. The juice of the plant has been effective in treating everything from cancerous tumors to epileptic seizures and earache. Tea made from the plantain has been used as a wash for many eye diseases, as a gargle for toothache, mouth sores, loose teeth, gingivitis and tonsillitis. The tea was also used for asthma, tuberculosis, lung and plural lesions and was even burned as a healing incense. Other illnesses helped by eating the leaf extract or baking the leaves with salt and vinegar included upper and lower gastrointestinal bleeding, dysentery, hemorrhoids, stomachache, intestinal ulcers. Constipation has been treated using the leaf extract in an enema.

Now, that’s just a few of its medicinal qualities … this plant seems to be a One-stop shop for most first aid needs. Current research studies of Broadleaf plantain has shown that hot water extracts can help to improve leukemia, carcinoma and viral infections. Some types of Plantain extracts were effective in the treatment of fungal, bacterial and viral infections. Anti-malarial and anti-Giardia effects of plant have been proven as well. What CAN’T THIS PLANT DO? It’s no wonder that our ancestors carried its seed with them on their migrations!

When harvesting the leaves of plantain, you will notice the strong, ropey veins on the back of the leaf. As a matter of fact, when you pull off a leaf, you will see that it is hard to tear off due to the strong thread-like filaments present in each vein. The purpose of these filaments is a mechanical one. They protect the leaf from physical stresses found in the environment. They give the leaves greater strength to reduce fracturing under pressure and resist against deformation.

When looking at the plant, I compare these filaments to the spiritual quality of Inner Strength, the source of which is located deep within the Soul. Everyone is born with the capacity for Inner Strength and it can be strengthened through our response to environmental stressors. Environmental stress can trigger us to feel fear, reveal our preconceived expectations of a situation, and even clarify our hope and Vision. Inner Strength is the ability to Stand in Courage when confronted with our own fears, our sense of failure, or even a perceived weakness due to lack if Self esteem. It is the Inner Support we give ourselves to believe in our capabilities and to develop Trust in our feelings and intuition in any given situation. Inner Strength is something we summon on a daily basis …. or perhaps moment by moment when under momentary or chronic duress.

Broadleaf Plantain’s gifts reminds me to be versatile. That I have the ability to bring healing into many situations and places. It teaches me to “hold on” when personal fears and doubts emerge from environmental stressors. It mirrors my own internal qualities of Inner Strength that I can call upon to approach situations that are sometimes out of my personal ability to control…..

Blessings abound from this plant, indeed!

Gifts of the Blackberry

Musings from an Herb-wife in the City…

Yesterday I went out to peruse a metaphysical book store in Portland this afternoon (Moon Shadow) and was attracted to a Botanical 0racle card set. Needless to say, plants are my “thing” and I promptly purchased the box. I was attracted to the illustrated cards and was curious about the attributes the author assigned to the plants.

The author of this deck is not a botanist, nor a plant ecophysiologist. I found her written interpretation regarding the attributes of blackberry (which I wrote about the other day) to be a bit shallow to my liking. So I decided to delve a bit into my own knowledge of the shrub and flesh out my own understanding of what this plant offers to the World, both as Medicine and Teaching. So here goes….

…. Blackberry is a plant that can usually

be found on disturbed agricultural ground. One often sees it along the margins of or even within old pastures. It has a purpose in it’s ecology – it enters into environments that have been disturbed and by human activities. It is considered a “pioneer” species, whose purpose and function is to create appropriate conditions for other plants to establish themselves.

In fact, blackberry is known in Europe and parts of North America as “precursors of a forest”. They weaken the competitive ability of grasses and herbs, sometimes to the point of eradicating entire populations of native species. Blackberry does, however, offer benefits to marginal sites by offering their leaves as humus to rebuild the organic and nutrient layers of the soil. They are “nursery” plants, providing a protection for emerging young trees and shrubs from herbivores. When the trees grow tall, they shade out the blackberry which will then die back. While living, she is fruitful, providing abundant flowers to insects and luscious, juicy fruit for all forms of wildlife. She proves formidable to other living Beings, who must navigate her thorns to forage her fruit.

When introduced into foreign landscapes such as Australia, blackberry can prove to be formidable. She can inspire fear through being impressively capable and adaptable. Her Strengths lie in the fact that she is a relatively long-lived species with a voracious capacity for reproduction. She does not require a “mate” to reproduce. She generates new suckers and offspring without fertilization from another plant. Her offspring are genetically identical to each other which can be a very strong trait for evolutionary fitness. I guess one could look at her as being relatively self contained and self perpetuating. Quite the independent organism, no?

The blackberry always imposes change to a landscape… she can alter the ground and overland water flow, affect wind dispersion, cause fluctuations in temperatures, prevent soil erosion and can stabilize friable soils. Her Strength lies in “Adaptation”, in her ability to adapt to marginal environments. In time she offers her fragrance and fruit to the World. She is often prickly and difficult to coddle. She nourishes her Source, becoming well rooted in the Earth and Her lineage is Ever-bearing. In some environments her spines offer Hope and Protection to the emerging future of Life and its cycles. She is Strong, Formidable and Perpetuating … Blessed Be the Blackberry!

Blackberry Oracle card from the “Hedgewitch’s Botanical Oracle”. Siolo Thompson (2018). Llewellyn Publications.

Balsam poplar salve for arthritis and pain…

I decided to “push” my recipe of cottonwood salve today and finish it up for my use. I took my quart of oil infused poplar buds and:1) Crushed the buds using a fruit mill. Do this over a large pot.
2) Place crushed buds and oil into the large pot. Add 3 cups of water.
3) Cook this at a high simmer for about 1/2 hour.
4) Strain through a cheesecloth into a bowl.
5) Place in the freezer for about 2 hours.
6) The oil floats on the water, separate the layers.
7) Place the hardened oil back in its original container.
8) Put 2 tablespoons of shaved bees wax per 1 cup of oil in the container.
9) Melt the beeswax into the oil using a double boiler (I used a solar oven).
10) Pour into small canning jars and let salve cool for 8 hours.Very labor intensive…..but the product is worth it!