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Posts Tagged ‘Herbalism’

Hola beautiful people! How’s it going?

Guess what I have been up to? Germinating the seed of an idea with action, that’s what.

I will be winding down Girl Gone Wild & Weedy as I move on to another project. A community project. An awesome project. The Wild and Weedy blog will remain up as many still come for the recipes and such and perhaps I will still write the occasional article for it.

The project is called: The Gathering Basket.

It is an online community for BC herbalists. But not just for BC folks, it will have resources for all herb minded people from the Yukon to New Zealand. The service will offer cool articles, photos and video by various BC based herbalists and herbal students and also encourage all and any herbalist to contribute from the greater community. It has a herbal school directory, a herbal supply directory, a forum, an event page and a local sustainable business directory. It is a place that those who are seeking a local teacher or a bag of local nettles can come to find a connection that will take them where they need to go.

And I hope you come join us, too. I would love to offer you a place to promote your herbal work, school, business and events. I want this community service to be shaped by the people it serves.

Come on over, just take a short walk through the wild woods below and you will arrive at The Gathering Basket. (click on the forest) 😉

Rain_Forest_Walk_-_Pacific_Rim_National_Park_-_Vancouver_Island_BC_-_Canada_-_06

www.thegatheringbasket.ca

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Mullein. Sweet and caring, tall and strong, nomad of the wild garden. As all gypsies, you are misunderstood by many, and as all gypsies, you are always welcome in my home and garden!

Mullein Flower in my garden.

I think most folks have at least seen this weedy wonder in the wild, the roadsides, the field or as a youngling trying to get a foot hold in one’s garden. If you happen to live by my house then you would also have seen it in my front garden growing tall and proud, probably to my neighbours confusion.

Often misunderstood, I have heard one young man proclaim “Mullein. It’s SO ugly!”. No you’re not mullein, no you’re not. I find it amusing that the same young man accepted a herbal syrup made by me for his sick girlfriend made of rosehip, elderberries, honey, and MULLEIN! She recovered quickly and I hope they have made peace with the giving, loving, mullein.

If you are not familiar with Mullein lets start with the basics…

Mullein.

Botanical name: Verbascum spp.

Species living in BC: Verbascum thapsus.

Botanical family: Scrophulariaceae

Folk names: Mullein, Our Lady’s Flannel, Hag’s Taper, Hedge Taper, Torches, Wild Ice Leaf, Candelaria.

Ecology in BC: Widespread and common at low to mid elevations in disturbed, especially gravelly sites, fields and pastures. Mostly absent from wet Columbia Mountains.

Parts used:  Leaf, flower, roots, flower stalk resin.

Taste: Bland, salty, some say vanilla. I think the flowers smell/taste like a strange sweet spice….

First Nations use: According to my field guide the BC Interior native peoples smoked the leaves. Personally, I think they would have fully embraced this gently powerful medicinal herb and smoking it is just one way to utilize the healing powers of Mullein.

Mullein in my front yard growing tall.

Mullein is a Eurasian plant that followed the immigration of European Peoples to North America and indeed anywhere else they settled including my homeland, New Zealand. It is now widely established all over the world. I love my teachers thoughts on Mullein. She considers it a guiding light and calls it:

“An important guardian plant, emphasized in how it followed European immigrants to the Americas, and served as an herbal bridge between old world and new world healing traditions, to the point where very few herbalists or folk healers could imagine a practice without this beloved and widespread remedy.” – Kiva Rose Hardin.

Mullein is a biennial, the first year showing a lovely, soft basal rosette of leaves. The second year, growing skywards until it’s flower stalk reaches up to 2 metres high!

I have observed it to be habitat to many small insect creatures who live amongst the shelter of the soft leaves. In fact, during a visit with a wild Mullein plant my young son and I came across a pretty spider living in the leaves of a first year rosette. Now anytime Aries see’s a Mullein plant he squeals in delight saying “Hi! Bug!”. Oh, small children are so sweet.

The flower stalks. One main stalk and on this plant, a couple off shoots too.

Medicinally Mullein has a tradition of being used for respiratory ailments and is very effective used for dry hacking coughs when you need some help expelling the phlegm. Indeed it can be used in many lung remedies but Mullein doesn’t stop there.

It is famous for it’s use as an ear infection oil and perhaps your own mother treated you with Mullein oil in your childhood. Do use caution if you intend to use Mullein oil to treat an ear infection, it works wonderfully, however a ruptured ear drum needs immediate attention and should not be subjected to any oil or otherwise. So if there is any risk of rupture, do seek medical attention immediately.

Mullein leaves. Soft and prickly at the same time.

I am learning this wonderful plant is of great benefit to lymphatic stagnation and can be used internally as an infusion or externally as a poultice made from the fresh leaves dipped in hot water or pounded and then placed on the glands.

Much to my surprise and satisfaction I have learned of Mullein having great affinity to the musculoskeletal system and is a useful ally in cases of slipped discs, broken bones and pain in the neck and hips, reducing pain and inflammation in both humans and animals. I look forward to learning more of its musculoskeletal medicine.

Mullein also has powerful uses for the nervous system, the urinary system, and as a wound healing salve bringing relief and healing to the injured.

Most notably for me right now is the golden light Mullein shines for those feeling lost in the dark. I have recently felt a little uncertain, unsure of myself and found I had lost my own shining light amongst confusion and feelings of inadequacy and worries of  nonacceptance that stemmed only from within myself. No one likes feeling that way and one must go within to find the source. But sometimes you need a little help from loving friends to resurface with confidence. (Thank you, Gwendolyn <3)

Making Mullein tincture. It turns bright yellow when first made.

This is where Mullein offers her sweet yellow flowers to lend a helping hand in the form of a tincture. Even the act of harvesting the flowers and placing them in vodka to see it turn a sunshine yellow is uplifting and cheering. Mullein flower tincture, when taken, holds up that guiding light, showing a way out of the darkness and “providing an internal sense of safety and confidence” (Kiva Rose).

So while I am alone in the darkness of an internal night, perhaps a little scared I will wander deeper, I turn to Mullein. She offers me her golden torch to guide me through a darkness with no Moon. And at the darkest hour there she is, the Golden Dawn.

Mullein flowers in vodka.

Resources:

Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia and the Inland Northwest; Parish, Coupe, Lloyd; Lone Pine Publishing.

The New Holistic Herbal; David Hoffmann; Element Books Limited.

From the Ground Up course work in Traditional Western Herbalism; Kiva Rose Hardin; Anima Herbal and Lifeways School.

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Lush little gully full of life at James Lake, BC.

I have not written in while now and have much to catch up on so I can continue in some sort of seasonal flow here with the plants I discover and learn to use in my area. So I will start with my late spring/early summer wanderings and hopefully next time I can focus more on one plant at a time with each subsequent posting.

We had a strangely cool and wet Spring here in the Okanagan and the Summer is unfolding much warmer but the rain has yet to fully burn off for the season. Just this afternoon we had an impressive thunderstorm that flooded my garden and driveway for a little while. This is great for our water supply and the wild plants and cultivated fields are looking lush for now. The spring rain came every few days and although light and misty it made the harvest of wild herbs rather difficult to plan around at times considering other commitments must be fulfilled and I had to wait till late afternoon for the plants and flowers to dry off some days.

Like recently, I had planned a trip to gather some arnica while they bloomed as I am nearly out of arnica balm, a medicine kit staple. I arrived to find what arnica had flowered was spent and the majority of the arnica fields had not reached inflorescence anyways. So I wandered off  in search of other good things growing in the woods and wild fields.

Wild rose. It doesn't get any better for me.

As it turned out the wild rose was blooming and looking vibrant and lush so I gathered some petals, a handful of unopened buds to blend into my favourite tisanes and a few leaves as well. I made the petals and leaves into my first rose tincture. I want to get to know the Wild Rose much more intimately this year along with Elderberry and also Choke Cherry as I have never met a wild cherry tree before now nor have I tasted it’s fruit or bark. As it happens there is a stand of choke cherry trees near the wild rose I visit.

Pikitau with James Lake in the background.

On the weekend of Fathers day we went on a camping trip up to James Lake. It’s a lake in the hills behind my house, it takes about an hour to drive up there from where we are. What’s kind of cool is it’s so close yet a completely different ecology. The Okanagan is awesome like that, so much diversity in such a small area.  I couldn’t  believe my luck, there were so many herbs and mushrooms up there to get to know. Some I have seen before like violets although the James Lake violets are the yellow flowered stream violet. Others I had noticed previously while reading my local field guide for leisure like the dork I am. Like Cow Parsnip. You can eat the young stems, peeled and sauted in butter and garlic would be superb camp fire fare. We nibbled them raw just to have a taste and become familiar but left the rest undisturbed. A word of warning about cow parsnip, it is from the carrot family and lives in similar habitat as the highly toxic water hemlocks and poison-hemlock. Even small amounts of these poisonous plants can be fatal. I cannot stress positive identification enough! If your are not 100% sure of a carrot family plant, or any for that matter, leave it alone! I bear no responsibility for others foolishness, if you cannot ID a plant and choose to ingest it that is your business but don’t say I didn’t warn you… I write these articles for your general interest only. Take care of your own health, please. That said, cow parsnip is quite distinguishable from other carrot family plants, if you know what you are looking for. A good field guide and/or real live human guide is not optional.

Cow Parsnip - heracleum lanatum. AKA Indian celery and Indian rhubarb. Note the big dried out flower stalk from last years inflorescence.

Viola Glabella or Stream Violet. Abundant around James Lake, BC.

Mountain Sweet Cicely - Osmorhiza chilensis. Anise flavoured leaves and roots reminisent of baby carrots.

Mountain Sweet Cicely root. Please be very mindful when harvesting a plant for it's roots, you are taking the whole plant and it will not grow back. Use your common sense and do not harvest if there is lack of abundance of the plant you wish to take. If you do take it, use it all. Don't let the plants life be in vain.

Naturally there were Nettles, my favourite! I finally found a healthy abundant patch of nettles and I was stoked. I gathered the tops carefully and thankfully and still have a little steamed and frozen for my autumn soups. I actually came across gold while I was enjoying some time alone fishing. Morel mushrooms!  They have to be, in my opinion, the best tasting mushrooms ever. It was really cool to be able to pick some wild morels and serve them sauteed with garlic and dandelions on top of campfire steaks.

Need I introduce you?

Camp fire cooking is the best kind of cooking.

Basket o' nettles...

Morels!

A little friend hopped over to say hi.

Can I kiss you little prince?

My boy loves the natural world. I caught him kissing a plants leaves once!

Who doesn't love a camp fire?

I also found wild angelica, fields of wild strawberries and heart leaf arnica and many varieties of horsetail. There were gooseberry bushes everywhere! I hope to get up there when they are fruiting. I would love some to play around with in syrups and maybe an elixir. Does anyone reading this make a wild gooseberry elixir? Is it done? It sounds good to me, perhaps when I get to know it’s energetics better I will know if this is appropriate.

As the summer has progressed and all kinds of plants send out their flowers to worship the sun I have been able to positively identify all these new plants with greater ease and certainty that I am beholding the plant I think I am. Very important. I am very happy about all the sweet clover that lives around my semi-rural neighbourhood, I couldn’t be completely sure the young plants were sweet clover or alfalfa as I had seen neither before in real life and they looked similar to me when they were emerging. Apparently, sweet clover makes awesome pesto and I really love using wild greens in my cooking to boost nutritional value of our meals but also because they bring fresh, new, vibrant flavours to our palates and my palate happens to be very tired of commercial vegetables. Of course I shop at my farmers market and grow a small garden but wild greens are primal, they thrive without requiring human interference and they are free. Nobody’s going to complain about you taking so called weeds like sweet clover, lambs quarters and dandelions so why not go out and get them…

Ahh it feels good to have a catch up and get out what has been in my head. I’d like to get much more in depth with individual plants however I realize this summer will be all about discovering new plant allies, what they look like, where they grow, the basics of how they help people. Only once I have become acquainted can I begin to walk deeper into each plants mysteries and hopefully emerge with wisdom that can be shared with fellow herb seekers. I hope your Summer (or Winter as the case may be) is going wonderfully for you.

See you next time!

Danika.

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That's Shadow, my wee little 'bobcat' (manx..) slinking in from the left to inhale the sweet herbal aroma of my tea.

It’s a crisp fresh and sunny spring morning outside today in the Okanagan. My boy’s are at the park and I am getting ready to dye eggs for my son and nephew to hunt later today. My herb garden is taking off with a rush of energy and I feel the frisky spring vibe all around.

I have been trying in vain to find a patch of wild nettles close to my home but so far I have found only a lone plant on the path of one of my favorite trails at Mill Creek, an abundant place of beauty where I often gather herbs here and there. I never harvest from my friend the lone nettle but I do go visit it from time to time. I’ll gather her seeds this fall so I can grow her offspring in my garden next year.

Needless to say I was feeling a little bummed out about the lack of fresh nettles in my life right now! Well yesterday morning we went off to the farmers market and I was so stoked to find one of the farmers selling bags of beautiful nettles. I bought them and asked if she had nettle seed, the farmer replied with a confused expression “They ARE weeds you know? If you plant them you will never be rid of them”  to which I replied with my hand on my heart “And I am perfectly o.k with that!” I’m sure she found this Kiwi girls antics to be quite amusing. What can I say? I love nettles.

In the evening I was wondering how I would enjoy my bag of precious nettles and given I have never made an infusion from fresh nettles I decided that was just what I would do with some of them. So I got some water boiling in the kettle and fetched my jar of marshmallow root. Nettles are a little drying so I always add a pinch or two of marshmallow root to my nettle infusions as I tend to be constitutionally dry and I live in a semi arid climate. It has a slightly sweet aroma and flavour and it’s mucilage is soothing on the mouth, stomach and mucous membranes. I find this really balances the astringency of nettles.

In my excitement I simply tore the leaves, added the marshmallow and filled my quart sized jar with just boiled water. The aroma hit me immediately, so fresh, herbaceous yet somewhat sweet and fruity from the mallow. I was in love, dried nettle infusions never smell this good!  Then I stepped back to admire the leaves floating around in the brew. Wait a minute. All those intact cell walls are inhibiting the water from extracting all the good stuff from my nettles. Oops. So I strained my brew, placed the nettles on my wooden chopping board and chopped away. Then it all went back into the jar. I really should know better than to skip steps. Tsk tsk. I set aside my infusion to brew overnight so I could enjoy it in the morning.

All was well again and I retired to the living room to hang out with my man and our friend that had stopped by for an evening visit. Barely an hour went by before I was back in the kitchen smelling the nettle and mallow brew. I just couldn’t wait all night to taste my first fresh nettle infusion so I went right ahead and poured myself a cup, stirred in half a teaspoon of local wild flower honey and sipped away. Amazing. Delicious. Slightly sweet and fruit like from the mallow and honey then perfectly rounded, full and slightly salty from the nettles. And the feeling, I felt that nettle buzz like never before! Fresh herb preparations truly are bursting with life and vitality that you just can’t get with dried herb. What a feeling.

My search for wild nettles continues and brings with it discoveries of catnip, marshmallow and cattails that I will go back for soon. But in the meantime I will have to keep visiting my farmers market for my next hit of fresh nettle infusion.

Glorious Green Spring Blessings to you!

Danika.

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Have you heard of Poppy Swap yet?

Poppy Swap is an online herbal marketplace and community with a store, forum and interviews with great herbalists.

I urge you to check it out and browse around for yourself. It’s a real gem for the herbal community where you can buy, swap and sell natural handmade herbal products, discuss topics on the forum with other herbalists and connect with like minded folks.

What are you waiting for? Go take a look! I’m quite sure you will love it. 🙂

www.poppyswap.com

Spring time blessings to you all,

Danika.

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Comfrey and Wild Rose

I just found this list of some of the best herbal blogs on Fireweed Meadow’s blog.  What a great reference for all of us herb lovers. Thank you Fireweed!

http://pharmacytechniciancertification.net/50-best-blogs-to-learn-about-herbalism/

I will be writing an article on making Elderberry syrup soon. A delicious remedy for the cold and flu season that works! The best part is you can use dried Elderberries, very practical for this time of year.

Herbal blessings,

Danika.

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I tend to let the homebody side of my nature have its way during winter preferring to stay near my home on the hill and taking the time to indulge in practical pleasures with my family and on my own. What better time to study books and online herbal courses and brush up on home herbal medicine making?

The Herbal Medicine Making Kit from Learning Herbs

I recently received a herbal medicine making kit from the online business and education site Learning Herbs. LearningHerbs.com was created by John and Kimberly Gallagher down in Washington and is a wonderful resource for the budding and experienced herbalist alike where you can find awesome herbal recipes, subscribe to cool newsletters and become part of a wider herbal community. Any time I’ve bought something from them I always get loads of great free stuff like e-books, wall charts and mini courses. Through Learning Herbs I was able to take part in an amazing course called Herb Energetics with the New Mexico herbalist Kiva Rose.  I have to say it has changed the way I learn about herbs for ever. I can’t recommend Learning Herbs and its sister site Herb Mentor enough!  Herb Mentor is just that, a mentoring site for herbal enthusiasts that you can subscribe to for a minimal monthly fee.  If you’re pursuing a herbal education of any kind, home study or otherwise, its well worth it for all the lessons and resources.  I’ve put up links for any who are interested in finding out more about these excellent herbal sites.

Today I’m going to share some home herbal medicine making methods.

I’m going to make the healing herbal salve from my wonderful herbal medicine making kit and show you how simple and fun it is to make herbal oil infusions and turn them into salves for your own herbal first aid kit or diaper bag. With the exception of olive oil everything I need to make a healing herbal salve came in my kit  including glass jars and tins to store it in and cool labels.

Adding the dried herb blend to the olive oil

The first thing I had to do was get the herbs infusing in olive oil. I received 1 once by weight of dried herb blend in my kit and I used exactly 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil to infuse it in.  The recipe in my kit uses a bain marie set up to infuse the herbs using gentle heat. It also says you can use direct heat, warming the oil and herbs in a pot right on the stove as long as it’s really low heat. I’ve tried that once in the past and found it very difficult to control the temperature of the oil and it quickly raised above 40 Celsius, scorching the herbs and overheating the oil. I don’t recommend that method but that’s just my opinion and your stove might be better at maintaining a low and steady heat. I make herbal oil infusions often for use in baby bottom salve, baby massage oil and in my skin care recipes. I generally use a cold infusion process with fresh or partially dried herbs that I have gathered myself and then leave the herbs in oil for 6 weeks or more to fully infuse the herbal goodness but I have never used a  bain marie set up and I’m eager to try it out for myself. Its a great way to make herbal oils with dried herbs any time of year and you don’t have to wait 6 weeks!

Stirring the herbs into the warm oil

Infusing healing herbs in olive oil

After infusing the herbs for an hour the oil is ready to be strained. I’m using a kitchen strainer lined with cheese cloth.

I like to squeeze the herbal oil through a few layers of cheesecloth to get all the herbal goodness out of it

Now I set aside the oil and using a clean and dry bowl I melt the 1 ounce brick of beeswax in my bain marie set up.

Melting the beeswax

Now the beeswax is melted I check how much oil I have and top it up to exactly 1 cup. Then I pour it into the melted beeswax.

Pouring the herbal oil into the melted beeswax

See how the wax somewhat solidifies once I pour in the cooler oil? That’s quite normal and the wax remelts into the oil within a few minutes over the simmering water in my pot.

The cooler oil semi-solidifies the beeswax for a moment.

Now my blend is ready to be poured into the prepared jars and tins.

Once the jars are full I add lavender essential oil to the salve while it’s still fluid.

Now the salve gets left to cool and harden then I put on the lids and labels. That’s it! That’s all you need to do to make a healing herbal salve.

The finished salve in jars and tins with my echinaecea tincture brewing in the background

You can use many different herbs to make a healing salve depending on the healing qualities you want it to have. In this salve the herb blend contains Comfrey, Calendula, Plantain and St Johns Wort. By adding Lavender essential oil I also get the cooling, healing benefits of lavender in my salve.

Well that’s all for now.  I hope I’ve inspired you to try this out for yourself!  I’m going to leave you with an inspiring quote from the new Plant Healer e-zine created by traditional western herbalist Kiva Rose and her life and business partner, Jesse Wolf Hardin…

“Too much emphasis is placed on the exotic. Most of the medicine we need is native, flourishes in our yards and lots, grows at our very feet… and many of the wonders of this world are always within sight”

Jesse Wolf Hardin.

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