Sunday, September 18, 2011

Into the Forest

This morning I was called into the forest.  I need to collect Solomon seal.  Every year I run out.  People have so many joint problems or joint injuries.  And today was the day to go...

I went out early in the morning, which is my favorite time of day.  We have forgotten that the forest offers a mystical experience - everytime we venture out - if we enter with an open heart and childlike wonder.  The morning was cold, so I wore a hat and handwarmers with my usual hoodie sweatshirt.  As I walked I had a "vision" of a bear walking with me asking questions about my handwarmers.  They are thick, black, made of homespun alpaca.  My hands look a bit like paws with just the tips of my fingers showing.  The bear was curious about my paws, so I showed him I could take them off and put them on.  The logical part of me was considering the fear we have of wild animals, and then I had the image of Edward Hicks' Peaceable Kingdom.  I understood that that was the way. until we created the fear.  The fear is not human.  As a human we are at home in the forest, and in sync with our fellow forest neighbors.  But the force that has impacted our humanity has made the animals wary and not at home in what's left of the forest.

I read, once, that as long as we can go to the trees, we will not lose the plant lore.  They are our elders, and they hold the ancient knowledge, which they release generously.  Even today I was reminded, we are of the trees.  They are our ancestors.

I was looking for Solomon seal, walking the same path, trailing the same stream where I had seen it earlier this season.  I didn't see any today.  The plants do this sometime.  They hide themselves, because it is not time.  I said hello to the Cohosh clan.  I stepped over rocks and met many others, some familiar friends, others I need to know.  I came to the end of the area I wanted to search today and thought,  "OK, they lured me out under false circumstances.  Let's see why we're really here..." 

As I started back, I saw one tiny Solomon seal.  I asked if I could pick it and it said no.  Then the others appeared.  This is common.  I asked another if I could pick it.  Yes.  I laid down on the stream bank, and began to uncover the root.  The plant told me to use my hands, not a metal tool I had in my pocket.  Solomon seal grows for many years.  Each year, the root adds another swelled lump where the stem emerges into the light.  Uncovering a root is like brushing damp soil away from a spinal cord.  I uncovered and gently lifted.  As I did so, I remembered reading an account written by a man who had been attacked and almost devoured by a large cat.  He wrote that as the cat began to take his life, it was like an ecstacy.  I wondered about the ecstacy of death.  I asked the Solomon seal if this was what it was like.  Yes.  But as the attcker, I didn't share in the ecstacy.  I was just pulling a root.  I realize I need to open my heart and develop my awareness and be part of my world.

I was given permission to harvest a second root.  As I uncovered the "spine" I found that it curved more than 90 degrees.  It is for severe twists.  Solomon seal is sweet and smooth.  It is very much like the smooth cartilage that covers the ends of bones.  And it is good for joints.  But Solomon seal reminded me that we need this herb because we have forgotten how to be sweet and smooth.  Instead we are too focused, too intense, we jump from one thing to another, we don't relax and we don't release.  This particular patch of Solomon seal had been through the recent flood.  It was fine, because it was flexible.

I was walking amidst some wood nettle.  I was thinking about my kidneys, and kidneys in general.  Kidneys teach us to separate liquid from solid, and so they give form to our bones.  This ties so closely to the Solomon seal teaching the bones to move smoothly.  And so they are neighbors in the forest.  Same clan...The patch of nettles was in a shady, moist spot.  They inspired me to think about my kidneys, being in a dark and moist place,  I wondered how we bring light to the kidney.  I heard "Calendula" immediately, but I continued thinking about light and kidneys, about light in our bones. 

I was walking back along the creek, and was invited by some blue cohosh to lean aganst the creek bank.  The bank was high and steep, and so to lean was to be in contact with the earth.  I understood that to be womb to womb with the mother is to expose the kidneys to light.

And so I was rewarded.  As I left the woods I passed and harvested coltsfoot leaf and horsetail and some amazing yarrow.  I was called back to harvest some agrimony that had thrived in an abused place.  That will help us understand and survive.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mima's Sick

I am the one who got knocked out with the latest bug lately.  Because I work at home, I often have no idea what everyone has, but my daughter works at the store in town.  She came home and told me that someone else reported having this set of symptoms, they missed four days of work, and now they're fine.  Generally this is my first step in treating anyone.  Is it going around? 

My first symptoms were very swollen glands under my jaw and a fever.  Then my throat became very sensitive.  Rapid onset of symptoms screams echinacea.  I had commercial echinacea tea bags and just a few doses of our homemade YEGGO here.  That's the problem with getting sick in August.  Last year's herbs are nearly gone, this year's are still working.

For the sore throat, I started gargling cayenne in water several times a day.  For swollen glands - calendula.  I have blossoms right outside the door, and I have tincture left over from last year.  I took repeated hot showers to keep the congestion from building in my sinuses.  And I did nothing to treat the fever.  I believe that fevers are healthy and that allowing your body to use fever to control a microbe keeps the immune system strong and effective.

I also slept as much as I could.

Today is Sunday.  I have been sick for one week.  My throat is still sore.  I sound atrocious.  But my glands are almost back to a normal size. 

Today, I am taking a locally available blend, sold by 7Song.  It is called Warming Lungs.  In the middle of the night, I had the feeling that the congestion was trying to get into my lungs.  I don't know how to describe this awareness.  But I also knew that I needed elecampane to stop the process.

This is the problem with being a lazy herbalist...I have not collected elecampane yet.  I know I should have.  And I really wanted to!  And I will - probably soon!  But I needed it today, and today is cold and rainy and muddy and I don't feel well. So, you know, sometime what you need it right where you are, but someone else needs to get it for you.  And today my son's girlfriend brought me her Warming Lungs blend.  We will both go out in the swamp later this week and dig some elecampane, and get some...yeah. we have a lot of collecting and stocking up to do!


I get so frustrated with uncooperative computers.  I wrote a blog about plantain, and it vanished into cyberspace, never to be seen again.  I was writing about another of my favorite backyard weeds...plantain.  I had two of my grandchildren overnight.  For breakfast, my granddaughter requested blueberry pancakes, and asked if we could eat in the backyard.  It was a wonderful plan.  I made breakfast, and got everything set up on the round table, we all sat down, cut pancakes, and my granddaughter screamed.  "They're stinging me!"

A mess of riled hornets were after her.  I grabbed the baby, took her hand and told her we were going to get right in the house.  Once safely in, I planted her on the counter and examined her legs.  I found two stings.  And she was still sobbing. 

I had just read an article earlier in the week.  It said that bee venom is acidic.  If stung by a bee, we should treat it with baking soda.  But wasps and hornets have a basic venom.  The best remedy is vinegar.  I pulled out a bottle of white balsamic vinegar (because, after all, what you need is where you are) and she asked,  "Is that going to hurt?"

I answered as honestly as I could..."Maybe a little, but it should stop the stinging."  I cupped my hand beneath the sting, poured a little vinegar in my hand and applied it to the sting.  She calmed down a lot as I repeated the procedure on the sting closer to her ankle.  I asked her to watch her baby brother for just a second while I ran back outside.  I pulled some plantain, brought it back in and showed it to her. 

"We're going to chew this up and put it on the stings.  Know why?  Because this plant can draw, and it will draw the venom out of the sting.  Then you will stop reacting."  She chewed some, I chewed some.  We applied the slimy green to the stings.  I put her and her brother in chairs at the indoor table, and bravely went back outside to rescue our blueberries from the wretched, mean-tempered wasps.

By the time we were done with breakfast, the swelling was gone.  Please note, my granddaughter is not allergic to stings.  If she were, my reaction would have been completely different - possibly including an ER visit.

Plantain does draw.  One can almost feel the drawing action when handling the leaves, when palpitating the deep, strong vein ridges.  The plant also has a similarly deep, straight tap root which draws nutrients from deep below.

We often use plantain to draw splinters from the skin.  We usually use the spit poultice technique - chew it up and wad it on.  Use a band-aid to hold it in place when such luxuries are available!  (Actually, we thought we invented this technique.  But once I took a group of teens who were interested in herbalism to hear local herbalist 7Song  talk about first aid.  He described the technique, then named it.)

Because it draws, I began using it for deep lung congestion.  I dose a few drops of tincture, and have had good success.  Kids have coughed up grossities and have been able to breathe.

Another time I considered plantain, because it could draw, was after my brother's car accident.  We form cheloids, and he had many small scars on his face from the windshield.  The scarring seemed to have damaged some pores, and small infections had no outlet.  I made a very simple, very basic plantain salve, which he applied to his face.  According to my mother, it worked beautifully.

One other thing I have noticed is that plantain makes a great bandage.  I think I learned this from Jeanne Rose.  If you cut yourself, apply a nice, smooth plantain leaf to the cut.  It stops the bleeding - possibly it is drawing the two sides of the wound together.  The wound heals the cut with minimal scarring.

If you don't poison your lawn, I can guarantee that you have plantain nearby.  It's easy to identify - actually hard to misidentify (Is misidentify a word?) and it is available.

Monday, July 4, 2011


Dandelions are everywhere, and I don't think I have ever met anyone who couldn't identify this plant - at least some of the time in some of it's phases.  Dandelion has always been one of my favorite teachers.  It taught me one of my first big lessons about using herbs.

I began studying herbs with books.  I would read about the plants and what they remedied.  Then I would walk down to the health food store in the university town where I lived and went to school.  I would lift the jars full of dried herbs, remove lids, inhale.  Then I would make some choices, scoop dried plant matter into little plastic bags and take my treasures home and experiment. 

I was walking home, slowly, one summer day - taking my time, enjoying the sunshine.  I was watching the sidewalk and noticed a dandelion was pushing up between two sections of the walk.  Can you imagine the power of this little plant?  It can displace a sidewalk?  Suddenly I realized that the chopped, dried root in my little plastic bag was this plant.  It seems obvious, but to me, dandelions were weeds and herbs were magic.

Dandelions are magic hiding in plain sight, maybe.

Something changed in me that day.  I began harvesting just a few herbs, just to see what would happen.  In my mind, only special people could work the magic that made a weed a remedy.  Slowly, I began to join the ranks of those people.

One of the first things I read was that dandelion parts that grew above ground were a bladder tonic.  Underground - liver.  What I have learned is that if it tastes bitter and makes you salivate - it's also good for digestion.  What it's doing in your mouth, it's doing through the whole digestive tract.  I learned that if we begin to eat dandelion greens in the spring, when they are the least bitter, and continue to eat them regularly throughout the season, we don't notice the increasing bitterness.  I think dandelion is increasing its effect, readying our digestive tract for the heavy, stored foods of winter.

I have always used dandelion root as a first tonic for liver.  If someone complains of hangover - dandelion root tea.  Both the extra fluid and the liver aid help. 

Every year I try to remember to do a dandelion fast.  I believe I learned this from reading Jeanne Rose.  For ten days I make a quart of dandelion root tea in the morning.  I go outside and get a tap root.  Dandelion has a thick, fleshy root that grows straight down.  It is easy to harvest by sliding the shovel straight down, next to a dandelion, then snapping the shovel through the root.  Pull on the dandelion greens and the whole root should slide from the Earth.  Sometimes I scrub and chop just the root for my tea, sometimes I scrub the root, rinse the greens and make a tea of the whole plant.  I drink this tea, and take no foods until noon.  After noon I eat regularly.  After ten days, I feel better.  I feel lighter.  I can feel my liver relax.  My body also releases excess fluids.  And my bowels are looser and more active.  So, everything is cleaner.

I think about the liver a lot.  When thinking about healing, and considering our current culture of poison and violence, it is impossible not to consider the liver.  Our liver has one job - keep us alive by cleaning the toxins out of our bodies.  We are attacked daily by poisons in our foods, our water, the air.  The liver is very busy keeping all of this to a level that allows us to survive.  I think the liver has a list of what's in us.  The top of the lost is the most deadly substances.  As we go down the list we find things that are not good, but won't kill us.

The liver is supposed to help keep hormones in balance.  But excess hormone won't kill us, so cleaning that up is perpetually on the to-do list.  Many people complain about problems streaming from excess hormones and problems with the endocrine system.  Consider the baby-boomer women's awareness of menopausal discomfort.  I have researched herbs that effect the endocrine glands and influence hormone production.  But I have learned that influencing one influences others and we don,t have the wisdom to know which ones.  I realized my brain does not have the intelligence to handle this.  But my liver does.  My advice, now, for women suffering from peri-menopausal symptoms - dandelion root tea.  Eat and drink as clean as possible, and allow the liver to bring your hormones back into balance. 

As I said, dandelion has been one of my most prolific and charming teachers.  When I see a yard full of dandelions in May, I imagine that stars have landed.  When I see no dandelions, I know the land has been poisoned to death.  I mourn.  So, I wish you health.  I wish you dandelions!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

And after some time in the sunshine, picking black raspberries, I also found:
lamb's quarters
bladder campion

Everything You Need is Where You Are

I have been learning to work with herbs since the mid-1970s.  I am the eternal student, for the plants always have a new lesson.  One important thing I have learned, and learned well, is that everything you need is here.  This planet, with the others species who share space with our species, are generous beyond belief.  We just have to learn to look.

When I mow my lawn, I am taking a mental inventory of all the herbs I am beheading, shortening...wasting.  We are moving into a time when we will have a chance to be grateful for the abundance around us.  We will become aware of the innocuous foods and medicines available outside the backdoor.

I will admit that I live in extreme abundance - with a large yard and a nearby forest.  But even in the city I have found herbs pushing through the sidewalk. 

Two days ago I spent about five minutes walking through my lawn and checking the gardens.  I listed more than 60 plants - herbs and flowers, mostly.  With these herbs, I could cure many illnesses and ease many symptoms.

Quickly, with folk names, and in the order I noticed them:
day lily
plantain (2 kinds, actually!)
curled dock
ground ivy
Queen Anne's Lace
birdsfoot trefoil
wood sorrel
Virginia creeper
goats beard
melilot (2 colors)
poison ivy
gravel root
red raspberry
black raspberry
garlic mustard
wild roses
pineapple weed
shepherd's purse
moth mullein
red clover (and more varieties of clover I failed to list)

And because I am an herbalist:
milk thistle
blessed thistle

There are also fruits:
choke cherries
crab apple

When I am invited to lead plant walks, I never worry.  I know we can find these plants anywhere.  A normal, healthy lawn offers this variety. 

But once I was invited to work with a group of students at a small university.  I was barefoot on a groomed lawn on a sunny Saturday morning.  I started talking about being able to find herbal allies anywhere.  After my spiel, we all looked down, ready to meet and greet.  We found grass.  One of the students said, "Uh-oh, we'd better get off here."  We all realized we were looking at a monoculture - only one species of grass.  We knew we were standing on a poisoned landscape.  So we moved to the raggedy, unkempt edge of campus and found healthy abundance. 

A healthy lawn has dandelions.  Dandelions offer health and nutrition.  People used to know that.  My friend, Sue, pointed out once, that we have become accustomed to seeing lawns with no dandelions, because people picked them all for steamed greens or salads.  That was before.  Now we recreate that by dumping poisons on our homes.  If your life is lacking dandelions...I feel sorry for you.  You are living in toxins, overworking your liver, and you need - dandelion - to heal you!

I plan to discuss the plants I have listed, but we'll see what develops here.  This could be the start of a new leg of my journey with plants.