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.