Category Archives: Uncategorized

Green Seeds: Core Vitality

Lately I’ve been finding continual inspiration in the glowing green seeds of late summer. By green seeds, I mean the seeds that are formed and developing on plants, but are not quite ripe yet. Therefore they are green instead of brown, soft and yielding instead of hard, moist instead of dry.  I like to think of green seeds as developing embryos.  They carry the sacred information that makes up the blueprint for a plant or tree of the future.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

 There is something both precious and vulnerable about them.  They are building up the materials and knowledge needed to nourish themselves. Once fully mature, they will be ready to sprout independently into a new plant, abundant with life force.

The embryo holds the core.  The young spinal cord and its fluids, as well as its nearby organs, all tender and tiny, dwell in development within. Minerals and salts, proteins and oils comprise a rich fluid that surrounds it, providing it with essential food and protection.

Plantain (Plantago major) leaf with its green seed stalk strewn along the centre

Developing seeds have the ability to nourish us deeply, on a core level, reaching the most precious and vulnerable parts of us.  They also protect us by strengthening our immune systems.  And they do this largely by feeding our nervous systems.  A strong nervous system responds to stress with quick, resourceful agility as opposed to an uneasy sense of needing to escape.  There is an underlying calmness that comes from the sense that we have everything we need to survive and thrive.  We feel safe.

In herbal medicine, some green seeds have long been known for their effects on the nervous system.  Milky (or immature) oat seeds are a classic example.  They’re often given to people recovering from a long period of stress or illness.  People who need consistent, gentle support that restores deeply and gradually.  Oat seeds carry a nutrient rich, milk-like fluid that is easily absorbed and is considered a “trophorestorative” (an agent of deep, nutritive restoration) for the nervous system.  A delightful addition to tea blends, milky oats can also be very effective when preserved fresh as a milky-textured tincture. 

Milky oat seeds (Avena sativa)

Nettle seeds are remarkable agents of the kidneys and adrenal glands.  They are useful in cases of adrenal fatigue, which results from excessive stress–a challenge familiar to many these days.  In turn, they support hormone and immune function, as well as the nervous system when used as both a food and a medicine.  I’ve seen marked improvements in the vitality of pregnant women adding small amounts (a pinch to a 1/4 teaspoon) of nettle seeds daily to their diet.  

Even for those not in need of adrenal support, nettle seeds are a nutritious “super food”.  I dry them on the stalks, and then grind them over a sieve to remove the stinging nettle hairs.  Then I store them in jars for use throughout the winter.  I like to sprinkle them onto my hot cereal, or onto soups or stews.  Some people enjoy taking a small amount on a spoon with honey.

Nettle Seeds (Urtica spp)

Lambs quarters also bulge with rich green seeds at this time of year.  This summer has been an impressive growing year for lambs quarters in our gardens.  We’ve been enjoying eating the deep green, spinach-like leaves all summer long.  The leaves and seeds are high in vitamin C, minerals and proteins.    

Lambs Quarters (Chenopodium album) seeds on the stalk.

I like to blend them into pesto, along with our garden basil.  The young seeds, with sunflower or pumpkin seeds make a pleasant (and more affordable!) replacement for pine nuts.

Plantain’s seed head somewhat resembles a spinal cord.  I like the energy I get from chewing on the seeds, fresh from the stalk. I imagine their oils and minerals feeding the fluids between my vertebrae, and flowing along the nerve channels from there.  One of my favourite teachers and authors, Matthew Wood, talks about the signature (resemblance) of a nervous system that can be seen in a plantain leaf’s vein structure.  

Plantain reduces inflammation throughout the body.  It boosts immunity and reduces allergic response.  It’s a classic support for the core organs (the ones that develop first in the embryo) such as the kidneys, lungs and bladder, clearing infections, soothing irritations and restoring tone and function.  I consider plantain to be among the safest and most reliably effective herbal medicines available.

Plantain (Plantago major) stalk & leaf

Thus here I am in early September, finding myself drawn in to view up close the green, plump little clusters on the wild leafy plants. Miraculously storing sunlight, water and gifts of the soil, each in its own tiny package, green seeds are the bearers of light and hope.  The care packages for the next leg of the journey, supporting a safe and vibrant future.  With allies like them, I move forward with confidence and joy.

 

GATHER: A Wild Foods Tour & Dinner in PEC

As luck would have it, I’m married to a fabulous plant based chef!  As I’ve learned about wild edibles over the years, he has learned about cooking with them.  Now we are excited to collaborate on this new event, celebrating the wild harvests of autumn in PEC…

Here’s a chance not only to identify some of our wild edible plants, but also to taste them, featured in a delectable five course plant based dinner!

Dandelion Heart–a wild delicacy

DETAILS

We’ll meet 4:30 pm at the Hillier Hall (18560 Loyalist Parkway, Prince Edward County)

We’ll embark on a wild foods walk through a nearby trail, stopping to identify and discuss the various wild edible plants encountered along the way.  

 

Then we’ll return to the Hall for a wild appetizer, prepared by stellar chef, Chris Byrne.  You can view some of Chris’ beautiful cuisine on Instagram at chefchris2112 . Here’s one photo of a wild foods dish he made in the spring time, using the young shoots of three local wild plants..

Shoots of cattail, burdock and sumac on nori and black rice, with avocado sauce and heartsease flowers

Chris will offer an overview of a few techniques for wild food cooking over appetizers and perhaps a glass of wine, provided by Stanners Vineyard (neighbours of the Hillier Hall).  Herbal tea, crafted by yours truly will also be available.

Following this, a full dinner will be served.  It will be plant based and infused with local wild edibles.  Dessert will be included of course, along with wild herbal tea and coffee.  Wines will be available by the glass or bottle throughout the evening.

This unique event has limited space, and registration is required.  Cost is $75.  

**PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS EVENT IS SOLD OUT.  STAY TUNED FOR OUR NEXT WILD WALK/MEAL***

 

On Sleep & Dreams, Rest & Relaxation

Sleep issues are rampant these days.  I’ve been hearing about it everywhere–from folks in the clinic to random conversations in town.  Whether it be an inability to fall asleep, waking in the middle of the night, dreams disturbing restful sleep, or simply not getting enough of it, it seems we’re experiencing a collective “unrest”, so to speak.

 

With sensory and info overload, an ever-quickening pace, economic and environmental stresses and the increasing electromagnetic frequencies in our atmosphere, one can easily become overwhelmed.  Anxiety and restlessness can ensue, and this can affect both dreaming and waking life.

(Illustration by Murat Yukselir/The Globe & Mail)

Meanwhile, research is proving the age-old wisdom that rest and sleep are irrefutable cornerstones of health.  (A friend recently sent me this worthwhile article & pod cast that demonstrates this point)

Also, I believe that if we allow ourselves ample opportunity for dreaming and we pay attention to our dreams, we can access part of our minds that will not only help us to heal, but to creatively solve problems and discover new ideas that we may not find in waking life.

Motherwort Leonurus cardiaca

Catnip Nepeta cataria

 So I’d like to bring up two local wild plants that offer remarkable support for the rest/sleep/dream process.  Glowing vibrant green from mid to late spring when they’re at their peak, they can be easily found all throughout our area, providing many of us with just what we need.  I’m referring to none other than catnip (Nepeta cataria) and motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca).

A soothing herb for an overburdened nervous system, catnip supports peaceful sleep and dreaming, and reliably eases nightmares.  It also acts as an emotional balm, calming anxieties and toning down responses to stressful situations.  If catnip could speak directly to us, when we’re feeling overwhelmed, it might say something like this:  

“There now, beautiful soul… You’re going to be just fine.  Take a nice long deep breath, and look around…  Remember all that you’re grateful for… All is well…. All is well…”  

Catnip is known among herbalists as a safe, effective children’s herb,  particularly helping to prevent bed-wetting (which is often associated with fears and anxieties). It addresses the child in all of us.  The part that yearns for a soothing lullaby, and to be safely held by a loving parent. 

The topic of loving parenthood brings to mind our other featured plant, motherwort. In true mother form, motherwort helps to ease, soothe and nourish.  A heart tonic, it regulates the pulse and rhythm of the body.  It supports digestive function so that we’re nourished by what we eat.  It is also well-suited to women from childbearing age, through pregnancy all the way past menopause.  Motherwort can regulate and harmonize various systems throughout the body and mind.  She’ll regulate and harmonize our sleep cycles, and work/rest patterns as well.  Like catnip, motherwort also eases anxiety and relaxes tension.  

While catnip supports the child in us, motherwort supports the parent in us.  She makes us more cognizant of our own emotions, and thus able to handle them more practically.  She is like a mother who might calmly recognize her cranky child’s over-emotional behaviour as the temporary result of lack of sleep.  When our emotional stress gets the best of us, she might say to us something like this:

“There you go again with all that fret & worry.  This can’t possibly be helpful, can it? There are many ways to solve your problems but first you’re going to have to take care of yourself.  How about if, instead of worrying, you do something really nourishing for yourself right now?  Then later, you’ll probably find the answer you’re looking for with ease.”

 

 

Catnip and motherwort will infuse in harmony together, either fresh or dried, as an herbal tea.  We use the leaves (sometimes with the tiny flowers) of both plants.  Motherwort is quite bitter, so many people can not tolerate a tea of plain motherwort.  However, the aromatic leaves of catnip help to balance out the flavour. Lemon balm, bee balm or lemon verbena could also make good flavour additions to this tea.  A bit of honey or maple syrup would counter the bitterness too.

(However you may want to experience some of the bitter flavour for its many digestive benefits—but that’s a discussion for another post)…

…Nowadays we’re seeing a resurgence of primitive skills being learned and shared, as people recognize the wisdom in these old practices.  Perhaps the most primitive of these skills is in the fact the most important.  We must re-learn how to nourish ourselves with rest.  The plants can help to teach us this if we are open to the offer.  The way I see it, the more we embrace this opportunity the more fit we will become to take on the various challenges of our day, turning breakdowns into breakthroughs, and thriving as we go.

Dandelion, Clarity & Direction

 In the realm of plant medicine, we sometimes refer to the main characteristics & details of a plant as its “signature”.  This indicates a plant’s key aspects, easily detected with our senses, such as its appearance or scent.  Its signature offers us insight into the way the plant has adapted itself in order to thrive, giving us clues as to how it might benefit our health when used as food or medicine.   Dandelion, like all plants, has its own signature.  This is largely seen in its ability to cut through stuff, keeping what is necessary and clearing away what is not needed, yielding lightness, clarity and a sense of direction on many levels–physical, mental & emotional.

  We can see this signature in its leaf shape, which looks to me like an arrow, continually pointing the way along the mid-rib, part by part, from stem to tip.  The leaf shape is also referenced in one of dandelion’s common French names, “Dent de Lion” or “Lion’s Tooth” which it resembles with its sharply-toothed edges.

 

Like the lion’s tooth, which cuts through flesh to make it into usable sustenance for a large, active creature, dandelion helps the body to break down the foods we eat.  It helps us extract the nutrients we need while carrying out waste.  As such, it supports our energy, strength, awareness and agility as we move through our day. 

This cutting, cleaning property manifests in the body in various ways when we ingest dandelion.  The edible & medicinal leaf, root and flowers of the plant all work to this effect, supporting the body’s organs of elimination and absorption.  

We can detect this by tasting any part of the dandelion plant.  We will find a bitter flavour.  In my workshops, I often mention the benefits of the bitter flavour on the digestive system.   When our taste buds detect something bitter, they trigger our salivary glands to secrete more saliva.  This sets off a domino effect throughout our entire digestive system.  Important digestive enzymes are released and peristalsis is triggered (muscular movement through the intestines) allowing food to move through and be broken down into nutrients while carrying out unwanted waste.  

When we ingest dandelion leaf, it works on a couple of our important organs of detoxification: the kidneys and bladder.  Dandelion leaf is a classic herbal diuretic, removing waste and toxic elements through the urine.  But this cleansing action is particularly wise and directed.  Many diuretics tend to clear out important minerals (especially potassium) along with our unneeded waste.  Dandelion leaf however, is so mineral rich (particularly with potassium) that we do not lose the minerals we need.  

When we ingest the root, other organs of elimination & absorption are affected:  primarily the liver, gall bladder and colon.  Dandelion root supports the production and secretion of bile in the liver and gall bladder.  Bile is a key element in nutrient absorption, particularly of fats, which feed our brain, nerves and endocrine system.  Bile also helps to carry out waste through the colon.  

 The liver is responsible for creating and recycling many of the body’s hormones and blood cells.  Dandelion root supports these processes, helping the liver to hold onto the necessary building blocks for hormone and blood cell production, while giving it space to do its work by clearing out wastes in a timely manner.  Hormone balance means reproductive health, mental and emotional health, a balanced metabolism and strong immune response, among other things.  Blood cell production increases vitality and energy.

Dandelion root also provides a source of nourishment for our gut flora. It acts as a pre-biotic by providing inulin, a starch that feeds the healthy bacteria in our lower gut, helping the good bacteria to reproduce and thrive.  This in turn supports our nutrient absorption.  It also benefits our immune system which is aided by healthy gut bacteria to fight off pathogens and prevent illness.

Dandelion’s long taproot directs itself deeply into the earth, where it takes up the minerals needed to thrive, and brings them towards the topsoil, thus helping to feed other plants growing around it.

Dandelion flowers benefit another organ of elimination: the skin.  Infused in oil and applied topically, dandelion flowers will help to clear away rashes, boils, eczema and other itchy or inflamed skin conditions remarkably well.  Often we see skin conditions erupt when the liver is overburdened and therefore unable to clear out waste fast enough.  The body’s healthy response to this situation is to clear out those excess toxins through the skin, manifesting as rashes, boils, etc.  Taking dandelion root or leaf internally, while using the infused flower oil topically can provide a simple, elegant solution to this problem.

Dandelion flower oil also makes an excellent topical anti-inflammatory rub for sore muscles and joints.  It can help clear out wastes that are sometimes stored in joints or tight muscles, relieving pain and supporting mobility.

 In the realm of the mind and spirit, the flower essence of dandelion can be used to support clarity and direction.  Dandelion flower essence is known to clear away lingering anger and rage, both towards others and towards oneself.  It supports the clearance of emotional patterns (including addictions) that impede the process of putting plans into action and moving forward in a positive way on the path of life.  With this clearance and direction, there is the opportunity to begin and follow through with new plans, accompanied by a vibrant energy like that of a spring day!

In the early spring time, when we’re often eager for the freshly harvested food we’ve missed throughout the winter, dandelion is a big provider.  The leaves can be eaten fresh in salads or added to cooked veggie dishes for tasty bitter green nourishment.  They can be infused in apple cider vinegar to extract their minerals, and this can then be used as a salad dressing.  On a simpler note, a few fresh leaves can be picked and eaten before a meal to stimulate the bitter principle and support digestion.  They are tastiest, and also most effective before flowering.

With the upsurge into spring, the upwards arrow of the dandelion leaf promises us gentle but ever present support, nourishment, clarity and guidance.  All that’s required of us for this is to clear away excess thought and direct some attention towards it.  In this way we won’t miss out on its humble offerings and we will have the chance to harvest and use it appropriately.  With this, we will surely find an upsurge of gratitude for the many gifts of most a reliable plant that we often find growing nearby when we need it.

Tree Bark: Wise Old Medicine

 

As spring life awakens from its winter dormancy, all the nutrients held deep in soil and perennial roots begin to rise, preparing to feed emerging buds and leaves.

Vitamins, minerals and agents of healing & defense make their way through the sap, moving up trunks, branches and stems, and we find ourselves in the optimal season for harvesting tree bark.

Bark can offer us bold healing and nourishment.  As the tree’s tough outer skin, bark provides weathered strength and stoic protection.  To survive harsh climate extremes, pests and pathogens, trees have developed sophisticated metabolites, some of which can be found in their bark, offering resilience to those who ingest them.

Also, bark carries within it the tree’s wisdom, which is rooted deep in the earth.

 Lately, I have been working with the inner bark of Trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides)…

…and Apple (Malus spp.)

I will describe here the way that I’ve harvested and processed the bark of these trees, as well as some of the healing benefits these particular trees have to offer.

 In this season, many people prune trees, as we have learned that when awakening from dormancy, they are well-equipped to successfully repair and regenerate from minor damage.  Selective pruning can encourage healthy tree growth and abundant fruiting.  Pruned branches can provide an accessible source of useable bark, which doesn’t require harvesting from (or damaging) the magnificent bark of the main trunk.

 

I am very selective and sparing when I prune trees.  I check in with the tree through a visual survey, as well as spending some quiet meditative time with it before deciding to prune, and choosing where to do so.  Once decided, with an offering of gratitude to the tree, and wishing it well, I very carefully begin to prune.  I use clean, sharp pruning shears, and prune off suckers and low-growing branches.  Once they’re cut, I carry them back to a comfortable spot where I can sit and shave the bark off the branches.  Using a small, sharp knife, I shave off the bark in strips, letting it land in a bowl or basket.  It can then either be used fresh or dried, made into a tea or a tincture.  To dry it, I lay it on a cotton sheet or in a basket in a warm place, out of direct light until it snaps when broken.  Then I know it is dry and I can store it in a jar.

Pruned apple branches

Trembling aspen is in the poplar family.  Trees in this family have a constituent known as salicin, which is the active ingredient used in aspirin for its pain relieving, anti-inflammatory properties.  It can be used to soothe arthritic and rheumatic pain as well as muscle aches, headaches and many types of inflammation.  Its bitter flavour makes it a useful digestive tonic, helping the body to absorb nutrients and supporting gentle detoxification.  It can be used to prevent and aid bladder and/or kidney infections.  It is also a rejuvenating tonic that can be safely taken to revitalize an aging or convalescing body.

A cluster of Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

 Apple bark has pleasant cooling and astringent properties.  It can help to cleanse the blood vessels of plaque and fatty deposits, supporting healthy circulation.  It’s helpful in moving lymph fluid and reducing swollen lymph glands, and has benefits as a digestive tonic as well.  It is also a notable remedy for the relief of heartburn, or acid reflux.  By cooling the burning sensation, and toning the esophageal sphincter to prevent leakage of irritating stomach acid into the esophagus, apple bark can treat both the symptom and the cause of this condition.

The photo above shows a bowl of shaven apple bark.  On the left are the fresh cut branches before they’ve been shaved.  On the right are the white cores of the branches, post shaving.  These beautiful auburn shavings can be made into a medicinal tea, fresh or dried, by simmering about 1 teaspoon per cup of water on the stove for at least 10 minutes.  1-2 cups of the tea can be drunk daily, or as needed.  

Shaved bark of trembling aspen, drying on a sheet of cotton in a basket

Trembling aspen, and all other tree bark can be simmered in the same way.  Simmering helps to extract more of the nutrients and medicinal components bound up in the bark, compared with steeping as we do with leaf and flower teas.  The bitter flavour of poplar might make it less palatable for some, but it can be combined with tasty nutritious herbs like cinnamon, spruce, rosehips, orange peel and/or peppermint to make a delicious tea.  For optimal digestive health however, a strong bitter brew may well be your best medicine.

The tree barks I’ve mentioned here are just two, among many trees which bear various gifts throughout our landscape.  I haven’t touched on willow, alder or pine, for example…and these are just a few examples of trees that I’ll be sure to discuss in a different post.

What I most want to convey, however, is that we truly are surrounded by helpful, restorative and nutritive beings in the form of plants, fungi and trees.  In our cold climate, we can harvest medicine such as tree bark throughout the year.  (I am writing about bark now because late winter is arguably the optimal time for its harvest, but if it’s needed in December, or even July, it’s available then too).  

The more we appreciate what our trees have to offer us, in the way of healing abilities, deep, aged wisdom as well as majestic beauty, the more motivation we will have to ensure their health and safety for generations to come.

Ethereal Medicine, Herbal Medicine, Permeating Love and a Magic Cat

 

This week I lost my best friend, my companion and a very important teacher.  She came into my life 17 years ago, a tiny kitten who could snuggle into the palm of my hand.  

Black, with auburn highlights, she had faint tabby stripes in the summer sunlight that sometimes gave her an aubergine glow.  She spoke with a rich vocabulary of tones, and a deep permeating purr that sent love vibrating to the far corners of the room.  She taught me to move with grace and to strongly focus my intentions. 

Her name was Cassandra Bones, but she developed various names throughout her life.  Her dark colour inspired one of her names: New Moon.  When we moved to our farm, we named it New Moon Farm in her honour.  

Cass was by my side as I learned the craft of herbalism.  She was, it could be said, my familiar.  She had a fine ethereal perception, as I believe many cats do.  As my knowledge of herbs developed, I noticed that Cass was already quite tuned into which herbs she needed for her own health, and where to find them. 

 One of my favourite stories about her took place in the drought of August 2012.  Cass had developed a bladder infection–something to which she was prone.  Whenever this happened, I would put together a medicinal tea for her, made of any herbs growing nearby, or that I had on hand, that I knew would soothe and disinfect the bladder.  One herb I liked to use was horsetail (Equisetum arvensis)–a really effective anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and diuretic herb that tones the bladder and strengthens the kidneys.  It works just as effectively for humans as it does for cats.

Dried horsetail

This medicine is available for harvest in our area in the late spring, while the ground is still somewhat moist.  Its leaves grow upward (vertically) when it’s young, and as the season progresses, they reach outwards (diagonally and horizontally) like a fan.  As the plant ages, its silica content increases, making it too tough and abrasive to be used for medicine.  So, the rule of thumb is to harvest horsetail in spring, when the leaves are still mainly pointing upwards, not outwards.  By August, and particularly during a drought, horsetail is normally growing outwards in its lanky fan-like habit, making it long past its harvest period.

Horsetail, Equisetum arvensis, growing outwards instead of upwards, passed its prime for harvesting

    On this August day, when I stepped outside, I found what looked like chewed-up grass, left by Cass on the doorstep.  She occasionally chewed and spit out grass (as most cats do, especially when feeling under the weather) so this was not unusual. However this particular grass looked a bit odd to me.  I examined it more closely, only to find that it was not grass at all, but actually horsetail!  Cass had apparently realized that horsetail was what she needed.  She had ventured out in the heat, traversing about 10 acres to the horsetail patch beside an underground spring, and bit off some horsetail to chew on!

 I didn’t know that Cass knew what horsetail was, nor where to find it, let alone that it was what she needed at that time! And she hardly ever travelled such a big distance from the house.  Aside from all this, the horsetail should have been tough and irritating in the mouth, and difficult to harvest at that time of year.  Yet she had harvested it.  I was compelled to head down to the spring and check it out myself.  There I saw with my own eyes, a glowing patch of healthy young horsetail.  It was at a perfect stage for harvest!  I guessed it must have come up late in the season for some reason, and was being kept alive by the underground spring, despite the drought.  Inspired with awe, I snipped a bit of the horsetail for harvest, giving thanks for this miraculous gift. 

Cass and her magic horsetail

I brought it back to the house and simmered  a teaspoon of chopped up horsetail for about 10 minutes in 1/3 cup of water. I then poured that brew over a blend of dandelion leaf, mallow, yarrow and corn silk (about 1 teaspoon of the whole blend), steeping that for about 15 minutes.  This created a soothing bladder antiseptic.  Once it cooled to room temperature, I gave it to Cass in a dropper (about 10 drops), and continued to give it to her 3 times per day for about a week.  Her infection cleared over the next couple days.  I dried the rest of that horsetail for future use.  I labelled it “Cass’s Magic Horsetail”–for it truly was magic, just like the cat who had found it!

Cass was not only a mysterious knower of herbs, but she was also a giver and receiver of ethereal medicine.  Some folks who have visited the Hawthorn Herbals clinic have come to know the sweet comfort of her presence.  She often knew just where to place her paw on your body so that it soothed pain or discomfort.  She would cuddle beside me and purr when I felt under the weather, staying close by until I began to feel better.  She taught me about the potency of healing touch, when given with intention.  Later in her life, I would lay my hands on her arthritic hips or her lower back, and I’d sense an easing in her discomfort as I willed her healing with my gentle touch, just as she had taught me.

 Here, at New Moon Farm we are preparing to sow the seeds of a new season, growing food and medicine to support vitality for another year.  As the plants grow, I will remember that sometimes, against all odds, the herb you need is available for you right when you need it–you just have to go and look.  I will also remember that ethereal and subtle as it seems, sometimes the best medicine comes with with a focused, loving, healing touch, delivered with presence & grace.

For these teachings, as well as all the love and magic,  I will always be grateful.  

“New Moon” the cat, at New Moon Farm

 

 

Circulatory Stimulants: Keep the Blood Flowing While the Cold Wind is Blowing….

While out skating on a pond the other day, I found myself in a familiar predicament: cold, numb and slightly painful toes!  In the cold weather, my peripheral circulation is easily reduced, bringing pain or discomfort to my fingers and toes.  In my practice, I've met a number of people who face the same issue to varying degrees.  Fortunately there are herbal helpers which safely and effectively encourage peripheral circulation.  For this chilly January post, I thought I'd share some thoughts on the best ways to use these herbs for this purpose....

Hot peppers of any kind will quickly stimulate circulation.  A good trick for keeping hands and feet warm in cold places is to put a pinch of chilli powder (cayenne or other) in between two pairs of gloves or socks.  Wearing one pair, then placing the powder in the second pair and wearing it on top of the first ensures that your skin is protected from being burned on direct contact with the chilli powder (which can be extremely painful).  Meanwhile, you still benefit from the heat it gives. 

Adding chillies or hot sauce to your meals will help increase your circulation very quickly as well.  However, circulatory stimulation from chilli peppers will be relatively short-lived.

Longer term warmth and circulatory stimulation can come from cooking with other herbs such as thyme, ginger, rosemary, garlic and turmeric.  These herbs will also help to keep bacteria and pathogens away, keeping us healthy throughout the winter.  Added to slow-cooked soups or stews, they will yield optimally lasting warmth.

Another warming circulatory stimulant is cinnamon.  This herb is particularly helpful for diabetics or those wanting to balance blood sugar.  It helps to reduce sugar cravings while also encouraging peripheral circulation.  Cinnamon sticks cooked into hot cereal or simmered into tea work well for this.  Simmer the cinnamon with ginger, nutmeg, cardomom and coriander and you've got a delicious, warming herbal chai tea.

One of my favourite therapeutic herbs to use in my practice is the wild Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum spp).   A member of the citrus family, prickly ash grows in treelines of pasture land and at forest edges throughout our region.  Both the bark and berries of this tree effectively encourage cirulation, while also reducing the pain and inflammation that sometimes come with blocked blood flow.  This herb, taken over time can help to normalize blood vessel dilation so that healthy blood flow is maintained.

With a bit of conscious effort, and the help of some easily accessible herbs, we can easily encourage circulation and reduce the pain and numbness brought on by the cold weather.   This lets us get outdoors and enjoy the glory of winter, until the planting & harvesting season begins again...

 

 

 

Of Shedding & Nourishment: Some Wild Herbs & Foods of Late Autumn

In the cycle of the seasons, autumn represents a period of death.  Foliage and flowers abandon us, offering themselves back to the earth..

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leaving only the tougher parts of plants and trees to endure the winter–the fruits, seeds, bark and roots.

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Everything contracts, conserving nutrients and warmth.  Energy previously expressed outwardly now hides beneath thicker skins, or in roots and rhizomes under the earth’s surface.

…And we contract as well, staying close to the warm places, and interacting a little less with the world outside.

008Where, in this barren season can we best find our nourishment and vitality when we need it most? …

….Where all the energy and nourishment have gathered.  In wild roots…and seeds…and fruits. And so those are the herbs and foods that I gather in the late fall.  Here are a few of my favourites…

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Burdock roots (Arctium lappa)

Taproots, such as those found on burdock, dandelion, wild carrot and thistle, reach deep into the soil, gathering up nutrients for storage.  Rich in prebiotic starches like inulin, they nourish our gut flora, strengthening our digestion and our immunity.

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Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) fresh out of the ground

Cooked into soups and stews, these roots make nutritious vegetables, providing potassium, iron, calcium and magnesium among other trace minerals.  Infused in apple cider vinegar, they yield a wild “Root Tonic” that can be taken daily, or can be added to salad dressings for a wild-infused nutty flavour.  While offering nourishment, also help detoxify the system, shedding what we no longer need.

Nettle Seeds (Urtica spp)

Nettle Seeds (Urtica spp)

Nettle seeds are another gift of autumn.  I sprinkle them onto cereal or other dishes for a boost of protein, silica, potassium and vitamins A & C.  Gently restorative to kidneys and adrenal glands, they can be particularly helpful during or after periods of increased stress or illness.  

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Hawthorn Berries (Crataegus spp)

Hawthorn berries make a safe and gentle tonic for the heart and circulatory system.  They help to calm and centre the mind, and reduce the effects of stress on the body.  They make a lovely addition to herbal tea, combining particularly well with vitamin C-rich spruce needles–which are available for winter harvest.

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A simple, well-infused pot of tea will carry many of the benefits of our late autumn herbs, and may just be the perfect thing to nourish us through the winter months…

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…Helping us to keep a strong earth connection, even under the snow & ice. 

Here’s to winter warmth and wellness!

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Japanese Knotweed: A Fiercely Medicinal Invasive Plant Ally

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This is Japanese knotweed, Polygonum cuspidatum.  For those concerned about invasive species moving into our region, this plant would appear on a short list of major trouble-makers.  Devouring creeksides and roadsides alike, Japanese knotweed is an intense grower.  Just ask anyone who has found it growing somewhere they wished it weren’t.

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Those of us however who see plant “invasions” from an alterate perspective, have the opportunity to view this plant differently.  

I would like to suggest that Japanese knotweed is a significantly important plant for this day and age.  It is a powerful warrior whose strength offers much-needed restoration both for our ailing planet, and our precious bodies.

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A member of the Buckwheat and Knotweed (Polygonaceae) family, Japanese knotweed shoots up from the ground each spring, with reddish-green coloured spears, the stalks encircled with rings at about 15 cm intervals.  Young leaves hug the stalk, eventually growing outwards as the plant develops.  

In a season, it can grow to over 7 feet tall, with its ringed cane-like stalks resembling bamboo.  These tall stalks remain standing after the entire plant dies back for the winter.  

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Showy white flower clusters emerge from the leaf axils from mid-late summer.  Its thick broad leaves have short petioles (stems) and pointed tips.  It grows vigorously on moist soils in partially shaded areas, and alongside moving bodies of water.  

Its deep roots establish themselves with intensity.

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I have taken much inspiration from a noteworthy book titled “Invasive Plant Medicine”.  It was written by Timothy Lee Scott, an acupuncturist and herbalist from Vermont.  As you can see by photo on the cover, Scott considers Japanese knotweed to be a particularly important medicinal invasive.  He discusses some of the plant’s bioremedial benefits.  A major one is its ability to thrive in toxic soils.  It takes up heavy metals and poisons without being damaged while most other plants perish under similar conditions.  

Thus it has the capacity to detoxify damaged land.  Now this makes me think…..It thrives in toxic soil.  It’s considered a problematic invasive plant due to resilient growth in the many locations where it establishes itself–despite numerous efforts to erradicate it.  

We must admit that at this point, our earth holds an accumulation of toxic waste.  It is in need of detoxification, and for that matter, so are many of us.  Hmmm…maybe THAT’S why the plant is taking up more and more space here… Some food for thought. 

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While it detoxifies, Japanese knotweed also brings organic matter, shade and moisture where it is needed in order to support habitat restoration.  Over time, it revitalizes damaged ecosystems, providing a cleaner and healthier space to support new creatures and plants.  

It is a significant nectar source for honey bees as well as other important pollinators.  You can see a few of them at work in the photos above and below these paragraphs.

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On the topic of food and habitat, I should mention that the spring shoots of Japanese knotweed make a delectable vegetable.  They can be cut to the ground when they’re about 1 foot tall (around late May-June in these parts), and pan-cooked like asparagus.  They have a lemony flavour and slippery texture resembling that of cooked okra.  We like to cook them with eggs, mushrooms or scrambled tofu.  They’re also nice as a simple side dish, perhaps cooked with a little garlic and olive oil.  

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Spring shoots. Photo courtesy of TP Knotweed Solutions, UK.

Harvesting the shoots cuts back on the plant’s population, so those folks troubled by its invasive nature can take heart that a helpful solution would be to nourish ourselves with it!

This is crucial however:  Many folks have tried (unsuccessfully) to eradicate Japanese knotweed using toxic herbicides.  Therefore, all foragers must be sure to harvest shoots ONLY from patches on clean ground that has not been sprayed.  

(…Bees, may you also be forewarned!)

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At this point I must mention some important medicinal properties offered to us by this powerhouse of a plant.

In his famed book “Healing Lyme”, reknowned herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner lists Japanese knotweed as one of the most important herbs in a protocol for fighting Lyme disease–a growing epidemic in our region.

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  The roots of the plant are used for medicine,  having a strong immune enhancing capacity.  They are high in vitamin C, and are a major source of resveratrol which supports blood vessel health and circulation while reducing inflammation, oxidation and blood coagulation.  This helps carry the immune cells through the bloodsteam, even to hard-to-reach areas where the Lyme bacteria tend to hide out in the system and cause problems (such as the joints, eyes, skin and heart).

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The roots are significantly antimicrobial and antifungal, helping to fight off many nasty infections including staph, strep, pneumonia, e-coli, salmonella and candida albicans (to name a few).

I have to say that I am so glad we have access to this very helpful medicine at a time when we need it.  We don’t need to be cautious of overharvesting this plant, as there is more than enough for us to use.  

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I believe that if we keep paying attention, we’ll probably learn much more about what Japanese knotweed can do for us, and what it’s already doing for the earth.

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SUMMER-FALL WORKSHOP 5: MAKING TINCTURES FROM DRIED HERBS

Mid-autumn brings us to the final workshop in the summer-fall series.  Since June, participants have been gathering monthly at the Hillier Hall, walking the fields and forest lands in the area and identifying the edible and medicinal plants and trees we find as they progress through each stage of their life cycles.  Then we’ve been returning to the Hall kitchen to make an herbal preparation for each participant to bring home with them.

Now, as we move into late October, our plant walk gives us the chance to view the plants as their seeds are developed, and the trees as they lose their leaves.  

millenium trail, photo courtesy of peccounty.on.ca

Learning to identify plants and trees at this stage is important when you live in this part of the world where much becomes dormant over the winter.  If we can identify plants in their winter state, we can mark their locations when we encounter them over the winter.  Then, in the early spring we can return to the newly growing plants we’d found dormant in winter, and identify them at an early stage.  This is helpful because spring plant identification can be far more difficult without clues as to the plants’ appearance at a more mature stage.  Many leaves on young plants look similar to each other.  

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So, as with every workhop in this series, we will begin with a plant identification walk, paying special attention to ID tips for plants when they’re either dormant or dead, leaving behind their bare stalks and branches that reveal their characteristics.  We’ll also look at some of the plants in their spring mode, giving us a second chance to harvest them if we missed our chance in the spring. 

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In the second part of our workshop, we’ll prepare a tincture using dried herbs.  At our  workshop in August, we prepared a tincture using fresh herbs, harvested on our walk.  Sometimes however, it is preferrrable or necessary to make tinctures from dried herbs–especially if you want to make a tincture in the winter, and fresh herbs are not available.  So, dried herb tinctures will be the focus of this workshop.

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We’ll discuss more about the pros and cons of using fresh vs dried herbs in tinctures.  One  benefit of using dried herbs is that without water content in the herbs, their weight can be more accurately determined.  This means that we can also more accurately establish the desired strength of our tincture.  At this worskhop we’ll also talk a bit about tincture potency, and the most efficient ways to extract the constituents we want to glean from the herbs we’re using.

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Of course, at the end of the workshop, all participants will bring home some of the tincture made in class.  After a month of macerating, the tincture can be strained and stored for use when needed.  Most tinctures will last for many years as long as they are properly stored.

This is the 5th in a 5-part workshop series on herbal medicine, running from June-October 2016.  

It takes place Sunday October 23rd from 1-4 pm at the Hillier Hall, 18560 Loyalist Parkway in Prince Edward County.                                         Cost: $50      Preregistration required.

To register for this workshop or to inquire further, please click HERE

To learn more about the workshop series, please click HERE

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