Wise Woman Herbal Ezine

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  • Tuesday, June 18, 2013 10:14 AM | Anonymous
    Lush and lively green blessings to you all! May your summer solstice be light-filled and joyous. (And a happy winter solstice to our readers down under.)

    The sheer force of photosynthesis here in the Catskills is mind-altering. We have had plentiful rain and the green is tropical in its lushness: Leaf-heavy limbs hang to the ground. Vines curl everywhere, over everything. Fruit drenches the senses and weighs down the bushes, attracting darting birds. Dozens of shades of green compete for my attention. “Here!” “Over here!” “Harvest me!” “Me!” “Me!”  

    Now is the time to made lots of remedies. Our wine crock moves from one batch to the next: First dandelion flowers fermented into dandelion wine. Then creeping jenny flowering tops foamed for days before we could safely bottle their wine. And now the white snow of wild roses bubbles and seethes and awaits its turn to turn into wine.

    Did you ever notice that old herbals give doses in wine glassfuls? That’s because they fermented their herbs rather than making tinctures. They couldn’t just go to the alcohol store and buy whatever they wanted. The alcohol soluble constituents of the plants extract into wine as well as into vodka if they are fermented out of the fresh plant. (Some aromatic plants – like sweet woodruff – need only be soaked in wine rather than being made into wine.)

    There is still plenty of time to gather your plants and experiment with wines, vinegars, oils, and honeys. And don’t forget to make lots of fresh plant tinctures, especially from the Great Remedies.

    In our photo section, I introduce you to three more Great Remedies. These are the plants that novice and seasoned herbalist alike rely on year after year for their safe and dependable abilities. Get to know them, if you don’t. If you do, learn one more way to use them, for their uses are endless and always amazing.

    I had a great time at the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference with fabulous women, including my dear friend Aviva Romm, MD. What a fun time we had leading a weed walk together. Next week I will be teaching at the International Herb Symposium, one of my favorite conferences, held near Boston, MA. I know I shall have a splendid time there, as I have at each and every one of the previous IHS gatherings. See you there!

    Changes are afoot at my mentorship site, as I continue to seek the best ways to help you discover the medicine outside your door and the simplest, easiest ways of using them. In the expanded ezine, the mentor groups are finishing their core study of plantain. And perhaps they are thinking ahead to next month’s core study: Choosing and working with your green ally. Do join us.

    Green blessings are everywhere.
  • Friday, June 14, 2013 9:18 PM | Anonymous
    Fresh herb spit poultice
    This type of poultice is immediate first aid for
    bleeding wounds, stings, bites, itches, sprains, cuts, scrapes. . .

    • Pinch off one or two medium-sized plantain leaves or
    • Pinch or cut one large yarrow leaf from the bottom of the plant or
    • Cut a piece of comfrey flower stalk or leaf petiole.
    Chew the fresh plant material for 10-30 seconds.
    Mix it well with your saliva. Apply to your boo-boo.
    Or, have the injured person chew the fresh plant material and help them apply it.

    Bleeding usually stops within 30-60 seconds.
    Pain and itching is generally relieved within 10-30 seconds.
    Hold spit poultices on with an adhesive bandage for long-term benefit.
    I keep a spit poultice bandage on until the wound is well healed.

  • Friday, June 14, 2013 9:00 PM | Anonymous
    Weed walk

    Plantain (Plantago)

    What a Great Remedy! Plantain is our plant of the month for the mentored students.
    Plantain is my go-to herb for any injury, bug bite, scratch, wound, bruise, scrape, tear, sprain, cut, or abrasion. It is positively amazing in its ability to stop itching, whether from a mosquito or flea bite, poison ivy, or any other irritant. Plantain works fast to counter reactions to bee and wasp stings. Some allergic friends say they keep dried plantain leaf on hand to try first, before resorting to their epi-pen, if stung. While plantain salve, ointment, and oil work well to counter rashes and skin irritations of all sorts, to counter allergic reactions to stings, the leaf must be chewed and applied directly to the wound. Directions for making a Fresh Herb Spit Poultice follow.

    There are two different species of plantain where I live: the broad leaf (P. majus) and the narrow leaf (P. lanceolata). Both can be used for food and medicine. Some people believe the narrow leaf is a more potent medicine. I prefer the broad leaf, tender new leaves chopped fine, in my salads. The mentored students and I have been exploring plantain cuisine this month and we have found some tasty recipes indeed. Dear plantain, the peaceful Quaker lady who wants to help.
     Broad leaf plantain                                          Narrow leaf plantain

    Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

    Madame Yarrow runs a school of self-defense. She may small, but she packs a punch. There are few bacteria – gram-positive, gram-negative, or antibiotic-resistant – that can resist her. I use yarrow tincture as an insect repellent as well as a wound treatment. A spritz or two on exposed skin keeps mosquitoes, black flies, and even the ticks at bay. Horses are so appreciative of a spray or two to discourage flies. Of course I use the fresh leaves as a spit poultice, but I prefer the flowering tops for tincture. Oh, and by the way, be sure to use the wild white yarrow, not yellow or red cultivars, which have poisonous amounts of volatile oils. The more you use yarrow, the more ways you will find to use her. She is truly one of the Great Remedies.

    Comfrey (Symphytum uplandica x)

    Comfrey the comforting is one of my favorite herbs for tending to all injuries, whether external or internal. After surgery, after an accident, after bone has broken, comfrey is there to comfort and restore intregrity. (One of her old names is “knit-bone.”) She strengths, knits, mends, and heals the skin, muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons. She soothes, repairs, and nourishes the mucus surfaces of the respiratory, digestive, and reproductive systems. Oh, and, don’t forget, comfrey contains a unique amino acid that is needed in the formation of short term memory. Comfrey makes everything in my body stronger, more flexible, and more cooperative. Is it any wonder I drink at least a quart a week of comfrey leaf infusion?

  • Friday, June 14, 2013 8:48 PM | Anonymous
    Green greetings to you all.

    We are nearing the mid-point of the year: magical, mystical, mid-summer, the solstice. From time out of mind we humans have erected stones and raised sacred spaces to mark this special day, the day when the sun stands still, the longest day of the year, summer solstice.

    This year I celebrate the solstice with you with three events at the Wise Woman Center: Summer Solstice Moon Lodge on June 21, a class on the Great Remedies on June 22, and my all-time favorite class, Talking with Plants, on June 23. I hope you will join me for one or all of these inspiring days.

    We have been holding monthly Moon Lodge at the Wise Woman Center for over 25 years. Moonlodge is not a sweatlodge; you will remain fully clothed at all times. At the moonlodge we sing sacred songs and dance delightful dances and share our stories: maiden, mother, and crone. There is no fee. Please arrive no earlier than 6:45pm. We begin at 7pm and are usually done between 9-10pm.

    The Great Remedies is a new class; one I’ve never taught before. It arises from my continuing quest to return herbal medicine to its rightful place as people’s medicine, the medicine right outside your door. I offer this class both for those who are looking for a fast way to jump into herbal medicine and for those who already use herbs and want to go deeper. And for those of you who can’t come all the way to the Catskill Mountains, I will be outlining the herbs we will visit here at the ezine over the next two weeks.

    And what can I say past my silly grin about Talking with Plants? I have been teaching this class since 1982 and I never tire of it, never lose my delight in sharing “plant speak” with you, near fail to be rewarded by priceless gems of wisdom that our green sisters share with you and thus with all of us. This is a “hands-on” class. You will personally speak with plants before the day is up. And, with a little luck, we will receive assistance in hearing the plants talk from a safe psychoactive plant that grows in my woods.

    It is not too late to plant some herbs: in your garden, in a pot on the windowsill, on the roof, or even in your heart.

    Green blessings.


  • Friday, June 07, 2013 9:14 PM | Anonymous
    Wild Seed Condiment

    I am especially respectful when harvesting the seeds of annuals. Though annuals do their best to make lots and lots of seeds, they are nonetheless vulnerable to extinction if there are wide swings in weather patterns. I take no more than one-third of what is available from any one plant or patch of plants.


    To begin: Taste the leaves of any wild cabbage family plant. If they are tasty or peppery or cabbagy or mustardy, continue. If they taste bitter, find a different plant to harvest. (A few plants in this family have poisonous seeds. Those taste bitter. ) Shepherd’s purse seeds are the one mostly commonly used for food purposes. I also enjoy “poor person’s pepper” seeds prepared this way.

    Then: Harvest a small amount of seeds, just a spoonful, at first. After your first batch, if you like Wild Seed Condiment, you can harvest larger quantities of seeds.
    Most likely, you will have to separate the seeds from the inedible husks. Fortunately, there is no chaff, so separation can be done easily by hand.

    Toast the seeds in a cast iron frying pan or in a toaster oven until they start to pop.

    Crush seeds, using a pestle and a little sea salt, in a mortar.

    Put in a shaker top jar and use.
  • Thursday, June 06, 2013 8:33 PM | Anonymous
    Ode to cabbage family
    Here is a small sampling of cabbage family plants whose seeds might be used as a condiment. Recipe follows.

    Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa pastoris)

    This member of the cabbage family is easy to identify by its seed pods, which are in the shape of little heart-shaped “purses.” The shadow photo and the flower photo are of a local species – Capsella rubella – which is used in all the same ways as the bursa-pastoris, which is in the third picture, showing off its ability to make seeds. This great bunch was growing next to the barn at an organic farm.

    Midwives and menopausal women depend on tincture of the flowering top of fresh shepherd’s purse to staunch uterine bleeding. It is prompt and effective in dropperful doses, under the tongue if needed, or desired, for fastest action. I occasionally eat the young leaves, when they look like miniature dandelion leaves and have a spicy, cabbagy taste. The tincture usually has a strong smell, like sauerkraut or cabbage.

    The part of this common farm and city weed that is most often used, historically, is the seed. In times of need, it was collected and ground with wheat, or even used instead of wheat, to make bread. It is most unusual that a seed in the cabbage family can be eaten in quantity, most are best used as condiments, and may, even then, be problematic for some.

      shepherd's purse in shadow                              shepherd's purse flowers

       shepherd's purse seeds

    Poor man’s pepper, pepper grass (Lepidium virginicum)

    Pennycress (Thlaspi arvense)

       pennycress                                                    pennycress flowers

       pennycress seeds

    Cow cress (Lepidium campestre) is not photographed but is another peppery condiment.

    The apprentices renamed “poor man’s pepper” as “poor person’s pepper” or “poor witches pepper,” but you don’t have to be poor to enjoy the spicy, peppery seeds of these cabbage family plants. They show up around me in great abundance around the middle of May, offering tasty leaves for my salads. By the beginning of June they are flowering and just beginning to set those breath-taking seeds. And they are so easy to use. You don’t have to toast or crush them. Just separate the husks away and they are ready to use. Add a little spice to your life!

    Barbara’s cress, Winter cress, Yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris)

    This is one of the first wild foods that I learned to recognize and use, but I must admit to never enjoying it. Winter cress is too bitter and acrid for my taste, and I am a great lover of cabbage family greens in all their forms. It is nice to know that it is virtually evergreen and thus provides greens for winter scavanging (so long as the snow is not too deep) I will eat the flowers in my salad and I am curious to see if the seed is usable as a condiment. And I continue to feel a special kinship with yellow rocket and to exalt when it covers fields and pasture lands with a sudden yellow wave.

       Barbara's cress in flower                                   Barbara's cress seed pods
  • Thursday, June 06, 2013 7:04 PM | Anonymous
    Ode to cabbage family

    Rainbow warrior womb-one cabbage, I sing your praises.
    I sing in color, fiercely, with savor and scent, as you do, oh cabbage, oh queen of the garden.

    Purple, blue, green, white, and gold: Rainbow Woman, your colors are endless.
    Oh yes, I sing your praises in glowing hues.
    Leaf, flower, seed, and root; Warrior Woman, you give your all.
    Oh, fiercely, I sing your praises.
    Brussels sprouts, kale, rutabaga, radish, mustard, collards, bok choy, turnip, arugula, watercress, daikon, kohlrabi, collards; Great Mother, Womb-one Woman, your nourishing forms are infinite.
    With sharp scents, I praise you.

    Rainbow warrior womb-one cabbage, your powers amaze me.
    I am in awe of your endless uses.
    I am astonished by your shape-shifting abilities.

    I grate your roots (horseradish or wasabi) and mix them with vinegar (or water) to make a thick sauce.
    I gather your leaves.
    I gather your leaves singly, in bunches, in heads.
    I gather your leaves to my bosom. I take them to heart.
    I harvest your heads of tightly-furled flower buds (broccoli, cauliflower), steam until tender, then saute with garlic in butter, oh my!
    I grind mustard seeds into a condiment or turn them into a deadly gas.

    Rainbow warrior womb-one cabbage, your stories are legion.
    Babies are left – by a stork – under a cabbage leaf.
    What is “kraut?” It is cabbage. As in sauerkraut, fermented cabbage. Kraut is a cultivated plant, not a weed; a weed is unkraut (not cabbage). Kraut becomes all edible plants as krauter, vegetable.
    Four servings of cabbage family plants per week reduces cancer risk by half.

    Cabbage family, mustard family, Brassicaceae, cole, Crucifera, cress.
    Every name for you is a name of praise.
    Rainbow warrior womb-one cabbage, all praise, all gratitude are your just rewards.
    We are blessed by your presence in our lives.

    Look around you. Green blessings (of a cabbage family sort) are everywhere!

    p.s. I am looking for a few more women to join me for the Green Witch Intensive, and several more women to join us for the Green Goddess Apprentice Week. Jump into summer! Jump into green blessings.
  • Thursday, May 30, 2013 5:11 PM | Anonymous
    Twilight Salad
    Serves 4

    •     Buy a nice bunch of arugala or watercress. Or, better yet, harvest your own. Chop into 1½-inch lengths.
    •     Collect 30-40 large first-year garlic mustard leaves and tear them into thirds or quarters.
    •     Collect 25-30 hedge mustard leaves and tear them in half.
    •     Collect ¼ cup creeping Jenny tops and mince.
    •     Toss all greens together.
    •     Garnish lavishly with Queen of the Night blossoms, periwinkle flowers, and purple pansies.
    •     Serve – at twilight, of course – with tamari, herbal vinegars,* extra virgin olive oil, and gomasio.

        * Garlic mustard root vinegar and garlic pigtail vinegar are especially good choices
  • Thursday, May 30, 2013 3:41 PM | Anonymous
    Eat Those Weeds

    The gardener’s best revenge is to eat the weeds that beset them. And some of the most edible weeds are members of the cabbage family. They are easy to recognize when in bloom: They have flowers with four petals and conspicuous, often interestingly shaped seedpods. This week we will look at some cabbage family plants whose leaves and blossoms are delicious – right now – in salads. Next week, we will look at some whose seeds – which will be here soon – are especially useful.

    Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officinalis)
    Here are the pretty flowers of garlic mustard poking out of the sturdy goat-proof fence around my garden. If the goats don’t eat them, we will. The more of the flowers we pick and eat now, the fewer seeds there will be to sprout and grow next spring. (Next week we will discuss what to do with seeds that do develop, for one can rarely eat every single flower.) Garlic mustard blossoms taste good, and look great, in salads. We pinch off the entire top, flowers and flower buds, and toss it whole in salads.

    The leaves of the flowering plants are smaller and tougher and more bitter now, so we leave them (or feed them to the rabbits) and start harvesting garlic mustard leaves from the first-year plants. They sprouted last month, and have grown big and tender without any tending on my part. All I have to do is harvest as many tasty, vitamin- and mineral-rich greens as I want to cook and put in my salads.


    Queen of the Night (Hesperis matronalis)
    Field guides call her Dame’s rocket, and she does bloom at the same time as yellow rocket, also known as Barbara’s cress. I prefer the literal translation of her botanical name however. Especially as it reminds us to visit with her at night, at twilight, when her scent is released to lure her lover, a moth as big and as fast as a hummingbird. Some people confusingly call her Wild Phlox. She does come in the same colors as phlox – a mix of whites, light purples, and pinks – and she is about the same height, but phlox has five petals, and this flower clearly has the classic four petals of the cabbage family.

    We carefully pick the lower flowers, leaving the buds in the center to develop so we can have flowers for our salads for weeks and weeks and weeks. Yum.


    Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale)

    We identify plants by their flowers, but often we want to use them when they are not in bloom. Look carefully at one or more of the weedy cabbage family plants that grow around you. Look daily for a period of several weeks; watch the plant go from just leaves to leaves and flowers, and finally to seeds. You will notice that their leaves change shape as the flower stalk pushes up from the basal rosette. The leaves of hedge mustard do not change as much as most, in shape or in flavor, so they are easier to recognize and still fine to use at all stages of their growth.

    One photo shows a bare patch in the garden that rapidly filled in with hedge mustard. It grew there last year and I let several of the tastiest plants go to seed, which I shook out onto the soil when I pulled the dead plants out last fall. With little effort, I have a bed of delicious greens to use in salads or for braising. (Yes, there are a few lamb’s quarter plants in there, too.)

    The other photo shows the small, yellow, four-petaled flowers of hedge mustard, which defy custom and refuse to arrange themselves in a cross shape, crowding together, instead, into an “H.” The photo also shows the darker, more pointed, more trisected leaves found on the flower stalk. I happily eat these leaves as well as the younger, more tender, ones. I don’t bother to harvest the flowers; they are too small. I plan to experiment with the seeds this year, however.

    Share your successes. Share your failures. Write and tell us what wild cabbage family plants you are eating and how you are preparing them. Send photos too. Much appreciated.

    Green blessings. Susun   

  • Thursday, May 30, 2013 3:00 PM | Anonymous
    Full throttle summer coming your way! Green blessings await you.

    Most of you reading this live in the Temperate Zones of the world, as do I. As a child, when I learned about the Temperate Zone, I thought it had to do with The Temperance Movement and the abolition of alcohol.

    Imagine my surprise when I discovered that temperance, in this context, refers to extremes, not  moderation. When metal is tempered, it is subjected to extremes of hot and cold.

    The Temperate Zones are subjected to wide swings in temperature throughout the year, from winter. Here in the Catskills, I can have winter temperatures of  10 degrees below zero Fahrenheit for extended periods, and occasional temperatures down to 25 below, and summer days sometimes hit the hundred mark. That is a swing of over 125 degrees!
    And we can get big swings as summer grabs hold. Last night it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit, today it is in the 80s. That is a big swing for one day. (My friend Betsy Grace the desert rat has even wider daily swings.)

    These fluctuations cause the atoms in the metal to line up in ways that are more flexible and stronger. Do the fluctuations of temperature found in Temperate Zones change how the atoms line up in the plants? In our bodies? Does that make us more flexible? Flexibility is part of the definition of health in the Wise Woman Tradition. I do believe that experiencing these swings between cold and hot, light and dark, add to my health and my flexibility.

    The cabbage family is temperature flexible. Their seeds sprouted happily in the cold soils of spring and are now offering us leaves, blossoms and seeds to eat.  Our photo gallery this week (and next) spotlights some of my favorite wild cabbage family plants. What are yours?

    Eating cabbage family plants is a great way to prevent cancer. Do it with class, with my exotic, but easy to make, “Twilight Salad. “

    Mentored students are continuing their studies of plantain, the plain Quaker lady with so much to offer us. It is one of the Great Remedies I will be focusing on at my next Wise Woman Center class. Do join me.

    Green blessings.  

    p.s. Hope to see you at the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference.

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