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Spring Tonics: Have You Ever Been to the WWC?

Tuesday, April 28, 2020 2:09 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)

Spring Tonics: a One-Day Workshop

with Susun Weed at the Wise Woman Center
by Wise Woman Karen Joy




Learn more about Wise Woman classes with Susun Weed




This one-day workshop was held at the Wise Woman Center on this gorgeous spring day. Have any of you ever been to the WWC? It's a treat to see it in its many seasons. It's loaded with plants, wild and cultivated, dotting the forested and open land with rocks jutting up in between (the land used to be used as a stone quarry, I believe, many years ago). Goats roam free here -- mommas and many kids (papas? I don't know). There are also geese. And two cats (that I saw) -- I think I remember them as mother and son. Of course, there are also many other creatures happily living here.


After parking with assistance and greeting from Susun and the two apprentices living there at the time (cars' tires kill the surface microorganisms living in the soil, we learned this weekend, as well as, of course, any plants. This is a place that values ALL the life there and doesn't accept its usual secondary status to vehicles -- so great importance is placed on driving and parking in designated areas.) . . . . after parking, we (I believe about 13 women, though men are welcomed at these) gathered at "the circle", where infusion awaited us. This day was oatstraw, yum!

We spoke in turn with a talking stick, introducing ourselves, where we reside, and sometimes our reasons for coming and questions for the day. The talking stick allows us to share in our moment, uninterrupted, whatever we desire. Susun reminds us this need not be words, but can be a dance, music, song, or poem. This day, the first of the season, most of us seemed a bit shy, sharing "the facts". Two women brought their babies. One mother brought her mother. Having come long distances, some of these women stayed the weekend nearby and got to meet the night before at the moonlodge held every Friday before Susun's weekend one-day workshops.

Susun seems to me to love to share her knowledge. All questions seem welcome and often come with detailed answers -- I believe I've heard "there are no stupid questions".


We went out right away for a gentle walk in the woods (there are something like 45 acres to the Center) stopping often to visit a plant or tree, learning her beauties. One thing I remember from taking these classes two years ago is SOO much learning is offered. Though I think I absorb it all, I don't always remember it consciously. I could take the same class every year for ten years (and more) and get new and deeper understandings of what is presented to me. With that said, I will share with you some of what I remember.


I remember visiting partridgeberry, or twin flower, getting close to the ground where she lives and seeing her leaves and red berries that have been there since last year. I saw how her berry had two flower ends explaining her second name.

Anyone who has learned from Susun knows how she abounds with stories. This is probably one of the best ways I have encountered for remembering what I have learned, though sometimes they are just pure enjoyment. I heard of a girl who, after seeing all these red berries in a partridge belly, concluded these partridges "laid" them there all over the forest floor. Makes sense to me!


Wintergreen, we were told, who also lies close to the ground and has similar looking red berries (at first glance anyway), tastes dramatically different. Its berries taste like wintergreen, while mitchella repens (partridge berry) has extremely tasteless berries.

Though the specifics I can't remember, my largest impression of this plant is it is a wonderful ally for women! I also remember reading this in an article on Susun's website about fertility.


Please don't take my lack of detailed knowledge as an indication of what's offered at the class. Some women chose to take notes and could probably recite many "facts" about this plant alone. I chose to learn differently. I listen and watch and feel and don't put much priority on memorization except when there is something specific I really want to know NOW.


I prefer a feeling in my body that allows me to spot this plant when walking the woods and feel it as a woman's friend, rather than words without feeling. I know in time, as my learning works into deeper layers, this knowledge will come along with the feeling. So when a time comes that I am looking for a "woman's friend" I will research more of the details, and they will be familiar because I know that all I heard in this class and others lives in me. Can anyone else relate to the type of learning I am talking about?


Okay, so back to our walk. We visited eastern hemlock (thuja?) and white pine, both predominant in our area. We tasted them. We experienced them as we chewed, encouraged by Susun to notice the sensations in our mouth. The hemlock, I noticed, made my mouth get wetter. It encourages mucus production, she shared, and mucous is good! Yes, it protects us, cushions us, it lines our sensitive skin. We want it. Perhaps, then, I thought, the mucous that accompanies a cold, isn't the "evil cold" itself, but our protection kicking in. And, perhaps, why steaming our face over a pot of hemlock needle brew, clears the stuck mucous isn't because it is "drying" (as my experience chewing it proved), but because it encourages the production of mucous, allowing it all to move!


As we moved from plant to tree to plant, we heard of properties in plants and the best mediums to extract them in. All of this, of course, can be read in articles written by Susun and her books, and though this is wonderful knowledge, it cannot, for me, compare to the memory sensation that goes with the moment of hearing it from her.

For example, I have read more than once before about extracting the oils in a plant with oil (olive oil). So though this is not new to hear, now I can know this with the taste of the oil from the hemlock needles I am chewing in my mouth, the sight of this tree's branches in front of me, the women I have just met all around me, and all the sights, sounds, and smells, that go along with a beautiful spring day in the woods. We were told how white pine carries five needles in a bunch, less common in a pine than three. Looking at the base of these needles we see white, hence its name, and I hear Susun say while counting on her 5 fingers W-H-I-T-E, five needles in a bundle!


We look down the hill and around the corner from this pine and and see big (for this time of year) green plants along the hillside. We curiously surround them, these leaves reminiscent in shape, color and size of lily bulbs I have been seeing lately emerge from the ground. What family does this remind you of? we are asked. Liliaceae, someone knows. What plants are in this family? we are also asked. People say what, if any, they know. Among the many pretty flowers common to spring, some mention onions, garlic, etc. We are encouraged by Susun to smell and taste a leaf that offers itself to us. Yum, onion! They are ramps.


Before we head back for lunch (yes, we're not even half done with class!) we visit two more plants growing near each other at the bottom of the hill near wet land. They are wild chives and trout lily. We sit among them, taste them, and listen to Susun share much knowledge about them.


We walk back to the deck we will be eating lunch on. Susun goes inside to heat the nettle soup she explains was prepared the night before so the nettles could infuse in the water overnight. The two apprentices took two groups of women who wanted to help collect wild greens to add to the salad. They were the tender tips of madder (gallium - related to the sweet woodruff that is often made into "may wine") and garlic mustard leaves pinched off where they meet the stem. Garlic mustard has a bit of bite like mustard, and a taste of garlic.


The bell was rung, we sang a song and we ate a feast of salad with wild greens and nettle soup. Water and infusion were provided to drink. So were condiments -- olive oil, salt, tamari, miso, gomasio, and a sampling of vinegars. Other than umeboshi vinegar the others were herbal ones made from plants we were introduced to this day. And I certainly can't forget the bread from freshly ground organic grains baked by one of the apprentices (I am so sorry I am not remembering their names right now).


Organic butter was provided as was delicious!!!! cheeses made there from the goats' milk -- three kinds, garlic, aged and wild chives. I have to say such a simple sounding meal is heavenly (more accurately, earthly) and left me bored that night with my more complicated or empty feeling comfort foods like pasta. In fact, I went home that night and drank the nettle infusion I (thankfully) prepared that morning before class.


After lunch we stayed nearer to the house and the gardens there fenced off from munching goats and such. There was sweet birch (which actually I think we visited before lunch). The description for this class mentions we will "bite buds" which indeed we did -- sweet birch buds, yum! Wild root beer or sarsaparilla? We learned how her sap is flowing now and won't stop if tapped. We watched the drip drip of her yummy water from the thin branches where her buds were taken.


We learned how to collect these thin branches (with scissors please for a clean cut), the length of a quart canning jar and a bundle that would fit in the circle made by connecting my thumb and longest finger. We could the put them in the jar and pour boiling water over them, cover and let infuse overnight. We could drink the mild brew in the morning, we could then pour more boiling water over the same branches and drink that night. The taste would be a little stronger!


We could repeat this process with the same branches, day after day, with the taste getting stronger each time. At some point around the fourth day I think is when I would stop drinking and start cleaning with the water! Susun says it is a wonderful degreaser. I think I remember her saying this could go on for about a month. How's that for a spring tonic?!


A wonderful taste of a tree's spring sap in my water, then something to help my spring fever desire to clean out winter! My understanding from Susun was this is a wonderful spring tonic, though not something to use as one of our regular nourishing infusions. In fact, if we wanted, we could dump the first few days of brew to get to the cleaning water. I personally savor my spring cups of sweet birch water.

We visited more plants and at this point I am confused which were on this day and which on the next. And since this is long enough, I will continue in my next post about the Sunday class "herbal medicine chest" which will probably come tomorrow!


Thanks for listening! I hope you enjoyed my memory of this "spring tonics" class.

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