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Herbal Vinegars: Aromatic Delights From Your Garden, Part two

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 10:14 AM | Wise Woman (Administrator)

HERBAL VINEGARS
AROMATIC DELIGHTS FROM YOUR GARDEN

Part Two
by Susun S. Weed



Here where tulips will push up soon, in a sunny corner, is a patch of catnip intermingled with motherwort, two plants especially beloved by women. I use catnip to ease menstrual cramps, relieve colic, and bring on sleep. Motherwort is my favorite remedy for moderating hot flashes and emotional swings. They are both members of the mint family, and like all mints, are exceptionally good sources of calcium and make great-tasting vinegars. Individual mint flavors are magically captured by the vinegar. From now until snow cover next fall, I'll gather the mints of each season--peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, bee balm, oregano, shiso, wild bergamot, thyme, hyssop, sage, rosemary, lavender--and activate their unique tastes and their tonic, nourishing properties by steeping them in vinegar. What a tasty way to build strong bones, a healthy heart, emotional stability, and energetic vitality..

Down here, under the wild rose hedge, is a plant familiar to anyone who has walked the woods and roadsides of the east: garlic mustard. I'll enjoy the leaves in my salad tonight, as I do all winter and spring, but I'll have to wait a bit longer before I can harvest the roots, which produce a vibrant, horseradishy vinegar that's just the thing to brighten a winter salad and keep the sinuses clear at the same time.

And what's this? A patch of chickweed! It's a good addition to my vinegars and my salads, boosting their calcium content, though adding scant flavor. In protected spots, she offers year-round greens.

Look down. The mugwort is sprouting, all fuzzy and grey. I call it cronewort to honor the wisdom of grey-haired women. The culinary value of this very wild herb is oft o'erlooked. I was thrilled to find it for sale in Germany right next to the dried caraway and rosemary, in a little jar, in the supermarket. Cronewort vinegar is one of the tastiest and most beneficial of all the vinegars I make. It is renowned as a general nourishing tonic to circulatory, nervous, urinary, and mental functioning, as well as being a specific aid to those wanting sound sleep and strong bones.

Cronewort vinegar is free for the making in most cities if you know where this invasive weed grows. To mellow cronewort's slightly bitter taste and accent her fragrant, flavorful aspects, I pick her small (under three inches) and add a few of her roots to the jar along with the leaves. I cut the tall flowering stalks of this aromatic plant in the late summer or early autumn, when they're in full bloom, and dry them. The leaves, stripped carefully from the stalks, provided stuffing (and magic) for our winter dream pillows; they are said to carry one into vivid dreams and visions.

The sun is bright and strong and warm. I turn my face toward it and close my eyes, breathing in. I feel the vibrating life-force here. Everything is aquiver. I smile, knowing that that energy will be available to me when I consume the vinegars I'll make from these herbs and weeds. As I relax against the big oak, I breathe out and envision the garden growing and blooming, fruiting and dying, as the seasons slip through my mind's eye....

The air grows chiller at night. The leaves fall more quickly with each breeze. The first mild frosts take the basil, the tomatoes and the squash, freeing me to pay attention once again to the perennial herbs and weeds, and urging me to make haste before even the hardy herbs drop their leaves and retreat to winter dormancy.


The day dawns sunny. Yes, now's the time to harvest the last of the garden's bounty, the rewards of my work, the gifts of the earth. I dress warmly (remembering to wear red; hunting season's open), stash my red-handled clippers in my back pocket, and take a baskets in one hand and a plastic tub in the other.


Then I'm out the door, into autumn's slanting sunshine and my quiet garden. My black cat bounds over to help me harvest and, after a while, the white cat emerges from under the house to purr and signal her satisfaction with my presence in her domain this morning.

My gardening friends say the harvest is over for the year, but I know my weeds will keep my at work harvesting until well into the winter. In no time at all my deep basket is full and I'm wishing I'd brought another. Violet leaves push against stalks of lamb's quarter. Hollyhock, wild malva, and plantain leaves jostle for their own spaces against the last of the comfrey and dandelion leaves. (I think dandelion leaves are much better eating in the fall than in the spring, much less bitter to my taste after they've been frosted a few nights.) The last of the red clover blossoms snuggle in the middle. Though not aromatic or intensely-flavored, a vinegar of these greens will be my super-rich calcium supplement for the dark months of winter.

My baskets are overflowing and I haven't gotten to the nettles and the raspberry leaves yet. They're superb sources of calcium, too. Ah! the gracious abundance of weeds, or should I say "volunteer herbs?" I actually respect them more than the cultivated herbs; respect their strident life force, and their powerful nutritional punch, and their added medicinal values that help me stay healthy and filled with energy.

The main work of this frosty fall morning is to harvest roots: dandelion, burdock, yellow dock, and chicory roots. I've been waiting for the frost to bite deep before harvesting the nourishing, medicinal roots of these weeds. With my spading fork (not a shovel, please) I carefully unearth their tender roots, leaving a few to mature and shed seeds so I have a constant supply of young roots. I love the feel of the root sliding free of the soil and into my hands, offering me such gifts of health.

Burdock I admire especially, for its strength of character and its healing qualities. I settle down to do some serious digging to unearth their long roots. For peak benefit, I harvest at the end of the first year of growth, when the roots are most tenacious and least willing to leave the ground. Patience is rewarded when I dig burdock. Eaten cooked or turned into a vinegar (and the pickled pieces of the root consumed with the vinegar), burdock root attracts heavy metals and radioactive isotopes and removes them quickly from the body. For several hundred years at least, and in numerous cases that I have witnessed, burdock root is known to reverse pre-cancerous changes in cells.

Dandelion and chicory are my allies for long life. They support and nourish my liver and improve the production of hydrochloric acid in my stomach, thus insuring that I will be better nourished by any food I eat. I make separate vinegars of each plant, but like to put both their roots and their leaves together in my vinegar. A spoonful of either of these in a glass of water in the morning or before meals can be used to replace coffee. Note that roasted roots used in coffee substitutes do not have the medicinal value of fresh roots eaten cooked or preserved in vinegar.

Yellow dock is the herbalist's classic remedy for building iron in the blood. Like calcium, iron is absorbed better when eaten with an acid, such as vinegar, making yellow dock vinegar an especially good way to utilize the iron-enhancing properties of this weed. (It nourishes the iron in the soil, too, and is said to improve the yield of apple trees it grows under.)

And at that thought, I awaken from my reverie and return to spring's sunshine with a smile. The white cat twines my legs and offers to help me carry the basket back inside to the warmth of the fire. The circle has come around again, like the moon in her courses. Autumn memories yield spring richness. The weeds of fall offer tender green magic in the spring. What I harvested last November has been eaten with joy and I return to be gifted yet again by the wild that lives here with me in my garden.

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