Wise Woman Herbal Ezine

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  • Tuesday, June 25, 2013 11:08 AM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    Pucker Up for Sour Plants
    The sour taste is ideal for summer. Like lemons, plants with sour tastes help us stay cool in the hot days. Lemony-tasting plants like lemon balm and lemon verbena are not what I mean though. I am talking about plants that are a sour as lemons, those that make you pucker up. Here are my favorites. (Note how many of them have “sorrel” in their names.)

    Wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta)

    With its leaves in threes, oxalis is often mistaken for a clover, even to the point of being called “sour clover.” But clover leaves are oval, and oxalis leaves are heart-shaped. And, of course, no clover is sour. This one is really tart. You will get a good pucker from it. My granddaughter has picked and eaten this plant with relish since she learned to identify it around age 2. The perky yellow flowers help the eye pick it out of the surrounding mass of greenery. Look for wood sorrel in the garden, not the woods. Though there are varieties that do inhabit the woods, they are not common on the east coast. All varieties of oxalis are edible, even the cultivated ones. Enjoy this great sour taste in your salad today!

    Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
    This is another small plant with a large taste. It is perhaps the sourest of all, definitely worthy of a pucker up. The tiny red flowers are most visible at a distance, rather than up close, as this sorrel grows in patches along roadsides and in “waste” places. A large patch keeps my iris bed company, preventing other, larger, weeds from colonizing the bed. This sorrel does goes in the woods, in bare, open places. It is a favorite of mine both as a snack while I am out in the forest with the goats, and as a delicious addition to summer salads. Try some soon.

    sheep sorrel

    sheep sorrel  in flower

    Garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
    Notice that the botanical name of this plant is nearly the same as the previous sorrel. That’s because they are sisters. The ending “ella” means “little,” so we know that sheep sorrel is a little variety of garden sorrel. I don’t know which came first, the wild one or the cultivated one. In fact, I couldn’t swear that garden sorrel is not developed from a yellow dock. At any rate, this is the cultivated member of the Rumex genus. And it has been bred and chosen for that yummy sour taste. If you don’t have one in your garden, Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Vermont and Richter’s in Ontario can help you.

    Curly dock, Yellow dock (Rumex crispus)
    There are many dock with yellow roots that are used medicinally, and they are all known as yellow dock. But don’t try eating the leaves of most of them. Only the curly dock provides edible leaves. The other docks are too bitter. If garden sorrel was jumped up from a yellow dock, then this is the most likely parent. With just a little tweaking, the sour taste in these leaves could be selected for and grown into a great pucker up plant. The youngest leaves of the curly dock are the best, and the most sour. Try them in my Pucker Up Salad, or use them to make the classic soup Shav.

    Enjoy some of these plants in your Pucker Up Salad!
  • Tuesday, June 25, 2013 11:06 AM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    Glorious Green Greetings to All

    The apprentices and I have harvested the last of the nettles to dry. What we haven’t gotten to will go to seed, and we will harvest those seeds this autumn. Except for those we will continue to harvest throughout the summer to make nettle rot fertilizer to feed the garden plants.

    Now that nettle gathering is complete, we can devote ourselves more herbs ready to harvest: prickly flowering comfrey stalks and picky red clover blossoms. The students at the Great Remedies class last weekend helped us pick a big basket full of perfect red clover blossoms. Many hands make the work go quickly. Thank you!

    A wild wind blew through last week and shook all the mulberries from the mulberry trees. The apprentices picked them up and started a mulberry wine. Then we went out and picked elder blossoms so we could make elder flower champagne and elder flower tincture.

    Speaking of which, both elder and mullein told me they are irked at me for not including them in the Great Remedies class. (We talked about nettle, red clover, comfrey, linden, oatstraw, plantain, yarrow, and motherwort.)

    “But the students can only learn so much in one day,” I protested. “After we cut young nettle from the soup patch, harvested shiitake (thanks Sean) from the shiitake logs, added both to boiling water, and dropped in some dried astragalus root to make ourselves a delicious soup. And after we harvested and made a salad of sheep sorrel, wood sorrel, yellow dock leaves, lamb’s quarter, creeping jenny, self-heal, five-finger ivy, mallow leaves, wild oregano, plantain, and clover blossoms.  And after we harvested nettle and hung it to dry; and harvested comfrey and hung it to dry. And harvested yarrow flowers and made a tincture. And then harvested flowering motherwort and made a tincture.  Well, I had intended to include you both, but there just wasn’t enough time.” (They are still annoyed. Burdock and yellow dock are content to wait until autumn, when they star in the Digging Roots class late this fall.)

    This week I bring you the sour herbs of summer. Get ready to make friends with some tarts in the true sense of the word

    Green blessings
  • Tuesday, June 18, 2013 10:38 AM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    Fresh flowering herb tincture
    Dose of motherwort is 5-25 drops, as often as needed.
    Dose of mullein is 10-40 drops, 1-4 times a day.
    Dose of St. J’s is 1-20 dropperfuls a day.

    • Harvest the flowering tops of motherwort, mullein, or St. J’s at noon or later on a bright, sunny day when there has not been rain for at least 24 hours.
    • Chop the stalks, leaves, flowers, flower buds, and developing seeds of the one plant you have chosen into pieces no longer than an inch and a half.
    • Fill your jar right up to the top with the fresh, chopped herb.
    • Then fill the jar to the top with 100 proof vodka. (No, 80 proof will not work.)
    Cap tightly. Label, including the botanical name of the plant and the date.
    Keep in a cool, dark place.
    Your tincture is ready to use after six weeks but may be left for years without harm.
  • Tuesday, June 18, 2013 10:16 AM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    Here are three more Great Remedies for you, all used primarily internally, as opposed to last week’s trio, which are mostly used externally. Of those, yarrow and plantain may also be made into a fresh herb tincture; the yarrow while flowering, the plantain at any time. I do not use comfrey tincture.

    St. J’s, St. Joan’s wort, St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)

    Oh flower of the sun, flower of the solstice, bless us, bliss us. Let us keep your summer magic for our winter use. Permit us to capture your light in oil. Allow us to bottle your inner glow. Grace us with your red-lipped smile in our tinctures. Allow us to capture your innermost power. Oh, flower of the sun, ease our muscle pain, help us stay strong and flexible. Oh flower of solstice, lift our mood and let us be your emissary of delight. Bless us, bliss us. Flower of the sun, flower of the fire, flower of St. Joan, protect us from burning, protect our skin against harm. Flower of the solstice protect us from viral infections, protect us from invisible harms. Flower of the sun, flower of the solstice, bless us, bliss us. Smile on us.

    Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
    Thanks to Justine Smythe for this exquisite photo of the flowers of motherwort, one of my favorite remedies for both men and women. Motherwort flowering top tincture not only strengthens the muscles of the heart and the uterus, it establishes a regular rhythm in both organs. Motherwort is nothing less than amazing in its ability to calm those who are anxious. It eases menstrual cramps, assists at birth, calms a rapid heartbeat, helps smooth the rough parts of our menopausal journey, and is said to be “the herb of longevity” in Japan. The tea is way too bitter for pleasant consumption; so is the tincture made from dried motherwort. Stick to the fresh plant tincture; it tastes like (cheap) chocolate; yummy.

    Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
    This common roadside weed is known as the “lungs of the earth.” It nourishes and restores the lungs from the bronchioli to the trachea. I harvest mullein to dry for infusion by cutting the flowering stalk just before the flowers open. I hang each stalk individually and store, when dry, in brown paper bags. Before using it, I use heavy garden pruning shears to cut the mullein stalk and leaves into 1-2 inch pieces. To make Lung Healing Mullein Milk: first making a mullein infusion by steeping one ounce of dried mullein in a quart of boiling water for at least four hours. The resulting dark brown brew is strained through a cloth to remove the ultra-fine hairs, them mixed half and half with whole milk, heated to piping hot, sweetened with a little honey. This may be drunk freely by those seeking to stop smoking, those who have stopped smoking, anyone with a chronic or acute cough, those with asthma and allergies affecting breathing, and anyone who has previously had pneumonia.  

  • Tuesday, June 18, 2013 10:14 AM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    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 | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    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 | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    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 | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    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 | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    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 | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    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
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