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Archive for the ‘Wildcrafting’ Category

Elder Sambucus spp.

When you come across an Elder in the wild, it is difficult to tell if it is a tree or a bush. Its leggy, hollow branches bend and sway, sporting delicate sprays of flowers in early spring and laden with heavy clusters of fruit by fall (A bush! you’d think). Yet in maturity it towers over you with a rather commanding presence (A tree, perhaps?). In the literature and folklore discussing Elders, both terms are used. Though I can’t imagine that Elder actually prefers one to the other, I find ‘tree’ to be a little more flattering, and I will explain shortly why I strive to be polite in my dealings with this particular plant.

Elders grow all over the world and have been used medicinally for thousands of years. In Medieval times, nearly every part of the Elder tree was used for different medicinal properties (bark, leaf, flower, berries)*.  Perhaps because of this prodigious usefulness, clever Elder devised an ingenious strategy for protecting itself.  There is a persistent superstition throughout Europe and the British Isles that something terrible will befall you if you disrespect an Elder tree. Where did this idea spring from? I am not pointing fingers, but only the Elder tree itself stands to gain. This dark glamour is still effectively protecting Elders from abuse in the Old Country, where reportedly even loggers refuse to cut them down. (Well played, Elder!)Blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea)

Though I feel I’m on good terms with all the plants I pick, this is clearly not one to be trifled with.  I take great pains to gather the powder blue berries of our native Elderberry (Sambucus cerulea) in late summer, snipping each cluster very precisely, so as not to snap one of the hollow supporting stems (and possibly become cursed). Note: The Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), native to Western Washington is not edible or medicinal (but still magical).

Elders command respect, and like another of my slightly standoffish plant friends, Stinging Nettle, they have earned it. We need their medicine.  Throughout our long history with Sambucus, it has evolved a unique set of chemicals that allow it to be as wicked as it wants and we’ll forgive. You see, Elder is a foe to the dreaded flu.

This is how it seems to go- chemicals in Elderberry disarm the spikes on viruses that allow the influenza virus to stab into your cell and inject it with viral babies. (If you aren’t scared of the flu yet, do a little research on viral infections and replication–it’s terrifying!) Anyway, Elder just snaps that little viral arm right off and it can’t do its evil viral business in your cells anymore! (It‘s a little more complicated than I am making it seem, it’s more of an enzymatically mediated arm breaking than a literal one).  Researchers have recently discovered that taking the syrup of Elderberry reduces the duration of the flu to just 3-4 days in most cases and promotes increased levels of antibody production. It has been shown in in-vitro studies to be effective at inhibiting ten different strains of the influenza virus!  I have made an Elder syrup that combines the immunostimulating, viral arm-disabling, antibody-boosting properties of Elderberry with the gentle but powerful diaphoretic** effects of the Elder flower.  Here at the Radicle lab, I make a Black Elderberry glycerite (Sambucus nigra) and a Blue Elderberry tincture (Sambucus cerulea) and they both taste lovely (Thanks, Elder!). With flu season in full swing, I recommend stocking your medicine cabinet full of fine preparations such as these. Most of us have lowered resistance this time of year after battling some of the more common viruses, and that’s when the dastardly flu attacks. This season- Fight Back with Elderberries!

Elder flower
*A word of caution: Though the medicinal properties of Elder leaf, root and bark are espoused in many ancient texts, I cannot recommend taking them internally for any reason. These plant structures contain tricky compounds that are violent purgatives, laxatives and emetics. There have even been cases of poisoning from the leaves and stems due to the presence of active cyanide-like compounds. Only the flowers and blue or black berries from a properly identified Elder plant are safe to ingest.
**A diaphoretic is a substance that reduces fever by causing you to sweat. While the standard practice is to suppress a fever,  herbalists tend to support the process, encouraging its quick resolution. Unless a fever becomes dangerously high, fevers are healthy response and play an important role in disrupting viral takeover.

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Dear Readers,

Here’s one from the vault! This article appeared in my very first issue of the Radicle Review in 2008 (printed on paper back then, if you can believe it!). You will see that I have moved ever nearer to my beloved Hawthorne patch in NE Washington, where I am writing to you from now. I’ve finished up the Haw harvest once again this year, and have gallons of cordials and tinctures made from it. I am, as always, smitten with this plant, and I may just drink them all myself if you don’t claim some.

Crategus douglasii (among many other species)
The featured plant in this issue is the Hawthorne tree.  Hawthorne is a native to North America, though there are a few European escapees that have naturalized here, and the ever-popular varieties that are sold in nurseries as ornamentals. Many of these are also medicinal, and I have used the cultivated Hawthorne in the past with success as well as the wild, which I prefer.  I traveled last month to North Eastern Washington in a mad dash to gather ripe Hawthorne berries in order to make my famous Hawthorne Cordial.  Since Hawthorne grows abundantly throughout Washington, I did debate this long journey eastward as an impractical use of my time, seeing as how I could probably obtain them closer to home. However, I am nothing if not impractical, and I am partial to these particular trees that are growing on my friend Phyllis‘ land.  So, familiarity won out, and I made the trek across the North Cascades Highway, gathering wild ginger and pipsissewa from high in the mountains as I went.

Phyllis’ property is at elevation, a large meadow bordered by a beautiful stream to one side and a forested area to the other.  It rained the night before, but the grasshoppers had returned to the eternal chirping that signals the end of summer. One step through the tall grass sends hundreds (seemingly) leaping hither and thither, just to fall in the path of your next step, and so on and so forth.   The Hawthornes grow on the edges of the meadow, on the banks of the stream and edge of the forest. They look like tall shrubs when they are young, only after many years do their trunks require you to acknowledge them as a proper tree. They tend to grow closely together in a clump or thicket, with their thorny branches hanging low, protecting the heart of the tree.  The thorns appear more wicked and bloodthirsty than they actually are, and I am rarely stabbed when I gather the abundant, reddish black berries that hang in clusters off the branches.  Hawthorne doesn‘t wish to harm anyone, it just knows how to protect itself.  This, it turns out, is one of its virtues.
Herbalists know Hawthorne to be a superior heart tonic. Unlike many herbs, which exert equal influence on multiple organ systems, Hawthorne’s effect is direct and focused on the cardiac muscle. The activity of this plant is a mystery to science, as only the whole plant preparations show any physiologic effect (a confounding trait when you are focused on isolating the active constituent and removing it from its crude form- tree form, in this case).  Though it won’t reveal its secrets, the effects are predictable.  Therapeutically, Hawthorne dilates blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood supply to the heart muscle, and reducing spasms and the likeliness of a heart attack.  It is also effective in relieving shortness of breath, tachycardia (rapid pulse), brachycardia (slow pulse), and the general effects of aging on your most important pump. In combination with other herbs it is useful in treating both hypertension and arteriosclerosis, and many other heart related disorders. The berries contain flavonoids that are both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory.  Hawthorne nourishes and tones the heart muscle, I like to think of it as heart food. As you can see by the broad range of effects, Hawthorne is an all-purpose heart herb, capable of normalizing function depending on what is needed. It can dampen excessive function or nourish and support deficient function.  And you don‘t even have to tell it what to do, it just knows!  This is but one example of the intelligence of plant medicine. (After having evolved with plants over hundreds of thousands of years, you could say that the plant kingdom has got our number).

Through my many dealings with the plant, I have found Hawthorne to promote openheartedness and soften grief and anger.  I give Hawthorne not only to those who suffer from heart related pathology, but also those that are working on developing courage and maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships.  If I may borrow liberally from Chinese Medicine, Hawthorne seems to strengthen what is called the ‘Heart Protector’, and therefore ones ability to allow experiences and emotions to touch the heart without damaging the person.  Our defenses must be intact but permeable so that life can penetrate and change us. As Hawthorne demonstrates with it’s thorns just visible beneath a protrusion of berries, true generosity has limits.  An attempt to ravage the tree would leave you rightly shredded. Indeed, a healthy level of self-protection is what allows us to remain open and giving without fear.

As I gathered berries that day in the meadow, I ran across a disturbingly large pile of fresh bear droppings, studded with partially digested Hawthorne berries!  It seems that humans are not the only creature to make use of this tree’s generosity. I nervously finished picking and packed my things to go, hoping that this particular bear may have been a little less prone to an irrational burst of anger and dismembering after its meal of medicinal berries?  As I did not catch a glimpse of the bear, we can imagine Hawthorne engenders a sense of rational self-protection and equanimity in bears as well.
The effects of this gentle, safe plant are felt (in humans) after a month or so of continuous use, so do not expect a quick fix. However, the benefits are long lasting and it has no recorded side effects.  I suggest those with clinical heart conditions try my Hawthorne Heart Tonic, a blend of the fresh flowering tips and the dried berries.   Those who wish to work on the emotional heart primarily will enjoy a nip of my Hawthorne Cordial each evening.  You will be pleased to know that both are ranked among the most palatable of all of my creations.

TROUBLED? DOWN? TAKE HEART! TAKE HAWTHORNE HEART TONIC!

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Shepherd’s Purse, or Capsella bursa-pastoris, is a country plant. It has a few predictable effects, relatively simple chemistry and a gentle nature. It is also one the only herbs that could save your life as you lay dying.
The main claim to fame here is that Shepherd’s Purse is a styptic herb. This term (along with the terms hemostatic and anti-hemorrhagic, which you may also encounter when researching Shepherd’s Purse) describes its ability to arrest bleeding. Uses include- treating a nosebleed, a heavy menstrual period, a cut that won’t quit, gum bleeding due to aggressive tooth flossing, or excessive uterine bleeding after childbirth. (It is employed by many midwives to help check bleeding in this situation). In World War I it was used to slow bleeding on the battlefield when other medicines weren’t available. (Wouldn’t be my first choice for a bayonet wound, though).
There are a few herbs that can be used in this manner and they combine well with Shepherd’s purse for bleeding issues. These include Yarrow (another E. Washington native), Cinnamon, and Cottonroot bark. Of these, Shepherd’s Purse if probably best known, most used, and the easiest to gather. After a few words of caution, I will provide instructions on doing so.
Cautions: This may seem obvious, but if my arm got bitten off, I would never rely on this humble weed instead of, say, a tourniquet. Or use it in a life threatening situation if there were any better, more modern treatments at my disposal. This is an herb for non-fatal bleeding issues, like a heavy period or a flossing accident, or something to take while you wait for the ambulance. Most home birth midwives carry something like this (and the stronger stuff, too) to births just in case. It is considered a great first aid plant for wilderness medicine. If its all you have around, you’ll be glad you have it.
In the case of Capsella, fresh plant tinctures work best, although a tea of the recently dried plant is sometimes used as well. The dried plant loses potency rather quickly and even the tincture has a limited shelf life. One study showed that Shepherd’s Purse tincture is at its peak potency and effectiveness within 3 months of manufacture. Since I can only get the fresh herb during its growing season (now!), I make a new batch every year and throw out the old stuff. It is still effective after a year, but it’s blood staunching genius is most pronounced when its hot off the tincture press.
In the Northwest, look for Shepherd’s Purse in June or July before it gets too dried out. It has a wide range across globe and it flowers all summer long (all year long in more temperate climates), so chances are its something you can find. I usually come across it growing in alleys and overgrown yards, behind a barn, around the margins of parks. It loves growing by its friend Cleavers (Galium aperine). Shepherd’s Purse is not known for its good looks, being a rather plain looking member of the mustard family. Graceful, slender stalks support nondescript white flowers sporting 4 tiny petals each. These mature to become cute little triangular heart-shaped green seedpods (SP’s most distinguishing feature) that alternate up the stalk. There are a lot of mustard family plants that look similar, but the heart shaped seedpod is a dead giveaway. The entire plant is usually only 6-18 inches or so and easy to overlook, growing as it does, in wayward places.  Gather the above ground parts of the fresh green plant from a clean area because Shepherd’s Purse can concentrate heavy metals in the ground. That said, it doesn’t always grow in clean areas, so be discriminating here. Chop up the whole plant except the roots (basal leaves, stalk, seeds, flowers), then just pack mason jar with the chopped fresh herb and cover it with vodka. In three weeks, strain your tincture and store in a dark amber bottle for up to one year. Most likely, anything you could buy in commerce is far older than that, so well done, you.
To check bleeding, Shepherd’s Purse tincture works best in a pulse dosing pattern. That means you take it frequently in smaller doses. I usually recommend 1 dropperful (1ml or 30 drops of the tincture) every 10 minutes until bleeding slows or stops (usually within an hour). Then you can do it every hour or two to maintain the results if you still require it. For uterine bleeding from fibroids or a heavy period you may start with this pulse dosing pattern for an hour and then take 1 dropperful 4 times a day for the rest of your period. It won’t make it stop completely if its your time of the month, but it may make it more tolerable and spare your sheets, good undies and iron stores. It works by inducing the little arteries in the uterus to clamp down, and due to this stimulating effect, it is not advised during pregnancy.


Other skills? Shepherd’s Purse helps to excrete uric acid from the body, so it can be helpful for gout and inflammation in the urinary tract. It has a peppery, weird taste. Did I mention it stops bleeding? It doesn’t really need any other skills.
Shepherd’s Purse is an essential part of an herbal first aid kit, and like so many things, much better when you do-it-yourself.

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This spring violets are in! (In season, that is). You’ll see them sprouting up in yards, marshy places, stream-sides, and on the edges of moist forests. They are a must-have for your home medicine chest and oh, so seasonal.

Violet leaves and flowers are a spring delicacy. They are abundant in the most mundane areas (grass lawns), and are the perfect introduction to urban foraging.  Here are some tips on hunting the varied species of the Viola genus, and why you might want to, of course.

That said, the only way to spy a violet is to look down. Way down, just below the tips of grass in a lawn. Scan your yard (or any other moist, green collection of plants) and look for a slight purple hue. Then zoom in, ending up on your hands and knees, face to face with the cutest of flowers. Despite their reputation, violets are not shy, per se. They just prefer to grow amidst blades of grass or behind other plants. This isn’t due to insecurity, they’re just doing their own thing.

The beauty of the violet is that we have to stop, really see and come down close to the earth to spend time with them. They demonstrate that “living small” can be a powerful position. They are highly economical and efficient little flowers. There are over 80 species of wild and cultivated violets growing throughout North America. Apparently, as a genus, Violas are doing quite well for themselves. Their thrifty use of energy affords them the luxury of creating a sterile flower (and, in some wild varieties, a frivolously floral and girly scent). That’s right, in most species, the flower has no part in reproduction (which is done discretely under leaf cover by a plain-looking seed sac close to the ground), it seems they flower just because they know they‘re gorgeous. Hardly the move of a painfully shy plant, wouldn’t you say?

The Edible Violet

Both violet leaves and flowers are very palatable in salads or as a garnish. The flowers make a conversation-starting edible cake decoration (great for boring weddings and parties).  The leaves have a mucilaginous (slippery) quality when chewed and apparently can be used to thicken soups and stews (though I haven’t tried this one, personally). They have a mild, slightly sweet and grassy flavor, and the earlier in the season, the more tender they are (but wait until they flower to make a positive ID). I’m telling you, this common weedy volunteer that you can literally harvest in your yard will have you hailed as a culinary innovator at your next dinner party. The fact that violet blooms at the very end of winter- the most flower deprived, scurvy prone time of year- doesn’t hurt either. In any case, you are a star. Just gather both leaves and flowers from an organically grown lawn or a wild place and toss into salads as desired. For instant class, put one flower in each cell of an ice cube tray, fill with water and freeze, then toss into fancy beverages. Like I said, you’re a star!

The Medicinal Violet

Though cultivated species of Violas also produce edible flowers,  wild violets take all of that energy that could be spent on luxuriant growth and height, bigger blooms and a stronger scent (as some of its less thrifty ornamental cousins have done) and invest it in potent, effective medicinal compounds.
Nutritionally, violets supply ample amounts of vitamin C and bioflavonoids such as rutin, making it a useful tonic to those with venous insufficiency such as hemorrhoids, spider veins, varicose veins, broken capillaries and easy bruising. They are also loaded with carotenes, the precursor to Vitamin A. Both of these important vitamins are associated with increased immune function and wound healing. Violet’s a healer, you see. Violet roots reach way down into moist spring soil and pull up vital nutrients and minerals such as Calcium and Magnesium. The leaves become little green vitamin tablets.

Violet leaves also contain a good deal of mucilage, the slippery stuff that appears in your mouth as you chew. This has soothing, moistening effect in the body and is responsible for much of violet’s medicinal activity. Mucilage makes for easy bowel movements, moist, healthy lungs and mucus membranes and it helps soothe and heal abraded tissue externally and internally (g.i. tract, bladder irritations, etc.) Violet has been employed for such diverse conditions as: bronchitis, constipation, urinary tract irritation, and chronic skin conditions.

The presence of chemical compounds called saponins gives violet the ability to dissolve troublesome cysts, tumors and nodules, specifically those in the breasts. Violet has been used for centuries for dissolving both cancerous and benign lumps in the breast. I use it as a preventative for women who are worried about breast cancer and for women with benign lumps or fibrocystic breasts. When a woman has cancer, violet leaves can be a supportive therapy in addition to other treatments, though I wouldn’t rely on violet alone. For cysts, lumps and tumors, the tea or tincture is taken internally and warm compresses are applied externally to the breast and wrapped with a cloth. Susan Weed’s excellent book Breast Cancer? Breast Health! details the use of violet for various breast conditions. Violet is also a  gentle lymphatic tonic, aiding the body in removing waste products from the bloodstream. As such, it is an effective detoxifier and a specific remedy for treating chronic skin conditions such as eczema, dry skin, rashes- especially the oozing, weeping variety- and cradle cap in infants. Violet leaf and flower can be consumed as an infusion (tea), tincture, syrup, glycerite or used topically as an oil, compress or poultice for skin conditions. Caution- Plants with a high saponin content can cause nausea and vomiting if taken in excessive doses. I have yet to see this happen, so I imagine the upper limit is pretty high- just a warning to those of you who might try to subsist on violet leaves alone.

Lastly, another name for violet is Heartsease, which refers to its gentle strengthening effect upon the heart.  I feel like violet is a soothing friend that cools anger and irritation- like retreating into the shade of a forest on a hot day. (You may actually meet violet there in real life. She likes to keep things shady, moist and low-profile.) When I take violet, I feel restored and nourished, and somehow stronger overall.

The Violet of Lore

Folklore and myth surround this plant. Though the above mentioned, proven benefits were also known and have been employed for the last 2000 years or so, there many uses that may be, ahem, a bit more difficult to explain scientifically.  Here are a few gems as reported by Pojar and Mackinnon in the book Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast-

“If violets bloom in autumn, there is going to be a death or epidemic. It is unlucky to bring only a small number of flowers into the house; this may harm the laying capacity of hens;… spiteful neighbours might encourage children to take only one flower home. Violets worn as a wreath around the neck were said to prevent drunkenness.”

As your trusty herbal reporter, held to the highest standards of journalistic integrity, I vow to at least try out the last bit there. And soon. It’s basically my top priority right now.

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A Gentle Friend

Roses are easy to love. For some of us, smelling them is not enough. We need to eat them, drink them, imbibe them. I am one of these people. Allegedly, a rose was the first wild plant that enticed me to eat it, sealing my fate as an herbalist. The way my mother tells it, she was walking along with me in her baby backpack, and she saw my little hand reach out, clutch a rosehip and pop it right in my mouth before she could stop me. (I don’t remember this particular incident, but it sounds credible.) Alarmed that I had just eaten a wild plant with presumably limited botanical knowledge ( I was just under two), she asked one of her friends what I had eaten and if it was going to kill me. Her friend told her (correctly) that it was the fruit of the wild rose, and not only edible, but very high in vitamin C.  Perhaps “she just needed vitamin C”, they suggested helpfully.

Having thus averted infant scurvy,  rose and I are still BFF’s. The past few weeks have found me out collecting rose blossoms from these same rosebushes on my family’s land. I infuse their perfect petals in brandy to make my famous Wild Rose Cordial.  The substance produced tastes as good as roses smell (or better even, if you like brandy). You might want to try some.

Beyond the obvious virtues of the rose, there are very practical reasons to love them so much you want to eat them. Roses are medicinal and nutritious. Rosehips, (the cute red fruit of the rose plant) are an excellent alternative to vitamin C supplements, being extremely high in this nutrient, and conveniently packaged with all of the bioflavonoids that your body knows just what to do with. Vitamin C is highly soluble in water and makes an excellent tea, with a slight tartness and a hint of sweet.

The hips are collected after the first good frost of the fall, which “sets” the sugars therein, making their flavor slightly fruit-like. Their texture is a bit lacking (they are what you might call mushy, if you were being ungenerous). The core is filled with an abominable mixture of throat-irritating fluff and seeds, requiring you to eat them like a very small apple, just the flesh. Like many wild foods, it would be hard to stuff yourself on this alone, but if you happen to be in the woods, do try one. The flavor is delicate and perfect, the fruition of the rose.

That petals can be employed in tea, tincture or brandy cordial form with many beneficial effects. Possessed of a gentle cooling and astringent nature, rose is good in cases of tissue inflammation and poor tissue tone, such as gingivitis, sore throats, mouth ulcers, or heavy menses, spotting between periods or after miscarriage or abortion. Specific to the female reproductive system, rose is also indicated for PMS, menstrual cramping, hot flashes, absence of menses, vaginal dryness and infertility. With long standing associations to Venus and Aphrodite, we may infer that rose can help to increase romantic feelings and support healthy sexuality in both sexes.

And then there are the effects upon the mind. Rose softens grief, anxiety and self-doubt. Rose is a gentle friend, inviting you to open, relax and stay present with its disarmingly comforting smell and flavor, and the medicinal actions to back it up. But we must take the first step. Perhaps there is more wisdom in that “stop and smell the roses” bit than we had previously thought?

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There are only a few things that you need to know about the horsetail plant (Equisetum arvense):

It has sex
It has been around since the dinosaurs
It strengthens your bones

These outrageous statements clearly require an explanation, so I’ll begin with the first.

While it is technically true that many plants propagate themselves through sexual reproduction, I blushed when I learned that Horsetails, a spore producing plant,  actually produce eggs and sperm that SWIM to fertilize the eggs. Can you believe it? It is a rather complicated process (involving the release of spores into water that then germinate to form a separate plant whose only job is to produce the sperm and eggs which then grow into a little baby horsetail plant), but it gets the job done. Go to any moist area in the PNW and you will probably spot a fuzzy little forest of them, just mating away. Just a fun little fact to tuck away under your cap.

How about that dinosaur bit? That sounds a little far fetched.
Well it’s true, I swear to god! Horsetails are considered living fossils, meaning that genetically they have changed very little over hundreds of millions of years. They’ve actually been around since the Carboniferous period, which was millions of years BEFORE the dinosaurs, and they grew to towering heights like trees. While you may overlook our contemporary equisetums measuring just two feet tall at their peak, think of them in their heyday, making shade for a pale triceratops or a velociraptor with heat stroke.

How have horsetails survived massive climate change to co-habitate with us? The key here is flexibility. The strength of the horsetail race lies in its unique chemical makeup. It contains the highest amount of silica in its tissues than any other plant on earth. Silica is an important element necessary for the growth and repair of bones, cartilage, teeth, skin, hair and connective tissue. It is also what allowed this non-woody spore-producing plant to stand tall like a tree. And horsetails have retained this essential element that gives them their rough, abrasive texture and their spindly, yet sturdy appearance. They are strong and supple. This is how we want our bones and skin to be- sturdy and protective, but also living and resilient, not brittle. Taking horsetail internally does just this. Elemental silica by nature is not soluble in water, but Horsetail has many handy forms of silica, such as silicin which IS soluble in water. It does take a bit of work, however, so for maximum benefit you need to simmer the dried horsetail in water or steep for quite a while (overnight oughta do it).

This is what I like to see all my menopausal and post menopausal women drinking to prevent osteoporosis. Mercifully, it also helps with preventing hormonal hair loss, and many women swear by it for thickening the hair and strengthening the nails. (Have you ever seen a horse’s tail? or its nails?) It is my favorite tea for mending broken bones, speeding recovery and strengthening your skeleton. Horsetail has a mild astringent and tonifying effect on lung tissue and the bladder and kidneys. I use it when there is constitutional weakness in these organs, such as a tendency to always get pneumonia when you have a chest cold, or a kidney infection from mild dietary transgressions. It pairs well with Stinging Nettle for all of the above uses.

To gather this genial little weed, you will need to find the tender young stalks of the infertile plant which look a lot like a bottle brush. Gather only from pristine areas, taking care not to collect from streams that are contaminated with agricultural runoff, as horsetails can concentrate these toxic substances. Take them home and lay them on a screen or in a shallow box in a well ventilated area. It just takes a couple of days for them to dry, as they are rather brittle little things. When they are bone dry, store in a glass jar and use a small handful in a quart of boiling water for each batch of tea. Try to drink a couple quarts a week for maximum resilience and flexibility. (Unfortunately, though convenient, the tincture is rather useless for delivering silica in any form.)

For the mane of a horse and the bones of a dinosaur, drink Horsetail tea today!

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A few of Oregon Grapes’ many virtues shine more brightly than the rest in terms of absolute indispensibility. One- its broad antimicrobial activity,  Two- its liver tonifying functions and Three- its strengthening effect on digestion. For those of you who subscribe to germ theory, we might agree on the importance of having antibacterial agents in our milieu. Though we are host to an incomprehensible number of microorganisms, we may find our immune systems challenged from time to time and requiring of assistance from a seasoned veteran of microbial warfare,  the original OG. You see, Oregon Grape has been around the block a few times and has developed an effective, mutually beneficial defensive strategy. It creates a bitter, foul tasting alkaloid that animals (yes, including most of us) rather dislike the taste of. We refrain from  stuffing ourselves full of its woody stems and barbed leaves, and in exchange it provides us with berberine, a potent antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal agent, that we only need sparingly.  And nobody gets hurt.

Berberine is the stuff of legend. It is found in several other plants that have been revered/exploited/overharvested, such as Goldenseal. Oregon Grape, dear readers, is the West’s Goldenseal (with a different ending, I hope). It is effective for bacterial infections of various origins, including some difficult to treat staph and strep infections. Oregon Grape works well taken internally and/or applied topically depending on the location of the infection or irritation. Many simple gastrointestinal infections are quickly eradicated by treatment with a tincture of Oregon Grape root. It’s a key player in my Tri-Wizard formula based on the indications above, making that formula a particularly broad spectrum approach to infectious agents.

As a mild liver tonic and “blood purifier”, Oregon Grape has helped improve a number of complaints associated with poor liver function. These range from the more clinical sounding disorders such as jaundice and elevated bilirubin levels, to the very uneducated sounding (but no less relevant) diagnosis of “bad blood”.  A “blood purifier” is an adjective often used to describe herbs that improve the liver’s ability to detoxify waste products in the body and thus impact the health of the skin. This is most obvious in cases of eczema, psoriasis, acne (including cystic), in which the administration of Oregon Grape often causes noticeable improvement in just days or weeks.

As a bitter tonic and digestive stimulant, Oregon Grape stimulates the release of bile from the gallbladder, aiding in the digestion of fats and oils. By some physiological quirk, a bitter taste in the mouth stimulates all digestive functions, from the production and release of digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid to the physical stimulus of peristalsis which moves food through the digestive tract. For this reason, it is preferable to take Oregon Grape (or any bitter herbs) just prior to eating, as your digestive system will be primed and your meal will proceed without a hiccup.  This will have the predictable effect of less bloating, gas, malabsorption and constipation.

Oregon grape. Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it? Now available as a Radicle Excellent Extract in 3 sizes. (Also available in the wild in many states).

Worth the effort

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