Archive for the ‘Wildcrafting’ Category

Well folks, here’s the proof. Picking plants is as easy as it sounds.

Stalking the wild Oregon Grape

Firstly, you need a solid ID on the plant. Oregon Grape does have a distinctive look, but I still recommend consulting a trusted field guide just to be sure. (I use Pojar and McKinnon’s Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast.) With OG we are looking for shiny evergreen leaves with needle-like points, arranged in a jaunty alternating leaf pattern.  Oregon grape pops out of the forest floor in little stands. I think it likes to be with friends.

Coaxing the gentle root to come with me

When you come upon a healthy looking stand that seems amenable to the idea-

Dig down below the duff at the base of a plant and grasp the root stalk. Oregon grape sends out horizontal “runner” type roots, so as you pull, you may have to follow it. I like to get my hands down in there and work it out gently, this causes less breakage, so you will end up with more root for your trouble. It will break off at some point whatever remains in the ground will sprout a new plant. Great design, huh?

Once the root is free, I clip the foliage off and place the roots in my bag. At home that night, I sort the roots and give them a bath and a good scrub down.

Nearly have it...


The spoils

Now they are ready to be chopped and tinctured or dried.

Bath time for rooties















Next week’s topic- Why would I want to pick Oregon Grape Root?


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Dear Readers,
The days are growing slightly longer and the plants of Seattle are beginning to awaken. I thought it fitting that the Radicle Review should also come out of hibernation, to chronicle the first signs of spring. I promise not to gloat to all of you that are still icebound- just try to vicariously experience spring through this plog*, spring will come to you as well.
This weekend I am planning a foraging trip to hunt for the last deep winter roots of the season, those of the ubiquitous Oregon Grape. I use these bright yellow roots in my Tri-Wizard Tincture.  Tri-Wiz is Radicle’s top selling remedy for the common cold, a powerful combination of Oregon grape root (Mahonia nervosa), Yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica), and Red root (Ceonothus sp.). Yes, this tincture’s name is a Harry Potter reference, and yes, it works like magic. More on that later.  Stay tuned for next weeks instructional post- “How To Gather Oregon Grape Roots- a pictorial guide.”

p.s I missed you guys.

Hellebore, the proverbial early bloomer.

*Plant Log

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Hi peeps,

As you may have guessed by the infrequency of my posts, it has been a busy summer. In this post, I would like to officially announce my plans to put the RR to bed for the fall. “But why?”, you might ask, pleadingly. First of all, thank you for your concern. I will be taking this brief sabbatical because I am going back to school this fall to further my academic pursuits, and I just don’t think I will have the time to keep you all up on the cutting edge of herbalism.  This means that my herb classes will be forestalled until winter or spring, I won’t be writing much and you probably will start to miss me. The good news is that I promise I will be back early spring (or sooner) to dazzle you with my new found grasp of anatomy, physiology and chemistry (in a non-boring way). I will still be offering herbal consultations, and as always, Radicle’s Excellent Extracts. (Please inquire if interested in purchasing these.)  By way of parting temporarily, let me leave you with photos of one of my wildcrafting/medicine making trips in Eastern Washington this summer.

This is a visual chronicle of the making of my newest magical formula, Moon Drops. It’s a blend of the tinctures of  Wild Rose, Mugwort and Yarrow, all gathered in the wild from our land in Eastern Washington. These three sisters were made to be together- they balance, energize and empower one another. I have been using this blend as a tonic to the female reproductive organs, to assist in healing from physical or emotional trauma, and restore and cultivate true feminine power. Wild Rose, Mugwort and Yarrow are archetypal plants with a long history of assisting humans. Respectively, they have been used for cultivating compassion and softening grief, enhancing dreaming and intuition, and offering strength and protection to those who work with them. Lately, it’s been helping women recover from the emotional and physical ravages of miscarriages, PMS, abortions, infertility and patriarchy in general. And it tastes as lovely as it looks, I swear.

Take care of yourself and others this fall, and write me if you need to @ radicletea@gmail.com.

Your friend and herbalist, Sarah P.

Your humble author, making Moon Drops for those in need.

The raw materials for my famous Wild Rose Brandy. Assists in the difficult work of continually opening to Life.

Artemesia vulgaris or California Mugwort, the green muse of lucid dreaming.

Yarrow, famed for staunching the wound of Achilles, also provides excellent protective and styptic effects for everyone else.

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A rather dreary 4th of July here in Seattle. It’s raining at present and we’ve got the heat on. I imagine patriots huddled around the warmth of small explosions, sparklers sputtering. I am off to gather St. John’s Wort this weekend, and with morale waning in the NW as the long days of “summer” are pissed away in a grey drizzle,  I thought it fitting to dredge up an article out of the Radicle Review’s printed archives to address the ennui of my people (and, obviously, the author). This writing on the use of St. John’s Wort will be discussed in two parts. (Hang in there!)

Part one- A Real Saint

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is one of those plants that is easy to overlook.  Despite the fact that it grows almost anywhere (covering meadows, cheerfully assembled along roadsides, a lone plant catching the roof runoff in a parking lot), few know this plant by sight.  It often falls into the category of LYF’s, or Little Yellow Flowers.  Never mind that if you look at an individual flower among the profusion on each plant, you’ll find an absolutely charming specimen. Closer examination reveals cute red freckles adorning each blindingly yellow petal. The stamens sport a jaunty tuft of pollen atop their points. The leaves are diminutive, though they are many in number, and in overall effect the plant seems to say, “Go for the flowers”.  This is exactly what I do.
The flowers contains hypericin (once thought to be the “active constituent”, now known as one of many), which is responsible for the dramatic staining of your picking fingers.  A little yellow flower turns the tips of your fingers a dark purple red!  I suppose you could wear gloves, but I enjoy being marked by this plant (this differs somewhat from my position on the picking of Stinging Nettles).  You can gauge the quality of a St. John’s Wort product by the depth of the color.  The tincture should be beautiful- dark but transparent like a jewel, the oil should be a deep earthy red.
The most popular use of St. John’s Wort is of course, as an antidepressant. It exerts a demonstrable effect on seratonin levels and in early clinical trials was proven to be as effective as the popular antidepressants of the time, with far fewer side effects and a wide parameter of safe usage.  It continues to be one of the most widely used medicinal herbs despite all of the hullabaloo surrounding it.
St. John’s Wort’s specialty is transforming mildly obsessive negative states of mind in the blink of an eye.  I am not talking about serious mental illness here- I am talking about repetitive thought patterns that do nothing to improve your situation.  To my knowledge every one has these from time to time, though some of us are more prone than others.
Just a dropperful or two of the fresh plant tincture promotes a lifting of sadness and feelings of futility, especially during the winter months when sunlight deprivation causes grim emotional states.  I have employed it with success in those who have seasonal affective disorder or SAD.  I recommend taking it for a few weeks at a time.
Now, St. John’s Wort is not a powerful psychoactive drug that can cause dependence.  You don’t have to carefully wean yourself off of it. It doesn’t alter your brain chemistry in such a way as to paint a smile on your face while your spirit drifts away. While some antidepressant drugs can fracture your ability to understand yourself and what needs to be changed in your life, St. John’s Wort can support the emotional growth process*. (*This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA).
Generally speaking, if St. John’s Wort is going to work for you, it is apparent almost immediately.  I have felt results from a very small dose (i.e. 5-10 drops of the fresh tincture) in a matter of minutes. Sometimes that is all it takes to set your head straight.  For those with long standing existential sadness, you may want to take it every day for a while. It is restorative to the nervous system after periods of intense stress, depression or depletion from illness or malnutrition.  When you are feeling burned out and weak and dark thoughts have invaded, St. John’s Wort can bolster your spirits.
One under-appreciated property of St John’s Wort (there are so many!)  is it’s ability to heal nerve damage from injury and tissue trauma.  St. John’s Wort can actually promote the re-growth of the myelin sheath in cases where the nerve has been completely severed!  The infused oil of this plant works great as a topical treatment for neuralgia and various neuropathies as well as general inflammation and pain. St. John’s Wort oil stars in my Sore Muscle Salve for its’ nerve-regenerating properties.  For those of you dealing with severe nerve pain (e.g sciatica, etc.), I usually recommend taking the tincture internally and applying the oil or salve externally.  St. John’s wort also demonstrates anti-viral properties. As you might imagine, it works really well for viruses that affect the nerves, like herpes for instance. A blend of equal parts St. John’s Wort, Echinacea, Lemonbalm and Burdock tinctures is my proven formula for recurrent herpes and shingles outbreaks.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of the Radicle Review. Stay tuned for part two of our examination of St. John’s Wort!  Next week we will tackle the overblown precautions in taking this fine herb (for the fair and balanced reporting you’ve come to expect from the RR), and I will dazzle you with photographs.

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As if to tragically illustrate the importance of botanical literacy, a Washingtonian died recently as a result of not learning her local flora.  Last month a Seattle news station ran as story about a woman from Tacoma that died after eating Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) thinking that it was “something else”.  Now, you know that I don’t like to inspire fear about plants- in fact my whole mission is to promote people- plant relations. However, this relationship requires KNOWING who you are dealing with and I’m not going to lie, the Hemlocks are the bad seeds of the plant world.

Here’s the rub- We’ve got three different species called hemlock here in Western Washington. One is the benevolent Western Hemlock, a coniferous tree that doesn’t bother nobody. The other two, Poison Hemlock and Water Hemlock are famously toxic and not to be trifled with.
Water Hemlock is the deadliest plant in North America. All parts of it are toxic and can be fatal if ingested, but the root is the most potent, eating just a 1/4 inch piece of the root can cause convulsions, paralysis, foaming at the mouth and death. Poison Hemlock causes severe respiratory distress, paralysis and will cause your lungs to collapse, bringing about your demise within a few hours.
Don’t f–k with Hemlock, seriously.

The problem with Hemlock is:
1. They grow everywhere! Water Hemlock (Cicuta douglasii) grows by water, Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) grows everywhere else.
2. To the untrained eye, they look like a bunch of things that we can eat. The Hemlocks are in the same botanical family as popular favorites like carrots, parsley, anise, lovage, angelica, and parsnips to name a few. The Apiaceae family (formerly the Umbelliferae family, a name which is a bit more illustrative of the defining characteristic) has flower heads that look a bit like the skeleton of an umbrella. They share many other characteristics such as hollow stems, lacy leaves and a penchant for being either delicious, medicinal or deadly.
If you have even a cursory interest in gathering plants from the wild, this is one to know. Perhaps the one to know, as there are few others that will as swiftly end your time on earth. I counsel my students to just avoid gathering any plants in this family until they are very comfortable definitively identifying the hemlocks.  A cavalier attitude with this plant can be fatal, so don’t be a hippie about this.
Here are some photos of Poison Hemlock (please conduct an image search of Water Hemlock (Cicuta douglasii) after reading this text.) I urge you to stare at them until they are burned into your retinas and then avoid gathering anything remotely resembling them unless you have a confirmed ID on the plant. I do encourage you take a class or guide book and go out looking for the Hemlocks just to familiarize yourself and pay your respects.  Here are some key points to remember:
Poison Hemlock- (Conium maculatum) This one has leaves that look a bit like a carrot. “Lacy” we call them, which means the leaves are very finely divided and innocent looking. Like a nice delicate fern even, but DO NOT BE FOOLED! The flowers are born on umbels in little clusters, they are white and cute and also do not appear menacing in any way. This one has hollow stems which are commonly (but not always!) mottled with purple spots, which does give you a clue about it’s less wholesome qualities, I think.  It can grow up to 10 feet tall! (See it towering above me in the photo for scale.)

Water Hemlock- (Cicuta douglasii) This one looks more like a nice Italian Parsley crossed with Marijuana. It has flat compound leaves that are sharply toothed. Water Hemlocks like the murky places, on the edges of streams and wet ditches. It has a green or purple tinged stalk that is thicker at the base, and if you were to cut it open it would reveal chambers (of doom) inside. The flowers are similar to the Poison Hemlock, but a more densely clustered. The arrangement of the leaf veins is the key characteristic. The leaf veins end IN BETWEEN the teeth on the leaves, rather than at the tip. BUT- many plants look like this one, so don’t mess around.

Discalimer:  Reading this in no way prepares you to pick plants that resemble these guys, okay? You are not checked out on the Apiaceae family until you’ve had further training in basic botany and are in possession of a good field guide.

To recap: Not knowing your local plants can be dangerous.  There are plants that are harmful or poisonous if ingested, but those that have gone before us have bravely mapped out which ones (oftentimes giving them handy names like “POISON” hemlock). So, there’s really nothing to fear.

This Public Service Announcement has been brought to you by the Radicle Community Herb School. * Just to brag here, none of my students have EVER died by fatal plant poisoning!

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Smart, smart nettle. Yesterday my friend Savahn and I went out to pick nettles with my new herb dog, Molly. We arrived at our picking spot to find that the nettles were in a fine mood, stalks blowing gently in the warm spring breezes, dappled sunlight speckling their leaves.  As we settled in, acquainting ourselves with the place and the plants growing there, Molly advanced toward a nettle.  Puppies generally test the world through their noses and sharp-toothed little mouths and I could do nothing to protect her from this potent lesson.  She sniffed a leaf, recoiled a bit, then chomped one casually.  The result? Yep, nettle will even sting a PUPPY!!

Molly retreated looking somewhat confused and punished.  A bit later as I receded deeper into the patch and was obscured from her view, she decided to rush the nettles and find me. I could see her getting stung again and again as she bounded bravely through the nose-level nettles. At this point I intervened, of course, scooping her up and placing her in a safe spot. She looked rather dazed, but recovered quickly.

Throughout the course of the afternoon as we travelled from patch to patch, I watched as she gingerly chose her steps, AVOIDING nettles!  It would seem, Dear Readers, that Molly has learned to identify her first plant!  (And in the process, shed a bit of puppy naivety for street smarts).

I’m inclined to think that this is precisely what nettles intended to do by evolving such a memorable defense against predation. As one of the earliest (and tastiest) green plants to emerge after winter, they had to do something or they would have been eaten to death! They would have just popped out of the ground after the ice age (give or take a few thousand years) and CHOMP.  Done.  Finished.  So they sprouted stingers to prevent nibbling by animals.  Now the only ones they have to contend with are humans with our rubber gloves (another brilliant adaptation), goats, and (hypothetically) giraffes, who also can’t feel their mouths. Well done, Nettles. And well done Humans, you clever monkeys, for figuring out that if you cook or dry the nettles, they lose their sting.

So, feeling smug about the ingenuity of my species and the botanical acumen of my dog, I went home and made all of my nettle harvest into NETTLE PESTO!  You really ought to try it, but you have to make your own. I have absolute faith in your ability to locate and make a positive ID on a stinging nettle. Just walk around in the lush spring growth in a moist woodland wearing shorts.

(The recipe for nettle pesto that I used is from Langdon Cook who writes the blog Fat of the Land. He’s a fellow nettle evangelist and an acclaimed wild-foodie that lives in Seattle. Take a peek.)

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Luis and I leave tomorrow for our second annual spring wildcrafting trip down the coast of Oregon. We are hoping it is prime picking for California poppies, Mugwort and other noble weeds from further down south. If all goes well by tomorrow night we will be dining on delicious baby nettles.
Characteristically, we have no idea where we are going are actually going to. But I must replenish my stores of wild plant tinctures for the masses. What will we find? What stories will I to report from the field? You’ll have to wait until I return next weekend. However, I don’t mean to taunt you, so here is the first installment of my series about nettles to whet your appetite…

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