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I am sure that over the years we have all struggled to figure a way to squeeze every last drop of tincture out of our plant material.  I have heard several alternative ideas and known people that spent hours attempting to build their own tincture press.  A tincture press can run you several hundred dollars and for most of us lay herbalists it is just too much to justify spending for the pint of tincture we have made.   And so most of us just forgo the whole thing and lament at how much medicine we are loosing when we lay the spent plant material in the compost.  Until now!

 

I wish I could take credit for this,  but I can’t, a friend of mine named Jodi who I met in a wildcrafting class gifted us with this idea that she came up with on the spur of the moment.  It does require a piece of equipment,  but its a kitchen item many of us already have or can purchase for under 40 dollars.

 

What is it?   A wheat grass juicer!!!

 

Let me share with you Jodi’s experiement;

I took 4 cups of drained St John’s Wort plant material (I drained and pushed on it with a spoon to get as much out as is possible)

The material was still wet and glossy.

The ran it through the wheat grass juicer and the results were…… Ta Da…. drum roll please!!!!!

1 whole more cup of tincture

2 cups of bone dry plant material…. Impressive!!

 

Here are her pictures to prove it.

 

4 cups of St. John's Wort plant material, drained of menstrum

 

Before running through the juicer

After running through the juicer

I cup extra tincture, 2 cups plant material!

 

And so our trials are over,  we can all now have ensure that  we are getting every bit of medicine from the plants that we so dearly love.

 

If any of you would like to send lavish gifts of thanks to Jodi to thank her for her brilliance,  let me know  :)

 

Green Blessings.

Kate

The Beauty of the Spring

When I was little May Day was magical. It seemed like it was the day the promise of Spring was met and the time of warmth was called in. I recall sneaking in and out of neighbors yards picking rhododendrons, daffodils and peonies to make into little bouquets to leave on the porches of strangers.  The magic of  these little gifts, collected stealthily by me and left for people that could never thank me made me giddy.  I remember vividly the excitement that grew everyday of April as the flowers began to bloom and the days lengthened in earnest.

As spring progresses into summer here, I’ve learned that there are flushes of wildflowers that mark the sublte changes of the seasons outside of the realm of  the calendar.  The fireweeds flush in  June just before the foxglove.  And the the hardhack in August along with Goldenrod, and followed by Tansy.  By September pearly everlasting has surely  made its puffy appearance.  The roadsides are covered in St. Johns wort near Solstice.  Wood violets bloom in early March as do the trillium.  Cultivated daffodils are the first hit of color I see when the weather is still a bit cold.  And the blooming of the wild cherry tells me it time to plant to garden.  And when the the trees have  truly greened the land is covered in a swath of yellow dandelions than can make a person gasp and soften the heart of the most dedicated weed-hater.

On sunny afternoons I gather the buds and pull the tender yellow petals from their bitter green bracts and brew a small batch of dandelion wine. I pick buds and make them into sour pickles , I add tender green leaves along with pulled apart flower buds to salads and I watch my daughter chew on the flower ends and then squirm as the bitter taste hits her tongue and the yellow pollen coats her cheeks.

My yard and this Valley are covered in a blanket of small fuzzy flowers.  It has been a mild spring and warm weather has brought the  flowers a bit early,  everywhere I look they broadcast their sunny message and let me know that that spring is indeed here.

Last year at this time my little piece of land was being hit by yet another snow flurry.  The many feet of snow that had fallen in December was slowly decreasing yet the whole ground was still blanketed in a thick covering of snow turned ice. Down the valley, towards the Sound the weather was not quite so intense but it was still so cold and the plants were slow growing.  That is why this winter has surprised me with its lack of “wintryness.”  I was able to begin spring harvesting in earnest weeks ago.  I was wandering through the woods down the creek bed towards the river when I saw the first nettle rosettes, the plum tree is heavy with buds about to burst open and early spring salad greens of peppergrass and chickweed are popping up in every bit of bare soil I see.  Last week, when we all harvested together it was shocking to find nettle shoots already up to my knee.  No plant harkens spring or calls in the season of growth and harvest like nettle.  It often one of the first medicinal plants ready to harvest each spring and so perhaps it is not surprising that is is also the plant by which many people are first introduced to herbs and also the plant that has called many wise women to down the path of herbalism.  This plant that sprouts first is the woods often sprouts first in our hearts.  I call nettle the gateway plant :)

Blessed with an abundance of nettles in my woods this time of year, we eat them almost daily, along with daily infusions at night we eat them in soups and stews and add nettles to our dinner in anyway possible.  I have included a few of the best recipes I have come up with over the past few weeks.  I apologize for the lack of pictures, I left my camera at Ellen’s,  but know that if I included the recipe here it was definitely worth remaking :)

To begin, I made a soup, sweetened by the natural sugars found in organic or home grown acorn squash and made creamy with a “healthy” portion of cultured cream cheese. Topped with roasted squash seeds,  its a savory treat on these chilly early spring nights.

Cream Of Nettle Soup

1 acorn squash- halved and baked-reserve seeds

1 onion-diced

4 cloves garlic

1/2 inch piece of ginger grated

Heaping bowl of young nettle tops

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

1/8 tsp nutmeg

6 oz cream cheese

water or broth to cover

Begin by baking the squash in a 400 degree oven until it is soft.  In a pot, saute onions garlic and ginger until translucent. Add coriander and nutmeg and cook with the onions for one minute. Wearing gloves, roughly chop nettles and add them to the pot and cook them until they have wilted, this may have to be done in portions as the nettles wilt and create room for more.  Scoop meat out of squash and add to pot, fill with enough water or broth to amply cover all the ingredients and smash up the squash meat, simmer for 20 minutes. Allow the  soup the cool down a bit and add the cultured cream cheese, if you prevent the soup from boiling the active enzymes in the cultured cheese will not die.  With a stick blender blend cheese into soup, serve in bowls, drizzle with olive oil and top with squash seeds

Roasted Squash Seeds

Butter

Squash or Pumpkin Seeds

Salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Clean off all squash remnants from the seeds by soaking in a bowl of water, when clean place all seeds on a single layer on a clean kitchen towel and dry.  Add a tablespoon or so of butter to a cast iron pan and saute with a bit of salt until the seeds are lovely and brown.  Place pan in oven and cook for 15- 20 minute or until seeds are crunchy and delicious, serve on soups, salads or just eat them as is.

Another perrenial favorite is a quiche made with the sweet green tops of early spring nettle, eggs from my hens and deliscious organic cream and cheeses over a seedy crust of flax and sesame, eliminating grains and ensuring it is gluten free.

Nettle Quiche with Flax/Sesame Seed Crust

Crust:

1/2 cup Flax Seed

1/2 cup Sesame Seeds

1 Egg White

1/4 cup Olive Oil

In a well greased pie pan mix ingredients and pat the mixture against the bottom and up the walls of the pie tin.  Cookk in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes remove and then fill

Quiche Filling:

1 cup cheddar or semi-hard cheese of your choice

2 cupped finely chopped nettles

1/4 cup onions

4 eggs plus yolk left over from the pie crust

3/4 cups cream

6 strands of saffron or spices of your choice

Sliced tomatoes

Saute onions and nettles until soft and wilted.  In a bowl whisk cream and eggs and saffron.  In pie crust layer cheese on the bottom cover with nettle/onion mixture and pour the custard over it all.  Arrange tomatoes on the top and bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, reduce heat to 350 and bake additional 20 minutes or until the quiche is set.  Serve with a mixed wild green salad.

I have a secret, one that I am often scoffed at for and hear sounds of disgust made by those who know it of me.    I love organ meats! When I was 5 and before my family became vegetarian, we had some old time farmer neighbors in Iowa. They would often serve me up a portion of liver and onions and I relished it.  I later wondered through all those years of vegetarianism why everyone complained about liver when I knew it to be delicious.  My husband does not quite agree with me so I find ways to incorporate it in his meals so he is not too offened by the taste or soft texture. This final dish is an example of how I really do try and add nettle to EVERYTHING this time of year.  It also is a way I am able to incorporate beneficial pastured organ meats into our meals in a way where my husband doesn’t have to choke them down.

Ground Beef and Liver Dolmathes with Nettles

1 pound ground beef

1 medium onion, diced

4 Chicken livers- sauteed and then finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, flat leaf if available

1/4 teaspoon dried mint, crumbled

2 cups of  Nettle- chooped super fine in a food processor

1 egg

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Salt and pepper

1 jar preserved grape leaves

1/4 cup beef broth or water

Combine all ingredients in a bowl except grape leaves and broth. Using only the best and most intact grape leaves, lay them shiny side down and fill center with approximately 1 tablespoon of filling.  Roll leaves as you would a burrito and lay them seam side down in a large oven proof pan.  Continue until all leaves are stuffed.  Barely cover with broth or water and cook in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour.  If you have any remaning meat you can simply fry them in a little olive oil and eat like meat balls.  Drizzle with sauce and serve!

This a traditional sauce to serve with dolmathes.  This recipe came from the owner of the house we stayed in while in Santorini on my honeymoon.

Egg & Lemon Sauce (Avgolemono)

2 eggs
Juice of one Lemon

Reserved Broth

Beat eggs well; gradually beat in lemon juice. Pour off about 1 cup of hot broth from dolmathes. Beat the broth into the egg mixture. Remove plate from top of dolmathes. Gradually pour the egg mixture into pan; tipping pan to blend the egg mixture with remaining broth in pan. Cover pan; remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature

So these are some of what I have been doing with this bounty from the forest floor.  I’ve been feeding not only my heart and filling my tummy, but nourishing my adrenals and strengthening my liver and giving this winter-worn body a high dose of absorb-able vitamins and nutrients.  Grab your gloves and if nettles have sprung near you harvest, fill your baskets and and let springs first gift fill your belly and strengthen your soul.

Don’t Be Jealous :)

While the rest of the US is covered in snow we’ve got ……

NETTLES!!!!!!!!

Check back early next week for details of our nettle foray on Sunday:)

Sunday at one we started to arrive at Carrie’s sweet little house in Bellingham. Coralie and I arrived first and Mishon made a surprise appearance coming all the way from Port Angeles.  Michele from Living Earth Herbs, Hollie the Naturopath and her sister Corrie, who works doing human rights activism in war zones, were coming.  Megan was going to be joining us for the last time before she left on her adventures in Thailand and beyond.  We were pleased that Suzanne, our dear teacher, was also able to join us this month.  Whitney had returned from her travels through California and the SW and was bringing another friend from Lummi Island and was going to lead us in making a Love potion.

We all arrived with offerings for the pot : herbs, fruit, chocolate, mead, brandy, infused honey and precious stones.  We gathered in a circle and began by smudging with salt water and rosemary.  We took turns around the circle speaking the intention we had for gathering and what aspect of love we wanted to offer to the “potion.”  Someone suggested we call in our grandmothers and around the room we called in our female ancestors.

The next hour was spent with each of us offering our contributions to the pot with words of why and where they were gathered or in what way they exemplified love.  Mugwort, rose quartz, vanilla, poppy buds, tobacco,spoonfuls of herbal honey, cinnamon,violet, willow, kava kava, oranges, a lingam,  a garnet geode from Lummi,  cedar essence, roses, lots of roses, lavander, and many handfuls of damiana, various spices, and lots and lots of chocolate.  I know there were more ingredients but those are all I can remember becuase our offerings were exercise in abundance; so many of  so much and each representing a part of love.

After so many loving plants and sweet additions were added to the bowl, we passed the brandy and mead and each of us poured it into the pot.  I brought some Moxa that Ellen had made and because she was away for the gathering we burnt it in a shell gathered from the sound and let the smoke waft over the potion.  We then passed it around the circle and smudged ourselves.  The smokey enchanting smell of mugwort overcame the room.

We had not seen Whitney since August and we asked her about her travels and she gave detailed accounts of her experiences at the Grandmother’s Council in Sedona.  We all asked Megan questions about her upcoming adventures.  Happiness at having Whitney back was mingled with a certain sadness of losing Megan.  As conversation settled we lit a candle and held hands and Michele led us in a few rounds of song about being medicine women.

The potion was made two days past the new moon, it will sit and macerate for one moon and Whitney has brought the contents with her and she will meditate with it and daily send it loving thoughts and energy.  One moon will be soon before Feb 14th so we hope to have our love potion ready by then.  A physical representation of the love we all share,  love of self, family love, romantic love, love for life, communication, nuzzling,love of the planet,  indulgent love, love of magic and imagination, love of community, love of the feminine, love of the masculine, love of the divine, pampering, cuddling and swooning.   We hope you might be inspired to make a potion of your own, there is always space for the creation of more love, lets us all commit to making it and sharing it alike.

Winter’s Fool

Oh Dear, the weather has

fooled us all.

The eagles have moved down the

Valley and are bothering

Herons that are beginning to roost.

Swarms of red wing black birds

send thier eletric call over the pond.

A dipper flies up the creek

lands on a rock, pumps it legs and takes off

swimming up stream.

The Alders have dropped catkins

that hang like tiny fox tails

on leafless branches.

And the Salmonberries have sprouted

green rosettes of spring leaves.

Should I be the one to tell them its only

yet January?

I was listening to an interview with Paul Bergner the other day and in it he discussed briefly ethical harvesting.  He’s a very emotional speaker and I love how often he gets choked up when discussing various plant encounters. His words on the subject were touching and inspiring. However, there was one aspect of the subject that I feel could be discussed in greater detail, it is the one thing that nearly all of my herbal trainings have failed to really discuss in detail and that is what “ethical wildcrafting” means on a technical and personal level.  Many people use this term and many of us upon hearing it understand immediately what it means.  If we are coming to the plants for healing and teaching then it is only natural that we would respect them and bring with that respect a sense of what quantity we need when harvesting.  Included in that respect is an immediate understanding that whether harvesting leaf, flower or root we are taking from the plant of its body. Though it may seem to give us the medicine freely, it is my conviction that the plant is always aware that its hard earned growth is being taken. We owe it to the plant to at least honor it by taking only what we need. The question then is “How much do I need?”  Many of you that have been wildcrafting for sometime might be familiar with your needs at this point but I hope I can spare those of you who are not yet as experienced the trial and error process that I engaged in before feeling like I really had an understanding of what ethical wildcrafting meant to me.


The first herb I ever wildcrafted was dandelion.  I remember it vividly, it was early January and I walked out into my teachers garden with a small shovel. After she showed me how to wrest the root from the ground, it was my turn.  The black soil of the garden gave way with ease as I used the blade of the shovel to cut a neat circle around the plant.  One last push into the ground and I leveraged the plant, root and all out into the cold winter air.  I picked up the plant and began removing all of the earth that still clung to it revealing a long white taproot the size of a carrot attached to the a green rosette of leaves.  It was beautiful, it was magical, I was in love.  Food and Medicine it seemed now clear were all around, the often disdained plant of dandelion held a wealth of healing and sustenance and all I had to do to use it was dig.  I was so excited by this experience I quickly went home and spent the next day gathering buckets of dandelion.  I washed and chopped and carefully dried the many leaves. I filled five pint jars with carefully cut and packed root and poured vodka over them.  I labeled them and put pretty stickers on the bottles and set them up on a shelf and thought they were beautiful.  Can anyone see the problem here?  When would I ever be able to use five pints of dandelion tincture?  Unless I planned on making dandelion infused martinis (hmmmm?) what use would I or anyone ever get from all this medicine?  Of course I was new to herbal medicine and had no idea how things were dosed but still I could have guessed what would happen, yet nowhere had I really been given specific ideas of how much herb I would use.  I soon realized five pints was far too many but I continued making my tinctures the standard way of filling a pint jar and covering it with menstrum and still have some remnants of old faded tinctures I made many years ago on my medicine shelf.  The same is true of medicinal oils and god help me if I ever make another herbal vinegar (they are fabulous but I simply don’t use them.)  So the question I posed myself was “Is this ethical?” “Was my excitement in connecting with the plant overriding my right to take of it? Even though I approached the plant with so much love and gratitude, even if what I took with me was a small portion of the total amount of wild growing plant,  was it respectful and in line with my relationship with the plants if I took so much plant material that in the end was sadly composted or tragically poured down the sink?  I think not.

I think to really be in a relationship with the wild plant one must consciously put the effort into knowing how much they actually need or if they need it all.  I feel and have heard from others that sometimes the only medicine you need from a plant can be gained from sitting in its presence with the intent to learn from it.  I have often felt so drawn to a plant and have only recently begun deeply noting if the medicine I need is physical or spiritual. For instance, for many years I have been unduly attracted to Hawthorn, I never seemed to come across the plant when it was blooming or in fruit and yet I was hoping for its medicine.  After doing some research seeing that it was only noted as heart medicine I realized that perhaps the medicine for me had been spiritual.  Every time I approached the plant I was elated, I felt a clear sensation of  being wrapped up in the arms of a lover and of as though I was transported to another time and place, is this how it was to give me heart medicine?  This year I hit the mother load of hawthorn.  My eyes were constantly seeking them out, I would dangerously take my eyes of the highway when I spotted one hidden among the highway greenery,  I’d see them in people’s yards and in fields and always those pretty gingko-like leaves sparkled as they blew in the wind and dull blood red fruits tinted the branches.  One day, I finally stumbled on a patch ready to be picked and the welcoming for me to do so.  I harvested a couple of cups and made Rosehip-Apple-Hawthorn Butter. Feeling finally the call to make it into medicine, I reserved merely half a cup and made it into tincture.  I felt clearly that seeing as I had no need to use the tincture as a heart medicine I would make a small amount this year and familiarize myself with it and then reassess my need next harvest season. I am finding it to be a soothing tonic for the emotional heart.   I feel really good about this process and only regret that it has taken my this long to figure it out.



I thought I might give to you some visual examples of how I base the quantity of medicine I gather now in comparison with my vaguely unaware consumption in the past. Here is pint of Violet Tincture I made three years ago. It is far more then I would ever use of this gentle headache healer in this medicinal form.  Below it is the batch of tincture I made this year after careful thoughts on how I made it in the past.


My final suggestion when harvesting is to do the math.  Think of some preliminary calculation of how much you or your family and friends might actually need,  if you drink nettle infusion make a rough estimate of how many ounces you use daily and multiply by the how often you estimate you might drink it.  Balm of Gilead is a tempting plant to harvest and indeed most of the buds are harvested from fallen branches but still, will you ever use three quarts in a timely way?  These are the questions I learned over time to ask myself, I hope I can spare you the experience of feeling the need to apologize to our beloved plants as I have had and afford you the opportunity to get another layer of medicine from the green world.


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