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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

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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.


Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera repens) is a perennial orchid that grows on the bark of fallen conifers. Harvest (thoughtfully, for it is sparse in some areas, and doesn’t grow once a forest has been too disturbed) in the fall and you’ll see that it truly is an orchid, with spongy roots that thread their way through narrow passages in rotting pine bark. The roots are impossibly soft, and seem to wind their way into places unfit for heartier roots, and so its wisdom unfolds with its form, and we can see the brightness offered in this seemingly shy forest plant.

Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera repens)

Despite the environment of decay, or perhaps because of it, there is no more joyful plant in the forest than Rattlesnake Plantain. The rosettes, hugging the ground and hiding in the darker places, catch my eye like little jewels every time I am in the forests near Portland, even in late fall. It is a deep forest plant, not a city dweller, but not for a lack of agreeability. Its job requires solitude and darkness, as well as the home of an old pine tree’s body, and so a stand of largely undisturbed conifers where traffic is light is where you’ll find it. This signature makes it a good plant to give attention to as Winter Solstice approaches, for the promise of Solstice is Rattlesnake Plantain’s yearlong message: Light and Dark are in harmony and together they bring us life. Light consumes darkness and darkness is nourishment for light. Life is sponsored by death. They belong together, the most primal of couplings, and one we struggle to understand. But Rattlesnake Plantain is not struggling. Look to it and you’ll see.

Rattlesnake Plantain can be used topically for scratches, much like the more common Plantain of the great american lawn. It’s juice can be consumed or used directly for soothing eyedrops, but the most widespread use of this little orchid was as a childbirth aid. The native people of North America, as well as Northern Europe, all used the plant for the same reason according to Michael Moore, for “birthing women who [were] having more than the usual pain, discomfort, and panic” (217, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West). They would chew the leaves fresh according to Moore, although they can be dried and used later, whenever they felt the need for support in birth. My experience with Rattlesnake Plantain leads me to suggest it for birthing problems as well, but more specifically for the mental or spiritual kind.  For cuts and scrapes I can go to many plants who are plentiful and unthreatened in their habitat, including the little Plantain at our feet wherever the ground has been disturbed, but for the primordial darkness before the birth of something new, Rattlesnake Plantain seems specially suited. I feel a kind of birthing panic in the dark of the year before Solstice, when many things are dying, and the rebirth of other things seems far away, or difficult. The promise of a new beginning is not yet realized. For this existential discomfort, give your attention to Rattlesnake Plantain.

I stopped to sit with Rattlesnake Plantain in the forest this fall by accident, if you believe in such a thing, after I was caught by its intense joy on my way to the ever-demanding future. Stumbling through a small patch of woods towards more Elderberries on a bright day in late September, I found myself surrounded by dozens of Plantain rosettes, scattered about my feet like spilled treasure, and my mind turned to harvesting them for the first time. But when I bent over to make an offering to the little beauty, I was directed to give my acknowledgment to the large tree to my right instead. I was surprised by the request as I squinted into blue sky to drink in the magnitude of the nearby pine, and realized it was the largest conifer in this patch of forest. The pine, a remaining old growth tree that had been left untouched in the previously logged area, was a serious presence. As I looked the other direction, I saw the remaining upright trunk of the pine tree that had fallen, undoubtably the former elder in this small village of plants, whose body was sponsoring the many Rattlesnake Plantains now growing at my feet.

After acknowledging the pines, both standing and fallen, and feeling permission to harvest, I set about removing one of the rosettes from it’s home. It wasn’t easy removing the plant’s roots from the intimate pathways it formed in the bark. Soft and deeply embedded in the rotting wood, Rattlesnake Plantain partly lives inside the fallen body of the pine it so reveres, gently breaking down its mightiness with the most delicate softness. Why the plant would want me to acknowledge its benefactor instead of it was no mystery now. The joyful support of little Rattlesnake Plantain is the former grandeur of a mighty pine, and this debt of sweet gratitude is never forgotten as it grows. What has been is in harmony with the life that now is: they are deep allies, the pine and Rattlesnake Plantain, richly complicit in their life and death.

So Rattlesnake Plantain sings the body of its beloved elder back into the earth, and we step over such small and potent miracles nearly every time we wander off trail in the conifers of the Pacific Northwest. Here is the grace I hear in the voice of Rattlesnake Plantain as well as in Solstice: that just a small amount of light, if consistent and joyful, is enough to herald great change. Whenever you feel like you cannot shake your grief, that you are not strong enough to meet your dreams in the face of significant loss, consider Rattlesnake Plantain.

You might not even need to harvest this little gem for a significant effect; it seemed odd to try and tincture the little bit of it I brought home, honestly, like I was doing something very unusual. Perhaps the plant has no familiarity with being tinctured at all, and wondered, out loud if you will, at my methods. Looking in the photo below, you can see it has lost some luster just a few hours later in my bowl, probably mostly due to a loss of moisture, but the tincture has a notable energetic imprint, and one I’ve barely begun to explore. Even a few drops are soporific and relaxing, and make it easier for me to remember what is lovingly allied with me. Perhaps even an essence of the plant would offer the same wisdom. Consider your method before harvesting. Many subtle medicines are grandly healing, and a gross amount of this plant seems unnecessary, indeed, even its signature suggests otherwise.

Rattlesnake Plantain 4 hours post harvest

If available to you, sit with Rattlesnake Plantain in a shady bit of forest someday. Stop, at least for a moment, and try a nibble of the leaf: fresh, grassy, and a little nutty. It might be enough to help you remember that what has come before supports you now; something to grease the wheels of your grateful acknowledgment. Turn your reverence to the sweet harmony of the dead and the living so native to this Plantain’s life. Remember the joyful complicity of the mighty and the small. With the help of Rattlesnake Plantain, remember that Life isn’t a competition, a war, or a cause for endless lament; Life is a dance of gratitude, and everything that has ever been is invited to join.

Solstice Blessings,

Laura


I awoke Sunday morning to the first snowfall in the Puget Sound lowlands.  The mountains have been getting dusted and accumulating thier white winter robes for the past few months. But Sunday the rain finally turned solid and floated softly from the sky and coated the trees and grasses in stark white.  It seemed appropriate for our Solstice gathering, even though it made driving out to Ellen’s peaceful cabin on Fidalgo Island a bit more challenging.

Seven of us braved the white roads but poor Michelle and Kelsie, who were coming the farthest, were forced to turn around after making it well over half way here 😦

In accordance with the season our gathering activities are relegated to indoor activities or nature communing  as there is little to be harvested this time of year. We planned to gather to celebrate the season change and try our hands at percolated tinctures.

Last month when Carrie and I were scouting Devil’s club harvesting grounds I mentioned to her that I was interested in attempting a percolated tincture.  I had researched the subject online and found very little information regarding how to make them.    As it turned out Carrie had made a few while attending a class with Micheal Moore in AZ and she offered to lead a demonstration for our little group.    I’m hoping she will update the site with a detailed post on the process but I’ll go over it briefly.

A percolation is a tincture that can be made fairly fast compared to an infused tincture.  The process takes roughly 24-48 hours from start to finish.   I was interested in trying it out for those occasions where a tincture is needed sooner rather than later and you do not want to buy a tincture from the store.  It also seems like a good choice for when a herb is out of season as you use only dried herb for this process.  If you are not familiar with percolations think coffee,  dried coffee beans are ground to the consistentsy of sand and a menstrum is poured over it and the resulting liquid that drips through is rich and dark and coffee laden.  In the case of a percolated tincture the process is very similar only the menstrum is high percentage alcohol instead of boiling water.

Carrie, a Montana native, drove fearlessly down the snowy highway hills from Bellingham with Shana and arrived with a large box of all the tools she had brought for the demonstration.  The night before she prepared the herbs we were going to be using.  She ground up dried roots of echinacea and burdock and then mixed them with alcohol until the ground herbs were as moist as sand for building sand castles.  That herb sat overnight and was slightly rehydrated.  She next brought out her Perc Cones which were San Pelligrino bottles with the bottoms cut off.

We proceeded to place a small bit of cotton in the neck of the bottle and then began lightly packing the herbs into the cone.  After they were packed we placed a bit of a coffee filter on top and some clean stones and poured the rest of the alcohol over them and waited… after a few minutes a dark, potent medicine began to come out the bottom, drip by drip.

Megan getting the first pull off the Echinacea Perc 🙂

It was a really exciting skill to learn and we were all thankful for Carrie’s well worded teaching and effort she put into guiding us through the process.  She is definately a skilled medicine maker.

After the demonstration we gathered around the table, food was layed out and then the really fun part began- Presents!  Trading gifts with other herbal enthusiasts is certainly a treat.  It was so amazing  because not one item was duplicated and each was certainly given with love.

Shana gifted us each with special blend of tinctures and oils she has made,  I ended up with a gorgeous styptic blend of calendula and yarrow.

Megan brought a lucious lemongrass cream made with aloe butter and clay masks made with French green clay, oatmeal, hibiscus flower and willow bark.

Ellen gave the group spray bottles of the awesome Hyrdosols that resulted from the essential oils she made this fall from geranium, cedar and rosemary.  And of course many of us left with green, cottony bundles of her specially crafted Moxa.

Carrie brought a selection of lovely lip balms in peppermint, rosemary and lemon, each in colorful containers reminiscent of their contents . She also gifted us each with oat heads that she and harvested.

I arrived with a homemade soap  made with cottonwood and lavender infused oil. I also brought an elderberry, rosehip, ginger and cinnamon syrup and dream pillows filled with lavender, pacific mugwort and desert sage.

We all got quite a take if you ask me 🙂

I watched happily as Coralie was passed from the arms of all of these wise, strong women. The gathering activities were to include time in the wood fired sauna in Ellen’s circle of cedars, but snow kept falling and we parted a bit early to avoid trecherous roads.  But as always, we enjoyed a lovely early winter day in shared company, each of us working to build community and share our love of the plants with one another.

Happy Solstice!

January Gathering- Reunion with Suzanne from Good Natured Earthing and Cedar Mountain Herb School

The Slightest Idea

At our gathering on Sunday, Carrie ended the meeting by reading this poem.  I thought it was a beautiful contribution.

The Slightest Idea
The moon
and I call each other moon.
And the sun and I call each other sun,
all while this truth also
exists:
I have been so crazy in love with the earth for the last fifty years
that not for one second have I lifted
my head out from beneath
her skirt.
Who
is that
wild looking character then,
who can shop in the market and tend for his family,
that some may call
Kabir?
I don’t have the
slightest
idea.

~Kabir