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Archive for October, 2009

I am lucky to live in a Valley surrounded by vast wildernesses. The main road leading out here abruptly ends at the base of a mountain.  One can accurately  describe this place as being “in the middle of nowhere.”  The area is even largely forgotten by outdoor enthusiasts so trails are growing over and roads are washing out and no one is repairing them.  As a local, I lament the loss of access to these remote places,  but as a lover of the wilderness, I secretly rejoice that there are vast stretches of land fully returning to the wild and are being left unvisited.

However, there is a road  less than a mile from my house that winds up into high alpine areas.  Waterfalls abound,  mountain vegetation covers the rocky slopes,  furry pikas live in the scree and bears feast on fields of blueberries.  This time of year the plants are vibrant and multi colored.  The greens have disappeared and been replaced with hues reminiscent of a childs box of crayons. Yesterday we headed up the hills and admired the height of this seasons colors.  

The little, dirt mountain road was lined with thimbleberry plants turning shades of red, yellow and orange.

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Thimbleberry-Rubus parviflorus

 Golden bigleaf maples lit up hillsides across the valley.

Vine Maple - Acer circinatum
Big Leaf Maple – Acer macrophyllum

 Fireweed, dead but standing, colored the path looking more like a physical representation of its name than in its summer glory.

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Fireweed – Epilobium angustifolium

 Low bush blue berries carpeted the trail in a variety of fall inspired colors.  The vibrancy of the leaves illuminated the entire mountainside.

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Lowbush Blueberry – Viccinium angustifolium

 Bushes bereft of leaves clung yet to the last of their berries.  The branches looked as though they were hung  with fairy-made chinese lanterns.

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Sitka Mountain Ash (rowan) – Sorbus sitchensis
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Stink Currant – Ribes bracteosum
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Highbush Blueberry – Vaccinium myrtilloides

 

Green but fallen alder leaves covered every inch of the trail we walked. The day ended at a full flowing waterfall.  The wind picked up and small snowflakes began to fall which quickly turned to rain.  My small family stood surrounded by a Technicolor valley and listened to the sound of water pouring over cliffs. I watched my infant girl feel snow land on her face for the first time.  Next month the plants will be dead or in hibernation, this final show was nothing short of amazing, ending with a bang, not a whimper.

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My husband Dylan with little Coralie in the wrap.

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016The leaves have changed. 

My land is covered in a veil of fallen leaves, remnants of summers prime.  We are entering the darker time, the static withdrawal, the pause before the re-fruiting.  This is the transition time.  The apple trees still have a few ripe fruit clinging to their branches even though the leaves have turned yellow and orange.  Random hawthorn trees are yet covered in bunches of blood red haws.  And in the underbrush, rosehips hang from leafless  bushes like so many cherries.

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Crataegus phaenopyrum- Washington Hawthorn

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Rosa nootka - Nootka Rose

These last remaining fruit beg to be used.  Harvest and dry them.  Mix into tea blends and savor on the cold mornings to come.  Cover them with brandy to flavor and add medicine, mix the infused spirit with hot water and honey and enjoy on fire warmed nights.  Or simmer into sweet preserves that can be enjoyed on the winter days ahead.

Here is my recipe for a fruit butter using this trifecta of fall. Begin with apples and add rosehips, hawthorn berries and a touch of cinnamon, the result is a heart healthy preserve that tastes vaguely of citrus.  Enjoy it through the winter.

022Rosehip, Hawthorn, Apple Butter

4 lbs Apples

2 cups Rosehips- seeds removed

1 1/2 cup Hawthorn Berries

1 cup Cider Vinegar

2 cups Water

2 cups Sugar

Juice of one lemon and rind

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Cut apples into pieces leaving seeds and skin.  Add all fruit to a large pot along with cider and water, bring to a boil and simmer for twenty minutes or until all  the fruit is soft.  Put all the fruit through a food mill and discard the skins and seeds.  Return to pot and add remaining ingredients.  Simmer on low heat stirring often until the mixture has significantly thickened.  You can tell when it ready because a spoonful put onto a room temperature plate will thicken and gel.  No pectin is needed as these fruit all have large amounts of pectin.  Pour into half pint jars and can in a water bath for ten minutes.019

Brief Notes On The Heart Healing Properties Of  Each Fruit

Hawthorn- Among other things, the berries or Haws of the the hawthorn tree have been used for centuries as a medicine for the heart and cardiovascular system.   It prevents heart disease, strengthens the  cardiac muscles and promotes circulation.

Rose Hips- Are higher in vitamin C than citrus fruit, however the vitamin C is said to be destroyed with heat, so do not hope to get your daily dose of C from the above preparation. However, rosehips are known to be a beneficial tonic for the heart and other organ systems.

Apples-  Apples are a natural source of iron.  Ingesting apples or fresh apple juice daily has been effective in blood building and treatment of anemia.

Cinnamon- Cinnamon  prevents clotting of the blood.  It therefore acts essentially as a blood thinner, reducing the effects of hardened arteries and decreasing blood pressure.

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October in the Pacific Northwest is mushroom time.  The cooler days and wetter weather often bring large flushes of fungi growth in our forests.   This month we organized a foray with local experts and mushroom aficionados Jack Waytz and Buck McAdoo.  We arrived at Deception Pass on a beautiful fall day.  It was wonderful mix of plant lovers. From our core group of medicine women, Ellen, Kate, Michelle, Mira and Carrie were all in attendance and for the first time we had the special honor of sharing the day with 3 week old Coralie. Carrie brought with her two friends, Matt and Hollie who are both Naturopathic doctors in Bellingham, and her friend Laura came up from Portland.  Ellen’s friend Matt an herbalist and acupuncturist from Bastyr also joined us.  We met at noon with a plan to forage on the banks of Bowman Bay but Jack and Buck arrived to deliver the news that only the day before a group on nearly 1000 people had been to the same hunting grounds and would have surely wiped out most of the goods.  So we spontaneously headed south over the bridge to a less traveled path.

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We began walking the trail and were immediately ignited by the level of enthusiasm both Jack and Buck had for mushroom hunting.  The weather has been very dry so we were warned that we may not find a lot of mushrooms. We never did stumble upon stands of edible mushroom, but every small friend that was presented to the foray leaders was met with equal excitement and zeal.  Both Jack and Buck offered an incredible amounnt of information for each mushroom found including identifying characteristics, latin names and edibility/toxicity.   They offered other tips that were very helpful as well. For instance, Buck suggested that doing a spore print on a piece of glass and then using a razor blade to collect the spores would help a person be able to identify the spore color even if their were very few spores present.  An interesting idea to all of the foragers came from Jack who insisted that if you don’t see a mushroom on the main trail you likely wouldn’t find it off trail as his experience informs him that “mushrooms want to be found.”

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The trail was covered with numerous false chantrelles and a variety of mushrooms they called LBM’s (little brown mushrooms) that are difficult to identify one from another and therefore, generally are not edible.  We found a few soggy boletes, russulas, puff balls and some beautiful polypores. It was wonderful day in the woods and though none of us took home basketfuls of mushrooms we all enjoyed the company and information.  

Back at the cars, Jack stepped into the woods and came back with a handful of fresh AND edible shaggy mane mushrooms.  Mira had really wanted to take some mushrooms home with her and took the chance to trace his steps and also came out with a couple of large shaggy manes.

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We all returned to Ellen’s house and shared food and interesting conversation dense with all of the amazing (and unusual!) plant experience everyone has had.  With the naturopaths at the lunch table we got onto topics of homeopathy and parasites and urine therapy was even discussed which is always good for a lively debate.  Matt and Ellen had been playing with a new steam distiller all weekend and had made some essential oil of rosemary and grapefruit the evening before and we all got a chance to take a peek at the new equipment.

 It was a day of friendship, community, connection and of course plants.  It was great to open up the group to new faces and new ideas and we hope to see Laura back and writing for the blog soon.

Thanks Jack and Buck. Your expertise was certainly inspiring!

 If you are interested in learning more about mushrooms and live in the North Puget Sound, attend the Northwest Mushroomers Fall Show on October 18th 2009 in Bellingham.  You’ll find Jack and Buck there as well as many others willingly sharing all of thier info and years of experience.

Until November- Devils Club?

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On September 17 2009,  I welcomed my first baby into the world.  I was either incredibly lucky that my labor lasted only nine hours or incredibly unlucky that my labor began at midnight with back to back contractions that didn’t let up for nine hours straight:)  Either way, it was an incredible experience that began nine months prior.

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 Throughout my pregnancy and now with the little baby here, I have utilized so many of the plants I have come to know over the years.  Many of them I used only topically, as so many herbs are contraindicated for pregnancy.  But here is a list of the plants and preparations that I found indispensable throughout this process.

 

 

  

Pregnancy

Nettles–  This plant seems to come up often for possible treatment of so many ailments in herbal medicine,  and I certainly found it essential for my pregnancy.  I opted not to take prenatal vitamins and instead drank a daily infusion of nettles and thimble berry leaves.

Nettle’s nutritional and medicinal qualities are well known to many but I thought  I would detail a bit of what it can do specifically for the pregnant woman. Nettles contain large amounts of calcium, iron,sulphur, phosphorus, and potassium as well as vitamins A, C, D, and K.  Taken as an infusion throughout pregnancy, nettle can help reduce or eliminate leg cramps and muscle spasms and ease the pain during and after child birth.  It is high in absorb-able mineral salts, including calcium which helps with leg  and uterine pains.

It is famous as a tonic for the urinary tract, and while many women suffer from UTI’s while pregnant a stiff decoction can help flush out the marauding, painful bacteria.  A pregnant woman also has 50% more blood circulating through her body than she did before pregnancy and therefor her kidneys are working 50% harder.  Nettle’s help keeping the kidneys healthy is a boon to any pregnant women.

Vitamin K shots are often given to newborns to prevent internal bleeding, drinking or eating large amounts of nettles in the last month of pregnancy can help ensure that there is already ample vitamin K in the blood stream eliminating the need for supplementation and the concer of potential bleeding.

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Thimble berry (wild raspberry) Leaves– Thimble berry grows in dense thickets around my land,  and after finding that it can be used interchangeably with Red Raspberry leaf for pregnancy, I opted to use it.  I collected and dried many basketfuls of this herb. Raspberry leaf has a long tradition of being used for pregnant women.  Known as  a “birth herb”  it is a uterine tonic that both relaxes the uterus and tones it for the work of expanding and then contracting.  Raspberry leaf  is rich in vitamins including C, A, B1, B3 and E.  Taken as an infusion, it is also useful in the postpartum period to help increase milk production and ease uterine cramping.

Comfrey–  The only other plant I was really able to utilize during my pregnancy was comfrey in the form of a topical cream to help prevent stretch marks. Comfrey is soothing, relaxing and healing to the skin, it contains allantoin which is a cell proliferater and tissue healing agent perfect for rapidly stretching skin.  I did not end up with any stretch marks, and whether that is due to the skin healing properties of comfrey or my own genetics I can’t say, but I will definitely use it again.  I also found another use for this cream by accident.  After spreading the cream on my belly I would rub the excess into my face.  I was struggling with some hormonal acne and as long as I put the comfrey cream on my face the acne seemingly disappeared.

Labor and Postpartum

I had on hand a few herbs to use during labor. In my case I didn’t end up needing them, but I thought I would list them anyway.

Labor Enhancer Tincture–  I made a simple tincture of equal parts Blue Cohosh, Black Cohosh and Trillium Root.  However my labor progressed so fast that the idea of enhancing it seemed ludicrous.  Unfortunately, blue and black cohosh do not grow  in my area so I relied on dried herbs for the tincture.  However, trillium does grow here.  According to Micheal Moore, dried trillium root offers little more than nutrition and therefor is not recommended for use.  The plant also has a slow and tenuous growing cycle and is becoming ever more limited in its growing area therefore wasting the dried herb seems unethical.  I live in the woods and was able to find a large stand where I harvested but one root and tinctured it in a very small amount of alcohol.  Seeing as I was only hoping to use it once,  I certainly did not need much.  All three of these herbs promote uterine contractions, this can be very useful in the event of stalled labor.  If you are having and out of hospital birth,  a tincture like this can come in very handy if your labor is not progressing and you are being threatened with hospital transfer.

Shepard’s Purse Tincture– Shepard’s purse is commonly used to stop  bleeding or hemorrhaging, particularly from the uterus.  It is a hemostatic herb, meaning that it works as an internal astringent to stop bleeding.  The herb works so well that one midwife tried giving the herb preventively only to find that the afterbirth was heavily clotted and did not pass easily.  I had this herb on hand just in case. I didn’t expect to use it but thought I would rather be safe than sorry.  I also did not end up needing it’s assistance. My uterus was just as anxious to contract as it was to labor 🙂

Motherwort–  Beginning at 36 weeks gestation , I began taking a half dropperful of motherwort daily.  I had a wonderful pregnancy but was beginning to find those final weeks a little tiring.  Motherwort has calming and mildly sedative properties owed to the presence of bitter glycosides that are beneficial in treating the anxiety and trauma related to ensuing child birth.  It also helps prepare the uterus for the upcoming birth.  While it is considered safe for the final weeks it is definitely not recommend to be taken before.

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I also have found it indispensable for these postpartum weeks when the hormonal changes that inevitability ensue after birth began to take hold and nights of diminished sleep began to add up.  A dropperful a day of this plant has certainly kept my nerves from getting frayed and allowed me to continue to enjoy this experience.

Mastitis–  It has only been three weeks that I have been a mom, but in this time I have had or been threatened with 4 cases of mastitis.  The first two times I was unprepared and spent a grueling day with flu like symptoms, painful breasts and a high fever.  After a few Internet searches I found there were two schools of thought  in terms of treatment. The common choices seemed to be to take antibiotics or to put a cabbage leaf on your breast.   I chose the cabbage leaf.  The first time I used it, I went to bed with a fever and very sore breasts,  4 hours later I woke up to feed the baby and the fever had broken and the pain in my breasts had gone away.  Since then I have also started taking a tincture of Echinacea when I feel those first electrical like pains  in my breasts and that seems to have kept it at bay since.

Nipplewort–  This plant grows profusely in my garden.  My local field guide describes it as a plant that was traditionally used to treat sore nipples.  The french name is herbs aux mamelles, indicating its traditional use for treatment of cracked or ulcerated breasts. What is strange is that is all the information I could find on this plant,  perusal of all my herbals and extensive Internet searches turned up no information on it use for treating sore nipples.  Despite the lack of information I infused the leaves of this plant in olive oil early this summer.  I made a salve with it by adding a bit of beeswax and equal parts pure lanolin and infused oil.  From the day the baby was born I applied this directly to my nipples after each feeding.  My breasts still ached, cracked and blistered, but after only six days of breast feeding they were fine and feedings became painless.  This seems awfully fast in comparison with other mothers who claim it took least two weeks and up to three months for the pain to cease.  Maybe its time this plant was reintroduced to the postpartum world!

Baby

Whenever possible I want to avoid using chemicals or drugs on me or on this new little baby.  In that vain, I created a few products to help her little bottom.

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I read so many rave reviews of Weleda’s diaper rash cream.  After reading the label I decided that I could make a similar cream and save the money.  I can say in our short three weeks together,  I have only noticed a sign of diaper rash twice, and each time it was gone at the next changing after applying this cream.

Diaper Rash Cream

3/4 cup  Sweet Almond Oil infused with Calendula and Chamomile

1/3 cup Coconut Oil

3/4 oz  beeswax

Melt these ingredients on the stove top, cool to room temperature in a bowl.

With a stick blender, mix

3/4 cups Aloe Vera Juice

Pour into containers and use whenever there is a sign of rash.

The last item I’ve used is a simple baby powder.  Avoid using talc on the little ones,  its is similar in composition to asbestos and has been linked with lung cancer.  Commercial powders are also full of fragrances that should be avoided.

Baby Powder

1 cup Cornstarch or Arrowroot Powder

2 Tbls. Betonite Clay

2 Tbls. Kaolin Clay

1/4 cup Lavender Flowers

Grind the lavender flowers in a blender or coffee grinder and run through a sieve to winnow out any big pieces.  Combine ingredients and mix.  Apply to baby’s diaper as needed.

I hope this might help a few of you out there.  My pregnancy was really a delight, my labor ( though intense)  couldn’t have been better,  and my baby is a dream.  I really do feel that I owe much of the ease of the entire experience to the plants that helped me through it. 

Blessings- Kate

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