Archive for the ‘Plant Walks’ Category

This month our gathering fell on November 1st, the day after Halloween and the day before lunar Samhain.  Here, in the Pacific Northwest, there are still yellow leaves clinging to trees, the weather is cool but not yet cold, and the recent rains have made the water in the rivers run high and brown. Samhain is the time that many of the creatures in the Northern realms have died or have gone dormant.  Considered the Celtic New Year, it is a time to honor your ancestors, those that have been put to the ground and returned to the earth.  It seems fitting that Samhain be the time of root gathering as we pull from the dirt those things that have grown and flourished from the remains of the death and decay that has come before.

Devil's Club
Devil’s Club ~ Oplopanax horridus

This time of year the power of the plants are returned to the roots to be held until the time of regrowth in the spring.  Root medicines such as dandelion, burdock, Oregon grape and red root are at prime harvesting time.  If you are lucky enough to live in the area where the powerful plant of Devil’s club grows, sit with it , dig it, scrape it, and honor it.

We met this morning at Carrie’s super cute house.  Her sweet dog Lucy met each of us at the door.  I arrived with Coralie and Ann showed up soon after driving all the way from Quincy (a 4.5 hour drive.)  Shana joined us as well,  she took the same apprenticeship class that many of us did only a year before, however she has years of herbal and wild crafting knowledge, she is definitely an asset as well a pleasure to have join us. Carrie had also invited Michele, owner and proprietor of the really amazing and quaint  Living Earth Herbs  in downtown Bellingham.  If you’re in the area stop by and peruse her great selection of dried herbs, tea blends and herbal products. Although the forecast threatened rain we were graced with clear skies and fair weather as we loaded into two cars and began heading down Mt. Baker Hwy towards the Nooksack river.

Mount Baker from highway lookout

Devil’s club, or Oplopanax horridus is a sensitive plant, growing mostly in healthy forests with lots of moisture.  Its range is relatively small found in south-central Alaska to central Oregon, and sparsely east to the Rockies.  It is a relative of ginseng and is often referred to as Alaskan ginseng.   The very best information I have found on this plant is located on Ryan Drum’s site.  Considered and ethneogen,  a substance used in a religious, shamanic or spiritual contexts,  it is a well honored plant of the native people’s.  The plant is very delicate growing, so if you intend on harvesting it take only what you need in thick stands leaving the tall standing grandmothers to stay and propagate more plants.

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Gorgeous Root!
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Late Fall Devil’s Club

 Carrie and I had used our intuition to lead us to area we thought was appropriate for harvesting.  The place we chose was also a harvest site for cedar bark, one hopes that the bark stripped from these trees was done with reverence and respect.   We alighted from our cars and descended down a hill leading to the rivers edge where several stands of the magical plant stood.  Entering a grove of devil’s club is akin to entering a deep forest cathedral.  On this November day the leaves were yellow and appeared illuminated from the sunlight above.

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Carrie, Ann and Lucy

This plant begs reverence. A heady spirit mover, silence rolls over you as you near it in quiet recognition of the it potency. This plant does not so much bring presence as it does call us into the spinning corridor of the earth, a grounded entrance into the unseen.  It is a plant that demands healing and offers it to those already committed to doing what is necessary to achieve that health.

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Ann In The Woods
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Shana Gathering Roots

The five of us, accompanied by little Coralie in a bundle on my chest and Lucy, the sweet puppy,  approached the plant and sat in silence for few moments.  Carrie offered a strong tincture to sample and help connect us with the gorgeous if dangerous plant.  We carefully pulled a small portion of recumbent stem from beneath the forest duff and layer of moss and gently pealed portions of the root bark and cambium from the stem.  Each of us chewed a small piece and Michele offered to lead us in singing a hymn to the Cedar trees.  After pausing in silence for a space we separated and each found our own places to harvest.

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Michele With Her Harvest
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Carrie Processing Root Bark
After a time of digging through the forest detritus and avoiding, if possible, the millions of pokey spines,  we gathered in a circle and began processing and peeling the roots to use in tincture.  Carrie brought her deck of Medicine Women Cards (which seemed very appropriate 🙂 and we each pulled from the deck. 
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Kate, Shana and Coralie

 We engaged in sweet conversation while the river roared heavy with the recent rains behind us.  The strong smell of the plant permeated the air as the day slowly darkened beneath the canopy of cedars. We joined in song once more and offered thanks to plants and the forest and returned home.

December Gathering- Solstice potluck and percolated tincture making.

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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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When you live in an area as verdant as I do, it’s easy to keep the calendar by when plants come into bloom and when it is time to harvest all the bounty that surrounds us. Since living here in the Pacific Northwest,  I’ve learned that dandelions flush in May, foxgloves bloom in mid June and they are replaced by purple fireweed in July. In August, furry spikes of hardhack cover the roadsides.  In the early February, Indian plum puts out leaves first and nettles start sprouting in march.

The summer months offer a tasty way of keeping the calendar; around here we are overrun with berries.  Some of these berries are medicinal and some of them only offer medicine for the senses like sweet treats, the colors of faceted gemstones, bright lanterns and robins eggs.  With so many varieties around I’ve learned to keep a careful watch and remember when to start looking for the harvest.  There are yet a few berries remaining from the summer’s glory days, the rest are mostly memories.  But seasons change and next year, just as the one before, the cycle of abundance will begin again.

May- the first delicate berries arrive


Salmon Berry - Rubus spectabilis


The first on the bushes, watery and slightly sweet, a wild flavor that wets your palate for the coming season.



June- keep looking,  there is more ripening on the vines 

Red Huckleberry - Vaccinium parvifolium

Red Huckleberry - Vaccinium parvifolium

Red, gem-like globes. Tart, but they tickle the tongue. 
Trailing Blackberry - Rubus ursinus

Trailing Blackberry - Rubus ursinus

  Our native, early ripening blackberry. Small and delicate, but sweeter and tastier than it’s invasive cousin.

Thimbleberry - Rubus parviflorus

Thimbleberry - Rubus parviflorus

  A seedy variety of the raspberry.  Early, ruby colored, soft fleshy fruit.
July – An exercise in abundance
Blackcap Raspberries - Rubus leucodermis

Blackcap Raspberries - Rubus leucodermis

If you find these, covet them and tell no one 🙂
Black Huckleberry - Vaccinium membranaceum

Black Huckleberry - Vaccinium membranaceum

Tart, but a treat on the trail.
Saskatoon Berry - Amelanchier alnifolia

Saskatoon Berry - Amelanchier alnifolia

Gather these and delight, a subtle sweetness like no other.
Oregon Grape - Mahonia Nervosa

Oregon Grape - Mahonia Nervosa

Bitter eaten off the vine, but a rich and potent deep purple treat when sweetened.
Wild Strawberry - Fragaria virginiana

Wild Strawberry - Fragaria virginiana

Look low to the ground, and keep your eyes open, these tiny gems go fast but make farmed strawberries look like food for the fowl.
August- Head to the hills and let your baskets over flow with Blue
Low Bush Blueberry - Vaccinium caepitosum

Low Bush Blueberry - Vaccinium caepitosum

The Hikers delight!
Alsakan Blueberry - Vaccinium alaskaense

Alsakan Blueberry - Vaccinium alaskaense

The juicy basket filler.
Oval Leaved Blueberry- Vaccinium ovalifolium

Oval Leaved Blueberry- Vaccinium ovalifolium

The taste of late summer.
September-  The brambles give back
Himalayan Blackberry - Rubus discolor

Himalayan Blackberry - Rubus discolor

The invader is bountiful at the end of summer,  providing a temporary reprieve from is poor reputation.
Cutleaf Evergreen Blackberry - Rubus lacinatus

Cutleaf Evergreen Blackberry - Rubus lacinatus

Harder to find but it has a  gentler taste than the Himalayan.
Salal - Gaultheria shallon

Salal - Gaultheria shallon

Sweet Salal, a native and forgotten favorite.

The summer offers so many gifts. The amazing thing is that there are MORE berries,  my list stops short to include only the most palatable varieties. Imagine what it means to have too many berries! Perhaps you live in a place where you are not blessed with fruit that falls off of the bushes as we are, but look around.  The planet is a lesson in abundance; wildflowers, rivers, flatlands and deserts all offer their gifts.  Some places have things to be eaten, some places have pure serenity and some have strong medicine.  Some places offer simple living, temperate ecosystems, too much water, too much snow, too much heat or simply too much visual beauty.  Take note of it all, make a list of those things that are abundant,  be thankful and if you can, eat too many berries.

Blessings- Kate

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This weekend brought rain.  Rain is a thing that sounds so common in the Pacific Northwest, but this summer, rain has been scarce.  I woke to the sound of raindrops on the roof this morning and grey skies that hid the mountain outside. Many people find the rain intolerable but I rejoice in it.  I took a deep breath, pulled the covers higher and settled into deep cuddles with my husband, cats and baby yet in my belly.  I  listened to pats of water on the tin roof and breathed deep the smell of damp leaves and earth that wafted in through the open window.

Eventually I was called to rise and all I could think to do was to to wander out in the weather.  I began down a trail that leads  through protected second growth forests and along the Sauk river.  Much of my study of plants over the last several years has been merely observing them in their environment, and learning their different phases according to the time of year.  Here is a brief overview of what I encountered today.  The plants are beginning to brown, some have lost leaves, the berries have mostly been made and dropped or eaten.  They are beginning to pull their energy back down into the ground offering a wonderful mirror of what happens even to us at the days shorten and the nights cool.

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False Lily of the Valley- with Berries---Malanthemum dialatum

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False Salomon's seal- with Berries--- Smilicina racemosa

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Star- flower False Solomon's seal-with Berries--- Smilicina stellata

All of these plants in the lily family are little used in modern medicinal preparations.  The natives of this area apparently used them for poultices, made a tea out of the roots of the Solomon’s seal for rheumatism and ate the berries on occasion, although they were mostly considered unpalatable.  They may not have strong medicine but  they fill the forest floor with green sheathes of feathery undergrowth and beautiful flowers in the early summer.

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Devil's Club---Oplopanax Horridus

Devil’s Club~Oplopanax Horridus—I will say little on this plant as it is deserving of a full post.  Its many uses will be discussed very soon, but as I was simply on a plant walk I will note only the effect this plant has on me, even in passing.  One of my teachers told me that this plant was considered a spirit gateway plant.  Although I have not been able to factually back up this claim,  I can vouch for the swirling energy, the earthward pull, and the call to fling off my shoes and walk barefoot  that is felt whenever I enter a grove of this plant.  If you are so lucky to live in an area where this plant grows, as I do, take note.  Seek her out, sit in silence and breath in the magic she so freely shares.

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Methuselah's Beard- --Usnea longissima

Methuselah’s Beard~Usnea longissima—This lichen has been widely used for its anti-microbial and anti-viral properties.  A common remedy for bladder infections, it also is used in fighting colds and flus.  It is another plant deserving of its own full post in the very near future as we gather and prepare it in October/November.  One thing to note ,however, is that this plant is a strong indicator on the environmental state of a forest.  It is very sensitive to air pollutants and therefore its range has been decreasing over the years.  So happening on bunches of this lichen makes me happy knowing that my forests are healthy, at least for now.

As I wandered on, rain drops fell through the massive trees that towered overhead.  Grandmother Cottonwoods, giant Douglas Firs and mossy Big Leaf Maples caught the better part of the rain.  

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Black Cottonwood----Populus balsamifera

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Bigleaf Maple---Acer macrophyllum

In the underbrush the rain was merely a light sprinkle that misted my clothes and cooled my face.  The forest detritus sparkled with the damp and slugs slowly rambled through their forest of small plants.

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Palmate Coltsfoot---Peasites palmatus

Palmate Coltsfoot~Peasites palmatus—Around the corner I encountered a patch of large late season coltsfoot. This is another plant that will be useful in the upcoming cold season for treatment of coughs.   A simple decoction or infusion made from the dried leaves will help calm an intense cough but please note that it will not treat the infection.

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Youth-on-Age---Tolmiea menziesii

Youth-on-Age~Tolmiea menziesii—This plant is a favorite of Suzanne’s, our favorite teacher and gathering member.  Note the little leaves that grow off of the larger one.   It is a member of the saxifrage family and a plant that has been commonly cultivated as a houseplant.


Indian Pipe---Monotropa uniflora

Indian Pipe~Monotropa uniflora—This plant is a treat to come across in the woods.  Its other worldly appearance and stark whiteness beckons one down on hands and knees to better assess it.  As this plant does not have any chlorophyll it connects to the roots of conifers byway of a fungus present in the ground.  It is a delicate parasite that grows in bunches and pushes its way through the ground like a mushroom.  It is used as strong nervine, though I must admit my medicinal familiarity with this plant is weak.  I have found little information of modern use of this plant except for an article written by Ryan Drum, and I think I’ll let the expert do the talking in this case.   It is nonetheless a beautiful forest find.

My path continued on towards the river, the Sauk was running heavy and grey with the newly introduced waters spilling in off the hills. 

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Sauk River- Snohomish County, Washington

Nearby I passed where Clear Creek came around its last bend before joining with river. 

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Clear Creek-Snohomish County, Washington

I came across the half eaten body of a Golden Chantrelle, a sure sign that more will be on their way, especially with this newly fallen rain.  The season of rapid growth and reproduction is nearly over, but a walk through the woods reminds me that the plants are never entirely dormant and each month brings new medicine, if only you look.

River Rocks with Alder Leaf

River Rocks with Alder Leaf


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