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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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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.

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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:)

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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.

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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?

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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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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


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