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Archive for the ‘Wildcrafting Tips’ Category

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.

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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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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.

baker
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. 
devils club 056

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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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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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

salmonberries

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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