Plant Medicine for the Herbal Reluctant

chives

The lushness of spring is breathtaking here in the Pacific Northwest. The soil warms and the plants are lift their leaves and flowers to take in the sun, water, and the breath of all life around them.

Spending time in the garden, prattling about weeding, hoeing, planting are all first steps to healing with herbs. Breathe in their scent and the oxygen they give. Breathe back and give them what they need – carbon dioxide. What an exquisite exchange! Feel the healing that begins there.

ChivesAllium schoenoprasum. They are not just a pretty face but are full of medicine. Similar to other alliums, including onions and garlic, chives contain decongestant, antibacterial, and antiviral properties, to name a few. The organosulfur compounds in alliums have been shown to inhibit cancer cell proliferation and tumor growth. Alliums have a protective effect against some cancers including stomach, esophageal, and prostate cancers. Being less aromatic than their cousins Onion and Garlic, chives’ organosulfur compounds are reduced. Family lore states that my great grandfather ate a raw onion every day. He lived to be a ripe (smelling) old age, and was singing the day he died. It sounds like he knew what he was doing! Chives are flowering right now, and are a beautiful eye-catching plant in any garden.

Chop up chives and use them fresh to preserve their medicinal attributes. Sprinkle them on salads, sandwiches, quinoa, lentils. Fill a jar with minced chives, pour apple cider vinegar over them, add a layer of parchment paper between the lid and vinegar to prevent rusting, let them steep for a couple of weeks, then strain. Use the medicinal vinegar as a base for salad dressings, drizzled over cooked greens, splashed into stews. Make a shrub by adding a teaspoon in fizzy water and slowly savor the taste.

sageGarden Sage Salvia officinalis, Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis, Thyme Thymus vulgaris, and Oregano Origanum vulgare are a staple in almost everyone’s kitchen garden. What I love about these plants is their aromatic nature. I frequently rub these plants as I walk by them, and inhale the pleasant aroma they impart. The medicine of these aromatic herbs goes directly to the lungs and entire body to impart their antimicrobial constituents. Their antimicrobials include antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic actions. These humble yet sturdy garden plants help us to breathe easier, and take care of invaders in and on our body. Being Mediterranean natively, they enjoy hot sun and dry feet. Try growing them against the house, chicken coop, or outbuilding on the south side where they’ll get the best sun. Make sure the soil is well draining. They will grow in pots quite well, however, the bigger the pot, the bigger they’ll get. If you love these herbs as I do, you’ll want to give them plenty of room to grow.

One of the things I love teaching my students is a wide variety of ways to use plant medicine. “Get the medicine to the people in a way they’ll love to take!” is what they hear over and over. What I mean is, many people won’t drink tea or take alcohol tinctures. What are our options? Herbs don’t work if they don’t get in or on the person who needs the medicine. Let’s get out in our gardens and make medicine that everyone will enjoy! Being with the plants, sitting in the garden, prattling about weeding, hoeing, planting are all first steps to healing with herbs. Breathe in their scent and the oxygen they give. Feel the healing that begins there.

Fresh Herb Salt:

Pick a quarter cup of fresh aromatic herbs of choice. Put them in a food processor with a half cup of salt. I use Himalayan pink mineral salts, but sea salt or other mineral salts will work just as well. Pulse until the herbs are finely ground. Add a cup more salt, and pulse until mixed well. Put the herb salt on a paper plate or towel, let rest a couple of hours, then pour into a jar, fancy or plain. The herbs will impart their medicine and flavor to anything it’s sprinkled upon. The herb salt keeps indefinitely. Fresh herb salt is an easy and tasteful introduction to those who are wary of herbal medicine. Those who are old hat with herbs will find this to be a delightful addition to their apothecary.

Another easy and tasteful way to add herbs to the diet is with herbal vinegars. Vinegar extracts the vitamins and minerals from plants as well as the essential oils and flavors. The acidic nature of vinegar releases the iron and calcium and makes them easy for our bodies to take them into our cells. In my years of practicing and teaching herbal medicine, I have found that vinegars will also extract some plant medicines.  I almost exclusively use raw, organic apple cider vinegar to steep my herbs. The ACV gives you all the nutrition of the apple, plus enzymes and probiotics that are so essential to gut health.

Herbal Vinegar:

Finely chop fresh edible wild and garden plants of your choice. Pack the plant material tightly into a pint jar. Fill completely with apple cider vinegar. Add a piece of parchment paper between the jar and lid (if metal) to keep the lid from rusting, or use a plastic lid. Let the jar stand on your counter for 3 weeks to a month. Strain and enjoy!

Drizzle your vinegars on:

  • Cold noodle salads, stir fry, fruit, spinach and/or field green salads, cooked greens.
  • Marinate seafood, pork, chicken, beets, and other vegetables. Makes an ideal marinade!
  • Mix with ketchup, mustard, brown sugar or molasses, chopped onions and garlic for a delicious homemade BBQ sauce.
  • Combine with olive oil for dipping crusty bread.
  • Cool a fever or hot flash by dabbing the vinegar on your pulse points, forehead, back of the neck and knees.

In the wild, Wild Raspberry and Wood Violets are ready to harvest.

Wild RaspberryRubus parviflorum.  AKA Thimbleberry. Wild raspberry is a plant that lives on the edge! The edge of forests, streams, and roads, that is. You’ll find it near the sea, in the valleys, and all the way up into the mountains to subalpine areas. The leaves are traditionally used to strengthen and tone the uterus, aid in childbirth, and assist in bringing the uterus back to size and health. Wild raspberry can be used during the entire pregnancy and continued after childbirth. Incidentally, some ladies say that sipping wild raspberry tea helps with morning sickness.

Wild raspberry leaves help to clear the lungs and supports immune function. They are a good source of selenium which helps with slower aging, healthy hair, nails and teeth, less cardiovascular disease and a whole ton of other stuff! Wild Raspberry helps to promote deeper sleep, flexible bones and arteries, lower cholesterol, stronger heart (physically, mentally and spiritually), may lessen hot flashes. We harvest the leaves from the canes which are not flowering as those leaves contain a higher volume of medicine. The window of opportunity for harvesting is large. The leaves can be harvested when they open in spring, and throughout the summer. Consider drying the leaves for tea, and using fresh leaves for a wonderfully tasty herbal vinegar.

violetsWood VioletViola glabella. Wood or Wild Violets grow in dappled sun on the edges of forest service roads. They thrive in the wet, and can often be found near mountain streams. Wood violets help to promote restful sleep, makes your skin smooth and flexible, brings down fevers, may help to shrink tumors, and stimulates the lymphatic function of the removal of waste, bacteria and toxins. Wood violets support the immune system. Violas are so soothing to the skin, especially helpful for healing broken skin and irritation due to eczema and psoriasis. I put wood violets in my Wood Violet Skin Repair, and I have to say, it works wonders on dry skin. There is so much sadness in the world. Wood violet soothes the emotional and physical heart; this lovely plant is the supportive friend who helps you through life’s hard times.

Here at the Cedar Mountain Herb School, we harvest both the leaves and flowers, using scissors to gently trim the plant. Don’t pull up the plant, leave it in the ground to regrow itself. That’s sustainable harvesting, folks! You can dry your harvest for tea and use fresh to make an herbal oxymel. You may choose to make a medicinal oil of the plant to soothe your skin.

Medicinal Oil:

Finely chop your plant material and put it in a crock pot. Cover the plant material with oil of choice. Extra virgin olive oil is standard. Plug in the crock pot, turn the crock pot on low (or just plug it in if it has no temperature gauge), and let it go *uncovered* until the oil has extracted the medicine. The time for this is different for each plant and part of plant. With wood violet, it seems that I will go 2.5 to 3 days. What will probably happen is that the oil with start bubbling. This is good. That doesn’t mean the oil is boiling, it means that the moisture from the plant is escaping. When the bubbling stops, I’ll let it continue one extra night, just to ensure that all the moisture is gone from the oil.  With a crock pot, you get a strong medicinal oil in a matter of days. Strain out the plant material, and Bob’s your uncle! You have a medicinal oil to use as is or to turn into a salve.

Well, there you have it! Sounds like plants we want to add to our herbal pharmacies!. Until next time, I leave you, as always, Wild About Plants!