Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Just as the caterpillar thought it was going to die.... it became a butterfly...

Does the pupa know it is going to become something greater? Does it care that it spends a year in the gall .... and lives for ten days as an adult fly? 

Do I know why I have made choices .... and exist in a strange, seemingly endless embryonic phase? 

Not really. I get glimpses. But other than that I have to just let go... I am here, now, with my present to do list and my present moment resources. It is a constant challenge.

I need to push on with tasks which are the wake of my choices. They are commitments, reflected in the watchful eyes of a larger passion. Is living within a larger passion always a trying task? Is it swimming in the swamp to study the willows?

Maybe. But I would like to be in the willow. Bending in the breeze and growing effortlessly. 

My Anima Medicine Woman Tradition course, this week, is self led, based on what material I have already and on my reading (and re-reading) of the Creed. I am stricken by the principles therein. 

One of the principles that moves me most is this one:

"While she accepts discipline from nobody, it is through her self-discipline that she is best able to benefit, actualize and utilize."

Reading this opens and relaxes me. Reminds me that I make good decisions for myself, and ultimately am self propelled. It pulls me right out of feeling helpless and at the mercy of others. It removes fear.

All of the guidelines on this wonderful declaration of interdependence are words that challenge me, demand my fullness, uplift and inspire me, and nourish my deepest sense of self worth. They are ways I am bringing into my life as allies. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Great Read!

I'm only on page 30 and already I've learned more than I ever knew about the forest. This is a must have for any New England nature lover or anyone interested in Forest ecology. 
Thank you to friend and ally Justin Pegnataro from Two Coyotes Wilderness School for the great suggestion! 

This book is easily available from Amazon or other book sellers. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An Herbalist is a Naturalist

Relatively simple practices that will strengthen your intimacy with plants:

~Record the weather every morning. Go outside and feel the air, the temperature, the taste, smell and quality. Look at the sky. Listen to the sounds. Identify the wind. Push your finger into the soil. Look at the location of the sun, write down the time. 

~Moonwatch. Do the above exercise under the moon.

~Watch the same plant for two years, weekly or daily during it's active season, and record changes. Sketch pictures, note size, color, and texture changes. Push your finger into the soil. Smell the plant.

~Hug trees as often as possible.

~Bud watch. Watch and journal the life cycle of a live tree twig. 

~Eat your lawn. Eat the dandelions, violets, chickweeds, ground ivy, purslane, plantain, and clover. Journal your recipes, gathering experience, and how you feel when you've eaten them.

~Pick one or more animals that you eat. Research what they eat and how they digest.

~Count flower petals.

Oh, there are so many ways indeed. But my main point is that intimacy with plants, to me, isn't a hobby, or an occupation, or some esoteric thing. It is simply how I want to co-exist. It is my way. I'm not perfect at it. It's a practice. It involves all of nature. Herbs are my heart.... existing within the interdependent ecosystem of my whole body.... they work together. As does the forest with the cohosh, the spring with the bloodroot, and the meadow with the yarrow. And so it is, that we create a practice; little rituals to sharpen, connect, love, and learn. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Top 5 Trail bound Remedies

I crocheted this cute little tincture wrap to protect my glass bottles while in my bag or backpack. Of course, what I had to do when I finished it, was fill it with tinctures!

I made it with five pockets for 1 oz bottle sizes. Running the wilderness homeschool program along with having 2 children has sharpened my awareness of what really happens when you spend all day in the woods with a bunch of kids.

I'll say first that I would never replace or undermine the need to have the med-pack with you if you are seriously hitting the trails, leading a group, or overnighting. You've got to have your regular stuff, for safety's sake; and that is primarily what we have to use under the umbrella of an insured, public program. Gauze, rubber gloves, an epi-pen, and basic medical supplies are extremely practical to have. However, as an herbalist (as a human and a mom, really), I have the right to treat myself or my own children with herbal remedies as appropriate. It is also in the interest of sustainable living to know how to use simple, home made tinctures in the widest range of application possible.

I have reduced my immediate arsenal to 5, 1 oz bottles, to fit in my pouch and not add excess weight to my pack. Though there are close runners up that I will list later.

#1 - St. Johnswort Tincture (Hypericum perforatum)

This panacea is something I rarely leave the house without regardless of the occasion. It is one of my closest allies (as are each of these herbs I have chosen, actually) and indispensable as an anti-viral and anti-inflammatory. It is used both internally and externally.
This herb is contra-indicated if you are taking MAO inhibitors.

If you are on the trail and you or your child:

~Sprains something
~Gets cramps
~Gets a virus
~Gets scared
~Can't sleep
~Is too hot
~Pulls a muscle
~Is extremely sore
~Has sore feet or blisters
~Gets a bad bruise
~Has a headache
~Has a traumatic injury
~Gets burned and may have particles within the burn
~Acquires a minor cut or scrape

St. Johnswort is the remedy of choice. It can be used gently as a 'rescue remedy' or acutely as in injuries.

#2) Yarrow Tincture (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow is renowned for it's ability to stop the bleeding of an acute injury or bloody situation. It also has tremendous capacity to modulate the blood and cool overheated conditions. Yarrow is also a powerful anti-viral. Yarrow's astringency and analgesic properties make it a definite for my top 5 in light of it's versatility. Take or apply Yarrow tincture if:

~You get a nosebleed
~You are bleeding from an acute injury
~There is chance of infection or bacteria
~You have punctured flesh
~You are having dental issues
~You fell and think you might need to go be checked for internal bleeding
~You are overheating
~You are hot but not sweating like normal even though you are hydrated
~You have external pain from a cut
~You have a fever
~You are coming down with a sore throat or virus
~You have poison ivy
~You have blisters (though sap works better)
~You have cut yourself or are wounded

#3 Wormwood tincture (Artemisia absinthe)

Wormwood, just as the name suggests, is a de-wormer. It's ability to dispel worms or other parasites is historic and earned. It is a powerful herb, so please use judicious dosages. I use 10 drops/half an hour in acute situations - approximately. Use common sense. Too high a dose can cause dizziness or nausea. In the case of food poisoning or water bacteria, you are probably already feeling that way. For the latter two issues, one can use wormwood as an initial treatment while waiting for help or going to the emergency room. In other words - don't be stupid if you need to get help, get it.

Wormwood is also valuable for topical applications, as you will see below

Take a little wormwood if you....

~Think you may have consumed contaminated water
~Have been bitten by a tick
~If you have a stomach ache or are nauseous
~Are eating wild meat and plants that you are not acclimated to
~Have gotten a lot of mosquito bites, apply externally too.
~Have poison ivy, apply externally

#4) Osha root tincture (Ligusticum porteri)

This precious plant root I use carefully. It is an at-risk plant and only grows in limited mountainous regions. This plant isn't local to me, I buy good root and tincture it at home and make it last. But it's priceless. If you are harvesting it yourself, please be conscious. Earth conscious, and also smart; it's an umbelliferae and to the untrained can be mistaken for deadly plants Water Hemlock or Poison Hemlock

Take osha root tincture if you:

~Have been stung by a bee or many bees.
~Have been bitten by a questionable beast; snake, spider, mouse, or venomous creature.
~Are having a strange allergic reaction; wild sneezing, mysterious rashes, hives or rashy inflammations
~Are having a hard time breathing

This can be a life saver - but again, an epi-pen is good to have in the pack just in case. It is nice if you don't have to use the epi-pen as your first response.

#5) St. Johnswort blossom infused OIL. (Hypericum perforatum)

On the trail, melted messy salves and chap sticks are a pain. I just leave it in it's concentrated liquid state and use it for virtually everything.

Apply St' Johnswort oil if you

~burn yourself

~have a sunburn

~have chapped or dry skin

~have sore muscles, injured, or achy anything

~have trouble in 'tender' places

~need something to soothe small wounds on children without stinging it

~are bruised and it hurts

~have a herpes sore

So that pretty much covers most of what I see as likely applications. I've used these same versatile remedies, so reliably over time that my home apothecary has actually shrunk in it's variety of preparations.

But there are still runners up:

~An essential oil; I usually grab lavender, peppermint, tea tree or eucalyptus, for bug repelling, and painless cut disinfecting for kids. Also good for breathing issues, hand cleansing, and bad itching from poison ivy or bug bites.
~Echinacea root tincture, for bites, stings, and general health insurance.
~Cayenne powder. This is what I grab first in the even of a bad puncture wound or cut. It staunches bleeding, kills bacteria, and numbs a good amount of pain.

~Goldenseal powder..... expensive, endangered, yet I always have a little container of it in my pack. Although it has a billion great uses, in light of it's ecological status, I reserve it for a couple applications.
Apply Goldenseal powder if:
~Your child is cut, hysterical and panicked about a wound remedy stinging.
~You have a mean case of athlete's foot or ringworm
~You have a hot, wet infected wound or blister and it needs a fast, drying healer
~Your child has a topical infection
Now, what would be great is if the field and forest is alive with plants and provide you all these needs, fresh at your fingertips, when you need them. and there are many out there. The problem is that they are not often right where you are, ready to use, when something goes wrong. It's always good to harvest and prepare some things in advance.
You also may find yourself with a different arsenal altogether, if you are intimate with your specific bioregion. Feel free to share yours in the comments.
Now you're all wrapped up and ready to venture out!
Happy hiking!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Little promises

I started a soda culture. I've tried making soda (lacto-fermented kind) before and it was a total failure. I have high hopes for this process and am grateful to for the explicit video tutorials and super simple recipe. 

The kids and I took to the cottonwood beach again. It was the warmest day yet and a grand blessing to be outside comfortably. The buds on the trees were vibrating with life force and there were lots of small, concentrated promises of spring to be found. Walking slowly, receiving each loving promise from Mother Nature, was healing beyond measure.
The reflection on the river was crystalline. So pure that each color was exact. 
I love these Cottonwood trees.
And I love how life is always spiraling. I love that my spiral came to visit me in the grass at the base of my river. She spoke to me. "It all spirals. It all layers. It all opens and closes, as life breathes on."
Indeed it does. This last week I am grateful for it's breath. Before the weekend, it was a week of surrender and of sadness, of giving up. She did the breathing for me. And I am still here, taking new breaths. Healing. Letting the hammock of the spiral carry me for a while.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Gifts of the Cottonwood

The sun shone bright on February 21, here in Connecticut. It reminded me of what I've wanted to do each of the past several Februarys, but never quite got up the courage to bear the cold.
But I wasn't to be stopped. I had already spent the previous day scouting riparian locations to no avail. Sometimes the answers are simple, as it was in this case. Right at the end of our road, 'two rivers meet', (as John says in his video tutorial) and they join right where our little public swimming area is. In fact, the end of my windy road is punctuated by the bridge from where immortal bikini'd teens fling themselves by the dozens, as if plunging not to death but to shocking relief from the heat of the summer - or simply the heat of being teen. I always fear they will land on a kayaker.

I love swimming there in the summer, because it 'snows' all over the beach. That's my kind of snow - hot weather, and little ephemeral tree faeries swirling through the air. Those little faeries, of course, are the cottonwood seeds.
These trees are huge. They tower over the riverbank with a reverence to the water that is so sweet, like a gentle giant. Here, at this spot, they are the primary tree. They line the banks on either side, creating a corridor where the yard area is. I have a chance to see younger barks and older barks, with their intensely creviced lines and spiral patterned roots.
As a member of the Salicaceae, or willow, family, it's no surprise that it adores the water. It grows with lightweight timber and shares the pain relieving properties of it's family, while providing integral food and habitat to it's local beings. Beaver dine and construct primarily with Poplar trees (Poplar being the genus, from which we get this species - Populus deltoides - and others like Populus alba and Populus nigra) because they are good food, lightweight (have you seen a beaver drag a log?) and are considerably waterproof, a boon to their watery home life. Willow branches will often root and grow just by sticking it into a wet area of earth and wishing it well.

The Cottonwoods are mainly dioecious plants, meaning the male and female trees are separate. I have not been able to tell the difference from the buds, though. Their branching pattern seems alternate and somewhat spiralic, but certainly not opposite. The small curvy branches that were littered along the yard area were mostly donning their terminal buds, with plenty of gnarly leaf and bud scars along the twig. It has been windy here, lucky for me, since there would be no other way to reach these branches. If you had a smaller stand of younger trees, you would carefully collect the side buds, not the terminal buds, and not the whole branches. Harvesting is done on a cool to cold day, before the start of flowering. Here in Ct, that means mid to late February. My son and I collected as many felled twigs as we could find.

Examining the ground for hours was like a trance. My eyes were sharp at first, yet as time went on became wavy... sleepy. It takes a lot of focus to find the branches with buds believe it or not, as the buds are completely camouflaged into the green and brown grass. Considering only one bud on most branches, we wanted a lot of branches. I had expected to be looking out or up on this harvest trip, thinking I would be picking from a standing tree. But Mother Nature usually has some little 'other' plan for the gatherer, and in this case it was slow and long focus, sharp eyesight, and all about detail. I combed the yard like I imagine a crone would have, as she examined an apprentices weaving work on a large rug. Thread by thread, weave by weave, I knew the patterns of each branch area that I had walked past already. They each came alive in their individuality. The curls cast on the lawn like a giant oracle reading. A meditation in patterns.
The buds are beautiful. At about one inch long, and pointy like a witch's slipper, she's distinct among the other smaller or fuzzy buds. I notice the waxy layers, almost scales, of the bud covering. Part brown, part green, sometimes coppery, they are wildly fragrant. Just a slight squeeze and they release a pine-vanilla-balsam scent that tells you for sure you've got the right buds. They are very sticky and resinous, which means that a day like today, in the lower 40 degrees, is perfect for collecting, as it will keep that gluey resin nice and firm. Later it will warm into the oil I soak it in. Covered with cheesecloth and secured with the jar ring, I let it infuse on top of our boiler, as it provides the perfect amount of intermittent warmth for such a resinous plant.

The buds are a wonderful anti-inflammatory, appropriate topically for myriad minor first aid applications. It also provides pain relief, both external on wounds as well as for sore muscles and achy joints. However, I have not yet actually used any cottonwood bud preparations, so I will spare you a list of someone else's declarations. I look forward to using it on my family and self as a skin soother, particularly after harvesting and hiking, where both the skin and muscles are a bit tender. I also plan to try it on my hubby's feet, they get dry and he plays a lot of sports. I think it will be a nice combination of soothing and anti-bacterial. And if anyone gets a cough, I could use it as a chest rub as well. I will let you know.

Going out in the winter meant getting to see some of the secret hiding spots of animals, which is usually covered in green during the warm season. This is the hiding spot of one of our resident Great Blue Herons. He flies over the swimming area, then tucks himself behind the trees like a magician, to every one's awe.
This is also a breeding area for Bald Eagles and Osprey. Our afternoon was accompanied by no shortage of flight showings by the Bald Eagles. In the naked trees you can see them clear across the river, landing in their perch and preening their stunning feathers. One particular bird offered an unusual stunt. Upon our departure, he came barreling in to the corner sycamore, only to tumble like a falling pillow to the lowest branch, where he grabbed hold with a single golden talon. He hung there like a giant bat, upside down, to our sheer amazement. Ominous to say the least. A massive wingspan.......And a last snapshot of me, in my plant glory, taken by my nine year old son. Mark your calendar folks, I rarely smile in February -- but this was an extraordinary day. Plants, animals, fresh air, sunshine and harvest. A good day indeed.

For additional accounts of Poplar buds, you can visit two of my favorite plant Goddesses who have a lot of experience with this herb. Use the search element of their blogs:
or you can just go find a tree and spend some time with it.