Every August I watch in anticipation for the deep purple berries of the Elder Tree. It’s technically not a tree at all but a tall growing shrub reaching heights of up to 12 feet. My obsession begins early in the summer at the end of June when the effusive flush of the fragrant inflorescence form into panicles of creamy white. Remarkably beautiful are the flowers that I can’t bear to harvest them plus I love the berries too much! These white blossoms have a special magic and medicine all their own, often being made into flavorful concoctions such as Elder Wine or Elder Flower Cordials, or into foods such as Elder Flower Fritters. Their medicinal uses are impressive as well for they are considered diaphoretic and carminative in nature and useful as teas to help resolve colds and flus quickly often reducing their duration by several days. Recent studies also suggest that Elder flowers have anticancer benefits and may help to support eye health.
The berries are a gift from the Earth when I can get to them before the deer and the birds but of course I always make sure to leave enough for my wild friends. Infinitely delicious are the berries, that they have been used in cooking pies and jams for centuries not to mention Elderberry Wine and jelly! Elderberries have impressive antiviral properties that are equal to or greater than modern vaccines without the side effects. Elderberry Syrup can be taken throughout flu and cold season as a highly effective preventative remedy and it’s delicious too! I take the Elderberry Syrup all season as it keeps me from getting ill and I feel great from all the antioxidants contained within. High in anthocyanins, Elderberries are a wonderful tonic for the heart and for supporting healthy eyes as do many of the darker berries such as Bilberry which were used in WWII by British fighter pilots to improve their night vision. Likewise, Elderberries may provide support for those with type 2 diabetes.
The native variety of the Elder is Sambucus canadensis, the bark of which was used by the Mahican tribe as an emetic and laxative. The flowers were used to sweat out a fever, as a blood purifier, and for skin related issues, the berries as a tonic. The Iroquois used the bark to relieve headaches. The naturalized European variety of Elder is Sambucus nigra which is very similar in appearance to the S.canadensis and is used interchangeably.
Much folklore exists around the Wise Elder Tree and in ancient times it was considered bad luck to cut one down but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to. Elder is ruled by the planet Venus and the Element water and in fact, you can often find them growing near a stream. Given Elder’s close association with water, it would seem it’s no accident that dowsing rods were often made of her branches. She has been used for divination, protection, prosperity, and contacting elementals. It is said that by sitting in meditation under this revered herb, you can connect with her Spirit who will answer a question for you.
Although all parts of the plant have been used medicinally, the leaves and stems are generally considered toxic and it is not advised to take these parts internally although historically they were used as a strong laxative and to soothe mucous membranes. The uncooked berries can cause stomach distress and nausea for some people so be sure to either take in a tea or other cooked or processed formulation.
Click here to purchase a bottle of Green Girl’s Awesome Elderberry Syrup!
Nothing heralds the coming Autumn for me like the very beautiful and showy yellow flowers of Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis, Solidago spp.). Although, Goldenrod, in all her golden glory, is the scapegoat for fall allergies, it is actually the common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia) with its inconspicuous green inflorescence also blooming at this time that is usually to blame. Goldenrod has very little pollen and what pollen it does have is very dense and sticky in order to be carried off by insects that visit. Ragweed on the other hand, makes a profusion of pollen that is distributed on the wind. Solidago canadensis is a Native perennial that spreads rapidly through its rhizomes. Often found in dense stands, there are approximately 60 species of Goldenrod in the Northern Hemisphere found in all states except Hawaii, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. Goldenrod is also found in nearly all of the Canadian provinces. Goldenrod is found in moist meadows, near waterways, and prairies in locations with full or part sun. It ranges in height from 1 to 7 feet with bright flowers arranged in drooping panicles.
Many Native American tribes utilized the Goldenrod plant for a variety of ills including the Iroquois who employed infusions of the roots and flowers for pain. The Potawatomi made a tea from the blossoms to bring down fevers. Other tribes used the plant topically to treat snakebite, and the root for burns. Indeed, Goldenrod is rich with medicinal healing powers and with its astringent qualities can be used to quell fall allergic reactions as well as cold and flu upper respiratory mucus and fevers. Goldenrod can be taken to help tune our immune systems for winter and as nature is so wise, she has arranged that Goldenrod is available for us just in time. Goldenrod is a friend to the urinary system and healing to the kidneys, coming to the aid of those suffering with urinary gravel or stones, and frequent urination. A tea can also be taken to prevent gravel, kidney stones, nephritis, and issues of the prostate. Goldenrod is an effective digestive and possesses anti-inflammatory qualities. As a cleansing herb, it is helpful in the treatment of arthritis. Goldenrod can be used as a tea or tincture and the seeds are an edible trailfood. All Goldenrods are safe to use and many can be used interchangeably.
Goldenrod is an important food source for native pollinators in the fall allowing them to store up food for the winter. As with all plants, Goldenrod also performs important functions for the land. As a phytoremediator, Goldenrod helps to stabilize the soil and revegetate disturbed areas. Goldenrod is a friend to both human, insects, animals, and Earth. Leaving areas to remain wild allows this important medicinal and other useful plants to show up. If you have a yard or field, consider leaving at least a part of it free from mowing and pruning, nature will thank you for it!
If people knew that the cures for many of their ills were growing right in their own backyards, I’d like to think they would put down the glyphosate, the lawn mower, the “weed wacker”, and let it grow!
Plantain is one of those backyard jewels that everyone should befriend so vast are its healing medicines and uses as a food source. The Plantain I’m speaking of here is not the fruit that resembles a banana but rather the green plant found growing profusely in waste places, most suburban yards, and even in abandoned city lots. Plantain, maligned as a “common weed”, is often the target of broad spectrum and selective herbicides designed to eradicate it from the “perfect lawn”. The non-native Plantain was originally brought to this continent by early colonists as it followed them wherever they went. So intertwined were their paths that a common name for Plantain was Englishman’s Foot.
Many varieties of Plantains exist throughout the world. In the Northeast alone we can easily find several varieties most of which are used interchangeably. The two most common Plantains in our area are Plantago major or Broad Leaf Plantain, and Plantago lanceolata or Narrow Leaf Plantain. Broad Leaf Plantain can reach heights of 6 to 18 inches while Narrow Leaf Plantain’s height can range between 10 and 23 inches. Both plants have low growing basal leaves with parallel veins that form grooves along the leaf surface. From the center stalk an inconspicuous flower is produced followed by edible seeds. All Plantains are edible and can be eaten either raw or cooked. The younger leaves and seeds are preferred for eating as the leaves can toughen with age. As with most wild plants, Plantain’s nutritional profile is impressive with notable amounts of Iron, Calcium, Vitamins A, C, and K making it a nice addition to summer salads.
Plantain shines as a highly valued medicinal. Historically it has been used as a folk cancer remedy and is still used today in Latin America for this purpose. Its demulcent properties are soothing to the entire intestinal tract and are used to heal ulcers, indigestion, and IBS. The common constipation remedy psyllium comes from another species of Plantain, Plantago psyllium. Plantain is soothing, in fact, to all mucous membranes including throats, and lungs making it effective during colds and sore throats.
Plantain is probably most well-known for its anodyne properties that will quickly take the pain completely out of any manner of bee or wasp sting, even the sharp discomfort from a Stinging Nettle encounter! Children especially delight at making a field or “spit poultice”, made from chewing up a leaf and then placing the gooey mass on an insect bite or burn. Plantain is excellent at drawing out poisons from bee stings and will even help to avoid a reaction. So effective at extracting substances that it can be employed to draw out splinters. Its antimicrobial and skin rejuvenating properties make it an effective first aid salve for burns, bee stings, nettle stings, spider bites, and minor cuts and scrapes. I make sure I always have a Plantain Salve on hand for first aid situations. You can purchase Plantain Salve here and be sure to check out the Baked Plantain Recipe below. This is one of my favorite Plantain Recipes that I share in my wildfoods cooking class – enjoy!
Karine aka “the Green Girl”
Fresh large plantain leaves (washed and dried)
1 cup whole wheat flour (or other flour)
1 1/2 cup water
2 tbsp. wheat germ
2 tbsp. spiked salt (or a variety of spices of your choosing)
I’m a plant nerd for sure. I get wild about plants. Last week I was out plant shopping. For medicinal herbs, this is a rarity. Other than the occasional flirtation with a hybridized Chocolate or Pineapple Mint, all of my medicinal herb plants and seeds are purchased online. Sometimes I get lucky and find a rare gem in some forgotten corner of the Hudson valley and I get giddy. No, I mean I literally get giddy. So yeah, last week I was giddy. What was the object of my enchantment you ask? “None other than the winsome wormwood!” she says as Harry Potter fans everywhere perk up their ears. If Wormwood has not been mentioned in the popular tomes, she certainly should be. As full of magic, mystery, and medicine as any controversial herb and with a dazzling past to match! I have your attention now, yes?
Artemisia absinthium. Yes, that Artemisia. The “green fairy”, the once outlawed absinthe said to have driven scores of Parisians insane, rumored to cause tuberculosis, epilepsy, and even blamed for Van Gogh’s insanity. Not to ruin a good scandal but Wormwood’s bad boy reputation is completely overblown. The thujone in Wormwood that gives it its hallucinogenic properties, is also a neurotoxin in high doses, causing seizures and eventually death. The thujone is most high in the concentrated Wormwood oil. Thujone levels in Wormwood oil are around 40% and even small amounts of the oil can cause irreversible damage. Thujone levels in Absinthe were a mere .003% not likely to cause a problem. What is more than likely to blame for their debaucherously driven behavior would be Absinthe’s 70-80% alcohol content as Wormwood is only one of a number of herbs concocted in the famous potion. Although Absinthe originated in Switzerland in the late 18th century, it grew in popularity initially with French soldiers in the 1840’s who had been given the drink to cure malaria for which Wormwood is a traditional remedy. Making its way to America, Absinthe found a permanent home in New Orleans where it is still a featured spirit today at such notable establishments as The Old Absinthe House. Prior to that time, Wormwood had been used medicinally as far back as Egyptian times and is named in the Ebers Papyrus, an ancient medical text that is over 3,500 years old. At around the same time, China was also using Wormwood infused medicinal wines. Wormwood is said to have been a favored herb of Artemis who gifted it to Chiron, “Healer of the Gods”, whereby Wormwood became one of his most important healing herbs.
Back to my obsession. I fall in love with plants for a variety of reasons. Sometimes simply because they exist. I could lose hours in Wormwood’s foliage so irresistible is her silver, feathery leaf. The form so similar to other Artemisia’s, certainly one of my favorite plant genus. For all her power as a medicinal, and an enchantment, Wormwood’s leaf formation divulges a certain softness. Perhaps this she bestows along with her protection on those who appreciate and love her. Her history as a protective herb is a long and varied one but her capacity as a healer is most impressive. One of the most bitter of plants, Wormwood has been utilized as a digestive bitter and a tonic for all ailments of the stomach and digestion. Her effect on the liver is notable as she is said to cure jaundice, hepatitis, and mythologically as an antidote for Hemlock poisoning. Like her sister, Mugwort, she is a diaphoretic and will help to bring down a nasty fever. As another of Artemis’s herbs, she has a history as a women’s herb and considered an emmenagogue. She is a competent pain reliever and will bring much needed rest. Most impressive are her abilities as an anti-parasitic. So much so that she is often found to be more effective than modern antimalarial drugs. Such as it is with plants. They can go where pharmaceuticals can’t. Such is their magic. I don’t find magic and medicine to be in opposition to one another. In fact, I don’t believe you can have true healing without magic and wonder and Wormwood brings that in abundance.
As with all powerful healers, caution must be taken. It is recommended to take Wormwood only under the care of a competent Herbalist. This herb should not be taken by pregnant women or in large doses but certainly invite her into your garden to bless you with her beautiful healing graces.
I owe a lot to my parents. They both were a very integral part of the person I grew and continue to grow into, each in their own ways. Even though neither one of them are alive today, their presence is with me always. I often think of the gifts they gave me, the lessons they taught.
As usual this Father’s Day has me thinking about my dad, who he was as a person, and who he was as a father. It’s easy for people to think they know someone and that that person has been important in their life but when that person is your parent it’s a very different relationship. A parent is often with us since birth until they walk on. Up to that point, that’s your entire life. It’s a unique relationship in that as we change and grow, so do our perceptions and how we see everything including our parents. Of course a child’s perspective can be skewed and yet in many ways children know those individuals called “parents” better than anyone. Sometimes a child’s unflinching honesty can be painful to hear but like I said, children in many ways know the real deal with no sugar coating. They see the good. They see the bad and every thing in-between. And likewise, few beings can push a parent’s buttons more than a child except perhaps a spouse and I certainly was no exception in the “button pushing” arena.
When my father passed, and even since his passing, many people contacted me in one way or another. Each of them had a different story of my dad and who he was for them. Yet none of them really saw the whole person. Honestly at times it annoyed me and sometimes still does. People see a tiny sliver of a person or they spend a few months or years with someone and think they know everything about that person. Most often they’re just seeing who that person was at that moment. That particular moment or time in their life. And more than likely, they see who that person wanted them to see. I believe when you can look at the totality of who a person is without embellishing or romanticizing, then you can say you truly know and love them.
I’d like to think I had a pretty good view of my dad and who he was at different points in his life. Although I wasn’t incarnate prior to the 26 years of his life before I was born, in a very real way I knew him then too. In a person’s DNA is truly everything about them well beyond eye and hair color. Their likes and dislikes, their hopes and dreams, and every experience they’ve ever had, all coded into serpent-like genetic blueprints. So for the record, I think I know him better than anyone.
No one needs to say how important the father-daughter relationship is. Fathers play a crucial part of a women’s self esteem, how she sees herself, if she knows that her presence, that she matters in this universe, and how she puts herself out in the world. My dad certainly wasn’t an easy man by any stretch of the imagination. Much of the way he lived flew in the face of convention. A trait that his many admirers so loved about him but as a daughter it frequently had its challenges. I’ve often said that I earned the right to be my father’s daughter. Such was the incongruity of my dad’s parenting that I knew how to read a race sheet at 5, I’d not only been exposed to the Tao but it was a part of my regular reading, and I could play a pretty decent game of chess much to my father’s chagrin. Such were the contradictions that was Haviland, my dad. Still, some of the conventional attributes of family life that gives a child a certain stability and a sense of security were oftentimes absent.
Nonetheless, my father always had an acute sense of what was crucial and on that he never missed the mark. Even so far as being able to instill in me things he never got growing up. An unshaking self-reliance, a great fondness of books and learning, an insatiable creativity, an ability to see through the bullshit of life and sometimes people, and an undying love, appreciation, and awe for the Earth and all her beings, are just a few of those gifts that I treasure. Suffice it to say there were times his attention wasn’t as centered on home as I certainly would have liked, and yet I still managed to squirrel away a lifetime full of memories. My dad and I often hiked together. Those are truly some of my fondest memories. I’ve yet to meet anyone as skilled as he was in that area. My dad knew of the plants, the medicinal ones and the edible ones, the trees, and of how the animals moved. He knew how to move silently in the woods without being detected or leaving any trace of his presence. In the woods a stillness would often come over him and a sense that he was finally at peace with himself. Something that I would find early on within myself as well. Many times he would convey a teaching with few or no words. Not many people, if any, have the skill to do that. He had an uncanny ability with plants and we often had incredible gardens. He transferred his love of them easily to me and that passion guides my life today. He was a very hard worker although I believe his creative mind was not designed for the grind of modern life. Later in his earth walk he took up the brush again and his paintings were incredible. Mainly scenes of nature, expressive passionate works, and a few of me that I treasure.
My father was many things in his life. A father, a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, a painter, a landscaper, a leader, a trickster. He had an incredible faith in my abilities and instilled in me the belief that I could do anything. Bringing home an A on a report card I often heard “Why wasn’t it an A plus?”. I understood my father’s meaning in that he thought I was just the brightest being ever although it at times aggravated me. Now it makes me smile and although I often push myself too much, through his urging I’ve had the courage to pursue what’s in my heart and to not settle for what doesn’t make me happy and isn’t who I am.
Stepping on my spiritual path so early in my young adulthood afforded me the opportunity of much reflection on my life and everything within it. Without such introspection I don’t know if I would see with the clarity that I do today. I understand my father now more than I ever did and yet, as long as I live I’ll continue to learn about him and through that, about myself. One of my most poignant memories of my dad is him teaching me to swim on a lake we went to, often. After showing me how, he would put keep his arms under me to hold me up in the water, and then he would say “Now swim.” After a while, I would always “But daddy your arms aren’t there anymore” and he’d say “I’ve got you, I’ve got you. See you’re doing it, you’re swimming.” Even though he’s no longer on the physical plane, I still often hear him saying “I’ve got you, I’ve got you, don’t worry you’re doing it on your own…”
I love to introduce people to plants they may have never seen before and to share some things about the “common” plants they may not know. To do that opens up an entirely new world and way of seeing the Green Nations. Opening our eyes, expanding our perspective is invigorating to the Spirit. Our world is one of such beauty but we can be so caught up in our daily grooves that we miss so much.
With that in mind allow me to introduce you to Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) some of you may have already made her acquaintance but for those of you who haven’t this is one of the many plants we learn about in the Sacred Heart of Herbalism 8 month herbal intensive and one of my favorites. There are two species of Filipendula that we find in our area Filipendula ulmaria and Filipendula rubra also known as “Queen of the Prairie” such a lovely name! The F.rubra is a native species that today is used primarily as a garden ornamental but was used extensively by Native tribes for all issues of the heart and as a “love medicine”. Native Americans also worked with this plant to utilize its astringent properties, quelling generalized diarrhea as a well as dysentery and as a vulnerary.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) has been naturalized in the East and is known to herbalists for its salicin constituent although its levels are much lower (.5%) than the willow species (11%). Meadowsweet is used as a pain reliever just as you would aspirin for headaches for example but with few side effects than the synthesized compound. It’s also useful for colds and flus. Meadowsweet’s anti-inflammatory properties are excellent and a salve, this delightfully fragrant plant can help with achy and arthritic joints….what a wonderful plant to know! These are just a few of the wonders that are Meadowsweet…
Caution should still be taken not to overuse just as you would with aspirin. Those individuals that should not take aspirin should not take Meadowsweet.
Whenever I teach about the healing power of medicinal plants I like to share a bit of their history. Learning about the history of an herb, how it traveled to different parts of the world, how it was used by different groups of people, and the various ways its usage may have changed over the centuries can teach us a lot about a particular plant. When herbalism fell out of common use in this country in favor of the “better living through chemistry” philosophy, much valuable information was lost. As we learn the old ways of herbalism once again, we regain tremendous insight into the herb’s character and important uses.
One such herb is Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) which I refer to as the “warrior’s herb”. The genus name gives us a little insight into this characteristic, as is often the case with many plants. “Achillea” refers to the Greek Warrior Achilles, the greatest warrior and central character in Homer’s Illiad. Yarrow has a long history of use on the battlefield and Achilles is said to have taken this potent herb into battle with him where it was used to pack wounds and staunch bleeding, both internally and externally. Today Yarrow’s reputation continues as an “herbal bandaid” and his styptic properties are well founded. Although we no longer take the plant into combat, Yarrow excels in the modern “battlefield” of our workplaces. Energetically Yarrow can help to provide energetic protection in contentious situations and working with the flower essence can assist in helping us or other parties move into a better place , either physically or emotionally.
Yarrow, however, is full of mystery and seeming contradictions as he is not merely an herb of battlefields. Ruled by the planet Venus, Yarrow is strengthening to the organs of Venus, the venous system for one, and can be used to treat varicose veins and enlarged veins such as hemorrhoids. By helping to return venous blood to the heart, he takes the strain off the heart and circulatory system. Those herbs ruled by Venus are often used for women’s ailments and Yarrow shines in this application as well, healing menstrual cramps and balancing both scant and excessive menses. Compresses of Yarrow flowers and leaves can be applied to the abdomen of menopausal women to reduce the discomfort and cramping often associated with this crone time. Such is the power that is Yarrow that he is often employed during cold and flu season. His diaphoretic and astringent properties are helpful with sore throats and fevers.
Yarrow is a hardy perennial that is easy to grow and overwinters successfully even in the coldest of winters. A wonderful and crucial addition to any medicinal herb garden.
Ruled by the planet Venus, it’s no surprise that Roses have been connected with love, both romantic and spiritual. The energetic quality of Rose is one of love and self acceptance, passion for life and finding one’s passion. Simply meditating on Rose can bring about a dramatic shift in your spiritual and physical vibration. In my work as a Plant Spirit Healer, I work with the Spirit of Rose on a regular basis as most of us can use a little more self love and acceptance.
Connecting with Rose daily can help us to be more patient, accepting and loving with ourselves and those around us. Simply spending time in her energy field in the garden brings about a calmer and more centered demeanor. I add Rose Water or Rose Flower Essence to an atomizer to infuse any room with her pure and loving vibration. Doing this especially at night along with Lavender essential oil, brings about a truly peaceful night’s sleep.
There is no doubt that all Roses are incredibly beautiful but their beauty is so much more than skin deep. The non-hybridized varieties, such as Rosa rugosa, Rosa gallica and Rosa centifolia to name a few, are loaded with healing virtues that have a long and rich history of medicinal use. It is estimated that Roses most likely originated in Northern Persia then spread across Mesopotamia to Palestine and onto Greece. The genus name, Rosa, comes from the Greek word “rodon” meaning “red” and many old time herbalists like Nicholas Culpepper believe the red variety of roses are more astringent in nature.
Roses are known to be cooling in their energy and are used for a variety of conditions and ailments. They are strengthening to the heart and considered a heart tonic. They have been used to strengthen the stomach both internally and topically as a poultice. Their antiseptic quality is healing to the urinary system and can be a helpful part of healing urinary tract infections and scalding urination. Rose infusion has been used to clear heat from the liver and heal conditions such as jaundice.
Rose can be taken as a tea for sore throats and an 8 ounce cup of Rosehip tea contains a generous 541 mg of Vitamin C. Paired together, the petals and hips make a tasty way to stop a cold in its tracks. Rose’s astringent nature gives needed relief to inflamed and bleeding gums and mouth sores. Roses can be used as a wash for tired and sore eyes.
Roses are considered beautifying and astringent to the skin. To tighten the skin, spray Rose Water on the face after washing or on a hot summer day for cooling relief of overheated and sunburned skin.Topically Rose petals are poulticed on any type of “hot” skin conditions. Roses are also edible and can be used as a lovely decoration on baked goods, created into a gorgeous syrup, included in salads or infused in vinegar to make an elegant base for a salad dressing.
When using Roses medicinally or as a culinary addition, be sure to use only the natural varieties grown organically or without pesticides and commercial fertilizers.
The botanical name for Chickweed is the Latin binomial Stellaria media. Literally, “little star in the midst of….”. As we examine her tiny white flowers they certainly look like tiny little stars in the midst of our spring lawns. Often reaching a height of no more than 8-10″ we might miss her entirely if we’re not paying attention and she certainly deserves our attention!
Chickweed favors the cool early spring temperatures and “cooling” is her nature. She loves the cold so much she can sometimes be found even in the middle of winter.
Chickweed is edible and highly nutritive making her an excellent addition for those weakened individuals to regain their strength and health. She contains generous amounts of calcium, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, chlorophyll and even protein! She also contains a moderate amount of vitamin C.
Her healing properties are most available when eaten fresh or made into a healing tea, tincture, salve or poultice. Her demulcent properties make her lovely to sooth a sore or hoarse throat or even as a mild laxative. Her soothing and nourishing ways bring relief to lung infections, bronchitis, smoker’s cough, allergies and other lung irritations.
Here healing power can be felt throughout the urinary system as she share her cooling touch with inflamed urinary tissues, healing scalding urination, bladder infection and cystitis. Chickweed has an impressive history as an aid to weight loss and an anticancer when eaten regularly. Topically, our “little star” eases the skin issues such as boils, burns, wounds and can draw out infection when used as healing poultice.
So much healing is available right in our own backyards and yet often ignored in our insatiable search for the next miracle “cure”. True healing doesn’t come in a pill or a package or in the next fad diet, but it does come with common sense; good food, clean water, fresh air, exercise and a little help from our lovely plant allies.