A Little Ode to Herbal Elixirs

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I have been making more elixirs here lately. I tend to make mostly very “serious” tinctures- very strong single-plant extracts with a high proof clear alcohol and very little stuff and nonsense- I never make “kitchen sink” style combos. But. I have learned that I like exploring–combining a bit here and there. A rooty bitters blend, a relaxing summer nervine blend or a soothing multi-resin massage oil. 

I am always on the lookout for plant combinations that may be interesting–it sharpens the observational skills and spurs creativity. I find that harvesting plants has an element of intimacy, of communication and that is what I wish to communicate with my elixirs. I am finding that this sensual input is sacred, it is nourishing, and elixirs can be an expression of that!

So, what is an elixir anyway? I see them as a liquid (usually alcoholic) preparation, based on one or a few herbs which includes something sweet (think a splash of honey or fruit, not soda-sweet) and uses our creative interpretations of taste to maximize on the taste-properties of the plant. So ideally, the sweetness is bringing out the properties of something– not covering anything up.

I see elixirs as building, toning, adding and balancing to body and mind. There may be a focus on sensuality and grounding or relaxing and gently supporting thought or creativity. I believe it is a good idea to stop and have a thought or two about what you are trying to accomplish with it in order to build a great combo.

Moving beyond the practicalities, let’s get into the poetry. Elixirs can be a voice of the plants merging with the art of the medicine maker. If a tincture is a technical drawing, useful and sturdy, an elixir is a soft-focus landscape, a watercolor, an installation…a sacred merging. The plant artist merely gilds the Lily of taste, adds a touch of expression to what is already there. You should taste the restraint.

Elixirs are tangible but they are also an idea. Each one is a portal which requires a bit of imagination to truly appreciate. An elixir can be based on a legend or myth, a story or hope, a magical idea come to life, a liquid representation of pollination or of life force incarnate–plant sex in your mouth and in your brain. It  speaks poetically of the will to live and to survive. 

An elixir is a gift from earth to plant, from plant to medicine maker and from medicine maker to community and should be received with an open mind. It contains a darkness to explore-as plants, people and the earth all do.

Ultimately I see an elixir as an acknowledgement of some of the layers of communication going on between plants and beings–scents, tastes, shapes are all pointing us towards ideas and actions, cycles of life and nature, beliefs and openings in the armor.

Ripeness speaks. Pollination tunes up its orchestra. Sweetness sings.

Elder and Rosa Rugosa

Elder and Rosa Rugosa

Angelica

Angelica

Ground Ivy

Ground Ivy

Sweet Cicely

Sweet Cicely

Sweetfern

Sweetfern

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle

raspberry

raspberry

Cacao-Rose

Cacao-Rose

 

Calamus Lover’s Set is now ready!

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I am excited to announce the first of a series of one-plant sets designed to help herbalists and herb enthusiasts get to know a plant or deepen an existing plant relationship. The Calamus set is:
-a one-ounce tincture of the award-winning Calamus Bitters which combines fresh Calamus (Acorus calamus) root with currants, maple and vanilla. (Contains alcohol.) Straight Calamus tincture is available for the truly hardcore Calamus-obsessed.)
-a two-ounce jar of Calamus rub. This is Calamus root and leaf warm-infused into olive oil with a splash of Calamus essential oil. For external use only.
-a two-ounce tin of dried Calamus for chewing, carrying, making something with or hanging out with in your own way. Right now both coins and pieces are available if requested.
This comes in a little bag with a Calamus-print card.
How can you get it?
E-mail Traci at fellowworkersfarm@gmail.com! There is a limited amount of sets available. They cost 30.00 and shipping is 3.00. You can Paypal or propose another method. Please contact me directly for all questions.
I also have tincture, rub and various sized pieces available separately upon special request.
This Calamus is hand-harvested in Canaan, NY, hand processed and packaged. Bitters contain local currants and maple.
And if Calamus is not your most beloved ally, the next set will be…Angelica!

Tins of Calamus for chewing.

Tins of Calamus for chewing.


Calamus Lover's set

Calamus Lover’s set


Calamus coins, 2 oz. tin

Calamus coins, 2 oz. tin


Left: pieces, right: coins

Left: pieces, right: coins


Calamus rub

Calamus rub


little bag

little bag


Little pouch of chewing sticks

Little pouch of chewing sticks

Calamus, an enduring obsession.

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Let me walk you through my Calamus harvest. I am standing in about a foot of mud and 6 inches of muddy water. I can’t see my feet, though I have faith they still exist. I plunge my bare hands into the depths of this muck and wrestle up a rhizome of Calamus which is about the length of my forearm and looks like something straight of a sci-fi horror movie….it’s a creature. I am covered in mud, bitten by insects and slightly nervous about slimy fanged amphibians. I toss the precious root into the bucket and do it again….100 times. It is the best F-ing moment of my life.
I am soaked to the point of dripping and when I finally get my feet free they make a rude slurping sound. Red-winged blackbirds are flitting around the swamp and I manage to get into the creek to wash off a tiny bit-mud is heavy, you know, and I have to carry about 100 Calamus (Acorus calamus) roots 1/4 mile home, uphill.
It takes a whole afternoon to wash, separate, cut, otherwise process and lay out to dry my whole harvest, and then I take all the plantable pieces out to tuck into my own muddy swamp to join my existing Calamus community. This is a great time to think about stuff, reflect, daydream, observe the rhizomes or just rock out to Beyonce.
This kind of work can be physically exhausting, but it is the type of exhaustion that speaks to who we are as humans, deep down, way back, before we learned not to let our hands disappear into the muck, trusting, and use nothing but their power to discern prized rhizomes from an alligator’s tail….the exhaustion of a successful forage or hunt. It is invigorating to the spirit, and this invigoration may be the main driving force that keeps me deep into medicine making, excited every day to do it again. It is this drive that makes me think of the hunt as a spa-type mud treatment rather than some scary “dirty” mess to avoid. I see the harvest as a workout and a therapy session.
I train for it, squatting and pressing so I can manage to get the Calamus rhizomes, whose many roots can easily be a foot long, up from the deep, by hand, while maintaining my balance on the wildly uneven surface of a swamp. I train so I can squat for an hour with my gluteus in 6 inches of muddy water and not fall in. I train so I can schlep the heavy buckets home.
And I can’t overstate how much the harvest is part of the medicine. The harvest is the teacher, and what demonstrates our oneness with nature better than being right there in it, in every way? The mud is a part of us all.
So maybe you’d like to know more about Calamus? This is the Calamus guy:

http://www.herbcraft.org/calamus.html

And for true Calamus-lovers–watch for my upcoming Calamus lovers’ gift set. It will be one award-winning Calamus Bitters, one jar of Calamus chewing roots (coins or larger pieces) and some Calamus rub for external use–all in a Calamus-themed gift bag. In case you REALLY want to get into it. Yeah, obsessions sometimes bear fruit.
Notes: Yes, I am harvesting responsibly, Calamus is “to-watch” due to habitat loss. The Calamus set will be ready in 2 weeks. It is a limited edition. No I am not positive that it is American Calamus. It is unsprayed.
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Honeysuckle is great.

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It’s honeysuckle time again! I have been harvesting the flowers and unopened flower buds. It is slow work, as each individual flower gets harvested and put into the basket but I find it rather meditative. I mean, I’m surrounded by sweet-smelling flowers, outside,  with various pollinators buzzing all around, watching my basket fill up and I’m getting all pollened up–it is the kind of moment which, as a wildcrafter, I live for.

(Never mind the insects and scratchy thorns and rain and sun….mere hazards of one of the best and most ancient jobs ever. I take pride in my lineage of muddy pants and clay-dabbed blackfly bites.)

So, Honeysuckle. You know, there isn;t a ton of information available on herbalist uses. It is a member of Caprifoliaceae, the same family as Elder–and I do think of the uses of Elder flowers as a jumping-off point for my uses of honeysuckle. However, (caution tiny rant) I do NOT consider it a “substitute” for Elder, as I don’t believe in substitutes. Each plant can stand or fail on its own merits, and sub means under- so let’s not undervalue plants! In fact, when I hear Dandelion-or-whatever is a “coffee substitute” I want to say “stop turning nice people away from herbalism!”  So, OK, not a substitute. BUT.

What I am saying is I use Honeysuckle flowers in a similar way to how I use Elder flowers, and more: to support the body during a flu, fever or infection, clear heat, move energy. I see it as clearing emotional heat too, soothing on several levels.  It’s quite tasty, I love both the taste and smell and use it in oils externally just for the pleasure. I am interested in the use of Honeysuckle to help support Lyme but I don;t have enough experience with this yet to share, other than that Honeysuckle told me (weirdo alert)  “tincture my stem for Lyme”…I then found some support for that in the book Invasive Plant Medicine by Timothy Scott so I am experimenting. I would LOVE to hear others’ experiences with this application. 

It is a very abundant plant here, so I have been able to make some elixirs this year too-mixing fresh Honeysuckle flowers and buds with fresh grapes, sweet cherries, raw honeycomb, cognac, brandy, blending it with other flowers such as Violets, Hawthorne and Wild Roses…and I also make a super-strong tincture of both flower and fresh green stem (separately) in grain alcohol, I dry it, I infuse it in a carrier oil. I carry it in my larger first aid kit, as it is not widely available as a medicine outside of the brief flowering phase. Additionally, sometimes I don’t know what the heck Culpeper was talking about.

More info:

American Extra Pharmacoepia by David Winston

Herbal Antivirals by Stephen Harrod Buhner

Invasive Plant Medicine by Timothy Scott

Earthwise Herbal by Matt Wood

http://bearmedicineherbals.com/wild-honeysuckle-impressions.html

http://bearmedicineherbals.com/a-new-infatuation-wild-honeysuckle.html

 

 

 

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A brief review of current cholesterol rebels.

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Lard. Butter. Bones and cream….do they lead to certain, horrible death? Have we as a culture fixed ourselves with Low-fat Oreos ™, margarine and dry toast? Is everything better now? Some would say no. In fact, studies and statistics don’t seem to show that we have fixed much at all. We may actually be causing more problems. Some doomy types might even suggest that we are riding an evil raft of treadmills, statins and Cool Whip(tm) straight to hell.

Now I am not about to say you should take your Egg Beaters(tm) and your soy bacon and shove them where the sun don’t shine. But there are some folks out there who are saying just that–and they’re backing such recommendations up with big-ass books. The purpose of this review is merely to provide you with some resources to check out, whereupon you can make your own decisions. NOTE:I make NO claim that this blog is balanced or well-researched, as it is actually a personal opinion blog only and is not medical advice!!

OK, shall we begin:

+Fat: an appreciation of a misunderstood ingredient, with recipes 

by Jennifer McLagan

When I first read this book (2008) I was slightly shocked. Like a lot of us,I’d felt confused about fats and health. Fat is a celebration more than anything else, and the recipes are truly delightful, even for a person like me who is inherently unable to follow a recipe. (It’s genetic)

+The Great Cholesterol Myth

by Jonny Bowden PHD CNS and Stephen Sinatra MD FACC

This is the most accessible of the cholesterol books I’ve read lately, more entry-level than radical. I would call it fairly balanced, and the authors seem to have based it on actual experience, which is nice. And they were on Dr. Oz! So they must be OK! (Yes that is sarcasm.) The writing is quick and snappy but they are not afraid to use big words and big concepts.

http://www.drsinatra.com/the-great-cholesterol-myth

+Eat the Yolks

by Liz Wolfe, NTP

OK, so this one isn’t for everyone. It is definitely Paleo-oriented. But it is a fun book with some humor and lightness throughout, which makes for a quick read. This book is really for those who want to be convinced, though- those who aren’t already shaking in their booties over alleged hardening arteries. The author is a great champion of the egg, which I appreciate as it is the perfect food. 

http://realfoodliz.com/

+Cholesterol Clarity 

by Jimmy Moore with Eric C. Westman MD

I like short poignant quotes and intelligent analysis of stagnant health fallacies and this book has  both. It appears to be very well-researched and wide-ranging. The author has done a good job compiling a lot of different smart progressive health professionals and the result is a quick-reading, interesting and broad book.

http://www.livinlavidalowcarb.com/

+Death by Food Pyramid

by Denise MInger

I admit to being slightly surprised at how much I liked this book. I saw the photo of the young researcher and didn’t immediately realize what a powerhouse of brains she is. This is currently my favorite nutrition book and it is very well-researched, very well-written with a strong voice and a sharp wit.Lots of critical thinking, Highly recommended.

http://rawfoodsos.com/

 

+The Primal Blueprint 

by Mark Sisson

This guy is kinda growing on me. I have mixed feelings about some of the extremes of Paleo and Primal, (any extremes,actually!) but I am inspired by the Primal philosophy and I just do it my own way. Sisson’s The Primal Connection is also inspiring to me, and I am especially excited about the idea of, culturally, people getting off the Stairmaster(tm) or off the couch and running up a darn hill! Ultimately, I think this book is a great start and a good read.

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/#axzz31232gXv1

Here are some further links, as I suggest that you do your own research! What do you think? How do you feel? What has been your experience? Remember, no other “expert” lives inside of YOUR body, or has to live with your decisions…just you!

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2009/06/lard.html

http://chriskresser.com/

http://blog.cholesterol-and-health.com/

http://paleomagonline.com/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/lard-may-not-be-as-bad-for-your-health-as-the-fats-detractors-say/2013/04/15/874490a0-9bb5-11e2-9bda-edd1a7fb557d_story.html

http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/lard-the-new-health-food

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA401137/Is-Lard-Healthy.html

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