a mint family plant with a big square hollow stem, bitter leaves, neat bright flowers and a lust for life. pollinators love motherwort.
ladies love motherwort too, pms, menopause, menstrual woes–ease it all with motherwort. anxiety, palpitations, pain, cramps, tension and thyroid…motherwort! when everyhting goes ding!-ding!-ding! like you just won at pinball but you’re freaking out….yeah. motherwort.
if you are a bee you may make a visit. pay homeage to the church of motherwort.
if your heart is hurting you may find yourself looking for motherwort.
restore yourself with motherwort. internally, externally. leaf and flower. grow motherwort. make friends with motherwort. make tinctures and oils and dry the flowering tops. hail the queen of hearts, lionhearted motherwort, who grows in crappy soil and brings healing to us all.
I would love to share some photos and thoughts on the process of growing and making medicines with Milky Oats. That would be Avena sativa, for those of you who speak Latin! Avena means oat and sativa means cultivated, more or less.
Oats are an easy medicine to grow, an annual with a short growing season and quite hardy. The seed is cheap and easy to come by at feed stores or in bulk bins at the hippie market. I have also ordered a few pounds from Johnny’s. Sow the seed thickly as birds assume you are scattering it just for them! They sprout quickly but then spend quite a bit of time looking like grass, leading passersby to wonder why you devoted so much of your precious garden space to tall grass. But wait! Here comes the oats! When the first little oaty dangles appear you can be excited, but not so excited as to harvest. Oats aren’t like some plants where it is quite obvious when to harvest from 1/2 a mile away, with a big ol’ flashy flower, an enticing scent or a plump fruit. One must observe, and gently squeeze the little oat-seed-to-be, waiting for the miracle. One fine day the milky juice shall exude, and the bees buzz, and the birds sing. Houston, we have Milky Oats!!! The window of perfectness is small here– harvest immediately, and set to medicine making!
I like to strip off the milky seeds and tincture them right away. If I am near an electrical outlet, I will blend them up in my cuisinart. I make a lot of strong tincture, a little nice mellow brandy tincture for blending, and an elixir with vanilla beans and maple. I dry some of the oatstraw for a decoction or winter syrup, feed a lot to my chickens and use some for mulching in the garden. I also like to leave a small amount of the oat plants to go to seed and replant themselves.
Just note here: dried Oat seeds are NOT Milky Oats. They are Oatstraw, which is lovely just not the same thing.
Milky Oats act as a replenisher for the whole body, especially the nervous system. The keywords are nourishing, gently moistening, rebuilding. I think most people could use a little of this medicine, but specifically those dealing with exhaustion, depletion, addiction, cycles of stress and insomnia, dryness and poor tension management. I blend it with Scullcap for a relaxing evening tincture, with Rose for a heart healer, with Blue Vervain for muscle tension and/or high level of stress. Think of the Oats blowing in the breeze. Think of the strong horse running. Think of a cover crop for the garden of your heart. Fortifying your soil.
late spring greetings, i was awoken by an urban thunderstorm with the idea that it is time to share some lists. often when humans learn that i am an herbalist or “plant person” they ask “what is your favorite plant?” i have heard smart people say they couldn’t chose a favorite, it is akin to choosing a favorite child. yet there is a difference-the children may end up being psychoanalyzed or posting your ill-conceived favoritism on facebook where the plants don’t give a rat’s ass about our favorites list. that being said, it is fun to share what we love with others and i personally find others’ medicine making choices quite inspiring.
so.#1. my personal favorite herbs, the plants that speak most and loudest to me, and support me in my need.
1. lobelia inflata. the firstplant to scream at me. it said “hey! i’m lobelia! down here!” well, i am not abot to argue with that. we have formed a lifelong bond. yes, i use lobelia. usually externally for spasm. but that is not the basis of my loyalty.
2. calamus. i searched for acorus calamus for a looooong time. then one day i tripped and fell in a swamp. right into a giant family of stinky calamus. sooo smelly, so good. the mere sight of calamus uplifts me.
3. black haw. i searched for this viburnum for a long time, too. nothing soothes the beast of cramps like black haw. nothing makes a believer of non-plant-people quite like tincture of the fresh bark. to those who believe that “herbs don’t work” or “herbs are stupid” i say first, try black haw and second, bugger off.
4. rosa rugosa. a plant of my childhood near the ocean i have always loved the sexiest wild rose i’ve ever seen. the near-obscenely hot pink petals provide a church to all types of bees and a cooling heart tonic to those of us who seek one. a lusty and hardy plant which protects the land against erosion rosa rugosa is a giver with bright large hips which are fun and tasty.
5. milky oats. oat plants are easy to grow and fun to observe. what i love about avena sativa is that something so easy to grow, so basic and common, can give so much to people in need. the most soothing and protective plant the nervous system has ever seen brings me nothing but joy. the flavor is delightful too.
6.violets! the state flower of my home rhode island is somehow both common and exciting. i love the false flower, i love the scented leaf, i love violet flavored confections, i love the cooling medicine of violets. and i love purple stuff.
7.blue vervain. as you can see the vigorous and the weedy get my special feelings moving. i also love blue plants. i love plants which attract honeybees and butterflies. i love plants which are not fussy but thrive when and where they must. and i love plants which cool and relax and protect my frazzled brain and nervous system. thus, verbena hastata. a plant for our time.
8.scullcap. i use the scutellaria lateriflora common in the northeast and also the flashier galericulata which is less common in my ‘hood. a low-growing creepy plant in the mint family which folks would not notice if they weren’t seeking. but isn’t it funny that we, humanity i mean, have done so much work to propagate and promote the flashy and fussy flowers and shrubs that are more or less completely useless and dependent on vats of miracle-gro while we don’t even notice powerful medicine vibrating just off the path…? yeah, real funny.
9.white pine. a tree which always feels like an elder to me, welcoming me to the forest but reminding me to watch my ass, i am not in kansas anymore. i use the resin most but a tea of fresh twigs and needles got me through a nasty bronchitis i picked up in moldy post-flood new orleans one winter. i find the pine to be profoundly healing and extremely multi-purpose. i love the idea of a counter-irritant to shake things up. in fact, i sometimes perform that role myself…
10.dandelion. yes, the humble dandelion, i have to mention. it seems like everyone hates dandelion, and one look at a home depot ad or one walk through your average lawn store confirms that. any plant which has enough power to put half of america’s panties in a bunch is a friend of mine. yes, dandelion is extremely useful as food and as medicine, as an apiary plant and to make delicious trippy wine. but the real reason i love dandelion is because it is a survivor, a teacher, and it brings joy to me on a daily basis.
so. what plants would i want to have with me if, god forbid, i was stranded on a desert island? well, my emergency island kit is not the same as my favorite herbs. my favorites list is moony and loving, my island list is practical.
1. yarrow! number one. of course, on a desert island you want some polychrests, that is plants which have more than one use. specifics are great when you are doing emotional work or treating long-term headaches but we are talking travel light here. yarrow stops bleeding. i also use it in fevers and for menstrual issues, digestion, on the skin and internally/ yarrow is a protector and a healer and a mover, a hardy and vigorous grower with a lot of power.
2. sage. common garden sage is the definition of multi-purpose. a supremely grounding plant with delightful bright blue flowers and powdery green leaves sage is useful beyond my wildest imagination. do you have something that needs to be dried up? sage. moved? invigorated? sage. germy mess? sage. colds, flus, fevers, sage. sage is clearing and is used externally and internally, tinctures, tea, wash, burn, eat, oil, seriously, everything.
3.artemisias. ok, so i couldn;t pick a favorite one. sweet annie for malaria? lyme? look, your deserted island may have some bugs. artemisias will help repel critters including insects, true bugs, arachnids, worms, other parasites and fungal colonizers. critters, god bless ’em all, but get out of my pants, you know? we also have various mugworts, wormwood…bitters which move and provide a little food for the mind.
4. elecampane. inula helenium, a tall yellow aster flower on a sturdy stalk with broad soft leaves. the root is what i would like best in my desert island magic bag, a strong flavor and powerful medicine for the lungs. may help move giardia and address nasty germs externally too. elecampane is one of my first choices in a bad case of sinus infection, cold, can’t sleep-mucous stuff, moving germs and any stuck nastiness. i believe elecampane works miracles when folks think nothing will work, and have seen it over and over. i will breathe easy on a desert island with elecampane in my pocket.
5. rose. any rose, the wilder the better, to cool and soothe overheating inside and out. to eat, to wash, to spray on, to tincture and to poultice. rose for diarrhea that threatens health, rose to astringe and repair. rose hips for vitamin c. rose for inflammation. and most importantly, rose for the heart.
6. alder. a tree which heals, a polychrest for sure with many wonderful uses. the bark and catkins tinctured move pain and infections and move the lymphatics. a little-known medicinal plant promoted in our time by herbalist kiva rose the alder grows as a community in moist ground near freshwater sources. alder has, with and without monarda, given me the gift of healing in uti and tooth infections as well as other infections, pain and lymphatic stagnation.
7. monarda. there are many monardas often grown in ornamental gardens as “bee balm”. the bright tubular flowers attract pollinators by the zillions including the awesome hummingbird moth. in the mint family, the flowers and top leaves are dried or tinctured and define polychrest as a multiple use medicinal rarely found in herbal commerce. monarda can be used on burns externally and heat internally. fevers, digestion, nerves, tinnitus, it moves infections and provides healing and soothing. the smell is amazing the flavor is minty/spicy with a hint of honey.
8. milk thistle. the seed would come with me on any trip to protect my liver, to counteract any posions my liver meets and to promote my liver’s healing and renewal. it’s a nasty world out there. love your liver.
9.propolis. the resin made by honeybees is profoundly healing and a balsam to skin, can fill in a broken tooth, and nourishes deeply. propolis tincture is a good base note to add nearly any healing herb too to soothe throat pain, heal rawness and kill bad bacteria.
10. garlic! i love me some alliums, and garlic is my number one. keep the blood moving with garlic. garlic clearly helps us keep illnesses and infections at bay. it stinks, you say? if the crap that most humans think smells “good” IS good then i don’t want to be good. i love garlic and eat it so much and have for so long that i am part garlic. my number one cure for mastitis also tastes delicious.
feelings. you can’t trust them, right? that is why herbalism is stupid. these freaks use stuff like “instinct” and “patterns” to determine things that should clearly be decided by scientific means. there is a test for everything, you know. a home blood test. a pee test. and your insurance plan probably covers it! so get one. and stop asking me to look at your tongue.
but wait. some people DO use instinct. some people do get a feeling. say..a hairdresser. a masseuse. a waiter. a good waiter knows what to reccomend. a chef. a good cook at home or in a business puts food together with a recipe, perhaps, but also with feeling. teachers. a good teacher can tell the kids who need a little help coming out of their shell, who needs a challenge and who needs remediation. this comes from experience and…observation. investing. horse training. travel agents! artists! horse trainers! people throughout time have gotten a feeling, and followed it.
why would health care be different?
one of my favorite aspects of herbalism is helping people take a step back. we often get so wrapped up in our own personal health dramas. the physical pain, the emotional pain. countless people have told me “i just don’t know what to do, so i do nothing!” yes, that is called a cycle. and cycles which aren’t working must be disrupted.
here is how it works. you step into my lair, i mean apothecary. i ask you an annoying amount of questions. you answer with a painful honesty. i observe your vitals, your eyes and hair and skin and gait. i make a match between the “personal ads” of my friends, (the herbs), and your patterns and conditions. and perhaps you live happily ever after! okay, there can be love at first sight, or sometimes we need to keep working on it for a bit. sometimes you need to stop eating a frozen pizza for breakfast, or cut back on your consumption of marlboro lights or, even, go outside. so we can talk about that stuff–where outside is, how you get there. and what the heck do you do with a vegetable anyway? it’s cool. no judgement. i meet you where you are, ok?
ideally, the herbal matchmaker brings love to the table. a love of the earth, a love of plant medicine, and a love for the people (and animals) in need, and will share that love with those in need. it can be hard to believe but using herbal medicine, building a relationship with plants and forming a relationship with an herbalist can actually change your life for the better.
When we talk about using plants to support the heart we mean 2 different things. Of course, there is the involuntary muscle which is vitally important and pretty awesome. I love my circulatory system! But that is not what I mean right now….I’m referring to the heart which loves and loses, which gives and takes away and which does. not. forget.
“We’re never through with our lives, I’ve begun to realize, any part of them.”-Dorothy Day
Sometimes emotional pain has had a place in our heart for so long that if we-amazingly-have the chance to move it out, to kick and push and punch it out, the resulting hole, the empty space is so shocking that we let some of the pain back in to fill it up. Nature abhors a vauum. Bare soil is in agony. We are not prepared to be so naked. You must be ready, but you can’t be ready. I believe it helps to have some joy, some belief, some community or connection ready to fill our hearts, to take the place of the pain we’ve carried around.
“it is quite difficult to get the psychological or cognitive sewage out even when the real sewage is gone.”-Carol Nemeroff
Plants can help. Hawthorne does wonders for me-flower, berry and leaf in elixir, tincture, infusion. Rose thorn tincture and flower elixir soothe my rages. Scullcap and Sage keep me grounded and help me shovel baggage out of my heart.
But not forever. Like the tide, life flows back in and we have to decide whether to let it, whether to build more walls or to smash them, to expand our capacity to love ourselves and others. Nothing is a guarantee. It is all an experiment. It changes by the moment.
The way our culture works doesn’t really help. We aren’t supposed to love others madly, ridiculously, in spite of reason. We are supposed to make lots of money and clean the house and work out or some crap like that. Hmm. How’s that workin’ out for y’all so far?
The heart renews itself, the capacity is unknowable, butI believe it is infinite. The capacity for pain and self-destruction is infinite too of course. Damn.
You have to shape it yourself.
“I believe god blesses those that hustle.”-Tupac Shakur
although i thought of lavender as being “too mainstream” for far too long i have sure changed my tune. yes, every crappy shower gel shop at the mall, battery-powered aromatherapy diffuser and glade plug-in refill features fake made-in-china lavender scent. but let’s not let that crap ruin it for the rest of us. real lavender is nothing like that stuff, and it is very good.
lavender, (lavandula angustifolia and allied species), is in the mint family and thrives in sandy light soil in full sun, building up delightful and soothing volatile oils. originally from the mediteranean area it is one of the few plants i grow that does not like to be very wet. many people are familiar with the essential oil of lavender, and sure it’s nice but tricky to make and you need a lot of plant material to get a little of the highly concentrated oil.
i make a tincture of fresh flowering tops which is just super, so very soothing. to me, it is the definition of “balm”, a cooling energy mover and nervine . i love to use it as a digestive bitter-especially post-eating. the tincture moves gas and stuck digestion. it is also nice used as an elixir or dried in tea blends. the elixir is very fun in a bit of seltzer before bed.
the tincture helps relieve tension, headaches due to tension and spasms, nervousness and anxiety. herbalist david winston gives the indication “stagnant depression” which i see often especially in winter.
additionally lavender has properties which whack bacteria, support teeth and gums and treat mild burns. it has become one of my top wouldn’t-want-to-be-without herbs with a truly broad spectrum of application which i turn to over and over!
just a little announcement! yes, i have over 100 plant tinctures in my apothecary. yes, i have many oils and salves. also, other things like infused honeys, elixirs, dried herbs and blends. the apothecary can be viewed. please make an appointment. you can touch, taste, smell and otherwise engage with the plant medicine. also, the garden is in full bloom right now. i will happily give a plant id tour of the yard, the community garden or random plants in the neighborhood.
also, a reminder: all plant medicines can be available on a sliding scale if needed.
In light of recent natural and unnatural disasters I have been thinking about emergency preparedness. I dreamed that the water was rising and I had to pack up my ONE bag(quickly) and get the heck out!! Ah, and it’s not such a dream at all….as many of us know this happens time and again, we get complacent, feel safe, it won’t happen to me–it just might! Shit happens. In this family we value preparedness quite highly, and it has served us well so far.
I encourage all people to build a first aid kit and an emergency stash of supplies. What you put in there varies wildly according to your personal needs, where you live and how much of an anal retentive freak you are. For example, some of us constantly run out of tp and maybe have like one Band-aid in the whole house. Others have 2 years worth of food for themselves and their little militia buried in the backyard along with a tidy backstock of sewing needles, birth control and bayonets a la Ragnar Benson….good barter, he alleges.
Somewhere in the middle feels right to me. One could indeed obsess over all the things you MIGHT want to have handy if the entire East Coast is wiped out but- maybe set some limits. Personally, I would like a bag with one full change of clothes including wool socks, underpants and brassiere, flashlight/headlamp and batteries, water vessel and purifier, a small amount of non-perishable food, tp, a toothbrush, copies of my most important documents, a basic sewing kit, and a multi-tool with knife, scissors, pliers, etc. Some type of feminine protection is a bonus for the ladies -reusable such as the Diva cup may be more useful in some situations. A baby may need diapers. A dog may need meat and a leash. Basically, it is important that each member of the family has some stuff in a bag including children and pets. Additionally, I’d include a sturdy spork and bowl, matches and an extensive first aid kit.
As a mother and care provider as well as a semi-responsible community member it is very important to me to be able to treat myself and others with herbal and conventional first aid in the case of an emergency. A basic rundown of my emergency first aid kit is as follows:
Basic purchased 1st aid kit supplies such as bandaids, tape, gauze pads, etc.
Tweezers(splinters, ticks, etc.)
Any prescription medication or medical device you or your family needs to survive(ie insulin, inhaler, etc)
Children and adult benadryl and epi-pen(if you have potentially fatal allergies)
Raw honey(burns, wound dressing, food)
Milk thistle seeds and activated charcoal caps(poisoning)
Tissues, cotton swabs, alcohol swabs
Propolis-raw, tincture(highly protective, healing, use for tooth issues, wounds, sore throat and mold allergy)
Twine, paracord, rope-like units.
Swiss army knife
Lip balm, oil(windburn)
Rosewater spray, aloe gel(sunburn)
Pine resin-raw, tincture and salve(drawing, highly protective, lung medicine)
Tinctures-it is hard to narrow this down! Cause I am a “tincture person”. Personally I would prioritize Wild Rose, Ginger, Yarrow, Bitters blend, Nervine blend(Scullcap-based), Arnica(external use), Comfrey(external use), St. john’s Wort, Usnea or another local lichen, Barberry or Oregon Grape, Elecampane-mullein blend, Alder-Monarda blend, Lobelia-Black Haw liniment, and Mugwort or a local Artemisia. Were I to have time to pack and a way to transport I would also add Turmeric, Goldenrod, Burdock, Dandelion, Aspen, Sweet Annie, Solomon’s Seal and Fennel-Catnip. But, you know, who is gonna carry all of that.
Salves. An all-purpose pain salve such as Cottonwood bud, Pine and Birch is a must for me as well as an Arnica/Goldenrod combo.
I would also pack up some powdered Goldenseal, a bit of dry Usnea, Linden and some Nettles and Sage.
Random useful items include in first aid kits are a whistle, some clay to make a drawing poultice, dried or candied Ginger, Angelica stem, and Licorice sticks to chew, Vitamins like B and D, iodine tablets, and a few empty waste bags.
Ultimately, the most important item one can bring in an emergency is skills. Easy to carry but timely to acquire those special skills that will serve us well through life are priceless. Identifying wild (and not-so-wild)edibles and medicinals, hunting, fishing, processing and preparing real food items with no electricity or running water, and the all-important waste management skill–including how to build a safe composting or other type of toilet! Communicating is a skill too-with all types of persons including total psychos, those who are freaking out and those who are injured.
So much the better if you never need to use your sturdy well-stocked emergency bag. But don’t be caught with your first aid pants down and no way to get the absolute basics if you and your community are evacuated, washed away or lost on a desert island. Plan now for an emergency and you will be prepared-as much as one can be.
recently i have had a few lovely people who have ordered herbs ask me:
“what is the dosage?”
ah, the big and eternal question. as a seller of medicinal herb tinctures and tea blends i generally do not recommend a dosage when handing over the product-especially through mail order. why? because it is different for everyone. my assumption is that you came to purchase the herb after doing significant research and/or working with a holistic practitioner.
it depends on the person, the condition, the herb and the “magical extra”: the blending of all 3!
now i would be happy to help persons with a dosage guideline or range on inquiry, and of course i give dosage range to those i am working with as an herbalist. however, this explains why my herbal tinctures do not arrive at your house with printed dosage. i hope this helps my wonderful customers to understand where i’m coming from, and thank you all so much for ordering from my little herbal apothecary.