Sunday, November 1, 2009

Day Of The Dead

It is November 1, and the veil between the worlds is oh-so-thin.  I currently live in the house that my grandparents had built in 1936, and in which they lived all their lives.  I light a candle by the photo of my grandmother as a young woman, and go about here doing as she did in this house day after day: preparing food, sweeping, hanging clothes outside to dry or downstairs in the basement warmed by Mary Ann, the huge old heater that reminds me of her namesake Mary Ann the steam shovel the picture book Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel, who ended up becoming the heater for the new town hall.   The full-page magazine photo of Pres. JFK and his beautiful wife Jackie no longer graces the wall on the basement staircase.  And much of the furniture that served my grandparents for 60 or 70 years has been replaced by ours.  Still.  The gentle spirit of mis abuelitos continue here, walking the floors, tending the roses.  When I prepare food, I create a special plate for them ~ and for all mis abuelos from throughout time.  I place it at the base of the huge medicine tree in the backyard, the incense-cedar.  I offer prayers and thanksgiving, and open my senses to the boundless nature of our expansive universe, and to the delicate markings of jeweled thyme.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Garden, Tincture Disaster, and Willow

Goodness, it's been much too long since I've posted here!  Our pocket garden out back is doing beautifully, as you can see here.  We may never see the corn actually mature enough to produce ears, but I am getting enough Asian greens to create small salads every day.

Rosemary and Lemon Balm are doing well in pots, as is Spearmint.  I love to take nibbles of the leaves as I pass by!

Hawthorn Tincture
At the end of August I plucked the lovely haws from our old hawthorn tree.

After collecting a small jar full I poured them out and chopped them up.

Back into the jar, which I then filled with kirsch.

Megan, Lila, and the horses gaze at the red mush thingamy, just after it's prepared.

During the first few days I was pretty good about shaking the mixture.  Unfortunately I totally forgot about this project.  Checking it today, I realized I'd overfilled the jar with the haws.  They perched above the kirsch-line, and look pretty disgusting.  I don't think I dare give it a taste! 

Ah well.   Live and learn!

Pacific Willow

At 4-H yesterday, we visited a rabbit breeder in the area.  The rabbits were so very lovely and cute (I will not often describe anything in print as "cute",but I'll make an exception here!), as you can see if you visit Plain Old Chickens.  But during our visit I continually felt tugged in another direction.  Alongside a gorgeous swimming pool were a series of graceful towering trees.

After studying them for a bit, I realized why I was so drawn to them.  The ridge-y bark, the drape of leaves--and even more, the feel of the trees themselves.  I knew them!  They are Pacific Willow, the tree I sat at back in Joseph, Oregon last year in the depths of winter.  This was the tree that served as the image of my "medicine tree" on my blog Jane's Medicine Tree until a few days ago.   Realizing this, I just soaked in the energy of the trees -- their rooted presence, the clear mind essence (such as Lemon Balm offers), their gently magnificent grace (a very different feel from Lemon Balm!).

I'm not sure I've ever energetically noticed the particular presence of a tree before, at least not consciously.   I'm in awe!

My "medicine tree" back in Joseph, Oregon

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Apple Farm School And Restoring A Garden

A thoughtful Lord Firestar in the garden

Without me deliberately intending to get back in full-groove homeschooling (it is after all, only mid-August!), the rhythm of Apple Farm School (how we are registered in California) is well underway.

Constant to our daily life (homeschooling or not) is hours spent outside with our chickens and plants. Here in the suburbs that means our backyard. We're blessed to have a mature garden, with diverse shrubs, trees, and herbs in this small space, which attracts some lively wildlife: the shy gray-brown towhees scrabbling in the leaf-litter, hummingbirds, squirrels, the bold and brash raccoons, a little woodpecker whose name I have yet to learn, jays, crows. This morning I even heard the raspy sounds of Raven somewhere in the neighborhood. It's not total asphalt and buildings around here!

In our backyard, I read aloud each day. Gradually this summer, our reading time has been preceded by work on penmanship. We work with the Italic Manuscript Series, a system that offers a graceful, clear printing style that morphs gently into its cursive version. We don't have to learn a whole new style when learning cursive. We all work on our own books: my younger daughter with the first in the series, my older daughter and me on the last of the series (suitable for adults).

Our outdoor reading is currently the children's classic, The Secret Garden by Frances H. Burnett. We all love it -- delighting in the impassioned characters (the tantrums are a big hit), the magic of the garden as it transforms and as it transforms the children ... there is so much to enjoy in this book. As a nature mentor, I appreciate the book all the more for its beautiful depiction of the how immersion in one's senses and in the natural world, and connecting with the natural world has everything to do with connecting with oneself and bringing us into a joyful, fullness of being that literally transforms the lives of those around us.

The magic within The Secret Garden led us to look at our own garden with renewed eyes. First we dug up the seeds we'd collected from our farm last year before we moved (way more than I'd remembered collecting!). We stuffed seeds into the spare corners of three large pots I already have going with stinging nettle, kale, calendula, lemon balm, rosemary, raspberry, spearmint, chives. To all these, we've add bantam corn (!), sunflowers (!), California and Shirley poppies, and who knows what all. The girls love to plant seeds. It was at this point we determined it was time to restore some of the garden so that we could actually dig the soil and plant there -- theoretically a better location for a number of the seeds we'd shoved into those pots.

Well, the ground is solid hardpan clay. No topsoil. I don't know how the plants that are here actually thrive, because the soil is awful. So we've been banging away at a patch of ground with a hoe and shovel, spraying the dusty earth with water (and then spraying ourselves and have a general great time with water), and adding some compost. In two days, the patch (about 5' x 5') looks a lot more inviting, but not yet yummy enough or deeply enriched enough in which to plant. I need to feel as if I was gazing at and plunging my hands into a pan of the most delicious chocolate cake batter!

Okay, so that's the beginning of our garden. Our homeschooling, to me, is grounded first and foremost in a healthy lively family rhythm, complete with working with and tending to the things that nourish us. That includes shared household tasks, planning nourishing meals, growing our own food and herbs when we can, or at least using well good veggies and herbs that we find. In the food realm, I'm finally back in stride with this, having the girls help me plan meals for the week (and prepare them, of course). This week, we've been using Molly Katzen's Honest Pretzels for inspiration.

Smoothie Digresssion: Yesterday I concocted my favorite smoothie to date. First, I made a decoction of burdock root, dried elder berries, a little allspice, cloves, and orange peel. Then we blended strawberries, blueberries, whole milk vanilla yogurt, banana, and cinnamon. We added the decoction as the liquid. Yummy! Healthful too.

Back to homeschooling:

Our homeschooling has been different each year. In past years when the girls attended a lovely children's program two or three days a week, our style was mostly unschooling. In the past few years -- especially as we've been in transition -- we've shifted to a relaxed homeschooling approach. I find that having a more overt homeschooling lends our lives a beneficial rhythm and a purposeful nature, especially since we don't have a farm right now, or other regularly scheduled activities (classes, group activities, etc.). Unschooling-to-relaxed homeschooling worked very well for us on Vashon Island, when we were in the midst of a very active community and farm life. In our transitional state (the months preceding our move off the island, our ten months in Oregon, our temporary home here in California) working more overtly on subjects (rather than "coyote mentoring" with them as they come up naturally in our work and play in our days/weeks) helps stitch our days together in a pleasant way.

Having ordered the Second Grade Curriculum from Christopherus (Waldorf-inspired homeschooling resources) for my younger daughter, I've dug out our First Grade Curriculum, and have launched into the final lessons blocks of the book. Last spring, Andy had taken on up homeschooling the girls, using resources that appeal to his style and nature: The McGuffey's Eclectic Readers, and some Mathematics and Grammar books, also from that era (19th century). That certainly works great for him and the girls. I have a different style -- and the imaginative, artistic, holistic perspective of Waldorf (especially via Christopherus) works very well for me when I work with Gwynne.

My older daughter, being 15, is in a different sphere. Here what she and I do is discussion and reading at the center, and moving out from there. She directs a lot of her own learning. Anyone who has doubts about unschooling can have those doubts assuaged by seeing teen unschooling in action! My daughter has fully-developed passions and interests which have led her to all kinds of in-depth learning in an array of areas: biology, animal husbandry, writing, math, electronics, .... What Andy and I do with our daughter is support her passions (and offer our own skills/knowledge in relationship to those interests) and offer "unit studies" (we don't call them that -- but other homeschoolers would) on different topics we think she might do well to have in her knowledge-and-experience tool-kit, or that we just think are fun and cool :-). As a former English major I find literature to be cool and fun, so from The Secret Garden, we'll move into reading Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (I'm intrigued by similar motifs in all three of these books!). From there, we might move on to a unit study of Comedy & Tragedy ... Or perhaps Jane Eyre will inspire an excursion into a different realm ....

I've had a number of parents of young children talk to me recently about homeschooling, and what I can say here is that homeschooling can be very idiosyncratic! It can look and feel quite different from family to family, reflecting the values, passions, and style of each family. I call what we do "homeschooling", but honestly, love of learning, self-directed learning, and sharing our learning is so much a part of who we are as a family that I almost don't regard "homeschooling" as a separate subject in our lives (i.e., what we do instead of school). If anything, I use the term "homeschooling" as a marker: designating particular sorts of foci in particular points in a day, just like we have meal-times, or chicken time or clean up or chore time (or time on the computer!). Learning, of course, takes place anytime (okay, I couldn't resist writing something so corny & cheesy :-)!!!).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Simpling My Life

Listening to the last audio in's Think Like An Herbalist course taught by Heather Nic an Fhleisdeir, I was struck by the notion that the whole thrust of my life in the past few years has been an attempt at creating a Simple. What's a Simple? Creating a medicine (be it an infusion, tincture, what have you) using a single herb. That sounds simple, but actually, a great deal can go into the process of choosing that one herb. You might (as Heather suggests) indulge in creating a list of gripes and complaints about your health, then list all the herbs you have available that would assuage those complaints, then circle three herbs that resolve the most complaints on the list. Then see which herb of which you have an abundance. You might choose that one herb as your Simple, because there are no coincidences. If you have an abundance of it, it may be a kind of "pick me, pick me!" or a "calm waiting for you to notice". (this is my interpretation of Heather's words!). Anyway, choosing a Simple is a personal and individual process. Two people with lists of similar complaints are likely to choose two different herbs as their Simple.

Okay, so I'm going about with my list in a mixed-up way. One thing I notice is the abundance of Rose in my garden, and in my jars (vinegar, tincture, dried ...). Notice, too, this bread which I made recently:

I used hand-ground spelt ...

And added rose petals and a bit of lavender from the garden, and some dried calendula and dried nettles.

Okay, the mix of herbs is not "simple" -- but I'd have to say, that if any herb speaks as a Simple in my life right now, it would have to be Rose.

So, my thought is: okay, backwards is fine. How about listing my complaints now, and then researching Rose absolutely thoroughly. With which systems of the body does Rose work her magic? What, where, when, why, how does she work? Is there something about Rose that might soothe my achy wrists and shoulder? (too much typing) I've never heard/read of Rose working in this way, but what if certain qualities of Rose might be just what I need -- a Rose salve for instance? The Rose might inspire me to -- ah, slow down and smell the roses (so I spend less time on the computer, and less time furiously pecking away at the keyboard). But some aspects might be particularly soothing and healing to my body in other ways ....

A trail of thought, reflection, research, and experience to follow ....

Anyway, back to the idea of "Simpling my Life". I realize that actually a huge amount of reflection, experience, research, living is bundled up into a Simple, and there lies its potency -- because the herb is just right, just what you need, the perfect ally. In the past years of shedding many possessions, sifting through my passions, moving home a few times, it has been about finding the one place, the one expression of art and purpose that bundles all-that-I-am, that nourishes my entire system, and allows me to offer my self in my most potent fashion. How far do I carry the metaphor of Simple? The answer: as far as is useful. In the end it's an intriguing exercise of thought, and perhaps practice. I might do well to attend as well to the art of creating effective Formulas (using a few herbs together), and see what light this shines on who, what, how, why, I can live my most soulful, purposeful life.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lovely Pres. Lincoln, Salve, and More

Here's a President Lincoln rose. Lovely, yes?

Today I checked on my various rose mixes. My rose petal vinegar has a delightful bouquet. My rose petals tinctured in kirsch smell yummy. My yarrow tinctured in vodka has an intriguing spicey smell (in a good way). My cottonwood buds collected this past spring in olive oil have an, um, unusual smell. Not rancid, but ... I screw the lid back on and shove the jar back into the pantry, to inspect again later. Perhaps the trees I'd collected these buds from hadn't been Black Cottonwood ... Hm.

On the other hand: I open the jar containing my Black Cottonwood buds in olive oil, collected on Vashon Island in 2007. Wow, luscious. The buds have been there for two years! I take a small jar, shave some beeswax, filling the jar a quarter way. Then I pour the beeswax into a sauce pan, and gently melt the wax I pour some of the Black Cottonwood oil through cheese cloth, filling the jar 3/4s of the way, then add the filtered oil to the melted beeswax. After mixing it, I turn off the heat, pop a spoon into the mix, then put the spoonful into the freezer and leave it for a few minutes. When I check the consistency of the salve, I find it is just right. Hurrah! Last time I made Black Cottonwood salve (a couple of years ago), I'd added too much beeswax.

Back to the saucepan. I turn on the heat enough to warm the salve some more, and melt the salve from the spoon. Pour the salve into the jar. The salve now sits on the counter til it cools completely, then I'll screw on the lid and stash it away. I've tried some of the salve, and boy does it have a warm, delicious feel. And the scent -- mmmm!! My Balm Of Gilead salve is a success!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Acquainting Myself With Yarrow

I'm folding the ladder to shuffle to a new place in the yard, from which to reach for enticing plums. OUCH!!! I pinch my finger in the metal supports as they accordion closed.

Yuck. First something like a blood blister appears, then blood begins to ooze. I don't have plantain in my yard. Maybe it's a good time to make friends with Yarrow -- Achillea millefolium -- a plant I encountered in abundance on our camping trip in the Sierras last week, and which I'm studying in Herbalist 101.

Though I'd been more familiar with Yarrow's use to promote a sweat to encourage colds and fevers to move out of one's body, I'd recently discovered that among its many uses is to staunch internal and external bloodflow (in fact, some alternate names for Yarrow are, significantly, Blood Wort, Staunch Weed, and Nosebleed -- I love that one!) Yarrow also has anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties -- nice for just cleaning a wound.

Okay! So how might I use Yarrow on my little wound? If it was growing in my yard, I'd probably pick some, chew it up, and place it against my skin, just as I do with Plantain ("nature's bandage"). Instead, I decide to brew a tea from the dried herbs I have in my pantry.

First, I sniff the dried flowers. Intriguing! Reminds me a little of Alfredo Sauce. A strange association! I brew a strong tea. In 10 minutes I swab my wound with the tea. Boy, that sure cleaned it up -- and look, Ma, no more flowing blood! Did it really act that fast, or had the bleeding stopped or nearly stopped already? I could cut myself again to find out, but that seems rather a grim action to take in the name of science!

Now, I drink. Well, it's rather nice, in a bitter, dandelionish way. The inside of my mouth begins to go dry. Okay, so it has astringent properties. I'm still a bit mixed up about plant energetics, but I am so reminded of dandelion root, I might venture to guess that Yarrow is "cooling". Except that Yarrow is used to promote sweats. That suggests "warming" at the very least. Well, I'm still mixed up for sure here! And what about the feel ... hm. (sip, swallow) Not downward or "sinking". If anything it's "outward" and upward. Floating energy?

Okay, enough fussing on semantics. I pick up my newest favorite book, The Book Of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood. I lose myself in his discourse on Yarrow. Holeee!!!! What an incredible herb! Definitely good for treating deep wounds, it seems, and blood blisters. Not only that, but there is some great information about using Yarrow sitz baths for curing uterine fibroids and Yarrow tea for easing excessive menstrual flow. These aren't problems I have, but two women close to me do. I'll have to pass on the information to them, and see what they think (checking in with them too to see that they aren't allergic to members of the daisy family!). My heart quickens just a bit. I feel like this time I really have information regarding a particular herb
that feels right for their issues, quietly potent, and harmonious with each of them in different ways. Is there something else I should consider here?

My experience of Yarrow: This lovely feathery leafed plant (Matthew Wood describes the feathery leaf as being single leaves evolved to just the ribs or vein, literally "cut to the bone and the artery") with its umbrels of tiny white flowers flourished in that open high altitude meadow near our campsite. I recall it growing on our open hillside back on Plain Old Farm in our former Vashon Island home. I can't wait to meet up with Yarrow again, now that I'm getting to know her better!


So, I'd love to make a tincture of Yarrow. Usually I prefer to work with fresh plants, but lacking a population of Yarrow in my yard, I pull the dried herb
back out from my cupboard. The ratio is 1:5, dried herb to 100 proof Vodka.
Browsing the web, I try to figure out what that means. Do I fill the jar 1/5th
full with the dried herb? Some places talk about particular weights .... In the
end I fill my jam jar almost halfway with the Yarrow, and pour 80 proof Vodka to the top. Since (several years ago) I purchased the Vodka specifically for tincture making, I wonder why I bought 80 proof and not 100 proof? Another browse through the web. Seems like 80 proof is just fine in some folks' dried herbal tincture making.

The little jar filled up lacks vitality to me. I call on Reiki and begin infusing the tincture with healing energy. As I do so, I connect with my memories and experiences with Yarrow, how that herb feels to me. I open to feeling the presence of Yarrow. The spirit of Yarrow is here, and perhaps Yarrow blesses my humble efforts. I offer Reiki to her in gratitude ....

Mullein Oil Update

Well, it turns out that two weeks apparently is long enough for cold-infusing the mullein (aka Verbascum thapsus) in olive oil. Mine has been infusing for five weeks! Opening the jar, I look at it carefully and take several deep sniffs. Smells fine. Nothing scary. I rummage through my cabinets, and can't locate my muslin. Rats. Okay, we'll see what I can do with coffee filters. Will the oil be too thick to pass through the filter?

I squeeze and smoosh it through once. Plenty of sediment. Probably it moved through a hole in the filter. So I pour it through a second filter and let it sit. Seems to be draining S-L-O-W-L-Y through. Okay! This will work, though perhaps coffee filters aren't the most efficient way to process an infused oil.

I relabel my jar, and stick it back into the cabinet. The mullein oil is now ready for use, if needed!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sharing Herbs - Also: A Little On Mullein Oil

With three nieces ages 5, 13, and 15 living just blocks away, I have the perfect opportunity to share the joys of herbs with my extended family. I decided to start with "fun, nourishing, and sweet" -- creating some delicious concoctions that would draw everyone into the enchanted realm of plants with no challenges.

First up, we created our own herbal chai. Filling a saucepan with water, I brought out bundles of dried herbs and spices, and invited them to smell each, and scatter some in. With comments, appreciation (ginger, elder berries, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom pods), debate (burdock root, dandelion root, licorice root), critiques (I let them smell elecampane and boneset, just for fun), we concocted our chai, then set it on the stove to decoct -- letting it simmer for 20 minutes after just reaching a boil. To ensure that everyone gave the chai a good try, I added some hot chocolate. My friend and fellow sound healer, Celestine Raye, who is a mistress of incredible herbal tea concoctions, sometimes adds hot chocolate to her brews, adding a smooth creamy taste to it. (She also adds coconut oil -- yum!).

A big lump of hot chocolate mix tumbled in, probably not adding too much to the flavor (or taking away, as the case might be), but adding excitement and enticement to the whole thing. I offered milk to be added as willed. The teenagers drink their chai "as is", and the little girls drank it with plenty of milk, but all of the chai delightedly vanished. So: success! Amri suggested in the future we might try adding Dagoba's Xocolatl mix--hot chocolate with chilies and cinnamon--to our chai. Lovely idea! Perhaps not for the little girls, however ....

In addition to making our chai, we plucked a bunch of lavender sprigs from the blooming plant in once-upon-a-time Victory garden. We then made sugared lavender, and from the quantities of sugar used in that process, made lavender sugar. Not a whole lot of nutrition in this project, but we certainly connected with Lavender's open-hearted and friendly spirit!

Above: boiling the lavender in sugar water
Left: Lavender sprinkled with (lots!) more sugar before being baked.
Below: Sugared Lavender after baking. The excess sugar from both processes above was saved for other cooking use.

Other projects:

Today I opened the jar of Mullein Oil I started back in Joseph, OR. A month ago exactly! It's hard for me to believe that it's been less than a month since we left. I smell the oil, and it actually smells similar to my Black Cottonwood oil, though less honey-like. Yes, they are both infused in olive oil, but there is a hint of honey here too. I screw the lid back on and set it back into the dark. In two more weeks I'll probably strain out the Mullein and have my Mullein Oil ready for use during the next cold season.Mullein next to Dandelion, back in Joseph, Oregon a month ago. Mullein, like Dandelion, seems to thrive in open, disturbed places. Dandelion is a great liver detox herb and blood purifier. Mullein infusion is useful for healing bronchial conditions. I'll be using the Mullein Oil for soothing and healing ear infections. So, with these properties in mind, how might Mullein and Dandelion be working to heal the bit of land (area around a house) pictured above?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Rose Vinegar & Dandelion Decoction

My experimentation continues! My delight in Rose led me to create some Rose Vinegar. Just pluck a bunch of petals and some young leaves, shred them a bit, fill a jar, and then add organic apple cider vinegar to the top. Be sure to put some plastic wrap or waxed paper over the mouth of the jar before screwing on the lid (if it's metal). Otherwise, the vinegar will corrode the metal, and you'll end up with a nasty looking brew.

Let the Rose Vinegar sit for 2-6 weeks (preferably six), in a dark place and shaking it everyday or two or three. Then strain out the petals & leaves.

You can enjoy it as a salad dressing. You can also use it to relieve the pain of a sunburn! And you can use it for other soothing purposes too. Please see Kiva Rose's blogpost on Rose Vinegar for more information! You'll want to whip up some of this stuff too after reading all about it.

Dandelion Decoction
I nibble on some dandelion root. Another nibble. What's the energy of this herb? Cooling? Warming? Hot? Neutral? Cold? As a village herbalist wannabee I'm trying to sort this out. Definitely not hot or cold. I feel warmed from the inside when I nibble the root. The taste to me is mellow. Okay, 'mellow' is not one of the five tastes, which are ... what? Pungent, Salty, Sour, Bitter, Sweet (empty & full). Uhhh. I flip through Healing With The Herbs Of Life by Lesley Tierra and locate her section on Dandelion (Taraxacum mongolicum). Well, now. Here's what she writes:

Energy: cold; Taste: bitter, sweet. Actions: clears Heat and toxins.

Urk. Now I'm confused. I reflect on my responses to nibbling the root. Maybe I need to reevaluate my responses. Not to say that my responses are wrong (how can they be?) but maybe I'm not mapping the language in the same way. We're talking about sensations and tastes here! Not a language in which I'm particularly verbally eloquent.

I drink my decoction (a handful of dandelion bark cast into a couple of cups of water, brought to a boil, simmered for 20 min., then strained). My first small cup satisfies something in that digestive fire of mine, and in my soul. After I type all this, and about 1/2 hour later, I take another cup. Well, now I taste some Bitter. And, yes, there is a cool energy that I can identify. Does this mean I needed Dandelion before to work on my body, and so had a different experience of it? Or have I assimilated the lingo a bit more and remapped by responses? The power of suggestion, or just refining my senses and sensibilities ... uhhh ....!

Further experimentation is definitely necessary!

I have this sense of "downward" and "inward". Flipping through Healing With The Herbs Of Life, I read how that herbs have four directional energies, meaning that particular herbs "move" in a certain way to treat various organs or parts of the body. But "downward" is actually a quality of sinking energy: "The sinking energy moves downward and outward, causing elimination through the bowels or urine, activating menses and lowering fevers. Example herbs include bupleurum, black cohosh and peppermint." Well, this definitely describes what I know about Dandelion and its actions.

What about "inward"?

(Again from the book:) "The descending energy moves inward, strengthening the inner Organs and treating the deep-level functions of the body. Examples include ginseng and rehmannia." Well, I have no experience with these herbs as of yet, nor of any others that I know to be herbs with "descending energy", so can't compare the energetic feel. The experiments will continue!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ah, Rose. dear Rose ...

Roses still bloom on shrubs that my grandparents planted decades ago.

Playing in the garden today, I went from rose bush to rose bush, intoxicated with the notion of creating with my friend Rosa spp. I finally settled with one dark pink bush with lovely unfurling blooms. The blooms had that lovely rose scent, but light--not thick like soap. So, with mason jar in hand, I plucked a bloom, separated the petals into the jar. I added a few sprigs of lavender and a single bit of cedar leaflet from the garden, and some bits of dried satsuma peel to the mix (I can hardly ever confine myself to a single herb when I create with plants!). After that, I filled the jar halfway with filtered water and set it out in the sun for the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, I nibbled a rose petal, inhaling that delicate scent of grace, and my mouth drying. Astringent. Is experience I have of Rose in my mouth warming? Cooling? Neutral? My first thought was neutral--such an unromantic word for such a heavenly flower. But a second nibble seemed to fill me with the faintest of sense of warm. Certainly I feel warmed in spirit when I am with Rose, so I go with that sense. That's my experience today of Rose.

Tonight I strain out the petals and peel. A faint citrusy fragrance as I twirl the water, and that waft of rose. The water is a pale yellow-orange. Perhaps a slight rose blush to the color, perhaps not. I sip and taste ... lemon! But further swallows separate the flavors. Rose, certainly. Orange/citrus -- ever so slight. Perhaps I can distinguish the lavender. Cedar, I can't taste, but the ancient mother sense of cedar is in the mix for me. I wonder: if I infuse just the smallest bit of cedar in one jar of water, and then later have one of my daughters fill three cups: two with plain water and one with the faintest-bit-of-cedar water, would I be able to sense with assurance the cup that held the spirit of cedar? An experiment for sometime soon!

Back to my rose sun tea:

Really, the smell and taste verges on soap. But if I separate myself, just the smallest bit, I return to my grandmother's rose garden in my heart and mind, the garden from which I plucked these herbs. My garden. That grace of rose resumes, and it is as if sunlight infuses my spirit. Can it be that this infusion is cleansing my spirit? That's the feeling gentling through me!

Rose Elixer
Kiva Rose has an enticing recipe for Wild Rose Elixer on her blog. What I created today is perhaps a gaudy relative of hers.

I plucked a rose bloom, separated the petals into a small mason jar, filling it. Then I filled the jar the rest of the way with kirschwasser--cherry brandy--which is the only brandy I have in the house, bought for who knows what recipe years ago, and barely used in all that time. Wild roses are ever more subtle than this cultivated bloom I used. And cherry brandy! Well, perhaps the cherry part of the brandy will add another medicinal quality to the mix. I'll have to research just what kirsch is, how it's made. And what are the medicinal qualities of cherry?

Okay, Wikipedia tells me that kirschwasser is made from distilled, fermented morello cherries (a sour cultivar), with the pits (stones) included. Perusing Herbalpedia 2007 tells me that cherry, a member of the Rose family, is useful for respiratory and arthritic problems. I'm reminded that cherry bark is often used in herbal cough syrups. Hm!

How might the respiratory assistance qualities of Cherry support those of Rose? From a plant spirit medicine perspective, I consider the heart-opening nature of Rose, its nature for me as a spirit balm and its protective, fierce, and wild nature (think of Rose's thorns, and how even domesticated Roses like the ones in my garden, can snag and entangle you when you are unaware). I think of the hearty nature of Cherry, the bold bright or sour flavor that we delight in so much as children and as adults, if we leave off our fastidious natures (spitting out pits, dribbling cherry juice, staining our fingers ....). When I consider Cherry I think of generosity, friendliness, invitation, frolic. So perhaps this Rose-Cherry Brandy Elixer may support in uplifting my heart, and soothing away those things that choke me up -- coughs, inflexibility in my thoughts and emotions. Perhaps this gregarious elixer with support an ease and flexibility in my being, and encourage a gentle and freeing wildness to emerge ... These are my fancies right now. We'll see in just what way this elixer nourishes my well-being in future weeks.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Nature's Gifts

Mullein country: Aound here I've found Mullein mostly in disturbed open areas near river banks--like this one along the Lostine River in N.E. Oregon.

A few weeks ago, my friend Lisa gave me a marvelous gift: a large bag each of soft fuzzy mullein leaves and of nettle -- harvested that morning! I was so delighted, because with the transitions in our lives, I just hadn't gotten it together to track down my dear friend Nettle (Urtica dioica), nor had I gathered my being enough to head over to my friend Celestine's to really introduce myself to Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), sit with this plant, and harvest some leaves, offering a song and Reiki in gratitude.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I drink nettle infusions to nourish my well-being. Nettle is a true "wise woman" herb, demanding (with its stinging hairs) that we pay attention when we are with her. If we don't--ouch :-)! The leaves are rich in iron and Vitamin C. In addition to drinking infusions (which serves not not only to nourish me, but to plant my feet on the earth, and also inspire that "Aunt Leaf" -- a la Mary Oliver's poem -- quality in myself) I love to steam the leaves with olive oil and garlic, or make nettle-potato soup, or substitute the leaves for spinach in cassaroles or lasagna.

Here's the poem I mentioned--one of my favorite's of all time. A great "green-woman" poem:

Aunt Leaf by Mary Oliver
Needing one, I invented her -
the great-great-aunt dark as hickory
called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud
or The-Beauty-of-the-Night.

Dear aunt, I'd call into the leaves,
and she'd rise up, like an old log in a pool,
and whisper in a language only the two of us knew
the word that meant follow,

and we'd travel
cheerful as birds
out of the dusty town and into the trees
where she would change us both into something quicker -
two foxes with black feet,
two snakes green as ribbons,
two shimmering fish - and all day we'd travel.

At day's end she'd leave me back at my own door
with the rest of my family,
who were kind, but solid as wood
and rarely wandered. While she,
old twist of feathers and birch bark,
would walk in circles wide as rain and then
float back

scattering the rags of twilight
on fluttering moth wings;

or she'd slouch from the barn like a gray opossum;

or she'd hang in the milky moonlight
burning like a medallion,

this bone dream, this friend I had to have,
this old woman made out of leaves.
Mullein leaves
Okay! So on to Mullein!

I've long heard that Mullein is great as an infused oil for soothing earaches and ear infections. You can also drink its dried leaves as a tea (but being sure to use a fine muslin to strain out Mullein's fine hairs which can be irritating if drunk) for bronchial conditions. Or you can use the dried leaves in very hot water to breathe in the steam--again for bronchitis or for asthma. I haven't tried Mullein myself yet, but that's why I've taken the time to dry the leaves! Maybe today I'll pick some more Mullein leaves and infuse some in olive oil, and give that a try when the next ear infection comes around.

Nettles. I jump-started the drying process by placing them in the shade under my drying clothes for about an hour, before taking them inside to dry the rest of the way.

Here are my nettle trays, with the tray of Mullein leaves below. I didn't dry the nettles on the table top, but rather dried them on the lowest shelf of this table, to keep the sun off them and avoid discoloration.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Stomach Flu Or Food Poisoning! What did I do?

A couple of weeks ago, I awoke on the day of a long cross-state journey, feeling terrible. "I'm not that stressed out about moving our chickens, am I?" I considered the lousy feeling in my gut, recalling similar times four years ago, twelve years ago .... I don't get stomach flu very often, but ....

A half hour later, I was bowing to the porcelain god. As the day progressed, the rest of the family joined in the miserable experience.

I know the herbs can help me, I thought through the day. But I didn't have it in me to look through my resources, and I'd never made a "what to do" list for myself (as I'd always intended) for when the inevitable stomach flu returned or disagreement with food.

When I finally stabilized enough to keep water down, I switched to peppermint leaf tea, and offered that to my family when they were ready for something. That seemed to help stabilize my stomach a little further. Eventually I considered replenishing my eloctrolytes. Heather Nic Fleisdeir in her Village Herbalist course on had suggested this blend:

Electrolyte Blend
Mix in a cup of warm water:
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp honey
- pinch of salt

I couldn't quite stomach the idea of drinking a cup of this, so just hastily swallowed a spoonful of apple cider vinegar, and a spoonful of honey, and figured I was getting the salt from the cracker I'd just eaten, and the water from my peppermint tea.

When I was growing up, my mom had always given us Saltine crackers and Ginger Ale for our recovery. I considered how this 'home remedy' might have helped us kids. Had the ginger in the Ginger Ale helped settle our stomachs? (this is assuming that Ginger Ale was actually made with ginger back in the late 60s to early 70s. Ginger Ale doesn't seem to be made with ginger in any of the bottles I looked at when I finally made it to the store once more). Had the salt in the crackers and the sugar in the ginger ale helped replenish our electrolytes in some way? I don't have that answer. But I always enjoyed crackers and ginger ale when recovering from the stomach flu as a kid!

In our recovery a couple of weeks ago, I flaked oat groats with the flaker attachment to our grain grinder, and cooked a pot of oatmeal. My husband said that my oatmeal and peppermint tea (and infusion) both helped restore him! (nice when a family member appreciates these things :-)!). A couple of days later I downloaded the latest in Think Like An Herbalist -- the second audio course by Heather Nic Fleisdeir at, and it was all about Pathways of Elimination. Better late than never! I thought as I listened to it.

And I took notes about what I could have done (be prepared!).

A great tip was this one:

To help prevent or relieve vomiting
50 drops peppermint extract (basically the extract is a tincture)
1 tsp. hot water

Combine and drink! The small amount ingested isn't as likely to trigger the body to get rid of it (unlike a drinking a quart of peppermint infusion), and so this mixture will have a better chance of working.

My husband never vomited, but was pretty miserable for a longer period of time than the rest of us. If we were living those days over I would have supported his other pathways of elimination.

(***Please note***I'm still learning this stuff and haven't tried it out! I'm something of an advanced beginner. So be sure to do your own research as to why anything written here might be effective or not in your situation! Thanks!)

- A bath filled with calendula infusion (infused for two hours) to encourage him to sweat some of it out.

- A burdock decoction to support his liver in eliminating the toxins.

- Perhaps a nettle infusion to support his kidney function in elimination.

He never had diarrhea, so no need to work with blackberry root or sage to slow that response down or lessen its severity.

Okay! Enough for today on this cheery topic.

Be well!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

All In A Day's Work!

I love playing with herbs. Here are today's "confusions" (as my wise-guy
daughters like to say).

Make both of these at the same time:

To soothe the heart and mind, while sparking the spirit.

3 tablespoons lavender buds
1 cinnamon stick
1 pint boiling water

Place together in a 1 pint Mason Jar. Let steep for 45 min. Strain the herbs from the liquid. Add warm milk or honey to taste, or take that potent flavor as is.

Sip this one while you wait for the next one to finish ....

Woman's Soothing and Replenishing Infusion with a touch of Wisdom

1/2 oz. Oat Tops (Avena sativa)
1/2 oz. Nettle Leaf (Urtica dioica)
1 oz. Red Clover Herb (Trifolium pratense)
1 sprinkle of Sage (Salvia officinalis)
1 qt Boiling Water

Place herbs in a 1 Quart Mason Jar. Fill jar with the hot water. Let sit for 4-8 hours. Strain and drink.

Also: Today was floor cleaning day.


1/2 gallon of very warm water in a bowl

a squeeze of Tea Tree Liquid Castille soap
2 drops Rosemary essential oil
1 drop Orange
1 drop Sweet Basil

For me, Rosemary offers the zest of bright spirit, cleanliness and clarity, Orange graces us with good cheer, and Sweet Basil offers tranquility. Feel free to substitute other essential oils for the above according to your mood and intent.

Now, scrub away!

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Huge Apology To My Subscribers!!!!

I'm so sorry. I was goofing around with some background program for this blog, and I think it ended up creating a bunch of senseless posts. Forgive me! I've learned my lesson! I'll keep this blog its simple self. Please don't give up on this blog ....


Friday, May 1, 2009

Violet - Viola odorata

One of the few plants that are blooming right now here in our corner of the world is Violet - Viola odorata. She grows in little bunches beneath a still leafless fruit tree, with friendly grape-scented (it seems to me!) petals.

I have been sitting with her, just soaking in what I can learn from her presence. Here are my impressions.

Violet is a graceful ally, soothing to the mind, the heart.

Yes, with properties for shrinking abnormal growths (I consider the ganglian cyst on my finger!). Seemingly vulnerable and delicate, yet here she is, in eager clusters at the base of the plum tree, leafed and in bloom! In fact, she is the first to bloom in this yard and neighborhood, except for robust and rambunctious Dandelion. So her small sweet nature belies the fact that she is a herald of spring. One of the first to bloom despite the continued spurts of winter here.

Violet speaks of a sweet open nature and of boldness. She says: Don't be afraid to cluster around giants--it is safe here! I offer a balm to the spirit, vigor, and the gift of promise: of spring, of new growth, and warmth.

I am a wild heart! I am Violet!

From Herbalpedia - 2007 edition

Violet Soup

1 8-oz can of chicken and rice soup
1 cup violet blossoms
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Prepare the soup according to can directions. Bring to a simmer. Add the violets; simmer 1 minute. Ladle into bowls; sprinkle with cinnamon. (A Kitchen Witch's Cookbook)

A Kitchen Witch's Cookbook, Patricia Telesco,
Llewellyn, 1994; ISBN: 1-56718-707-2

Violet Omelet

4 eggs
4 tsp milk
12 violet leaves
12 violet blossoms
1 tsp butter

Wash violet leaves and blossoms and crisp in refrigerator. Beat eggs with fork or whisk until light yellow. Add milk. Sprinkle with salt and add freshly ground pepper (about three turns of the grinder). Melt butter in skillet. Pour egg mixture in and, using spatula, cut around edges of pan and across egg mixture until top of mixture is frothy and bubbly. Meanwhile chop violet leaves and sprinkle on top of egg mixture. Turn omelet by folding over and cook further until desired degree of doneness. Serve on hot plate. Sprinkle or garnish with violet blossoms. (Cooking with Flowers)
Cooking with Flowers, Jenny Leggatt, Fawcett,
1987; ISBN 0-449-90252-8

Violet-Watercress Greens

6 cups violet greens
3 cups watercress
6 slices bacon
3 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
cup onion, finely minced
Saute bacon until crisp. Crumble and set aside. Saute greens in cup bacon
drippings for 10 minutes. Remove vegetables to platter and top with bacon, eggs and onion. Serve immediately. (How to Prepare Common
Wild Foods)

Violet Mushroom Caps

Saute 24 medium-sized mushroom caps in butter and drain on paper toweling.
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp cognac (optional)
2 tsp chopped chives
2 tsp chopped violets
Fill mushroom caps with above mixture and garnish each with a violet. You can also combine 1 teaspoon each cognac and lemon

juice and dip in a violet to use as a garnish on each stuffed mushroom cap. Serve chilled. (The Forgotten Art of Flower Cookery)
The Forgotten Art of Flower Cookery, Leona
Woodring Smith, Pelican; 1973; ISBN: 0-

Ginkgo biloba

The Ginkgo tree is a "living fossil", belonging to a family that dates back to dinosaur times--more than 200 million years! Gingko seeds have been used in Chinese medicine to help asthma. Lately, Gingko leaves have been getting good press for perhaps helping improve memory function. The leaves have several compounds that may help in this regard, as well as have an anti-oxidant effect in the body, and an anti-allergic effect on asthma.

(source: Herbs: A Color Guide to Herbs And Herbal Healing by Jennie Harding.)

My parents have a gingko tree in their front yard. My mom sent me a bunch of new leaves. I considered making a tincture from them, or an infusion (or decoction), but held back, deciding to research gingko leaf herbal preparations. I don't know anyone personally who works with gingko leaves, and my question on the forum has so far not yielded any results. My mom sent me some links to some articles she discovered on the internet:

I'm a bit puzzled why they harvest leaves in autumn and not in spring.
Usually when working with leaves, you harvest them when they are in their
young/new growth, and not when the energy of the tree or plant is being put to other uses (making flowers, seeds/fruit, going into the roots ...).

So, hmm. I did try nibbling on a leaf, and felt fine. I just want to be sure that no extra process is involved with using Gingko than just treating it in the usual way for infusions or tinctures--and that there isn't anything I need to worry about when using Gingko. The book above did indicate that it shouldn't be taken while pregnant, breastfeeding, or in infancy, or if you are epileptic or taking any kind of anticoagulant medication, or if you are older.

I suppose if the herb is listed in this book, it should be safe to use, except for as listed above. But perhaps it's time to reread this intro to this books to get a sense of the practical nature of its contents, in terms of home preparation.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Learning Your Herbs Online and Journal

I stumbled upon Angie' Goodloe and her online Herbalist 101 course, and thought, what the heck! I have a lot of herbal resources available to me, and have been plunging along with nourishing my family and self with herbs, as well as creating remedies. But I'm after that extra something to catalyze me to gather my adventuring into a more coherent medicine bundle. As I've mentioned in the previous post, I engage in plant spirit medicine already, in my healing arts practice. But I long to go deeper and more knowledgeably on all levels in my relationship with herbs. I'm on Lesson One, and love the course--and Angie--already!

Part of the coursework is keeping a journal. So that is what I will do here in a harper's garden: journal my experiences with herbs and my questions. And eventually record the answers to those questions. My aim is to write up my adventures with you, dear reader, in mind, so it's not just me jotting down lists that have meaning only to me.

A few words on my herbal study. I am also a member of and find that to be an incredible resource. It has several fabulous e-courses and audio courses, and an abundance of information that includes videos, interviews, articles, and a lively informative community forum. If you
are interested in herbs, I cannot recommend this resource highly enough. It is worth far, far more than the yearly membership fee. If you're new to the idea of working with herbs (and even if you aren't) do visit their sister site Learning Herbs, which features a monthly herbal project and its free seven-day Supermarket Herbalism e-course.

I'm also entranced and enchanted by Kiva Rose and her blog The Medicine Woman Roots and The Anima Medicine Woman Tradition website, and intend to take her Medicine Woman Herbalist course(s) in time.

Okay. How I used herbs today:

Nourishing Infusion

In a quart size Mason jar, the following dried herbs:

Red Clover (about 3/4 oz), Oat Tops (1/4 oz), peppermint (a sprinkle), lavender (a sprinkle) and rose petals (to cover the top of the herbs in the jar).

Poured boiling water over all, covered, and let sit for about four hours. I chose the Red Clover for its anti-tumor/anti-cancer properties (I have a lump on one of my fingers--not cancerous or a tumor--but which I'm experimenting with dissolving by means of herbs and other "alternative" means). Oat Tops--as a "comfort" herb, and the rest mostly for flavor and a hint of these qualities: Peppermint (sparkle), lavender (soothing), rose petals (grace). Usually I drink my infusions as a single herb or just two herbs, but I thought I might share it at a gathering today that didn't end up happening.

After setting up the infusion I discovered that flowers should only be infused 1 hour maximum. (from a Brewing Table in Healing Wise by Susun Weed) Oops!

In this gathering I'd planned to introduce some simple herbal medicine making. I'd detail my "lesson plan" in another post!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Garden Calls!

This is a picture from four years ago. My daughters are collecting dandelions for making dandelion fritters. Yum!

I'm immersing myself in a lot of herbal study and experience right now, and also reading up on plant spirit medicine--which I realize is what I have been practicing when I offer nourishing herbs to my clients or invoke the quality or 'spirit' (to me) of a particular herb during a healing session. Lovely.

In the former (herbal study) I've been making infusions and syrups, and applying them to self and my family (as needed). Currently my older daughter  has been suffering from a flu. So, I peered through some recipes and the colds-and-flu ebook on, and have been trying a various remedies on her. After mixing a too-complex tea of peppermint (for her headache) and rose (for gentleness) with elderberry syrup (this decoction with its own spices sent the tea over the top!), I finally got the message that less is more with her. The little bundle I made of dried peppermint and rose petals to scent the air around her is probably enough! And if I venture into teas with her tomorrow it will be with a single green ally .... She's been a pretty good sport with my experimentation, all things considered!

I do long for my herb garden. It would be lovely to pick some lavender, chamomile and calendula, just to put near my dear daughter, to lighten and soothe her spirits. And a sprig of mint for encouraging a banishment of her headache! I've been enjoying adventuring with the dried herbs I've had to purchase in lieu of my garden, but so much more is invoked, evoked, conveyed with a single flower.

I do believe I've resumed a harper's garden! Thank you for continuing to join me here, dear readers!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Farewell To A Harper's Garden

Gosh, I didn't intend to leave this blog when I started Jane's Medicine Tree--certainly not so soon. Well, maybe I did! It just seems to me that this space represents where I was for a year--a beautiful self-sowing garden full of lovely medicinal and cooking herbs--but, well, I'm just not there anymore! Heck, even the flowers in the photo below the A Harper's Garden are from a former home of mine--my grandparents' house in California. And, double-heck! Even the name of the blog, A Harper's Garden, comes from a business of mine that dissolved quite awhile back!

The lovely herbs remain with me, of course, and my views from the Island that was my home and heart-place for ten years. And my grandmother's roses, and that home-of-grace--the house my grandparents had built in 1936, and lived in for the rest of their lives--of course that remains in my creative and soul geography. And the fun I had with the biz remains with me still! Now, though, it's time to move into my newly rooted perspective, with those beautiful nourishing places and times continuing as branches in my Tree and continuing as rich and lively humus for my soil/soul ....

Thanks for visiting my Garden! I hope you will continue with me on my journey via the Medicine Tree.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Harpquest And Jane's Medicine Tree

On Christmas morning we found our Mookie in a Thorn Tree!

Hello, everyone!

It seems that each year I reimagine or reinvent myself in some way. Last year, I replaced my Tree Letter with this blog. This year, as the result of some dreams, story, and ah-ha moments (and perhaps as the result of being in a new place metaphorically and in true life), I began Jane's Medicine Tree, which is a blog embedded in my Forest Halls website. I'll be continuing this blog into the foreseeable future, however! Coming soon will be posts related to Twelve Secrets Of Highly Successful Women blogging book group. So please continue to stay tuned!

In the meantime, I invite you to experience my Medicine Tree. I have several posts up already, and ideas for a bunch more in the coming weeks.

Vashon Island Millennium Harper Of The Paper Crane

This is a Harping For Harmony harp quest I pursued in 2004. Now in the snowy solitude of this winter I've finally written up the details of the quest, and claimed my title. To my great surprise, I'm to be awarded a small harp! You can read about the quest by clicking the link above.