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!