Category Archives: techniques

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On connection to the earth

(on cities not being evil, stress, connection and slowness)
oco1Early morning light, coffee cup in hand, I walk destination-less, and watch things: the neighbourhood crows as they chatter to each other and keep a lookout. The sycamores with each falling leaf become more stark against the blue sky. The crunch of leaves underfoot. Morning traffic noises get louder, people wake up and walk their dogs, saying hello to each other in their sweats and hastily thrown-on sweaters. A car alarm goes off, a trash truck passes, a few crows swoop down in its wake while their friends keep a look-out, birds crank up their morning song, a passionflower leaf unfurls from its vine with a satisfying pop. 

These walks start my morning off on a reverent note. The way the light hits things, the way the trees in my neighbourhood change, the way plants push up through the cracks of the sidewalk, and the bougainvillea escape their bounds and curl up telephone poles. Its easy to forget, living in a city, that there is nature out there. Unless you get out and see that life follows the same patterns everywhere it goes: plants will always fight to reach for the sun; the sun warms everything in its path; wind moves around obstacles; earth absorbs. Nature patterns are fractal, spiralling, sacred geometry. These patterns are the language of our world, the form earth energy takes as it moves into existence. I believe that seeing these patterns and these things reaches for something inside us, lights up the same areas, nudging us back to something more primal, more connected to nature ourselves. This connection is something you can have anywhere. 
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The elegance of water.

Water both scares and excites me. Unlike my husband who can’t stay away from the stuff, I have a healthy respect for it due to a. being a not-so-strong swimmer and b. two almost drowning incidents on the sea shore. I grew up on the water, some of my earliest memories are of the smell of boat, of the sound of water lapping against the hull as I drift off to sleep, of the sounds of halyards tinking against masts and seagulls squawking as the wind picks up. Of sea spray, and of the terror that overwhelms me when land disappears from sight. Even now, when the depth radar goes to ‘too bloody deep’ and there’s no land, I start thinking about being swallowed. Of things like the Marianas Trench with its crushing darkness. Of what exactly is and could be down there, and of the crushing fluidity of it all. Out on the sea, one is truly and absolutely subject to the elements. Water and air, colliding on a surface, and us, tiny people, on the frontier.

Water is in us and water is outside of us. Water that seeps through our skin and water that we drink to quench thirst. Water, life provider, water as the primordial ooze that we emerged from billions of years ago. Water as our great ancestral mother and water as the soothing coolness that fills our bodies from the inside. Water heals. Water is sacred. Water is one primitive drive that we all have both towards and away from, in longing and in fear. Water is gentle, water can kill in no time at all, and water can heal. From the salt that dissolves in it to the blood in our veins, to the healing springs that bubble forth from deep below the earths crust, to a handful of herbs sprinkled over a hot pot and left to infuse as the water ekes out the goodness, and then there it is, the beauty of the elements: they are as powerful as the hand that wields them.

And water can be medicine. Alone, its hydrotherapy: the use of hot and cold water to draw circulation to and from places. Got an injury? Jump in the shower and blast the area with water as hot as you can bear for a couple of minutes, and follow that with 30 seconds of cold. Repeat, a couple of times, and you’ll stimulate circulation to the area. I’d almost guarantee swifter recovery (especially if you use Busted Joint Ointment at the same time ;)).

There’s the cold sock treatment, and the cold wet rag on throat treatment*. There’s hot springs and cold springs and plunging oneself into an ice cold lake after a hot sauna. And then there’s my favourite: the bath.

My old apartment lacked a bath tub. I would curl up on my side onto the floor of the shower, blasting the hot water, pretending. It didn’t work. One of the reasons I moved in with Jam was that he had a bathtub. True story. In our bathroom, we have a few big buckets: Epsom salt (available in bulk here); Mustard salt bath. And then we have a shelf with bath scrubs– I like to take a big scoop, scrub myself down and then let the oils float to the top of the bath. My all-time favourite, however, is the herbal bath. With a big pot of water on the stove and a handful of herbs simmered until the water is dark and fragrant. There is magic in these baths, deep and powerful.

Skin is absorbent, and its our biggest organ. Like a giant waterproof lung creating a permeable barrier between our bodies and the world. Everything you put on your skin is absorbed into your blood stream. Absolutely everything. Sitting back into a hot kava bath, for example, and within minutes the effects of the kava have penetrated your skin. You feel relaxed, you feel slightly woo-woo, and you feel, well, good. I add meadowsweet, and do the two in combination. The kava relaxes and unwinds your mimd, while the meadowsweet eases aches and pains, and the result is a pretty darn relaxed, social and all around good-feeling night.

Conifer baths are a glorious thing- simmer fir, spruce or pine needles until they’ve made a strong brew, and add to your bath for a fragrant, anti-inflammatory and somewhat expectorant bath (really, if there’s grunge in your lungs, after bathing in the stuff you’ll hack it up). Lavender baths relax the liver, until you’re so comfortable with the present moment that you don’t remember what you were worrying about in the first place. Ginger and mustard baths warm and stimulate the circulation making your fingers tingle and your toes feel on fire which, in the middle of the winter, can be a beautiful thing. Chapparal baths smell like the desert, especially with a sprinkling of desert lavender in there. Its anti-fungal and kills anything it comes into contact with (jock itch, athlete’s foot, you name it), and I’m not sure how it’d smell to a non-desert lover but to me its glorious. Rosemary stimulates circulation and smells good to boot (though careful if you tend towards high blood pressure because it can give you a nasty headache), Bladderwrack is pain-relieving, slimy, good for the skin and chock full of iodine (and bathing in it is a lot more pleasurable than drinking it, in my opinion). Eucalyptus for your respiratory tract, Arnica for joint pain, linden because its sweet, relaxing, heart-opening and beautiful, and mugwort, for the aromatics, for the blood-moving, for the crazy dreams you’ll have afterwards and for the ache-easing of both body and heart.

Favourite combinations include kava+meadowsweet for either joint pain or stress relief or both (and if the pain is really bad a dropper of arnica tincture); Eucalptus+Rosemary for feeling like you’re full of grunge; Douglas fir + pine for inflamed and sluggish and desperately in need of some fresh air; Chapparal + Desert lavender for missing the desert so much my heart hurts; Bladderwrack for sore joints and wanting to play Siren for the night (it is, however, required to lie in the bath and sing); Ginger + mustard for the kind of cold that seeps to your bones and makes you think that you’re never going to be able to move properly again; Linden + lavender, for the kind of sweet relaxation that makes you smile dreamily all evening; and mugwort + motherwort for achy moon time when you just want to sink into the earth and close your eyes and bite the head off anybody who tries to disturb you.

Simmer the herbs in a big pot on the stove for at least 20 minutes. I do about 2 cups of herbs per 2 gallons of water; you can find your own amount as you might like more or less. Then strain through a sieve and add to the bath.

Candles and a dark room are, of course, a must.

Almost all the above are available from Mountain Rose Herbs; I recommend buying equal quantities of whatever you’re using, putting them all together with big labels in big jars in whatever blends you so desire.

And in April, for my Monthly Herbal Surprise Box I’ll be sending out a herbal bath infusion, so if you’d like to receive a special bath, you can sign up.

And if you’ve made it this far, tell me please, what are your favourite herbal baths?

*For flu: wet socks, covered with dry wool socks, to stimulate fever. For sore throat: cold wet rag over the throat until it warms: stimulates circulation to the area; works wonders.

WELCOME TO CONIFER 101

Gathering and processing conifers

(an information-heavy post)

Hello kids, welcome to conifer 101. In which we discuss the identifying, nibbling, gathering and processing of conifer bits for food purposes. During the last few months of my obsession and your patient listening, on Facebook I suggested a conifer gathering post and it was met with THUNDEROUS applause and approval (glares at people to nod in agreement). So here goes. Conifer 101………

Identifying

To identify your local conifer species, the best thing I can say is to type in ‘yourstate or country’ plus ‘conifer species’ on a google search. You’ll likely find something. If that comes up blank, then try ‘yourstate’ plus ‘pine species’ or ‘fir species’ or ‘spruce species’. For example, I just searched for North Carolina conifer species and got not much, but a search for North Carolina PINE species brought up THIS page: http://www.duke.edu/~cwcook/trees/ which lists all trees in North Carolina*. The scientific name for fir is ‘abies’, for spruce it’s ‘picea’ and for pine it’s ‘pinus’. On this NC list there’s 1 abies, 1 picea and 8 pinus. That’s a baseline of what to look for.

This particular website is great because it tells you exactly where to look, for example, if we’re looking for abies fraseri, it grows on high mountain peaks and occurs in 9 counties in NC. Reading further we can see that most of the population has been killed off because of air pollution, acid rain, and an introduced bug. And this is probably a good time to bring up the most important aspect of wildcrafting (soapbox alert): responsibility.

Addendum: According to the beautiful and knowledgeable Stephany Hoffett, there’s a Virginia Tech Tree app that is really good.

Lovely readers, when we interact with the natural world, we take on responsibility for our actions. If we harvest too much, too vigorously, it can do more harm than good. If we don’t pay attention to what we’re doing, we won’t notice the changes we’re making. There is infinite joy to be found in the feeling of being CONNECTED with something. With our area. With the plants that grow from the same soil we do. In connecting our food and our medicine with specific moments in time, like sitting on top of a mountain breathing crisp cool windy air, or with running through a sudden rainstorm sheltering a bag of acorns with your body. There is, in this, I think something so many of us city folk have been missing, and I really encourage you to get out there and give it a try. Conifers are a great place to start because they’re abundant and easy to ID. But in a situation where the majority of the population has been ravaged, I’d suggest exercising what is probably the hardest thing to exercise: patience. The natural world knows what its doing; it’s best to leave them be. If you feel like going and finding one that is flourishing amid a declining population, and sitting at its base and saying hello will help (I’m odd like that, and often do these things) then by all means do so. If while you’re there you find branches that have recently fallen on the ground then by all means gather them. But let that be all. Go back to your search online and find a species that is common and healthy. Back in North Carolina, after reading all of the descriptions, let’s say we decide upon the eastern white pine. Now we get to go and walk around and find them. Do an online search to find out where they like to grow and see if anybody in your area has seen them. Go and explore. Take a picnic. Bring with you either photos or notes with you so that you know how to ID it when you get there. The good news is that, for long-needled pines, there aren’t really any possibly toxic lookalikes. Where you have to be careful is with fir and redwood species, as those flat needles could be mistaken for yew, which IS actually toxic. If you’re unsure, just snip off a sample, bring it home, look up numerous pictures, and make sure, like, for sure. If it’s a pine, or if you’re certain, you can just proceed to the nibbling part. Which is, of course, the fun part.

Sniffing and Nibbling.

Nibbling, my friends, is a very important part of wildcrafting. Once you’ve identified your species, know where they are, know that they’re abundant and healthy, and that you might be interested in working with them, find a section of bark or branch, bury your nose in it, and give it a good long smell. Does it smell good? Does it smell sweet? Coniferous? Sharp? Resinous? If there are more of them around, smell each one. Doing this on a warm afternoon helps as that’s when the sap will be running more. Find the one that smells nicest to you, pick off a needle and give it a nibble. Nibble with your eyes closed and your heart open. Nibble like a rabbit who has just discovered taste buds. Nibble like a child who has just discovered something edible in the back garden. Like it? While you’re at it, take a deep breath and see how it affects you- most of the conifers have some kind of effect on the lungs (firs are especially good at this; in fact we nibble on the needles when hiking at altitude just to help our lungs open more). Do a body check to see if it affects you anywhere else.

Gathering.

To gather you’ll need a couple of things:

A sharp pair of scissors or secateurs

A receptacle of some kind

I’m a fan of secateurs because they’re ergonomic and really good at chopping off plant parts (as that’s what they’re designed to do). But if all you have is scissors, then by all means, use those. As far as receptacles go, you can take a pretty basket, a backpack, paper shopping bags, canvas shopping bags, a pink fluffy purse, a black leather studded purse, or a cardboard box. It doesn’t really matter. A pretty basket will make you feel like little red riding hood skipping through the woods, whereas a backpack or canvas bag is easy to close up and move swiftly out of a location. Up to you. I’d love to use a pretty basket but its not condusive to multi-mile hikes, whereas a backpack is. A friend of mine keeps cardboard boxes in the back of her truck just in case she sees things when she’s out driving. I keep canvas shopping bags and secateurs in my trunk for the same purpose.

Have in mind what you want to do with them. Few things feel worse than plant material that you’ve gathered going to waste. I usually gather enough for oils, honeys, elixirs (esp. in the case of fir species which are really useful come lung grunge season), drying (for tea), and a batch of incense. Say you’re going to make a honey and an oil, then have in mind the amount you’ll need, and gather that.

The best time of year to gather conifer material is in the spring, when the tree is in its natural growth period. In doing this, you’ll basically be giving the tree a nice pruning, encouraging it to grow out bushier and healthier. I haven’t noticed any negative effects from gathering little bits from trees throughout the year, but it’s something to keep in mind and keep an eye on- you want this patch to get healthier and more vibrant over the time you interact with it, not the opposite! I move around from tree to tree, usually taking a few snippings, about 11 inches down a branch, from each. If in doubt, a quick Youtube search for ‘pruning a pine tree’ will come up with numerous results :). If you find bigger branches on the ground, then by all means, take those.
A couple of quick notes:

First: all conifers exude resins that help them heal wounds. You’ll notice it oozing out immediately after you cut them. The only tree that DOESN’T produce enough of this is Douglas Fir, so, if gathering that it’s quite important not to take big old branches. I usually go out looking for it after a storm and there’s plenty on the ground then…

Second: never ever snip the top off a tree. It leaves it open to disease, fungus and rot. You’re basically leaving it open to die.

Processing

Now you’re at home with a bag full of conifer material.

We’re going to make a conifer infused honey and a conifer infused olive oil. Both are easy. Here’s what you need:

CONIFER INFUSED HONEY OR OIL

Quart-sized mason jars.

Conifer material to fill as many jars as you want.

Honey and olive oil to fill these jars too.

Chop your conifer material up into smaller pieces and stuff inside the jars. Fill to 3/4 full. Then fill the jars with either honey or olive oil. You can do as many or as few as you like… Put the lids on, then put them in a warm place for a week or so. I keep them on top of the oven as our oven is always warm. Inside a crock pot works, as does in the oven if its warm in there (just leave yourself a note as a reminder that there’s stuff in there).

After a week, strain and bottle both honey and olive oil. Make a pretty label (or a not pretty label- it’s up to you), and put it somewhere prominent so you remember to use it.

Using

The fun part. You can drizzle the oil on roasted vegetables, on roasted meats, on avocados sprinkled with salt. Drizzle it on soups before serving or on fruits for an interesting twist. On bread, hot out the oven with a chunk of cheese and some pickles for lunch. On pita bread with some leftover lamb and a splash of yogurt. Drizzle it on everything. And when you find a favourite combination, please let me know what it is…

As for the honey, you can mix it with yogurt for an after-dinner snack, or on fresh fruit, or on baked apples (‘tis the season). You can make baklava, or a local twist on tarte tatin, or to flavour vanilla ice cream with something magical. And of course there’s hot milk and local conifer honey, for when it’s approaching bedtime and you’re a little hungry…

So, I hope that helps. If you have any questions, leave a comment, shoot me an email, or ask on Facebook.

*Sidenote: if you live in North Carolina, I had no idea how many hawthorns and birches you had and I *might* be slightly jealous.

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Infusions.

When I was 9 or so, my mum had a friend, who we’ll call P, who became quite ill and started seeing a Chinese doctor. Well after that, every time she’d come and stay, she’d brew these big pots of the most DISGUSTING smelling herbs on the stove. And she’d stay for quite a while, and the smell would always be there, and, being the brat that I was, it got to the point where I was so angry about the olfactory assault that I just refused to even acknowledge the poor woman’s existence. Because it felt personal, as all bad smells do. I still actually take bad smells as a personal insult- I only JUST started talking to Jamie’s friend who forgot to brush his teeth one morning before we all went on a drive up into the mountains, and that was 4 years ago.

The smell of P’s herbs on the stove plagued me. And for years, even after I became fascinated with herbalism (which, now that I think about it, is no short miracle), I wouldn’t go the infusion route. Nor decoctions. The connotations were all wrong- too woo-woo. Too stinky. Too weird.

Tinctures felt clinical. Salves felt sensual. Teas, well I am Scottish- it may have even been my first word. But stovetop stuff- I might as well start wearing patchouli and throwing peace signs. And I’m not quite sure what it was that changed for me. Maybe it was one of those books that I read on the beach. They all seem to blend together now, so I’ll make it up:

The heroine grew up in a family that used herbs as medicine. It wasn’t weird or stinky. She was pretty and wore dresses. Maybe she was from Costa Rica and had long wavy black hair and would be played by Penelope Cruz with a flower behind her ear. She lives in America now and she brews potions for people and acts as the local medicine woman with her little quirky community of people who all have an interesting story. Then something happens- let’s say the local government wants to knock down the shop that has been in her family for, well, not that long because I forgot she’s from Costa Rica. And then a handsome stranger steps in as her lawyer or something. And he saves the day. And they fall in love. This story is kinda boring actually. Maybe instead of it being a legal thing, she gets KIDNAPPED by some crazy outlaw (because she’s not in America at all- she’s in Colombia, where she grew up, and she was kidnapped because of her herbal skills, to cure this prisoner because he is needed to be alive to hold him ransom because… um… because he’s rich. Super rich. Oh no, because he’s in intelligence and they need his information. Yeah, I like that better. So he’s an intelligence agent (one of the best, of course) and she’s needed to heal him so that he can talk. Did I mention that he’s gorgeous? But you can’t tell at first because he’s too thin and weak. And they slowly fall in love and when he’s got his strength back he KICKS EVERYONES ASS AND they move to America and live happily ever after. Uhm. Well the whole point is that she makes these infusions that aren’t gross smelling, they’re sensual and pretty. Because she’s got a flower behind her ear and is played by Penelope Cruz.

That’s what changed. Infusions stopped being weird stinky P, and started being Penelope Cruz. And now I make them all the time.

The cool thing about infusions is that they can be medicinal, or they can be delicious, and sometimes they can be both. So, for example, if you have people coming over for dinner- you could make a rose and hibiscus infusion and throw some ice in there and put it on the table and it’ll look really pretty. Or if you’re feeling exhausted you can do medicinal infusions and add things that taste good. You can make them really strong like real medicinal infusions, or you can make them weak, more like a tea, and sip them chilled on a summer afternoon. You can pour them into a water bottle and carry them around with you all day (which is what I do. People look at my water bottle funny.). Or you can leave it in a big jar in the fridge and have it by the glassful like you would any other iced tea. But if you know what certain things do, then you can play around a bit.

 

HERBAL INFUSIONS

The principle is really easy:

Take a container than can hold boiling water. I use either a biiig half gallon mason jar, or a french press. The french press is great because it’s got a filter already built in…

(You can also make great teas in a drip coffee maker)

Fill it about an eighth of the way to a quarter of the way with dried herbs.

Fill the container with boiling water and sit for desired length of time (the longer you leave it, the stronger it gets. Which is great for medicinal properties but often bad for taste. Unless it’s nettles, oatstraw or a root, I leave it for about 15 minutes usually).

Commonly found medicinal things you can make an infusion with:

Rose petals: Cooling and drying. For summer heat issues. For tension in chest and nervous irritability. Add honey and cream and it’s quite lovely.

Chamomile: Quite bitter in large quantities. Calming, relaxing, good for digestion.

Red clover blossoms: According to Susun Weed, these are great for fertility. When taken over long periods of time they’ve been said to have an effect on tumours. Gentle and nourishing lymph mover. Quite delicious too.

Rosemary: good for concentration, and that gross stagnant moody PMS feeling. Aids digestion. Don’t steep for too long, trust me on that one :).

Sage: For oncoming colds, sore throats. For ungroundedness, feeling spacey. Helps concentration. For concentration, combine with rosemary and basil.

Lemon balm: For anxiety. Aids digestion. Calms the heart.

Lavender tops: Tension, PMS, tight overheated anger. Nice combines with rosemary and a bit of honey.

Basil: According to Matthew Wood, it’s used in the morning for alertness, and in the evening to aid sleep. I like to use it for concentration. Interestingly, it’s been used for years in India to aid marijuana detoxification.

Thyme: For colds and flu and mucus congestion in the chest. Really nice with sage, mint and honey.

Nettles: Deeply nourishing, especially for those with iron deficiency. Taste is somewhat vulgur (to me) so add mint and all is forgotten. I think nettle infusions made the biggest difference to me with helping restore my energy after adrenal burnout.

Oatstraw: For exhaustion, low sex drive, weak and frazzled nerves. Great in combination with nettles. Taste is slightly sweet and grassy and nice.

Mint: aids digestion, stimulates sweating when there’s a fever.

Bee balm flowers: aids digestion. Calming. Helps body fight infection- GREAT for UTI, candida and general malaise. Also good as a wash for burns.

 

Other great things to infuse are:

hibiscus flowers, lemon verbena, apple blossoms, orange blossoms, peach blossoms (HEAVEN).

 

What about you- anything you like to make teas or infusions with that I didn’t mention?

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All purpose Gluten Free Flour

Remember how I got sick in Mexico a couple of weeks ago?

I haven’t been able to touch unfermented wheat ever since.

Which, if you look at most of the things I write about, has come to be slightly distressing. I love coffee cakes and tarts and cookies. Almost as much as I love… hmm, actually, MORE than I love shoes. My tummy has been so damn sensitive that it feels like there’s a war going on along my whole digestive tract. A war that involves lots of inflammation and discomfort. Most of the time it’s fine– I am eating copious amounts of yogurt and sauerkraut, and my favourite sourdough in the world blessedly feels really good to eat. But I tried having regular old slice of bread at a restaurant last week and ho-ly-cr-ap I was in bed for almost 48 hours. It’s not just cramping, it’s nausea, and headaches, and weird mood swings, and feeling very very foggy-headed. I really don’t want to whine anymore about it though. So I’ve said my piece. And I’ve come up with a gluten free flour mix so that I no longer feel sorry for myself.

The issue with this is that it’s a lot of STUFF. I don’t quite know how to get around that. The good thing is that you can use up most of it to make a massive batch of flour, keep it in a big container, and just use it freely as you would regular all purpose flour.

And by the way, it bakes fantastically.

Gluten Free Flour Mix

Makes 1kg flour.

300g Brown rice flour

100g sorghum flour

40g xanthan gum

200g potato starch

300g white rice flour


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Basic sweet tart crust

I think that people are quite scared of pastries because they hear all kinds of horror stories like “You NEED super cold hands or it’ll flop and be overworked and you’ll present a mess to your family for dinner and you’ll be so embarrassed that you’ll curl up in a ball and die right there and all that people will remember is a horrible pastry crust.” Or, that it’s too much hassle. It takes too long. Too much mess. Too much work. Too much clean up. And I, Ms. Voice-of-reason am here to tell you that it’s all not true. There are numerous different pastry recipes, not all of which require hours of work or cold fingers, though my favourite (for which I am giving you the recipe now) involves about ten minutes of prep time, ten minutes of clean up, followed by a two-hour chill.

This is the sweet tart crust recipe that I use every time. It comes out consistently perfect. So perfect that last week I made a tart for dinner, and Scott turned to Leandra after one bite and said “Honey, I’m sorry, but Rebecca just won the dessert competition for life. This crust is amazing.” Hey, it’s not my fault that Scott hasn’t had sex since, he’s the one who SAID it, I just made the damn thing…

Pate Sablee

1 3/4 cups flour or all purpose gluten free flour

1/2 cup sugar (if I’m making something fancy, I use regular white sugar, if not, then I use sucanat because it’s more nutritious and I love the taste… it just makes the crust dark brown!)

1/2 tsp salt

11 tb very cold butter, cut into chunks

1 egg, beaten

In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and salt a few times. Scatter over the butter, and pulse until it’s all in pea-sized chunks. Pour in the egg in 2 parts, pulsing a few times after adding. Then pulse it for five seconds at a time, until the dough starts to come together. Turn it out on a counter, divide into 2 balls, squish flat, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 2 hours (up to 2 days, then you can freeze it for up to a month).

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Make your own medicinal herbal honeys and elixirs.

Making your own herbal medicines is ridiculously easy, and a nice little pharmacopeia can usually be put together from plants that you can find around where you live. A few of my favourite gentle herbs to make medicines with are the following:

 

Holly-leaf cherry

Cherry: Blossoms and bark. Use the most fragrant ones you can find– they should smell slightly sweet, slightly almondy. Usually the wild cherries are much better for this. All species usually work very similarly– I use Prunus ilicifolia (holly-leafed cherry) which grows wild around here. Most people use choke-cherry which grows wild everywhere else. It relieves cough. Relieves pressure in the chest. It can be unbelievably relaxing– enough to knock you out, so don’t try it for the first time before driving. It’s a fantastic heart tonic for people with heart problems. And is fantastic for anxiety. Keep in mind that this herb is fantastic for heat issues. If the symptoms present are all cold symptoms, try ginger or something warming.

Elder: Hands down my favourite herb for flu season. I have not had a full-blown flu since I started making my own elixir. I use a combination of berries and flowers (70% berries, 30% flowers). Elder helps your immune system to work harder and smarter. It is also fantastic for infections.

Ginger: Stomach soother, nausea reliever. Fantastic in any kind of cold situations, where digestion is poor, or where there’s lots of mucus. Don’t use if there are heat symptoms present– it’s easy to tell: if your headache feels better when  you put a cold towel on it, try peach or cherry instead. If the thought of cold is repugnant to you, try ginger.

Lemon Balm (melissa officinalis): Melissa is a fantastic anxiety-reliever. A few drops of the elixir before bed helps to relieve that “I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking and stressing out” feeling. It lightens the load on the heart, emotionally speaking.

Peach: Twigs, pits (undamaged), flowers. One of my favourite plants for nausea. I get nausea a lot, but ginger is WAY too heating for me. Peach elixir works wonders, and fast. It’s also fantastic for both constipation and diarrhea. A relaxing, divine smelling nervine that, when needed, can actually put people to sleep :).

Rose (all spp. use the most fragrant one you can find): Clears heat from the upper body. Anti-inflammatory. Astringent. I use it when my nerves are a bit agitated (or inflamed), like after being stuck in LA traffic for hours. It relieves that kind of stress that gets stuck in your heart and makes everything feel constricted and tight. It’s good in situations where inflammation occurs unnecessarily– whether that’s emotional (anger flaring up) or physical (immune reactions, rashes, joints swollen and sore). I use the elixir for almost everything. The honey tastes delicious and is lovely in herbal teas or on yogurt or on toast.

Sage (garden sage (salvia officinalis), though almost all spp. can be used– I use salvia melitus, salvia clevelandii, salvia officinalis, and salvia apiana): A deeply nourishing restorative nervine. When your fried nerves are fried to the point of exhaustion. When your heat is burning up your body fluids. Sage helps you to conserve fluids, resores nerves, and calms the spirit. It can stop excessive menstrual bleeding, and also stimulate menses. Works fantastically WITH rose elixir, to both calm and nourish.

Thyme: Another one of my favourite herbs to use come flu-season. Thyme works fantastically for coughs with thin white phlegm. It promotes sweating, reduces fever, and opens the sinuses. It also stimulates and harmonises digestion.

Herbal Honeys:

1 clean (sterilised) pint jar with a lid

enough herb to stuff the jar full

1 pint of honey (try to use a local raw honey– it’ll greatly add to the therapeutic effects. If you’re in Southern California, I get mine from Pacifica Honey).

Chop the herbs up into small pieces. Stuff them into the jar, leaving an inch of space at the top. When you can’t fit any more herbs in, start pouring in the honey. I pour it, then slide a chopstick around the edge to let it sink down, and then go do something for five minutes or so, and keep doing that until it’s full. Once the herbs are covered with honey, put the lid on it, label it, and leave it somewhere cool and dark for 4 weeks. When it’s done, hang a cheesecloth over another jar, pour the herby honey into it, and wait– it’ll eventually strain out into the jar. Depending on what herb you use, it can add the most wonderful nuance to dishes. Sage, beebalm and thyme honeys on chicken. Rose honey on fruit. The possibilities really are endless.

Cherry, thyme, and hawthorne.

 

Herbal Elixirs:

This is my preferred method for making medicines. Maybe that’s just because I love brandy…

1 clean (sterilised) pint jar with a lid

enough herb to stuff the jar full

1/2 pint brandy

1/2 pint honey

As before, chop the herbs up and stuff them into the jar, leaving an inch of space at the top, until they can no longer be stuffed anymore. Pour in the brandy until it’s half-filled, and then fill the rest up with honey (you might have to pour it and wait, repeatedly, until the honey sinks down enough). Screw on the lid, label, and place somewhere cool and dark for 4 weeks, giving it a shake every few days, to mix up the brandy and honey. After 4 weeks, strain into a clean bottle (I use bottles with droppers, so that I can administer 5 drops without over-doing it).