Reflecting on the last several years wild crafting and growing medicinals, I can safely say things are changing and a greater rate than in the previous 15 years that I have done this work. Firstly, I have noticed as you have too i am sure that the weather is somewhat more erratic and growing moreso every year. There are many more insects in the garden, though this is more prevalent amongst the vegetables than the medicinals it is still noticeable.
In the wild the plants are coming earlier or the length of time of their availability for harvest may have changed duration. For instance, here in the northeast the Fall is much warmer. The killing frost comes later most autumns which means we can have more picking and digging time. The erratic weather means that though there is a longer season in general the weather shorten the window, destroy a crop or just generally mean you must pick while you can and not put it off. the extreme heat or excessive rain and the fact that it tends to come in deluges greatly influence harvest timing. We are so blessed to have so many healing plants here and we have to live in synchronicity with them in these new conditions. In the 20 years I have been following the plants around the seasons I have seen a perceptible and definitive shift that is not just random weather. Nature is always talking to us. Take care of it and we all will live better.
Winter is soon to come. The roots have been dug, garlic planted, wood stacked and ready. this is the "going within" time of year at least after the holiday season. I love to research and study and play with make new formulas.
But it is a time of stillness. And there are plants that specific nourish that quiet inner strength in us, that gives us the ability to stand on our own feet while still staying in relationship. this is a good time of year to gather strength and cultivate ourselves, just like the seeds waiting in the earth for spring's emergence.
Here are a few of my favorite go to plants in my winter. Not so much for staying well as for staying strong and calm and truly well in body, heart and mind.
This is a time of tonics.
Ashwaganda because it is strenthening but calming and tension relieving. it aids sleep which I think is so important in this season of renewal.
Reishi mushrooms ( and the other medicinals also ) are useful for calming the spirit and bringing it home to the heart.
Chaga is a great immune strengthening plant, particularly keeps me warm outside. I feel stronger when I drink it.
Maybe that is because of its association with Russia where it is a common winter tea at least in rural areas.
Nettles are my first wild plant in spring but I drink it all winter like it was a nourishing, chlorophyll rich nutrient concentrate. I feel like it builds blood which wupports healthy energy.
If rather than stuck or heavy you just feel tired or played out from illness or hard winter work, with the snow and woodstove maintenace,you might want to recharge the body and mind with vitality soup.
Get some marrow bones and a crock pot and add some Astragalus, eleuthero, medicinal mushrooms like Reishi or Maitake, Burdock, Codonopsis, etc. (see the premixed herb packet offered from Blue Crow Botanicals)
Add water and cook for 3 days. then you can freeze some and have 1/2 vup to 1 cup warmed up every day like a vitalizing soup. Gently and firmly boosts the immunity and energy.
This is a great time to also include warm lemonade, or turmeric drinks to move the liver energy and lighten things up. A freshsqueezed vegetable or some fruit juice or a green drink will help us adjust and expand into the emergent energy of spring. Also, including some sprouts in a salad! Beets are my favorite way to get things moving, grated raw on a salad or boiled plain or with a dressing, or roasted. Beets definitely get sluggish bowels to move.
If allergies arise for you in the springtime, support the immune system with the vitality soup or use Reishi in particular. Reishi is quite woody and bitter so it does not make lovely tea but as an extract it is reliable and also has a calming effect on the spirit. Extra Vitamin C and using some supplements like quercitin and freeze dried nettles also support our ability to stem the histamine response that substances we are allergic to create.
spring is a great time for a tune -up, short fast, a cleanse, a lighter diet, herbal support, get more exercise out doors and let the rising energy of spring enter and fill you up. Pretty soon, the nettles will be up to eat along with the dandelion greens, Keep your eyes out for them. next post will talk about how to cook and eat them.
I am very excited about broth for joints, digestion and for immune health. Bones and herbs together create a great deep immune and energy tonic. I decided to package the basic herbs with a page of instructions so anyone who can get some good bones of chicken, turkey, lamb or beef can make several months of immune support easily.
The herbs we use are Astragalus, Reishi, Maitake, Turkey Tails, Eleuthero, Burdock, Codonopsis, and Atractylodes. You can purchase several pounds of bones or save them from food prep. For this soup I use marrow bones rather than joint bones and feet which I use for making gelatin rich broth to feed my joints. Always be sure to use animals that have been as naturally raised as possible or are wild.
I bring the herbs and bones to a simmer on my cookstove starting with cold water and then transfer the soup to the crock pot just to give it a jump start. then I let it cook covered for 3 days. I check the water level and add when necessary. A crock pot has such even cooking that it is easy to just let it go. Of course on a woodstove you have to check the water level more frequently. then I strain out the bones and herbs anbd put the pot outside in the winter or in the fridge to get any fat to rise and harden which I then remove easily. Next I strain the soup through a coffee filter and put the liquid in ice cube trays and freeze. Then whenever I want a dose which is usually everyday I just pop out 1 or 2 cubes and warm on the stove and drink. it is delicious and fortifying.
it is great for anyone who has done too much and is rumming on empty, tends to get sick in the winter, has had a course of treatment, is elderly, post partum, a period of intense work or physical training.
A batch of the herbs which is 12 ounces will make about 12 cups of soup. That should last about 2 months.
the first time I made it I was going a long having one cube a day so I decided to have 4 cubes one morning. Wow, did I feel the energy and of course did too much, so be consistent and persistent and overtime you might feel renewed vigork, strength and well protected.
Echinacea purpurea grows easily here in the Northeast and is common in everyone's garden's. It also makes great winter cold medicine. Because of climate change the frosts have been coming later and later in the fall but whenever it will happen, it is best to wait until after one or two hard frosts to dig your roots. The frost concentrates the polysaccharides in the roots making them more powerful medicine. You don't need many to make enough extract for yourself, your family and friends and herlp to keep everyone healthy all winter.
When the frost has happened
Dig and wash the roots cutting off right at the crown. The crown is a very vital place in any plant food or medicinal,and I feel that it holds a lot of the most potent energy of the plant right there at the juncture of the root and the aerial parts (kind of like the navel of the plant).
You can simply chop the roots fine and cover with vodka or brandy or half and half 100% alcohol and distilled water, in a jar and put it in a cabinet for 6 weeks (I like to cover a full moon cycle as that time will guarantee that whichever moon phase you make it in it will benefit from the pull).
I also like to run the roots and the menstruum (the alcohol and water or vodka portion) through a blender.
You can also measure your roots by weight and then add twice the amount in ounces of the menstruum to be more exacting then just chopping and filling a jar. if you do this then just double your weight in ounces with the fluid ounces of your menstruum.
It is also nice to make an extract from the leaves and flowers earlier on in the summer, and also from some seeds after the seed heads (the cones of the cone flower) have turned dark but before the birds have eaten them all. Then you can mix some of each finished extract all together making the root extract the largest part and you will have good strong medicine.
Don't let the process be daunting. It really isn't hard, it is fun to do and it saves money.
Fall is beginning to show itself in the garden and the wild with leaves losing their vigor and some already falling here in Western Massachusetts. We are beginning the end of the fresh extract making season with our own Andrographis (known as Kalmegh from India aka the King of bitters), Jiao gu Lan (from China) having many of the same saponins that give ginseng its power but in a leafy vine so with a more gentle (less yang) energy. it is one of our very favorite tonics and delicious as extract or tea. We found this plant actually wintered over so we are planning to try again and not to have to start from seed each spring. there is so much to learn when adapting plants from other continents and climates.
the Ashwaganda (another tonic plant from India) will stay in the ground a bit longer before we dig its long and rangy roots, but the seeds are already starting to form. There are other annual plants that we will winter indoors and then put out again in the spring like Gotu Kola (so wonderful for connective tissue, and Vitex and Lemon Verbena (from South America , my newest favorite mind quieting plant which is utterly delicious and resinous lemony scent).
With climate change we never know but we still know we have to wait until real cold comes before digging roots to allow the energies of the aerial parts to sink back down into the roots. The cold concentrates the sugars or polysaccharides in the plant and makes them sweeter as well. In springtime before the tops emerge is another great time to harvest roots but this time more for their bitter constituents. Nature is so varied and so generous and we are very grateful.
Today after making extracts from dried plants we went outside to stack the last of the firewood. With the rain lately the new Mullein plant rosettes (second year plants of this biennial) had doubled in size. Because we have been without Mullein for a month or so now with so many people using it this winter with flu and colds we grabbed knives and started gathering.
What a joy it is every year to see and get o use the abundance of life emergin from the earth again. when that was done we spied the Valerian plants emerged though still purple leaved. perfect time to harvest roots still full of qi. and so we started digging deciding which plants to harvest and the babies to leave for next year. they smell TASTED so good. what a grounded feeling. This year for the first time we will gather the Valerian flowers which smell so divine and make a separate extract and then mix the two together. I feel like the lightness and aroma of the flowers will beautifully balance the deep grounded earthy and deeply relaxing roots.
Valerian is one herb that works best as an extract as the volatile oils will vaporize in a decoction.
Nettles are next on the list but this years cools has them hiding a bit longer. they are up though and next week should really be seen. This is the best time of year to eat them and get their huge nutritional benenfit.
After the big rain yesterday which washed away so much snow and the brilliant sun today I of course had to play with the compost and look at the woods and the garden. There they are again. My plant friends come back like the birds the only difference being that they migrate for the winter into the earth instead of going south.
I saw new fuzzy soft Mullein leaves, tiny red veined yellow dock rosettes, dandelion leaves looking just unfurled, and actually for awhile now the intrepid chickweed which tastes so good in a salad this time of year. I would guess the nettles are up and I did see the emerging heart of Echinacea on the very sheltered side of our house near the building. Second year teasel is already begun as well. Old chamomile plants are at it again with a second chance too.
Though it is cold here in the Northeast, it is so clear that winter is receding and spring is approaching. The sun is brighter and higher in the sky. Some early birds are already nesting like the ravens. On warmer days there is mud which gives birth to life.
And though it is still cold and ice still with us we can begin to think of getting ready for spring and moving smoothly and easily into the season of birth and renewal. We can begin to plan a detox for March and there are so many ways to do that.
We still need to nurture the Kidney/Water energy of winter (perhaps in our fast paced, over busy culture we always do) but we can begin to think about supporting the Liver/Wood spring season with hot lemon tea, or turmeric fresh in food or powdered and dried in warm Almond Milk with a little honey and oil as a drink.
We can use Dandelion Root, one of the first plants of spring, in many forms, from extract to tea to eating them as soon as they emerge or appear at our local coop, as greens in salad and roots in a stir fry.
Burdock also is a wonderful herb for this season as is Yellow Dock. In fact along with the Dandelion these three roots are a wonderful way to give the liver a boost and clear the way for Spring. They will clear out the heavier energy of winter eating of more meat, more fire filled cooked food and salt. Yellow Dock will create more bile flow and encourage greater elimination. Burdock clears and cleans the blood as well as nourishing the liver.
Sprouts like fresh pea shoots or mung bean sprouts or any of the sprouts (the baby plants) add new life energy and can really perk things up.
One of my favorite teas for this time of year is Goji Berries, Schizandra and Licorice. simmer them together for 10-15 minutes and you have a sweet and delicious drink that really lifts the spirit and nourishes us deeply.
Try any or all of these ideas and get ready for new life and a new beginning.
Herbs For a Healthy Winter Season
No one needs more to do. But a few simple additions to our daily lives can make a huge difference in staying healthy in the winter. I know I need exercise whether it is indoors or outside, a class, a practice, or a walk. For me shoveling and wood carrying don't count because they aren't relaxing enough and they are goal oriented. I want to play with my body to loosen it up and keep it strong. Also, I love to sleep and winter is one of my favorite times. there seems to be more quiet in the evenings because of the dark to nap or at least go to bed earlier. this is the season of going within, the dark time, to nourish seeds of ideas and also to nourish the body before it wakes up in the spring and gets going. Regardless of the holidays I try to do both activities, spending a lot of time quiet and alone and sweet time just being with people who i so appreciate, so I am more social (less gardening to do) and more internal and solitary in the winter.
Herbs of course are part of my repertoire. I always use an adrenal tonic, and an immune tonic. I find that nourishing my adrenals any time of year is useful in our culture where we work so hard and have so much stimulation but especially in the winter which according to Chinese Medicine is the season of the water and Kidney energy. I love Eleuthero, Licorice, Schizandra, Oats, Damiana. Nettles tea really augments and supports and is so rich in chlorophyll and minerals. There are many others (Rhodiola, Holy Basil, Ashwaganda, Ginseng) but these are my current favorites and they help to lift the mood that sometimes flounders in the winter from the lact of sun. if that is your issue St. Johnswort can help. i also like Lemon Verbena from South America. Everyone has allies in herbs, you just have to find yours and you will
For immunity I use Astragalus, and any or all of the Medicinal mushrooms. We are lucky in the northeast to be able to wild craft them but there are many combinations and singles available already encapsulated or tincutred or some like Chaga can be used just as tea. Chaga is delicious and can be mixed with other herbs. Just boil it 20 minutes, cool and strain and you have a jar of tea for the day or to share. I am very fond of Reishi mushrooms because they also calm the spirit, keep the deep immune potential strong, have an affinity for the heart and support against allergic responses. Maitake is also great as are Turkey Tails. My tonic includes Cat's Claw from South America and some Eleuthero which does support the immune system as well as the adrenals and improving our ability to withstand stress is worth a lot in preventing illness.
It is always good to keep some antimicrobial herbs around just in case one is exposed. here we can use Echinacea, Andrographis, Umckalaobo for upper respiratory viral infections is great, Boneset if you really slip into a flu like symptom.
Make or purchase a tonic and just do it every morning. You will reap the benefits in this season and the next.
My name is Bonnie Bloom. I am a practicing clinical herbalist, formulator, gardener, and teacher. I hope to share my passion for healing with you.