Sunday, July 24, 2011

Herbal intensive

A nice, big dose of serendipity landed on my doorstep - or rather, in my vegetable garden - about two weeks ago. Some folks were visiting our neighbours, and as often happens, one stopped to talk to me over the fence as I watered the garden.

"Are you growing lambs' quarters?" she asked, pointing to the quinoa. It turns out that lambs' quarters and quinoa are both members of the buckwheat family, and look amazingly alike (which explains why I was, to my puzzlement, seeing quinoa sprouting all over my garden - it turns out it was lambs' quarters!). It also turns out that the woman asking the question (Lorene is her name) is a master herbalist who lives on the next road over.

I was thrilled. There are many herbs growing here at Mucky Boots, a couple of which I have identified and used, and many of which I have no clue about. When I confessed to wanting to learn more, Lorene told me she would be giving a four day intensive on herbs the following weekend.

Serendipity indeed!

So of course I went, and it was amazing. We spent the Friday afternoon learning about the medicine wheel, which categorizes medicinal plants according to their natures and functions, using Lorene's own specially planted garden to help us. We tasted everything, learning what mucilaginous and astringent herbs feel like in our mouths, and how bitter some herbs can be. We studied diagrams of different leaf shapes and margins, and different flowering and branching patterns, and then we each chose a particular herb to study that night for homework.

Saturday, Sunday and Monday were spent learning how to make different herbal preparations: infusions and decoctions, a salve (much like the one I made last year), a tincture, a glycerite and a tinc tract. We discussed the difference between using fresh herbs and dried ones. We made an herbal vinegar. Some of us snuffed an herbal snuff, others got poultices for sore muscles or wounds, and I got to try a steam treatment with essential oils for my sinuses.

It was a wonderful way to get started with learning about herbs - I have a framework now and some preliminary knowledge, plus a whole bunch of enthusiasm to learn more.

One of the best parts was finally identifying some of the mystery plants here at Mucky Boots. Some of them are residents of the perennial gardens, like malva (a demulcent, soothing to the digestive and respiratory systems and the skin) and motherwort (stimulates and tones stomach action, and is good for respiratory congestion and symptoms of menopause). . .

. . .and others are weeds I have spent the last two years trying to eradicate, like broad leaf plantain (great to chew up and use as a poultice on bee stings or poison ivy), sheep sorrel (an excellent source of Vitamin C and delicious in salads) and purslane (an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, also good in salads).

And there were others, like wood sorrel (which looks like clover but isn't), and prunella vulgaris, (also called heal all) whose flower looks a little like French lavender.

That's in addition to the plants here that I already knew about, like borage, chickweed, cleavers, comfrey, dandelion, horsetail, lady's mantle, lavender, lemon balm, nettle, oregon grape, peppermint, raspberry, red clover, sage, spearmint, thyme, woodruff, yarrow and yellow dock.

Mucky Boots is a veritable medicine chest, just waiting for me to clue in!


Flartus said...

Wow, that's fascinating stuff. And now you can stop weeding! :D

Paula said...

Very cool, Miriam! Now I know who I can send pictures to and ask whazzat?

Miriam said...

If you're looking for a good Pacific Northwest plant identification reference, Lorene recommended "Plants of Coastal British Columbia" by Pojar and MacKinnon. I've already ordered mine!

jeanives said...

I envy you that course - so interesting and giving you really useful skills.
It's moving week here and I could use some calming infusions other than wine and scotch! We're NOT QUITE READY!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for those great pics! I've been looking at weed id websites for the last couple of years as I've tried to learn what's valuable and what keeps popping up no matter how many times I pull it! But so often the "official" pics don't look much like what's growing in my garden. Now I know I have a healthy population of sheep sorrel and more. No wonder the chickens like it so much!

Sounds like a great learning experience--thanks for sharing it!

~Kim at Golden Pines~ said...

Miriam, how exciting for you and Kim! I really enjoy learning about plants and their uses and would also enjoy a class like this!

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