the wild side
This photo was taken during an herbal walk in the forest. It was in
late afternoon and the pine grove offered little lighting. I set my
camera to a slow shutter speed and clicked without a flash. This plant
is called “Indian Pipe” and it draws it’s nourishment from the mycelium
network that nourishes the pine trees, as well as from the decay of
rotting tree trunks and stumps. It doesn’t have chlorophyll and doesn’t
photosynthesize light but somehow the light that appeared in the photo
confirmed the spirit presence that was easily felt while we were quiet
in the grove.
There are many approaches to
herbalism and all of them are an invitation to explore the magic and
mystery of Nature. Each year Spring comes along and we all resurrect in
some way as we witness the tapestry of Nature come to life. The quality
of light becomes so clear that the sensitives can look into another
world, lovers are seduced by the smells and the herbalist takes
advantage of the vital medicine. Although the repetition of spring
seems to be the same each year, any observer/practitioner will say that
each year something new is revealed and the wisdom of Nature grows
stronger. Nature’s mysteries are hidden in plain view and although
plain view is ever so beautiful, inside the view is a magical realm
that enriches all relationships.
A simple approach
to harvesting medicine.
I have been an herbalist for well over thirty years. My teachers were
from all walks of life and all of them strongly connected to earth
wisdom. I’d have to say that our American Indians still hold the key to
unlocking the medicine cabinet and they have always been generous in
teaching us the many uses of the plant world. For many years I
apprenticed with a Lakota Sioux medicine man and learned much about
plant spirit medicine. I have developed certain sensitivities to
“seeing” the medicine of a plant but not to the degree of an indigenous
medicine man. What I did learn from our Native American culture is how
to forage and prepare medicine. There are times when a certain medicine
may enter my dream world and clearly direct me to the plants. When I am
in real time and discover the family of plants from a walk in the
woods, I sit with them and communicate my intentions. I rarely pick
them upon the first meeting and I visit them several times as I watch
for the optimum time to harvest the vital essence. I never pick
endangered species and I never harvest a whole population in a given
area. I always offer tobacco and prayer for permission and gratitude to
pick the plant and I never have the metal of my shovel come in contact
with the plant. According to the Lakota Sioux, if metal touches any
part of the plant, it severs the spirit from the plant. I know this may
sound irrelevant to some, but the quality of respect in approaching the
natural world insures the connection to stay alive. This is the way
that has been passed on to me and I’m grateful for it. Most herbalists
have a unique communication with plants which over the years have
cultivated remedies for every malady as well as tonics for the
Local is best.
Presently I live in Scarborough, Maine, which is basically one huge
marshland with a few islands of solid ground. There are many pristine
areas that are great for foraging because of the numerous species of
plants. I have discovered a few healthy Hawthorn trees that are a great
tonic for strengthening the heart, a few choice locations for Yarrow
which is a powerful remedy of athletic injuries and is often called the
Arnica of the herbal world. Of course Arnica is a mountain daisy which
is also a plant but because it is potentized with various dilutions it
belongs in the Homeopathic realm of medicine. Dandelion and Milk
Thistle is always a popular spring tonic as it de-toxifies the liver
after a long winter of stagnation. I find it interesting that Dandelion
is a pest to most lawns and natures way of telling us that we have
toxic livers. He cure is everywhere! What came first the chicken or the
egg? I wonder if our livers cleaned up to a noticeable degree, would
Dandelion still be so prolific? The law of Attraction is always working!
And so it goes…medicine everywhere around us and we need only to
look…hocus pocus it’s all where you focus…the more you look, the more
The Spice Cabinet -
A gourmet medicine chest.
It might be fitting to talk more about our local botanical treasures
but I’ll do that at a later time. Rather than reveal the secret
formulas of elixirs and health tonics from what’s growing in your
backyard I thought it would be appropriate to direct your attention
inside of your kitchen and explore the spice cabinet. We may take it
for granted that these spices have been around for as far back as you
can remember, that is, your parents and grandparents used them as well
as grew them in a little section called the “herb garden”. Many of
these spices came from far away lands and many people died getting them
here. In the mid seventeen century, wars were fought over spices from
the East Indies and all hell broke loose over it. They were called the
Spice Wars. Today, a few centuries later, the spices found their way
into our every day meals: turmeric, curry, cloves, fennel, basil,
anise, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, ginger, marjoram and many more. Many
of these herbs serve not only for taste enhancement but also to help
digest the food we eat. Now it’s becoming popular to have an herbal
garden of Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Peppermint, Spearmint, Chamomile,
Coriander and its leafy part Cilantro. As long as these spices were on
our parents and grandparents shelves very few people new about their
medicinal effects. Now our spice cabinet is both culinary and medicinal
and we are learning how to use them for a variety of symptoms. Let me
briefly go over a few herbs that are common place in the spice cabinet.
Anise ( Pimpinella
this herb is often used in cough syrups as its properties make it a
good expectorant. It has been used throughout China, Japan and India as
a condiment and is chewed in small quantities after a meal for
sweetening the breath. Anise also has a local repute as a carminative
and is remembered for the treatment of flatulence.
this plant is used for peptic discomforts such as mild, spastic
gastrointestinal ailments, fullness, flatulence, and catarrh of the
upper respiratory tract. A sweet tasting tea can be made to relieve
gas, stomach ache and colic. This tea is very safe for children and
good for lactating moms. The tea can also be used as an eyewash.
(Trigonella foenum-graecum): the
fenugreek seeds are commonly used in Indian cooking to stimulate the
appetite and improve digestion and assimilation. It helps to stabilize
the blood sugar levels and studies show that it decreases serum
cholesterol levels as well. Also good for lung congestion and acts as
an expectorant for mucus.
this plant is a traditional Indian remedy for indigestion, which is one
reason why it appears in so many recipes for curry. It is a
carminative, anti-spasmodic, stimulant, aphrodisiac, diuretic and it
helps to flavor beans as well as antidote their possible flatulence.
this herb has a cooling effect on the body and is a common ingredient
in Indian and Mexican spice blends to aid the digestion of hot, spicy
foods. It is one of the best spices for preventing and assisting the
body to get rid of intestinal worms. It is a stimulant and a
carminative (helps release gas). The leaves of the coriander plant give
you Cilantro which is the must ingredient for Salsa. Chewing the seeds
can help to release blockage in the descending colon.
herb is now in high esteem in the supplement world. It is an aromatic,
blood purifier, anti-oxidant, carminative, bile-stimulant, detoxifier
and regenerator of liver tissue, anti-inflammatory for arthritis, skin
disorders, asthma, anti-tumor activity and anti-cancer. Medicinally it
is used to lower cholesterol levels and is a strong support for liver
and gall bladder diseases. Good for Rheumatoid arthritis and
Salmonella. It is used as a tonic for general health as it nourishes
all systems. Can’t get enough of this stuff in today’s world….
this plant produces natural warmth, equalizing the circulation in the
aged. Stimulant and iron bearer it accelerates the oxygenation of
cells. It is well respected by herbalist as the purest and safest
stimulant known. It opens up every tissue in the body to and increased
flow of blood. It is also an anti-septic, anti-spasmodic for relief of
pain and a carminative.
I once thought curry was a plant and found that it was compendium
formula that is used in most East Indian cooking. A typical recipe of
curry may consist of the following herbs: Black pepper, cayenne, cumin,
coriander, fenugreek and turmeric which were individually addressed
this aromatic spice is soothing to digestion and is beneficial for
colds, influenza, fever, headache, and menstrual cramps. Make a tea out
of it and use for coughs and sinus infections as a steam inhalant. It
is a gastro-intestinal stimulant, expectorant, diaphoretic, and
diuretic, anti-viral, anti-septic mouthwash and gargle, tension
headache and promotes menstrual flow suppressed by cold.
P.S. you can get
the following four herbs at the Scarborough Fair.
Petroselium crispum): Eating
fresh parsley stimulates the appetite and encourages optimum digestion.
There’s a reason why restaurants serve it on the main course and it’s
not just for decoration. Parsley antidotes the odors of garlic and
onion on the breath. It is anti-microbial, anti-spasmodic,
anti-rheumatic, laxative, mild brain tonic, diuretic, and gastric
tonic. It’s used for retention of excess fluid in the tissues, dropsy,
bladder disorders, painful urination for those who pass water after
long intervals. Rich in minerals, calcium, potassium, and silica and it
is said to strengthen hair, nails and skin.
is singularly good for the head and brain. It quickens the senses and
memory. Sage has almost been forgotten in modern medicine, but still
remains in high esteem as a domestic medicine. It acts as an
astringent, antiseptic, circulatory stimulant, antibacterial,
antibiotic, diaphoretic. Folk medicine associates it with longevity.
It’s used for sore throats, laryngitis, reduces blood sugar, and quells
tonsillitis. It reduces inflammation or ulceration of the mouth, gums
and throat. Respiratory allergy. Good for excessive sweating, night
sweats, flatulence, loss of appetite and weak stomach. Also used for
depression, vertigo and hot flushes of menopause.
(Rosmarinus officinalis): this
plant is easy to grow and has a beneficial effect on the circulatory
and nervous systems and used to alleviate headaches, aid indigestion
and increase energy. It is an antibacterial, antidepressant,
antispasmodic, diuretic and sedative. It is used in European pharmacy
to strengthen the heart and allay arteriosclerosis. It relieves poor
circulation and helps to strengthen the blood vessel walls. Externally
it eases muscular pain, neuralgia and arthritic pain. Truly good for
this plant is used for infections of the respiratory organs, throat,
bronchi and urinary tract. It’s a common ingredient in cough syrups and
helps relieve spasms and clear congestion in the bronchial area. Thyme
contains a strong antibacterial constituent, known as thymol, commonly
found in mouthwashes, lozenges and liniments. Good for spasmodic dry
cough, whooping cough, irritable bowel and bedwetting in children,
worms and helps break the alcohol habit.
a brain stimulant, carminative, antispasmodic, sedative, diaphoretic
and digestive stimulant. It’s good for children’s diarrhea, dysentery,
colic, nausea, vomiting and promotes the acid content of gastric
juices. May dissolve gallstones, good for nervous stomach, throbbing
headache caused by stress….
this plant is the only known cure for Montezuma’s revenge and diarrhea
where no inflammation exists. Great for circulation when extremities
are cold. Used for travel sickness and irritable bowel. Good to have a
cup of ginger tea upon getting up in the morning as it clears the
stomach of mucus and prepares the digestive process. It’s a circulatory
stimulant, anti-emetic and a diaphoretic.
it’s an ancient aromatic plant from the Mediterranean. It is used as
the main ingredient for Pesto sauce. It is good for feelings of
fullness, flatulence and stomach cramps. It’s antimicrobial,
antidepressant, antispasmodic, carminative and is an adrenal stimulant.
It helps to stimulate appetite and digestion and works as a diuretic.
Basil helps break down tenacious oils in the body and is useful for THC
is used to strengthen adrenal glands weakened by intake of steroids
(cortisone etc.) It is an anti-depressant and known to “cheer the heart
and raises drooping spirits.”
for stress, exhaustion and depression. Helps to prevent inflammation of
stomach and intestines in cases of toxicity, allergy and infection.
Borage is supportive and restorative for the adrenal glands.
is a stimulant astringent to the stomach. It is used for weak
digestion, feeble appetite, flatulence, vomiting, hyper-acidity and
promotes excretion of gastric juices. Great for irritable bowel, colds,
coughs, nausea, and diarrhea. Cinnamon toasts or a cup of warming
cinnamon tea tastes delicious and alleviates indigestion, nausea or
Celery seeds (Apium
Stomach gas and bloating can effectively be relieved by chewing celery
seeds. They are used medicinally to treat arthritis, mild nervousness,
and water retention. Celery seed tea has a slight cleansing and
detoxifying effect on the body. It is celebrated as a nerve restorative
and relaxer. It is a diuretic, anti-rheumatic, urinary, anti-septic,
carminative and digestive tonic…
It’s a carminative, antispasmodic, digestive, anti-emetic, anesthetic,
anti-inflammatory, nerve tonic, relaxant, cooling and circulatory
stimulant. It is a favorite remedy for relaxing the intestinal tract
and relieving gas pains. The herb is effective fro easing nausea,
vomiting, heartburn, morning sickness, irritable bowel movement,
colitis, Crohn’s disease and other spasmodic conditions of the bowel.
It is also used for liver and gall bladder complaints, cramps of the
upper GI tract and bile ducts. The oil is an often added ingredient to
analgesic balms and can be applied to the forehead to relive tension
and migraine headaches. Ants are repelled with peppermint, and if
planted around the house, it will keep ants away. The common
characteristic of the mint family is that they all have square stalks.
herb is an aromatic, carminative, stomachic, anti-bacterial and an
antispasmodic. It is used for flatulence, infant’s colic and refreshes
the breath. It increases lactation for nursing mothers. Dill is used to
prevent and treat diseases affecting the gastro-intestinal and urinary
tract and kidneys as well as to treat sleep disorders, dyspepsia and
The common denominator for all of
these herbs is that they all aid in digestion. They complement foods to
a cultural distinction. The more you get acquainted with their
subtleties, the better cook you will become, and the more you
understand their healing properties the stronger your health will
become. In the herbal world, these spices represent only a small
fraction of the available pharmacopoeia, but it is a good place to
begin. See if you can grow them in your garden and use them when they
references, and local pharmacy.
Although, I call myself an herbalist, my philosophy and knowledge is
constantly shaped by my existing teachers who are Matthew Wood and
Margie Flint and the influences that help them to learn as well.
Matthew Wood has written a most profound book for any herbalist in
practice today, no matter what level. It’s called “The Practice of
Traditional Western Herbalism”and can be found at Borders, and most
bookstores. Margie Flint is most local to me and she hosts a number of
interesting teachers for workshops in Marblehead, Massachusetts. She
also has written a book called, “the Practicing Herbalist” and can be
purchased on her website at: Earthsongherbals.com Also, a good book for
beginners is “Herbal Remedies for Dummies” written by Christopher Hobbs
and very easy to read. “Sacred Plant Medicine” by Stephen Harrod Buhner
and “Plant Spirit Medicine” by Eliot Cowan are also a good read. There
truly are a number of good books out there about Herbalism, just let
your intuition walk you through it and you will discover accordingly.
Most healthfood stores carry a wide variety of herbal medicine. For
those of us in Maine we can find local tinctures made by a company
called Avena which was started by Deb Soule who is a fabulous
herbalist. And last but not least, a weed is an herb whose virtues have
not yet been discovered…