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Ramblings and muses of a community herbalist, medicine maker and plant whisperer.nettlejuice
Updated: 1 day 14 hours ago

Getting to Know Hydrosols

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 15:29
"Hydrosols contain all the plant in every drop, just like a hologram."Suzanne Catty, Hydrosols, the Next Aromatherapy
When someone asks me what a hydrosol is, my first response is that hydrosols are aromatic plant waters. That is the simplest, easiest way to describe this type of plant medicine. But it doesn't really describe what a hydrosol is. Many folks hear this and go right to the assumption that hydrosols are therefore essential oils diluted in water. This is close, since hydrosols and essential oils are often both made by the same process and have many commonalities, yet it's not quite right. Hydrosols are a thing all their own, a unique creature in the world of herbal medicine. And even though the essential oil has become the flashy popular girl, the hydrosol is perhaps her quieter, subtler sister who may not immediately grab your attention, but perhaps offers a deeper, more sustainable connection once you get to know her.

glass still
Let's start with the process.... steam distillation. Through this process, water is heated until it turns to vapor. As it rises, this vapor carries oils and water soluble molecules from plant material that is either soaking in the water itself, or suspended above it in separate container. The vapor is then cooled and condenses back down into a liquid that is collected in yet another container. This finished liquid is the hydrosol of the plant. It is a clear, sometimes cloudy, liquid that often has strong aromatic properties. Essential oils are not part of the hydrosol. Most often they will be floating on top and have to be separated from the plant water.

essential oil floating on top of clear hydrosolMost people get really excited about the idea of making and collecting their own essential oils, but for the small time distiller, this is not an easy process. Very little essential oil is yielded from a plant, even after several hours of distillation (unless you are working on an industrial level and distilling massive amounts of plant material at a time). For some plants, like roses, I don't hold a shred of hope in getting any essential oil at all (by some sources, it takes about 60,000 roses to make one ounce of rose essential oil). No matter though, because the hydrosol is really what I'm after here, essential oils are more of a byproduct of this process, as they have been for thousands of years.

copper still
Hydrosols, sometimes called plant waters, are mentioned in historical texts as old as 5000 years from Pakistan, and also in the Indian vedas. The Persians kept distillation techniques alive after the fall of the Roman Empire. These techniques were relearned in Europe from the writings of Jabir Ibn Hayyan in the 7th century, and Avicenna in the 11th century. All this time the goal of the process was to create plant waters, not essential oils. By the 18th century, hydrosols were commonly used in France, with over 200 used as medicine! Modern chemical medicine has pushed more traditional medicines aside in recent years, until even with the resurgence of essential oils, there is little understanding of the ancient and beautiful hydrosol.

lemon balm in the glass still
But what exactly is a hydrosol, and how is it different from essential oils?

Hydrosols contain water-soluble (hydrophilic) molecules. They also contain a very small amount of oil soluble molicules (lipophilic). As Cathy Skipper teaches, "hydrosols are not just water with essential oils in them, they are not diluted versions of essential oils!" And while they haven't been studied as extensively as essential oils, we do understand some of the differences between these two types of medicine.

Essential oils are very concentrated medicine. They are in essence, the immune system of the plant. Any aromatic plant contains essential oils, and we get these essential oils in our teas when we infused herbs in water (especially if we cover the tea as it steeps) in safe doses. As isolated oils, however, they are very strong and powerful, with the potential to do harm. Essential oils should never be ingested without the supervision of a qualified aromatherapist, and they should never be used undiluted on the skin except in rare instances and with great care.

Hydrosols, on the other hand, are mostly the hydrophilic plant molecules of the plant (some aromatic and some not), carried and held in suspension by water. They are more dilute and much safer than essential oils. They can be used for much the same aromatherapy properties as the essential oils, but are safe to spray directly on the skin, and many can even be ingested safely (research each hydrosol before ingesting).

But there are even more subtle differences still. Many herbalists believe that hydrosols contain the energetic imprint of the plant, or the "intrinsic vibration", as Cathy Skipper puts it. We can feel this energy and its effect when we partake of hydrosols in the practice of a hydrosol encounter.

To do an encounter, spray a few sprays of hydrosol in a small amount of water. Still yourself, then slowly begin to experience the hydrosol, first by inhaling its fragrance, and then my sipping the water. Closing your eyes and tuning in to the energy in your body really helps you feel how the hydrosol is effecting you, and thereby helping you to learn about its medicine. This is a fun activity to do with friends because it really helps to get validation that you are experiencing similar sensations. When we do encounters, we really feel how subtly different hydrosols can be. Holy basil gives me a high vibration burst of energy in my chest and head, while nettles grounds my energy down into the earth. Meanwhile, angelica feels like everything is being pulled upward, lifting my spirits and lightening my mood.

wild ginger roots
And when we make our own hydrosols, we can use plants that simply aren't available as hydrosols from retailers. This year, my students and I made a wild ginger hydrosol from freshly dug wild ginger roots (Asarum canadense). The resulting hydrosol was so lovely. It was mildly spicy and warming, but not nearly as strong as traditional ginger. In an encounter, this hydrosol feels very grounding to me, and calming.

So once we have our hydrosol, how do we use it? The simplest way is to keep your hydrosol in a spray bottle and use as an aromatic room spray, car spray, facial toner, or spray on the body depending on the plant's medicine. Lavender, for instance, is wonderful to spray on overheated skin, mild sunburn, or hot feverish heads and necks. Rosemary, however, is very stimulating and helpful to spray on the temples when we need to focus on a project. Rose geranium is a wonderful skin toner, treatment for acne, and helps hold moisture in the skin.  I also love to use hydrosols as room sprays when family members are sick. I combined eucalyptus, lemon balm and lemon verbena in to a formula called Clear the Air that helps disinfect the air in the room, and doubles to cool down feverish bodies. My son even took this one to bed with him so that he could spray his face when he got overheated at night.

Hydrosols can also be used as the water component in other herbal preparations. I especially love to use them in face and skin creams. Rose geranium is really lovely here, as my students and I discovered this year.

You can also use hydrosols internally (only from plants that are safe for internal use). This may have great potential for folks who are sensitive to alcohol-based medicines. I have personally seen meadowsweet hydrosol calm a gassy stomach in someone who had extreme sensitivity to many other forms of medicine. When taken internally, the dose is usually a teaspoon to a tablespoon, diluted in water.

honeysuckle in the glass still
There are a few cautions when working with hydrosols. Because this is a water-based medicine, there is the risk of bacterial contamination. We take precautions against this by making sure our equipment and storage containers are sanitized, our hydrosols are stored in dark, air-tight containers, and refrigerated if stored long-term. The shelf life of hydrosols varies from plant to plant. While bay laurel may only last a few months, oregano hydrosol, when stored properly, could be viable for years. If your hydrosol starts to develop floating matter, it's time to dump it. For this reason, use your hydrosols up quickly. They won't be good forever.

If you are using hydrosols, please get to know the plant and its properties. We don't have a whole lot of research on hydrosols as medicines, but we can start with what we know about the plants in general. If we know that a plant has certain cautions connected to its use, it is a good guess that the hydrosol may have the same cautions. Be wise medicine people.

preparing the still
On the whole, hydrosols are very safe, subtle and powerful medicines. They are much more sustainable than essential oils (taking far less plant material to manufacture), and easy and versatile to use. My experience making and using hydrosols only extends back a few years at this point. But I can't imagine my life without this beautiful medicine. I use them almost every day for myself and my family, and I'm constantly distilling and experiencing new hydrosols. Because this is a practice that nearly died out and is in the process of revival, we have much to relearn. I'm grateful for the teachers out there sharing their knowledge, and to all the herbalists out there distilling and sharing notes so that we all may learn from one another, as well as from the plants.

 Special thanks to Cathy Skipper for offering her experience with hydrosols through her teachings on this side of the pond.

PS... If you would like to get to know new hydrosols every month, check out my hydrosol subscription offer.  

Winter Sweet Medicine

Sun, 11/18/2018 - 07:33

Announcing...Winter Wellness Herbal Medicine SubcriptionHandcrafted medicine to get you through the cold season

Enjoy three months of herbal medicine installments...Sign up for three months of medicine, beginning in December and stock up on herbal wellness for the cold dark months of the year. If you would like some local, handcrafted herbal medicine made just for you each month, take a gander at this opportunity to have me make some yummy concoctions designed for cold season support for you and your family.Each monthly share will include handcrafted medicines formulated for daily wellness, building natural defenses, and helping you recover from seasonal ills.  
Sign up once, and receive three shipments of medicine (one each month) from December through February. Each month, you will receive 3 different herbal medicines (for a total of 9 handcrafted, quality herbal medicines all together).

Each share will be available for picking up or shipping out the third week of each month, December through February (three months worth of herbal medicine!).Examples of medicines included in each installment are…herbal bitters for digestive wellness, elderberry elixir for immune building, cough syrups, stimulating tonics and others.

We'll start off December's installment with...

  • Fire Cider
  • Wild Cherry Cough Syrup
  • Digestive Bitters
January and February's medicines will be announced later, but will each include 3 bottles of handcrafted medicines at a total monthly value of $30. (Family size share will have the same medicine, but double the quantity, for a total monthly value of $60.)

In addition to your sweet medicine, I will also put together an informative newsletter about the products in each share and how to use them.
Whenever possible my medicines are made with herbs I grow and wildcraft myself and are always chemical free. Herbs that I cannot harvest myself are always organic and from a reputable source. 
Here's the cost breakdown...Single/couple share…$80 (with the shipping option…$105)Family share…$160 (with the shipping option...$205)Anyone interested can send me an e-mail at to sign up 
I look forward to making handcrafted herbal medicine for you this season!!!
P.S. I'm only selling 20 total shares, so sign up quickly before they run out.Deadline for signing up is November 30th, to give me time to get the first share together.

We Meet the Plants One at a Time

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 13:11
sitting with mullein
When I first began to study the healing plants, I wanted to meet them all. I was so excited to learn another name I had never heard before, to identify a new friend, to make medicine with a plant for the first time. Soon I realized that there are indeed a heck of a lot of medicinal plants out there. Many tens of thousands in fact. No one can possibly learn them all. One can easily become overwhelmed by this. Fortunately, we don't need to study thousands of plants to be effective herbalist for ourselves, our families, or even our communities. 
I was fortunate to hear very early on my journey, from some very wonderful teachers, that knowing a great many plants is not nearly as important as knowing a smaller number of plants very intimately. This is so important, and one of the greatest lessons a student new to herbalism can learn. I explain it to my students like this... Imagine you are attending a big party. There are hundreds of guests in attendance. Do you go around introducing yourself to each and every person and try to memorize everyone's name and face before the end of the party? Or do you try to hang out with a few people during the evening, getting into some really good conversations, and maybe making some true connections that may lead to enduring friendships? I don't know about you, but I would rather get to know a couple people more deeply than make surface level connections with everyone.
The plants are very much the same. They are complicated, multi-faceted, many-layered beings with so much to teach and share with us. If we are used to learning about medicinal herbs through 10 minute you tube videos, or cursory blog posts (A'hem), we may mistake ourselves into thinking we know them... (Oh yes, lavender is the calming herb, and peppermint is for headaches...), but this doesn't come close to the depth of intimacy that unfolds slowly over the course of years working with a plant, growing it, meeting it in the wild, harvesting, preserving, making medicine, formulating, even communicating with the plant (they often say very surprising things). 
This shouldn't surprise us. After all, people are the same way. If you only know someone because you exchange a few words with them once a week, of course you will never experience that person intimately enough to know their joys and sorrows, their history and their ambitions, or even what true gifts they have to offer the world. 
Relationship building takes time. And this is equally true with the plants. 
lavender buds
After years of working with lavender, I finally understood the subtler meaning of her medicine. She is not just "a calming herb that helps us relax". Her medicine is better defined as Joy. More specifically, she invites a child-like joy. Yes, she can help someone relax. But relax in what way exactly? I've had people come to me and say, I tried to use lavender to settle down the kids at night and it seems to have the opposite effect. I smile, and think... yep, she would do that. Young children are often light and carefree, unburdened by the cares of the world and the stress of daily responsibility. Lavender would only enhance that energy, making it appear like she doesn't actually relax at all. 
However, if someone has lost touch with their inner child, if they have come to take themselves too seriously and become too self-absorbed, then lavender can have an amazing effect, which if often interpreted as relaxing. Think about it. If you are overly serious and never able to lighten up and loosen up, you are usually holding tension in your body somewhere, often all over. If you are like this all the time, relaxing can be very hard indeed. Lavender's medicine is to first connect you back to your child-like nature, that part of you that held less worries and knew how to take delight in the moment. When this happens, we naturally relax. 
lavender blooms
Knowing this more intimate and deeper level of lavender's medicine helps us to more effectively make us of it. We may not reach for the lavender for the energetic child at bedtime, but possibly for the friend going through a tough time, who hasn't been able to ease up and just enjoy herself lately. 
Getting to these deeper understandings with the plants takes time. And we don't stand a chance of having this type of intimate relationship with hundreds of plants. But we can absolutely get to know a few dozen plants on this level. And that can make all the difference. The plants we choose to cultivate a deep relationship with are called our materia medica, they are the ones we draw from in our practice. And every time we connect with them, we deepen our relationship.
I tell my students that their materia medica should not look like my materia medica, or anyone else's. The plants we choose to connect with may be those growing around us, or they may be the ones that grab our attention for some reason. They may be the ones that helped us in the past, and so we have a soft spot in our hearts for them. Or they may be plants that others have brought to our attention. There are many ways in which the plants come into our lives. We can move deeper into relationship from this first meeting. They can become good friends and trusted allies.
We meet the plants one at a time, but we really get to know them over time spent with each one.

Local medicine from local farmers... A Visit to Lancaster Farmacy

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 16:52

Do you know where your herbs come from?

Local food is all the rage, but I'm still waiting for the local medicine movement to take off. What is local medicine? Local medicine is the medicine that grows within our own bioregion. It consists of the medicinal plants that exist in the same climate, adapt to the same stressors, weather patterns, and other conditions as ourselves. Many herbalists claim that when we use local plants as our medicine, it is much more effective.

Eli leading our tour
But local medicine also means fresher, more vital and potent medicine. It means we have a direct connection to the plants (because we grow or wildcraft them ourselves), or to the farmers that grow them. It means that they are not shipped from halfway across the world, using precious fossil fuels, and spending countless hours in warehouses and transit. It means more sustainable, vital, and effective medicine. With herbal medicine becoming more popular every year, it's time to start talking about local medicine.

outside the high tunnel
In my Folk Herbalism class, I always try to stress to my students just how much better quality the herbs they grow themselves are compared to what they can buy in shops or catalogues (even from really good, reputable suppliers). There is just no comparing freshly harvested and properly dried plants to even organic herbs if they have been shipped from somewhere across the ocean. When they see the difference with their eyes (vibrantly colored instead of faded), smell the difference in aroma, or taste the difference in flavor, the lesson sinks in. If we want herbal medicine that works, that is effective when we need it to help us maintain wellness, we need to strive for local medicine.

fragrant perennials
But not everyone can grow their own.

digging roots with Folk Herbalism students
Even those of us who strive to grow as much as possible cannot grow everything we need. And so we need local medicinal herb farmers to meet our need for local medicine.

freshly harvested roots
Every year I take my students to visit our own local organic medicinal herb farm, just over the border into Lancaster County. Lancaster Farmacy offers locally grown, organic medicinal herbs to the community. Farm proprietress, Eli Weaver, takes us on a tour of the farm as she talks about the herbs they grow and walks us through their harvesting and processing operations. Students get to see first hand how lovingly the herbs are tended, and how carefully they are processed to maintain vibrancy and potency. In this way, these medicine makers in training get to form a direct relationship with a local grower. They know they can confidently purchase their herbs from a local source with a commitment to the quality.

St. John's Wort

Just like the chef who buys local produce from trusted farmer, medicine makers can form the same valuable relationships with local medicine growers to make quality, local medicine for their communities. I feel blessed to have such a beautiful and dedicated growing in my own backyard, and it is my joy to help other form this relationship as well.

Eli in the farm store

If herbal medicine is going to continue to grow, we need to strive for sustainable ways to practice our craft. Growing ourselves is one option, but we need herb farmers more now than ever. They provide the solution to problems such as overharvesting at-risk plants, adulterated material from unethical sources, and less than vibrant medicinals from far away sources.

Lemon grass fields
To learn more about Lancaster Farmacy, visit their website at

Angelica Medicine

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 11:03

Angelica archangelica is a beautiful and magestic plant in the parsley family (apiaceae) which is native to northern Europe and Syria, but grown and naturalized in much of Europe and North America. It likes to grow in wet places, such as along rivers and shorelines. Although the seeds and leaves have been used, the root, dug between the first and second year, is the primary medicine. The taste and energetics of angelica is pungent, oily, bitter, sweet, warm stimulating, and diffusive, with organ affinities for the lungs, lymphatic system, digestion and reproductive system. It is useful for tissue states of atrophy and depression. This is an oily, nourishing bear medicine, much like it's close relative osha.

Angelica is a warming aromatic bitter, antiseptic, expectorant, carminative, diuretic, cholagogue, tonic, and, some argue, alterative. It's constituents include volatile oils, resin, wax, bitters, furanocoumarins, flavinoids, sugars, arganic acids, and phytosterols. 

second year plants coming up in the spring

Matthew Wood talks about how this water loving plant "brings air to watery realms". In this way, it has been used in cases of old brochitis and pleurisy, helping to dry and warm cold and damp lungs. It seems to have an overall effect of moving fluids, breaking up congestion, promoting peripheral circulation, and opening lungs and skin. This pattern of opening and moving makes angelica useful in cases of swollen glands, congested lungs, and uterine congestion. It can be helpful to relieve cramps, and help to warm and stimulate menstruation.

Gail Faith Edwards mentions that angelica is high in iron and helps to build blood and increase vital energy. This makes it useful in cases of anemia. This herb has a history of use in Europe, going back to the middle ages, as protection from illness and promoter of long life. It was an ingredient of Carmelite water, "a centures-old longevity elixir". 

As a warming and aromatic bitter, angelica stimulates digestion and strengthens the liver and kidneys. It has been used for relief of nausea, gas, and colic, and included in Swedish bitter recipes for toning the digestive system. Matthew Wood writes that it will "stimulate the cortisol side of the adrenal cortex, to increase appetite, digestion and nutrition".
The oils in angelica help to build cartilage and nerve sheath, making this plant helpful in cases of joint pain.

Some angelica species are used sweatlodge to open the skin, but also to open the mind. When the roots are burned and fumes inhaled, this can help to move us into dreamtime, increasing imagination. This definitely seems to be a plant that gets things moving. 

Julia Graves states that "angelica aligns you to walk with your guardian angel", and Gail Faith Edwards uses the flower essence to "foster awareness of angelic presence and for help opening to communication from these realms". She calls angelica a visionary herb, which helps us align with our life purpose.

It certainly is an impressive plant, growing up to 6 feet tall or more and with flower heads like exploding fireworks. It seems to draw attention and folks always ask, "what is that plant?"
This spring I dug the roots of a few returning second year plants. After washing and drying these aromatic roots, my hands and home smelled strongly of unique pungently sweet fragrance. From the freshly dried roots, I made a precious little bottle of tincture that retains this intoxicating scent, and tingles the tongue.

freshly dug roots

Matthew Wood also recommends small dosages for angelica tincture, 1-3 drops, 1-3x/day, stating that while small doses can be relaxing, larger dosages can lead to central nervous system depression. When making a tea, decoct for an aromatic bitter, or steep for a tea that is more astringent to the stomach lining. 

There are also a few cautions with angelica. It should be avoided during pregnancy (though it can be helpful for expelling the placenta after birth). Also, it's coumarin content means it should be avoided it on blood thinning medication. Some seem to experience photosensitivity while taking angelica, and this should be considered as well.

Matthew Wood, The Earthwise Herbal (Old World), 2008, pgs. 91-5.
David Hoffman, Medical Herbalism, 2003, pgs. 527-8.
Gail Faith Edward, Opening our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs, pgs. 65-8.

This is my Garden

Thu, 06/30/2016 - 14:12
My garden is a riot of life.

Sitting here at the height of summer, I am surrounded by flurries of activity and everywhere I look there  are creatures and beings singing, eating, dozing, flying, building, arguing, or doing any other number of things. I have watched this small plot of land transform over the years from a simple yard to an oasis. And I can tell you in one word how it happened… plants.

The first to arrive were the birds. There had always been some, but once we began planting with trees and shrubs, increasing the perching and nesting areas, the bird populations multiplied quickly. As the trees grew taller and filled in, and berry bushes started to produce fruit, we saw even more species. Our garden ecosystem is home to cardinals, finches, wrens, robins, jays, woodpeckers, bluebirds, chickadee, sparrows, blackbirds, starlings, juncos, kingfishers, owls, orioles, catbirds, mockingbirds, doves, hummingbirds and many more. In the mornings we are greeted with a cacophony of bird song that I wouldn't trade for anything, and our days are filled with their calls in every waking hour.

Trees and bushes bring the birds.

This pattern has played out for other creatures as well. As our garden has grown, more of a ecosystem landscape really, life of all kinds has moved in, and it's always been welcome. By day we are surrounded by birds, squirrels, cats and buzzing insects, the nocturnal shift brings out the opossums, raccoons, bats, frogs, toads and snakes. If we are lucky, we catch a glimpse of the bunnies in the morning. Rarely seen, but always present are the moles and voles, chipmunks and fox. In the richly composted soil reside magnitudes of macro and micro critters, and ants are simply everywhere.

All of this makes me happy. It gives me hope that life can always thrive and we can live in harmony on this earth. And all it comes down to is habitat restoration (i.e. build the soil and allow plants to grow).

If you read this blog, you know I have an affinity for the healing plants. My aim from day one in this garden was always to grow, cultivate and harvest medicinal plants. But I have always taken a larger view of my gardening efforts. I never imagined a medicine garden patterned after commercial gardens or farms, with single crops lined up in rows, where the soil is tilled every year and all other plants (weeds) are expunged. My view was more inclusive. Instead of crops, I imagined communities. I wanted a living space, with niches and microclimates, with spaces that invited sitting, and wandering, and tree climbing. I dreamt of multi-storied corners and a sunny spot for the medicine wheel. I used permaculture as my guide and never looked back. The result is an every changing habitat that is home to countless other creatures, that provides my family with the beauty and spirit nourishing gifts of Nature, that feed us fruits and vegetables, that gives my children the places to climb, swim, play and hide that are so precious in childhood, and that provides me with the medicine I need to do my work and take care of my family.

All this happens on three quarters of an acre.

california poppies
There are many meanings to the word medicine. As an herbalist, or wortcunner, I use the word mostly to talk about the herbs and their healing effect on the body. But in my garden, I am awash in medicine. The plants are here, yes. But the true medicine comes in the totality of all the components of life in this garden, from the smallest to the largest. How can I possible describe the feeling I get in my heart as I sit in the shade of a tree I planted 10 years ago (now 25 feet tall) and feel the breeze cool my skin as I hear birdsong and an insect buzzes by on it's way to pollinate the meadowsweet, which I inhale into my lungs and gaze upon the many shades of green, accented by fuchsia, red, cream, pink, orange, yellow and violet flowers? It is a state of blessing.

This is my garden.

Handcrafted medicine to get you through the winter months...

Thu, 11/05/2015 - 10:00

It's time to sign up...Winter Sweet Medicine SubcriptionSweet handcrafted medicine to get you through the cold season

Enjoy three months of herbal medicine installments...Sign up for three months of medicine, beginning in December and stock up on herbal wellness through the dark and cold days of the year. If you would like some local, handcrafted herbal medicine made just for you each month, take a gander at this opportunity to have me make some yummy concoctions designed for cold season support for you and your family.
Each monthly share will include one bottle of herbal syrup and one bottle of herbal elixir. These sweet medicines will be formulated with healing herbs traditionally used for treating and preventing the common complaints of the cold season and building our natural defenses. 

I am offering this share in two sizes
Standard size includes a 4 ounce bottle of syrup and 1 ounce bottle of elixir each month(this is perfect for a single person or a couple)
Family size includes an 8 ounce bottle of syrup and a 2 ounce bottle of elixir each month.
I am also offering a shipping option for those of you who cannot make it out to our place for a pick up.

Each share will be available for picking up or shipping out on the third Saturday of each month, December through February (three months worth of herbal sweetness!).Examples of medicines included in each installment are…herbal bitters for digestive wellness, elderberry elixir for immune building, cough syrups, stimulating tonics and others. 

In addition to your sweet medicine, I will also put together an informative newsletter about the products in each share and how to use them.
Whenever possible my medicines are made with herbs I grow and wildcraft myself and are always chemical free. Herbs that I cannot harvest myself are always organic or ethically wildcrafted from a reputable source. 
Here's the cost breakdown...Single/couple share…$70 (with the shipping option…$100)Family share…$130 (with the shipping option...$160)Anyone interested can send me an e-mail at to sign up 

I look forward to making handcrafted herbal medicine for you this season!!!
P.S. I'm only selling 20 total shares, so sign up quickly before they run out.Deadline for signing up is November 30th, to give me time to get the first share together.

Autumn Sweet Medicine Shares 2015

Tue, 08/18/2015 - 13:27

Announcing...Autumn Sweet Medicine SharesSweet handcrafted medicine to get you through the cold season

I am re-introducing my sweet medicine shares this fall!Sign up for three months of medicine, beginning in September and stock up on herbal wellness as the seasons turn and the days shorten. If you would like some local, handcrafted herbal medicine made just for you each month, take a gander at this opportunity to have me make some yummy concoctions designed for cold season support for you and your family.
Each monthly share will include one bottle of herbal syrup and one bottle of herbal elixir. These sweet medicines will be formulated with healing herbs traditionally used for treating and preventing the common complaints of the cold season and building our natural defenses. 

I am offering this share in two sizes
Standard size includes a 4 ounce bottle of syrup and 1 ounce bottle of elixir each month(this is perfect for a single person or a couple)
Family size includes an 8 ounce bottle of syrup and a 2 ounce bottle of elixir each month.
I am also offering a shipping option for those of you who cannot make it out to our place for a pick up.

Each share will be available for picking up or shipping out on the third Saturday of each month, September through November (three months worth of herbal sweetness!).To begin with, September's share will include an coltsfoot cough syrup, and an elderberry elixir to gear up our immune function. Subsequent months will include winter medicines like my gypsy flu elixir, a winter warming elixir, fire cider immune tonic and lung wellness syrup and other healing winter medicines. 

In addition to your sweet medicine, I will also put together an informative newsletter about the products in each share and how to use them.
Whenever possible my medicines are made with herbs I grow and wildcraft myself and are always chemical free. Herbs that I cannot harvest myself are always organic and from a reputable source. 
Here's the cost breakdown...Single/couple share…$70 (with the shipping option…$100)Family share…$130 (with the shipping option...$160)Anyone interested can send me an e-mail at to sign up 
The first 5 people to sign up for a share will also receive a free bottle of lemon balm hydrsol!
P.S. I'm only selling 20 total shares, so sign up quickly before they run out.Deadline for signing up is September 12th, to give me time to get the first share together.

The Gift Of Medicine

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 10:26
Medicine is a gift from the earth. 

Have you ever thought about that? 

When I first stepped into the story of the medicine plants, this one simple fact just blew my mind. I remember sitting in my little yard, looking upon all the weeds growing around me that I had thought of as nothing more than nuisance for most of my life with new eyes. "You are medicine", I thought, "and I never knew". All this time, the medicine was under my feet, coming back, returning, no matter how many times I refused their gifts. 


The earth offers us her medicine as gifts. It is right there for the taking. How amazing is that? Amazing enough to blow your mind?

But wait, let's examine the meaning of the gift, because I think there is some confusion about this term in our culture. Does gift mean "free"? Well, yes and no. 

In our consumer culture we tend to equate gift with free, with getting something for nothing. But just because something is offered to you, without expectation of payment in exchange, doesn't necessarily mean it is "free". 

Herein lies the difficulty…because we must slow down…drop into our hearts…feel the difference. When a gift is given, especially one we need very deeply. We feel grateful. Our hearts open. A connection is made. A bond. 

This is inherently different than something given for fee, like a pen advertising a bank. There is no bond created here. It is a false gift. A gift not to connect, but to extract. 

A true gift is offered in love, because the giver is aware of the value of relationship, of connection…

like your grandmother baking you cookies.

When I receive the gift of medicine from the earth, I am not taking something that is free. I am choosing to participate in a relationship. And to honor the gift, I acknowledge my part. I want to give back, to continue to participate in the dance of give and take that keeps our connection alive.

Just as we say thank you to grandma and offer a hug, or a drawing to give back, we can give thanks to the earth, to the plants, we can do more, we can enter the dance of relationship.

It is the difference between a multinational company removing mountaintops to extract the coal beneath, taking without any sense of relationship to the land, and the native medicine man who offers prayers, only takes what is needed, nurtures the land, and then protects it from harm. 

We choose the type of relationship we cultivate with the earth. We wouldn't barge into grandma's house and take her cookies, leaving the kitchen a mess and walking out without a word. Why do we do this to the earth? We have forgotten. She is our mother, our grandmother. She has always taken care of us. 

The medicine we make comes from the earth, it is a gift. When we honor the gift by respecting our relationship, our medicine is strengthened. It has the power of love compounded. 

I have met medicine makers who have deep respect for this gift, and I have met those who see only what they can take for themselves. The earth is patient. She keeps giving. Waiting for us to get it, to enter the dance, to hear her song,  to join in the great give and take of life. When we do, we suddenly realize, we are so much more that what we receive.

Herbal Case Study…The Sliced Foot

Sun, 03/08/2015 - 16:39

As a mother of three boys, I am constantly thankful we don't have more bodily injuries than we do around here. With all the wrestling, tree climbing, play fighting (real fighting), and general rowdiness, it is truly amazing emergency room visits aren't a weekly occurrence. To be perfectly honest, the herbal treatment my boys' rough and tumble interactions lead to are more often than not a round of nervines for mama.

On occasion though, there is an actual injury to address. One such injury happened recently, not while wresting or tree climbing, but while doing that oh so dangerous activity...walking to the dinner table. Well, the boy was actually running (How many times do I have to tell these kids not to run in the house?). Yes, in all his rushed exuberance to eat a wholesome meal, the boy smashed his foot into the corner of the bookshelf. A moment later I heard the exclamation, "mom, I'm bleeding".

Blood always induces panic, and soon the other boys were jumping to see the level of gore and shouting reactions that quickly threw the injured boy into a panic. By the time I had walked across the room, I not only had an injury to deal with, but crowd control and full blown panic. (Really? Right before dinner?) I saw there was a quantity of blood issuing from between the boy's toes. I quickly grabbed a washcloth and applied pressure to the injury, then I looked up at all three boys and smiled, saying in the calmest, most confident mama voice I could manifest, "Everything is fine. Please take a deep breath and calm down. We are going to take care of this." Of course, at times like these my outward demeanor and the reality inside are completely different. Anytime one of my kids is injured all my mama fears rear their head. But in order to keep everyone calm, I've learned to quiet those thoughts and stay calm and reassuring.

After a moment I lifted the cloth to get a view of the injury. Somehow, the boy  had managed to slice his foot open between his baby toe and the next one. Blood immediately started to gush again. I asked my husband to get the cayenne powder from the kitchen. I placed a nice pinch of the powder into the wound and reapplied pressure to stop the bleeding. Then I turned my attention to my boy. He was shaking and he voice betrayed his panic. The damage of his brothers' reactions was done. I assured him that the injury was not that bad, that the blood would stop in moment and we would take care of it. Then I checked his foot. Although the baby toe was smashed up, it was not broken. Also, there was no noticeable nerve damage. I felt confident that we could deal with this injury without a trip to the hospital. Once the bleeding stopped, we went into the bathroom and ran water over the wound to clean it out. I also pour some hydrogen peroxide over it. It soon began bleeding again and my boy's panic started to escalate. I packed the wound with more cayenne, used a butterfly bandage to close the fleshed and wrapped gauze around his foot, taping it in place. Then, I took my boy into the living room and sat him down. I gave him flower essences for trauma and stress, and put a washcloth soaked in diluted lavender essential oil on his forehead. By this time he was shaking uncontrollably. I spoke to him soothingly about how he had a fright, but he would be OK. He needed to try to relax and take some deep breathes. Soon the shaking stopped and he was able to talk normally. Half an hour later, we even managed to eat dinner. The crisis was handled, but that injury needed daily attention in order to heal properly.

Now, the biggest concern with an open wound like this is to keep out infection until the wound is closed. That becomes even more tricky with a foot injury. For the first week, my boy was still very squeamish about his injury and not wanting me to touch it too much. We washed it once a day, changed the bandage, and applied some topical herbs, usually in the form of a diluted yarrow tincture (anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and to promote healing). Then I generally left it alone. After about a week though, I wasn't happy with the progress. While one side of the wound seemed to be healing nicely, the other side (going down between the toes) was not knitting together as fast, and even appeared a bit inflamed. This side was also extremely tender. At this point I had a serious talk with the boy. I told him we had to be more vigilant with taking care of this injury. He started to hem and haw, so I laid it out for him…it's either you help me do what we need to do, or we go to the doctor. Now I had his compliance.

So we started doing soaks twice a day. For wounds like this, I have found that nothing beats an herbal soak. The warm water really helps to open the pores and allow the herbs to get deep into the wound and tissue to do their stuff. Here is the way I made his soaks…

Since I usually have quite a large supply of dried herbs in the pantry, I always try to use what I have on hand. I wanted herbs that were strongly anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and promoted healing (but not too much…no comfrey, which may promote cell regeneration too quickly and seal in any infection present). I settled on a combination of oregon grape root (disinfectant and anti-bacterial), yerba mansa (anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory), yarrow (anti-inflammatory and anti-septic), calendula (promotes healing, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic), and chaparral leaf (strongly anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory). I could have used any number of other herbs, but these were present in the pantry and seemed also to call out to me as I pondered what to use. (Never ignore the voices of the herbs themselves)

To make the strong tea for soaking, I filled a small glass pot with water, brought it to a simmer on the stove, and added a small handful of oregon grape root and a pinch of yerba mansa. I simmered this for 10 minutes, then strained the tea and added it to a mason jar into which I had placed a small handful of yarrow leaves and flowers, a small handful of calendula flowers, and a pinch of chaparral leaves. I added more hot water to bring the water level up to a quart. Then I put a lid on the jar and let is all steep until the temperature had come down to a comfortable level for soaking (still warm, but not hot enough to burn…comfortable) After a bit of experimenting, we discovered that the best vessel for foot soaking, at least for a small foot, is a bread pan. I left the butterfly on, but removed all other bandages and had my boys soak in this concoction for at least 30 minutes morning and evening, making the tea fresh each time.

Within only a couple days of this treatment, there was noticeable improvement. The wound was no longer tender, inflammation was gone, and we could see signs of healing. We kept this protocol up faithfully for a full two weeks, noticing improvement every day. After the first week there was a nice scab formed over the entire wound, protecting it from bacteria and debris. Once the scab was formed, I added comfrey root to the simmering herbs to speed up the healing. We continued with the soaks and one day the scab fell off, revealing a beautiful new layer of skin over the wound. Yay!

Now, I offer this story as an example and encouragement on the path of the healing plants. But I must also say that if I didn't feel qualified to treat this wound, I would not have attempted it. I have studied herbal treatments for first aid and I also have experience working with herbs to treat minor wounds. I knew the injury was not serious beyond my level of competence, or I would have turned to professional medical help. However, as the vast majority of healing issues we experience around here are minor, I am more often than not able to handle them myself. It is empowering for me, as a mother, but also for my children, to see that for most things, we can take care of ourselves (with the help of the healing plants, of course).

I also apologize for the lack of photos in this post. It pains me to have such a wordy post without the intermittent photos. While I do pride myself in my ability to remain calm and composed while examining a bit of gory flesh, I don't particularly like looking a photographs of open wounds. When I see them posted on other sites, I have the tendency to quickly scroll down so they are out of view. Therefore, I have no photos of the lovely open wound for you, only the beautiful healed area with newly grown skin. Forgive me.

Thoughts on Despair and Hope

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 15:51
saw tooth oakIt's February. Every February is a bit of a challenge for me…the last month of winter, and often the coldest. I long for the warm sunshine on my skin, for gentle breezes, for fresh greens in the garden, for the buzz of insects. I long to open the windows again, to fall asleep to the sound of peepers and creek gurgle, and awake to the raucous chorus of birdsong. February is often the hardest month because we know that very soon now things will begin to change swiftly. Already there are stirrings…sap rising in the trees, buds swelling, bulbs beginning to push their greens up through the soil. I become excited at the first hint of yellow in the emerging witch hazel blooms…but then comes more snow and more freeze.

witch hazel
When I was a teenager I would often decide at this point to just act as though spring were here. I would go to school in shorts and a tee shirt. I got a lot of weird looks, but I do remember a dear art teacher commenting, "April, you are like a breath of fresh air". That made me smile. Maybe those early signs of spring from the garden are there for our spirits as much as anything else…little signs of hope from Mother Nature to say, "don't despair, spring is coming". 
I'm grateful for them, all those little signs of hope, because not despairing gets more difficult every winter. In the summertime it is easy. The garden is full of life and activity. There is so much to do and marvel at that little attention is spared for the larger view. In the wintertime though, when we are closed up indoors in our quietude, my attention wanders to goings on beyond my little protected earthspace. What I see scares the crap out of me. Our rainforests and boreal forests being destroyed, our water polluted, oil spills weekly, the oceans in terrible states…How can we continue to do this to the earth?

Years ago, when I first began this garden on this little piece of land, it was with the belief that no matter where we found ourselves, we could start to make things better. By working in a respectful and loving way with Nature and Mama Earth, we could start the healing process, begin to mend the wounds of the land, begin to heal the rift between humans and Nature. Through gardening, and I'm not just talking about planting a vegetable patch, but tending a garden that becomes our home, one that cares for us because we care for it, a garden of co-creation and interdependence, though this practice we could begin to find our way back to the way of life we were meant to live on this planet.

Every year brought me more hope as I witnessed life returning to this small patch of earth. Barren pastureland became a butterfly meadow, full of wildflowers. Trees and shrubs invited more and more birds. Building the soil every year filled the earth with life and held the water. Just being in the garden, so full of life, filled the heart with joy. Making medicine and meals from our harvests satisfied more than our bellies. I wondered at the reason for folks actually preferring a lawn of mowed grass over this.

mugwortSometimes I have to ask myself, what is the value really of trying to restore a balanced relationship with the land on less than two acres, surrounded by fields of mono crop corn and soybeans. But I know I'm not the only one trying to find their way back. The world is dotted with individuals and families, communities even, who are trying to find a different way to live, one based on reciprocity for the gifts of the earth, that doesn't take anything for granted. The question is, are we enough? Is this work happening fast enough? Because the machine of industry is eating up what they call resources, and what I call Life so fast I shudder to think what will be left when my grandchildren are born.

asian pear budsBut I can't lose hope, because Nature never does. She keeps on patching things up the best she can, with weeds coming up to repair the deadpan, and bacteria proliferating to eat up the toxins. Like a good mother, she never gives up. And so I take my cue from the great Mother. This spring I will continue to plant my seeds and offer thanks for the life surrounding me. But I will also continue to sign the petitions, to state that I do not consent to taking more than we need and give nothing back. It's time we took a hard look at what the destruction our way of life in the modern age has wrought on the earth, and ask if we truly consent to this…for what? For cheep plastic crap, denatured food and a lifestyle full of emptiness because it is cut off from the natural world?

monarda flower headThe architecture of Nature in the dead of winter holds more beauty and inspiration for me than anything I could buy in Walmart. What can each of us do? We can plant a garden, anywhere we can, and then let it teach us (oh, the garden has so much to teach). I wonder, can we slow down enough, quiet down enough, to listen to Life? I hope so. Can you hear her? The Earth is calling us home.

Things I love to hear folks say after my classes...

Thu, 08/07/2014 - 11:15
photo by Lisa DeNardo
When I was 20 years young and still very inexperienced at living on my own, I came down with something very nasty. I felt like I was going to die, and it scared the crap out of me. I didn't know what to do. My first instinct was to call mom. It seemed the most natural thing to do. After all, she had taken care of three kids through countless health issues. Surely she would know. I don't know what I expected, maybe some sound advice about resting and eating and then comforting words about how everything will be all right. What she said, however, was "well, go to the doctor". 
I took her advice and did go to the doctor. I don't remember much of it now. I was probably given an antibiotic (which was probably useless for my cold or flu) and sent back home. But what I do remember is the feeling of helplessness. I didn't like the fact that I didn't know how to take care of myself when I was sick. But it was even more unsettling that my mother couldn't help me either. I can't blame her of course. She, like so many others of her generation, was a product of the "better living through chemistry" era. The relied upon home remedies of a couple generations ago had been eschewed, to be replaced by the pharmaceutical wonder drugs that promised to eradicate all disease. What was lost, along with the old knowledge of traditional healing ways, was a sense of self empowerment in our ability to take care of very basic health issues on our own.

I think that experience was the first time I felt that loss. I could not, at that time, articulate this sense of loss, because I didn't really have any experience of having a traditional healing system to draw upon. It was more like an ancestral memory, a sort of deep knowing that things used to be different, that there was a time when calling mom for help with healing was the most natural thing to do, that mothers were healers, and the fact that that was no longer true was something to be deeply concerned about. 
This felt sense, that something was amiss, has led me in countless ways along my journey. And when I eventually came to study the healing plants, I had the sense that a piece of the puzzle was found. What could be more empowering then relying on the plants growing around us to keep us healthy and soothe our ills and discomforts. The knowledge of how to use these plants lifted me out of my fear to a place of empowerment. And as I began to use these healing plants, my confidence grew, and my doctor's visits decreased. When I started having children of my own, I was able to take care of the inevitable and constant minor boo boos and health issues that came up. What an amazing feeling. 

This is the feeling I try to put forth in my class…that sense that herbal medicine is incredibly empowering. Yes, we still need health care practitioners to help us in many situations, but there is quite a lot we can handle on our own, if we know how and have the allies to help us. Even then, when you have the information and the herbs on hand, it can be frightening to take that leap, to trust yourself instead of an "authority figure". At that point, we are standing at the precipice of reclaiming our power. (Do we dare?) 
And so, when folks come back to me and describe how they have handled a challenge on their own, where they otherwise would have run to the doctor, that is when my heart soars. In the telling of these stories there is at first an element of fear, of uncertainty. They are not quite sure they can do this. Maybe they give themselves a time frame (If I don't start to feel better by tomorrow, I'll go to the doctor). They feel a little safer, so they try. When they start to feel better, their confidence is boosted, so they continue.  Now they are noticing a big difference. Maybe this is the first time they have even been so bold. When they are well again, the magic happens. They are empowered, and they are on fire. They can't wait to tell me. I never get tired of hearing these stories.

But even with the satisfaction of empowering other people to reclaim the herbal tradition, I will always be most grateful for having reclaimed it myself, for my own children. Recently my eight-year-old son developed a mild fever. This usually energetic and boisterous boy was tired and not feeling well. He spent the day resting on the couch, drinking lots of herbal teas while I took care of him. After a good night's sleep the fever was gone and he was nearly back to normal. At dinner that evening I thanked him for allowing his body to rest and drinking his tea so that he could get well quickly. He smiled and said, "yeah, I'm glad I have an herbalist for a mom". Oh my heart! With those words I knew I had healed my own sense of loss from all those years ago. My children knew they could look to their mother for that sense of comfort and healing. And I hope that one day they will provide the same sense of comfort to their own children. 

Inspiration on the Path of Herbalism

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 07:27
"What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
Oh let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet."

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I've always been drawn to the weeds and the wilderness, as Hopkins puts it. But then, to most young children, there is no distinction between weeds and wilderness. For a child recognizes the wild in all it's forms, from the large and impending wood lot at the end of the lane, to the dandelions bursting through a crack of asphalt in the parking lot. All is Nature in it's indescribable, but wholly palpable (to a child) form. The wild doesn't ask for permission, doesn't recognize rules, isn't proper, doesn't grow in rows, doesn't respect construction. In other words, the wild hasn't been tamed, obviously. But I think that is why it is so easily seen by children. Children, who have not yet been fully trained in the ways of society, i.e. tamed, find a delight in the wilds wherever they find it. But the more we grow, the more the adults try to school us in the ways of the world, the more we lose this connection, this ability to see the intelligence in the wild things around us, and the more we lose a sense of kinship with them.

I'm thinking about all this because recently another herbalist, in helping me find inspiration for a blog post, suggested the question, "What kind of herbalist are you?" In pondering this, I began to think about what I love about working with the plants, and then about what attracted me to this path in the first place, and then to that initial spark that first called my attention back to the wild things after many years of disconnection, and how magical that was for me. And then I realized that that spark that woke me up, that grabbed my attention years ago and reawakened in me a thing that had been asleep since childhood, that spark is what keeps me on this path, and what drives me to work in the way that I do. Sometimes in our lives we have moments of crystallization, when something breaks through our consciousness and suddenly we get it, that is we get something. And even though we can't really articulate to our fellow humans around us what it is that we suddenly "get", we are changed in that moment, and able to see things we previously could not. This is how it was for me when, in my early 20's, I saw the wild all around me as an ever presence benevolent force that I was somehow a part of. And in that realization, the flood of childhood memories of a time where this knowing was just a part of who I was, who we all are before we are taught otherwise, came rushing in.

For me, this awakening was sparked by the weeds. I had been studying medicinal herbs (that's a very technical and society-approved term for wild plants that can help us heal) and at some point it began to dawn on me that many of the offending things that we call "weeds" and love to complain about and pull (even if we throw our back out) and spray with poison that makes our children sick and really have  downright declared war against because we loath them so, many of these plants could also be called medicinal herbs. What? 
I started to look at my back yard differently. I started to wonder what was really going on there. And I started to question that weird distinction our culture seems to have made so long ago between the wild and the civilized. I started to wonder, as I hiked through the preserved patches of forests outside of town, why we separate ourselves from the wild (or try to), with us over here, and the "preserve" over there. Over the years I've come to understand that, whatever the reason for the initial separation, the result is a whole society of humans who are so disconnected from the Nature they are a part of, they have no problem at all in destroying it. There is no remorse in  chopping down trees or poisoning rivers. We've gotten quite good at it. But for those who have that connection intact, these acts are traumatic to witness.

When my oldest son was five years old, the road crews were trimming the trees along the power lines on our road. When they got to our house, they began to trim some of the limbs on the big silver maple by our driveway. My son began screaming and crying. I could not calm him down and he became so enrages he started throwing sticks at the crew. I picked him up and brought him inside, where I listened to his pain. They had not asked permission before they started cutting that living tree that he had known all his life, that he still recognized a kinship with. I held him and we cried together. I tried to explain to him that they meant no harm and were only trimming branches away from the wires, but in my heart I knew my son was right. The problem was not the tree, but the fact that to those workers the tree was just a thing to be trimmed, they had lost that connection.

And so this is why I work with the plants. It is a way for me to work every day to rekindle that connection, for me to try to preserve it in my children, and to try, in any way I can, to rekindle it in those around me. This is why I chose to teach (instead of say, become a clinical herbalist), and why I teach outside, in the garden, with the living plants. I want to inspire that awakening in people, I want to open their eyes and their hearts to the wonder that exists right in their back yards, in the cracks in the pavement. I want them to taste calamus root, to feel mullein, to smell meadowsweet, and to see the patterns and geometries of these incredible plants. And then, I want them to begin to shift their perception about their relationship to this green world. It may sound like a grand goal, but when someone suddenly understands the value of dandelion and plantain in their lives, when they can become grateful for their gifts, the shift has begun. 

And when I get ladies coming back to my classes and relating stories about telling their husbands not to mow over there, or weed over here, my heart is happy. Yes, I want to help folks with their eczema and digestive issues, but healing that disconnect is where my real passion dwells. It is what drives me and keeps me on this path. It is what inspires me. I love it.

And once one begins to accept the possibility that those "weeds" growing around us might not be all that bad, well maybe that will open the door to connecting with Nature at large, perhaps even beginning to heal our kinship with her. Well, we've got to start somewhere.

Now Accepting Sign-Ups for 2014 Herbal Medicine Shares!

Sun, 03/23/2014 - 16:32

2014 Summer Herbal Medicine Shares!!!Five months of herbal medicine, May through September

As the garden begins to awaken and the wild greens start to burst from the ground, my thoughts are turning once again to a new season of herbal medicine making. Every year brings new inspirations along with old tried and true recipes. Each growing season I offer an herbal medicine subscription program during the growing season. Each month will feature handcrafted herbal products made with local, chemical-free plants which I grow and wildcraft myself. I believe that the quality of these products is a direct result of working with vibrant, fresh healing herbs, along with my love and respect for the gifts of the green world. Knowledge, experience, creativity and gratitude come together to form unique and nourishing products that preserve the vitality of the plants. I am honored to do this work and share this medicine with my community. 

Each pick-up will include three handcrafted herbal products for first aid or daily use and will be accompanied by an informative e-mail about the products and how to use them.
Folks who come out to pick up their shares will also have the option of taking fresh cut herbs home with them as well.
    Just like a vegetable CSA, the exact contents of your share will depend on the season and what grows well this year. Last year's shares included many products I hope to make again, including...
    • healing salve
    • burn salve
    • skin creams
    • lip balms
    • healing oils
    • relaxing teas
    • wellness elixirs
    • herbal tea blends
    • ...and many others.

    By the end of the season your herbal medicine cabinet will be stocked with lovely handcrafted, locally grown, ethically wildcrafted and chemical-free herbal products.  But...I'm only accepting 20 shares per season. 
    This year's summer herbal medicine share will start in May and run through September. That's five months of herbal goodies to look forward to.

    The cost for the season is...
    $200 per share ($230 with shipping option)

    Each share will be available for pick up the first week of each month.
    Folks can arrange a date and time to come out and pick up their shares.
    I will ship orders out the first Monday of each month.

    Folks in Delaware will be able to pick up their shares this year at a location in the Wilmington area.

    Sign up by e-mailing me at 
    I look forward to making medicine for you this season, and sharing the gifts of the healing plants.

    Thoughts on Living Close to the Earth...

    Tue, 02/11/2014 - 20:52

    One of the many things I love about studying herbal medicine is the way it naturally draws you closer to the earth. I suppose it is possible to become an herbalist and not move any closer in your relationship to the earth...if one were to be very clinical and sterile and only work with the plants in their processed form from suppliers. However, for the most part, nearly any path into herbalism involves some kind of an invitation to meet Nature on a more intimate level than most westerners are used to. It starts with noticing the plants we are studying growing wild around us, and then noticing a bit more about the wild around us. Perhaps we begin an herb garden, and soon we are digging in the earth and meeting the creatures that crawl under our feet. Gardens invite in the birds and toads. The sun begins to warm us and the wind speaks in our ears. If we dare to get lost in the rhythms of nature for too long we may even find ourselves moving into that place of resonance where, even if only for a moment, we realize that we are a part of this mysterious natural world as well, no matter how far we have pretended to be removed from it. From here it is only a short step to the desire to live closer the earth, to organize our daily lives in such a way as to honor and respect this relationship, to cultivate it, to live in alignment with the laws of this beautiful natural world we are so intimately connected to.

    When I was in my twenties, I fell in love with Tasha Tudor. I never met her, except through photographs in books. But these photos mesmerized me. So beautiful was this woman to me, who had chosen to live so electricity, heating with wood, a hand water pump in her sink...yet every aspect of her life was infuse with the simple beauty of her daily life. She lived with the seasons and did the work of living, not complaining about the burden, but embracing the joy to be found in each task. Something in my heart longed for this simple beauty in daily life. Some ancient memory was stirred by these photos of this sweet old woman smiling contentedly like the Buddha in her garden. I just knew there was a very important message for me here. Tasha is now gone from this world and can no longer tend her beautiful garden, but through the example she lived, she has planted seeds of inspiration in the hearts of countless others who recognized the treasure she had found. I wanted some of that treasure, and now, as I approach my fortieth year, I feel like I am beginning to discover the same treasure for myself. 

    What started with a knowing in my heart, blossomed over the years to a slow and steady tweaking of my life and lifestyle. Making little changes, and at times big changes, but always drawn along by the wisdom awakened in my heart. I wanted to live close to the earth, to ebb and flow with the seasons, to simplify my needs and indeed to nourish and be nourished by natural world around me. I wanted my children to grow up in a garden, to know where food comes from and to eat that vibrant food still warm in the sun. I wanted to grow my own medicines and learn the weeds (and love them). I wanted to live on the same piece of land for many many years, to learn from it, love it, watch it change with the seasons and the years, and give back to it...become a part of it.

    As the years moved by and my babies grew along with my garden, my partner and I slowly made the changes that we were able to live more gently on the earth. We switched from heating with oil to wood.  Now most of our wood comes from trees on surrounding farms that either fall down or are trimmed. We decided to do away with our clothes dryer and dry everything either outside on the line, or inside by the wood stove. Our simple construction projects are built with local reclaimed lumber and salvaged materials as much as possible. We switched to a composting toilet system that allows us to return nutrients to the land. There is still so much more to do as we consider meeting energy needs more sustainably and continuing to learn more life skills along the way. But we are moving in that direction every day.

    As we move further along this path, the rhythm becomes more established. There are tasks to complete each day and these tasks change with the seasons. We are tending the land, cooking our food, maintaining our house, preparing for the winter, and the spring garden... we are taking care of each other within a meaningful relationship with the earth. But at the same time, it doesn't feel like work, it feels like life. And because we have simplified our needs enough to maintain this lifestyle on a very modest income, we are home more than we are elsewhere. 

    As the trees we planted in reclaimed pastureland become taller, as new birds appear, as the diversity around us increases, my heart becomes filled with joy that is hard to describe. It is like watching someone who was dying come back to life, and realizing you never knew they were dying until you saw what they were like fully vibrant. As the land becomes vibrant, our energy in turn is nourished. How many of us believe that the earth, feeling our love, will then return love to us? How many of us know it, because we have felt it? Once you have a relationship such as this with the land, once you open yourself up to feeling that love, I can tell you that you will also feel pain and suffering of the earth when you visit areas of abuse and destruction. I very rarely go to the city anymore. I just cannot take that energy for long. And when I do, I am filled with gratitude to be back in my earthspace, so much that I often will fall down to kiss the earth.

    But we all know it is all connected. There is only one earth we all live on, and she is the same earth in the city as in my garden. She takes in all our energy and does the best she can to support the life on her body. My garden, my way of living as gently as I can on this earth, is my way of helping her in some small way. I suppose, like Tasha Tudor, I am hoping my example will plant the seed in others, so that more people do what they can to love the land they live on, to treat her gently, to nourish her with love and kindness, she does feel it I can tell you. And she will return that love in beautiful ways.

    I'm thinking all these thoughts lately, about how we have set up our life, because we recently lost power for two days because of an ice storm. Some folks around here were without power for much longer. And though it is often very difficult to lose power for an extended length of time in this day and age, I can say that we were quite comfortable. At this point we have not become completely independent of the grid, but we have come far enough along to experience these disruptions and minor inconveniences instead of the major ordeals they are to many others. We don't worry about losing heat, we can easily switch to using oil lamps, and although we don't yet have a hand pump for water, we do have drinking water stored in the pantry. We don't even need to flush our toilets. To be honest, the most difficult part of losing power is having three boys who are used to using the computer for so many things, but even they start to appreciate the simplicity of letting go of that last bit of false light that remove us from the environment around us. When we are not worried about meeting our daily survival needs, losing power becomes a beautiful invitation to appreciate the natural beauty around us, yes even after an ice storm. 

    We are not there yet. And will never simplify to the level of Tasha Tudor. But we are becoming more conscious of how our lifestyle impacts the earth we live on, the earth we are a part of. I am grateful for the distance we have come, and I look forward to moving further along this path. Our daily lives can be lived in artful beauty, in loving give and take with the natural world. Some call it walking the beauty way. For me, it becomes more and more like breathing, like the simple in breath and out breath that just feels right in my heart.

    And so, as we ready ourselves for another winter storm this week, I am grateful for the changing seasons, for the sleeping earth beneath the snow, for the medicines in my pantry crafted in my garden, for the wood keeping us warm and the spirits dancing in the empty branches. In a few weeks winter will ebb and the earth will green. It's already beginning, with a stirring as buds swell and sap flows. The same changes occur within ourselves. Can we recognize this connection? Can we honor it? 

    2014 Folk Herbalism Series

    Fri, 01/03/2014 - 02:19

    Herbal medicine has been the medicine of the people in all cultures since ancient history. Only in recent times have we lost our connection with the healing plants that our ancestors knew and relied on. But the plants are still here, growing all around us, and waiting for us to remember their gifts. This series of three hour classes was designed with the beginner in mind, as a way of offering practical ways of using these safe healing herbs, and reconnecting with the plants around you. Each month we focus on one topic, but I always include brief herb walks in the garden to introduce the living plants. Also, folks will bring home from each class either a living plant for their garden, or an herbal product we make in class. This year's classes will all be held on the second Sunday of the month, except for May, which will be on the first Sunday because of Mother's Day.

    April 13th  Food as Medicine-Spring tonics growing wild in your yardIdentify the herbs and weeds that are most nourishing and toning to our systems. Learn how to harvest and use these plants as edibles and infusions. Prevention is the best medicine, and many of the wild plants are loaded with the nutrients we need to stay healthy and energized throughout the season. We will be tasting some simple recipes made with these nutritious and tonic plants.

    May 4th Herbal First AidLearn what herbs to reach for when those little emergencies happen. We will look at my favorite plants to turn to for cuts, scrapes, bruises, bleeding, pain, poisoning, diarrhea, infections, bites, burns and other minor emergencies. Nature offers abundant and safe solutions to heal our traumas. We'll be getting to know some of my most relied upon plants.

    June 8th Tinctures and ElixirsLearn to make your own tinctures and elixirs to last all winter. These potent and portable herbal preparations will preserve your herbal bounty, and making them is easier than you think. We'll be making some in class.

    July 13th Oils and SalvesHerbal oils and salves can heal and soothe, stimulate or relax. In this class we'll make some together and look at recipes and techniques for making your own at home. 
    August 10th Poultices and FomentationsFrom chew and stick poultices in the field to carefully prepared fomentations in the kitchen, we'll look at the lost art of laying on the herbs. These techniques are useful for anything from treating minor skin problems to helping broken bones heal faster to drawing out toxins and poisons and infections.
    photo by Amelia Rehrman

    September 14th Harvesting and Preserving
    We'll cover harvesting techniques for varies plants and their parts, with a bit of wildcrafting ethics thrown in. We will also discuss various ways to preserve your herbal harvest.
    (tinctures and oils will be briefly discussed in this class, but are more thoroughly covered in previous classes)

    October 12th Digging the MedicineFall is the time to dig the roots, both physical and proverbial. We'll be talking about underground medicine (literally and figuratively). Come unearth some healing roots while discussing the history of the suppression of herbal medicine and why it continues, like a stubborn root in the garden, to persist.
    November 9th Teas and SyrupsTisane, Infusion, Decoction...what's the difference? Teas are among the most simple and effective of herbal medicines. We'll sip some in class and make some sweet syrup too. This class will also focus on herbs and recipes that are useful as we move into cold and flu season.

    All classes will be from 10am to 1pm
     at my home and garden outside of Oxford, Pa.

    Space is limited to 15 per class, so sign up early to reserve your spot.

    Cost is $40 per class ($10 for interested young people)In the event of cancellation due to weather, 
    classes will be rescheduled for the following Sunday

    **Adults who wish to sign up for the entire season of classes can do so for a 
    discounted price of $280
    (however, I cannot refund money for missed classes)
    To sign up, e-mail me at

    I look forward to sharing another season of herbal medicine!
    Photos in this post by Earth Mama

    My Herbal First Aid Bag

    Tue, 12/03/2013 - 11:02
    Carrying herbal remedies with us when we travel is another way to be prepared when accidents happen, which happen to happen more often when traveling with kids. I've had many different ways to carry my herbal first aid kit over the years. Sometimes it has worked great and provided just what I needed. Other times I've found myself not having access to a needed remedy or adequate supplies. This spring I brushed up a bit on herbal first aid with 7Song's herbal first aid course through Learning Herbs. 7Song runs the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine. He has mega first aid experience and his herbal first aid bag is incredible. The course really inspired me to put some more thought into my own first aid bag and really think about the remedies and supplies I might need. It's still a work in progress, but I feel it is at least ready to use, and therefore present as one solution to the question...
    So what does an herbal first aid bag look like?

    I wanted a bag that was sturdy, light weight, not too fancy, not too big, but adequate for carrying the supplies I needed. I finally decided on a small canvas that cost me less than ten dollars. It looked very drab and militaristic, so I sewed on some fabric more to my liking. I'm sure the appearance will continue to morph over time, but for now I am happy with the bag itself.

    Everything inside is packed neatly and securely, but within easy access. There are two smaller, zippered bags which are foam lined inside the main compartment. I used these to hold my glass bottles so there is no risk of breakage. Other items are tucked around these two bags.

    The zippered bags are easily removed from the big bag.

    The first zippered bag basically contains the contents of what used to be my whole first aid kit. These items are my essential that I don't leave home without...the bare minimum. You can see how the writing on the labels is faded and smudged. These remedies have traveled with me for a few years now and have been quite used. They include...a liniment, blackberry root glycerite, skullcap tincture, shepherd's purse tincture, echinacea tincture, anti-spasmodic tincture, rescue remedy, lavender essential oil, a bag of bandages, and a handkerchief. If I need to travel light, I can simply remove this small bag and toss it in my shoulder bag.

    The second zippered bag carries the additional tinctures I wanted to add to my first aid bag. They include oregon grape root, propolis, osha, cramp bark, yarrow, and calamus. I've also included an empty dropper bottle in case I need to mix up a combination tincture for someone or give them a dosage bottle. The last item in this bag is one eye piece from a an old set of swimming goggles. This is to be used as a travel eye wash cup so I don't need to pack a glass one. (I can't remember who gave me that idea, but I think it is genius.) All of the glass dropper bottles are half ounce size.

    The rest of the contents of the big pocket are tucked around the two zippered bags. They include my inventory list, a thermometer, a bandage roll, a roll of vet wrap, three kinds of tape, charcoal powder, cayenne powder, an anti-inflammatory salve, an all purpose salve, a burn salve, a throat spray, a pair of reading glasses (useful when removing small splinters), and two ABD pads.

    My bag also has two small pockets on the front. In one of these I have bandages of various sizes, including butterfly bandages and steri strips. In the other I have gauze and a pair of latex gloves.
    And that's about it. Like I said, it is a work in progress and I'm sure it will morph over the years, but I'm  pretty happy with it for now. My bag hangs on a hook in the mud room, not far from the car keys. On my way out the door I grab it and plunk it in the car, which is usually where it stays, as I'm not often too far from the car these days. But it is light weight enough that it wouldn't be a problem to carry it along either. The removable essentials bag inside is great for conveniently carrying my most basic remedies (I will not be caught again at a wedding without my blackberry students know what I refer to here). Many thanks to 7Song for inspiring this process and for his herbal first aid teachings!!!

    Musings Down the Path...

    Mon, 11/18/2013 - 15:10
    mullein and me through a pin hole camera ~2001
    I have come to realize lately that herbalism is my path. I don't mean simply that working with the healing plants is the career choice I have made, but more of a deeper study, a walking with, a way of being and seeing and exploring this earthly experience. Anything can be your path. For many people, religion is their path, but I feel that we can arrive at the deep understandings that life has to offer through just about any exploration, and the correct path for each individual is the one that makes their heart sing, the one that calls to them in soft whispers and tempts their curiosity.

    For me, plants have always done this. And though I've always known that I have been drawn to working with the plants, I have only recently had the perspective to look back and see the beginnings of spiritual framework I didn't even know was being formed, all based on my work with the green ones.

    Right from the beginning there has been a sense of wonder, of awe, in discovering the magic of the plants. Yes, we understand now more than ever the biological functions of botanical organisms and how they interact with the world, but we still are not anywhere near understanding all of it. And it seems the more we do understand, the more amazing it all seems.

    Rumi once said we should trade our cleverness for wonder. And I am in wonder at the amazingness of the green world. They provide the air we need to breathe, they provide food that nourishes our body, and many other essentials for our lives. We've known about these gifts. But we are just beginning to understand how very amazing the green world really is. We are just beginning to understand that trees in a forest communicate with one another, and even share resource! We are just beginning to understand that the plants remove toxins, not just from our bodies, but from the earth! (yes, the herbicides you spray on your lawn will actually attract more weeds in the long run) We are just beginning to understand that we are biologically adapted to be in relationship with the green world, that we need a bit of the wild to be truly healthy, both physically and mentally.

    When I first began to study the healing plants, I was amazed that the weeds growing outside my door could be used to restore my health. I now realize they do so much more. The healing plants are one of Nature's players on this living planet, and she moves them where they are needed most, whether it is our backyards, a crack in the pavement, or a Superfund site. The plants are working to clean up our mess as fast as they can. They are remineralizing the soils and breaking up hardpan. They are cleaning the wetlands and the waterways. They are removing chemicals and radiation. They are cleaning the air and feeding the entire plant kingdom. And they do all of this in the environment of our own bodies as well. How could we ever expect to outdo Nature in her infinite wisdom when it comes to bringing things back into balance?

    And so, I walk my path, working with the plants, but also smiling with heart felt gratitude, for Nature's loving wisdom. And I wonder, how many of us can smile at every plant they see, no matter where it is growing, knowing that it is part of Nature's plan to bring things into balance again.

    Two New Medicine Shares for the Winter Months...

    Fri, 10/04/2013 - 05:10
    The winter months are almost upon us.And so, in the spirit of all that old man winter brings,Nettlejuice Herbals Announces...Two herbal medicine shares will be starting in November!

    This is the second year I am offering a Winter Wellness Sweet Medicine share. Each month, for four months, folks will receive one bottle of herbal syrup and one bottle of herbal elixir. Every month will feature different formulas designed to get you through the winter months in herbal sweetness. 

    This year I am also offering a Winter Skin Cream subscription as well. Each month will feature a different cream handcrafted and infused with herbal goodness. Just the thing to get through the dry winter months.
    Details for both of these shares can be found on the pages above.I will be accepting subscriptions for both shares until November 1st.
    May the seasons turn with you in joy and delight.

    Perilla frutescens

    Tue, 09/17/2013 - 10:33

    When this plant first caught my eye a few years ago I was so intrigued with its bold presence, strong structure and unique fragrance, I quickly set out identifying it. And once I realized what this beauty was I was overjoyed to have it growing in my earthspace. (This is often how I learn new plants these days...they come to me. It wasn't always this way. In my early days of plant identification I had it in my mind that I must be the intrepid wilderness hiker, traversing the landscape in search of the elusive medicinal wonders. And because I believed that, that is what happened. This is how I met poke, and skullcap, and mullein...only to realize that once I journeyed out across the vast woodland and fields to make these plants' acquaintances, I would then find them growing on the side of the road, in the vacant lot, through the cracks in the sidewalks. Ahhh, but that is the ultimate lesson in life. What we travel so far to seek is often right under our nose the whole time. But I am getting off the subject now. I wanted to introduce you to Shiso.....)

    Shiso, otherwise known as perilla, otherwise known as Chinese basil, otherwise known as wild red basil, otherwise known as purple mint, otherwise known as rattlesnake weed, otherwise known as beefsteak plant (I don't like that name), otherwise known as summer coleus, a plant of many names, but little known or used in this part of the world. Shiso is an asian plant from the mint family that was brought to the United States in the 1800's by Asian immigrants and has since natralized. It is easily recognized as a mint by its square stem, opposite leaves and tiny mint-like flowers. The leaves are very fragrant, like many plants from the mint family and to me smell like a licorice basil of sorts. The stems and flowers are purple, and even the green leaves have a hint of purple, some being very purple underneath...

    The plants in my garden are a good 4 to 5 feet tall right now and in full flower, with a very bushy and full structure. They could almost pass as small bushes. However, shiso is an annual and will die back at the end of the season, so harvesting now is priority for anyone who wants to make use of this lovely herb.

    The leaves are edible and have been traditionally served with sushi. Because they are warming and stimulating to digestion, they balance the cold of the raw fish (as do ginger and wasabi). Shiso has a long history of use in Chinese Medicine, though it is little known in the west. The plant is an important  lung and digestion herb, useful for treating many conditions. Its properties include antiasthmatic, antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitussive, aromatic, carminative, diaphoretic, expectorant, pectoral, restorative, stomachic, and tonic. What all of that means, basically, is that this plant is warming, calming, and toning, and will help to ease digestive woes, get rid of offending critters, ease a cough, expel fluid from the lungs and break a fever. All good stuff. Who wouldn't want it growing in their gardens?

    This morning I harvested fresh shiso leaves for my morning tea. Although it has a very mild flavor (sweet licorice basil, like I said), the warmth in my lungs and chest was very noticeable on this chilly fall morning. Shiso can be taken this way daily as a tonic for the lungs as we move into the colder months of the year. But I am also making medicine to have on hand for treating conditions as they arise. In addition to making an elixir and drying the herb for tea, I plan on combining shiso with other lung herbs like mullein and coltsfoot. I'm also wondering about a syrup. Hmmmm......

    Every new plant offers new possibilities. The best ones are the ones that come to you. Just leaving a little wild space in your yard invites them in. And with the right attitude, one of wonder, inquisitiveness, and gratitude, we can attract the most lovely beings into our experience.

    The weed that will not go away and that you continually notice in irritation, the plant that regularly trips you as you walk through the field. Such plants are often some of the most powerful medicines you will find. They stir something in your unconscious, breaking through your habituated not noticing, and intrude on you until you begin to take a real look at them.                                      Stephen Harrod Buhner, Lost Language of Plants