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A Forest Year

So, I decided to do this a week or so back, both because it’s fun to share, and  because I suspect some of my students might benefit. The idea is, just to take photos of my world here, especially the plants, over a full year, tracing the rhythms of nature and  sharing what I can about the flora and fauna of this much-loved part of the land. Maybe I will weave in a few stories and some magic as I go, we will see. ;)  At the least, I want to document the beauty and bounty of this wild  enchanted region. In pictures, which I am not so skilled at taking – and in words. And so,  I bring you,  A Forest Year.

First, to be clear. I don’t actually live IN a forest, though I hope to someday. I live, more accurately, surrounded by forest, I’m a dot in the centre of a bowl of farmland, rimmed all around by forests and hills. Kind of like the nucleus of a cell, my little house and garden. Just outside the village, just outside the forest – liminal space.  I often visualize my home as a glowing jewel, a New World Avalon, whose energy swirls out into the surrounding area. When I feel blessed and bountiful, I send some of that outwards.  It often seems to me that the ridges of rocky hills to my East and West look like the spinal ridges of sleeping dragons; the magic here is always vivid.

And never more than in the Spring.

I took a little wander today with camera and Ridgeback; it’s so early in the year but there are tantalizing images of what’s to come. So, because I tend to put off blogging until some perfect slot of time arrives-  and it never, ever does-  let me make a start. New Moon in Aries, that’s a good energy!  Here is what I photographed today.

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Before leaving my property, I snipped some lively young Comfrey pushing through the dead stuff, and my cherished Blue-eyed grass already putting out flowers. I love blue-eyed grass(Sisyrinchium spp)  for it’s delicate beauty and the fact it’s almost always the first bloom of spring. It rings the entrance way to the back filed, and now is growing enthusiastically in my  “faerie corner’ under the hawthorn, apple and raspberry cane.  There are medicinal uses: the root was used in decoction for children with diarrhea (Cherokee) but the root was also used by the Iroquois for constipation, suggesting an amphoteric effect. Most uses I could find pertain to gastrointestinal problems although  there were mentions of gynecological application in some bits of the literature (for cramps,injured womb). The leaves were eaten as a vegetable all across the continent, but the root gathered and used mostly for GI disorders.  I plan to investigate this plant more, for now the happy fresh presence of this flower is medicine enough for me.

Next, I wandered out back, off to the East, and found some lovely babies to share.P1340130P1340138P1340140P1340142

Clockwise from the left/top: ramps, trillium,  a straggly but determined little mullein,and trout lily.Give these guys two weeks and they’ll be glorious!

As I wandered around I couldn’t help but visit a very special tree, an ancient Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) who seems to preside over the Southeast corner of the land here, and whom I also associate with that sad incident last summer, where a local doe guarded the body of her dead fawn for three days before finally leaving. This is the tree, and the little “deer grove” the mother took shelter in. I plan to  make a solar cross of some kind to honour that tree and the lost fawn. Meanwhile, I gathered a great bunch of twigs to use in a besom I’m making this year.

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On my way home, I stopped to tie a prayer cloth – a “cloutie” as the old terrn has it – onto a dying hawthorn that hangs over a small spring out back. The hawthorn, like so many wild plants around here, is dying young because of the bombardment of herbicides poured into this sacred place every year. Last year the farmer who does this went nuts on the small springs that feed into Indian creek every spring, and it broke my heart so much. My prayer was for sanity to be restored, for the poisoning to stop, for whatever it takes to bring respect back, please, let it come. I left an offering of conifer shortbread and some herbs I blended for this petition, and a little silver. Here’s the cloutie, and here’s me, with mascara smudges from the tears my prayer brought.

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More on the cloutie tradition here: http://www.cornishwitchcraft.co.uk/clouties.html

One last check around the grounds and I found these youngsters:

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Motherwort, Wild strawberry and Dandelion.

And that, really, was it today. The birds are trickling back – I’ve seen and heard Song sparrows,  Dark-eyed juncos, Starlings, Canada geese and robins, as well as my darling Phoebe (one of the last to leave and first to come back every year). Every day we’ll see and hear new birds, such a big part of the beauty of the season. My deer have arrived too, but that emotional reunion is a topic for another entry.

For now, at least I got started – welcome to A Forest Year.   Let this year ahead be blessed with learning, healing, and joy.

Deep peace, a soft white dove to you;
Deep peace, a quiet rain to you;
Deep peace, an ebbing wave to you!
Deep peace, red wind of the east from you;
Deep peace, grey wind of the west to you;
Deep peace, dark wind of the north from you;
Deep peace, blue wind of the south to you!
Deep peace, pure red of the flame to you;
Deep peace, pure white of the moon to you;
Deep peace, pure green of the grass to you;
Deep peace, pure brown of the earth to you;
Deep peace, pure grey of the dew to you,
Deep peace, pure blue of the sky to you!
Deep peace of the running wave to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.

From “The Dominion of Dreams. Under the Dark Star
by Fiona Macleod, 1895

White Pine Heaven!

So, while we wait for  the first spring shoots to reach a wee bit more above ground – day lilies and comfrey are heading the pack but still very small – I went out on a white pine adventure, last week, with Danny of course! looking for  beautiful new branches to bring home and make medicine with. I had a stand in mind, a place we need snowshoes to access in winter,  but is easily reached in springtime. I took a thermos of my well-loved “Spring Mold tea” – (doesn’t that sound appetizing? but it’s the best blend ever for  these pesky allergies that plague me  every April) – my favorite gathering basket, and of course, my DanDan – and in about an hour had the most lovely and luscious basket of boughs, ready to process.

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The problem with harvesting anything, these days, is I am so infernally busy with my dayjob I need to squeeze in hours here and there to make sure I can get garbling and making; it’s not the harvesting that takes so much time. Just a couple of weeks ago I was emphasizing in class, the importance of setting aside time to process wildcrafted plants, don’t go to the trouble of picking them and then let them mold in a bag on the back porch! I knew this was going to be a task, but a task I love, so I have been working with the needles and  twigs over a few days, doing a bit here and then yesterday, several hours to finalize the job.
First; I took the boughs and sorted them into two piles, the very best for anything internal and the ones with slightly rusty tips for oils and perfume. With this batch there were more “perfect” boughs than I have ever seen, which was good as the bulk of what I’m making is indeed, for internal use.
Next, I snipped off the boughs I intend to use dried, and placed them in paper bags for drying. These will go into teas and a lovely herbal blend I adapted from a friend’s recipe, to be used as a seasoning for all kinds of culinary delights.
That’s Stage One, separation. Garbling (the process of making sure there’s no bird poop anywhere on your plants) is part of this, with any questionable looking branches set outside to feed the earth.
Stage two is usually  decided by what it is I absolutely cannot wait to make first. In this batch it was shortbread! I’ve made a lot of conifer treats over the years, but I found a recipe in which you actually simmer the butter first, and then strain out the needles – had to try it.  Here’s the end result:P1340080

Yes those are BARBERRIES in there, I am totally obsessed with them this year (and that’s another blog entry) and I did also take a handful of well diced up pine needles and threw them in as well. This is a delicious cookie, if I say so myself, but I found the texture a little too rich, if such a thing can be said about shortbread. I’m doing a second batch today with no simmering of the butter. But, I can attest – there will be barberries. There may be an orange-honey glaze as well. We shall see.

The next projects were tincture, honey, oil and elixir, and just a pint each as I am always making quarts of things and then they don’t get used. I give them away, often to people who squint at the label and say…slowly…”Dandelion and cacao bitters….umm, thank you! Do I, like, drink this?” and so on. Until I set up a little etsy shop, which to be fair will not be soon, I have vowed to make only what I can use –  and possibly, what I know for sure some of my local herb-geek friends can use as well. With these medicines, it’s not going to mean quarts.

Fruits of my labour:P1340067P1340068 P1340092

So, now you’re thinking, wow, a bunch of pine needles in Mason jars! well, true, but I WAS trying to take pictures in some cool outdoorsy settings – photography isn’t my best thing, but it’s fun anyway. Elixir, honey, oil and tincture. That might not sound like a lot, but since I insist on chopping everything by hand, it really is . (Ok, I used a grinder for the shortbread, but just that one). I feel that the process of working plant material by hand contributes to its medicine and bestows a peacefulness on both me and my house, the presence of a healing spirit, so I do the work mindfully and usually with both a special candle burning and the right music playing. (right for me that is, for someone else, Aerosmith or the Rite of Spring might work; for me, it’s Ani Williams, Hildegard von Bingen and the Waterboys). I have finally learned not to make wildcrafting yet another chore that must.get.done, or I lose that extra level of serenity and mystical peace it brings. Seems obvious, but we are all so busy these days, and  when we consider the idea of healing…of folk medicine…the very idea of being overbusy makes no sense at all.
So – today, some treats already made, some mediines brewing (I am doing an oxymel today and then this lovely chai I make with white pine) and much blessing on this house frm the beauty and egntle strength of Pinus strobus. I plan to do a full monograph on the Pinus spp later this year – you know, when I have time – but for now,  gratitude and appreciation for these magical beings we call trees. And for my beloved ally White Pine, the deepest love.
Now — what are YOU making today?

Introduction to Wildcrafting

Anyone who lives in this beautiful part of the world will know what I mean when I say, where the Hell is Spring? It’s been a long winter and I am so eager to get outside, planting and wandering. In Rupert, I have seen the first Great Blue Heron of the year, plus turkey vultures, a hawk of some description(too far to tell) and the yard is filled with starlings, grackles, and the unmistakable sound of spring – the redwings. Out with Dan early this morning I heard a lone Canada goose, and I do think he sounded disoriented.

But the weather has been unpleasant – teasing us with a sunny afternoon here and there, then back to the gloomy grey skies and yet.more.snow. My little patch of crocuses will pop up, say hello and almost as quickly be covered in wet, slushy snow. I have rarely been as  restless for sun, warmth and..wandering.

The class this Sunday is a kick-off to the season and sets us up for the walks ahead. Wildcrafting is wonderful, and the Hills are rich with medicine – but, there are guidelines to follow, tools you will need and some commonsense practises to bear in mind.  Part one of the class will cover all of this,  and after our break we’ll go over 25 local plants you can absolutely expect to find easily enough, and how to  make use of them.  The plants we’ll cover are:

Dandelion

Burdock

Plantain

Evening Primrose

Stinging nettle

St. John’s wort

Boneset

Gravel root

Yarrow

Chickweed

Motherwort

Mugwort

Solomon’s Seal (true and false)

Elder

Blue Vervain

Self heal

Mallows

Shepherd’s purse

Goldenrod

Mullein

Trillium

Comfrey

Raspberry leaf

Hawthorne

Coltsfoot

New England Aster

Cleaver’s

Agrimony

various Violets

and the Tree Medicines;Alder, Birch, Elm, Willow, Poplar and more.

That was more than 25…methinks.

This is an Introduction to Wildcrafting and by no means covers the plants we will be able to see when we start the walks locally. Last year I found Bugleweed (Lycopus americana) Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Spikenard (Actaea racemosa) all very close by, not that I took any! but it’s thrilling to see.

A few pictures from last season’s meanderings:

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Evening primrose, Oenothera biennis, in all her radiant loveliness

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Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum), White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis), Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)and probably a little baby Fraxinus(Ash) –  early growth, last year

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Blue Vervain, Verbena hastata, in my gathering basket last summer. I can’t wait for the summer!

Looking so forward to seeing you all, and to cocoa-quinoa cake, with wild rose syrup too of course.

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It’s Today! 1 PM to 5 PM

Spring is finally inching her way over the Hills, not fast enough for most of us, but She has definitely arrived. The morning’s light snowfall yesterday  was gone by mid afternoon. It was mild enough for me to fill feeders and do yard chores in just a sweater and scarf. The exuberant chorus of starlings as I sit on the porch drinking afternoon chai creates an energy all its own, with the warming air and longer light, we can feel the shift in our bones and heart. It has been a strangely long winter, and the Quickening comes not a moment too soon.

Today I am busily preparing for the get-together in Rupert. My own herbal journey has been a long one and yet always feels like it’s just beginning, again. The First Aid course I’m taking with 7Song opens me to a world of practise that isn’t a standard part of my work;  starting a number of seeds this year that I have not grown before teaches patience and humility as I learn their needs and ways, how I will care for the seedlings. I spent too much time at my desk especially in winter – academic learning is just bursting to be applied in real life situations (not necessarily First Aid, but I have added a few items and medicines to my traveling/field kit and like to feel I am now very well prepared!) Perhaps above all, I love medicine making, creating new formulations to ease skin irritation and tummy upset and hasten the passing of a cold. There is always more to learn, try and develop – more to share.

Herbal honeys for warmth, immune system health and wound healing

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Today, the emphasis is on two things;  offering prayers for the land at this Sacred Tide, sending out prayer for healing the human Spirit, and the land who suffers from our lack of both heart and vision. Some quiet time in meditation,  as I continue my search to do more of what I love and still stay on top of my many demands in life. Prayers for me, for the trees, for us all. I couldn’t let the Equinox pass unacknowledged, busy life or no busy life.
And the second order of the day is baking! With the Herbal Potluck today I am getting ready – cookies, a lovely primavera I adapted years ago from the old Silver Palate, emblematic cookbook of that giddy era! and syrups, tea blends, Medicine balls.  The classes in Rupert are in their infancy and with my professional schedule I have not been able to devote the time to them I would hope for,  but this is about to change. With Spring’s arrival comes outdoor time – “weed” walks, gardening, outdoor classes, discovery. I’m looking at an all- day workshop this summer, on medicine making, where we will make tinctures, honeys, decoctions, vinegars and oxymels, salves and lotions and more. Planning a monthly walk through various parts of the local fields and forests to identify our many medicinal herbs and trees. Just sitting on the porch chatting about herbs, sounds pretty good to me about now.

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So; today. In my haste – that rushing-around thing I alluded to earlier – I neglected to notice there was no time on the poster! well, it’s an Open House kind of deal, so doors open at One, but you can come by anytime. We’re not doing a class, just a get-together, and trying to set up the film, too! It looks like I’ll need to bring my own tv equipment over, but that’s ok, it’s a short film and worth seeing. The important thing in my view is, we kick off the season with food and community and plenty of herbs! I am stoked to see both new faces and of course, the regulars.

Let the year ahead bring us both personal and collective healing and  love; let the  magic and beauty of the Green World show us the way.

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Herbal Potluck in Rupert – this Sunday

Checking in here this morning I can scarcely believe it’s been so long – almost three months! since I updated this blog. It’s not that I don’t think about it, and compile ideas for entries in my little book beside the computer…its just a total lack of time and energy, after the demands of my day job (which bleeds into evenings and weekends) and the work around here I have taken on since my partner’s absences have grown longer and more constant. Although herbs, medicine-making, teaching and studying about plant medicine and indeed, everything to do with herbs is the central passion of my life, I am finding I have to fit it in as I can, after the clients, students, writing commitments and blogging associated with my day job.  This is a serious imbalance, and one I hope the year ahead will see corrected. I do love my work with dogs and, at the risk of sounding boastful, I feel I bring a rare level of understanding and knowledge to the work I do in therapeutic nutrition and herbalism for animals. I don’t want or intend to step away from that entirely. I do however, need more room for beauty, creativity, silence, learning, sharing and magic – all the aspects of my life as a herbalist (and not Cat the Dog Woman) and exactly what I need to balance the stress and pressure of client deadlines, endless arguing about raw diet, and compassion fatigue.

I think this coming Equinox/SuperMoon/Solar eclipse is a time of change for me at last. If you’re not sure what that means, read about it here: https://medium.com/@emjacobi/what-happens-when-a-solar-eclipse-coincides-with-the-first-day-of-spring-b35db3a508ca

and from an astrological perspective, here: http://comfychairastrology.blogspot.ca/

“A Solar Eclipse is a New Moon – a highly charged and powerful New Moon, thereby giving us an opportunity to manifest new things in our lives. Eclipses by nature are a time of endings and beginnings.  Usually both, as one needs to have an ending before they can have a shiny new beginning.  This is especially true now since the eclipse is at 29 degrees of Pisces…the last degree of the sign. There is something we need to finalize, or let go of before we can burst through.”

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What it all comes down to, for me, is I can no longer live out of balance, with work a nonstop endeavour, and the deeper path of beauty and balance brushed aside like fallen leaves in an autumn storm. I would wish this kind of transformative energy for all who attune to the wisdom of the stars, along with the courage to make use of it!.  As Joseph Campbell famously wrote” Follow your bliss!” and it sounds so simple, but I am well and truly terrified, at the same time exhilarated and energized. The classes in Rupert are one part of this movement toward a greater happiness and a sense of fulfilling my purpose.
And, I have a little celebration planned.

On Sunday March 22 – 2 days past the Equinoctial Super-shift, there will be an open house/herbal potluck at the Rupert Community Centre.

Unlike the past classes (and all the lovely offerings planned for the months ahead) this is more of a get-together, to share herbal goodies and celebrate the arrival of Spring. (One hopes we won’t have 3 feet of snow, as is all too possible in this part of the world, but happily, not expected this year). Bring a dish that features one or more of your favorite herbs – a garlic bread, a special pesto, a soup, salad, rice dish – a dessert. (I am definitely including chocolate as a herb here, of course). We are hoping to watch the wonderful film “Numen:The Healing Power of Plants”, just seeking the AV equipment we need! I’ll bring a table load of books to consider, and a number of my own herbal goodies and creations. This is to be a fun day of socializing and gathering connections for the year ahead.

http://www.numenfilm.com/film.php

Here is Caroline Citrine’s wonderful poster for the event.

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Registration is not required, but feel free to give me a call and let me know you’re coming. It helps to have an idea of how many rosemary/chocolate/wildcherry cookies to bake, for one thing.

I am so looking forward to seeing you soon!

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Upcoming Classes at the Rupert Community Centre

Well, we are two classes in, with much enthusiasm – it’s great fun for me, and there seems to be a need. To that end, I have booked dates through April and am setting up classes. Over the spring and summer I will be looking at two dates per month – one for formal classes and one for “weed walks”. For now, here is what we have set up. NOTE: All classes are on Sundays, for the time being.Each class will be written up in more detail as the date approaches.

January  18- Tree Medicine. We will look at medicinal uses of several local trees – not always understood as “herbal medicine” but all of them are important medicinal plants. We will look at Birches, Pines, Poplars, Alders, Cedar, Willows, Oak and several more common local species, with an eye to identification, folklore, traditional uses and even culinary applications (birch syrup, pine needle cake). We’ll probably need a second Tree session, but this is where we start.

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Paper birch, Betula papyrifera – one of the most easily identified of our local  deciduous trees, offers a range of medicinal uses

February  15 – I thought Kitchen Witchery worked here, as we are all stuck inside a lot of the time, in February, and  with Valentine’s Day, we  have the perfect excuse to make all kinds of intriguing sweets, too. The everyday herbs and spices we rely on in cooking, have a much wider range of medicinal applications than is often understood. Another advantage of doing this class at this time is, we can decide which of these herbs to grow and get those seed started. Many standard “culinary” herbs are real heroes in the  medicinal sense – think of thyme, oregano, sage,  turmeric, cayenne, ginger and garlic – you won’t have to worry about running out of herbs for medicinal uses, as long as your kitchen is well stocked with these and many more.

 8 and 22 – in March we have two dates – one for regular class, and one for a potluck celebration of the Equinox. The class will be one I call “Ten Herbs” in which we focus on the selection of getting to know 10 herbs indepth, as a basis for how we will learn more of them in future. It’s a process of finding an ally, but also understanding what actions we need to work with and what we can grow or find locally. A class I have taught in past, and always find so useful for students. There will be some prep, and some homework as well. But it’s all fun, I promise.
The Potluck is set for Sunday the 22nd, we’ll watch a screening of the herbal film Numen, and just eat, socialize, talk about our gardens and summer herbal plans, celebrate the end of winter and the start of the growing season. Please bring a herb-themed dish, of course!

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Turtlehead, Chelone glabra, grows locally and is a beautiful, underused plant for all kinds of liver disease.

April’s Class will be on the 12th, and the topic is Local Abundance: an Intro to our medicinal wild plants. I cannot wait for this!

May – September will feature one class and one “Weed Walk” as well, where we ID plants and  learn how and when to wildcraft, take plants from their wild environments in such a  way as to ensure we don’t harm the stand or over-harvest, as well as how to “garble” dry and use the harvest. There will likely be a second Tree Medicine class, given the interest in this one and the amount of ground there is to cover, even on an Introductory level.

Some of the summer topics include:

First Aid: getting ready for cuts and bruises, stings and scrapes

Herbs for Dogs and Cats( yes, animals are different)

Actions and formulations; an Introduction

Medicine Making 101 – an Intro to tinctures,elixirs, salves and ointments

Energetics – this is perhaps THE key to successful herbalism,and it’s very easy to learn

Nervines – using herbs in simple or complex formulation for specific nervous system issues

Getting Set up: the Home Apothecary

…and, I am open to suggestions, always.
Have a warm and wonderful Holiday season, whatever you celebrate, and I look forward to a year ahead filled with plants, magic, and medicine.

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Herb Class December 14 – Adaptogens for Stress

Last class at the Rupert Community Centre was a great time! I’m looking forward now to December 14, same time same place ( 1:30 – 4 pm at  the Centre, 24 Shouldice road) and a topic that’s dear to my own heart; Adaptogens, or herbs that help the body adapt to/cope with stress. This is an intriguing area of study for the herbalist and an incredibly helpful one for folks just looking for some natural support with holiday burnout, fatigue, any of the symptoms associated with stress. We’ll touch on historical usage,how stress manifests and how prolonged bouts of it damage the body;  local plants that may have adaptogen action, how to select the right herb for your constitutional type, and using nervine restoratives along with adaptogens, for stressful times and to bring the body into balance. Broader context of treatment will be discussed too; adaptogens should not be used as stimulants to push yourself through endless fatigue, but used as one powerful part of a whole, supportive approach. I’ll be putting up a fuller blog post on this topic over the next few days, for now just a heads-up; hall is booked and I look forward to seeing familiar faces and new ones this time.

In keeping with my obsession with mushrooms and chocolate, chaga and cocoa will be served, and an assortment of herbal teas. There may well be gingerbread.

Semillas de Ginseng (Panax Ginseng)
Panax ginseng, Adaptogen extraordinaire