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.
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:
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:
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 medicines brewing (I am doing an oxymel today and then this lovely chai I make with white pine) and much blessing on this house from the beauty and getle 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?