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!

turtlehead

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

Goodbye, Shadow-tail

Day before yesterday I was out back, walking with Dan as I often do, through the small woodland to the east, that opens up to a wide, gorgeous vista of pasture, hawthorn-lined winding stream and a horizon of farflung, misty Hills…  walking, a little uncomfortably, as my boots sank to the ankle in newly softened snow, as my feet slipped from time to time on slushy stone beneath the melting mantle of white.  Winter has finally begun to fade, and the inevitable transition time is both joyous and messy, energizing and stinky – spring, like any birth is filled with contrasting energies and sensations. For Daniel, it seems, the joy greatly outweighs any perception of difficulty – he sinks, once in awhile, to his shoulders in a soft bank of snow, looks furtively toward me as if to see if I’ve noticed – and on he goes. The more it all melts, the more stinky wet earth he can revel in, the happier he is. I walk alongside him in admiration and amusement.

I love these woods, I think I’ve said that. The Hills really – although, at times (like right now) they are so haunted as to be almost too painful to bear. As we walk, Danny oblivious to ought but the smells, I feel the ghosts all around and within me – the hopes I carried up here 21 years ago, the house I first lived in, in a place called The Swamp – the dream of a family I once felt, when first with my partner, and his little house with his sister – the loss of John, the loss of Lila, the traumatic death of Luke. Time starts to tunnel for me – it’s as thought I can feel, palpably, the pain, hope, sorrow, joy and happiness of all these years, loves, dreams and defeats, all at once, as I walk through slushy trails and try not to slip. But you know, I try to stay balanced and grateful. Somedays it’s too easy..other days, especially around April, not so much.
Still, somehow, the forest always heals.

Often, the walk into the forest is  mixed up with fragments of workstuff, anger, petty concerns about my daily life, the pressure of a never ending to-do list, but the walk back is clear, pure and unfettered by monkey-mind. It takes a half hour amongst the pines to get myself sorted; then I can feel, again, not just whirl about in my head, like a maniac. It’s always a disappointment to know I have to return to the maelstrom – but I’ve chosen much of this, and the rest, the parts I didn’t – whoever said life was going to be simple, fair, or easy?
So – day before yesterday, I am walking back from the sit-spot at the end of the trail, calmed and contented, when I see her. I’m not sure how Dan missed her lifeless body, lying facedown in the snow beside a recently cut hemlock – overwhelmed, perhaps, by other intrigues – or maybe, as it’s always possible, I was meant to stand still a moment in prayer.  I wish I’d had a camera, but then I think – why? Her little body, tail  across her back in what struck me as a gesture of farewell, will stay with me, I won’t need a record.  A small dead squirrel, just a step off the trail; unusual. What was she doing there, amongst the piles of severed branches, the lush green against the pure white snow, a bloody streak of black that seemed so out of place?
And then it hit; the waves of empathy, universal love and some kind of …knowledge about this individual, what hr life was like and how she died… I have never really known  where it comes  from, but it’s there; I’m riveted, standing over the small black body – not just feeling sadness , but knowing her life. Before I roll her over to see the bullet hole straight through her body, I know; this tree was her home – and I know, too, by her enlarged teats there were babies in the nest with her. I dare not go to look for them. I am overwhelmed with pain.
This is a small wooded area, that stops abruptly and opens to pasture and meadow, as I described above. I feel, no I know, how happy this wild being was in her tree. Other areas nearby are rife with animal activity – bear scat and claw marks on trees; wolf, coyote and deer fur against favored rubs, occasional carcasses and quills from porcupines; beaver-chewed tree stumps, much, much birdsong. But this little part of the local forest is quieter. It’s owned by a local who has no qualms killing a  den of foxes, two parents and a litter of kits; chopping down a venerable old oak, spraying herbicides (legal and outlawed varieties) everywhere, targeting goldenrod and wild carrot and Solomon’s Seal. Here in this place, animals, though present, have learned to be scarce.Few visit regularly and fewer still, make their home. I bless the land every single time I pass through.

I can feel my little squirrel rejoicing in what she experienced as her quiet,safe home in this tree.

So few predators. So wild and sweet. I can feel her exuberant, clever squirrel-like happiness.
And then the gunshot.
So, I ask myself, weeping, why did he need to kill her? Was it not enough to take her home and, most likely in March, her young ones in their nest? Why kill her as well? And leave her bloody body tail up, face down in the snow.

Honestly?  this was a tragedy. It was for her, anyway – and I can feel it. Don’t go telling me to consider what squirrel-medicine means; I’ve learned some from them over the years, but this isn’t about me.It’s not about how I should start hoarding a little and  on and on. It’s about how my species thinks of and treats the Others.
Danny catches up, I leash him and have to coax vigorously to get him away. We have to go home now, anyway; the sun is dropping, I have to get dinner started, and everyone fed.

I’ll come back, I say to myself, come back without Dan, I’ll lay a wreath here, say a prayer. But part of me knows I won’t, that I can’t stand the empathy and I go nowhere without Dan. So I carry the pain home with me, a sharp hurt in my solar plexus. I know a million squirrels die every day. I know I can’t save everyone. But it’s the story here that hurts – her innocent love of her life,  and trust in this bit of the wild. And the callous taking of it all from her, like it was nothing.

I send you my love, little tree-dweller…shadow-tail, iora glas, atchidamoy…clever one, tail -in- the- air.  You deserved much better.
I carry you with me, now too. I keep your memory within.

Meet-up at Le Hibou

It’s hard to believe, casting back over this blog, how long has passed since my previous entry. Those who know me in real life, know how much I have on my plate right now – too much, no question, but it’s good work and needs to be done. Sadly, things I love – like this blog – can suffer. I did grow herbs this year, although not as energetically as in years past. I did some wildcrafting – and am off to gather goldenrod this week – but nowhere near as much in years past. Right now, every spare moment I have that is not geared to ThePossibleCanine, is geared to my thesis, my courses at NAIMH, and my animals.

I am tired, but looking forward to a lot of growth in  my business over the next five years. We all need income to live, and I am blessed to be able to work at a thing I love. Change is in the wind; and I’ll post much more on that in the months ahead. (For one thing, I will  be able to meet with clients in person in Wakefield for now, and possibly soon in Ottawa as well).

No matter how much work there is, how great the challenges, I need time to spend in the forest, garden and fields, and my kitchen, making medicines. I need practical herb time, and I need friends who love the green world and all Her Mysteries, as much as I do.

Hence, despite the setbacks with  the Midsummer Herbwalk (I will know next year, not to schedule it for Father’s Day!) we are going ahead with a meet-up. I figure, if holidays and heat and summer vacations prevent a good herbwalk so far – nothing an stop us all from getting together, locally, to meet in person and talk abut herbs.

I’ve chosen the wonderful Le Hibou, on Riverside Road in Wakefield, for our meeting.

The date is Sunday, August 19, at Le Hibou at 10:00 am.

Le Hibou, for those coming from outside the village is located at  757 Riverside Drive.

http://www.cafelehibou.com/

If you can confirm whether you’ll be coming or not, that would be greatly appreciated. I have 10 confirmed and 3 maybes so far. I can be reached by any of these means:

– by phone, 819-459-1049

– by email, catlane@thepossiblecanine.com

– on Facebook, there is a group set up for us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/162306527237980/

I look forward to meeting many I have previously only corresponded with online.  Let’s get this group rolling…see where the dance takes us next.

Update on the HerbWalk

Things have been busy here at the Ark in Rupert; summer is always filled with wildcrafting, gardening – and then  processing the bounty – on top of, not instead of the regular hours of animal care, client work, teaching and study. Yesterday I finally cleared three very large mallows out of one bed, to use the leaves in infusions and salve, and the root is a go-to here for tummy troubles (human and canine)…I would have preferred to wait for flowers, but the mallows are choking out my beloved Hyssop, and the weather has been so very odd this year I felt sure it was wiser to move them sooner than later. Today I’m taking in Motherwort (tincture, vinegar, dried for teas) and rounding up just a bit more chickweed for the salve I started yesterday. I check almost daily on the elder growing near to where I keep my horse; given the stage it was at yesterday, I’d say we will have flowers by Sunday. Which, really, brings me to the point of the entry today; it looks like Sunday’s HerbWalk will need to be moved.

When I set this day I was looking for a time close to the Solstice – I really had no idea this was Father’s Day, coming up. And, twelve of the twenty five interested people have had to definitely cancel, due to family needs, with five more saying they will *try* to make it. I think I would rather wait, and have everyone able to attend. 🙂 The following weekend is Jean Baptiste Day, which means many have plans, and then Canada Day. My next available date is July 15th and while it is late, it enables everyone to attend (hopefully). This has been a strange year for the plants, and if all goes well I’ll hold a series of walks next year so we can identify and work with plants at various stages of development throughout the growing season. For this year, just getting the one Walk set up is proving a bit of a challenge, but it will be worth it. I have hand-outs on botany, on the plants we’ll be seeing that you can start to use right away, on basic salve making , a core Recommended Reading and Internet list, and more. So, let’s see if we can confirm a date for all concerned and move forward.

I am so much looking forward to meeting the keenly interested folks who have written and called, and having a magical day in the forest and fields.

Herbal Vinegars for Spring

Spring takes Her sweet time here in the North, and while I wait for the full bloom of summer, I always start gathering plants and making medicines that will serve us all well through the next year. First among these are vinegars. While oils for salve are generally next, right now the fresh young leaves and flowers of many plants are begging to be put up in vinegars.   I love them all, and cannot wait till they’re ready for salad dressing, sprinkling on steamed vegetables, and making refreshing cool drinks. The dogs get a Tbsp in their water dish, and some – especially rose – I use diluted for sunburns and rashes, all too common around here I’m afraid.

Vinegars are a wonderful way for those new to herbs to explore  the range of flavour,  techniques of using,  and medicinal uses of plants. While I make them all year round, there’s something so special about waiting for the first nettles and artemisias to reach just the right growth stage for harvesting, something magical about checking the garden every morning to see just how high the comfrey is…  and the spruce buds! I stand by my beautiful white spruce, singing a love song to her magical nourishment and medicine while I gather, and I swear, the birds around us sing along. Later in the season, I’ll make plenty of rose, monarda, thyme, rosemary, sage and basil… and come winter, it’s time to start more white pine needle brewing (one of my very favorites) and the ever-changing but always useful Fire Cider (more on these to come).
The method of  herbal vinegars is so easy, once you’ve made a few, as with elixirs, honeys and pastilles, you’re only limited by your imagination. Here then are a few of my standards – really it would be more accurate to say standards in The Repertoire, because everyone uses them! and the methods for putting them together. I’m putting this in Q&A form, to cover some of the questions I had when I started making these lovely herbal delights many years ago.

What kind of vinegar do I use – white, red or white wine, balsamic, apple cider, raspberry?

Apple Cider is the version most touted for health benefits, and many of it’s fans swear by it. Generally speaking that’s what I use too, as my herbal creations are designed to taste lovely and support health – but I’ve experimented with white and red wine, balsamic, raspberry and some of these funky/wonderful products too:http://www.wildfoods.ca/products-vinegars.html with, well, mixed results. Suffice to say I will not be without a couple of them for cooking – dressings and marinades  but they haven’t always combined well with herbs, tastewise. For our purposes here, let’s stick with apple cider. I’ll share some other funky/delicious combinations in the months to come.

Here’s a brief rundown on what vinegars actually are:

Vinegar is a product of fermentation. This is a process in which sugars in a food are broken down by bacteria and yeast. In the first stage of fermentation, the sugars are turned into alcohol. Then, if the alcohol ferments further, you get vinegar. The word comes from the French, meaning “sour wine.” While vinegar can be made from all sorts of things — like many fruits, vegetables, and grains — apple cider vinegar comes from pulverized apples.

The main ingredient of apple cider vinegar, or any vinegar, is acetic acid. However, vinegars also have other acids, vitamins, mineral salts, and amino acids.”

What are the health benefits of apple cider vinegar?

This is a question I’ve given some thought to; proponents of acv claim sometimes wild and unsubstantiated benefit, most often things like “in combination with a specific diet and herbs, acv worked wonders for my dog’s arthritis”…well, I’ve “worked wonders” with countless dogs myself, without acv – perhaps it was the diet and herbs? The scientist in me always wants to know. Those who claim great benefit from acv can also be confused about the ph-altering effect it has and what the numbers mean(when measuring urinary ph with a strip, higher = alkaline, lower = acidic, and we strive for a neutral middle area, usually 6 – 6.5.) ACV used alone has been touted as helping diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, poor appetite and obesity… and I’m not dismissive, but somewhat skeptical about thee claims. When you macerate HERBS into vinegar, however you most definitely extract some of the plant constituents into the vinegar – and  thus they can be added to the diet as a tonic. Because tonics are used in small to moderate amounts over a period of time to build health in an organ, tissue, system – herbal vinegars can be a lovely means to  add these herbs to your diet . For overt illness, acute or chronic, I prefer to use the more concentrated forms; tinctures, decoctions and infusions, elixirs.

What does “tonic” mean?

A tonic is the term used for  herbs used over time in daily doses, to nourish the body, improve overall health or specifically target an organ or system. For example, hawthorn is a cardiovascular tonic, meaning we take it (I certainly do) in daily regular amounts, to tone and strengthen the heart and blood vessels. Many herbs can be taken in daily amounts as a tonic or in concentrated  form when illness strikes. I drink a cup of elderberry tea almost every day, as an immune strengthener, but when I have a cold I take dropperfulls of the berry elixir throughout the first day.  Adding vinegar to anyone’s diet – human or other animal – is a tonic approach, and we can choose herbs that fulfill the needs we perceive – nettles are important for allergies, dandelion and burdock support the liver, motherwort for the heart and nervous system, rose for digestion and anxiety, milky oats for exhaustion…daily, regular doses.

Which herbs can I use, and what are they good for? Should they be fresh or dried?

To be sure, you can use both. Many people feel a bit more comfortable with dried, and so might think about starting their medicine-making with dried burdock and dandelion root, two beneficial and flavourful varieties. If using dried herbs, please allow more time for them to macerate. I make a burdock root vinegar every fall and take it over the winter; I like to let it sit at least 6 weeks before using. Burdock is very cooling, but I offset the effect of this with spicy warming herbs like ginger and turmeric and clove, throughout the cold months. I often make coat conditioners for dogs using dried calendula, lavender, sage, yarrow and rose.

But I love to use the fresh plants of spring for these tonic vinegars; my own favorites are motherwort, violets, chickweed, dandelion leaf and flower, garlic chives,  garlic mustard, mugwort – and later of course, all the bounty of summer – sage, monarda, thyme, hyssop, lemon balm, various mints, elderflower, rose and more. I recommend learning the medicinal properties of these plants if you aren’t already familiar with them –  it’s a simple way to start learning the plants and adding some of their medicine to your own diet (or your dog’s!) in small, safe doses.

How do I make  it?

First of all, if you’re using wild plants gathered around your area, a couple of all-important reminders. Rule Number One of all wildcrafting; be 100% sure you know your plants. Even Dandelion has a lookalike( Cat’s ear) and while most of the ones that look similar will not be poisonous, some could have adverse effects and we don’t want to risk that!  I’m a huge believer in learning a little basic botany to help with identification; take that extra moment and make sure you have Artemisia vulgaris, Leonorus cardiaca, Stellaria media. Knowing the Latin names and the  defining characteristics of your plants is not a dry academic exercise – it’s essential. When in doubt, don’t pick.

My pick of the beginner books for understanding basic botany: Thomas Elpel’s Botany in a Day.
http://www.hopspress.com/Books/Botany_in_a_Day.htm

And second, please harvest cautiously, never taking from anywhere that might have been sprayed, and not too close to roadsides or houses…I have a wonderful rosa rugosa growing out of a part of my carport that is lined with railway logs – these contain creosote and may contaminate my rose. So, I harvest only from the other bush that is well away from the blocks. You need to know the potential hazards of things like creosote, RoundUp,  and pressure treated wood. Harvest wisely -and always with thanks to the plants. I leave a blessing every time, which is most often a small prayer. Let your own beliefs and intuition guide you in that regard, but be sure to thank them in some way.

Now; here’s what you need to get going. 🙂

Materials

a sterile glass jar, pint or quart depending on how much you plan to make

a plastic top or waxed paper

your plant, garbled and chopped

vinegar of choice

chopsticks

label and pen

After you have sterilized your bottle,  place the chopped herb in to about the 2/3 level (lightly packed – too much makes a mess and too little is a weak medicine). Pour the vinegar – heated or not – overtop and use the chopstick to stir it in well.
Cover your plant well, and the use either a plastic lid, or wax paper with a standard ringtop lid. Vinegar should not come into contact with metal or it blackens and is most unappealling. I use wax paper or plastic wrap most of the time as a barrier, but have also found with my Bernardin lids, the plastic coating inside the lid liner prevents contact with metal.  If using empty honey jars, though, I always line with something.

Then, just store in a cool dark cabinet or corner of your cupboard – check every day or so,, shake or stir -and six weeks later you have a beautiful, tasty and mineral rich  medicine. If I’m using roots 0 burdock, yellowdock, dandelion, I might leave it sit two weeks more.

decanting pine needles in apple cider vinegar

Pasteurization?

This is a topic that seems to divide herbalists a little; some  use pasteurized acv, others use unpasteurized and heat it, and some use unpasteurized as is without heating.I do both, but if I use unpasteurized acv without heating it, I make extra sure I shake, stir and check on my medicine daily. In reading countless forums and articles about this topic I have come to the conclusion that it’s entirely up to YOU. Susun Weed heats her unpasteurized vinegar because “Raw vinegar and herbs can combine to make strange (stinky) alien beasts” – with the greatest of respect for Susun, I have not found this to be so. Many of my herbalist friends feel raw acv is far more medicinal,and I’ve used it by far more then I’ve used either purchased pasteurized vinegar or heated my own. Most definitely if I’m using the end product externally I do not heat it. Susun does make the important point that if you do heat an unpasteurized product, do so in a non metallic pan.

How can I use them?

There are many ways to incorporate herbal vinegars into daily life. I often use them with olive or other oils and herbs to make salad dressings;  you are only limited by imagination and taste preferences. You can always spoon a little over cooked veggies, stir into soups (especially nice with lentils) or just place your daily Tablespoon into a glass of water and drink it down (or sip with an ice cube on a hot summer day) . For my dogs, I put a little in their drinking water, and if they don’t like it, a little might get into their dinner – in which case they don’t seem to notice!

Let’s not forget the topical uses and value of acv, and especially herbal acv – Kiva Rose uses diluted rosepetal vinegar for sunburn and got me started using it this way too. In my house we have two bottles of rose vinegar every summer – one for skin only and occasionally, covering up the odour of cat urine. I rescue cats, and we have bouts of (occasional, thankfully) spraying. I have never found anything as helpful in eradicating the urine smell – or as deterrent to repeat offenses! as a good dousing with rose vinegar.

Many infused vinegars can be used as skin conditioners for dogs, especially after bathing, I like to dilute a mix of yarrow, chamomile, calendula and lavender into a liter of water and rinse well. I often pour a cup of herbal vinegar into my own bath to help with dry flaky skin or dullness. My partner experiences a lot of heat rash working outside in summer; I use diluted rose vinegar first and follow up with a dusting of arrowroot/mallow/ calendula powder.

The uses for herbal vinegar also include spraying countertops as a disinfectant, and your kitchen will smell lovely when you’re done (I especially love lemon thyme for this!)

But – more on all of this in later posts – here I am focused on Spring things – and before it is summer, I’d better get posted. Upcoming vinegar posts will talk more about health benefits of various plants; extraction of constituents in acetic acid (vinegar), use of different types of vinegar (rice, white and red wine,balsamic, maple, chokecherry and Canada plum)  and bottling ideas.  But right now, we have to get out and get harvesting!

After a glorious couple of weeks harvesting your dandies, violets, spruce tips, mugwort and so on; you end up with something like this; a cabinet filled with lovely-tasting vinegars that add to your health, culinary creativity and connection to the earth. Enjoy, experiment and share what you find. I will keep on sharing mine, as I go.

Resources

http://www.herbmentor.com

Susun Weed’s discussion forum and articles on vinegar

Kiva Rose’s blog   http://www.bearmedicineherbals.com

Rosemary Gladstar, assorted writings