Monday, July 30, 2012

Goldenrod is blooming!

I was coming home from a workshop Sunday, and saw that the goldenrod is blooming. I had been told by a tribal member that parts of it were good for bug bites, and so I googled shamelessly. Hey! It is good for lots of things, and I encourage you to find this out for yourself!

Usually the blooming of goldenrod tells me that the amaranths are blooming, too. Ragweed, the hay fever nemesis, is an amaranth. Ragweed blooms greenish, so you don't see it, you just sneeze it.

Sometimes I see goldenrod before redroot pigweed, which I know sets my seasonal allergies off, but this time I saw the pigweed before the goldenrod. Sigh. The pigweed is in my garden, but the milkweed is guarding it pretty well ... Anyway, they bloom about the same time, and the goldenrods (13 species of them) are so much more visible than the amaranths. All so showy so you see them more easily.

There's no shame in using the clues we are given!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Yarrow herbal salve

I have not posted for awhile, due to time, weather, and commitments. But I did finish the yarrow-plantain-comfrey-st. john's wort salve. One reason I used them is that I have them in my yard and I know they are not sprayed. But the medicinal aspects is why I'm blogging now. In the interest of being brief, and because my card reader took a powder, here's the text:

Yarrow / Achillea millifolium
Yarrow is native to North America and Nebraska. It's most well-known function is to stop bleeding, for which it is still used. It is said that the mythical Greek hero Achilles used the plant to stop the bleeding of his soldiers’ wounds. Yarrow may be applied directly, or used in a salve or poultice for minor cuts and wounds. The HoChunk word for yarrow is Hak/sic/. (I don't know why a portion of this is highlighted.)

Plantain / Plantago major
Plantain was brought to America by immigrants from Europe. It was so obvious that Native Americans called it “white man's footprint” for its habit of appearing on well-walked paths. The leaves can be applied to wounds, stings, and sores in order to help heal and prevent infection. Plantain, like comfrey, contains allantoin for cell growth and repair, and contains mucilage to reduce pain.

Comfrey / Symphytum officinale
Comfrey is native to Europe and contains allantoin, which stimulates cell growth and repair while slowing inflammation. It is so good at healing that one of its common names in Europe is Knitbone, a reminder of its traditional use in healing bone fractures.

St. John's wort / Hypericum perforatum
Different species of this plant are native to Europe and North America. St. John's wort is well-known for treating depression if taken internally. However, St. John's wort's lesser-known attributes include benefits to the skin as a remedy for wounds, abrasions, burns and muscle pain. It contains an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory compound, so it is good for infected wounds and rashes.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

White Admiral

This is a beautiful butterfly isn't it? Thank goodness it moved to this location, I wouldn't have wanted to show you how it was perched in all its loveliness on my trash can.

Yes, it's called a White Admiral, but also called a Red-Spotted Purple, which doesn't make much more sense. The forewings are a little bronze, quite a good color combination!

Apparently in some areas, northern areas, it shows up with a totally different color pattern, but the same species, growing up further south, will look like this blue beauty.

Nature is full of little tricks, ennit?
I'm going to start saving regular glass jars

Srsly, I don't know how it happened, but I have not saved a large glass jar in months.

Don't get me wrong: If it is a canning jar, it automatically gets saved. I love them for their versatility, ease of use, ease of cleaning, etc. And they have those classic rustic good looks.

But I will be melting beeswax in the jar, and it won't clean out easily, so I want a glass jar that I can just leave the wax in til the next time I need it.

I do save all kinds of small glass jars for tinctures: jelly jars, salsa jars and smaller. I put small amounts of herbs in them as well as other things. I don't like plastic much.

I am looking for a glass non-canning jar of a quart size, however, and so far I have failed. So many products come in plastic anymore, all of those go into recycling, and plastic can't take the heat I'm going to use with this heretofore un-found jar.

Well! I'll be paying a lot of attention to saving glass. I even have a plot where I will save future jars.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Monarda-infused raw honey

Yesterday at a friend's herb fest, I acquired some raw local honey. Even though her place is 45 minutes west of mine, it's as local as I can currently get. The honey IS from HER local area; I assume you want honey that's actually made by bees a lot closer than that. I'll find someone closer, probably, but for now, at least I know it's raw, organic honey.

So you squish your fresh or dried herb into a jar, and pour honey over it. Squish out the air bubbles (if you can see them, I imagine. I can't see through the herb OR the honey), and then add more honey periodically. They say you should top it up? But I say, if the herb is floating in the honey like it is in my jar, you'll never top it up successfully. However, it has only been in there for 30 minutes or so.

We'll see. And the honey DOES taste really good compared to supermarket honey. Mmm!

P.S. I am not leaving it in the sun, I just did that so you could see through the jar.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stanton Health & Harmony Herb Fest

Oh my! I attended a wonderful herb fest at a place belonging to a friend of mine. It was wonderful and I wish I had taken pictures. A friend took some, so I hope to post some later!

Information is all around us, and people have information they are willing to share if we take the time to ask! So many people are just walking libraries! Talk, they say, is cheap. Some talk is sooo valuable!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I saw a cup plant, Silphium perfoliatum, the other day. I want it. Here is a GREAT picture of its uniqueness! Self-explanatory.

The one I saw is along the side of the highway by the oak grove. I want it! And I want its cousin, the compass plant, too, Silphium laciniatum. I already have Prairie dock in my yard, that's Silphium terebinthinaceum, and it's doing well for 5 or 6 years now, so everyone in the family should be together ... right? I have a case of the "wants" is all. I probably won't go digging it.

But if YOU see a lovely plant, I won't absolutely dissuade you from pillaging country roads for plants, just make sure you aren't taking an endangered or at-risk plant. Make sure! Know absolutely what you're doing! Especially: Know the laws in your county or state. Then if you're triple sure, and it's numerous, don't take everything out of the area, and make sure that you're leaving plenty behind.

Really, not too many people where I live seem to care about plants in the ditches. But I do have the experience of Joe Swagger Bluster Intimidation Cop ... but that's a long story.

If law enforcement talks to you while you're harvesting OR digging up a plant, be very, very respectful and cautious, or say as little as possible. Preferably both. That's my advice. And don't have any outstanding warrants, eh?

It is so much easier, safer and cleaner to order prairie natives from a reputable nursery, I officially recommend it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Blogs -- herbal blogs of course!

I have been cruising some herbal blogs recently, and I want to point you at them as I find them -- more or less :-D has lots of interesting material and a monthly plant as a challenge to get to know. They'll send an email to your account if you like, to remind you to keep in gear.
She has a TON of how-tos, including how to skin a pig, how to make herbal sugars, and how to make applesauce. She refers to her Gran Pellegrini a fair bit, and I like that.

I like this gal's sidebar, where you can click on articles and different information:

And as you find some? Send them to me!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The many, many, many-step salve

This morning I put the herbs I chose into the crock pot and I covered them with olive oil. I couldn't find any more reasons to postpone it. When I thought the herbs were sufficiently covered, it looked like I'd used about a pint and a half. Okay!

So I turned that puppy on, and then I turned it off. Not immediately, of course. If you can find a guide, they will say things like "Put the herbs and oil in the crock pot and heat on low for 3-4 hours."

Welllll, I had checked how hot it gets the other day, so I thought that would be a bad thing.

I let it run most of an hour ... which may have been too long. It smelled of hot olive oil, not of herbs (which you want) but also not of fried herbs (which you don't want), and the plants only looked saturated, not fried. Still later it smelled of cool olive oil, but everything else had remained the same.

And after I turned it off, I left it to sit most of the day. About 20 minutes or so ago, I turned it on LOW again. My timer just went off, and I went out and turned the indicator to OFF.

So I will just let it set mostly, and check the smell of it probably once a day, since I'm going back to that pesky job thing in the morning. And we shall see.

It's an experiment at this point.
Oriole chews out cat, says rude things

Our cat is a hunter. I'm glad to say she brings us rodents, but I'm sorry to say she kills birds sometimes. The ratio is about 10:1, but still. Sigh.

We were out in the back yard today, and the cat was inside. We were chatting, and suddenly the bird-cussing-out began! And we looked up and spotted someone who looked just like this -- >

And we looked and we thought who is he ranting at? Then we realized that the cat had come out of the house a moment earlier. I thought, good eye! And we continued to look at this bird, and it came closer, and we realized it was a Baltimore oriole. He cussed through the trees, and he cussed on the power line, and he cussed in the ash tree riiiiight above my head. Eventually, went over and cussed off toward a mulberry, where he might nest.

As it turns out, these orioles breed in a fair chunk of eastern North America, about to the plains just to the east of the Rockies, clear up into Canada. Their migration for winter, though, takes them to Florida, Cuba, parts of Central America and South America. Some flyers, huh? They travel over land, which is how they and their cousins the Bullock's oriels do it, too.

The difference? I had to look it up, too: The colors are the same, but a Baltimore oriel has a black head. The Bullock's has an orange head with a black cap, black chin and black streak horizontally through it's black eye.--Sure, now I don't know which one it was.

Bullock's oriole is named for William Bullock, 1773–1849, an English traveler, naturalist, and antiquarian. He owned property near Mexico City, and when he went to visit, he killed ("collected") several birds new to science, including Bullock's oriole.

I know there are orchard orioles here, too, but their orange is a deep brick color, not a bright mango color.

The other day I saw Mrs. Goldfinch in the yard. She's kindof greenish.

The next day I saw her complete standout of a husband near the mulberry tree. (The mulberry that's not giving us mulberries this year *cough*)

I'm GLAD they are nesting here, and I don't know why this seems to be the first year they have found the yard a haven, but: I'm good with it!!!

Woohoo goldfinches!   Here is a picture from See how she looks a tad mossy? I was going to say moldy, but it's really mossy, ennit?

Well, now, I looked for info on what these folks like. says:

This: The goldfinch’s main natural habitats are weedy fields and floodplains, where plants such as thistles and asters are common. They’re also found in cultivated areas, roadsides, orchards, and backyards.

That field to our south is full of asters and thistles. And being farmland, we have cultivated areas and roadsides deluxe!

And I found this: To encourage goldfinches into your yard, plant native thistles and other composite plants, as well as native milkweed. Almost any kind of bird feeder may attract American Goldfinches, including hopper, platform, and hanging feeders, and these birds don’t mind feeders that sway in the wind.

Well I have milkweed like crazy. (Another blog post is needed for THAT.) Do they feed on it???  Do they use it for nesting??? Hmm. I don't do bird feeders, so that's not it.

A different place on the same website says: American Goldfinches breed later than most North American birds. They wait to nest until June or July when milkweed, thistle, and other plants have produced their fibrous seeds, which goldfinches incorporate into their nests and also feed their young.

There ya go.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Driving rural roads makes me think

Nowadays wherever I drive, I'm constantly scanning the roadsides for plants I haven't seen before or maybe haven't seen there. But it wasn't always that way.

I remember never seeing plants when I was a kid. Besides the garden and flowers my mom grew and taught me, it seemed to me that yards and roadsides and the countryside was just unremarkable green stuff, uninteresting. Stuff people mowed. Big deal.

I felt that way about my state in general, too: known for corn, yeah, woop-dee-doo. Boring!

People talked about traveling elsewhere to see beautiful things: to see the mountains, the ocean, Disneyland, Yellowstone, the Dells, always going somewhere else to see something good, to see some scenery. I couldn't wait to leave, but circumstances held me in stasis.

They say there's a reason for everything, and my stasis gradually allowed me to begin to see what was all around me. I literally started seeing the world beneath my feet.

There wasn't just a boring carpet of plants, this was an interesting diversity of grasses, forbs and flowers, vines and shrubs and weeds! There were a ton of individual species out there, and it had been there all along. It was wildly interesting and beautiful.

There was no need to travel far to see beauty, it was nearby. I need only look down.
Moldy Mullein, dang!

When the mullein started blooming, I started gathering and drying the flowers. Then I put them in an open amber jar so they wouldn't mold.

Ha! Guess what? Fuzzy gray mullein.  Hmmph!

So I started again, only this time, I popped them directly into the olive oil and set it in the window. So there and let THAT be a lesson to me! ... This is a 5" tall jar, so it's a very small amount of oil, just in case I end up wasting it, too.

Actually each failure is a lesson. So don't worry too much if you screwed up, or if you, like me, misjudged the environment. We have to learn somehow!

Another lesson is this: If you're in the middle of grabbing a mullein blossom and you feel a tickle of a bug? Just deal with the bug. When I feel bugged or tickled, and I hurry, I rip the crap out of that blossom. If I'm not hurried and I take my time, I tend to get the whole blossom. ... Well, not always ...

Mullein blossom picking is a challenge, let's say. And I rip off my share of petals while trying to get the whole blossom. I'll get better. Probably.

Today is Monarda fistulosa & Hypericum perforatum! Woohoo!
This morning I dragged my sleepy butt outside to water the north side of a patch of plants I keep. The ground is really hard and there are some weeds I need to pull in that section. Actually the plants are mostly old enough to be okay even in a weeklong stretch of hell ... I mean very hot weather. Which is good, because we have to pay for water use now.

Anyway I watered, and that woke me up because I always get wet. Someday I will figure out that sprinkler ... shni! (which means "not!")

I went out to the monarda, which had started blooming at the beginning of the heat wave, and are now half gone. Let me clarify: there is a HUGE patch of monarda fistulosa (wild bee balm) (the Omaha call it horsemint) where I watered. It was waterlogged. There's a patch of it by our metal rake wheels, which is the original patch, and there's a patch in the driveway that got established when we parked a small plow out there and left it several months.

So I raided the monarda by the wheels and the in the driveway. The bees were a little concerned, so I circled around them while I harvested. I got some nice pics of them, both bumble and honey, and some various unknown flies and other bees, including sweat bees. I only took pics of bumble and honeybees, and I'll have to crop in close for you to see them later.

I'm very very VERY happy to see the bees. They spray for mosquitoes in this town and I go for weeks without seeing them. *tiny mouth*

And where I was watering there's a patch of St. John's Wort as near to the driveway as it can get, blooming up a storm. So I also took some of it.

Topically, it's also good for wounds, so I'll wilt it up and throw it in the herb oil to stew. ... Kindof like refrigerator stew, yaknow? If it's out there and it will be good in the salve, in it goes!

... By the way, this is a wicker paper plate supporter for picnics. They make good herb dryers for small amounts of herb. ...

Friday, July 6, 2012

Testing, testing, 1... 2... 104??

Well I plugged in my two-quart crock pot and put water in it to see how hot it gets. Five minutes ago it was 110 degrees, now it's 104. Hmmm.This is the one I plan to heat olive oil + herbs in. Hmmmmm. Is that too hot? Is that how hot it gets? Does it fluctuate?

I also divided the nocino (no-chee-no) into two separate jars. The sugar was not being taken up. And there was no headroom to shake the fluid enough to help it along. And I hadn't gotten the lemon zest in.

So before the lemons died the death on my counter in the 100+ degree heat, I wanted to use them. -- Yes, a lot of the things I do are based on how they are going to spoil before I get to use them! Sigh. *Shrug*

I divided it. It IS a pretty green. It showed when I ladled it around. It's very sticky, go figure. And it's sharp. I tasted some of the syrup left after I divvied it up: You get a sugar hit right off and then a bitter-ish green walnut taste and cinnamon right after. Seems about right. Didn't taste the clove.

Mysteriously the kitchen emitted a POP a few moments ago, the same pop you're glad to hear when you're canning and your lids are sealing. There was only one lid out there, and it's not sealed. ... Kitchen mysteries ...

After 10 minutes, the water was at 120 degrees, after twenty, 140, and after thirty, 140. Okay, we have reached our upper limit for LOW it seems. There, now my burning desire for information is satisfied. And I know it holds 5 cups of fluid easily.

Now to do some math to figure out how much herb I can stuff in there and then cover with olive oil. Visualizing my double handful of herbs, I'd say no prob. Yay!
The salve. The many, many, many-step salve

Today I took my herby material, which has been drying for ... two weeks maybe ... and decided that the last two ingredients were Dry Enough. Your mileage may vary.

In a dry climate, this won't take as long. In other climates, longer. In other climates you may resort to your oven, which is not recommended because the oven gets to essential-oil-destroying temperatures. But with care it can be done.

This is my desk, called The Ocean, because it is big. These are the removeable screens people used to use in double-hung windows that had no screens. I found them on a garage sale. You can see they can be narrow (the upper one, with the pineapple weed on it) or wide. Use what works for you!

The lower one has whole stalks of yarrow at the left and basal leaves of the same plants on the right. The big leaves on top are comfrey. I figure if I can break them and hear them, then they are dry enough. I live in a humid climate, so I'm careful about this dry-enough business.

First I stripped the basal leaves of leaflets, creating a pile of material. it took a little while and smelleed all yarrow-y. This is a big benefit of cleaning your herb: you learn the smell of it. It's lovely.

Then I took the big stems of yarrow and stripped off the leaves (leaving them intact) and popping the flowers off the umbel stems. Here are the yarrow flowers in the leaf material.

Those big leaves are comfrey leaves. I decided to pinch them into crispy bits to allow the goodness in the herb to get into the salve.

I like big roomy ceramic bowls for small bits of herbs. Pie plates work well, too.

I pinched off pieces of comfrey, generally (generally) avoiding the middle vein, or rib. That tougher plant material doesn't let go of it's goodness easily, and is really built for support, not herby goodness. But there is certainly some rib-ness in my pile of herbs tonight! It makes noise every time you pinch some off, that's how dry it is.

There are many, many, many uses for plants. Not all of them are about food or making cord, or making a building. -- What the heck am I talking about?

Yarrow stems were used in antiquity by the Chinese for fortune-telling in the I Ching system.
Hmmm. I bet they took the umbel ends off. Just sayin!

The salve, the many, many, many step salve

NOTE: These steps are not necessarily in order

A JAR: Several weeks ago (March? April) I was haunting the internet  to find a small jar to put an herbal salve in. A friend who has been making it for years agreed to help me out. Folks want $2 a jar for small jars! Ack! By the way, is the place to go. But build up a list of things to get all at the same time, so the shipping doesn't hurt too awful much. And thanks, Rachel!

So I bought the 1 1/2 ounce jars like this:

WHAT HERBS TO USE: At the same time, I was deciding what herbs I wanted to use. Depending on where you live, different herbs will be naturally abundant. If you are urban or suburban, maybe you can grow your own. I have some herbs that grow like wild. -- Well, a fair few of them are wild. -- I didn't put them there. But if you know your plant neighbors, you are going to know what's in your yard. And if you research them, you'll know if you can use them in a salve.

Be sure of what plants are. -- Be very very sure. Read a lot. Have more than two books to help you. (I like this one, "Plant Identify Terminology," because of the drawings.) If you're not a reader, look at the pictures very carefully and find books with close-up and distance shots of plants. I have my faves, but they are regional to me, so: find someone who knows plants, and bring them to your house to help you.

Using the Latin names, VERY CAREFULLY use the internet to find photos. I say "be careful" because I know a very good number of herbs by Latin name and I know what they look like absolutely, and I will look for a Latin name using a search engine and I will find some other plant pictured, so: Be. very. careful. with. the. Internet! It's a nice tool, but a nice tool can be dangerous if not used with care. Think machete. Think chainsaw. Be careful!

If you can't or won't grow your own, Mountain Rose Herbs or Frontier Herbs offer quality organic and certified organic herbs and send them right to your door. You can use an online search for all kinds of herbs and buy them from a bazillion different places, you can buy them in bulk from local stores and from HyVee, and you can get herbs on ebay. But Mtn Rose and Frontier are known quality. ... Your yard will be known quality (unless you have an idiot landlord).

Think about what you want your salve to be good for. Do you need a moisturizing salve? a healing salve? Is it a beauty product or an anti-fungal?  Do you need a salve you can rub on the chest of someone with a cold?

You can use your favorite herb books and search engine to decide which herbs would be the best for your salve. I can't tell you how many herb books I have. Some are mainly plant books, but include information on the plants' properties. Use all the sources you want to and come to your own conclusions. (I really enjoy the research.)  *** Take notes. *** Think it through. *** Sleep on it.

Willowbark tincture from March and April

This year I was alert enough to harvest the willow while it was blooming, which is the best time to get willowbark, because the sap is running to the tips of the branches and making sure that the catkins get the good juice/nutrition possible. --  It's sex, it's important!

I don't have an excuse not to get willow while it's blooming. We have hybrid willows outside the door to tell us when the other willows are blooming. I went to a creek by the snake bridge, where I know there is a good stand of native willow (Salix nigra). I wanted my first tincture to be native willow. This hybrid stuff is probably fine, too.

So I pulled over by the creek (If it's small, and this one is, I pronounce it "crick"). I snipped off end branches with catkins about as long as my forearm. There is a good population of trees there, but I didn't denude any tree. Well, I really can't because I'm short, even standing in the truck. But I exercised prudence, a principle of wildcrafting. --Speaking of prudence. How about gratitude?

There is a practice that's very good to do, that when you arrive where you are planning to gather plant material, stop and thank the plants or trees you're about to harvest. Some offer tobacco, some sage, some offer water. Each one is a prayer of gratitude in its own way. If you stop and think about it, this earth has a wondrous abundance of gifts.

It's easy to get caught up in learning about foraging and finding the plants and working with them. It's nerdy and it's groovy! -- But there's nothing for us to find if the plants aren't there, and aren't persistent past reason.

Fortunately for us, they are that persistent. They struggle against monoculture, herbicides, pesticides, ignorance and global warming, just to name a few. Can you imagine the energy it takes to flower every year, struggling against all that?

So ... back to our regularly scheduled programming:

I gathered a relatively small amount of branch tips and catkins, something like a double handful of it. Then I went home and cleaned it. Not soap & water clean, I took the twigs I harvested and held them over a bowl and stripped off the catkins and leaves, and then took the thin layer of bark off the twigs. I did this again and again and again until I was done. And that was my willow material du jour.

I got out a quart canning jar to put the material into. As you can see from the next photo, I probably could have used a pint jar.

I added vodka to cover the material and used a wooden spoon squish the material into the vodka to make sure it was all submerged.  You want every square millimeter of plant to be in contact with your menstruum (the vodka) (or Everclear, etc.) This way the alcohol extracts from the plant material the essential oils that you want to use later. Otherwise you're only allowed to get a headache or other pain in spring, when the catkins are blooming. But this makes it convenient, see? -- Well, you will. And you do, or you probably wouldn't be reading this, right?

I put a lid on the jar and sat it in the herb cabinet, where I keep all the herbs, recite it with me: "In a cool, dry place!" Very good!

You're supposed to shake it vigorously every day. Probably different recipes say different things about this. I probably shook it 2 out of 3 days. This is okay. Doing this inexactly is okay. -- It's a good thing, too, or I'd fail every recipe I ever made.

So time goes by and the fluid gets to be the color, in this case, of a nice beef broth. Maybe lighter. I waited 8 weeks, shaking most days, opening it and smelling it, and putting it back, and feeling all wealthy!

Two months later, in late May, I strained out the twigs, stems, leaves and catkins by pouring from the quart jar into the measuring cup through cheesecloth laid in a tea strainer. My point was not really to measure it, but because the cup has that pour spout on it.  Notice on the cheesecloth that there was some material, little bits, still in the fluid. And after the straining, not so much, but it's cloudy.

I don't have a lot of amber bottles to use, so I got out the Jagermeister bottles I have on reserve, and used a funnel and more cheesecloth, and poured it in. You develop an eye for how much fluid will fit where, and this fit in the Jager bottle Juuuuuust Riiiight.

You can try coffee filters? But most stuff won't go through a coffee filter. I have tried. You can try. Then you'll go looking for cheesecloth. Grocery and hardware stores will have packages of cheesecloth by the canning materials. Some fabric stores have it. But get it, it makes life easier. If you're a sewing nerd, I imagine gauze would work better than those darned coffee filters.

And re-use your cheesecloth. Rinse it, wash it, whatever you need to, but it's re-useable!

Now, I want to use and share my tincture down the road, but I don't want someone getting happy and thinking they can snork down the willowbark tincture all the while thinking they've found my stash of Jagermeister, oh no! (I actually keep that stash elsewhere, hah!)

But my point is that I needed a label. And I was so enthused about my first tincture of the year, that I got into my stash of art and photos, ripped from old magazines and calendars and greeting cards and what-have-you. I found something I liked.

You need to label everything you make. Okay, I do, because I don't remember everything infallibly. So I found some artwork I liked from Southwestern Art magazine and added a label, and left the Jagermeister stag intact.

As far as I can tell, the little woman is a Zuni depiction of the Green Corn Maiden. But I could easily be soooo very wrong on that. If you know, you tell me! I just liked the artwork.

Added later ... A Navajo friend informed me that this gentleman is the Talking God or Yeibeichai. A main Navajo deity, Talking God is compassionate to mankind. He is in charge of earth treasures and leader of the Night Way, a nine-day healing ceremony. (Corn Girl is his daughter.)

Night Way is the most sacred of all Navajo ceremonies. It is also the most difficult to learn because it involves memorizing hundreds of songs, dozens of prayers and several very intricate sand paintings.  In spite of this, the demand for Night Chants remains great. The Night Chant is basically a healing ritual to either heal the sick, and/or to restore order and balance to relationships within the Navajo universe.  

Wow, so interesting! I love a good aside!

I tagged the bottle with instructions of how much to use. I am pretty sure the tag used to be a manila envelope.

Willowbark contains salicylic acid, which is the natural version of today's chemical copy, aspirin. And maybe some factory worker was disgruntled and spat in the vat from which my pills were later made, right? -- On the other hand, I know what went into this bottle.

No, I'm not that paranoid. But I know what went into this tincture. Now I'm waiting for a headache.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I read that "nocino" is Italian and is pronounced "no-chee-no." Not being Italian, and frankly not knowing any languages other than American English, ASL and botanical Latin, I can only read and relay to you.

But my real purpose in posting is to amaze you with chemistry. Not mine, silly, the stuff going on in the mystery jar:

Day of making, on the left, fourth day on the right. And I can't see it in the photo, on the right, but in real life there's a layer of darkness, a layer of dark orange, then the stuff in the middle, then orange, then dark, then sugar. (Ooooh, I didn't notice it, but the sugar is being taken up ... or maybe it only looks like that ... hmmm.)

Actually there's someone who talks about the chemistry of this online. I'm sure you can find him in a decent (or indecent) search. It's over my head. -- I still need to stir this stuff -- Hmmm.

Very relieved, and saving at-risk plants

The plant I brought home Tuesday in 100-degree heat, which had totally wilted and looked very very bad, is doing quite well. I waited until evening of that day, when it was only 90-something, and I gave it the drink of its life. I had given it the shock of its life, so ... I planted it in about a mugful (volume) of mud.

It is located out of sight from any of my windows, so I checked on it this morning, and wow, it looks like it lives there. I'm happy. Even the petals of the flowers have perked up and look almost normal. I'm so relieved.

If you think I'm worrying too much about a single plant, maybe I am, but this is a representative of a plant species I consider to be seriously at risk in my area. It's quite easy to raise it, but in the wild, there are excruciatingly few of them existing. I know of one cemetery in my area where there is a horribly small colony of them.

By the way, if you are interested in helping to preserve at-risk medicinal plants in the wild where you live, check out the website of United Plant Savers. And then join it, seriously. And then plant up your area. And then keep reading about them. Good stuff is going on, but more people are needed!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Not normally considered to be "herbal," but I think it is

A friend of mine is grilling today and uses hickory chips to make a smoker from the grill. Any fruit wood will work, chipped small, and many people use mesquite, (which is awfully easy to overdo).

You take 1/2 pint of chips and you fill the pint jar with hot water. Let them soak an hour.

When your coals are ready, put them all on one side of the grill. Drain the chips well and put the damp chips atop the coals. Put the burgers on the other side of the grill from the coals. 10 minutes per side. Check the temperature to make sure the meat is done. Enjoy the added flavor of hickory smoke on your burgers!

 Red Clover * rEd ClOvEr * ReD cLoVeR !

About a week ago, I took a brief sojourn into the field next to our place.

The whole block next door used to be a home and an orchard. When we arrived 15 years ago, the orchard was long gone, but the house and garage remained. The house was burned down and the garage appropriated. Now there is a hydrant, some trees where the house was, and a goodly amount of grass. Someone used to spray for thistles and hay it. For a few years, he hayed it with a team of horses, Sandy and Patches, a set of well-trained paints. It was a wonderful sound, all the metal clinking and the machinery whacking against itself. And I couldn't help but watch.

I digress. He stopped haying by horse, then stopped haying or spraying a couple years ago, and gradually the native plants and the naturalized thistles took over again. So there are a jillion red clover plants and I took this much. Not even the bees noticed a difference! There is just a lot of red clover and some Erigeron, I think it's called heath aster. Of course plenty of thistle and grass and probably other stuff. I see burdock in there, and ...

In the next picture the small amount is what I have cleaned so far. An herbalist might say this is how much I had garbled, which is jargon for "cleaned." And by cleaning, I don't mean get the dirt off, I mean de-stem and de-leaf. The actual flower is good for you, but the stems and petioles are hard to digest, so after everyone was pretty well dried and crispy, I removed them.

The petioles curl protectively around the flower. I peel them (gently) back.

And I use my right hand to pinch them off.

Then I throw this flower into the "cleaned" pile.

Not too much more to do! I'm heading into the home stretch. By the way, if you get shoulder or neck issues, there is no reason In The World for you to do this all in one go. I'm just in a hurry. It's a day off!

Done! ... It looks like a lot less, somehow ...

Then store it appropriately. This will be different for everyone, depending on your conditions. I put stuff into jars that seal well because I have dust and grease issues. Then I put the jar into a dark cupboard.

Did I already remind you that light and heat are the two main enemies of a vibrant herb? Light and heat will both break down the essential oils in the material you have laboriously gathered, cleaned, jarred and labeled. You don't want it to smell funny when you need it, right? You don't want to have wasted your time, right? So read up, know your environment, and do it!

Labeling: Even if you have a perfect, idetic or photographic memory, remember to label. What if you give something as a gift and the other person (not you) can't remember what it is and calls you a month later? You can't be going 70 miles to their house to peek at it. Label it! It's not that hard. Please use a piece of paper with what it is and a date, if nothing else.

Here is an example of a very basic label.

ID:      RunningWild. 'Nuff said.

What is it?      Red Clover / Trifolium pratense
Date labeled or gathered or tinctured:     Include the year. Please include the year. You'll kiss me for this one.

Many people will say that herbs only last six months. That may be true in their case, but the vast majority of my herbs, both storebought, gathered in my garden or wildcrafted tend to last longer. And let me tell you, I really don't remember what darned year it was. I remember where, the weather, what vehicle, even what basket or bag I gathered it into, but not the year.

And my labels often surprise the heck out of me. I stick my nose in the jar and it smells the way it should and I see that it's four years old (!) So use your good judgement. Often if it doesn't smell at all, then I'll throw it. If it smells funky, I'll throw it. If you gather an herb like valerian or catnip that you think smells funky or odd or bad anyway? Get another nose involved.

Details: This is where I'll put what it's prepared for, how much tincture to use, things like that. Yeah there's not much room on the label, so make your labels different.

This particular label I made with Corel Word Perfect back in ... '95. It is farrrrr superior to pieces of paper taped to a jar. But pieces of paper are likewise farrrrrr superior than trusting my "total recall." Last week I made some new labels in Publisher. The ones like on this jar I had so long they were getting yellow edges, lovely though they are! It really fun making labels if you're into graphics.

Above all, be sure to have fun. If you have harvested in a poopy 'tude, it will show.

The need for (flat) wicker baskets

I have a favorite wicker basket, shown here, and all through the Red Clover post. It's 20 inches across and an inch deep, excellent for drying bulkier herbs. It has a tight weave, so bits don't fall out of it, but plenty loose enough for air to circulate. It's beautiful, stained with elderberry juice, and I love it. Check out that braided edge. MMmm-mmm!

Today I wanted to harvest monarda/bee balm, but realized I had nowhere for them to dry if I did harvest because the red clover is drying in that basket.

So here goes the herbal shuffling: Clean and do something (what?) with the red clover so that later (when it's not so hot) I can harvest bee balm and dry it in the same basket.

I do lust after nice baskets, but don't get me wrong: I don't pay good money for baskets. I garage sale and thrift shop my baskets. So I go in streaks where I have enough, then I don't have enough. A harvest-ful time like July (usually this happens in late July, but what are you going to do?) is a time of basket scarcity. November? Basket plethora, but with the same number of baskets.

Recently a tragedy (okay, not really) happened to me when my favorite willow basket for laundry finally broke apart enough that I could no longer use it. A lot of it was my fault for not finding a better location to store it. I stored it atop my stacking washer/dryer, and when the washer went into spin, about a quarter of the time, the basket would fall off the top. We would turn to the dog and say "Zi! What did YOU DO?" and she looked guilty and we told her we loved her and it was funny. I'd try to get her  to help pick up the scattered clothespins, but the best she would do is take one and run off with it. Poor dog.

Anyway, if you find yourself asking: "Why do I have so many baskets?" either remember that you need them in a different season or send them to me!
The blessings of basil
Yesterday I visited one of the basils on the place and stopped it from having sex (took off the flowering spike) and got two small leaves in the process accidentally. I brought them in and laid them on the counter. 
Just now I had a salad and ripped up those two small leaves and threw them on the salad. NICE! Two tiny leaves like that totally made a difference in the whole salad. Wow. Herbs.
 Don't ever think that just one plant, just one herb, can't make a difference. Go ahead. Grow some. Grow just one. Try it!
The Queen Anne's Lace is Blooming!

I noticed yesterday that my favorite patch of Queen Anne's Lace along the side of the highway is blooming. Love that stuff but NIMBY!! It is a super-dooper invasive weed!

That being said, it is Lovely! Go google some images (Daucus carota), and you may agree, but make sure to see it after a full bloom, when it folds up into the "bird's nest" as it prepares to make seed. Hee!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The darkness creeps in!

Tonight there is a distinct darkness to the nocino! Weirdly, the green/brown color is beginning at the top and at the bottom simultaneously. Hmmm.

That poor plant is one I rescued today, an Echinacea angustifolia. It has hardly any root, thus its temporary home in a water cooler cup. I need to find a good location for it.

Stressful Temperatures

I feel for any plant needing rain or a respite from sun and wind. They don't get any rest.

Today I had to rescue some plants from a place where the plants were getting vandalized. What a crappy day to transplant things! Just terrible. I have to do this, watch the results my actions have on the plant and just hope that what I do is the right thing to allow it to survive. Gah. I guess all I can do is try. Mmmph. I still say the timing stinks to high heaven.

"It's not very green."

Well I stuffed the jar so full with material that it's really hard to see if the fluid is green or not. (I read that it would be) How disappointing! There is a tiny meniscus (crescent) of fluid visible just near the upper edge, that I'm not even going to take a photo of it. And that tiny meniscus shows green.

I could separate this poor jar into two containers. Hey that's just crazy. Maybe later, when it's not so hot out, or when I'm curious/snoopy, or bored, or want to avoid mowing.

OR, after awhile or a week, whichever strikes my curiosity first, I will remove a couple walnuts, although I clearly hate to do that, and make it easier to stir and see into the nocino. (And I pronounce to myself: no-chee-no.) There are no date requirements on this stuff. There's a recipe, but ... that's a guideline. These liqueur recipes are pretty forgiving.

And upon doublechecking, I read from the recipe that this stuff will be ready in about twelve months. I think after a couple months, or whenever I remember I have the stuff, or when it's a nice dark brown color (guidelines, remember?) I will remove the solid material and rebottle it and let it sit further back in some mysterious (read crowded) cupboard until next July 2nd.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Part II of The Trade

I got the flowers, I went home. I removed the flowers from the umbels.

I took a pint of flowers and poured 3/4 of a jar of vodka into it, and topped it off with water. That's a elderflower tincture, after it sits a couple months, and after I have shaken it every day, or every other day, or something like that.

When I finally had the rest of the elderflower removed from it's mother twigs and umbel stems, I made big saucepan of tea with the flowers, about 3-4 cups, and the thin slices of two lemons. I first simmered this 1/2 hour, then let it steep (just sit with a lid on it) another 1/2 hour. Then, because I was bored and it wasn't getting the dark color I expected, I simmered it another 1/2 hour.

Somewhere during that last simmer, I looked out the window and gasped. My tire was flat as a pancake. So I got the jack, lifted my truck off the flat tire, and wondered what darned thing I ran over on those gravel roads I was on. About that time, a friend came over and we changed the tire to my trusty spare (not a donut) that lives month after month in the bed of my pickup.

After that I returned to the kitchen and used the sieve to remove the flowers and slices from the fluid. I added as much sugar as there was fluid, about 3 cups. Then there was foam and chunks of goo, so I also put this sweet goo through cheesecloth and a funnel and put it into a jar.

Elderflower syrup. Flat tire. In the end I had to buy a new tire. But Saturday was so good, I couldn't help but feel good about it. That's how much fun I had. Who wants to buy a new tire? But the hole I got was too big and I had no choice. And I wouldn't change my Saturday for anything. It was a first, I had fun, and the adventure is not over.

After all, I have to try the stuff, right? Heh.

Chopping walnuts and making nocino

 Making nocino

The recipe calls for 24 unripe walnuts and assures you that rubber gloves should be worn. This is mom's Cutco knife she bought in '58. (The company has a forever guarantee.) It does go through a walnut with a little encouragement. 

That's about 4 walnuts, quartered.

Just snapping photos, I'm so excited about this!

Here we are, all chopped up and stuffed into the jar.

I started to wonder at this point if everything going in here would ... ah ... fit.

Cinnamon sticks and ground clove, because we tend to burn up our whole cloves on Gloria, the woodstove, in the winter. I never, ever, have enough cloves.

The first cup of sugar. 

And wash that down with some vodka. No I didn't measure. :-) 

The second cup of sugar and another application of vodka


And I don't think I have room in here for lemon zest ... or do I? How much room can it take? 

The final product without the lemon zest. I got tired or lazy. There's barely room to shake it up. I did not shake it up as I figured it was an exercise in pointlessness. But ah! Satisfaction of a messy job accomplished!