Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Meet & Dance with Taraxicum officinalis – Dandelion

The Lion's Tooth          

Do you see what I see? The land of my dominion!
Just one gentle, passing breeze,
Or even just a random sneeze
Can lift me up and carry me as on an eagle’s pinion.
And scattered into many parts, I go where’er I’m cast
And put down deep and lasting roots, wherever land is grassed.

Do you know what I know? My life is never-ending!
My own seeds number millions -
Each one produces billions!
Pity all poor gardeners’ vain efforts at lawn tending!
Bitter poisons, mowers’ blades, all you have used to fight me -
Could never yank this lion’s tooth, so go ahead and bite me!
– Paula T. Calhoun

Meet Taraxicum officinalis  Dandelion

Family: Asteraceae

The Taraxicum genus is one of our North American natives, also home throughout temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. This ubiquitous beauty is so well known that it needs little botanical description. The genus is described as a herbaceous, tap-rooted perennial plant of many species that adapt to the unique qualities of their environment.

We know this plant most readily by its golden-yellow composite flower head, which is made up of many tiny flowers (florets). These happy flower heads open in day and close at night, a pattern I relate to breath.

The flower heads are born singly on the leafless scape (the hollow-tube-like-stem), that exudes a milky white latex that we all recognize.

And who hasn’t dug a dandelion root? The typical tap root, sometimes splitting, from which a basal rosette of simple, lobed leaves, growing 2 to more than 10 inches in length, gives birth to one or more scapes which, in turn, give birth to the flower heads that mature into spherical seed heads called blowballs.

You may already know that the common name, dandelion, is born of the French common name, dent de lion, which means tooth of the lion. Why? Observe the leaves… the flowers… the root… of what might they remind you?
Harvest: Roots, leaves, flowers, buds.

Taste: Bitter

Humors: Cool, dry

Actions: Anti-rheumatic, bitter, cholagogue, diuretic, hepatic, laxative, nutritive, tonic, among others.

Constituents: Fructose (richer in spring); sesquiterpene lactones; diterpenes, taraxacin; triperpens; sterols; carotenoids; xanthoxophylls; flavinoids; polysaccharides (inulin – among others – richer in autumn); potassium (up to 4.5% in aerial parts).

Contraindications: Rare allergies. While considered safe during pregnancy, nursing and for children and the aged, it might best be avoided in Medicine form by those with low blood pressure.


The leaves are, to my way of thinking, first and foremost a Food. The leaf has a longtime tradition as a powerful diuretic, especially dried and brewed as tea. Unlike pharmaceutical diuretics, it’s rich in the potassium that is often lost as a result of its diuretic action, making it a synergistically harmonized Medicine, even when water retention or cardiac congestion is present. David Hoffman says, “overall, this herb is a most valuable general tonic and perhaps the best widely applicable diuretic and liver tonic.”

Mark McDermott used tincture leaf tincture in formulas dealing with kidney and bladder stones.

Susun Weed suggests its use for minimizing bloating ad cerebral edema (in Ginkgo) that leads to irritability and mood swings, as well as for menstrual challenged of cramps, water retention, pelvic congestions and to balance feelings.

The root, with its hepatic and cholagogue actions, has a history for being a premier choice for inflammation of the liver and gallbladder. In general, it aids digestion by maximizing the flow of bile into the intestines. It is supportive to a congested liver that is burdened by hormones (HRT) or other drugs.

Ellingwood mentions the root in the treatments of chronic jaundice, rheumatism, chronic skin eruptions and chronic gastritis, among other conditions.

This plant holds a special place in my heart and around my little backyard farm.

In spring, I simply dig up the early dandies (usually from paths and garden beds where I prefer they not grow) and use the leaves fresh in salads and sautées and roast the roots for a delicious decoction to enjoy throughout the year. In general, the leaves are sweetest in spring, and the roots in autumn.

Despite all the years that I’ve been leveraging this botanical for Food and for Medicine, I’m still inspired by her and learn new things every year. I’ve recently seen some herbalists using the flowers to make an infused oil for topical use. This is new to me, so I’m making a small batch of oil so I may experience it before setting out on research and conversations with my Green peers.

resources:  Rosalee de la Foret, various sources
                      David Hoffman, Medical Herbalism
                      Henriette Kress, Practical Herbs
                      Susun Weed, various sources
                      Wikipedia for the botany bits
                      Personal notes from multiple sources
                      Personal experience.

Dance with Taraxicum officinalis  Dandelion

As the gifts of Taraxicum sprout, blossom and bloom, the gift of Food and Medicine continue. Here’s a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing…

Dandy Bud Capers

2 cups water
1 cup herbal infused apple cider vinegar
1 T kosher salt
7-8 cups dandelion buds
3 garlic cloves, chopped (or other Allium addition)
Zest of one lemon (or other citrus)

Simmer the water, vinegar and salt together until the salt is fully dissolved. Let cool. Pack your jar/s with the dandy buds add the garlic and lemon zest (dividing evenly between jars, if you’re using multiples). Pour in the warm liquid over the plant matter leaving about ½-inch headspace, using a chopstick to remove air bubbles (and adding more liquid if need be). Cover, label, and put in cold storage for several weeks before using (alchemy happens!). Then… enjoy as you would any caper!

Sweet, Tart & Bitter Dandy Syrup

50-r-so dandelion flower heads, petals removed
2-3 sour apple (like the most-known Granny Smith), chopped
1-2 stalks of rhubarb, chopped
Juice of one lemon (or lime or other citrus)
about 1 cup of cane sugar (to match the measures by volume)

Simmer the dandy petals, apple, rhubarb and lemon juice for 20-30 minutes. Strain out the solids, measure the liquid and add an equal amount of cane sugar, by volume, to the liquid, return to the simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Bottle, label, refrigerate to increase shelf-life and enJOY as you would any other syrup!

Herbal Power
Powder your dried leaves to add to your culinary green powers. I often mix this and similar powders with onion, garlic, dried tomato “waste” from puree-making to keep in a shaker jar for adding to foods and as a garnish.

Temporary Tattoos
Henriette Kress suggests using the white “milk” of the plant to create your own body art. The art isn’t visible right away, but keep it dry, get a good night’s rest, and your brown tattoo will be waiting for you when you wake, and will last a few days (unless you wash it off).
Walk in the Woods, LLC
Whiting Mills
Winsted, Connecticut

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Meet Stellaria media – Chickweed

A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown –
Who ponders this tremendous scene –
This whole Experiment of Green –
As if it were his own.
- Emily Dickinson 

Meet Stellaria media  Chickweed

Family: Caryophyllaceae

Charming Stellaria media, the common star, is another non-native botanical – introduced from Europe – that has made itself quite comfortable and welcomed in North America.  It’s also made itself at home throughout Asia.

But calling this plant “it” doesn’t resonate with me, so I’m shifting that up here…

My experience with this little plant is that her seeds germinate in late winter, she flourishes, flowers, and goes to seed in spring, well before summer is even in our thoughts. In summer, when so many other botanicals are busy flourishing, chickweed is rarely seen. Yet, when those other plants mature and begin their waning, chickweed returns.

Maude Grieve describes chickweed like this:

“The stem is procumbent and weak, much branched, often reaching a considerable length, trailing on the ground, juicy, pale green and slightly swollen at the joints. Chickweed is readily distinguished from the plants of the same genus by the line of hairs that runs up the stem on one side only, which when it reaches a pair of leaves is continued on the opposite side. The leaves are succulent, egg-shaped, about 1/2 inch long and 1/4 inch broad, with a short point, pale green and quite smooth, with flat stalks below, but stalkless above. They are placed on the stem in pairs. The small white star-like flowers are situated singly in the axils of the upper leaves. Their petals are narrow and deeply cleft, not longer than the sepals. They open about nine o'clock in the morning and are said to remain open just twelve hours in bright weather, but rain prevents them expanding, and after a heavy shower they become pendent instead of having their faces turned up towards the sun, though in the course of a few days rise again. The flowers are already in bloom in March and continue till late in the autumn. The seeds are contained in a little capsule fitted with teeth which close up in wet weather, but when ripe are open and the seeds are shaken out by each movement of the plant in the breeze this being one of the examples of the agency of the wind in the dispersal of seeds, which is to be seen in similar form in the capsules of poppy, henbane, campion and many other common plants.
The Chickweed is also an instance of what is termed the 'Sleep of Plants,' for every night the leaves approach each other, so that their upper surfaces fold over the tender buds of the new shoots, and the uppermost pair but one of the leaves at the end of the stalk are furnished with longer leafstalks than the others, so that they can close upon the terminating pair and protect the tip of the shoot.”

The vernal darling, chickweed, creates a creeping yet matting groundcover.

As a backyard farmer, I do my best to harvest this little wild one before my chickens do, to use in spring salads, soups (a simple chickweed ‘n’ miso with Egyptian onion being a early spring ritual), and the occasional pesto.

If you are blessed to know someone with a cow field, request their permission to forage there, for I have discovered the most robust chickweed (among other botanicals) growing in such places.

Around these parts two “chickweeds” are common, the Stellaria media (cool and smooth) that we’re addressing here as well as Cerastium fontanum (warmer and fuzzy).

Harvest: Aerial parts. Spring and autumn (or whenever you discover the fresh, vibrant growth of this little contrary plant). The leaves, stems, flowers and seeds are all used as Food and Medicine.

Taste: Sweet and bitter

Humors: Cool and damp (much like her preferred environment).

Actions: Demulcent, refrigerant, promotes healthy tissue growth 

Constituents: Coumarins, saponins, and others.
Nutrients: Chlorophyll, minerals (calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc), vitamins (A – from carotenes, B vitamins – folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, C) and others.

Contraindications: Rare allergies.



I consider the charming Stellaria to be yet another mineral-rich Food, and its saponins help us to absorb and use those nutrients.

Saponin-rich chickweed also supports the breakdown (and ultimate elimination) of unwanted matter like catarrh, digestive mucus, bacteria, and even fat cells. It’s also supportive in dissolving cysts (with an apparent affinity for ovarian cysts) and benign tumors.

Susun Weed suggests regular and consistent use of FPM tincture (1 dropper full, 2-3 times a day) over time (up to 16-monts) to dissolve ovarian cysts.

Chickweed has a long tradition of use for cooling, soothing and whisking away many an infection and inflammation. Over the years I’ve known of two folks who’ve praised its internal and external use for calming their rosacea, though that result isn’t consistent with everyone, but I’m still seeking folks to use it this way to see if we can spot some telling pattern!

It has a long-time folk reputation for supporting weight management.

It’s considered to be supportive to the lymphatic system, much like calendula, as a gentle lymph-mover, though I’ve never used it in this way, perhaps because I generally have more calendula with which I make tincture for this use. But, if I didn’t have calendula, I’d certainly give this a go!

Gerard said of chickweed, “the leaves of Chickweed boyled in water very soft, adding thereto some hog's grease, the powder of Fenugreeke and Linseed, and a few roots of Marsh Mallows, and stamped to the forme of Cataplasme or pultesse, taketh away the swelling of the legs or any other part . . . in a word it comforteth, digesteth, defendeth and suppurateth very notably.”

As I passed through my menopausal gate, my body simply wanted to be heavier. For me, I’m confident that a need for grounding was involved here (that’s a story for another time). But one of the folk-uses for this plant, as a long-brew infusion (or tincture), is for supporting weight (specifically fat cell) loss, and while I didn’t much care about this at the time, I may at some point in the future, for chickweed has a tradition of use among the matriarchs (or crones, if you prefer).

Finally, between her common name, nutrients and actions, I tend to associate her with sacral chakra energies. Culpepper associates her with the moon… and I


I appreciate chickweed worked into an infused oil. I use it as is, or processed into a balm for all things itchy. While my go-to for itchy situations is plantain, this is my number-two, and I’ve known many moms over the years who swear by it for preventing and treating diaper rash.

I have blended chickweed oil with calendula oil for itchy, rashes that manifest in those “places where the sun don’t shine” (quoted words lovingly stolen from herbalist, Matthew Wood). While calendula alone is most often sufficient for managing these dark, dank challenges, the addition of chickweed (or plantain) oil really quiets the symptom of itch and, in turn, supports the whole of the healing process.

The fresh plant makes a fine poultice for wounds and infections. Susun Weed says that it’s a favored application for managing pink eye in kids.

Dance with Stellaria media  – Chickweed

Make these things and more! Ignite your imagination, intuition, and inspiration to nurture a meaningful relationship with this lovely and generous little botanical!

Spring Miso Soup. This is an annual tradition of time. It’s usually my “first” Stellaria preparation.

Any soup, stew or braising medium.


Spring frittata. Oh yeah. Along with other wild harvests. ::nods::

Fresh, in salads.

Dehydrated– as out-of-season leaf additions to foods, teas, as well as for powdering to use as a condiment and garnish.

Frozen – for out-of-season additions to foods and topical treatments.

Infused Vinegar – for a mineral-rich Food supplement that's delicious on salads, in soups, etc.

Infused Oil – As is, for topical use, in balms and soap making. Here’s a link to a balm recipe from Rosalee dela Forět. And remember, this is just one method to make a balm.

Tincture – Fresh Plant Matter (FPM) is recommended by Susun Weed, yet other herbalists make and use a Dry Plant Matter (DPM) tincture. So… play, experience and see what you discover.

resources:   Rosalee de la Foret
                            Susun Weed, Chickweed Is a Star
                            John Gerard’s Herbal
                            A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. Maude Grieve
                            Culpepper’s Complete Herbal
                            Personal notes from multiple sources

                            Personal experience.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Meet Achillea millefolium – Yarrow

Welcome to our latest featured botanical:  Achillea millefolium – Yarrow

Yarrow is a member of the Asteraceae family, of the Achillea genus.

A native to Eurasia, it grows throughout the northern hemisphere, including temperate regions of the Arctic. It takes root in meadows/lawns, open woodlands, wastelands/roadsides and is typically harvested throughout the summer as it blooms.

The size of the plant is influenced by its environment (soil quality, compactness, sun exposure and the like). Its overall height ranges from 8 to 39 inches.
The leaves are furry and grow spirally on the stem, and range from 2 to 8 inches long with the largest leaves at the bottom of the plant.

Yarrow is drought resistant and has been used for maintaining soil integrity, especially where erosion is a concern. It attracts “beneficial” garden insects, including my beloved predatory wasps, ladybugs and hoverflies.

Parts used: Aerial parts, flowers, leaves and stems.

Harvest: Flowering tops. Harvest the leaves at any time.

Taste: Bitter, pungent, acrid.

Energetics: Cooling, toning/soothing, astringent/Cool, dry.

Chakra association: Crown

Actions: Antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, AnAromatic, astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, nutritive, repellent (pest), styptic, tonic, and more.

Constituents: Alkaloids, amino acids, bitters, coumarins, fatty acids, flavonoids, isovaleric acid, nutrients (ascorbic acid, folic acid… calcium, iron, potassium, sodium, sulphur), saponins, salicylic acid, sterols, sugars, tannins, volatile oils and more.

Contraindications: Allergies (contact dermatitis); avoid/decrease consumption during pregnancy; Dizziness and nausea (adjust dose to a personal protocol);

Medicinal use: Digestion, respiratory, renal, hepatic, cardio/circulatory support – and more.

I’ve used yarrow to staunch bleeding of open cuts, especially punctured or deep cuts, bloody nose, using the raw plant, powdered leaf, as well as tincture (which stings, but I say you use what you have on hand). Yarrow is named for Achilles, the Greek warrior who relied on the herb to staunch the wounds of his soldiers on the battlefield, so there’s folklore to back up this particular action of this particular botanical.

Yarrow has a long tradition of being used, as a warm tea, during times of cold and flu when a fever is stuck and won’t break. A cup or two of the infusion, or hot water with a squirt (like a teaspoon or less) of tincture taken several times a day can ease the discomforts of colds and flu by encouraging sweating. I find it blends nicely with boneset (Eupatorium sp.) during times of flu. Henriette Kress suggests inhaling the steam when respiration is involved (and then drink it). I love this idea, for the fragrance of yarrow is comforting and healing, and steams are one of my GoTo Medicine practices.

Women have used yarrow during their moon cycles to help ease menstrual cramps and regulate menstrual flow, by ingesting infusion or tincture for a few days.

Yarrow has a long history of supporting the digestive system. As a bitter it can certainly kick-up saliva and digestive enzymes. I consider it one – of the many – fine digestive tonics.

Its astringency makes it a great option for treating hemorrhoids, externally and internally. When a “wet or weepy condition” presents itself, I often think: Yarrow!

Henriette Kress says that it “works a little like Echinacea, in that it makes white blood cells more ‘trigger-happy.’”

A tincture of yarrow makes a fine bug spray, deterring mayflies, mosquitoes, and even ticks. I’ve blended it with catnip and other tinctures, but find it, all on its own, to be delightfully effective. Sure, you have to reapply it, especially when starting its use, but I swear the impact is cumulative, for I seem to need less and less as the season wears on, as well as each year.

I love it, diluted, as a mouth rinse. It’s one of the many astringent herbals I reach for as a swish for dental care and health.

I’ve made infused oils and balms to support joint and muscle discomfort, and while effective, it’s not my GoTo. It does work nicely to dispel “stuck” blood externally, and in this way I do consider it my local arnica. I’ve also added it to my breast massage balms to enhance blood flow, and Susun Weed indicates just that in her book “Breast Cancer? Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way.”

Henriette Kress uses the roots for addressing toothaches, like a “chaw.”

The dried stems were apparently used to throw the I Ching. My spouse and I have used them for playing pick-up-sticks on those long summer evenings when kicking back time kicks in.

Spiritual relationship: For me, yarrow represents the “straight and narrow” behaviors that support and benefit a wild dream, a grand vision, goal or desired outcome. The spirit of yarrow has supported me through life challenges where I required behavior and action of unbending dedication and focus. In this way, I often say that yarrow helps to center and ground our grandest of dreams. Julia Graves alludes to this and offered me some external validation in her book, “The Language of Plants.”

Energetically, I find this herb to be a great match-up for those who spend a great deal of time “in their heads.”

Some Usual Applications
Tea/Infused water/ales and other fermented beverages
Addition to green powder (leaves or petals)
Infused vinegar (abrasions, small wounds)
Infused oil
Balms, ointments, lotions
Potpourri (simmered and dried)
Bath salts
Pillow mix
Bug repellent
Body spray
Deodorant powder
Spiritual healing

sources: for the botany bits            
The language of Plants by Julia Graves
Breast Cancer? Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way by Susun Weed
The Practical Herbalist, v. 1 & 2 by Henriette Kress
and various notes from experience, my own and others.

Walk in the Woods, LLC
Whiting Mills
Winsted, Connecticut