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

Friday, February 10, 2017

Meet Trifolium pratense – Red Clover

Welcome to another opportunity to meet and dance with the botanical world! This time we're meeting and dancing with sweet red clover, Trifolium pratense... 

Family: Fabaceae (legume family)
This botanical family includes herbaceous perennials and annuals, as well as trees and shrubs. Those crazy botanists!

Trifolium is a genus of clover. Trifolium pratense is a species of clover, commonly called red clover. It's native to Europe, northwest Africa and western Asia and is a perennial that has naturalized throughout North America and in many regions around the globe. And I am grateful. 

As a backyard farmer, I honor Trifolium as a nitrogen fixer, making nitrogen in the atmosphere biologically available in the soil to nourish and sustain the soil and other plants. Over the years, as we've given up the mower for the scythe, we manage our "lawn" more like a meadow, and as a result we have so much more diversity on our little care, including Trifolium (and so many other plants, pollinators and birds!).

Harvest: Tops in flower, new blooms. Leaves from the young plants before bud and bloom start their show. Harvest the tops and you’ll get subsequent harvests – think deadheading.

Taste: Bland and sweet.

Humors: Moist and cool.

Actions: Nutritive, alterative, anti-cancer, improves appetite, promotes fertility, mild sedative.

Constituents: Vitamins, minerals, isoflavones, alkaloids, and more.

Contraindications: As a nutritional infusion: none.

UsesI tend to think of Trifolium as a beautiful food, loaded with vitamins and minerals like B complex (Thiamine, B1, Niacin), C, Calcium, Chromium, Magnesium, Nickel, Phosphorus, Potassium and more. As a nutritional infusion it is widely considered safe for long-term use with children, the aged and convalescing, pregnant and breast-feeding moms.

It has a tradition as a blood cleanser and has a history of being used to flush heavy metals (IE: lead) and other toxins from the blood. I’m not sure about the heavy metals, but I recall a gentleman carpenter who worked with treated wood. He was young, robust, and in otherwise Good health, but began feeling tired and noticed an inactive rash forming over his body. After a conversation, I suggested only two things: That he commit to wearing heavy work gloves when handling any treated wood, and drinking red clover infusion. Within a couple weeks both the rash and the fatigue waned out of his awareness. To this day I encourage anyone working with known toxins to drink red clover infusion and engage their common sense.

The isoflavones in Trifolium are often credited with its ability to improve many menopausal “symptoms” as well support prostate health. 

It’s considered an important menopausal herb, one that supports hormonal harmony, eases flashing, enhances vaginal lubrication, memory, bone density and flexibility, and general energy levels. It was during my own menopausal journey that I nurtured relationship with this plant and made it a weekly ally.

Trifolium has a steadfast folk history for its use in treating cancer. It has been used to treat cancerous ulcers and has associated research that suggests an affinity with breast health, making it a favorable breast ally for prevention and treatment. During my own breast challenge I engaged her Medicine in the form of nutritional infusion, tincture and added it to many a favored tea blend. Not to mention floral bouquets and blessing waters.

Research indicates that regular ingestion of the infusion softens breast lumps, has reversed pre-cancerous and cancerous circumstances. It has been shown to play a role in preventing breast cell receptors from absorbing cancer-causing estrogens (it has constituents that mimic estrogen and connect to the receptor sites. It is considered a safe and powerful anti-cancer herb and is even reputed to repair damaged DNA, reversing pre-cancers and in situ cancers. Susun Weed considers it protective to the uterus (esp. during tamoxifen trmt - L HRT for hormone-positive cancers & many post-menopausal breast cancers).

Red clover. Everything you hoped soy would be with none of soy’s problems. Red clover has ten times more phytoestrogens than soy in a much safer formulation. It’s the world’s leading anti-cancer and cancer-preventing herb. Do watch however if you’re in menopause because it’s also a fertility promoter, and if you don’t wanna have a surprise baby be a little careful with the red clover, and especially be careful with Oatstraw.” ~ Susun Weed

It alkalinizes blood, protects the liver and lungs and can ease constipation.

It's also been credited with lowering blood cholesterol levels.

Externally, as an infused oil, it is a wonderful skin softener and it makes a nice breast massage oil that can help in shrinking lumps, countering cancer, as well as a support to the lymphatic system in reabsorbing and processing “waste” cells. It’s a sound addition to internal and external breast treatments – for wellness or treatment.

Dance with Trifolium pratense – Red Clover

And dance often! Here's some music and steps...  

Red Clover Lemonade
2 servings
1 ounce red clover tops
boiling water
1-2 lemons (or to taste)
2 T honey (or to taste)

Weigh out one ounce of red clover. Place it in a quart jar. Pour to cover with boiling water, cap and allow to steep and cool at least four hours. Strain.

Squeeze the juice of 1 to 2 lemons (limes are quite tasty, too). Blend in the honey and add to the red clover infusion. Served over ice (or not) in a stemmed glass with a wedge of lemon and enjoy.

Red Clover Buttermilk Soda Bread
from Leda Meredith, published in Mother Earth News, 2014 - Yields one loaf

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment paper.

1 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour (pastry flour makes this bread more tender. If you can’t get whole wheat pastry flour, use a mix of half all-purpose and half whole wheat flours)
½ cup red clover blossom florets (stripped off of the tough bases/cores)
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 tsp caraway or anise seeds (optional)
1 egg
2/3 cup buttermilk
¼ cup melted butter, plus one more tablespoon reserved for brushing on finished loaf
1 tbsp. honey

Whisk the dry ingredients (including the fresh or dried red clover blossom florets) together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ones. Stir to incorporate the flour. Don’t stir too much though—it’s okay if there is still a little dry flour here and there, and for this dough lumpy is good. You want the dough to still be somewhat soft and sticky, but coherent enough that you can shape it into a loaf. If the dough seems too goopy, add more flour a little at a time. I sometimes need to add as much as 1/3 c. additional flour. Some cracks on top are okay and actually make the finished loaf more attractive in a rustic way. Scrape the dough out onto your baking sheet. Shape it into a disk approximately five to six inches in diameter. Bake 25-35 minutes until golden. While still hot, brush with remaining tablespoon of butter. Let cool on a rack.

Red Clover Syrup
1 ounce red clover tops
boiling water
3-4 cups of cane sugar
½ organic lemon or orange, seeded and chopped – including the peel.

Weigh out one ounce of red clover. Place it in a quart jar. Pour to cover with boiling water, cap and allow to steep and cool at least four hours. Strain.

Measure, by volume, your liquid, multiply by two and you’ll have your sugar measure. Add the sugar to the infusion, heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, add the citrus and simmer gently another 20 minutes (or so). 

You can hot bath can this syrup or simply store in a cool, dark place until ready to use. 

I use herbal syrups, like this one, as a sweetener, as I would honey. It’s a nice addition to beverages, hot and cold, as well as dressings, baked goods, over pancakes, on yogurt, toast and so on and so forth.

Red Clover Jelly
4 cups long-brew infusion
¼ cup lemon juice
2 packages powdered pectin
8 cups sugar

Stir the lemon juice into the infusion. Stir in the pectin and bring to a boil, constantly stirring. Once a strong boil has been reached, add the sugar all at once and return to a rolling boil. Boil for one minute, skim and pour into jelly jars. Process as you would any other jelly. EnJOY!

In general …
Add the young leaves (harvested prior to flowering) to salads or soups. They may be cooked and enjoyed as with any green, though with greater effort to collect enough to make it worthy. Some folks grind the dried herb into powder to use in ways similar to a grain flour. The roots may be cooked for food as well.

As for the blossoms, simply pluck the flower heads from fresh red clover to add to salads, soups, pancakes, muffins, biscuits, rice, vegetable and meat dishes.

I'm already looking forward to the first springtime leaves and blossoms, but until then, I'll leverage my dry stash for dancing!


Walk in the Woods, LLC
Whiting Mills
Winsted, Connecticut

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Join us for World Fire Cider Day of Action!

Get ready for World Fire Cider Day of Action! What can you do, you ask? Well, no matter where you are in the world, you can start here:
Learn more and Take Action!
➽ Make yourself a big batch of fire cider!
Sign the Petition!
➽ Flood the Market ~ sell your own version of Fire Cider!
➽ Support the Boycott call stores in your area and let them know about the issue.
Donate to the legal fund to support the amazing legal team!

I'll be starting my day getting fired up with a shot of Fire Cider, and then straining some versions I started before the ground froze a couple months ago. I may make a bean soup and add a shot of it... and a salad with olive oil and Fire Cider. Oh my... so Good and Good for you!

And in the evening I'll be hosting a Free Fire Cider Action & Education Potluck at my Walk in the Woods studio in sunny Winsted, Connecticut. Join us if you're in the area!

Walk in the Woods, LLC
Whiting Mills suite 310

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Meet Avena sativa – Oatstraw

Meet Avena sativa – Oatstraw

Family: Poaceae (AKA Gramineae or “true grasses.”)

Avena is a genus of some 30+ species, commonly called oats, which have been cultivated for thousands of years for food for two and four leggeds.

Parts used: Aerial parts – dried stems and leaves, flower bud (milky tops), seed (grain).

Harvest: Milky oats, oat straw, oats. Harvest the tops and you’ll get subsequent harvests.

Taste: Bland and sweet.

Humors: Moist and cool.

Actions: Nutritive, nervine, relaxant (some say sedative) - one that can enhance alertness (so it’s sometimes seen classified as stimulant – because of its nutritional actions), emollient, demulcent, rejuvenative, tonic (to the endocrine system, with an affinity to the adrenals, esp. in milky form, and to the digestive system and the integumentary system). It is sometimes noted as adaptogenic, antidepressant, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, anti-tumor/cancer, diuretic, neurotonic. It’s credited with reducing cholesterol levels and so is considered supportive to circulatory functioning.

Composition: Hollow stems, plugged at intervals with leaf-bearing nodes. Leaves are usually alternate with parallel veins. The leaves are often hardened with a form of silica making them stiff, rough, and sometimes sharp, which discourages foraging and grazing. The flowers are most often arranged in spikelets and are usually hermaphroditic (possessing male and female components and self-pollinating), with the exception of maize, which is anemophilous (wind pollinated). The fruit is called a caryopsis, meaning a simple fruit, one that we call grain.

Constituents: Carbohydrates, silicic acid, protein, flavinoids, saponins, alkaloids, and more. Rich in calcium and other minerals and vitamins too.

Contraindications: None, unless you are allergic oats, celiac, sensitive to gluten. So far, both research and experience demonstrate that gluten sensitivities aren’t triggered by using oat straw on the skin.

With respect to gluten, Henriette Kress says it best: “While oats doesn't by itself contain gluten, "normal" oats usually contain minute amounts of glutenous grains. This could be because of crop circulation (growing one grain after another means that some of last years crop will grow this year as well), because of the harvesters and grain storage not being completely cleaned between crops, or because the mill doesn't take care to clean out all gluten-containing grains. Whichever it is, gluten-sensitives do well to avoid "normal" oats.”

Some say Avena should be avoided during pregnancy and while breast-feeding, though this seems counter intuitive and intellectually contrary to me.

Medicinal use: Rich in calcium, phosphorus, and potassium and other nutrients, oats are good Food and Food is Good Medicine. Oats offer respectable nutrition and help to nourish the debilitated nervous system. As a nutritive herb, it is rich in silica, carotenes, and folic acid and is a good source of antioxidants and chlorogenic (phenolic/protective) acids.

Often referred to as an adrenal tonic by contemporary herbalists, it has proven itself, time and again, as a reliable ally for those who are exhausted and for convalescence. I’ve found it to be a sound ally during times of mental/emotional/physical stress, especially when tied to grief.

Addiction, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, nervous tension, stress and all similar conditions we understand and experience show how oats (as Food, water infusion, vinegar infusion, tincture and talisman) act as a strengthening tonic for mind and heart (and then some).

Oats are soothing & nourishing, used internally and externally, helping to calm pain from damaged nerves and to nourish the regeneration of damaged bones, lung, and muscles, and generally support healthy tissue growth throughout the body.

Nervous System: Avena is sometimes referred to as a nerve tonic, though I find that the references to “nerve tonic” point not to the physical aspect, but rather to the subtle associations of the nervous system … such as insomnia, depression and anxiety. I’ve found it, in all its forms, from tea to tincture, to subdue irritability and the resulting behaviors. Know what I mean?

Renal System: Oats are credited with prevention of scrofula, prevention of gravel and stones in the bladder and kidneys, clearing to urinary congestion. This sings the song of Food as Medicine to me.

Integumentary & Skeletal Systems:  Oats support and strengthen the bones and tissues, including veins, strengthening their connective tissues & increasing their flexibility. Avena is cooling and soothing to dry, itchy skin. For years I used a long-brew infusion to add to my baths (and to sip while bathing) to manage my “winter skin” which was a significant challenge during my corporate days, working in those horrid-dry “environmentally controlled” buildings.

It’s a nutritive addition to the diet as it is rich in silica, which is necessary for building the outer layer of skin, hair and finger/toenails. Oats, in all forms can harmonize hormones, protect adrenal glands, support the thyroid, and improve the strength of veins. It’s also credited with powers to increase the libido, as any notable nutrient-rich Food/Medicine should! Oatstraw infusion can be an ally while taking the L Dexamethasone (Decadron), use to counter the side effects from chemotherapy, which can cause excessive energy followed by exhaustion. It’s supportive to many in easing hot flashes, frazzled nerves and other menopause “symptoms” (infusion or tincture: 25 gtt. bid). Micheal Moore lists: Angina pectoris, as an adjunct for fear of death, constant guarding against pain; Functional neurocirculatory disorders; To prevent anxieties when insomnia is feared; General insomnia in sthenic individuals; Narcolepsy; Menopause, with sense of pressure and pain in ovaries, uterus, sacrum, bladder with nervousness and sense of confusion; or with melancholia after hot flashes; Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), with easily startled disposition, easy adrenergic discharge, jumpy; Appetite poor, nervous, weak (with Trifolium); Hysteria with adrenergic-induced exhaustion.

Chakra association: I’ve not yet settled on a single chakra, as oats – in all of its parts – seem so supportive to us – in all of our parts – the whole body and being.

Culinary use: Nutritional infusions, Nutritional vinegars. All manner of cooking and baking. Oat straw as a Tisane/Tea.

David Hoffman, Medical Herbalism
David Winston,
Guido Masé,
Henriette Kress, Practical Herbs &
Michael Moore,
Rosalee de la Foret,
Susun Weed, multiple books
A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. Maude Grieve
Culpepper’s Complete Herbal
Wikipedia – for some of the botany descriptions
Personal notes from multiple sources
Personal experience

Dance with Avena sativa – Oatstraw

Avena Columbiana – a Central American stewed oatmeal beverage
2 servings
¼ c oats (cracked or rolled)
1 c water
1 cinnamon stick
1 clove (or more, to taste)
2-4 T sugar (to taste)
1 c milk

Combine the oats and the water in a pan, bring to a simmer, and adjust the heat to gently simmer for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cinnamon, clove, sugar and milk, bring up to heat and gently simmer another 20 minutes. You want the oats to be silky-soft.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool, remove the cinnamon and clove, then chill for (at least) a few hours.

In a blender, puree until smooth. Add water if too thick. Enjoy chilled, in a fine, stemmed glass.

Oat Tonic from Susun Weed
Nourishes and rehydrates
A little something extra for sick young ones, nauseated moms, those recovering from any gastro-intestinal problems, including surgery.
1 c oats
1 c water
1 t lemon juice (or vinegar)
1 t raw honey
1 t water
Pour boiling water over oats and let stand overnight. In the morning add remaining ingredients.
 Mix well, strain through a cloth. Take by the spoonful.

Nourishing Oatstraw Infusion
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the, from my perspective, most obvious dance… the nourishing oatstraw infusion, brewed in the Wise Woman tradition.

1 ounce (by weight) of oatstraw
1 quart of boiling water

Place your oatstraw in a quart vessel (I use a canning jar or one of my French presses), pour the hot water over the herb, give it a loving stir, lid it and let it steep 4-8 hours for a mineral rich – and quite tasty – beverage.

And so much more. Trust your Knowing and sense of Play - have fun and be well by Nature!

Walk in the Woods, LLC
Whiting Mills
Winsted, Connecticut