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.


Uses:

Internal

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

External

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.

Pesto.

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 ForÄ›t. 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)
Poultice
Steam
Bath
Bath salts
Poultices/compresses
Pillow mix
Bug repellent
Body spray
Deodorant powder
Beads
Spiritual healing

sources:
wikipedia.org 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.


rose
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!

Peace.

rose
Walk in the Woods, LLC
Whiting Mills
Winsted, Connecticut