Sunday, August 28, 2011

People's Medicine--The Smashed Toe Compress...

So less than a week after my Poultice and Fomentation class I managed to smash my toe into the door frame, requiring a fomentation for myself. I thought I broke it. The pain was awful. So what does the herbwyfe do when she smashes her toe? Well, I'll tell you, though those of you who have been coming to the Herbal Home Health Series class probably know what to do by now.

First, I took some arnica tablets, then I made myself a nice compress of straight bruise and trauma oil, which I had made earlier this year and stored in the pantry. This is olive oil infused with arnica, yarrow, st. john's wort and chamomile. These herbs help to reduce swelling and bruising, decrease pain and speed healing. My toe was too tender to wrap it individually, so put the compress around the three outer sides and then bandaged it. Halfway through the day I replaced the compress with a fresh one, then changed it again before bed and left it on for the night.

By the next day it was feeling much better, though still very sore. The interesting thing is that the only area with bruising was the inside, where the compress was not touching the skin. This time I wrapped the toe all the way around with the oil compress. By the end of the second day the bruise was quickly disappearing and the toe feeling a lot better. Homegrown/homemade medicine and age old healing technique to the rescue!

(Lucinda, over at Whispering Earth, has a wonderful post about poultices and compress. )

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Children's Herbal Storytelling Canceled

Due to the expected hurricane on Sunday, I am canceling the Children's Herbal Storytelling Hour. I'll post soon about possibly rescheduling this event. I hope everyone stays safe this weekend.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Roadside Weed Walk

An evening walk with my boys.
We look at the big sky, the birds and bugs, the trees and fields...
and all the wild plants growing on the roadside.

Like toadflax,

queen anne's lace,

new york iron weed (purple), cardinal flower (red), and jewelweed  (orange),

indian mallow,

joe pye weed,

and bouncing bet (or soapwort).

So much to see along the roadside, just a short walk from our door.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Two More Herbal Events This Season!

Although it's been a great season for sharing about the herbs around here, it's been a very dry season for the herbs themselves in my garden. The lack of vibrancy that comes from a happy and well watered plant community is visibly lacking this year as all the plants seem to be waiting for some good regular watering from above. I do my best with the hose to keep my newly planted and non-local plants going, but it really is no comparison to a good shower, and the plants know it. My elderberries seem to be dropping before they fully ripen. Fortunately, the native and wild herbs are among the most hardy of plants, and will not only be fine, but often act as if nothing is out of the ordinary at all (I don't hear the dock complaining).

Time moves on in the garden and with the ripening of the black walnuts I am reminded that fall will soon be here. Fall is a whole new season for gathering the medicinal herbs. Some folks from the herbal home health series classes have asked me to add a class on roots. I love the idea, but I just can't see how to fit a whole new class into this season. However, I am adding a Fall Herb Walk, in which we will look at what is best to gather in the fall of the year, and hey, maybe we'll even dig up a couple roots. See below for details.

I've also been asked to do a children's class. I love this idea, and really enjoy sharing the plants with the children. I don't have time to do anything in depth this year, but I am adding a storytelling hour for the end of August. If there is an interest in deeper exploration of the useful plants, I may offer either an herbal children's series or an herbal camp for children next season. Please let me know what you want to see offered. My goal for these classes is make the herbs accessible in your lives so you can benefit from their many gifts. Opening the door to the world of the healing plants is a magical experience, and one that changes your life forever. I love to offer the key to that door to those curious about what is on the other side.

Children's Herbal Storytelling Hour
An hour of storytelling in the garden for young people interested in the wild plants growing in their back yards. We will meet a handful of the most common weeds, hear the stories about them from different times and cultures, and learn a few of their uses.
Cost: $5 per child
Sunday, August 28 from 10 to 11 am
This is a gentle and fun introduction to the herbs for children
*Parents are welcome to attend the storytelling, or relax in the shade for an hour. 
(hey, bring your knitting!)

Fall Herb Walk
You may be putting the garden to sleep, but it's still harvesting season for many herbs. Roots, barks and seeds are best harvested in the fall of the year. We'll look at some wild herb folks are likely to find growing around their yard, as well as a few medicinal plants from the herb garden. As always, interested young people are welcome to attend.
Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for young people
Sunday, October 2nd from 10 to 12 am
Please wear boots if you have them, as we may be walking in wet areas.

All classes will be in my garden in Cochranville, Pa
To register for these events, please e-mail me at

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sharing the Plant Healers

The first couple classes in the Herbal Home Health Series have been wonderful. It is so amazing to share the plant knowledge with others, and just magical to see how it empowers people in their lives. After our first aid class last month I started to hear stories of folks using the plants for their little emergencies. This is so satisfying for me. For many years I have felt blessed to be able to use plant medicine for myself and my family, but to see others awakening to realization that the weeds growing around them can be used in healing ways is so satisfying.
Watching folks take down notes about the plants and look at them closely, as if seeing them for the first time, reminded me so much of my early days of learning about the healing plants. I was absolutely blown away by the idea that I could make my own medicine, using the plants in my yard, plants that I had never taken much notice of before. Suddenly all green and growing things seemed different, important, worthy of care and attention...respect even. That was many years ago, but the memory of that awakening will always be with me. Seeing others awaken to the gifts of the healing plants is absolutely amazing.
Even more rewarding has been the interest of young people in the classes.  I didn't even know plants could be used as medicine when I was their age. Seeing these girls make their own medicine stirs something in my heart, like a wound is healing from my own childhood. That connection to the sacred in Nature, the gifts of the earth, our living planet, to nurture that connection in our children goes a long way in healing our own disconnect.

Thank you to all who have participate in these classes. It has been a joy for me to share this with you.

Thanks to Lisa for her beautiful photos from the first aid class. Please visit her blog at EarthMama.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Medicinal Herb Walk at Bucktoe Creek Preserve

 (Photos by Lori Schnick-Ryan of Bucktoe Creek)

The medicinal herb walk at Bucktoe Creek Preserve last Sunday was so much fun. The weather was a bit chancy, but folks turned out to learn about the gifts of the wild medicine. It was great to meet Casey and Eli of Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative and Lancaster Farmacy as we took turns sharing how we each used the medicinal plants we found along our walk. The plants have so much to teach us, and there is always more to learn. It is always such a great feeling to share the gifts of the plants, but even more wonderful to learn more about them myself. This walk was both for me.

As we gathered back at the tables for herbal tea and food, one woman commented about how she wished she had learned this information in school. Yes, wouldn't it have been nice to actually have learned some life skills while growing up. We have lost our connection to the earth and her gifts and the knowledge of how to use them. I believe the loss of that connection has caused much of the problems we now face. But there is a longing to reconnect. Getting to know the medicinal plants and how to use them is just one way to reconnect with Gaia and, as Casey mentioned, re-wild ourselves. We are a part of the environment we live in, and our health is directly connected to the greater health of the living earth around us. This is yet another aspect of herbal medicine as people's medicine. For connecting with the living plants reconnects us to Nature, and that in itself is good medicine.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Herbal Medicine/ People's Medicine--Creeping Charlie

I have a feeling that most gardeners know this plant very well, though perhaps not by name. Creeping Charlie is also known as ground ivy and gill-over-the-ground. It is often found taking over flower beds at a rapid pace and many years before I began using herbs as medicine I spent long hours pulling buckets full of Gill out of my beds. But Gill is a medicinal plant as has it's own gifts to offer. It represents to me the epitome of people's medicine, because not only is it likely growing in your yard right now, but you would be hard pressed to find this herb sold in any form at the health food store.

Gill is a bitter tonic, and one of the first plants in the spring we harvest to bring us out of winter's slump. The whole above ground plant is very nutritive and high in vitamin C. We add it to our smoothies and chop it into salads. You could also add it to cooked dishes.

As a tea, Gill is warming and toning. It can be used to treat coughs, colds, bronchitis and fever. Drink it warm to induce sweating if you are in bed with a cold, or let it cool first if you do not need it's febrifuge property.

Use Gill as a poultice for wounds or squeeze out the juice to rub on bruises. 

Gerard, a 16th century English herbalist, has written that Creeping Charlie "purgeth the head from rheumatic humours flowing from the brain." I'm not exactly sure what he meant by that, but it sounds like a good thing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

There's some good eatin' out there...

Before the spring garden greens are up Nature offers an array of wild greens that give us just what we need to renew our bodies from a long winter. We've been eating the wild weeds for some weeks now and it is amazing how these strong and nourishing plants really enliven you. I'll be talking about the about plants and more in my Herbal Tonics class on May 21st.

There is a lot of concern about radiation lately and one of the best ways to protect yourself is to alkalize your body and boost your immune system. All dark leafy green are excellent for this, but the wild greens are even better. Get to know your weeds and add them to your diet! For a great article on protecting yourself from radiation go here.

Happy spring foraging.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Herbal Home Health Series

Herbal Home Health Series
Classes throughout the season to help you gain the knowledge and confidence to treat your family's minor emergencies with natural and inexpensive herbal remedies.
Come gather at my house and garden to learn from and work with the healing plants that grow all around us. Each class will involve hands-on experience working with the plants and include an herbal product for you to take home for your natural medicine cabinet.
May 21 (Saturday)  Herbal Tonics--Food as Medicine
  Identify the herbs and weeds that are most nourishing and toning to our systems. Learn how to harvest and use these plants as edibles and infusions. We will gather plants for some in-class preparations. Prevention is the best medicine, and many of the wild plants are loaded with the nutrients we need to stay healthy and energized throughout the season.
June 18 (Saturday) Herbal First Aid
Learn what herbs to reach for when those little emergencies happen. We will look at my favorite plants to turn to for cuts, scrapes, bruises, bleeding, pain, poisoning, diarrhea and other minor emergencies. Nature offers abundant and safe solutions to heal our traumas. We'll be getting to know some of my favorite and most relied upon plants.
July 16 (Saturday) Making Salves and Cremes
Herbal salves and cremes can heal and soothe, stimulate or relax. In this class we'll make some together and look at recipes and techniques for making your own at home.
August 20 (Saturday) Poultices and Fomentations
From chew and stick poultices in the field to carefully prepared fomentations in the kitchen, we'll look at the lost art of laying on the herbs. These techniques are useful for anything from treating minor skin problems to helping broken bones heal faster to drawing out toxins and poisons and infections.
September 18 (Sunday) Putting up the Medicine
Learn to make your own tinctures and liniments to last all winter. Making these herbal extracts is easier than you think. We'll be making some in this class.
October 16 (Sunday) Teas and Syrups for Cold Season
Learn what homemade teas and syrups will nourish your family back to health during the cold season.
All classes will be from 10am to 1pm
$25 per class
$140 for the whole season

To sign up, e-mail April at or call 717-529-6100

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Herbal Medicine/People's Medicine--St. John's Wort

For my first post in the herbal medicine/people's medicine series, I wanted to write about an herb that has long been in my life, but only recently become one of the primary remedies I depend upon. I first became acquainted with St. John's Wort many years ago when I was buying herbs for a natural health food store. Back then this plant was very popular for it's use in treating depression. I think it got so much coverage for this one use, that it became pigeon-holes as a sort of one-use herb, and it's many other gifts received very little attention. This herb is an incredible nervous system tonic and certainly has been long used to treat anxiety and depression, but it is much more than that. It took me years to discover that St. John's wort is a powerful healing plant on many level.

St. John's Wort is a wound healing plant. It is anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, pain-relieving, and relaxing. It is useful in treating muscle aches, swollen joints, stiff necks, sciatica, neuralgia, rheumatism, arthritis, chicken pox, shingles, and sunburn. With all this, it is definitely a plant worth knowing. So when I first moved out to the countryside and discovered St. John's Wort growing freely in the hedgerows around our house, I began harvesting it for medicine making.

Yellow St. John's Wort among other newly harvested herbs

I do dry some of this herb for use as infusions, but I have really come to depend on the healing qualities of the oil for daily use in my family. To make the oil, I let the freshly harvested flowering tops wilt for an hour of two. This decreases the water content and decreases the chance that the oil will mold. Then I coarsely chop the plant and fill a mason jar almost to the top. I then cover the herb with organic olive oil and stir with a chopstick to release and air bubbles. After capping the jar, I place it in a sunny spot in the garden, bringing it in at night and when rain is expected. After two weeks in the sun, I strain out the oil, bottle it, and store it in the pantry. The result is a beautiful red medicinal oil that is never too long between uses.

  Herbal oils steeping in the sunshine (St. John's Wort is third from left)

What do I use this exceptional oil for? Oh, mostly normal, everyday complaints. Things like bruises, muscle aches, inflammation, cold sores and pain. But what makes it a stand-by in our home is how very effect it is for soothing growing pains. My first son never had them. But my second son gets them periodically in the middle of the night. He wakes and complains his legs hurt. At first I would just massage his legs, which provided some relief, but not enough for his to get back to sleep very quickly. When I thought of using the St. John's oil, though, the relief was very quick. I keep a small bottle of the oil in the bedroom for these night wakings, and it always sends him back to sleep very quickly. St. John's Wort's pain-relieving quality combined with it's relaxing ability make this an excellent remedy for treating growing pains. And any plant that can relieve my children's pain and get them back to sleep at night will always be a highly valued ally for me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Herbal Medicine/People's Medicine

"Herbal medicine is people's medicine, a gift from Mama Earth to us."

The above quote by Susun Weed sums up for me what is so wonderful and magical about herbal medicine. Herbal medicine has always been the people's medicine. It is the oldest form of medicine, and still the primary form of medicine in many parts of the world. However, most people in the industrial world have forgotten how to use herbs for their own health. We have lost that sacred relationship with the green medicine in much the same way we have lost our relationship with the earth itself.

Black walnuts

When I first discovered the healing power of herbs it was an awakening. I had grown up with the regular use of pharmaceuticals, and wild plants were not welcome in our yard. My step father all but declared war on the weeds, using concrete and herbicides to try to eliminate them. Such powerful plants are not easily defeated though. And many have truly marvelous gifts to share, if only we look upon them as allies, and not enemies.

Even as a child, though, I have been drawn to nature, and to the wild plants especially. I remember being entranced by the beauty of Queen Anne's Lace while waiting for the bus to school (not know the name of the plant, of course, or that it was in fact related to the carrots we ate at dinner). When I moved out on my own, it was not long before I had a nice little garden of flowers and vegetables. But it wasn't until I found myself working in a natural foods co-op in my early 20's that my eyes were opened to the healing power of herbs. I think it was because I was so completely oblivious to it, that it was such a revelation to me. "Are you telling me," I wanted to say, " that the weeds growing outside my door, the ones my step-dad  would always be spraying poison on, are actually healing?" Amazing. Why didn't everyone know about this?

Well, that is another story for perhaps another post. The point is, we lost something incredibly powerful when we lost our connection to the healing plants. We lost a bit more of our self-reliance and our connection to the natural world. Since that great awakening, I have studied herbal medicine both formally and informally for nearly 15 years. I have grown herbs, wildcrafted them, make my own medicines, and have come to rely on them for my family's well being. I know how to identify medicinal herbs in the wild, and so I am able to use these medicines for free. This knowledge has empowered me to be less reliant on consumer medicine, and more importantly, it has allowed me to show my children that we can take care of ourselves.

Rainer and Alden grinding dried herbs for storage

 What could be more simple and beautiful than harvesting our medicine from the earth? Using this hand harvested, handmade medicine has become so ubiquitous in my life that I hardly notice it anymore. Like cooking dinner with fresh vegetables, using herbal medicine is just a natural part of our lives. This is the way it used to be, the way it could be again, if we just take back that knowledge, the relationship with the plants. You don't have to be a professional herbalist to welcome them into your life. This was once common knowledge with nearly every family.

In the next series of posts, I plan to share with you some of the herbs and herbal medicines I have come to rely on in my daily life with my family. These are plants I would not do without, and many of them are easily found in the wild spaces around our homes. I invite you to get to know these herbs, as you see how they have become lovely friends for me and my family. And if you are an herbalist yourself, whether professional or not, please join me in sharing our most relied on herbal remedies. For only when we make it practical, are others truly inspired to bring the wild plants into their lives.

This series is called "People's Medicine".

So if you want to join in, just e-mail me a link to your post and I'll put all the links on my first post on Monday.

Happy Medicine Making.