Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Elder Medicine

I just realized I didn't have a really informative article about elderberries on this blog, so here is one from the archives of my old blog, first published several years ago. My elderberry patch is much bigger now, as I just can't get enough of these healing berries (and neither can my family, friends and growing community). This post is a little out of season for gathering elderberries, but very timely for using them. Enjoy...

Of all the nourishing and healing plants I grow and harvest in my earth space, I am most grateful for the two elder bushes, one wild and one planted. This is the first year I had a harvest large enough for medicine making, and I have been anticipating preserving these precious berries for our winter stores as we move closer to the flu season.

Back in mid-summer I harvested elder flowers to dry. The flowers are high in vitamin C and bioflavinoids and are useful in treating congestion and soothing nerves. A famous gypsy fever remedy consists of elder flowers, yarrow flowers and peppermint. This tea helps to break a fever by promoting sweating, moving the heat and toxins out through the skin.

Now is the time to collect elder's berries. And if I don't do it, the birds certainly will.

Elderberries are high in vitamins A and C, and are one of Nature's antivirals. 

This is one of the most effective herbal remedies for preventing and treating the flu. It is also a general strengthening tonic, great for taking into the system as we move into the colder months. It is excellent for gearing up our immune systems at the onset of cold and flu season, as well as treating colds and flus for a faster recovery time. My family has come to rely on elder medicine and it has not disappointed. Elderberries not only gear up the immune system (modulate it, as herblaist Kiva Rose says), but they are also anti-viral, making it very effective agiast all strains of flu virus (not jus the ones this year's flu shot is created for). Elderberries also strengthen the mucous membranes, helping to flush out phlegm from the system. What a perfect combination for keeping well as the seasons turn.

Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, is a native plant in our region. It's use goes back thousands of years as a valuable and much revered medicinal plant. In Europe the Sambucus nigra species was used since the time of Ancient Greece at least. And here in America, the canadensis species was used by Native Americans for generations. It once grew abundantly along stream beds and woodland edges, and can still be found in the less cultivated areas of our region.

The berries themselves don't taste too great, so a little concocting is in order to get the kiddos to take them. One solution is adding them to a jam recipe...

This is a plum/elder jam made with 2 1/2 cups of plums and 1/2 cup of elderberries. The color is an almost fluorescent purple. I've got three jars of this medicinal food to boost us up this fall, but the berries don't stop with jam.

This year I delved into the ancient art of electuary crafting, inspired by Susan Hess at Farm at Coventry. She recently posted about making electuaries (basically thick herbal honey pastes) and included a recipe for an elderberry electuary.

I used 2 teaspoons of powdered cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of powdered cloves, and 2 teaspoons of powdered ginger. To this I added about 1/3 cup of fresh elderberries and one cup of honey. This mixture was heated over very low heat in a double boiler for about 10 hours, then transferred into a jar...

The result is a very thick and spice paste that is great medicine. This may be taken by the teaspoon at the onset of a cold or flu or eaten as a tonic and preventative throughout the season. I was unsure how the boys would react to something so strong and spicy, but Rainer seemed to like it used as a topping on homemade muffins.

I still hope to harvest more elderberries as the season unfolds, as I have more medicine making planned for this magical and healing plant.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Harvesting Sassafras Root

Rainer loves the fresh scent of sassafras root

As the weather turns cold and the plants begin to withdraw their energy into the earth my thought turn to harvesting the medicinal roots for medicine making during to dark winter months. After the first couple frosts, but before the ground freezes is the ideal time to dig most root medicines, though many can be dug the whole year round (dandelion). This week, my boys and I went out to gather sassafras root from the stands of trees not far from our earthspace.

mid-November goldenrod blooms
It was almost hard to believe we were in November, as the day was so sunny and warm. As we passed colonies of flowering goldenrod, I had the thought that we were harvesting the wrong plants on this day. But with trowel in hand we admired the goldenrod and proceeded until we reached our destination.

Most times of the year we identify sassafras by it's unique leaf shape...actually three shapes. Sassafras leaves look like mittens, I tell my boys, with either no thumbs, one thumb, or two thumbs! But this time of year the trees have virtually no leaves remaining on the trees. So we look for the distinctive shape of the tree branches, with their plump buds, and the green bark on the trunks. We scratch the bark to inhale the cinnamony smell that tells us, yes this is it.

the green bark of young sassafras

Since it is the roots we are after, we will have to dig up some of the plants. Whenever I do this, I am always careful make sure there are plenty of plants in the area I am harvesting from so the populations remain healthy. Sassafras however, is easy to harvest without endangering the plant. Most of the smaller trees in a grove are suckers of the bigger ones, and since they are connected horizontally under the ground, some folks are able to simply dig between two trees and gather the horizontal section of the connecting root. I usually look for young trees among the older ones, and use my trowel to loosen the soil up enough to simply pull up the tree along with six inches or so of the root. In this way I am simply thinning the patch, which remains healthy. Thanks are given for these gifts from our mother before we harvest. Then we gather only what we need, and return home with our treasure.

Rainer and Alden spotted dandelions in bloom and seed
Sassafras has long been considered a valuable folk medicine and was even one of the first cash crops out of North America to Europe (along with tobacco). It was extremely popular in Europe as a tonic and cure-all of sorts, and soon also became one of the relied on medicines for treating syphilis (also thought to be imported from the Americas), although extreme and rather ghastly mercury treatments were still the favorite method of doctors of the time. Traditionally, sassafras has been used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, venereal diseases, herpes, eczema, shingles, psoriasis, rashes, rheumatism, gout, arthritis, fever, lung problems, gas and colic. Among the many herbs classified as "blood cleansers", sassafras is described as having a cleansing effect in the body, but especially on the liver, gall bladder, stomach, kidneys, bowels and bladder. Cleansing and stimulating these organs has long been thought among traditional healers to relieve many of the above conditions, by removing obstructions and allowing for increased efficiency among the organs of assimilation and elimination.

Sassafras has also been known to slow the flow of breast milk though, so nursing mothers should probably avoid it.

Oh, and it tastes good too!

However, if you want to enjoy whole, unprocessed sassafras tea, you will have to make it yourself. Currently, sassafras is illegal to sell for internal use. This is because safrole, an alkaloid present in sassafras, was found to be carcinogenic in lab rats who were injected with large quantities of isolated safrole back in the 1970's. However, no human case of cancer has ever been reported and it also turns out that safrole is not water soluble (so it is not extracted into the tea). Everyone needs to make their own decisions about such cases. For myself, I find the evidence of countless generations of sassafras users who found only health giving properties from this plant more valuable and convincing than the reductionist laboratory data of unnatural animal torture, but that's just my feelings. I tend to agree with herbalist and storyteller, Doug Elliott, when he says, "I plan on drinking the tea (moderately, of course) at least until the age of 102, at which point I might reconsider the issue." (From his book Wild Roots)

freshly harvested sassafras roots ready for decocting

To make a tea from sassafras roots, simmer them for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow them to steep another 30 minutes. The tea will turn for orange to red. Sassafras is great combined with other roots, like dandelion, burdock, yellowdock, and ginger, or with warming spices like anise and cardamom.

Sassafras has long been a people's medicine, relied on by the root doctors and folk healers of old. Today it continues to grow around us, waiting for us to remember its gifts.

We'll be looking at sassafras, as well as many other roots in this Sunday's Digging the Medicine class.
Send me an e-mail to register at nettlejuice@gmail.com to register.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Winter Syrup and Elixir Shares Available!!!

Well, I thought I was done making medicine for the season, but after making a bunch of yummy herbal syrups for last month's tea and syrup class my mind just kept coming back to the idea of offering a sweet medicine share for the winter months. So, here it goes...

Winter Wellness Herbal Syrup and Elixer Medicine Share
Sweet handcrafted medicine to get you through the cold season

Each monthly share will include one bottle of herbal syrup and one bottle of herbal elixir. These sweet medicines will be formulated with healing herbs specific for treating and preventing the common complaints of the winter season. 

I am also offering this share in two sizes...
Single/couple includes a 4 ounce bottle of syrup and 2 ounce bottle of elixir each month,
Family size includes an 8 ounce bottle of syrup and a 4 ounce bottle of elixir each month.

I am also offering a shipping option for those of you who cannot make it out to our place for a pick up.

Each share will be available for picking up or shipping out on the third Saturday of each month, November through February (four months worth of herbal sweetness!).
To begin with, November's share will include an elderberry/rosehip syrup to get our systems geared up for the cold season, and a choke cherry cough elixir. Subsequent months will include winter medicines like my gypsy flu elixir, a winter warming elixir, winter roots throat and lung syrups and other healing winter medicines. 

Whenever possible my medicines are made with herbs I grow and wildcraft myself and are chemical free. Herbs that I cannot harvest myself are always organic and from a reputable source. 

Here's the cost breakdown...
Single/couple share...$72 (with the shipping option...$92)
Family share...$144 (with the shipping option...$169)
Anyone interested can send me an e-mail at nettlejuice@gmail.com to sign up 

The first 10 people to sign up for a share will also receive a free herbal lip balm!

P.S. I'm only selling 24 total shares, so sign up quickly before they run out.
Deadline for signing up is November 10th, to give me time to get the first share together.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

First Colds of the Season

Maybe it was the end-of-October trip to the shore (and subsequent swimming is the cold waters), or maybe it was the stress of preparing for and anticipating the hurricane after we returned, or maybe it is just the change in the weather and little boys who don't want to dress for it, or maybe it was a combination of all these things, but this week my boys have been passing around their first colds of the season. Time to pull on the socks, kick up the wood stove, and put on the kettle because it's time to make tea.

elderflowers, catnip and chamomile tea

Anyone who knows me, knows that at the first sign of a runny nose I reach for my elderberry and begin dosing. There is nothing like elderberry syrup or elixir to gear up immune systems to return our systems to balance. But after the elderberry is administered, the very next thing I do is get the tea started. A nice strong tea is my very favorite way to get the healing benefits of herbs into little bodies. It is easy to brew up a big batch in the morning and have it on hand all day long. And while I don't push the kids to eat when they are feeling under the weather, I do push the liquids. It is important to stay hydrated when sick and drinking tea throughout the day serves this function as well.

Because treating colds with herbal tea is most effective if small doses are given frequently throughout the day, I make a batch of tea by the quart and leave the herbs steeping in the jar all day, just straining off a quarter to a half cup of tea at a time. The tea continues to get stronger throughout the day this way. To each cup I add a couple drops of liquid stevia and about 20 drops of my elderberry elixir.

I rarely get protests when I offer these cups every hour or so, and usually that runny nose rarely develops into anything more serious. When my boys are over their colds in just two days I am thankful for the many gentle and effective healing herbs in my pantry, many of which were harvested from this past season's garden.

When considering herbs for a tea to treat children's colds, the following are among my favorites...

  • catnip: calming, fever reducing, helps little ones rest
  • yarrow: pain-relieving, increases circulation, reduce fevers
  • elderflowers: expectorant, calming, antiseptic, helps reduce fevers
  • chamomile: calming, antiseptic, soothing and pain-relieving
  • lemon balm: relaxing, pain-relieving, anti-bacterial, anti-viral
  • spearmint: helps reduce fever, soothing
  • mullein: expectorant, respiratory tonic, relieves congestion and soothes irritation
  • coltsfoot: relaxing, expectorant, soothing, dispels coughs

And remember, a cup of tea brewed with love and healing intent is that much more potent in loving energy. Tea takes time, but we take time for tea because it is an act of love, and what could be more healing?

Rainer with his tea

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Solstice Moon Solstice Sun, book review and giveaway

I am so excited to share with you all a beautiful new children's book by a local mother and daughter team...

Solstice Moon Solstice Sun
by Maire Durkan and illustrated by her daughter, Ellen Durkan

As an herbalist, I feel a deep connection to the changes in the landscape with the season's of the year. I love to find children's books that acknowledge these changes and also portray the beauty and mystery of the seasonal dance. Solstice Moon Solstice Sun illustrates that dance with the story of a young owl and it's mother as she explains the deeper meaning of winter's darkness and the lengthening of the days with the sun's returning...

"Don't fret little owlet, please don't be forlorn. The old year passes and a new year is born. For on this longest darkest night, our dark, cold woods turns back towards light."

The creators state that Solstice Moon Solstice Sun "fulfills a need for well written, beautifully illustrated stories that help children dream, wonder, explore, and love the natural beauty all around them—even in the midst of a city. For what they love, they will fight to preserve and protect." I couldn't agree more. Too many of us are disconnected from our natural environments, both physically and phsychologically. Children, growing up in protected environments, surrounded by electronic devices, loose a connection to the tangible, aliveness of Nature that exists beyond their doors. We all owe every breath, every bit of food, clothing, shelter, heck even all our electronic devices to our living mother earth. Everything, including our very bodies, come from her. To recognize and honor that connection begins to fill a void in us, a longing for deeper meaning. When we allow our children to make that connection, they get it so quickly. And children who grow up understanding this connection will not so easily, so callously, destroy what they know in their hearts keeps them alive.

I love the simplicity of this book, it's beauty and the shear delight in the wonder of the natural world. It is also one of very few children's books to weave in the old Yule story with the inclusion of the Holly King welcoming the babe who marks the return of the sun with the winter solstice. I look forward to adding this story to our special basket of winter books that I bring out every year.

To learn more about Solstice Moon Solstice Sun, or to order a copy, go to Brigid's Hearth Press . (Right now the creators have posters and cards of the beautiful artwork for sale, but the books will be available in just a few days.)

Maire and Ellen have also agreed to do a special giveaway of a signed, limited edition poster of one of these beautiful illustrations. To enter, leave a comment on this post, and get a second chance by going to the Solstice Moon Solstice Sun facebook page and clicking "like".
A winner will be selected next week.

"Though  cold  and  frost  and  snow  hold  sway, hope  and  light  are  born  today."

What a wonderful story to share with our children as we move again into the dark turning of our year. 

Congratulations to Shannon Burns! She is the winner of the giveaway. Shannon, Maire will be contacting you about your print. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bioregional Herbalism

The thing that fascinated me most about herbalism when I first began to study the healing plants was how incredibly grassroots it could be. It simply blew my mind that the weeds growing outside my door could cure what ails me. The chickweed, dandelion and plantain in my yard, and further a field the elder, goldenrod, and yarrow were all growing abundantly, waiting for me to recognise the gifts they had to offer. Yet, the more I delved into my studies, the more I became confused and overwhelmed with the sheer number of medicinal plants. How could one remember it all? And then there were the different herbal traditions, Chinese and Ayurveda not only have long histories in herbalism, but have also become increasingly popular in the U.S. For a while I tried to incorporate these other traditions into my studies with their many herbs from far away lands, but over time something felt not quite right to me.

Years ago I heard Susun Weed suggest that we learn the plants one at a time, slowly, over the course of their life cycle. This is a different kind of study, not from books, but from the living plants themselves. When we sit with the plants, observe them, get to know them, they become more for us than a bunch of useful facts. They become our friends. We begin to recognise them at every stage, to see how they change, to notice where they like to grow and in what patterns. They become part of the landscape, and slowly, we become part of that landscape with them.

This crystallized for me several years ago when I had been working with the plants for a while and decided to ask for an ally, a plant whose spirit would help to guide me on my path. I went to sleep with the intention of receiving a dream from my ally. Although I don't often remember my dreams, this night I awoke with a clear and vivid memory. It was mullein, tall and stately, who came to me with a message, so simple and yet so clear..."when we do not use the plants growing around us, but instead seek those from far away lands, our local plants feel like orphans." My gosh! I cannot tell you how this dream has affected my practice since that night. Now longer was this an intellectual question, or even an economical one. I needed to use the living plants around me because that is what they are there for. Yes, they are there for other reasons as well (I'm not totally egocentric). The plants play many roles in the environment, but the healing plants are not just here to heal the earth, but to heal us. And why not? Are we not part of the earth, part of the environment, even if we do everything we can to pretend we are not?

And there is a different kind of healing to be experienced when we turn to the living plants. It is the magical healing to be found in the garden and forest, the soul healing that only Nature can give. When we spend time connecting to our environment, and then take it a step further to come to the understanding that the environment is also connecting with us, that there is an exchange going on, this something we cannot get from a bottle of tincture on a store shelf. It grounds us to a place on the earth, it imbues us with the feel of the landscape, and we begin to feel whole in a way we had not before.

There is a growing movement toward bioregionalism among herbalists today. This is so lovely to me, not just because my own heart has led me to practice this way, but because it is such a beautiful vision...the very many herbalists practicing in the varied landscape, each getting to know the unique and beautiful plants growing in their environments. This will keep herbalism alive and rich and living more than the biggest collection of dusty herbals from centuries past. This has life.

It has been fascinating for me to discover that when I take this approach, I most always find that everything I need is right here waiting for me. From my garden, to the surrounding fields, to the rolling wooded hills, there is to be found not too far away just what I need. And when my medicine comes from the earth beneath my feet, when I can reach down and give thanks, my medicine is that much stronger.

And yours will be too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Grape Elder Conserves

I just can't seem to let elderberry season go by without posting about this marvelous plant at least once. I collect these native berries at their peak of ripeness to make extracts, elixirs, jams and syrups. These medicines carry us through the cold and flu season because elderberries are incredible for the immune system. Folks who rely on echinacea to boost their immune system would do well to get to know elder instead. It is much more reliable in this way, as even the scientific literature indicates. When introducing this sacred plant to folks, I say that elderberries are Nature's alternative to the flu shot. While a flu shot may be effective for the one or two strains of flu scientists predict will cause the most trouble for the coming season (while introducing a host of toxins into the body), elderberries are effective for all strains across the board. They are antiviral as well as immune building. It's a combination you can't beat for colds and flues, and I have seen time and again as this herb drastically reduces the recovery time of these conditions.

But elderberries are also a valuable food, and have traditionally been baked in pies and made into jams. It's a great way to let your food be your medicine. With a grove of elder to harvest from, I am often looking for different ways to process elderberries. I like to combine them with other (tastier) berries for jam, but this year I had my first big harvest of our concord grapes, so I decide to make a grape elder conserve.

I harvested seven cups of grapes for the conserve. These grapes have seeds, so in order to remove them I froze the grapes...

Then, I dipped the frozen grapes in cool water so their skins would slide off. I set the skins aside in a bowl and simmered the grapes until they were soft and mushy. I pushed the mushy grapes through a colander to remove the seeds, and added them back to the pot, along with the skins, two cups of elderberries...

a half cup of raw, wildflower honey, and a quarter cup of lemon juice. After simmering for a couple minutes, I poured my conserve into sterilized jars and canned them in a hot water bath.

Grape elder conserves for the pantry is both food and medicine during cold and flu season...great as a topping on pies, tarts, and even ice cream...

Enjoy your medicine!

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Most of the medicine I make comes from plants I grow or find volunteering in the earthspace around me. However, a couple times throughout the season I do go a-wildcrafting for some abundant sources of wild medicinals in my area. Finding good wildcrafting areas is a bit tricky these days though. Even out here in the country, wild lands are hard to come by, and it seems everyone has a great love of mowing and spraying anything that look "unkempt". When I'm scouting out good wildcrafting spots, I keep some parameters in mind. I don't tend to harvest from roadsides (unless it is a back back country road with very little traffic). Car exhaust is not good on your medicinals. I don't harvest from land that is sprayed, even once or twice a season--plant medicine and toxic chemicals don't go together. I don't harvest from preserved areas. These are spaces where the plants are protected and they need all the protection they can get. This basically leaves privately owned land where the landowner has some semi-wild spaces that are unsprayed (get permission), and unprotected spaces that are generally unrestricted (like the land under high tension power lines throughout the countryside).

Queen Anne's Lace
Once I locate a good wildcrafting spot I offer thanks. I am grateful to have access to land and the healing plants growing there, but I never forget that these plants are not mine to do with as I please. They are doing important work wherever they are growing (healing the land, providing food for birds and insects, and even food and medicine for the wild animals). I am but one part of the great web of life, and I try to remain humble and grateful for the gifts I receive.

Yarrow leaves

When harvesting from the wild, I never take the first plant I see, but scan the area to asses how large the community is. If there are but a few plants growing it is best to leave them be as harvesting may decimate the plant in that area. If the plants are abundant, I will harvest only what I need and offer thanks to the plant spirits for what I take.

St. John's Wort
When harvesting the aerial parts of the plants, I take no more than the top third of the plant. This allows the plant to regenerate after I have gone. I only harvest wild roots if I am certain that the population is abundant, and that the plant is not threatened since harvesting the root usually means the death of that plant.

Lobelia inflata
When I am finished with my wildcrafting, I offer a prayer of thanks to the earth and the plant spirits for their many gifts, and I leave an offering in return (usually some of my hair) in gratitude.

medicine from my wildcrafted harvest
These herbs are precious, so I waste no time in processing my harvest into medicine.

For more information on wildcrafting the healing plants, I recommend Rosalee de la Foret's wonderful six part blog post on the subject, and  Kiva Rose's post on wildcrafting in the Gila wilderness. I also love the book From Earth to Herbalist, by Gregory Tilford, which teaches ethical harvesting practices to ensure that the wild plant populations are not damaged by overzealous wildcrafters. Lastly, any responsible wildcrafter would do well to visit the United Plant Savers website and familiarize themselves with the list of at risk species. These plants are best left alone in the wild so that their populations can reestablish themselves.

O, Great Mother Gaia
I offer my thanks to you this day
All that I have is but borrowed from you
My clothes, my food, my breath...
My very body, all borrowed and one day returned to you
In gratitude I harvest your healing medicine
In humility I promise to use it wisely
For the ease of suffering 
And in service to your other children
My heart opens to your love
And sends it back in return

Monday, July 23, 2012

Making Medicine for Burns...

This month's herbal medicine share includes a salve I formulated specifically for burns. I have wanted to create a burn salve ever since hearing Lancaster herbalist Rachel Weaver speak last year about how to treat burns naturally to speed the healing process and minimize the pain and discomfort of the victim (more about the burn treatment protocol I learned from Rachel here).

St. John's Wort

This salve includes lots of herbs that are great for burn treatments, including St. John's wort (specific for burns), comfrey (speeds healing), marshmallow (soothing and cooling), plantain (healing, soothing, and cooling), wormwood (antiseptic and pain relieving), and burdock (great for burns and pain relieving).


I also wanted to include honey in my burn salve, as it is great for healing bones all by itself (as long as it is pure and raw). But I decided to infuse my local wildflower honey with monarda flowers first. I mentioned monarda flower honey in my honey medicine post. I've been making this Kiva Rose inspired medicine for a few years now and it is great burn medicine in itself, but I wanted to add it to Burn Balm for a truly fantastic combination. I can't say I'm waiting for a chance to try out this newly created salve, burns are no fun and I try to avoid them at all costs. But the key to effective burn treatment is being prepared, so now I have a great salve to turn to in times of need.

Another great recipe for burns is one of the first herbal home preparations I ever did, and I've been making it every year since. This simple spray involves filling a 2 ounce bottle with aloe juice, adding lavender essential oil and a splash of vitamin E oil. Add a sprayer cap and store it in the refrigerator and it is ready to grab for instant relief for sunburn and kitchen burns. We also use it as a cooling spray on hot summer days. Spraying the forehead and back of the neck always elicits expressions of "Ahhh." From sweaty children. Lavender is a fabulous burn remedy, and almost everyone thinks of aloe for burns. The combination is perfect, and this bottle goes with me on day trips hiking or swimming in the sun.

The exact recipe for the herbal burn spray, along with dozens other great herbal recipes can be found in Kathi Keville's fantastic tome of an herbal, Herb's for Health and Healing.

Summer is a celebration of heat, but is great to have cooling recipes for when the heat is just too much.

Happy medicine making!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Honey Medicine

Pure, raw, local honey is good medicine all by itself. It is anti-bacterial, soothing and healing, great for use all by itself on wounds, infection, ulcers and burns, as well as many internal conditions. Combining honey with healing herbs makes for a lovely combination of sweet medicine and the possibilities are endless. Every year I make a few herbal elixirs, using honey and alcohol as my menstruum to extract herbs for a sweet and effective remedy. These are especially helpful for treating children. But I also extract herbs directly into honey. Who can resist when your medicine is a teaspoon of herbal honey?

This year the flowering thyme just seemed to be calling out to me to infuse it in honey. Thyme is wonderful for digestive complaints, as well as colds and flu.

To make an infused honey, harvest your herbs at the peak of vibrancy. You can chop them up or, if the parts are relatively small, you can leave them whole. Fill a jar, but do not pack, with the plant material. Then pour your pure, raw honey over the herbs. I like to use a chopstick to stir the honey into the herbs and make sure they are completely saturated. Top the jar off with honey and cap and label. Allow the herbal honey to infuse for six weeks or more. If you want to strain it at this point, you can heat the honey gently so that it strains easily (careful not to cook your honey). I tend to not strain most often. The plants are fine in there, if you don't mind eating plant bits.

As the honey infused the will tend to rise to the top of the jar (as shown by the monarda honey on the right). Just give the jar some gentle shakes to move things around every now and then.

I have been so inspired by other honey medicine posts over the years, but there are two that stand out as my favorites. The first is Kiva Rose's post about Monarda Honey, where she describes how wonderful this preparation is for the treatment of burns, among other things. I make monarda honey every year. Whatever is not used as medicine is eaten on toast or just off the spoon. Yum!

The second is Susan Hess's post about herbal electuaries. Here the dried herbs are often ground up to a powder and warmed in the honey over a double boiler. It is a little more work, but yields a more concentrated medicine. Two years ago I followed Susan's recipe, though I failed to strain it out. The result was a very thick, dark and spicy paste that I occasionally used in a cup of black tea for an instant chai. The rest of the time it sat on a shelf in the pantry. Last week, however, I received complaints of belly aches from two different boys on two different nights. I grabbed my warming electuary and offered a teaspoonful each time. Twenty minutes later, no complaints.

I also like to tell the boys that their medicine was even used in ancient Egypt. I love how our homemade medicine connects us to the earth and to historical cultural traditions.

Happy medicine making!