Saturday, March 31, 2012

Veronica persica... Persian Speedwell

Song of the Gypsyweed

Speedwell to travelers!
And speedwell is me.
My roots keep me from travelling,
As you can see.

Yet all those who travel
With their feet on the ground
Have noticed I've spread
The whole world round.

I'm too small to spy
From a car or a plane.
Yet, see me or not,
I'm here just the same.

So go on your travels.
And though they may say, "God speed,"
Don't pass by the gifts
Of the wise Gypsyweed.

There are many many species of speedwell, but the most abundant by far around here is Persian speedwell (veronica persica). This is such a small, spreading plant that it would be almost nondescript were it not for those multitudes of tiny pale blue flowers that seem to grab our attention beginning in early spring. What is this plant? Let's take a closer look.

With our noses a bit closer, we see the clusters of scalloped edged leaves and thin stems topped by the delicate flowers. Such a beautiful and abundant plant must have gifts to offer. The most used of the speedwells is the common speedwell (veronica officinalis), which is used by the gypsies as a blood purifier. It is claimed to remove excess mucus, soothe internal tissues, and treat coughs, asthma, pleurisy and tuberculosis. It is eaten raw and taken as a tea. Externally, it is used to treat skin inflammations, eruptions, ulcers and rashes, as well as used as a was for eye problems and to improve sight.

I suspect that my Persian speedwell can be used in much the same way. It's taste is slightly astringent, but not bad, and the tea is very nice. Looking at the flowers, one can see that they do resemble eyes, which would indicate their healing gifts to those organs (according to the ancient idea of the doctrine of signatures).

The plant is also known as "birdseye speedwell" and "gypsyweed."
Hhhmmm, could these folk names indicate in some way that this was once a much used and valued herb?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Archangel--Lamium purpurium

In these early days of spring I'm getting my garden started, but Nature is way ahead of me. As I'm cleaning my beds and pulling out weeds, I can't help but marvel at how many of the spring weeds we pull out of our garden beds are edible, nutritious and cleansing. If I can find the time to get to this space a little more often in these busy spring days, I hope to highlight some of my favorites. For now, I'll start with one that I'm sure most folks would recognize, even if they don't know what it is called, because it is so prolific. I wrote this post a couple years ago on a different blog, so I'm just reprinting it here. Enjoy...

Well, most call this plant purple dead nettle, but I much prefer archangel, as it truly is an amazing and virtuous gift of the fields. I have always admired this little beauty, which grows so freely in disturbed areas and seems a nuisance to farmers. Large groupings of it, seen from afar are a brilliant wash of purple, a splash of color so welcome in the drabness of early spring.

Archangel is a self-seeding annual from Europe which seems to have naturalized over most of the world. It stands only a few inches high with opposite leaves and pretty purple flowers near the top. The top leaves also have a purple tinge and the stem is distinctly square, a trait of the Labiatae family which also include the mints. Around here, archangel is just starting to flower and easy to spot.

©[Daniel Reed] -
Information about the virtues of archangel is hard to come by in modern herbals, but the older herbals show that this plant was once highly respected for its gifts. The aerial parts (leaf, stem and flower) are edible, both raw and cooked. It can be cooked like any other leafy green, or added to salads. I like its taste, mild and earthy. The plant is high in iron and other vitamins, so this is a chance to gather some fresh greens in early spring before our lettuce and spinach is ready in the garden.
And speaking of gardens, the flowers attract bees and butterflies, and some sources claim this an excellent companion plant for potatoes, improving growth and flavor while deterring potato bugs. I'll have to try that this year!

As to archangel's healing gifts, well I don't understand how we could have neglected this plant. Firstly, here is yet another of nature's abundant styptics. Which means it stops bleeding, both internal and external. The fresh leaves can be crushed (or chewed, he he) and placed directly on wounds or to draw out splinters. Nicholas Culpeper, the famous 17th century herbalist, ranks archangel very highly as a wound healing herb, claiming its efficacy in healing bruises, burns, wounds and "old, filthy, corrupt sores and ulcers." He also claims the herb can dissolve tumors. Interesting, huh?

Here's another quote from Culpeper... "It makes the heart merry, drives away melancholy, quickens the spirits..." I think we could all use some archangel in our lives.

The tea is very pleasant and warming, acting on the kidneys and driving away chill. Drink it alone or with other tonic herbs to nourish uplift our winter depleted systems.

The seeds are high in anti-oxidants, adding to the nutritious aspects of the plant.

The plant can be dried and saved for the winter months as well, but it seems that Nature has provided us with a very loving springtime gift. Now is the time (early spring in these parts) to harvest the virtues of archangel, and give thanks to the gifts of the Earth.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Folk Herbalism Classes-Plant Medicine for the People

Folks have been asking about this year's herb classes. I've been working on the schedule and I'm finally ready to post this season's classes. I've made a few changes from last year, including shorter classes which are more affordable, the addition of a couple topics, and a change in the name. This year I'm calling the series "Folk Herbalism".

Basic knowledge of the healing plant used to be commonplace, and still is in much of the world. I believe strongly that herbal medicine is the people's medicine, and I have seen how people's live can be improved when they develop the knowledge and confidence to turn to the healing herbs growing around them to treat their families minor health issues.

We live is a society where nearly everything has become professionalised and each generation has less personal skills to rely upon. Herbalism is one skill we can choose to reclaim, not to become professionals ourselves, prescribing herbs to others for a profit, but for our own well being. Because when we are more independent, having the skills and knowledge to meet our basic needs, our sense of security and confidence increases. In this spirit, I offer the following classes throughout the season to aid in helping others develop the ability to use the healing plants to enrich their lives. This is herbalism for the common folks, Folk Herbalism.

April 22nd 29th  Food as Medicine-
Spring tonics growing wild in your yard
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. Prevention is the vest medicine, and many of the wild plants are loaded with the nutrients we need to stay healthy and energized throughout the season. We will be tasting some simple recipes made with these nutritious and tonic plants.
This class is almost full!!

May 20th 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, burns and other minor emergencies. Nature offers abundant and safe solutions to heal our traumas. We'll be getting to know some of my most relied upon plants.

June 17th Herbs for Children
I can't imagine caring for my children without the gentle healing herbs. I'll share my favorites for everything from restlessness and tummy aches to conjunctivitis and fevers.

July 15th Oils and Salves
Herbal oils and salves 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. (This class fills up fast. Also, see price note below)

August 19th Tincture Making
Learn to make your own tinctures to last all winter. Making these herbal extracts is easier than you think. We'll be making some in class. (See price note below)

September 16th 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.

October 21st Teas and Syrups
Tisane, Infusion, Decoction...what's the difference? Teas are among the most simple and effective of herbal medicines. We'll sip some in class and make some sweet syrup too.

November 18th Digging the Medicine
We'll be talking about underground medicine (literally and figuratively). Come unearth some healing roots while discussing the history of the suppression of herbal medicine and why it continues, like a stubborn root in the garden, to persist.

All classes will be from 10am to 12pm at my home and garden outside of Oxford, Pa.
Cost is $15 per class ($5 for interested young people)
*$20 for the Oils and Salve class and for the Tincture Making class, to cover supplies
Students will bring home products from these classes ($10 for interested young people).

To sign up, e-mail me at

I look forward to sharing another season of herbal medicine!

Photos in this post by Earth Mama