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