Sunday, September 24, 2017

Local medicine from local farmers... A Visit to Lancaster Farmacy

Do you know where your herbs come from?

Local food is all the rage, but I'm still waiting for the local medicine movement to take off. What is local medicine? Local medicine is the medicine that grows within our own bioregion. It consists of the medicinal plants that exist in the same climate, adapt to the same stressors, weather patterns, and other conditions as ourselves. Many herbalists claim that when we use local plants as our medicine, it is much more effective.

Eli leading our tour

But local medicine also means fresher, more vital and potent medicine. It means we have a direct connection to the plants (because we grow or wildcraft them ourselves), or to the farmers that grow them. It means that they are not shipped from halfway across the world, using precious fossil fuels, and spending countless hours in warehouses and transit. It means more sustainable, vital, and effective medicine. With herbal medicine becoming more popular every year, it's time to start talking about local medicine.

outside the high tunnel

In my Folk Herbalism class, I always try to stress to my students just how much better quality the herbs they grow themselves are compared to what they can buy in shops or catalogues (even from really good, reputable suppliers). There is just no comparing freshly harvested and properly dried plants to even organic herbs if they have been shipped from somewhere across the ocean. When they see the difference with their eyes (vibrantly colored instead of faded), smell the difference in aroma, or taste the difference in flavor, the lesson sinks in. If we want herbal medicine that works, that is effective when we need it to help us maintain wellness, we need to strive for local medicine.

fragrant perennials

But not everyone can grow their own.

digging roots with Folk Herbalism students

Even those of us who strive to grow as much as possible cannot grow everything we need. And so we need local medicinal herb farmers to meet our need for local medicine.

freshly harvested roots

Every year I take my students to visit our own local organic medicinal herb farm, just over the border into Lancaster County. Lancaster Farmacy offers locally grown, organic medicinal herbs to the community. Farm proprietress, Eli Weaver, takes us on a tour of the farm as she talks about the herbs they grow and walks us through their harvesting and processing operations. Students get to see first hand how lovingly the herbs are tended, and how carefully they are processed to maintain vibrancy and potency. In this way, these medicine makers in training get to form a direct relationship with a local grower. They know they can confidently purchase their herbs from a local source with a commitment to the quality.

St. John's Wort

Just like the chef who buys local produce from trusted farmer, medicine makers can form the same valuable relationships with local medicine growers to make quality, local medicine for their communities. I feel blessed to have such a beautiful and dedicated growing in my own backyard, and it is my joy to help other form this relationship as well.

Eli in the farm store

If herbal medicine is going to continue to grow, we need to strive for sustainable ways to practice our craft. Growing ourselves is one option, but we need herb farmers more now than ever. They provide the solution to problems such as overharvesting at-risk plants, adulterated material from unethical sources, and less than vibrant medicinals from far away sources.

Lemon grass fields

To learn more about Lancaster Farmacy, visit their website at

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Angelica Medicine

Angelica archangelica is a beautiful and magestic plant in the parsley family (apiaceae) which is native to northern Europe and Syria, but grown and naturalized in much of Europe and North America. It likes to grow in wet places, such as along rivers and shorelines. Although the seeds and leaves have been used, the root, dug between the first and second year, is the primary medicine. The taste and energetics of angelica is pungent, oily, bitter, sweet, warm stimulating, and diffusive, with organ affinities for the lungs, lymphatic system, digestion and reproductive system. It is useful for tissue states of atrophy and depression. This is an oily, nourishing bear medicine, much like it's close relative osha.

Angelica is a warming aromatic bitter, antiseptic, expectorant, carminative, diuretic, cholagogue, tonic, and, some argue, alterative. It's constituents include volatile oils, resin, wax, bitters, furanocoumarins, flavinoids, sugars, arganic acids, and phytosterols. 

second year plants coming up in the spring

Matthew Wood talks about how this water loving plant "brings air to watery realms". In this way, it has been used in cases of old brochitis and pleurisy, helping to dry and warm cold and damp lungs. It seems to have an overall effect of moving fluids, breaking up congestion, promoting peripheral circulation, and opening lungs and skin. This pattern of opening and moving makes angelica useful in cases of swollen glands, congested lungs, and uterine congestion. It can be helpful to relieve cramps, and help to warm and stimulate menstruation.

Gail Faith Edwards mentions that angelica is high in iron and helps to build blood and increase vital energy. This makes it useful in cases of anemia. This herb has a history of use in Europe, going back to the middle ages, as protection from illness and promoter of long life. It was an ingredient of Carmelite water, "a centures-old longevity elixir". 

As a warming and aromatic bitter, angelica stimulates digestion and strengthens the liver and kidneys. It has been used for relief of nausea, gas, and colic, and included in Swedish bitter recipes for toning the digestive system. Matthew Wood writes that it will "stimulate the cortisol side of the adrenal cortex, to increase appetite, digestion and nutrition".
The oils in angelica help to build cartilage and nerve sheath, making this plant helpful in cases of joint pain.

Some angelica species are used sweatlodge to open the skin, but also to open the mind. When the roots are burned and fumes inhaled, this can help to move us into dreamtime, increasing imagination. This definitely seems to be a plant that gets things moving. 

Julia Graves states that "angelica aligns you to walk with your guardian angel", and Gail Faith Edwards uses the flower essence to "foster awareness of angelic presence and for help opening to communication from these realms". She calls angelica a visionary herb, which helps us align with our life purpose.

It certainly is an impressive plant, growing up to 6 feet tall or more and with flower heads like exploding fireworks. It seems to draw attention and folks always ask, "what is that plant?"

This spring I dug the roots of a few returning second year plants. After washing and drying these aromatic roots, my hands and home smelled strongly of unique pungently sweet fragrance. From the freshly dried roots, I made a precious little bottle of tincture that retains this intoxicating scent, and tingles the tongue.

freshly dug roots

Matthew Wood also recommends small dosages for angelica tincture, 1-3 drops, 1-3x/day, stating that while small doses can be relaxing, larger dosages can lead to central nervous system depression. When making a tea, decoct for an aromatic bitter, or steep for a tea that is more astringent to the stomach lining. 

There are also a few cautions with angelica. It should be avoided during pregnancy (though it can be helpful for expelling the placenta after birth). Also, it's coumarin content means it should be avoided it on blood thinning medication. Some seem to experience photosensitivity while taking angelica, and this should be considered as well.

Matthew Wood, The Earthwise Herbal (Old World), 2008, pgs. 91-5.
David Hoffman, Medical Herbalism, 2003, pgs. 527-8.
Gail Faith Edward, Opening our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs, pgs. 65-8.