It’s no secret that I adore violets. As in absolutely adore them. Some of my favorite medicines to make are the violet ones (rose too, then there’s linden, and chamomile, and red clover…). Violet elixirs, violet tinctures, violet glycerites, I even tried (and failed) to make a violet liqueur. Not only are they one of my favorite springtime plants of the garden and woods, but they are an invaluable medicinal herb. The thing about violet, along with other some other spring herbs like chickweed, dandelion and cleavers, is that it is so gentle and supportive, yet powerful at the same time.
Every year I am astonished at the fine crop of chickweed that grows in my container garden. Come spring, the pots are overflowing with tender, somewhat succulent chickweed tendrils around January to March, when the days are getting a little longer but is still quite damp and cool. Chickweed is an early spring herb and goes into hiding when the sun comes high and hot.
Motherhood isn’t always easy. Sometimes you need a little boost, a bit of support. Of course the help of family and friends is important, as is a supportive community. But for the day-to-day challenges and triumphs, I call on the plants to help me out. It’s easy even for a postpartum-brained lady like myself to formulate a mothering tincture…because the star herb has Mother in its name, Motherwort! I wrote about lovely motherwort in 2008 in this post, if you want to learn more about it’s medicinal side. Actually, there are two stars in this formula; the other being peony. I find that peony is an intensely womb-connected plant and quite motherly itself. Rose elixir, chamomile and a bit of licorice finish out the comforting, nurturing blend. Yum!
Every time I go to work in my herb nook, I practically burst with appreciation. This is where I get to work?! Surrounded by herbs and oils and tins and bottles, things that I love playing with? Creating this little herb studio in my teeny tiny kitchen has been one of the best things I have ever done. It’s like a working in an alter. Do any of you have an herbal nook of your own? A space dedicated to storing and creating with herbs, whether it be a shelf in a cupboard or a room in a house? I’d love to hear about it!
Tales of a mythical violet liqueur Two years ago, it happened to me. I became determined that I would make violet liqueur. My friend Susan told me about an incredible violet liqueur she found while traveling in Greece. With her experience as a bartender and world traveler, one could not take her praise of the violet liqueur lightly. I had made a few liqueurs before, some at Sage mountain in the herbal classes. Irish Creme, creamy coco damiana blends. They were delicious and surprisingly easy. I had seen Theresa Broadwine make liqueurs at Medicines from the Earth. I had even tried my hand at making dandelion wine. The idea of capturing the essence of violets was too much to shake. I wondered if I could possibly make one myself, if I could ever find that many violets to pick
Sometimes simple is good A few months ago, I experienced a lingering cough after an case of influenza. When it was a stronger, more irritating cough, I treated it aggressively with Planetary Formulas’ Old Indian Wild Cherry Syrup (plus other things). It’s strong stuff, but when I have had bronchial infections it has historically helped so much that I go straight to it. After the worst of the cough was gone, I reached for a tea of three simple herbs which are easy to harvest and created a tea general tea for the lungs that’s quite delicious. Three Herb Tea for Promoting General Lung Function Mullein – Verbascum thapsus. Red Cedar –Thuja plicata. Dried Tangerine Peel – Citrus tangerina.
I love making custom tea blends for people. Whether it’s an herbal sipping tea or a strong medicinal blend, there’s nothing like making a big batch of tea with someone in mind. One request was for a rose and lavender tea. Seems like simple enough directions, but when I tasted just the two herbs together, I felt like it needed depth and a variance of flavor. Those flowers competed with each other and needed to be tamed a bit. Triple Rose and Lavender 1 part Lavender flowers 1 part Rosebuds 2 parts Rose Hips 1/2 part hand-harvested Rose Petals The rose hips added a hint of sweet and tart, and gave the brewed tea a smoky rose color. Rose hips weighed down the floral and fragrant blossoms allowing the taste can linger on your palate, rather than float away to the ethers. I used to use rose hips sparingly, but now I use them in much higher proportions and appreciate the flavor and nourishment they offer as a medicinal food. I could’ve just used …
What’s your herbal story? How did you get here? What lessons are hidden in this journey to the plants, to nature and to herbal medicine? If you are like me, you have been asking yourself these and many other questions about how you fit in the grand scheme of this calling of working with the herbs.
Here’s a gentle and tasty tea combining some of my favorite herbs to support the all-important brain-gut connection. It works on the nervous system and the middle jiao (digestion) to move Qi and ease stomach aches, increase healthy permeability and absorption in the gut, calms the emotions especially anxiety, is tonifying to worn-out adrenals, warms and increases circulation.
The last 4 weeks have been a whirl-wind. But I made out out on the other side! Yes, I officially graduated. My last board exam was the herbal one. I spent a week doing practice tests, reading through my notes and fondling my samples. My herb samples came from the free table at school. Some samples were missing, some had pre-made notes and some had lost their, um, freshness, but I didn’t care. They did the trick. It is much easier to memorize things when the thing you have to memorize is in your hands, or at least it is for me. I would’ve preferred to taste each one individually, see it growing, learn the botany, chemistry and ethnobotanic history in an attempt to really learn it. How much can you know about a plant by just reading about it? A lot, true, but so much can be gleaned experientially.
When I worked at a co-op in the health and body care section, I noticed that every year around November, bottles and bottles of elderberry products would fly off the shelves. Elderberry has earned a reputation as a cold and flu herb, especially for the dreaded influenza, and rightfully so. It packs a powerful punch of anthocyanadins, helps the immune system do this. Studies have shown that it is effective at reducing the length of the flu by half. Yet like most herbs, elderberry has depth and can be used in many situations.
Each year my garden sprouts more and more chamomile. It comes earlier each year, too. This year it was all done by the end of June. This leaves a shorter harvest time, and unfortunately I can’t tend my garden in Gresham as much I have been able to in the past. This means a few long harvesting days rather than a constant, steady harvest in better bite-sized chunks (which I prefer). This also means that a lot of my chamomile went to seed before I could get to it.