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
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.
I have had the recent pleasure to read two new (to me) herb books. The Wild Medicine Solution by Guido Mase´ describes herbal aromatics, bitters and tonics and their uses in food and medicine while sharing an elegant, supportive herbal philosophy.
There is a clinical shift in my education program called Herbal Internship. Herbal Internship is solely dedicated to, you guessed it, herbal consultations. There are 4 one hour slots to treat 4 patients with herbs. Do an intake, take pulse and look at tongue, determine diagnosis and treatment principles, discuss a formula, send the formula off to be filled. Seems pretty basic, no? Despite the fact that I have elected to do extra Herbal Internship shifts and know the drill, it is a far cry from basic. First of all, people are complicated. There are often 3-5 major complaints. Rarely does someone have just one single thing as their chief complaint. Secondly, conflicting signs are commonplace. Heat and Yang Xu (deficiency). Dampness in the Middle Jiao (digestion), which is an excess condition, and Blood Xu (deficiency). Thirdly, we make it up as we go along. This is not a bad thing at all; it is simply challenging and pushes me to the limits and forces me to expand my way of thinking. There is …
It is getting warmer. And brighter. Things are green, really green. Rose and calendula are in bloom! They come home with me, flowers stuffed in pockets and lunch boxes, and those which are not dried or arranged in a vase go straight into a cup of tea.
Gan Mai Da Zao Wan is a Chinese formula from the Jing Gui (The Golden Cabinet), a medicine text written by Zheng Zhong-Jing in 220 AD. It is in the Calm Spirit category and its strategy is to tonify Heart Yin and Blood deficiency as it calms the spirit.