Friday, May 15, 2009

The World In My Own Back Yard Redux

I think that it has finally decided to be Spring. Every year, the cusp between Winter and Spring feels like it drags out interminably. Although old-timers auger a hard, dry summer from the signs they see before them, it doesn't look that way from my back deck. I've had to bring my soggy, struggling starts in more often from the rain than from the frost. This spring has afforded me ample opportunity to confirm that veteran remedy for soil fungus: cinnamon. I think that after watching me grab the cinnamon shaker and billow fragrant brown clouds over my sickening starts that the Hobbits shall be surprised at nothing I do. My starts are thriving, though. So there.

I'm always amazed at what powerful solutions we have at hand to us, should we choose to avail ourselves of them. At least, as long as we have knowledge of them. Which is why I've so avidly wanted to take an herbal class.

Yes, I have plantain oil, which does marvelous things for diaper-rashy bottoms...or for the tweener who somehow must tangle with poison ivy every year. The property's administration practically razed the area around Dog's favorite haunt in an attempt to eradicate it. Dog still found some. The dried mullein leaves found use this winter and I think I have found renewed confidence toward putting the coltsfoot I harvested to use. We even had an ear infection or two that felt the gratitude of mullein oil and a heated rice bag. Comfort herbs, if you will. But I'm coming to the end of my own personal resources.

So when Tool Guy and I were discussing twenty-fifth wedding anniversary plans, he was a little taken aback by my wishes. He had a weekend in The City planned. I had a chicken tractor in mind. He was thinking ritzy dinners in hotels with hyphenated names. I was thinking about herbal classes. I guess his willingness toward extravagant romantic gestures, poor guy, is wasted on me, the eternal pragmatist. Still, he's happy to make me happy, so when green things started elbowing their way to the surface, I set off on a Saturday with my notebook, backpack, and a tray of kimbop. The first class of the season.

We sat in the grass under a fitfully sunny sky that tried to ward off the chill from the wind and opened our Newcomb's Guides. The Herbalist had selected a plant that grew proliferately among the grass for us to cut our teeth on identifying. She even passed out magnifying glasses and a jeweler's loupe for us to get up close and personal. I felt a disproportionate and ridiculous sense of accomplishment when I was able to identify the blue bugle. Clearly, I need to get out more.

Word is that bugle is called the "carpenter's herb" for its ability to stem bleeding. I guess there's some wisdom in the doctrine that herbs grow where they are, Tool Guy?

One of my classmates identified the ground ivy or gill-over-the-ground, a plant which carries the reputation as being helpful with lead paint exposures. That's certainly a plant idea to keep on the back burner in these days of heavy metal toxicity, no?

I brought a few runners home with me and looked for a likely spot in my own yard in which to encourage them. After scratching out a place in a location that looked similar to the place where they were thriving in The Herbalist's yard, I started examining the leaves of surrounding hopefuls pushing up and--guess what?--I had transplanted some ground ivy in amongst...ground ivy. While that doesn't speak well for my identification skills, I can at least console myself that I have good instincts for where something may grow. I guess... Heh.

Each class has a lecture--this one was on the digestive system and, thankfully, she glossed through it very quickly in deference to those of us who have an intimate acquaintance with that particular system--as well as a project. One of our projects of the day was taking an infusion of burdock, decocting it and then making a syrup with it. Burdock is a good tonic-all and is a traditional herb for spring cleansing along with others like dandelion.

Burdock Tonic

1 oz. burdock
1 pint water
Stainless steel, glass, or enamel pot

Add water and burdock to the pot and bring to a boil, then simmering on low for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover to prevent any essential oils from escaping and allow to steep overnight. Strain product from the liquid and return liquid to pot. Gently simmer until the amount of liquid is reduced by half. This decoction can then be stored in the refrigerator for a week when sweetened with honey. A splash of brandy (haven't yet vetted brandy out for corn-safety) will preserve it longer. For longer term storage, separate it into halves and freeze the unused portion.

I came home that day with a pinker face, thanks to the sun, a fuller notebook, a sense of exhilaration and empowerment. And two lemon balm plants and a valerian root plant. I've got a spot selected in the yard that I'm going to lasagna into an herb garden next year. I'm already looking forward to the next class and plotting what dish I'm bringing to the class pot luck. We're talking about doing a recipe book of our collected contributions at the end of the year. Cool deal. Talking food and herbs. Does it get any better than that?

Oh, and about that recurrent poison ivy? The Herbalist posits that poison ivy proliferates in disturbed areas...kind of a defense mechanism that says "Keep Out." That eradication attempt? Just made things worse. Given Dog's record, that makes it time to hit the yard for more stock-up stuff!


Anonymous said...

Might want to look up jewelweed. It often grows near poison ivy and is a great remedy for it!

Since we moved to the Wild West, we don't have to deal with poison ivy, but now I'm trying to learn a whole new set of herbs particular to this desert (and missing my old favorites from back east).

Laura N.

Loztnausten said...

Last year I discovered a hearty stand of jewelweed and a jar of the twigs sit maturing in witch hazel in my cupboard!

The desert must be quite a challenging environment adjust to in this respect, no?

Anonymous said...

It's sure been an education. There's more growing here than you might think. Also, if you go into the mountains, where there's more precipitation, it's amazing what you can find. We've spotted Oregon Grape root, Blue Flag (good echinacea sub), Evening Primrose, Mullein, and many others in the mountains.


Ien in the Kootenays said...

Delightful blog. The world needs more people like you. It drives me nuts to see how much unneccesary suffering there is, when we are surrounded by healing plants and gifted with healing hands.

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