Starting seeds is a cornerstone of my herbal practice, not to mention my sweet sideline as homestead queen. I highly recommend growing this skill, as it quintuples your access to strange and interesting plants. There is a great, wide, green world of herbs and flowers out there beyond the garden center, and it can be yours for a small investment in supplies, a bunch of practice, and the willingness to try again. Here is an article on starting fussy medicinal plants that I hope you find helpful!
Free Medicinal Plant Walk
Celebrate Earth Day with a calm amble to meet the medicinal weeds of spring in Brattleboro. We will discuss how to find them, medicinal uses, and safety concerns. Children are welcome. Sunday, April 22, 4-4:30 PM, Brattleboro location TBA
Although this event is free, RSVP is required.
Medicinal Herbs in the Vegetable Garden Intensive
Just in time to plan your gardens! This all-day intensive provides an in-depth discussion of growing medicinal plants in the home garden. We will focus particularly on using medicinals as companion plants in the vegetable garden, as well as creating microclimates for optimal cultural conditions and on spring and fall maintenance of perennials. Other relevant topics will also be covered. Sign up period for this class closes March 30.
April 7, 11 AM-3 PM, $80
Join us in gorgeous Durango, CO, May 16-20 for the best herbal conference in the country!
I’m so excited to be teaching three classes on Home Herbalism:
“Weaving Together the Patterns of Herbs”
“Patterns of Problems: Contraindications & Drug Interactions”
“The Art of Formulation”
Come chat about radical family herbalism, effectively making and using home remedies, pattern recognition, and more. I’m so thrilled to be invited to this vibrant event and I hope to see you there!
Thank you to everyone who bought my tickets, they are now sold out! If you’re looking for tickets to the Confluence, please reach out to other teachers, as many still have tickets for sale. You can see the full list of teachers on the Confluence website.
Solubility: The Basics
Something is soluble if it dissolves in a particular liquid: picture stirring sugar into hot tea (soluble) versus cold water (not). Plant compounds that we use for medicine have to dissolve in the water/alcohol/honey/oil/etc. for medicine to be a thing.
All plants contain both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble constituents. The question is how the medicinal compounds that you want extract best. The plants have a preference for the ideal balance to get the most well rounded medicine; make water-preferential or alcohol-preferential medicine based on what results you want (i.e. burdock tincture versus burdock vinegar).
Most plant medicine is best with a balance of both: dandelion, nettles, holy basil. Some really extract best in one or the other: slippery elm, marshmallow, echinacea. Remember that vinegar extracts water-soluble compounds (and in the case of minerals, is better than water at it) and oil extracts alcohol-soluble compounds.
How to Tell
Intuition, observation, and practice!
Where it’s growing, how it’s growing, when it flourishes: intuition from experience. Does is grow on the banks of a river? On a wind-swept prairie? Does it bloom only when it’s very hot and sunny?
What worked last time? How does that season compare to this one? Is there a drought, or a late snow storm, or did the river jump its banks last fall and deposit fertile silt in your garden?
Taste, smell, & feel
Mucilage, berberine, tannin, resin: plants often directly tell you how to make medicine with them. Gooey demulcent mucilage is water-soluble, but sharp tingling berberine is alcohol-soluble.
The goop at the bottom of a tincture is the plant matter that didn’t dissolve in the tincture. Think about the goop at the bottom of a burdock or elecampane tincture–that’s the stuff that can’t dissolve in alcohol. Actually, it’s mostly fiber, which does for plants what bones and fat do for people (structure & food storage). Burdock and elecampane are both examples of herbs that tincture best at lower alcohol concentrations so their water-soluble compounds can play too. If there’s way more precipitate than there should be, it often means your tincture had too much or too little alcohol in it. That said, most high alcohol tinctures, especially of roots, will have precipitate, since plant matter always contains water-soluble constituents (see up, second paragraph).
Look it up in a good herbal reference
I recommend the works of Michael Moore and Lisa Ganora
Energetics of Solubility
These are generalizations meant to give you a place to start, not definitive truths for all plants. I’m developing a graphic for this but it’s not ready for the internet yet!
Plants that have very water-soluble medicine are often extremes on the wet-dry continuum:
Marshmallow & slippery elm; willow & witch hazel
Plants that do well with high alcohol tinctures are usually more in the middle of wet-dry, but on an extreme of hot or cold:
Echinacea & cayenne; california poppy & skullcap
Remember, most plants make good medicine in both water- and alcohol-based preparations, but the individual effects still follow these basic guidelines. For example:
Burdock tea: water-soluble medicine, benefits are dramatic on the wet-dry continuum
Burdock tincture: alcohol-soluble medicine, benefits are dramatic on the hot-cold continuum
Sort your seeds into annuals and perennials, time of year they’re planted, soil needs (rich vs. poor), microclimate needs (sun/shade/wet/dry/wind etc.), transplants vs. direct seeds, etc. Do you see any promising combinations? Perhaps your Arnica may like to grow together with St Johns Wort and Bee Balm, instead of in with the Marshmallows.
Make some lists: What do you have? What do you need to buy for next season? What plants will you start indoors, and what will you direct seed?
Draw some diagrams: where was everything last year, and where are you planting each new friend? How can you rotate your annuals around your perennials? Some people like to use index cards or scraps of paper to do this so they can move them around easily. I use a pencil in my notebook, that way I can refer back to my thoughts later.
This year, as you putter and tend and mulch and hoe and coax, draw pictures of your work. The better your records, the easier it is to find ways to improve your garden’s vitality.
We have dates for 2018 Herbal Medicine Courses!
Home Medicine Maker Course: Learn the essentials of making safe, effective herbal remedies at home, focusing on foundational principles of herbal medicine, what makes remedies work, and delicious recipes. All the details, info, & dates here!
Home Herbalist Course: This 5-part course focuses on specific uses of herbs (materia medica), how they work in the body, basic physiology and disease process, contraindications, etc. organized by body system. We will dive deep into the interactions between body systems and how disparate symptoms can indicate deep-set imbalances. All the details, info, & dates here!
Apprentice Program: hands-on advanced learning, guided by your interests and our projects. All the details & info here!
Applications for 2018 Herbal Apprenticeship are now available! All the program details & application here.