Old Ways Herbal

Vermont Herb School, Clinical Herbalist, Plant Remedies, & Herbal Farmcraft Wisdom.


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Apprentice Program Accepting Applications

Want to learn more about growing and using herbal medicine?  Come get your hands dirty at Old Ways Herbal! We learn by doing–on the farm and in the forest–in this personalized, hands-on program full of awesomeness.  Science-based herbal practice, native and at-risk plant propagation, clinical skills for herbalists, food as medicine, and more. Located in Newfane, VT, 20 minutes from Brattleboro.  Info here or under the School of Plant Medicine menu.


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Group Seed Order

Riversong Farm will be placing our annual order with Fedco Seeds on February 5. Local folks are welcome to order with us, receive whatever volume discount we qualify for plus free shipping, and pick up your seeds when they arrive. To order, email me and I will send you the instructions to set up your order through the Fedco website. The deadline for seed orders and payments will be February 3. Please let me know as soon as possible if you’re planning to participate.

If you aren’t familiar with them, Fedco is a worker-owned cooperative that provides the highest quality and most affordable heirloom, organic, biodynamic, non-GMO, and non-proprietary seeds and plants for cold climates (they’re in Maine). Check out their offerings at fedcoseeds.com.


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Autumn Intensives Schedule is Posted

I’ve got dates for the Autumn Intensives!  Join us for the Bark Harvest Intensive in October and the Tincture Intensive in November.  I’m also planning to do the Medicinal Herbs in the Vegetable Garden Intensive again in March.  Information at the School of Plant Medicine page.  Hope to see you there!


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Summer Classes are Scheduled!

I’ve got 2 exciting courses coming up this season, plus 2 single-day intensives for your herbal medicine & gardening edification.  Check out the School of Plant Medicine page for information about The Home Medicine Maker Course (Level 1), The Home Herbalist Course (Level 2), Medicinal Herbs in the Vegetable Garden Intensive, and Bark Harvest Intensive. Hope to see you there!


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Preserving Mushroom Medicine

Medicinal mushrooms are often overlooked when we talk about solubility and the best ways to preserve things.  We talk a lot about mucilage, berberine and the like, but not so much about considering solubility to make the most effective mushroom medicine.  I personally think that’s because

a. folks get intimidated by the complexity (and weirdness) or mushrooms, or

b. folks are scared to experiment with something that comes around so rarely through the year–which makes sense, as you might only get one shot with the precious precious fungi this year.

The basic concept is this: most mushrooms contain both alcohol- and water-soluble constituents, like other organisms we use for medicine.  When they’re simply dried, we lose much of the water-soluble and all the alcohol-soluble medicinal compounds.  When they’re tinctured, we lose the water-soluble compounds.

Dried turkey tail and powdered chaga are familiar formulations, but do they really pack the most medicinal punch?  During the drying process, as the water evaporates, the lovely fruiting bodies that last week were shiny (or dull) and colorful (or not) as you cupped them lovingly in your hands in awe at the majesty of this creation are now hollow bits of corrugated cardboard just begging for a shallow grave in the compost pile.  That’s hyperbole, but still–why make anything other than the strongest, most effective, most delicious and uplifting and inspiring medicine possible?  Why settle for slightly medicinal cardboard when you can achieve an ambrosia of a panacea?  (That was a fun sentence to write.) Ganoderma

Is it possible to dry mushrooms and extract some measure of medicine from them?  Yes, obviously, or chaga chai would not be a thing.  Mushrooms are incredibly complex, the hard-won fruiting bodies of a vast mycelial network, and some of the medicine will stick around in the dried form.

That being said, drying is not the best way to preserve medicine from these incredibly powerful, slow-growing, central investments on behalf of a gigantic microscopic system of synergy and mutualism.  Wasting something that precious is downright…wasteful.  And also, why bother traipsing all over the mountain searching for maitake and reishi if you’re just going to let 3/4 of the medicine evaporate off?

The best way to extract the strongest, most complex water-soluble mushroom medicine is to preserve them fresh.  This is generally true of water-soluble medicinal herbs, too.  The recipe below for Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes (or mushroom ice cubes, if you want to be specific about it) will get you there.

But wait!  The true best, most complete, crazy amazing mushroom medicine is made by combining both water- and alcohol-soluble constituents, instead of choosing one or the other.  You can taste the difference, too: dried mushroom tea is lovely, tincture is fabulous, but a fresh mushroom concoction makes my whole body sigh with relief as my T-cells sing on their way into battle, in time with the war drums of the macrophages and the storming of the lymph and the gentle humming of my very very calm nervous system.  I like it, you could say.  Combine tincture and decoction into a concoction (really: double, double, toil & trouble).  The classic recipe is adapted below for maximum awesomeness, but there’s still just the three steps: tincture, decoct, then concoct.  Instructions below.

Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes

You can tell this is popular around here by the name.

If you’re planning to concoct some of your mushroom decoction, consider tincturing some–maybe a half-pint or a pint–at something water-friendly, like 1:4 60% (info here if you’re like, what?) and putting it aside until it’s ready.

1. Combine equal parts by weight of the following fresh mushrooms in a slow cooker (best) or large stock pot (not as good):

  • Reishi/Ganoderma
  • Maitake
  • Turkey Tail
  • Chaga (not technically a mushroom, as it’s not a fruiting body–it’s actually mycelium!  So cool!!!)
  • Or whatever you have, really.  But these are what I use, and I usually do 10 oz of each, but I have an truly enormous slow cooker so do what works for you.

2. Add these herbs for extra oomph and tastiness; use half as much of each herb as you used of the mushrooms (I use 5 oz of each):  IMG_2785

  • Elderberry
  • Cinnamon
  • Astragalus
  • Rosehips

3. Fill the rest of the way with water.

4. Gently simmer (covered!  Always!) for 2-3 days, the longer the better.  I go the full 72 hours.  It should be a terrible looking brownish blackish brackish color and quite fragrant, in an appealing swamp-creature kind of way.

5. Cool to room temperature, covered, a matter of up to 6 hours or so.

6. Strain through a wire mesh strainer into a large pitcher or batter bowl, something with a pour spout.

7. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.  When completely frozen, pack cubes into freezer bags or jars, label, and store in freezer.  You will probably have to do numerous rounds of freezing ice cube trays to get all the liquid frozen.

Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes can be added to tea, soup (simply the greatest addition to miso since the discovery of wakame), or just thawed and drank throughout the year as needed, any time you would use dried mushrooms or mushroom tea.  I use cubes as fresh decocted mushrooms in the concoction recipe below.

Perfection Mushroom Concoction

1. Tincture FRESH mushrooms at something water-friendly, like 1:4 60% (info here if you’re like, what?), as noted in the intro for the recipe above.  When the tincture is ready, strain it into a clean jar, with at least twice the volume as the tincture (i.e. put a pint of tincture in a quart jar).

2. A. If you’re concocting on the same day you made the decoction:

Allow the decoction from the recipe above to cool to room temperature, then ladle through a fine strainer into a measuring cup until you have equal parts tincture and decoction.

2. B. If time has passed since you made the decoction: Pressed tincture

Remove Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes from the freezer and thaw them at room temperature in a measuring cup, until you have equal parts tincture and decoction.

3. Combine equal parts tincture and decoction.  Some people also choose to ad raw honey at this stage.

4. Label and store in a cool, dark place, and use instead of mushroom tea or tincture.

There you have it, delicious and effective.  Not the easiest way of making mushroom medicine, but it sure works great. Enjoy.


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Group Discount Seed & Tree Order

For folks who live locally, Old Ways Herbal & Riversong Farm will be placing our annual order with Fedco Seeds on February 5.  You are welcome to order with us, receive whatever volume discount we qualify for plus free shipping, and pick up your seeds when they arrive either at the farm or in Brattleboro.

If you aren’t familiar with them, Fedco is a worker-owned cooperative that provides the highest quality and most affordable heirloom, organic, biodynamic, non-GMO, and non-proprietary seeds and plants for cold climates (they’re in Maine). Check out their offerings here.  Lots of cold-hardy medicinal fabulousness from the most ethical of companies.

We will also be ordering from Fedco Trees (native heirloom and hybrid fruit, nut, ornamental, & forest trees, plus many perennials), and you can order with us to save on shipping, although there is no volume discount.

The deadline for seed orders and payments will be February 4; trees, February 14.  Please let me know as soon as possible if you’re planning to participate.  To get in on the order, contact me and I will send you the instructions to set up your order through the Fedco website.

IMG_2785


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Preserving Water-Soluble Magic Beyond the Growing Season: Herbal Ice Cubes

This thing happens kind of a lot when you live in a place with significant seasons: you harvest some wonderful medicine, enough to last you a while–maybe all year–but then you have to actually do something with it while it’s still good, knowing you can’t get more until next year.  Most people’s gut reaction is to either dry or tincture the wonderful medicine, and generally speaking that works great for most things.

Except when it doesn’t.

If you’re familiar with solubility, you know that some medicines extract best (or in some cases only extract) in water-based preparations, so tinctures aren’t an option.  (If I lost you, try this article and scroll down to the section on solubility.)

Some (actually, many) herbs with significant water-soluble medicinal constituents, and generally herbs with high volatile oil content, tend to dry as weak medicine.  Obviously this isn’t true across the board–otherwise tea wouldn’t be a thing–but think of the difference between fresh basil and dried basil and I think you’ll get what I mean: there’s a real difference, and fresh is better.

And sometimes the medicinal properties evaporate straight out with the water when the plant dries, making it essentially useless in its dried form–think of borage, or jewelweed: wonderful fresh but downright lousy when dried.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to preserve water-soluble constituents without drying the herbs.

No, just kidding.  Here’s an easy & fun solution that allows us to preserve water-soluble medicine at the peak of its medicinal awesomeness.  This is the sort of fun kitchen witching that yields instant gratification: you might find yourself passing around your latest success at a dinner party, and any kids in your life are likely to think you’re a genius.

Herbal Ice Cube Recipe

1. Choose herbs that make sense together.  Keep in mind:

  • Solubility
  • Freshness (things that are harvested at the same time are ideal)
  • Flavor
  • Formulation purpose
  • Energetics & synergy

2. Harvest the herbs properly, at the appropriate time of day & moon phase, on a day when you have time to deal with them.

3. Immediately infuse or decoct as appropriate (instructions here).  Infuse or decoct at double strength.  Infuse for at least 6 hours, decoct for at least 2 hours.  You want super strong, fragrant awesomeness.  It should be decadent in that kitchen.

4. Cool to room temperature, covered, a matter of hours.

5. Strain through a wire mesh strainer into a large pitcher or batter bowl, something with a pour spout.

6. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.  When completely frozen, pack cubes into freezer bags or jars, label, and store in freezer.  You will probably have to do numerous rounds of freezing ice cube trays to get all the liquid frozen.

Herbal Ice Cubes can be added to tea, juice, soup, or just thawed and drank throughout the year as needed.

Sample Herbal Ice Cube Formulas

To beat wintery blues in these cold, dark climes, I make ice cubes with:

  • Borage
  • Lemon Balm
  • Holy Basil
  • Calendula

And they’re there and easy when the days are short and cold and difficult and my family is grouchy in the deepest part of winter–pop it into a cup of tea with some honey and boom!  Cheerful people everywhere.

My husband’s poison ivy?  Yes, he still gets it in the winter.  How about:

  • Jewelweed
  • Plantain
  • Mullein Flower
  • Oatstraw
  • Nettles

Bam!  Take that itchy rash.

Winter cocktail parties?  Something like:

  • Rosemary
  • Lemon balm
  • Anise-hyssop
  • Ginger

And everyone thinks I’m special.

You get the idea.  Experiment & have fun.

Oh!  And also check out this article about the same concept, but for the amazing Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes.  They’re only so-so.