The monthly musings of a Druid Herbalist living in New England.
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Wildcrafting Herbs - Know Your Roots!
(photo of Burdock plant by Christian Fischer)
It is early October as I write this. Farm stands and store shelves are groaning with local produce; glowing pumpkins of all sizes and colors, varieties of apples, apple cider and pies, jams and jellies made from local fruits and berries, broccoli, garlic, fennel and grapes, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, beets, cauliflower, chard, celery, kale, leeks and lettuce, mushrooms of all kinds, onions, parsley and pears, potatoes, peas and turnips. Local fruits and vegetables displayed in rows like rough jewels to be taken home to be cut, refined and processed.
Meanwhile, Nature continues to bestow her bounty in fields and forests, to those who have an eye to see the wealth.
Know your Roots
Fall is the time to gather roots. When harvesting roots from the ground be sure to scrub off the dirt, then soak them in water with vinegar or sea salt (a few tablespoons per gallon of water) to remove parasites, for about twenty minutes, before you rinse and chop.
Burdock (Arctium lappa)( see images here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctium_lappa)
“A weed is a plant whose uses have yet to be appreciated” and Burdock is one of those “weeds”. In Japan the root is grown as a vegetable called “Gobo”.
Burdock is a biennial, meaning that the flowers and seeds appear in the second year. Dig out the root of a first year plant in the fall, or a second year plant in the spring because by the time the flowers appear it is too late to take the roots. Clean it carefully and soak in salt water or vinegar water for about 20 minutes to remove parasites. Then soak again in fresh, clear water for about 10 minutes to improve the taste. Chop and sauté the roots after that.
Burdock is considered a gentle blood and liver cleanser. Think of it for skin eruptions such as acne. (The fresh leaf tea can be used as an external wash for sores, acne, poison ivy and poison oak).
In my experience Burdock root tea or capsules should be taken to relieve poison ivy which is actually a systemic condition. Burdock helps to clear the poison ivy toxins from the blood via the liver.
To make the tea: simmer 1 tsp. root per cup of water, for about 20 minutes or grate the fresh root, add half as much water as you have of root, squeeze out the liquid and drink up to 1 cup a day in teaspoon doses.
Goldenrod (Solidago odora, S. virgaurea and other species) (see pictures here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldenrod) is still available in the early fall. Add the flowers to muffins, pancakes, soups and vegetable stir fries. The flowers and leaves when taken in herbal teas can benefit skin conditions such as eczema as well as arthritis, colds and flu, hemorrhoids, and urinary tract infections. Externally the tea can be applied to cuts and insect bites.
To make the tea: steep a teaspoon of flowers per cup of freshly boiled water for about 10 minutes. Adults (average 150 pounds) can take up to 2 cups a day. Adjust amounts for children, depending on body weight.
The leaves of Sweet Goldenrod (Solidago odora) (see image here; http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Solidago+odora) make a nice tasting beverage tea; add them to other medicinal teas to improve taste. The leaf tea helps with fevers, stomach cramps, colds, coughs, diarrhea and measles. It makes an external wash for rheumatic conditions and can be used in compresses for headaches. It is diuretic and emmenagogue. The leaves have been used in salves for insect stings.
Caution: Be careful to gather leaves without signs of fungus or mold
Once the cold autumn air has caused the plant to die back, the sap returns to the roots which can be washed, dried and eaten in soups, or ground into bread mixes. The powdered, dried root is applied to wounds. The roots and flowers are also used to make salves and poultices for burns, sore joints and old sores.
(Caution: goldenrod may help milder kidney conditions but those with severe kidney problems or who might be pregnant should avoid this herb)
Cat Tail, Bulrush (Typha spp.) (see pictures here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typha)
These pond dwellers have been termed “the supermarket of the swamp” due to their availability for food and medicine all year. In spring cut the new shoots and peel them open. The center reveals a delicate pale green vegetable that when steamed resembles hearts of palm. In the early summer the young flower heads are boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. When the pollen appears in the summer it can be collected and added to flour. Native Americans used the fuzz to diaper babies (packed into a buckskin diaper), to line moccasins and to stuff pillows.
Cat Tail Roots
In the fall when the plants have started to brown and die back, it is time to gather the roots. One difficulty is that you must find cat tails growing in non-polluted water, which may require hiking away from roads. The roots can be simmered to make a diuretic tea or cooked until soft, then mashed and cooled and applied to wounds, sores, burns, and other skin eruptions. You can also add the softened roots to poultices for skin healing.
Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
(see pictures here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Althaea_(genus) )
The flower buds, flowers and very young leaves can be cooked and eaten in the spring or used to make a tea for coughs and sore throats.
In the fall we turn to the roots which are demulcent (soothing to tissues) and thus helpful for sore throat and coughs. The root tea can be used in douches and as a soothing eye wash (be sure to simmer for 20 minutes or more and then strain through an organic coffee filter if you plan to use it in your eyes), colitis and stomach ulcers.
Add the roots to poultices and salves for skin irritations, burns and wounds.
You can also grate the cleaned fresh roots (soak the roots in cold water with a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or sea salt for about 20 minutes to remove parasites, then rinse), mix with honey, and spread on a cloth. Apply to minor burns, wounds and skin irritations for about an hour and then discard.
To make the root tea: peel the roots then simmer 1 tsp. root per cup of water, for 20 minutes
To make the flower and leaf tea: steep 2 tsp. flower and leaf per cup of boiled water, for about 5 minutes
Yellow Dock, Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) (see images here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumex_crispus)
In very early spring the leaves are edible. Bring to a simmer and pour off the water twice before consuming. Caution: do not eat large amounts as it can irritate the kidneys.
Yellow Dock Roots
The roots of this herb are cleansing to the blood and liver, meaning they will help clear skin problems such as acne. The root tea is a gentle, iron rich laxative suitable for pregnant women.
The roots can be added to healing salves or dried and powdered and applied to cuts.
To make the root tea: simmer 1 tsp. per cup of water for 20 minutes. Adults (150 pounds) can take up to 2 cups a day. Adjust for body weight in children.
False Solomon’s Seal, False Spikenard (Maianthemum racemosum,Smilacina racemosa, Vagnera racemosa ) (see image here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maianthemum_racemosum)
This plant can be easily distinguished from True Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) (see image here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygonatum ) . The “True” variety has a line of bell shaped flowers all along the stalk while the “False” has a cluster of flowers at the end of the stalk. “True” Solomon’s Seal root is used in poultices for bruises and wounds but it is an endangered species in the wild so I do not recommend wild crafting this plant.
False Solomon’s Seal Root
The mashed roots can be applied to swellings and boils, itching and bleeding. They are anti-inflammatory and can be chopped and simmered in honey to make a syrup for coughs and sore throats (use 1 part root to 4 parts honey, simmer gently until the roots are very soft, strain)
Native Americans used the root tea for conditions such as constipation, rheumatism, stomach problems, menstrual issues and coughs. Caution: The tea can be a strong laxative for some people. Try a small amount and see how it affects you first!
Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) (see images here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symplocarpus_foetidus)
The tender leaves of this plant are actually quite tasty and very edible if gathered in early spring when they first appear (when they are six inches long or less). Simmer and pour off the water twice, then serve with butter. Note* This plant can be easily confused with False Hellebore (Veratrum viride)(see image here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veratrum_viride ) which is poisonous. Use your nose – False Hellebore does not have that wonderfully stinky smell!
Seek the roots of Skunk Cabbage very late fall or very early spring. A denizen of swamps, streams and boggy grounds, these roots are a classic remedy for wet lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. The roots are also used for nervous problems, depression, rheumatic conditions and swellings. The roots have pain-relieving qualities and cause relaxation of tissues.
The roots can be simmered in oil to make a salve for ring worm, sores and swellings.
To make the tea: steep 1 tsp. per cup of freshly boiled water for about 20 minutes. Take up to 1 cup a day in tablespoon doses.
Tincture: tincture the roots in vodka for about 8 days and keep on hand for asthma and coughs. Take 3-15 drops in water.
For more detailed info on herb and tree medicine please see all my books at www.elleneverthopman.com where you can purchase a signed copy with a personal note!
Lust, John, The Herb Book, Bantam, New York, 1974
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