The Herbal Confessional - Herbal Update #3
You Are Here...
Six months in and now I can admit to something. I was more than a little intimidated by fresh herbs. I hadn't worked with fresh plants before. Until taking this class, all the tinctures, oils, and salves I made used dried herbs. Fresh plants require me to be more "in the moment". There are specific times to gather each.
Herbs such as oregano or thyme should be gathered before they bloom because the plant expends so much energy for the flowering that its volatile oils are not as concentrated in the leaves afterward. Some plants' medicinal properties are in the flowers themselves, such as chamomile and lavender, so harvesting has to happen when they're blooming. Roots are often at their best in the springtime after the long winter or in the fall after the blooms. Others are more lenient and can be collected throughout the spring, summer, even into fall, such as plantain.
There is also the perishable nature of freshly picked plants. I feel the clock ticking and a pressure I hadn't experienced before in my somewhat leisurely approach to making plant medicine. Thus far I had the luxury of selecting a jar or plastic zip-loc bag of dried plant matter whenever I needed it. This class is teaching me about the life cycles of plants and how to be in concert with the rhythms of the seasons. I do not make time here. I must watch the signs and obey the laws of nature.
Goldenrod and me.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to gather some fresh herbs and plants at the August meet-up. After that Saturday's class, we quickly refreshed ourselves and headed out to a secluded field to get some first hand plant interaction. I don't know where we went, I might as well have been blindfolded, but we turned off of the asphalt onto a dirt road that opened into the most marvelous fields of goldenrod, wild raspberries, yarrow, St. John's wort, mullein and more than I could ever name! Our knowledgeable guide pointed out what was good to get, what was past season, and what wasn't quite ready yet. We were like kids in a candy store! (Respectful kids, taking only what we could use, in a serene candy store.) Armed with gloves, scissors, and bags, we snipped fresh goldenrod and white wild yarrow which was in abundance. These will be made into tinctures and salves.
We went in for raspberry leaves. Hold up! These things bite! There are prickles all over raspberry plants, including the leaves. You must wear gloves when collecting raspberry leaves or it will not be a pleasurable experience at all. These will be used fresh or dried for tea. We even found a few delicious berry treats tucked among the prickles. Soft, fuzzy mullein greeted us, standing proudly and the famed St. John's wort, a delicate yellow flower was here and there among the taller grasses. We gently pulled leaves and blossoms for teas, infused oils, and tinctures.
Yarrow and Goldenrod
We sparingly gathered some milkweed pods as well. Milkweed provides a vital food source for Monarch butterflies so its critical not to over harvest the seed pods. However I am intrigued by the use of the pods in cooking. These I understand can be cooked and eaten in a curry or stir-fry. Now, I have never run across milkweed pods in my foodist musings but I was down for the experience. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to make them that night, too much fun talking. But I will be on the look out for the next opportunity.
To keep it even more interesting, here are some milkweed pod recipes for consideration should you be so inclined:
Parboiled milkweed pod (From
). Seems like it would be an interesting eat!
From The Three Foragers we have
From Hunger and Thirst For Life we have
Sam Thayer writes about
? Yes! From Edible Wild Food
These are just a few or the recipes out there, maybe not coming soon to a restaurant near you but folks are eating milkweed pods. I'll definitely post when I finally get to try them in a dish.
Anyway, back to the wildcrafting. On the way in, we spotted a staghorn sumac and jumped out to get some a few of the velvety crimson torches. Nature. is. amazing.
The next morning, after what was probably the best oatmeal ever (featuring hand tapped maple syrup that was lovingly referred to as "liquid gold", dried foraged black and red raspberries, and walnuts...oh yea. Way to break fast!), we headed out to collect some plants from around the property. Down by the pond there was horsetail. These slender stalks remind me of green bamboo. They looked so odd, just poking up from the ground like that, no leaves. Just a bristly little comb on top that looks like, yep, a horse's tail. We rounded up a load of plantain leaves, and I got a huge bunch of sweet clover. Sweet clover smells divine!
Upon returning home, I haul all my gear in the house and find that I have a cooler full of fresh flowers, leaves, and stalks looking up at me expectantly.
Alas! I have not properly prepared for this party! I am exhausted from the plant walk, I have about a tablespoon of olive oil and no Everclear alcohol at all! The flowers are now frowning at me and drooping a little in disappointment. NOOOOO!!! You will not go to waste! I packaged up as much as would fit in assorted grocery bags and tried to find room in the fridge between the pickles and the sour cream for a bale of goldenrod and a bushel of horsetail. The rest I carefully wrapped in paper towel and put in a milk crate in the garage high up away from Riley's wandering leg. I crossed my fingers and hoped that "fresh" could hold up for a couple of days!
Dried staghorn sumac, raspberry leaves, and of course, goldenrod.
I admit, I was a little overzealous but I did my best to process all of the bounty. I infused a large jar of yarrow oil, but when I tried drying what was left, I lost it to mold. The Saint John's wort sadly did not make it at all. The staghorn sumac, mullein, sweet clover, and raspberry leaf dried beautifully. When the budget allows another liquor run, I will make some more herbal mixtures. The sweet clover is marinating nicely and I think I have a lifetime supply of goldenrod and horsetail tinctures...
It's exciting to have an arm full of heady goldenrod! It's exciting to go from plant to bush to tree snipping and clipping! But each plant requires its own processing method and time, supplies and ingredients. So, lesson learned here is to plan! Plan for wild crafting, how much is reasonable to collect and how much is reasonable based on your needs. How much will you be able to use fresh? Will it be used for tea, tincture, oil or all three?
I tell myself to relax!
Bounty that was left over after fresh processing, nice! Not enough to get through the winter, but a start.
Remember the kids in the candy store. Some race through the aisles, grabbing treats with abandon, hoarding for the future, and have no interest in sharing. Don't be that kid. The Divine Universe is abundant, plan accordingly. I am thankful for her gifts, the lessons learned, and look forward to fine tuning the harmony of this seasonal dance.