I’ve read Martin Shaw’s book Scatterlings a couple of times now and I keep finding hoards of riches. Here’s a good introduction to it, filmed by Ian MacKenzie:
We may march in the Big Apple in the biggest Climate Action in the world, ever, but then we come home where our lives are (somewhat) normal and comfortably small. Here we concoct an elder syrup of elderberries, elder flowers, astragalus root, peppermint and homegrown, raw honey. In fact, over a quart of it!
One jar sits in the door of my fridge and gets sampled every day. The rest went into the freezer, which is safe for honey.
We also celebrate the arrival of pullet eggs! We’ve found five so far (these pullets are master flyers and escape over the fence to the great beyond quite often, so who knows), so must be more than one pullet. Figuring out which ones is nigh impossible, but it’s not essential. As the eggs gain their mature size, we might be able to start telling the difference.
The days are shortening and cooling fast. I made that wonderful escarole, garlic and cannellini bean soup with an escarole head from the CSA box. Yum!
Wild strawberries, which are said to be deadly when overripe, as these were: deadly because you die of disappointment: no taste, whatsoever. Bummer!
A surprise patch of St. John’s Wort – this after trying to grow it from seed (50 seeds, only one germinated). Thank you!
Hive 3 swarmed on the 16th and alighted in a tree high above the bee yard. It hung in there for four days, though rain and thunder and lightening. It even changed position once. I was thinking: they’re probably regretting it now, as they find the real estate market lacking. Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. Well, they must have found a place, but where, I do not know. I missed their take-off.
We caught the groundhog that had a nest in our slope. It hadn’t touched out garden (yet), but several of our neighbors will be very relieved.
Our river, the Sudbury, has been very high. Here’s one of Wayland’s streets. The river is also on the other side of it.
Over a couple of hours in the Community Garden plots, we weeded the patch on the right and sowed some of the other half (upper right). What fun to spend time with friends in the field! I think if these beans come through, we can call ourselves farmers. Thank you, friends!
Speaking of growing. Here I am with a jolly bunch of the cutest preschoolers who came to the Hannah Williams Playground Ecological Food Garden to plant herbs and flowers. The event was covered in the local press (here and here).
Here’s me behind the wheel. The bucket, filled with water, weighs down the light-weight contraption, pushing the dibbles into the soft soil. It got quite a bit of attention from the other gardeners.
The outcome: 9 (more or less) straight rows, 30′ long, spaced 3″ – 1080 holes, 1″ deep
We made it right on time before drops here and there turned into a downpour. Took us only 1 1/2 hours (chatting included), thanks to the dibble wheel, which made it a singe. The next half of the plot we’ll do after the soil has dried out again.
Coming home the warm rain couldn’t stop me from freeing two roses from the bittersweet that was strangling them (ouch: thorns!) and then identifying and carefully removing the Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) that was growing merrily away in my medicinal herb bed. Good, now I also know what that looks like.
The other day Amie and I admired a pretty yellow flower with a scaly stalk in what we fondly call “The Pitt”: the front part of our garden that is mainly bramble. A friend of mine identified at as being Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), also known as cough wort. This was very exciting. Here I am trying to cultivate finicky medicinals and down there, in The Pitt, grows this amazing cough suppressant, expectorant and asthma treatment, wild, unattended. Uninvited but very welcome.
Apparently the plant tastes salty and was used as a salt substitute. The bees share my excitement!
Today I got to experiment first-hand with a remedy for Stinging Nettle stings. Some nettle was growing in my mint patch and though I am aware of it and am careful when harvesting mint, my guests may not. I was tidying up that patch and thought I’d relocate the three nettle plants to the nettle patch (out of the way in the back of the property, behind the fence).
Tip: just wearing gloves and a short sleeved shirt is not ample protection.
I got stung badly on the bare arm and then, through the glove, on a finger. The blisters and the itch formed immediately. I ran out back to our “lawn” (more like a clover patch) and picked some plantain leaves, crushed them in a mortar and applied them as a poultice.
If memory serves, the blisters and itch can last many hours. The itch was abolished instantly, and the blisters were gone after 5 minutes of applying the leaf.
Just over the weekend a friend and I were talking about herbal medicine. He didn’t quite “believe in it”. Turns out that what he doesn’t believe in is that plants can have a beneficial effect. That some are detrimental and poisonous, or that their malevolent effect can indeed be instant – e.g., Stinging Nettle – he had no problem accepting.
When I pointed this out it was a revelation. All our trust in the benefits of plants has been taken away by the pharmaceuticals. All that remains is the other side of the coin. A weird coin it is now, hanging there in people’s minds, in our culture…
Amie and the comfrey
Today Amie helped me harvest the comfrey and feverfew. She helped me string up those big, fat comfrey leaves. “It’s like stringing fish!” she said. I asked her where she got that idea? She couldn’t remember, but she was right. She loved the smell of the feverfew flowers – they look and smell like chamomile, but the plants are not related. I was amazed at her patience, taking them from me, standing around in the hot sun.
As we were harvesting, she suddenly said how she loves it that I am a beekeeper, and that she asked her friends at school and it turned out that no one else’s mom was a beekeeper. (I did a little beekeeper talk for her class recently). We also talked about how not many people make medicine out of plants, and about the difference between pharmaceuticals and plant medicine (and that each has its place). And about the generosity of the plants, how important it is to take from them only what we need, only what is ready, and leave most of the plant to to thrive. “Like when we rob from the bees,” she says.
Yes, dear child. How I love doing this with you.
Amie garbling dried mint
I made a page inventorizing the herbal medicines in my apothecary, and I thought I should also have a page with all the herbs growing in the garden and being grown from seed. Ordered alphabetically according to their Latin name, annuals indicated:
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) (above)
Chinese Aconite (Aconitum carmichaeli) SEEDLINGS
Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis) SEEDLINGS
Golden Chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria) (above)
Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberosa)
Astragalus (* annual)
Echinacea purpurea FULL GROWN (harvestable) and SEEDLINGS
Fleabane (Erigeron) (above)
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Cleavers (Galium aparine) – SEEDLINGS
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) FULL GROWN (harvestable) and SEEDLINGS
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) SEEDLINGS
Elecampane (Inula helenium)
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) SEEDLINGS
Cheese Mallow (Malva rotundifolia) (above) – les potent than Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis)
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) SEEDLING
Plantain (Plantago lanceaolata) – WILD
Giant Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris) SEEDLING
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium or Chrysanthemum parthenium) (above)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) – WILD
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) SEEDLING
Mullein (Verbascum spp.) – WILD
Last week I splurged on Wildcraft, a cooperative board game for kids (and adults) developed by HerbMentor, one of my favorite places for herbal instruction. The idea of the game is to make it up the mountain to the huckleberry patch, gather huckleberries, and make it back down again to grandma’s house before nightfall. And not to perish.
In the official game there’s not much chance of perishing. When you land on a cross you get a trouble card – a hornet sting, sore muscles, hunger, or stomach ache. But you start out with four remedy cards and gather lots along the way. It’s usually an easy walk. Usually.
Amie loved the game from the very first. She has played it several times, with us or by herself. She’ll skip around the house telling her doll they should find some Plantain for that bee sting, Echinacea for the sniffles. It’s sweet.
Then yesterday she came up with a variation. She set up the board and invited me to play, but wisely kept the rules to herself until I had committed (you spin that wheel, you’re committed). The variation was this: only trouble cards, no remedy cards.
Painful, to say the least! Our conversation ran thus:
– You’re killing me!
– Don’t blame it on me.
– Well, you’re the one who invented this game.
– Blaming isn’t nice. Oops, now you’ve got diarrhea. Too bad!
She weighed ailments (diarrhea would be the worst one) and inflicted pain (gleefully handing out the cards) all in the playful and safe setting of a game. She also explored endurance and the extent to which the human body can handle pain and discomfort. At the end of the game, when we finally made it back to grandma’s house, Amie gathered she must be near death. Like so:
Notice the tongue sticking out, a sure sign of near death.
The cards near her head, by the way, were her trouble cards. The long line near her feet, those were mine! She invited me to come lie next to her and be really dead.
I declined, stating someone had to take the picture.
While participating in the Training for Transition I came to a profound realization. One of the most powerful exercises in Transition is the positive visioning. People sit in two circles, one inside the other, facing each other so everyone is paired up. The people on the outside are the elders of the future, who have lived through Transition (the time of change). The people on the inside are young people, who did not live through it, and they ask three questions of their Elder, and listen. At the end, the pairs exchange seats and the circles rotate.
One of the questions is: what is your role in this (Transitioned) world?
Many people see themselves working with food. That’s only to be expected: besides air, water and shelter, what is more important than healthy, nutritious food? So people talk about how they tend the fields, teach others how to grow, scout out places to grow more crops, etc. People talk lovingly about being post-carbon farmers (farmers without oil), about farming together, and the more leisurely pace of life, with many conversations with neighbors, and kids roaming free, and nothing but the blue sky above and the dirt in their hands.
This exercise invites only positive visioning, and some have trouble with this. That’s why we do the exercise. We need to practice hoping. Especially for those who seek Transition, those who have studied up and faced the truth, it’s hard. And thus, powerful.
So here it was my turn as the Elder to answer that question.
“I grow medicine. In the post-carbon world there are no pharmaceuticals, or if there are, there is no easy, quick and affordable way to get the medicine to where it is needed. There are no stockpiles of antibiotics or analgesics. Medicine is homemade. I am someone who grows this medicine. I found the best spots in the town for growing marshmallow, or motherwort, or even ginger. I grow it, and teach and supervise the growing of it by others. I keep the inventory of the living plants. I harvest them at their appropriate times and with appropriate thanks for their abundance. I then bring them home and dry them and make them into medicine. I keep the apothecary. I don’t diagnose, I don’t heal. I don’t feel ready for that yet. I hope someone else can do that. If not, I’ll help, but humbly.”
I was silent for a second, surprised by my vision. Usually I am a farmer of unspecified crops. Usually I feed people. And beyond my surprise there was more to be said. So I said it:
“It’s hard in this world because we Elders remember the old medicine and health care. It wasn’t all good – the side effects, the addiction, the arrogance and entitlement. But diseases were cured, or held at bay, and lives were lengthened. Now we don’t have it so easy anymore. An infection that would have been treated with a shot can now kill. We need to be vigilant all the time, grow whole, resilient bodies. Life is no longer prolonged – or rather, death is no longer postponed. We die at our appointed times. It is sad, sometimes, to think that an old drug could have postponed it. But, on the other hand, people now die at home, surrounded by their loved ones and communities. That’s better. That’s better.”
So there we are, that is what I want to do in the future, when I grow up, when the world grows up.
This is the marc of the echinacea root I tinctured and pressed yesterday.
It is what is left of the plant when it has given all it has to give.