Category Archives: Herbs
My Valerian plant has just gone totally bonkers with flowers this season, and I wanted very much to make use of them, but wasn’t sure how. Enter trusty Google search, where I learned that Valerian flowers can be tinctured and used much in the same way as the root. Valerian is employed as a relaxant and sedative, especially for those folks who have trouble falling and/or staying asleep. (A word of caution: a percentage of people actually respond the exact OPPOSITE to Valerian, and find that it makes them jumpy and excitable.) Valerian flowers are considered effective, but milder than the root. We are mostly use California Poppy before bed in our house, but it’s nice to have a back-up plant and to mix it up now and again.
For our home remedies, I tincture almost exclusively in the folk method. I fill a jar (not jammed but nice and full) with fresh plant matter, and then cover with 80 proof vodka and seal the lid. It’s a no-fuss method but very effective. I store the jar away in the pantry, give it a shake every now and again, and then sample the medicine after waiting at least 2 weeks. (I consider 2 weeks to be the bare minimum to wait, in order to give the plant matter enough time to give itself over to the alcohol. I usually wait a month or two before using a tincture. Opinions on this vary and I’m simply offering my experience.)
This is the method I used to tincture the Valerian flowers, although this time I filled one jar with vodka and another with brandy. Using brandy is new to me, but I’ve been experimenting with making flower essences, which primarily use brandy. (The flower essences are often taken directly under the tongue, and brandy goes down a bit smoother than vodka, in my experience.) So now I have two differnt tinctures of Valerian flower to experiment with, one make with vodka and the other with brandy.
Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana) is our plant for celebrating Valentine’s Day. The plant is known as “dream sage” because it promotes good dreams, which helps to heal the spirit. Sewn into a small pillow or stuffed into a drawstring bag, Mugwort makes a wonderful gift to a lover, a symbol that you care about their dreams (and therefore their health and happiness.)
“Dreams are an essential part of health. Dreams help the spirit remember to be normal, to be happy. Dreams help heal the spirit. Many patients have trouble dreaming because they are under too much stress. They cannot relax their minds at night and simply dream. Many patients use drugs to help them sleep. These drugs usually prevent dreaming and may cause patients to wake up with some lingering depression, hung over. Patients who are addicted to drugs or alcohol may have trouble dreaming. Patients with heart disease may also find it hard to dream and sleep.
Dream sage is used by Healers to promote good dreams. Dream sage is also called mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana. It is called molush in Chumash. To use dream sage, collect the stalks, leaves and seeds, dry them and sew them into a small pillow…Place the small pillow under the normal pillow to promote dreaming…The pleasant, sage smell of the dream sage induces aromatherapy that will help promote dreaming. This helps heal the spirit. When the spirit remembers to be normal, the body can heal.
One of the most romantic things a young man can do for his girlfriend is to make her a small pillow of dream sage. This shows her that he cares about her and her dreams. Hopefully, she will dream pleasant dreams about him.”
-Cecilia Garcia and James D. Adams, Jr, The Advantages of Traditional Chumash Healing
I can’t imagine anything more romantic than expressing an interest in your loved one’s dreams: offering them a gift which has the potential to enhance their inner life, their sleepy soft subliminal self, and their sacred essence. Plus, a few wonderful-smelling leaves tucked into a special bag is a simple (and maybe close to free!) present that honors love and Valentine’s Day in an uncomplicated way.
The scent of Mugwort is hard to describe but I would liken it closely to sage, although more complex. It manages, to my nose, to smell of both the desert and the forest at the same time. It is definitely earthy, and maybe slightly lemon-y. I tried a Dream Sage pillow myself, five leaves stuffed into a muslin bag, which was then placed on the underside of my regular sleeping pillow. Personally, I had a little bit of an allergic reaction to it: slightly itchy eyes. But once I removed it from my pillow and placed it by my bedstand instead, the allergy went away. The dream pillow was still close enough that I could catch the occassional whiff, but not so strong as to aggravate my eyes. (Just in case your honey has averse reactions or sensitivity to some plants, I thought I should share.)
If you have sewing skills, you could make a little pillow from extra fabric, or maybe even buy a special cloth for your honey. I used a muslin bag with a drawstring, commonly used in the kitchen for bouquet garnis, and this worked fine.
Wishing you a relaxed and romantic Valentine’s Day with the ones you love and cherish. And wishing you, of course, sweet sweet dreams.
If you live in or near the foothills of the West, you may recognize the California Sagebrush. This bush plant has feathery leaves and a strong odor reminiscent of sage. I’ve heard the taste described as bitter, but I don’t find it to be offensively so. In fact, it’s tasty taken as a mild tea, using approximately a pinky finger-sized portion of the leaves and stem.
In her book Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West, Chumash healer Cecilia Garcia writes, “California Sagebrush is used to bring back pleasant memories. Burn it or put it in a sack and smell it to bring back pleasant memories.” In an article written with James D. Adams (also her co-author of the above book), she states, “Sometimes, when the spirit is sick, just remembering pleasant thoughts can be helpful in healing. The smell of Californian sagebrush reminds many Californians of the smell of grandmother’s house. A pleasant smell, like Californian sagebrush, can help the patient remember long-lost memories. Aromatherapy is a very powerful way of bringing back pleasant memories.” The book indicates using the plant in tea form during the first days of a woman’s menstrual period, for bronchitis and colds, or worn as a necklace to keep insects and bad spirits away.
The above photo was taken on a hiking trail in the city of Fullerton, California. The bush was growing in close proximity to Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana), a plant I’ll be discussing tomorrow for Valentine’s Day. Garcia writes that the Artemisias are regarded as medicinal plants throughout the world, often used to treat, “…malaria, fungal infections, inflammation, bacterial and viral infections.” Both plants were considered sacred by the Chumash and other Native people.
The stinging nettle I collected the other day was divided into two piles. The first half was for my tea experiment and the second was hung in the rafters to dry in preparation for an infusion project at a later date. (Wise Woman Susun Weed is a great proponent of infusions. She recommends taking one cup of dried herb, filling a quart jar with boiling water and letting the infusion sit over night. According to Weed, the resulting infusion is incredibly nourishing to the body, being high in vitamins and minerals.) After the nettle is done drying in the garage, I will use Weed’s method to make an infusion with it. But first, I wanted to use the fresh plant to make some tea.
The above photo shows the amount of fresh plant I used to make the tea. This was more or less half of the entire amount I’d foraged.
In order to strip the stinging leaves from the stalks, I donned my gloves again. I carefully separated the leaves and then placed them back in the bowl. I boiled 32 ounces of water, placed the plucked leaves in the pot, and then removed from heat.
The tea was left to steep for 20 minutes before I strained the leaves from the liquid. The resulting tea was a lovely green color, with an earthy taste. All palates are different, of course, but I found the tea to be very mild and devoid of bitterness. It was a nice change from the usually strong teas I normally drink, and I decided to call it “Green Goddess Nettle Tea” after its vibrant color and earthy taste.
I’m trying my hand at making tinctures. I chose dandelion as my first experiment because they’re everywhere and FREE. If it doesn’t work I’m only out the cost of the vodka, which thanks to Trader Joe’s, isn’t very much. (They sell a brand called Burnett’s for about $7 a bottle. Very affortable for iffy experiments.) I picked the dandelion leaves and roots the other day after the rain. (Yes, that crazy lady at the park with muddy mocassins and plastic bags was me.) I rinsed the plants, separated the leaves from the roots, and stuffed them each in their own mason jars. Filled the jars with vodka, whispered a few magical words, and did a little dandelion dance. That’s all there is to it. You’re supposed to agitate the jar every day or two for the next 6 months. Hopefully I’ll remember. Actually, I’ll just be happy if in 6 months I can remember where I put the jars…