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Twas December 2nd

Twas December 2nd

Written by Tamara Anderson

 

‘Twas December 2nd, when all through the house

Plant apprentices made medicines, some with calendula flowers.

The salves were made on the stove top with care,

In hopes that there would be plenty to share;

 

We learned about the folk method for making tinctures

And the standardized calculation for herbalist thinkers.

With guidance from Alexis, so lively and quick,

“Almost there!”, the cough drop liquid was becoming thick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When out in the kitchen there arose such a chatter,

Fire Cider was being made with plant-based batter;

Turmeric, cloves, ginger, garlic, white pine and horseradish;

Onion, jalapeño, cayenne pepper, rosemary and lemon zest.

What to our wondering eyes should appear on the counter;

But many tiny jars of salves, syrups, and balms to prepare for winter.

The secret planta gifts were gathered on the table,

The gifts were plant-based, like syrup from maples;

Or small zines about winter weeds made from paper.

 

And then, in a twinkling, the weekend was done.

Hugs and well wishes to all for making it fun.

Hearts filled with love and gratitude

For the many plants that we used;

And for the people who harvested and prepared them;

May our paths cross again!

Herbal cough drop recipe: https://wellnessmama.com/7719/herbal-cough-drops/

 

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Kitchen Fun, Medicine Making Day 1

This weekend was all about warmth! We received a warm welcome from Bobbi, Alexis,  River and Violet when we arrived. Throughout the weekend I felt the warmth of being surrounded by friends and warmth in the cozy farm house and hanging around the woodstove.

The heart of the weekend was in the kitchen, were we all got our hands oily from making infused oils balms and salves!

We dived right in, spending the morning straining sun-infused oils, and admiring their various colours.

Red St. Johns Wort oil and Yellow Red Clover oil

Straining Calendula Oil

Next we tried our hand at infusing herbs into oil on the stove and used the newly infused oil to make balms and salves

Cayenne oil, for a muscle pain relief salve

Making salve is messy! Alexis shared his helpful practice of having one set of utensils set aside especially for this greasy, waxy work.

We got to work, with some teams making different balms and slaves, a labeling crew and Nicola + Tanya working to prepare Elderberries for cough drops and Elderberry syrup.

 

Here are some of the balm’s and salves we made:

Winter Sun= Calendula infused olive oil, coconut oil, vitiman e oil,  peppermint essential oil, beeswax

Calendulime= Calendula infused oil, Lime essential oil, vitiman E oil and beeswax

Universalve= Plantain, Calenduala and St. John’s Wort infused oil with vitiman E oil and beeswax

Barefoot Fix= Calendula , Oregon Grape, Yarrow infused oil with vitiman E oil and beeswax

Hot! Burn Salve= Lavander and Bergamot infused oil, with coconut oil, vitiman e oil and beeswax

Simultaneously Tamara, Daniella, Maddy and Tim got serious about cough-drop making! It was a collective learning adventure, as it was everyones first time making lozenges. This team really devoted their care and patience to the task! First they simmered a blend of healing herbs (cinnamon, elecampane, calendula, elderberries)  in water .

This mixture was reduced, and honey was added, then slowly heated

It took a while…. lots of testing, tasting, then finally the mixture (now the most stunning gold colour) was ready to cool!

It was all hands on deck to form the small candies before the mixture got too cold and no-longer pliable.

We coated the cough candies in slippery elm powder for extra-soothing action!

Phew! Just in time!

Over dinner the last of the days creations simmered away: 

Elderberry syrup with Rosemary, Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Cloves and Honey, Yum!

Thanks for a bustling day full of so many herbal creations, great conversations and laughs!

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Deep roots, green goldfish and wolf flatulence

Hemlock Tea Drinking, November 2018

On Saturday, November 3rd, 2018, the Earth Tracks plant apprentices met at the Mono Forest Tract – one of fourteen Dufferin County Forest tracts located across Dufferin County. Alexis recommended using all of our senses when harvesting roots. He reminded everyone that we are often taking the life of the plants when we harvest the roots. We shared gratitude for the plants to start our day.

To start, we headed over to a patch of Sarsaparilla and learned from Alexis that this plant is also called “rabbit root” because the rabbits munch on it. We looked at the growth rings (or cups) on the plant roots. When I harvested some sarsaparilla root from under an elderberry plant, I counted nine cups or nine years of growth. This plant was used as a source of energy for First Nations’ runners. The root can also be used to make root beer.

Sarsaparilla Root

Next, it was time to harvest Burdock root. Burdock is known as a blood purifier because it stimulates the liver to function more efficiently. It contains iron, minerals and vitamins A, C, D and E. It may also have antioxidant properties. Burdock is a biennial plant with a deep tap root. Alexis shared that when the root dies back, it creates a water channel, insect channel and air channel into the earth. These channels are beneficial to the health of the soil and the creatures/plants that live there. The roots bring macro and micronutrients up from the deeper soil layers. When burdock leaves die back, they return the nutrients to the soil.

Note: A few days later, I harvested some burdock roots to share at a potluck and had a feeling to put the leaves from the harvested plants back on the surface of the soil where I took the roots. I did not think more on this until writing up the notes from the weekend. Maybe the burdock was communicating with me about the necessity of returning those nutrients to the soil and nearby plants that need it. The natural world is amazing!

A few people harvested some mullein roots next. Mullein is one of the earth-regenerators. It has a long taproot that helps control soil erosion and break up compacted soil. A tincture made with the fresh roots can be used for urinary incontinence. We continued to wander along deer trails and mountain bike trails in a mixed forest of beeches, maples and conifers. The undergrowth revealed bright red Canada Mayflower berries and some delicious Common Sorrel leaves which looked like green goldfish crackers. Michelle and Tim recommend this yummy edible.

Green Goldfish: Common Sorrel

Deer tracks and scrapes were observed on the trail. Within moments, some of the group spotted deer moving through the deciduous forest ahead. We took a break for lunch, sheltered from the wind by the trees. Tanya shared some yummy horehound candies from Britain. Horehound is an expectorant, useful for relieving dry coughs. It is also a bitter, to help with digestion.

A ruby crowned kinglet made an appearance as the group headed towards the edge of the forest bordering Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. We harvested some hemlock needles and Alexis prepared nutritious Hemlock tea. He shared that Hemlock helps bind to heavy metals and remove them from the body.

We talked about reciprocity and how humans can help disperse plant seeds. We collected some Blue Cohosh seeds to plant in other areas of the forest. Alexis talked about how heavier seeds, like Blue Cohosh (that are not wind dispersed) need help taking root in new places. Seed dispersal is one form of caretaking that humans have traditionally helped with in the natural world.

Lycoperdon (Puffballs) roughly translates to “wolf flatulence”

Fungi were aplenty in the forest. We observed some puffballs with the genus name Lycoperdon which roughly translates to “wolf fart” referring to the brown puff of spores that these mushrooms release when rain falls on the spore sac. Daniella touched the spores and commented that her finger felt warm afterwards – possibly an intriguing affirmation of the name “wolf fart”?

Alexis pointed out a carrion flower plant and shared a story about an encounter with the plant’s stinky, “smells like dog scat” flowers. In the afternoon, Sammy showed some of the apprentices the extrafloral nectaries on cherry leaves (red floral glands at the base of the leaves). This part of the plant attracts pollinators. So cool! Alexis pointed out a spikenard plant and a little patch of violets. We looked closely at the “blind flowers” or “underground flowers” of the violet and saw little seed pods. There was a whole ecosystem in the violet patch – camouflaged beige millipedes (matched the colour of the seed pods) and snails hiding among the plant stems.

To wrap up this blog post, “What type of plant do you get when you plant kisses?” Tulips!

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Roots- Part 2

The weekend’s adventures continued after a day full of fun frolicking, digging roots and wolf farts (the translation of the latin name Lycoperdon pyriforme, for the pear shaped puffball mushroom)!

We had the pleasure of spending the day in and around High Hill Farm and getting to visit some of the Horses there.

We ventured across the road and onto a part of the Bruce trail, that overlooks the Boyne Valley! Though the forest we wandered, finding plenty of Raspberries and Blackberries. We wondered why there might be SO MANY brambles, and so few understory shrubs and small trees.

As we came to an old fence row we found a patch of Beautiful Beech Trees, unfortunaley some had Beech Bark Disease. Alexis pointed out how the old fence rows are great wildlife corridors and are often great places to find fruit and nut trees that have been planted from birds, racoons and other creatures spreading their seeds!

We also laughed at all the apples hiding around the forest! We found the teeth marks of the squirrels who we guessed are preserving some fruit for later.

Can you spot the plant nerds?
After soaking in the sun and looking out on the Boyne Valley, we too gathered some apples and had a cozy lunch along the hillside.

 On our way back to the farm Tamara pointed out these AMAZING bark bettle “galleries”
When we got back to the farm we processed the many roots collected Saturday, and roots Alexis gathered from the herb farm, like these Echinacea angustifolia roots!

We washed away, then lay all the roots out

We ended the day all gathered in the Hay loft away from the wind. Here we processed the roots into many different tincture combinations! Valerian, Elecampane+Nettle+Marshmallow, Cherry Bark+Elecampane and many more blends! 

Feeling so much gratitude for the plants, their roots and my own roots that grow ever deeper as I begin to know the plants in so many different ways. Thanks to Alexis, Margie and all Wild Plant Apprenticeship pals for the fun-tastic weekend!

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Plants in Hand

This was a weekend all about using our hands, and exploring the many expressions of plants. Whether it’s their fibre, fruit or physical structure. We spent the weekend playing with some of the many crafty,  utilitarian ways to work with plants !
We started first with learning about friction fire, a skill practiced for centuries, that has played a vital role in human evolution! Some tried with the bow drill, in partners and some solo. We got 1 on 1 coaching from Alexis and Laura Gilmour (of Wild Muskoka Botanicals is a basket-full of awesome, she is a Herbalist, traditional-skills practicer, crafter, naturalist, teacher and so much more. We were lucky to have Laura as special guest for the weekend!).
And the reminder that bow-drill is not all about strength, but about technique, and taking time to make adjustments to be efficient.
Hannah and Bobbi got coals! Yippy
With fire on our minds, we switched focus to making Pitch Sticks aka natural hot Glue!
We used a combination of Spruce or Pine Resin warmed and filtered through a mesh strainer + ground up charcoal + ground up grass (rabbit or deer scat work even better!) + a pinch of ground egg shells to help temper the mixture and help keep the pitch from melting in the sunlight.
After lunch our hands got sticky with White Pine sap, as we carefully pealed back the bark of a recently harvested White Pine trunk to make baskets!
Genevieve’s beautiful butterfly engraved in her basket!
The fire kept burning into the night, with an abundance of coals for making spoons and bowls.
Laura showed us some nifty ways to transport the fire! In a Birch polypore mushroom, a Mullein torch and a beer-can lantern that really lit the way!
The next day we dived into Cordage making, using the inner fibre of Milkweed, Nettle and Dogsbane to make rope!
Laura showed us how to make coil baskets using Cattails, or even cordage!
Next we dived into the world of Natural dye, Nicola and Hannah shared what they had learned about eco-printing and we gave it a whirl! We pressed plants from around the farm into silk, then wrapped them up real tight around a stick, then boiled them for 1 hour, the results were AMAZING!
We used Buckthorn Berries to make a vivid green ink, and the husks of the Black Walnuts to make a delicious smelling, dark brown ink!
Lastly we had the pleasure of learning one last basket-making technology from Laura, this time using Willow!
What a wondeful weekend full of inspiration, and a reminder that there are so many ways to know plants!
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