During the Saturday session of our Plant Medicines weekend, Alexis led a workshop on The Energetics and Constituents of Plants. He gave a brief overview of the origins of plant medicines and discussed Traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic, medicine and Medicine Wheels used by First Nations / Original Peoples. We discussed the age of Modern Medicine being approximately 150 years old in comparison to ancient medicinal practices. He also discussed the Four Humours, a Greek System that is used in North America.
The body has an innate ability to heal. When working with plant medicines, we need to ask, “How can we support this ability to heal?” Alexis recommended finding herbs that stimulate the vital forces healing the body. As an example, nervines and adaptogens help the body to adapt and respond to stressful situations with resiliency and reduce anxiety.
In terms of Energetics, we have all Four (Hot, Cold, Damp and Dry) to some degree. We took a quiz to find out what our constitutional type is. By answering questions, we determined which two energetics are dominant in our own bodies at the present time (this can change as we age). The quiz was from a book called, “The Alchemy of Herbs” (page 16) by Rosalee de la Foret. For more on this topic, Alexis recommended a book called, “Vitalism” by herbalist Matthew Wood.
For healing, a practitioner needs to know a person’s constitution (Hot or Cold and Damp or Dry) to find out what that person needs rather than what might aggravate their condition. Opposites are best. As an example, a person with a constitution that is cool and dry has a respiratory infection that causes them to be damp and hot. The constitution of the illness is damp and hot which shifts the person’s constitution. To bring the body back into balance, the person needs something that will be dry and cooling. Afterwards, it was time for a tasting session. We had a chance to try a number of herbal tinctures to discover how they might affect the body (Warming or Cooling, Moistening or Drying). We also had an opportunity to guess what the plants were by using our sense of taste.
Flavour Wheel of Fun
Next, it was time to head over to Lee’s “Flavour Wheel” workshop under the cooling shade of the walnut trees. We ate some ginger which is a pungent flavour in the “dry and hot” category on the flavour wheel. We discussed how it would be good for sore throats if used in combination with honey which is a moistening demulcent. We tried garlic scapes, also a pungent flavour and discussed its antimicrobial properties. We tried spearmint leaves (also listed as a pungent flavour) which was wonderfully cooling as expected. Next, we tried Tarragon/Savoury which have antimicrobial properties. We discussed how herbs that were used for meat preservation (Tarragon, Savoury and Cayenne) are still used as flavouring in traditional recipes around the world. We tried Sheep Sorrel and then Black Raspberry. We ate some unripe apple and noted the dry-tasting tannins. We tried Motherwort and discussed how bitters support the nervous system. We learned that Bitters can also be a bile stimulant. Wormwood was very bitter. It is a vermicide, used in killing worms within the body.
Next, it was time for teas. We tried some Wood Nettle tea which was delicious. Lee said to steep it for 15 minutes before drinking since the hairs have formic acid. Nettle was surprisingly in the salty favour category which was interesting. We had a discussion on foraging and how salt is difficult to find in the environment. Being able to taste the subtle salty flavour of a plant would be very important for survival on the land since salts are important in maintaining electrolyte balance in the body. Tamara shared how a visit to Quebec City revealed how the word “restaurant” originated from salty restorative soups called “restoré ” offered by kind homeowners to weary travellers. We chatted about how the human body has the same salt/water balance as the ocean. Beautiful connection! We tried a Borage tea and noted the hairy armour of Borage. We moved into the “Sweet” section of the flavour wheel and tried Licorice Root which would be another great addition to ginger if treating for a dry cough. We tried dried Juniper/Red Cedar berries and discovered that they are sweet on the outside but the seeds have alkaloids in them which makes them very bitter. Too many alkaloids are bad for the body. This is one way for the plant to move its seeds around if animals spit them out.
Lee wrapped up her workshop by getting people to suggest conditions that could be alleviated by a combination of herbs in the flavour wheel. Thanks Lee😊
Alexis shared information about tincture and tea making. When making healing tinctures for people in need, herbalists understand that herbs have affinities to certain organs. With this understanding, herbalists also recognize that herbs have complementary pairings. Alexis used the example of red clover and cayenne. Red clover is a support to the lymph system. Cayenne is a stimulant that moves the clover medicine around the body.
When making a formulation of herbs as medicine, use the following components:
• 1-2 key herbs (4-8 parts per herb)
• 2-4 supporting herbs (2-4 parts per herb)
• 0-2 balancing herbs (1-2 parts per herb)
• ½ – 1 catalyst herb (1-2 parts per herb)
The key herb is like the king or the emperor. It is of primary importance in supporting a required action for a system in the body. The supporting herbs may enhance the action of the key herbs. They are like the advisors. The Balancing herbs tone down any harsh actions that can be caused by the key or supporting herbs. E.g. Hops and Valerian combined and both cooling and warming (neutralized). The catalyst enhances the overall effect. E.g. cayenne.
We made a digestive bitter with the following herbs:
Supporting: Motherwort, Yarrow
Balancing: Bergamot, Anise Hyssop
Catalyst: Dried Ginger
Poison Ivy Wash
Alexis made a tincture with Jewelweed. He cut up jewelweed stems and leaves and put them in a glass jar filled with apple cider vinegar. He placed wax paper on top so that the vinegar would not rust the metal lid. We talked about how beautiful jewelweed leaves look underwater. They are shiny like shimmering jewels!
When caring for tinctures, Alexis said to shake the tincture 1x per day for 4-6 weeks. One of his Herbalism Mentors Rosemarie Gladstar says that this helps to put your positive energy into the tincture. It also helps to agitate the plant material, facilitating better extraction. After filtering the tincture through 4 layers of cheesecloth or a fruit pressing machine (tincture press), funnel it into a medicine bottle or a spray bottle (in the case of the poison ivy wash).
After a supper break, we reconnected with a campfire and a Cocktail/Mocktail party. Alexis and Lee shared the motto “Drink to remember not to forget” from Chris and Laura Gilmour (with Wild Muskoka).
On the table, there was a spread of:
• Clear Soda
• Digestive Bitter tincture (from last year)
• Thyme Vodka
• Lemon Balm Vodka
• Cedar Whiskey
• Cherry Syrup
• Rosemary Syrup
• Sumac, Strawberry Shrub (Apple Cider Vinegar and Sugar)
• Elder Flower Syrup (Sugar)
• Elderflower Cordial (Sugar and lemon)
• Licorice Tea
We mixed these ingredients together to create a variety of cocktails and mocktails:
1. Elderflower and honey, Gin, Lemon and Soda
2. Cherry Syrup, Mint, Ice, Soda
3. Cherry Syrup, Cedar Whiskey, Lemon and Soda
4. Lemon Balm Vodka, Cherry Syrup, Strawberry Sumac Shrub, Lemon and Soda
5. Thyme Vodka, Cherry Syrup, Lemon, Mint, Soda
and last but not least…
6. “Chicken Dinner with the In-Laws”: Rosemary Syrup, Thyme Vodka, Lemon Balm Vodka, Lemon and Bitters.
We mused on the traditions of naturally plant-flavoured sodas and alcoholic beverages rather than the present-day artificially flavoured drinks that flood the market. I am looking forward a glass of my Dandelion wine when it is ready on the winter solstice:)
Written by T. Anderson