Tug Hill Herb Harvest – July 2021

I am settled back home in Brooklyn after a few-day trip up to Tug Hill.  The purpose of the trip was not to harvest herbs, but to connect deeply to myself and to Nature. My great-aunt, a six (maybe even seven!) decades-long resident of Tug Hill, said that everything is off this year in terms […]

Living with a Brave Heart

When we begin our own healing journeys, it’s scary to dive in and make all of the changes that are requested, if not outright demanded.

We don’t know what we might become, or how our lives will change – will we be better, worse, lonely, more connected, joyful, or angry? It is what keeps a lot of people, including myself at times, from taking the leap.

I wanted to share a story that may help you if you are afraid of taking the leap.

It isn’t about eliminating food from your diet, adding in a regimen of herbs, making sweeping exercise changes (or additions), or anything like that.

It’s about how we connect what we want to do and become, with who we are right now, and those paths and bridges in between.

The other night I was having a conversation with my husband, it was about people who talk about doing things, and people who do the things they talk about. I want to be in the latter category, with everything in my life, because I want that kind of integrity and to develop that kind of character. To be someone who knows that what they say is what they do, and vice versa.

I do my best to practice this with my diet, exercise, sleep, meditation (over 600 days of daily meditation and going strong!), relationships (self, and others) and with other things in my life – without making excuses for my behavior.

I’m not perfect: I’ve slacked on exercise this past year because I’ve been so impassioned with my violin, and thus regained a few pounds that I had lost – but you know what? I’m still finding the balance between practicing the violin and practicing body movement. (Tangent: I think it might always be a juggling act, we all only have so much time in a day and so much energy. I figure, the more I can cultivate in my life, the more I can do and give and partake in, and the more filled and happy I can be.)

Then I remembered an adage that I’ve been quoting for a while: that if I’m afraid to do something, I’m going to go ahead and do it – especially if it is somethign I’ve always wanted to do or feel particularly compelled to do.

I don’t want to spend my life being so afraid that I don’t get to do any of the things that I want to do and wind up not feeling like I’ve experienced what I wanted to in life.

I think of my grandmother, who passed away three years ago, and how all she ever wanted to do was go to Hawaii. She never got there because she was afraid of airplanes and boats. I vowed that I would not let that happen to myself, as much as I can take responsibility for what I do, I will do my best to work through those fears and excuses. (Now, there are very, very valid fears out there, and I’m not condoning dangerous behavior or behavior/actions where you do not feel safe!)

Since before I started playing violin again, I talked and talked about how if I started playing again I wanted to learn “this piece of music”.

When I first heard it, it gave me goosebumps, brought a smile to my face and caught my breath. I thought, “oh to be able to move others how I’ve been moved, to play with that finesse, sense of freedom and boldness.” Months and months went by, I was talking but not doing – mostly because I didn’t have the technical ability to do, but…

I’ve been learning a new piece of music for the past couple of months: “this piece of music”.  I have arrived!

This piece is hard, it’s bold, it’s asking me to be brave in a way that I have not been asked with previous music that I’ve been working on since returning to the instrument almost a year ago. I didn’t realize that this music was asking me to be brave, well, it’s demanding it actually, until the other day.

You see, there are multiple chords wherein three or more notes are played at the same time rather quickly in succession and the fingering is tricky. I’d been hesitating in this one section because of the awkwardness between one chord and the next, and then the next two. I saw myself slowing down and being afraid of that one measure of music, as if it were telling me I couldn’t do it. But I’d been practicing this particular section daily for over a month – that’s enough time (say 15 minutes per day, for 30 days – 7.5 hours) and I felt that I must know it by now, enough to trust myself that I could go for it and see what happens.

I dove in, took a deep breath, played it, I went for it, and the world opened up. I didn’t die. My violin didn’t explode. I saw for one moment what I was missing…

By hesitating, mostly through a lack of self-confidence, I was missing what was most important in this piece: a strong heart, filled with conviction and courage, one that lives with the not-knowing that comes with playing music, with living our life “to the fullest”, and stepping into the moment – all the way.

When I in that one moment, dove in, I felt and understood how a flower doesn’t hesitate to open it’s blooms in the summer, or how an ocean wave doesn’t hesitate to crest or crash to the shore, and how lightning isn’t afraid to strike the ground (or a tree).

Playing music can be the same thing, and by playing with a sense of inner strength, I might be able to express some of that to someone else, or at the very least keep developing my sense of inner strength and determination. (I have paralyzing stage and performance fright, as I work through that, I’ll be sure to write another post for you!)

This is the essence of cultivating wisdom (or zhi in Chinese Medicine), to let the Heart’s Shen inspire the flow of life with our intention (yi) sending our energy in a directed manner, despite (or in spite of) the fear that also gets unleashed. Our creative spirit (hun) grows and fruits in concert with all of these other actions to help us manifest our Heart’s desires and dreams. When we cut ourselves off too much (typically the function of an overactive, ill-balanced Metal element metaphorically clear-cutting our life), we feel the grief and loss of connection between ourselves and the world-at-large. We are not able to nurture life in a way that yields the fruits of our labors.

By diving in, by overcoming my fear – or rather taking action alongside my fear, not because of it – I saw that there was nothing stopping me but myself. My Heart-Kidney connection (the shen-zhi connection) was restored, and since then I feel like maybe, just maybe, something has shifted in my playing.

I don’t know that I’ll ever think that my playing is any good, or something to be admired in any way, but I now feel that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to set my fears aside long enough to do some justice to the pieces of music that deeply move me. Maybe this will fuel future actions where I’ll be able to walk alongside my fear without being rattled by it (like play in front of others).

Maybe you will be inspired to walk with your fear, so that you can do something your heart is calling you to do. If you are, please share what you did and how you felt in the comments below, or email me. It doesn’t matter if it was a big leap or a small step – every little step brings you closer to your goal: the more fruitful, deeper and truer connection to yourself.

And last but not least:

If you want some herbal assistance in helping you make these types of connections, I’m offering a special package, a short and sweet 30 minute consult, and includes one 2oz bottle of customized Tug Hill Herbals tincture, shipping not included.

We’ll talk about what you want to work on from this perspective, and you get to try out what I’m calling a “clearing the way” approach to formula creation.  It is a recent approach, and one that I have received a lot of client-based positive feedback.

If you are interested, send me an email via the contact page and we’ll set something up!

Tug Hill Herb Harvest and Some Surprises

Nearly every year since I began my herbal studies, I retreat up north to the Tug Hill region of New York state learning about, finding and using the plants that are detailed in my books. Each year is different, between the harvest times and the weather, which plants are growing profusely and which ones are more scarce. This year yielded some surprises, as every year does.

When you arrive on the Tug Hill Plateau (it is not really a plateau, but a cuesta), you are met with the appearance that this land sees harsh winters and weather.

The trees are all bent in one direction (southeast), towards the Adirondack mountain range, the variety of flora and fauna is less diverse than “down the hill”, and everything has a sort of tenseness to it. That what grows must grow quickly before the season is up.

Most years, there is still snow on the ground by May as the winters pile snow on and the spring thaw lasts many weeks. Fall begins in the blink of an eye in early September. One day the leaves are a gorgeous riot of color, the next they are gone.

Summer is no different. The sun rises very early (earlier than I rise!), and sets around 9pm leaving enough light for a walk until 9:30pm or so.

I have my calendar marked for the same day each year to ensure that I schedule to be on Tug Hill. I harvest St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and ghost pipe (Monotropa uniflora).

St. John’s wort is waning at that time, but still very powerful as the plants are pushing out their second blooms and there are areas where some plants are still blooming for the first time.  Goldenrod is just beginning to flower, and the ghost pipe is at its peak. Many other plants are ready to harvest as well: lobelia (Lobelia inflata) and meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), to name but a few.

St. John’s Wort

For the St. John’s wort, I make as much oil as I can manage, and make tincture as well. I infuse my St. John’s wort oil in a combination of grapeseed and olive oil, on the stovetop.  Many traditionalists say that you need to infuse it in the sun, but I have never had much luck in not having the oil turn on me.  So, the stove it is.  This year, the oil is such a rich dark burgundy, it is astonishing.


The goldenrod, I too make oil and tincture from it, and some vinegar to extract the flavors of late summer to add to my cooked greens in the fall, winter and early spring. I used rice vinegar for this task, as last year’s vinegar with apple cider vinegar (my least favorite vinegar) was so unappetizing to me that it is still sitting in the bottle.

I harvested as much ghost pipe as I will need, and some for a trusted friend*. I also collected small amounts of meadowsweet and lobelia, which I also tinctured. Since I tend to make a lot of topicals -salves, ointments and oils- I made some self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) oil, and harvested yarrow to create an oil and tincture. Red clover was on my list to harvest for an oil, but I never managed the motivation to collect it from the fields.

Ghost pipe flower

Ghost pipe emerging from the ground

Some years are like that: if I’m not feeling it, I don’t harvest. Other years there is a simpatico with the plants and you harvest more abundantly.

I think the medicine is better when you are happy harvesting and making it.



I found enough boneset to warrant a small harvest for personal use come cold/flu season. There was plentiful peppermint and lady’s mantle, of which I only harvested the peppermint. Yarrow and lobelia grow widely in the harsh shale-rich soil, and I had a blast collecting my friends to have their help for the year to come.

In the woods, on a day when the clouds were so low you were walking in mist, I happened upon a huge stand of skullcap, which I gratefully harvested from, and some small patches of bugleweed that went untouched. This was the first time the skullcap was plentiful enough for me to harvest, and I was overjoyed.

I never truly appreciated skullcap until I gave up my nightly glass of cider, skullcap tincture mixed with other herbs is a wonderful end of day de-stressor. It gives me a sigh of relief, relaxes me into being home after a long day commuting and being at work. Will be wonderful to see how the fresh herb tincture compares to the dried herb tincture that I’ve been using.

There were mushrooms galore, and even some wee reishi next to a tree that a porcupine was climbing. I did not know that porcupines climbed trees, it was a marvelous sight to behold.



Porcupine climbing up a tree

(sorry the video is sideways!)

This area had the most ghost pipe that I had ever seen, it has now been dubbed “ghost pipe city”. In this same area, there is a large patch of wild ginger (Asarum canadensis). I harvested leaves and roots from this patch last year, tincturing the roots, and as the patch had grown in size, I harvested a small handful of roots and leaves to dry for this year’s winter use.

I have names for some of these areas, my particular favorite is “fern valley” where an opening in the trees allows for a dense population of ostrich ferns to flourish. Just up from Fern Valley, I saw a baby rabbit off the trail, hunched down looking petrified from the presence of a human. Nearby there was a bear paw print in the damp and spongy earth that was longer than my forearm. What a sight to behold!

There are stands upon stands of blue cohosh, none of which I harvest, growing beautifully larger every year. And then there was this beauty, a trillium the size of a serving platter.

Huge trillium




And, I made a new friend: wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis).

Aralia nudicaulis roots

Aralia nudicaulis root


While not the ideal time for harvesting, it grows plentifully all over the woods that I harvested from two clusters and made two different tinctures (with two different alcohol ratios) to compare the differences. It has a lovely resinous, aromatic smell that is not overpowering. If I like the tinctures, I plan on going back to harvest in a more ideal time (fall or spring).

Harvesting this herb was a blast and lovely learning experience. The runners are very shallow in the earth (1-2 inches), with the roots growing a few inches deeper. The plants are all interconnected, much like we are, and you cannot harvest just one without affecting the others in a way that is not as obvious with other plants. (I thought I took photos of the area that I harvested from, but I apparently did not. Next time.)

These plants have a quiet, gentle peace about them, and I found myself spontaneously kneeling and meditating with them for a period of time.



The last time I did that was in a ring of ghost pipe where a bear had obviously been digging in the center of the earth. I wanted to lay down and sleep where the bear had been, enclosed in the ring of ghost pipe protecting me.

Blue vervain eluded me this year, as did pond lily (I have not found a pond deep enough on the property from which I harvest, and I kept having strange dreams about harvesting it and sinking into another dimension while doing so – so I think it’s for the best, in some ways, that I did not find it) and American ginseng. Maybe next year…


Garbled goldenrod




You may ask what is in store for all of this medicine that I gratefully and humbly harvested from this lovely land?

I have created a line called “Tug Hill Herbals” which will continue the tradition that Quaternity Holistics began: intermingling the use of local, wild-crafted herbs with traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic and Western herb to create unique formulas inspired by the region, life and with the hope of helping us work through some of our struggles be they physical, emotional/mental or spiritual.

I have a lot of ideas for future products, and a lot of herbs with which to bring these ideas to fruition.

My heart feels full and happy with this new venture, and I hope that you will love the new things that are sure to come.

One thing I know for sure: I will be offering small sample sizes for purchase, and a variety of other smaller items so you can experiment with my potions.


Do you harvest or make any of your own herbal medicine? What do you harvest/make, if you do?

What do you wish you could harvest/make, if you do not?

What are some herbal medicines that you wish you could have on hand on a regular basis?


Queen Anne’s lace


*There has been much debate about the “ethics” of harvesting ghost pipe and promoting its use as a “pain reliever” due to the fact that the growing conditions are very specific, and it is rare in many parts of the country, and there are fears that this mysterious plant may become endangered similar to goldenseal and American ginseng. For one, ghost pipe does not relieve pain, it provides the mental separation between yourself and your pain. If you are unable to do this without the herb, in any capacity, the herb will not work for you. This herb simply provides you with the additional ability to continue the separation between yourself and your experience of pain. It is not a catch-all pain reliever, and I have taken it personally enough times to know if/when it will be helpful and when it would not be worth taking. Secondly, ghost pipe is very plentiful in the region where I harvest. The stands that I have been harvesting from have not been negatively impacted by my wild-crafting in the years since I began harvesting insofar as population density and growth. I only take the upper (aerial) portions of the plant, I do not use shears but my hands, requesting permission to harvest for medicine-making purposes with each stand first, and I typically will take one perhaps two flower stalk(s) per stand. This ensures that the stand is able to continue its growth cycle with limited negative impact. If I were in an area where this plant was not plentiful, I would not be harvesting it.

Good-Bye: Sessions, Free Shipping on Products and 2014

2014 was quite the year.

To honor the end of this wonderfully difficult year, I wanted to give you one last chance to take advantage of a few specials that I’ve had running.

If your New Year’s Resolution is to be healthier, or to take care of yourself in a more nourishing, holistic way... Sign up for an initial consultation!  After January 1st, these current per-session rates will no longer be available.  You may purchase a session to use within 3 months, if you are still in the midst of holiday bliss and not ready to get started yet.

I have some new herbal tricks up my sleeve, and will be keeping the half hour sessions available through the cold/flu season!  If you are suffering with a cold/flu, sign up for a session and we’ll get started with herbal remedies and suggestions for easing you through the cold/flu process.  If you want assistance and ideas regarding the prevention of cold/flus, this package is also suitable for you!

Buy any of the products available on the Quaternity Holistics’ webstore using the coupon code FreeShip2014 to get free shipping on all products now through the end of 2014. 

There is a limited supply of salves and flower essences, get them while they last!

My favorite salve right now is the Clean Care Salve – it has turmeric, coptis, burdock and other herbs that Clear Heat making it the perfect choice for cuts and all manner of skin ailments that have the tendency to be angry and red.

If you order the Tattoo Trio, you save 10% with the bundled price versus purchasing the products separately.  The trio includes: 1oz of Pain-Free tincture (to use while you are getting tattooed), and one tin each of Fresh Wound Salve (pre-peel phase) and Healing Salve (peeling and post-peel phases.)

About my salves: each contains oils, vitamin E and beeswax to protect, soothe and nourish skin.  The herbs in the salves are infused fresh or dried, or heat-infused using an Ayurvedic method which employs the use of water, herb and oil. The methods are unique to each herb; this ensures that the desired herbal properties are most effectively extracted.  Herbs with volatile oils (such as clove or thyme) are infused and not heated to preserve the volatile oils, whereas roots (such as coptis or burdock) are extracted with the Ayurvedic method. 

Feel free to email me with questions, comments, or to say hi.  I’d love to hear from you!

You can sign up for the general newsletter here.  Newsletter subscribers get extra tips that are not provided on my blog, and advanced notice of specials, to name a couple of the perks.

I hope you’ve had a great holiday season!  See you in 2015!


Tattoo Kit Quaternity Holistics

Tattooing: Ways to Ease the Process (Before, During, and After-Care)

Close-Up of Shinji Horizakura Peony 3 days after being tattooed

Do you get tattoos or want to get tattoos but have come to a point where your healing process isn’t quite cutting it?  Looking for new ideas to try out to ease your healing?

This is not a guide for choosing a tattoo artist, there are sites that can help you find just the right artist, such as: www.needlesandsins.com and www.lastsparrowtattoo.com, it also goes without saying that you need to just go to the shops and see which one “fits.”*

With this said, you have your artist selected, you’ve had a consultation, and you have an appointment.  You may or may not already have tattoos, so… what’s next?

Tattooing: Ways to Ease the Process

A couple of weeks before getting tattooed, start cleaning up your diet and increasing your water intake.  Increase your ingestion of dark leafy greens (such as cooked dandelion greens), put lemon juice (from fresh lemons) into your water, and sprinkle milk thistle powder into your cereal, smoothie, or mix it with crushed sesame seeds and salt to make a liver-friendly gomasio.  Reduce, if not completely avoid, your junk/processed food and alcohol intake in the days prior to your appointment; especially eliminate alcohol in the 24 hours prior to.  Increase your ingestion of Omega-3’s – these will help keep the skin moist and lubricated, thus will help your body repair itself better.  Good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, wild salmon, and sardines.

Get plenty of exercise and movement, and prioritize getting good sleep.  All of this helps the body to optimally eliminate toxins, and get the thruways of the body prepared for the onslaught of adrenaline, endorphins, and tattoo ink ingredients that your body will encounter.  Exfoliate and moisturize the area getting tattooed about 3-4 weeks before your appointment.  The skin will be more supple, smooth, and healthier for receiving the ink and ease the healing process as a result.

Some people have the tendency to get sick with a cold after getting tattooed, or have sensitive skin with irritation and bleeding.  Taking a vitamin C supplement such as Emergen-C in the week or two prior to your appointment can help boost your immune system, and reduce excess bleeding.  I’ve tried this, and it works!

If you have scar tissue in the area you are getting tattooed, liberally apply castor oil then rub and massage the area with your fingers, cover with an old towel or piece of castor soaked flannel.  Apply heat in the form of a heating pad or a hot water bottle for 20 minutes daily for 2 weeks, take a break for a week, then if needed repeat the cycle.  If the scar hurts, just apply the castor oil, towel/flannel, and heat – no need to give yourself unnecessary discomfort, in this case there is no gain with the pain.
If you find that you’re body has a hard time processing getting tattooed, a personalized consultation can help you figure out what may be happening to help ease your recovery time.

Ensure you are well rested, showered, well hydrated, have a belly full of good food (my personal favorite is soup dumplings), bring water, and have snacks for you and your tattoo artist.  I bring a warm over-sized scarf to cover-up with when I get chilled.  Wear comfortable clothing to your appointment.  Some people bring music, or something to read/watch, I don’t.  I listen to the music at the shop, and sometimes manage to talk to my tattoo artist, but mostly I just take advantage of the time there and am quiet.

Over the past two years, I’ve been tweaking and perfecting a formula to create a product (click link to contact me!) that not only addresses some of the nervousness and anxiety, but the associated muscle twitching, trembling, and the response to pain while getting tattooed.

I don’t see any downside to using an herbal product if it makes your experience more enjoyable.  Don’t get me wrong, I -and those who have been my testers- still feel the pain of a tattoo.  However, there is a distance that’s created between you and the pain, thanks to the carefully selected herbs.  This tincture helps you deal with the pain better, and it is a product that helps with your body’s response to the tattoo process by reducing inflammation and swelling.  Not only that, the tincture alleviates the natural response to twitch and tremble, so you can sit still for a longer period of time (thus possibly getting through your tattoo faster.)  Being able to be relaxed and still is not only a boon for you, but a boon for your tattoo artist as well!

January 2020 Update:

In addition to the tincture that I take for getting tattooed, I’ve also been experimenting with small amounts of CBD oil (3-4 drops for every hour of tattooing).  I started this to help with the extra painful areas of the back, and it takes the edge off.  CBD plus my tincture is a great combo!

Have a great time getting tattooed, it is a millennia old art and tradition – revel in the connection to our ancient ancestors who also practiced this art.

Day 1:
After leaving the tattoo shop, I usually stop and get something to eat (most often something decadent like ice cream).  I head home, drink a big glass of water, lay on the couch, watch a movie, and then eat a healthy meal preferably prepared by someone else.  By the 4 hour mark post-tattoo, I’m more than ready to take a shower or wash the tattooed area, so I do that.

Note: Everyone’s “post-tattoo care” (aka after-care) is different, and artists have their different after-care instructions.  First and foremost, follow your tattoo artist’s after-care instructions, if they do not give you any and/or you don’t have your own after-care ritual, ask your artist!  Tattoo artists, shop managers, apprentices, and shop assistants are amazingly, wonderfully, kind people – treat them the way you want to be treated: with respect, kindness, humor and compassion.

Days 2 through Complete Healing:
Keep drinking that water and getting good sleep and food in your system!  Rest as much as possible the first couple of days after getting tattooed.  I like to drink dandelion root tea, nettles infusions, chamomile infusions, and red clover infusions in the days following getting tattooed.  These all help the body flush out any accumulated toxins (from stress, the inks, etc.), and provide the body with a wonderful source of nutrients.

Between the time that you get your tattoo and the subsequent peeling phase, I use Aquaphor per my original artist’s instructions and leave it alone.  The less fussing, the better.  I like using healing salve, but I find I have to apply it more often at this point so stick with the Aquaphor for now.  Perhaps I’ll develop a healing salve that lasts as long as Aquaphor, I will keep you posted if this comes to fruition.

Once your tattoo has peeled, the part that makes me crazy (and so many others) is the itchy phase.  This is when I apply my healing salve, it helps to reduce the itching and speeds up the healing and skin-regrowth time.  It shortens the “itchies” by a couple of days.  Consider applying ice packs when the itching gets a little too much for you.  After the itchy phase has passed, I continue applying the healing salve until I decide to switch back to regular moisturizer – for me this has been slightly different with each tattoo session.  We are unique after all!

Suffice it to say that submerging your fresh tattoo in water (ocean, hot tub, bath, pool, etc) is not a good idea!  Wait six weeks before thinking about going for a dip in the pool.  Do not over-moisturize or over-apply Aquaphor in trying to keep it “moistened” – you’ll know when your tattoo needs an additional layer of moisture – keeping it gooped up will only result in a poorly healed tattoo with lots of ink fallout!  In short – do as little as possible!

When you are healed, don’t forget to cover up those beautifully done tattoos with clothing and/or sunscreen to prevent fading.  Keep your tattoos and skin healthy for as long as possible!

What do you do when you get tattooed that makes things easier?

*Needles & Sins is a fabulous blog on all things tattoos, with artist profiles and interviews.  I cannot thank Marisa at Needles & Sins enough for allowing me to guest blog in February and for being a funny, generous, kind-hearted powerhouse of a woman.  Last Sparrow is a forum that is geared towards encouraging, and helping, people to “get good tattoos.”  I would like to express my gratitude to the folks at Last Sparrow who have answered many questions, participated and helped me with my research, and most of all – have been lovely people to get to know online and off.  It goes without saying that I must thank Yoni Zilber and Horizakura for providing me with the privilege of tattooing me.  They are top-notch tattoo artists and people. The tattoo community has been full of wonderful surprises, and I feel so blessed to be allowed to be a part of it in a small way.

On Learning About a New Plant

I checked in at East West’s student forum yesterday (even though it was supposed to be a non-working day.)  In a post, we were getting a scolding from our wonderful teacher and fearless leader, Michael Tierra, for not taking him up on his contest on Facebook.  I logged into Facebook and could not find the above picture, when I did, I thought, “hmmmm… that’s an interesting plant, it looks familiar yet it is totally new to me.  Alas, I can’t do any work today, it’s my ‘day off.'”
A lot of folks said it looked like amaranth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaranth), but the leaves looked too heart shaped in the specimen above to truly match amaranth (the ones I’ve seen at least.)  Also, notice how the stem splits several times (don’t ask me the proper botanical lingo, I don’t know it.)  Amaranth doesn’t split like that.  When you look real close at the splits (above), it’s almost like they are bandaged together.  I thought, “wow, that looks a lot like a Japanese Knotweed in the stem portions, or smartweed even.”  Off I go into my books and online to find out what this plant could be, despite my “day off” status.
At first I thought it was Polygonum erectum (http://www.herbsfor.net/knotweed-polygonum-erectum.html), after checking out the USDA plant database and googling different botanical names, common weeds, etc.  Michael asked where we could buy the seeds, and he gave us a big clue that the seeds are used in herbal medicine – that definitely ruled out P. erectum (which uses aerial portions.)
Off I go to Horizon herbs, look up Polygonum, and the following image came up:

Looks like it doesn’t it?  I cross-checked other sites/images (my fat Bensky Materia Medica book does not have this plant listed.)  I then googled “Polygonum orientale TCM”  and got the below information from TCMWiki.com.  Fits awful close, doesn’t it?

I shot my answer off, and happily report that the top picture is indeed Michael holding Polygonum orientale.  The common garden name is “kiss me over the garden gate”.

For those who are interested, here’s a bit of information:

Pinyin: Shui Hong Hua Zi
Latin: Polygonum orientale
Common: Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate
Salty, cool; Liver and Spleen meridians entered.
Dissipate blood stasis and break stagnation, tonify the Spleen and promote diuresis.
Scrofula, sores and boils, stomachache, abdominal mass, abdominal distension, poor appetite, ascites, acute conjunctivitis.
Dosage and administration:
Decoct 3~10 g seeds, pounded into powder or made into paste or soaked in wine.  Properdosage is for external application, made ointment or pounded for applying.
It is contraindicated for deficiency-cold in Spleen and Stomach.

(From: http://www.tcmwiki.com/wiki/polygonum-orientale)

Seeds at Horizon Herbs.  https://www.horizonherbs.com/product.asp?specific=533

Adventures in Herbal Remedy-Making

One of my favorite parts of being an herbalist is the process of making remedies.  Of course, when one wild-crafts one must know the plants they are harvesting, whether or not they are at-risk or endangered, and if they are indeed the plants one thinks they are (vs toxic!)  See 7Song’s amazing PDF on responsible wild-crafting practices here, and of course check out United Plant Savers for their list of at-risk and endangered species.

I love going into the wild and collecting plant material for remedy making.  I love getting my hands dirty, smelling like the woods, and being in contact with the plants that make this type of work what it is truly about – deep connection.  From this deep connection comes healing, and an opportunity through the process of making herbal remedies to continue to harness and maintain the connection and healing from the plants.  Herbalism is so much more than “take this herb to help with this ailment.”  To me, herbalism is, “take this herb to help your body remember how to get better.”  When this remembrance occurs, the body is able to process what it has been avoiding, or unable to process, until that moment in time.  This is what herbalism does for me, for you it may be different!

A few weeks ago, I dug up a rather tenacious skunk cabbage root.  A series of pictures and botanical information from 7Song put skunk cabbage in my brain, and around the same time I ran across Sean Donahue’s lovely posts on skunk cabbage on his blog.  Needless to say, skunk cabbage was calling to me!  Down to the riverbed I go, hearing my husband say, “there’s nothing growing, are you sure you’re going to find what you are looking for?”  Lo and behold, skunk cabbage flowers were peeking up out of the cold ground!  I must mention, that I am using skunk cabbage roots and, really, they should be dug up in the fall or in the spring well before those flower heads poke through the ground (or at least before they start turning purple) when the plant’s energy is circulating in the root vs the flower.  I was not going to let several months pass me by, I just had to have skunk cabbage tincturing in my closet.  It was all I could think about for weeks leading up to harvesting this plant, and bordering on completely irrational thinking.  I am anticipating a weak tincture as a result of my poor harvest timing, but nevertheless looking forward to seeing what skunk cabbage has in store for me.

I plan on marking at least one spot for another skunk cabbage root, to harvest in the fall, as my chosen skunk cabbage did not want to come out of the ground very easily (that’s my first lesson in this adventure.)  The skunk cabbage was in the ground much deeper than I anticipated and really made me work to get it out.  I got mighty dirty, cold, wet and muck spattered.  My hands were very very cold, but for some reason it didn’t bother me the way cold normally does.  When the root yielded to my digging, I thanked it for coming out and carefully washed the roots in the stream, put the whole plant in the bag that I had with me – flower and all – and hiked back up the hill.  My husband did not understand why I did not want to dig up more roots, as there were plenty of skunk cabbages all around us.  One was enough, more would have been greedy for just one person’s medicine.

I let the root dry overnight, then washed and washed and washed the roots with a soft toothbrush to get as much muck off of them as possible.  I swear the roots expanded while I was washing and scrubbing them.  At this point, even with cold water for rinsing the roots, aided by a toothbrush for scrubbing out as much muck debris as possible, my hands began to heat up to the point of burning and then began itching from what must have been the oxalates.  I think the reason my hands did not get so horribly cold digging it out by the riverbed was because of these oxalates, which are neutralized through heating, drying and/or tincturing.  Second lesson learned: wear gloves when preparing raw skunk cabbage roots!

A little background on skunk cabbage, from Sean Donahue’s site, if you are so inclined.

I do not have pictures of the tincture in progress, the whole root/rhizome, being washed, cut up, in the jar, etc.  I’ll do another post in the future with a less messy tincturing plant!

When making tinctures from fresh root material, as I did with skunk cabbage, there are two ways to go about it: one is the folk method, and the other is a standardized measurement. (There is a third method: percolation, but I haven’t tried percolations yet and they are for powdered material.)  I went with the standardized measurement of 1:2 fresh in 50% alcohol, as per Michael Moore’s information.

Here are the steps, once you’ve gathered your material:

1.  Clean then chop up your root material very finely, or as finely as possible (sometimes it is easier to break up the material, let it soften for a couple of weeks int he menstruum and then puree in the blender.)
2.  Measure the material out by weight (I use grams, because I’m a nerd)
3.  Place the herb in a large jar
4.  Cover with the volume of alcohol needed.  In my case I had 250g exactly of root, so added 500mL of 50% alcohol to cover.  My jar was the exact size I needed as well – it was meant to be apparently!
5.  Seal the jar, then label it.
6.  Put it in a nice cool dark place, and shake it daily for the first couple of weeks.  Then, let it macerate for at least 6 weeks.  I have tinctures macerating that are over a year old, some I just wait until the time feels right and then I strain them.

My labels typically look something like this:

Sample Label

After the maceration period, you may strain your tincture and store it in a brown or blue glass bottle.

I strain/press through cheesecloth, and then re-filter the tincture with a fine mesh sieve if there are still plant bits in the tincture.  Modify the label so it has the “strained” date on it.  Some people put pertinent information on the bottle labels, such as energetics, Organs/organs affected, actions, etc.

I will post an update/new blog post on the efficacy of this particular tincture, and what it did for me, after it is ready in June/July.

Update 07/2014: it has been over a year since I first made this tincture, and I still haven’t tried it!  I look at the bottle every week, and still haven’t bucked up to actually try the tincture.  I suppose I’ll have to do that, as skunk cabbage tincture is said to only last a little over a year once tinctured.