Burdock & Rose

wildly-crafted plant tales from herbalist, forager & author lisa rose

Tag: plants

Botanical Balms For Dry Winter Skin

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Old Man Winter is upon us and rough lips, chapped cheeks and split cuticles are all signs that the dryness of winter months has gotten under our skin – literally.

I love winter.  As a runner and skier, the cold doesn’t keep me inside. BUT, the time outside in the dry cold can wreck havoc on my skin. Having a great skin-healing balm at the ready helps me enjoy the winter’s cold, as it protects my lips, cheeks, hands and feet from becoming overly dry!

Many products line the pharmacy shelves claiming to heal our dry skin and protect from chaffing and chapping. Conventional products often contain synthetic chemicals derived from petroleum, and while they may act like sealants on the skin, they do little to truly heal the dermis.

Fortunately the marketplace offers other options for skin care that are plant-based and more environmentally sound.

Chickweed

Chickweed

Botanicals for Skin Healing

As protective bases; plant-based oils like coconut oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil, and rose hip oils are all excellent choices and are versatile for all skin types. The healthy alternative to parrifin wax in skin care is beeswax. This helps create a protective barrier from the elements while letting the skin sweat and helps support bee-keepers. 

While perusing the skin care aisle, look for creams that contain plants like plantain, calendula, comfrey, chickweed. These plants are deep-tissue healers that can repair the cracks and splits in the skin.

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Want to make your own skin-healing salve?

Visit Rodale’s Organic Life for my recipe for a Calendula Chapped Cheeks Balm!

Create a batch of chapped cheek balm in your kitchen with just four ingredients: herbs, olive oil, and beeswax. Beeswax helps solidify the balm and works as a protective layer on the skin without leaving a greasy feeling.

Apply the balm before heading outside to protect the skin from harsh elements. If your skin feels sensitive in the shower, apply the balm before you rinse off. It may sound counter-intuitive to getting clean, but it will protect your skin from drying hot water and allow the botanicals to soak deep into the dermis for healing.

If you don’t have time to make your own, support local. While there are large-scale manufacturers making these botanical ointments, there’s a chance you live nearby a local herbalist that makes these skin creams from plants in your area.

I get great reviews on my Burdock & Rose Botanical Lip and Body Balm – which is made from all local plants that I wildcraft. I also really love Autumn Moon’s Plant Glamour in Detroit, but you can also check out localharvest.org to help locate an herbalist in your neck of the woods.

And remember – keep those balms handy to help you enjoy the cold. As my dad used to say, “There’s never the wrong weather, only the wrong clothing!” Protect your skin!

Boo-tanical Fun For Halloween

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Snake Lady. Photo Credit: David McGowan

It’s that witchy time of year when the leaves blow from the trees and the winds howl through the misty October darkness. Apple cider, pumpkin carving and costume decorating is underway for the fun celebrations that fall across the last days of October. For a bit of botanical fun, my colleague at The Chicago Tribune and I were brainstorming lists of plants that could fit the scary and spooky bill for Halloween in his recent feature, “From creepy to dangerous, some plants a perfect Halloween fit.”

As a forager and herbalist, here’s my own Scary {but Edible!} list of Boo-tanical Horrors:

Poke (Phytolacca americana)

The pokeweed plant is very alien-looking with its bright purple clusters of berries and branching vibrant green stalks stretching across areas of disturbed ground and in waste places in urban lots and weedy garden plots.

Poke Berries

Many think this plant is poisonous – and if eaten incorrectly, it can be. But the pokeweed, despite all the warnings, can be made edible by eating the early, tiny spring shoots to make the traditional Southern dish of poke salt and the root and berries are used in herbal plant medicine. The berries make a beautiful purple plant dye to color fabrics and decor projects.

Prickly Pear (Optunia species)

Creeping along the ground with its red fruits dotting the landscape, the prickly pear cactus is the Midwest’s only wild cactus. The prickly pear grows in colonies, spreading across disturbed sandy and rocky soils, in south-facing locations.

Prickly Pear Photo Lisa Rose

Its spines ward off predators, but for those brave enough to handle the plant with leather gloves and remove it’s thorny glochids, the fruits can be used to make a delicious and fruity simple syrup for cocktails or sodas. It’s fruit can also be pureed to produce a fun and edible pink slime – perfect for Halloween tricks and treats.

Hawthorn (Crataegus species)

The hawthorn is a tree with a history of magic and folklore. The hawthorn grows as a rambling, hedgerow shrub with long and pointy spines lining its bark and branches warning everyone to hone their senses, lest they fall into the shrub’s spiny clutches while gathering the tree’s delicious fruits. Its berries are edible and can be used to make vinegar shrubs, cocktail syrups, and can be used similarly to that of the crabapple in cooking and hard cider-making.

Hawthorn Berry and Thorns

And as the hawthorn is known to be a plant of the faery realm, it’s worth remembering to take a gift of butter for the plant faeries and to sing songs while harvesting the berries. At the very least – and if you don’t believe in the plant faeries – signing songs or whistling is a good way to express thanks and gratitude for the tree’s fruits as you harvest and protect you from their potential tricks.

For more about these plants, how to harvest and how to prepare, check out my book, Midwest Foraging” and have a safe and fun Halloween season!

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Go Nuts with Walnuts: Italian Walnut Liqueur

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Cocktails flavored with different plants and herbals are now all the rage among foodies and at popular restaurants. Beyond the garden, foraged, wild flavors can be gathered from the woods and fields to be blended into infused liqueurs, simple syrups and handmade bitters for the cocktail cart.

The windfall of falling walnuts becomes noticeable in mid-summer as the green fruits of the black walnut begin to drop. Your main competition for this fruit will be the local wildlife, particularly the ever-aggressive squirrel.

The wild walnut of the Juglans nigra (black walnut) is a forager’s delight – not only does it offer delicious nutmeats for cooking and baked goods, but the green hull has a fragrant, citrus-like aroma that infused in liquor makes a delicious aperatif.

Traditionally, nocino is made from the English walnut, but here in the Midwest, black walnut may be used. In some literature, there has been question whether or not the juglone content of the roots in the black walnut render the nut inedible (as it is a gardener’s nightmare for plants intolerant of the juglone), but there is enough traditional and contemporary use of the black walnut to negate this potential concern. The only issue that the black walnut may cause is in companion planting in the garden! 

For more tips on identifying the black walnut, get a copy of my book, Midwest Foraging to take with you into the fields! 

In “Midwest Foraging,” I describe that  the green hulled walnut can be transformed into a traditional Italian digestif known as nocino, an aromatic spicy liqueur that contains clove, orange peel, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Try making a nocino with the herbs of the spicebush, tulip poplar, and wild ginger.”

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To make your own nocino, gather 4 quarts of green walnut hulls. In the kitchen, stuff large ball jars to the brim with the nuts, including a tablespoon each of clove, juniper berries, orange peel, cardamon, ginger, and 2 cinnamon sticks. Cover completely with vodka (or white wine), and let macerate for 8 weeks. Strain and preserve in a glass bottle to let age.

Enjoy as a sipping liqueur or in a dessert course with fragrant cheese and dark chocolates.

The Roots of My Practice

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Maya healer and wonderful friend, Don Daniel Pool-pech. Tulum, MX

“If you don’t do the work of the heart, then you will always have pain.” ~ Don Daniel, Maya plant friend in Tulum MX, 2015.

I traveled to Tulum first in 2009, the first of what began as many trips to the Yucatan and the beginning of a love affair with such a magical place.  It was on that trip that I met an herbalist from Colorado – Shelley Torgrove where she introduced me to her Maya teacher and plant healer, Don Daniel Poolpech.

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Don Daniel and Shelley Torgrove, Tulum MX.

 

At the time of that trip, I was between “careers” … I had recently left my work as the director of our local nature center, which included leaving the small nonprofit I had founded called Mixed Greens (we created school gardens to teach nutrition education programming to urban schoolkids). I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was doing some food systems consulting, but that wasn’t tugging at my heart-strings. My children were little, then-husband commuting to Ghana (yes, Africa) and I was needed at home. NGO work had burned me out, having babies had sucked me dry — I was fried. And I was only turning 30.

I remember telling a farmer friend of mine I was so tired that I couldn’t even bother clearing away the leaves from my garden. His reply – maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe you should sit and listen to the plants. In Tulum – and upon meeting Shelley – I said out loud, “I want to work with plants as an herbalist” (even though I had no idea what that even meant – and still don’t haha). I just ~knew~ that being an herbalist was my calling.

Don Daniel, seeing how anxious I was (about everything) gave me blessings and a strong sedative tea. He told me (in Spanish) to drink it, as it’d help heal my stomach, clear my head and open my heart. Then he sent me back north to begin my path as an herbalist…

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Vinca blanca, an ingredient for my tea from the garden of Don Daniel in Tulum, MX.

Now 2015, I went to him with gratitude and humility and prayers for clarity and strength as I begin this next chapter in my life.

Don Daniel took me into his garden to harvest plants for my medicines and taught me their names. I dried the plants in my window of my rental car, as an impromptu solar dryer. Plant medicines for my own healing, to carry with me as I head back north to continue along the path.  Hopeful. Softer. Less anxious. Focused. And free. There’s healing power inherent in gathering your own medicines.

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My visit with Don Daniel in 2015

My plan is to return to Tulum within the year with my own students, to introduce people to the culture, food and herbal traditions of the Yucatan. We will stay in Tulum with locals, ride bikes, swim at the beach, dive into cenotes, eat nourishing foods and learn a bit from Don Daniel’s ways of Maya healing. It will be adventure of rest, renewal and growth. Look for an invitation soon to join me on a trip in May of 2016.

For now, I am partnering with Shelley on a fall excursion in Maya healing with Don Daniel. Interested? Take a look at Shelley’s website, Artemisia & Rue for the October 2015 excursion. We’d love to have you join us.

A Herbalist’s Pilgrimage to Tulum

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The Ruins of Tulum, MX 2015

Tulum has always held a special place in my heart. My first visit was in 2009 and I instantly fell in love with her people, ruins, beaches, city and plants.

Since that time I’ve made many visits around the Yucatan – Merida, Valladolid – all lovely places with unique personality. So in choosing all places to visit again, I chose Tulum.

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Sipping coco frios at the Ruins. Tulum 2009

This trip to Tulum was special. I was alone, with dictionary in hand. Sort of a soul-searching trip with not much on the books save for rest, eating, beach and plant study with my Maya friend and teacher Don Daniel.

I came down here again to recognize my own transformation over the years and the beauty of growing into my skin – despite all the heartache and pain of moving through that ever changing life of our’s. I needed to be able to document it for me as a reminder that life molds us like clay. And that we are shaped by so many people and experiences and not to push away any of it but embrace it. Pull it closer.

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Same place. Same Chacos. Older, wiser (up for debate). Definitely softer and open to new beginnings. Tulum 2015

I needed to see for myself that I didn’t push any of it away- but rather embraced the challenges over the past years, survived and am vital and full of life. No matter how painful it is to go into the darkness, dig deep and find the source of what really makes “us.” Put those roots deeper into the earth. Add water. Soil. Sun. Grow.

Appropriately enough, Tulum in Maya is translated as New Beginnings.

I traveled to the ocean to wash away the detritus of the past few years with the salt water beneath the ruins. To release myself from the strangling anxiety and to be open to new experiences for the future, to reconnect with the plants that first called me to be an herbalist.

To find rest and renewal and encouragement, to dig deep and be courageous to “live in the not knowing” – as Don Draper would say.

To be free.

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Sometimes, you get the signs you need. In English. Tulum, MX 2015

Travel & The Forager

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Last month, I turned a spring ski session into a usnea harvest outing while in the mountains of Montana. If I am in a new area, or bioregion with plants different than the ones from my own homeland, you can be sure I am out learning plants and gathering those I know and that are useful in my apothecary.

Traveling gives me a unique perspective as a forager and herbalist. It allows me to gather medicines I don’t have immediate to my neighborhood (once of course I have firm bearings on the plant’s distribution and a potential gathering site), and it helps me appreciate the uniqueness of the land of both where I am visiting and where I live. AND it gives me a reason to seek out local, regional plant guides!

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Usnea species or Old Man’s Beard grows prolifically in Northern Michigan and across alpine regions of the Midwest, across the Rockies and beyond. It’s a common lichen and useful in the apothecary as a tincture for infections in combination with herbs like echinacea. I gathered this usnea to compare it to the usnea local to my bioregion to see how they may differ in flavor and depth.

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Hawthorne for the Herbalist’s Heart

The Hawthorne

Today I was called out to the fields in search of my Hawthorne tree. It’s a tree of the faeries, a tree that in folklore in linked with the spiritual heart, fertility and death.

Even approaching this tree in a windy field, I felt a calm come over me. The winds — both those swirling about me and within me — calmed. Her branches spiked with 3″ thorns warned for me to hone my senses and to pay attention to the placement of my person, lest I desire to lose an eyeball. Each step, as I came into her fray, was taken carefully as I was on a rocky hillside and it wasn’t in my interest to fall into her spiny clutches. 

A profound, deep sense of peace comes over me when I sit at the base of this tree. Last year at this time, I collected the fruits from the ground as they had fallen before I arrived to gather them from the tree. I sat in the soft grass, collecting the newly- fallen fruits and found my senses sharpened, my ability to focus and attention increase. The wisdom offered to me that day was to Occupy nature. Occupy myself. Quiet down and find peace and softness.

Sitting there, colors became more vibrant. It’s almost as if I have those colors burned into memory the day was so clear. Much like the colors today. 

Hawthorne as both food and plant medicine is cooling in nature. The berries, high in flavonoids are an excellent food and can help dispel heat and inflammation in the body, having a particular affinity to the heart muscle.

And while there is an abundance of literature on the use of the leaves, flowers, berries and thorns of the Hawthorne for support of the heart, this post focuses on how I find myself drawn to the tree and her herbal abundance for her affect on me and my internal rhythm.

What I’ve learned by sitting with the Hawthorne.  It’s cooling nature helps bring that sense of peace to the one who’s agitated. Good for one who has a limited ability to settle down and pay attention. It can help bring the attention inward.

For the aches of broken-heartedness, it can soften the ache a bit. And for those who have a hard time being playful, the Hawthorne can help bring a bit of softness to a hardened heart. It teaches one how to be open and willing to receive soft, loving, nourishing kindness in a way that is respectful of space and boundaries.

I like to prepare the berries- harvested at peak ripeness- with leaves, flowers (both gathered earlier in the spring) into a brandy-based elixir, sweetened with raw honey (though it can stand on its own without the honey as well). It’s divine to take a drop here, there whenever there’s an achy, melancholic anxiety in my spiritual heart.

I am grateful for this lovely tree. She grows in a large field with hedgerows to either side of her that are lined with other Crategeous species that aren’t nearly as majestic or prolific — many of the trees in our area suffer from a rust blight. In addition to the blight, the frost patterns we had earlier in the year squelched what little we would have had in terms of fruit in the hedgerows.

I enjoyed my visit with my Hawthorne today. Alas, I didn’t bring an offerings to her as I should have, though I did find myself singing softly while gathering her berries. I will return on the New Moon with a proper offering in tow as a showing of my thanks and gratitude for her gifts of food and healing medicines and presence.

~~~

A few herbal musings on Hawthorne:

Sean Donahue

Darcey Blue

Henriette Kress on Hawthorne

Rosalee de la Foret