Understanding
Witherod Viburnum ( Viburnum nudum  'Bulk')

Witherod Viburnum (Viburnum nudum 'Bulk')

Meteorologically speaking, we had the rainiest summer - somewhere near 32-inches in total - ever recorded in our county. When it isn't raining, it is so humid my camera lens fogs and the mosquitoes swarm the grip (and me).

While I had no intention of beginning to study herbal medicine-making this particular summer, the days sheltered indoors have lent themselves to just that...study. I began reading Green's book* to wrap my head around the overall science of herbal medicine-making, but truth-be-told, his style of writing irks me. Of his quest for a glass percolator base, he quips, "I get pushier than the teens in line for fake IDs when I see one of these well-spouted containers sitting as yet unclaimed in a yard sale or at a flea market." This variety of quirky (oft-times outdated) humor-to-make-a-point is peppered through nearly every paragraph in the book; it is surprisingly disruptive to my learning.

A month ago my mom found a neat little book while thrifting, The New England Herb Gardener.* Written by the owner of Wormwood Farm in Maine, it includes just the right amount of personal anecdotes and useful information to appeal to me. The author's list of, "a few things that should be understood before using herbal medicines," is of particular interest to me. I eventually wish to make a monograph for each useful plant on my property; I have adapated Turcotte's list below so I may refer back to her suggestions and apply them to my own herbal medicine-making:

  • identification of the plant (growth habit, leaf shape, leaf arrangement, tactile description of leaf, stem, flower, seeds, roots, scent)

  • which part(s) of plant to harvest for use

  • which part(s) of plant may be toxic

  • when to harvest appropriate part(s) of plant

  • where to harvest plant (i.e. within the boundaries of my property, where do I find this plant)

  • how to harvest the plant (manner, time-of-day, top-third, flowers-only, roots-in-autumn, etc.)

  • origin of plant (i.e. purchased, original to property, gifted, seed-dispersal, unknown)

These suggestions refer specifically to matters of herbal medicine-making:

  • knowledge of my own family's anatomy & heath history

  • correct diagnoses of ailments and disorders to be treated

  • cures or treatments for ailments and disorders to be treated

  • ideal forms (tincture, oil, salve, elixir, tea, etc.) of herbal medicine

  • ideal dosage (age/weight of recipient, amount, duration) of herbal medicine

  • side effects (i.e. sun sensitivity, sleepiness, etc.)

  • will excessive use or prolonged use produce side effects?

I own dozens of books on herbs and herbalism, dozens more on wildflowers and gardening, and infinite resources available to me on-line. Narrowing down so much information into immediately useful bits is my goal. The process is going to be slow.

When I last attempted to learn more about herbs and herbalism (in 1998 and 2008) I was either too young and impatient or too young and consumed with motherhood and a cancer-diagnosis. Ten years later I now have the time and (hopefully) patience to learn what is right for my own small family and make the medicines that will aid in our overall health. ♥ 

Jessica Allen explores the fields and forests of Pennsylvania with her artist-husband, Michael Allen, and their son, Benjamin. She shares her observations through words and pictures of everyday magic and beauty she sees in her world.