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Gathering the good herb

There are 3 basic ways to obtain herbs for medicine making- be it teas, tinctures, oils, or vinegars:

  1. wildcrafting
  2. gardening
  3. purchasing

My love affair with herbs came through the amazing process of wildcrafting.  This means:   go out and pick ‘em where you find ‘em. (Exempting of course strangers’ garden patches, although WEEDS in your friends’ organic gardens would certainly qualify.)  As previously stated, the first place I started was a big urban place called Central Park, right smack in the center of the biggest city in the USA.  I then ventured to smaller areas of green within the city and to other parks outside of the city.  Soon I found myself by roadsides, in fields, in suburban yards- anywhere the wild weed would grow.  That was my playground.  Wildcrafting became such a liberating experience for me- finally seeing how abundant vibrant life was around me, coupled with the knowledge that my medicines were bountiful and FREE nearly anywhere I went.  Some how I had found a new avocation, at least.

The main pitfall of wildcrafting to the absolute plant novice without direct supervision rests in proper identification.  If you’ve never known burdock, how can you tell the difference between it and yellow dock? Is it plantain or pond lily? Hence, a teacher proves to be of utmost import. Following guide books, even as a decent botanist, becomes difficult at best and can be DEADLY at worst!  You definitely don’t want to find yourself tincturing up foxglove

(used for its Digitalis in heart medications) and later, as you lay in the hospital, say, “But I thought it was plantain!” 

This particular mistake was made by a well-known herbal company some years ago, and the assumption was that their wildcrafter wasn’t careful enough in distinguishing the similar appearance of baby digitalis from full grown plantain. 

Each plant has particular parts, growing at particular times of year which are entirely fundamental to a positive picking experience. Having an expert show you the plant, in its proper stage for harvesting, is VITAL.  There are a handful of such people in most populated areas.  Seek them out!  While their fees are nominal, their knowledge can be phenomenal.

While I am not a professional gardener, I would like to mention the kinds of gardens I have created.  First and easiest are small indoor potted gardens.  Rosemary will grow for a long time this way. Put a few culinary annuals in a big pot and, if possible when it’s past the last frost, move them to an outdoor spot.  If you’re in an apartment, just keep them by the sunniest window (several good hours of direct sunlight a day are necessary for nearly all herbs) and open it for air once in a while.  A cool thing that may happen to your pots is that random, small spores or seeds will fly through the air, causing new little weeds to grow in your garden.  Observe and try to identify them, as they’re said to be plants that have come to you for a reason.  For instance, did sweet violet come to love your broken heart?  Or did dandelion say, “That liver needs me!”  Often it’s arbitrary, but definitely fun to think about as you learn by looking up weeds and observing their growth. 

Potted plants have limitations, lest we not negate the gardeners who have gone hog-wild with this concept.  Truly, great things have been known to happen.

Also, I have simply thrown some seeds out to some patch of soil in my yard or in a pot, with minor cultivation attempts, at some avail.  Purchasing small seedlings from a gardening store or a hardware store is an easy way to have success.  Basically, plant and water where and how the instructions on the packet tell you.

If you plan on staying put for a few more years, consider growing things like lavender, chamomile, catnip, and sage, which are herbaceous perennials- meaning they just keep coming back- year after year.  You just help them along a little with periodic mulching, watering when the sky refuses to, weeding out unwanted weeds, and trimming off the dead junk.

The 2 downsides to gardening are 1. it can be a big pain and 2. your stuff may not come out as great as you had planned, and it seems for sure like a lot of work then! And, if your apartment doesn’t get much direct sunlight, you can pretty much forget about the herb thing there.

The final resort you have to finding “The Good Herb” is to simply buy it.  You are not losing your power to make medicine, just getting some help from the market place.  Supermarkets are a great source for roots and strange culinary herbs. Support your local organic farmers!

Take a look at those odd things you always pass over, and I’m going to hazard a guess that a useful plant for your medicine chest will be among them.  One down-side to this is cost. Another is that you don’t really know where the little loves are coming from.

OK, so here’s my game plan: 1st see what’s out there awaiting my arrival In the wild, next,  plant a garden, and finally, utilize your local organic markets.  The wild world of plants has just opened its vast doors to your disposal, so come on out!  What are you waiting for?

 

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