I love celebrating the druid wheel of the year. Its just an amazing experience to dedicate eight days to magic, ritual, being outdoors, studying, reading, meditation, gardening, and other sacred activity. I had the most wonderful day today making so many medicines from fresh ingredients. Just like at the summer solstice, Lughnassadh is a fantastic time for gathering bright, beautiful herbs, so today I spent most of the day gathering and preparing plants for medicinal use. I thought I’d share so that you have a sense of what herbs are in season right now and what they can be used for. Since I’m trying to replace any over-the-counter medicine with locally gathered or my own homegrown herbs, I’m trying to lay in a really good stock of herbs before winter (then I can continue to make things in the wintertime). Once I have a better sense of all of the herbs I want to have for common ailments, I’ll post a list here–but for now, this post serves as a sneak peek to my “family herbal medicine chest.”
In the morning, the skies were clear and blue, the weather warm, and the sun shining. There was very little wind, which allowed the monarchs (who have finally made their way to Michigan) to come out and enjoy the milkweed blooms. I went out to my favorite secret harvest spot (an 80-acre parcel of land about a mile away) to see what was ready. The land isn’t far from my home, so I’m pretty sure I also spotted some of my (or other local) honeybees on the spotted knapweed. I was so excited to see that the goldenrod had just came into flower and tons of mullein stalks jutting up around the goldenrod as far as I could see. I gathered up goldenrod, beautiful and bold, for a tincture. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the blooming of the goldenrod all summer, and I’m so glad to finally be able to make this tincture!
I also carefully went around each of the mullein stalks, gathered a few leaves, and spent a good hour gathering up a bunch of mullein flower for an ear oil. I visited at least 30 plants to gather up enough of their delicate flowers. If you look around the plant, in its leaves, etc, and you can find flowers that have already dropped but are still moist.
In addition, I gathered some branches from a fallen oak tree (for an oak bark tincture), bright red clusters of staghorn sumac berry and stinging nettle, all for tinctures. I brought my panflute with me, and in exchange for the harvest, played music for the land for a time, and just sat and enjoyed being out in the fields and among the pines.
Around lunch, I arrived home, ate some yummy food from the garden (it is the first harvest, after all) and set up my medicine-making supplies out on my back porch where I could keep an eye on my free-ranging chickens. From nearby herb beds, I gathered colts foot, lady’s mantle, and chamomile. I also gathered up valerian flower for a tincture (I am hoping the flower will be milder than valerian root, the root I will harvest later in the year).
The tincture-making process is a lot of fun. Inspect your herbs to make sure you only have the right ones, check for bugs, and so on. Then, chop up fresh herbs, add alcohol (in a 1:2 ratio for fresh, so 1 part herbs (weight) to two parts alcohol (volume)), and seal in a mason jar. I learned in my herb class that if you are using the standard fresh herb ratio, and the herb is really bulky (like mullein leaf), you can get the herbs below the level of the alcohol by weighing down your herbs with clean stones. That way they don’t turn a funky color and the alcohol can properly extract all of the plant material.
Staghorn sumac, above, is a fantastic (and quite potent) astringent. It’s good for leaky, puffy, or lax tissues. There are other astringents less potent than this (like strawberry leaf), but this was one on my “must make” list this year. My hands were still a bit cut up from replacing my chicken coop last weekend (chicken wire hurts!) and so the sumac was quite stinging on the hands as I was carefully pulling off the berries.
Goldenrod (especially when combined with ragweed leaf and stem–NOT ragweed pollen/flower) is great for those snotty, leaky, allergies. It’s kind of funny that ragweed leaf and stem can help cure ragweed pollen allergies that many people get. As far as I know, nobody is allergic to goldenrod, it gets a bad rap because other allergen-producing plants, like ragweed, happen to bloom at the same time and in the same location. I wanted to have a good tincture of goldenrod so that when I encounter people’s pesky dogs that jump up on me, I have something to counter the allergic reaction.
Another tincture I made today was oak bark. It’s really good for gums, especially gums that bleed a lot after flossing or brushing teeth or gums that are receding or otherwise lax–it’s another astringent, so it will help tighten up the tissue.
I had made a St. Johns Wort oil a few weeks ago (the St. Johns wort flowers are about done for the year, but two weeks ago they were in the height of their blossom). I spent today letting it drip off, to get off all the plant matter (if plant matter remains in an infused oil, it will go rancid). This oil is fantastic for any kind of wound (external use). I will probably make a new healing salve blend with some of this along with plantain oil, maybe calendula, or a few other things.
Fresh garlic from the garden and the painstakingly gathered mullein flowers went into my awesome enamel and copper double boiler (yard sale find, $15). This oil, which I will infuse over the next three days, is used for ear infections, which I get pretty often in the winter.
I also added some herbs to the dehydrator–its been going straight for weeks now, it seems! I have found such a quality difference between what I can buy vs. what I grow and harvest myself, plus, there are many herbs that one can’t buy easily or cheaply. But these herbs are free and abundant on the land if one grows them or knows where to look.
Here is a photograph of all the herbs I prepared or jarred up today–nine tinctures in all plus four jars of dried herbs from the dehydrator. The tinctures are now macerating and many of the herbs I wanted to preserve have been crossed off my list.
After all that work, I went down to the stone circle for some ritual and meditation, and saw the butterfly of transformation!
To finish out the day, I had a wonderful feast from the garden and the land – wild chicken of the woods mushrooms, green beans, zuchinni, and kale. I hope that everyone has a blessed Lughnassadh!