I am in a program studying medicinal herbs this year. We meet one weekend a month from March to December, and Patricia Howell is our teacher. She has been practicing herbal medicine for over 20 years and I have learned so much from her. For anyone in the North Georgia area that is interested in learning about herbal medicine, I would highly recommend her program. You can check out her website for information about next years program and other learning opportunities at Botanologos School of Herbal Medicine.
This past weekend I was in mountains for another two days of learning about herbs and we learned about wild harvesting and herbal formulation!
We met in a lodge at the Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center.
I always take so many notes. Every class is packed full of great information. Patricia is definitely one of the best teachers I have ever had. This time we learned about how to make individually tailored formulas based on a persons unique constitution and symptom patterns. I learned so much!
During a break time Patricia helped with making a comfrey and plantain poultice for a bruised arm.
We also made a goldenrod infusion for someone with sinus congestion and a crampbark decoction for someone with cramps. We have fun using the herbs to treat each other too :)!
Between classes and making herbal preparation for classmates, we got out for a few hours and did some wild harvesting. Patricia showed us how to identify everything first. She also talked about basic wild harvesting etiquette.
For example, when you are looking to harvest a wild plant, look around and for every 5 plants you see, harvest one of them. You don’t want to decimate any plant populations by not paying attention.
Another rule of etiquette, especially when digging up roots for medicine is to break off a bud or part of the root to replant in the same spot so another plant can grow. As well as thanking the plant. It struggled to survive in the wild and we want to be grateful for the medicine it is giving us.
Also, it is good to wear long pants, sleeves and gloves to avoid poison ivy, insect bites, etc. Even if it is super hot out. You will be glad you did.
We dug up a few examples and learned about plant differences.
Lisa even put an example of each leaf in her pocket as a reference.
Then we fanned out into the woods to gather our plants.
By the way, my herb teacher wrote a book about native medicinal plants that includes all of the plants we harvested on Sunday. I will be taking my descriptions of the plants from her book. It is a wonderful book and I would highly recommend it, especially for people living in or around the southern appalachians.
First I harvested Blue Cohosh. It is a woodland perennial plant that is native to the Southern Appalachians. The root is used as a tonic for the female reproductive system.
To determine the age of the root you count the number of stem scars. This root has 7 scars so it is 7 years old. Crazy! I felt thankful to have the opportunity to make medicine from something that has grown the wild for the last 7 years. I haven’t even been married that long.
I split off a root bud and replanted in the same spot.
After I finished digging and then replanting, I did my best to recover the soil and cover any evidence of disturbance. Any time we harvest medicine from the wild we want to leave the place better than we found it.
After that I harvested Black Cohosh root. It is also a woodland perennial native to the Southern Appalachians. The root is used to treat menstrual or menopausal discomfort.
Then I harvested Bloodroot. It is is a native perennial like the others. The root is used to treat lung congestion, inflammation, bronchitis and coughs.
Then we went on the hunt for some Goldenrod (all species are medicinal). It is an abundant wild plant that is effective in treating upper respiratory inflammation and congestion. In salves goldenrod promotes healing of ulcers, wounds, and burns.
Patricia reminded us that the best plants to use are the ones that are abundant and widely available. Goldenrod certainly fits the bill and I look forward to working more with this plant.
Then I harvested some Jewelweed. It grows in the mountains and gets its name from how beads of rain or dew on the leaves glitter like diamonds. It is a beautiful plant, and one of the most effective remedies at treating skin inflammation, rash, and itching caused by poison ivy and other skin irritations.
After an hour of harvesting, I bought my stash back to the lodge for cleaning. I put the roots in labelled paper bags so I wouldn’t confuse them.
I had to wash the roots, and rinse them out with several changes of water. Then I used my pruners to chop them into smaller pieces and rinse them a few more times in a colander to get all the dirt off.
I put the roots in jars and brought all the roots and other plants home for processing into tinctures and other herbal preparations.
Patricia even wrote out all the preparations we could make with our harvested herbs. I didn’t harvest all the plants on this list, but I am happy with the ones I did. In the next couple of days I will post about how I prepared the herbs I brought home.
I am really happy that I am in Patricia’s class. I have learned so much already and we still have 3 more weekends before the end of the program. I could have learned about herbs a lot of different ways, but I am so glad I decided to take her program. Her teaching has given me a framework to look at the herbs and how to use them to help people. She has the big picture perspective and many years of experience to draw from. Now, with some successful harvesting and medicine making in her class, I look forward to branching out and experimenting on my own. Now if only I had more time… 😉
Have you ever harvested anything in the wild? What was your experience like?