how to make flower essences

How to Make Your Own Flower Essences

Summer is the time to make your own flower essences. 

Flower essences are a type of vibrational medicine, akin to homeopathy, in which the healing energy of flowers is captured in a process of dilution, and no flower parts remain in the finished remedy. 

It is easy to make flower essences and they are a wonderful complement to herbal medicine because they address the underlying emotional causes that create problems in the body. Sometimes addressing the emotions can resolve physical symptoms and ailments.

They can work quickly, or take time to clear blockages. Similar to doing a detox cleanse, it is possible that you may initially feel heightened awareness of symptoms as stagnant emotional patterns are unearthed.

Why Use Flower Essences

Flower essences offer a wonderful way to heal and grow because they affect change at a deep emotional level.

They are safe for all ages, and even pets, and the don’t interact with medications. 

There are a couple of popular brands of flower essences available at natural health stores, including Bach and Wild Rose, and Nova Scotian essences produced by Blue Fairie and Star Flower essences.  Globally you will find flower essences produced with local blooms. 

And, it is easy to make your own…

Making Flower Essences

Making the Mother

Float the flowers in pure spring or well water in sunlight for 20 minutes to 3 hours or until more than half the flowers are wilted. Remove the flowers and transfer the liquid to a clean bottle. A small tincture bottle is good, about 50 ml. A funnel would be helpful.

Mix the flower water with an equal amount of brandy or glycerine.

Succus the bottle 100 times to mix them. 

Label as “Mother.”

Notes: Flower essences made with brandy will last decades, glycerine will last about 5 years, and plain water essences will last a few days. Look for or prepare glycerine based essences if you do not consume alcohol. 

Making a Stock Remedy

Fill another small bottle with half water and half brandy. Add 5 drops of the mother. Succus 100 times. Label as “Stock Remedy.”

Making a Treatment Bottle

Combine water and 30% glycerine or brandy. Add 5 drops from the stock bottle. Succus 100 times. Label. 

Keep the Mother and the Stock, and you can make flower essences to last a lifetime (if you have used brandy). Simply make more treatment bottles with the stock, and make more stock from the mother when you run out. 

The treatment bottle is what you will use for the following methods: 

Ways to Use Flower Essences

Take 3-5 drops in the mouth or in water, 3 or more times daily.

Use as a room spray – add 3 to 5 drops to a spray bottle full of water.

Add about 20 drops to a  bath. 

Flower essences can also be added to healing creams or lotions. 

Flowers to Look For

For a brief couple of months, Halifax is bursting with flowers, so don’t delay and make your essences soon. The following flowers can be found here in Halifax, and across much of North America:

Mallow 

Althea spp.

Mallow is for people who feel cut off and isolated, and long for warmth and openness. It’s for you if you have difficulty making friends or committing to relationships. Whether it stems from insecurity, fear or lack of trust, mallow will help you overcome barriers to friendship. 

Horse Chestnut

Aesculus hippocastanum

Do you feel like nothing ever changes? Horse Chestnut helps you stop making the same mistakes over and over.  Rid yourself of unwanted, repetitive thoughts and break out of stagnant patterns.

Dill

Anethum graveolens

If you’re busy, stressed, and overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of a full & chaotic life. Dill is particularly good if you’re suffering from overstimulation, will promote relaxation and inner nourishment. 

Daisy

Bellis perennis

Daisy is the plant for getting your #%@ together! It’s for planning and organizing. Absorb more information and organize it in a meaningful way. It also enhances concentration.

Borage

Borago officinalis

Borage is a heart remedy to ease the brokenhearted. It’s good for those suffering grief, loss, sadness, or discouragement and it lifts the spirits and prevents depression. It promotes courage and optimism.

Greater Celandine 

Chelidonium majus

Celandine flower essence enhances communication. It’s good for singers, teachers and lecturers. Celandine assists giving receiving information, and is good for people who are stubborn or opinionated, do not listen, or can’t concentrate. It also helps enhance understanding of information given in dreams. 

Hawthorn

Crataegus monogyna, C. oxycanthus

Hawthorn is a renowned heart healer. As a flower essence, it heals broken hearts, opens the heart chakra and enhances expressions of love. It also eases emotional extremes. 

Opium poppy

Papaver somniferum

Poppy flower essence is for escapists who find it hard to face up to the realities of life, and for those fearful of expressing strong emotions such as anger. It gives you the courage to assert yourself, and express your feelings. 

Linden

Tilia europea

Linden is another flower essence for the heart. It increases awareness of our connectedness to the rest of humanity, and increases feelings of peace and happiness.

Mullein

Verbascum thapsus

Mullein provides an inner light to guide us along our path. It helps us to withstand social pressure, and strengthens the moral compass for those who are weak and confused. 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about flower essences, herbal medicine, and holistic wellness, you’ll love our Holistic Herbal Wellness course. It’s a year-long, seasonal self-care course featuring herbal medicine. We meet one Saturday per month in Halifax or Moncton. 

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Deciphering Botanical Latin Names

Deciphering Botanical Latin Names

The Latin names help us to reference specific plants across languages, and fields of study, but what do they mean and where do they come from?

Plants have many names from different languages, cultures and regions. Common names refer to the vernacular name that “the locals” would call it, but then there are Latin names used by botanists, herbalists, and other scientists. Healing modalities that evolved in other cultures have their own names for the plants as well, such as Ayurvedic names from Sanskrit, and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) names from Mandarin. Even within one language or region there can be many names for one plant, such as ground ivy and creeping charlie [Glechoma hederacea] or hawthorn and thornapple [Crataegus monogyna]. It can vary from region to region or continent to continent. What we call fireweed [Chamaenerion angustofolium]  is called rosebay willowherb in England, and blooming Sally in Ireland.

It doesn’t really matter what we call them, because, we all know that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” but what does matter is that we can convey to each other exactly which plant we’re referencing.

To solve this problem, many scientists have endeavoured to come up with a universal system of names to describe the natural world. The names are derived in part from how the plant is classified.

What is taxonomy?

Taxonomy is the branch of science concerned with classification, especially of organisms. Taxonomists define and name groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics.

The Linnaean System & The Origin of Latin Names

Living organisms are categorized into increasingly specific groups. The first major division is Kingdoms, of which the Plant Kingdom is one of six. The other kingdoms are Animals, Protists, Fungi, Archaebacteria, and Eubacteria.

A kingdom is further divided into a hierarchy of groups and subgroups called Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.

Anatomy & Usage of Latin Botanical Names

Herbalists are mostly concerned with Family, Genus, and Species. 

Experienced herbalists become familiar with shared characteristics of major plant families. Sometimes plants in the same family will share some medicinal properties. Knowing some characteristics of a plant family can also help with identification. 

Plant families have Latin names ending in “-aceae,” meaning “resembling” but some also have common names. For example, vegetables in the family Brassicaceae are collectively referred to as “cruciferous” vegetables, and members of the parsley family, Apiaceae, are commonly called “umbellifers.”

Binomials

Latin botanical names are also referred to as “binomials” because they have two parts. The first part is the genus, and is capitalized, and the second word is the species, which is not capitalized. Latin names are usually written in italics.

When making a list of botanical names in the same genus, you can abbreviate the genus.

Example: Artemesia absinthium, A. vulgaris, A. dracunculus, A. annua

If you are referring to several species and don’t need to specify which species, you can use the abbreviation spp. after the genus.

Example: Artemesia spp.

Here’s an interesting list of some of the Latin words used in plant names.

Author Citations

Finally, you may also see a name or an abbreviated capital letter at the end of a Latin name. This is the author citation, and it refers to the person or group of people who first published the name while fulfilling the formal requirements as specified by the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN), the set of rules and recommendations dealing with the formal botanical names that are given to plants, fungi and a few other groups of organisms, all those “traditionally treated as algae, fungi, or plants”.

The most common author citation seen after binomial Latin names is L. which stands for Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist who formalised binomial nomenclature. He is considered the father of modern taxonomy, and we still use his basic system of classification today.

Plant Parts

On tincture or dried herb labels, you might also see the words radix, fruc or flos in the names. These stand for the parts of the plants used in the medicine. Radix means root, flos means flower, and fruc is short for fructus, which means fruit.

Other Naming Conventions

There are other naming conventions to get even more specific when referencing plants, but many of these are to do with cultivation.  There are subspecies, hybrids, varieties, and cultivars. A subspecies (preceded by the abbreviation “subsp.”) is a geographically separate population within a species that is almost, but not quite, a separate species. A variety (preceded by “var.”) is a distinct variant occurring in the same populations as ordinary examples of a species. A cultivar is defined as a plant whose origin or selection is primarily due to intentional human activity.

Cultivars

Herbalists are less likely to encounter any of these except for cultivars (CULTivated VARiety) because you will find cultivar names at typical garden centres. Cultivated plants have their own International Code

If you encounter a third word in single quotes after a Latin name, that is a cultivar. A cultivar is a cultivated variety of a species that is selectively bred for desirable characteristics that are maintained during propagation. More generally, a cultivar is the most basic classification category of cultivated plants.

Example: Rosa canina ‘Assisiensis’ a cultivar of Dog Rose that is selectively cultivated without prickles.

Herbal references generally don’t include cultivar names. Although many medicinal plants are sold at garden centres as ornamentals, they are often a named cultivar. Sambucus nigra, for example comes in many cultivars such as ‘Scotia’ and ‘Black Beauty.’  Bloom Institute’s founder, Savayda Jarone, suggests sourcing plants from dealers who specialize in medicinal or indigenous plants that don’t have cultivar names, to ensure the integrity of the medicinal properties. Most plant breeders are developing qualities such as disease-resistance, showier blossoms, size of plant, etc. and are not concerned about the medicinal properties. For example, there is an elderberry cultivar called ‘Laced Up’ that is bred to grow more tall and narrow than typical elderberry shrubs. This is great for saving space in the garden, but the medicinal potency of ‘Laced Up’ versus an uncultivated variety is unknown.

Other names

If you’re interested in how other cultural traditions have used plants as medicine, you’ve probably come across TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) or Ayurvedic names for plants. 

All these names can get pretty confusing, but I’ve done some research for you. On the Bloom Institute Pinterest profile, you’ll find a board called References, where I’ve pinned some databases of plant names of Ayurveda and TCM. You can use these to search in Chinese, Hindi, or English and find a translation and Latin name of the plant you want to reference. 

Resources Pinterest Board

 

PS In researching this post, I also discovered that many of Carl LInnaeus’ books are available online at Open Library. Here’s one on plants. https://archive.org/stream/b28777372_0001?ref=ol#page/n93/mode/2up

holistic herbal summer skin care

Herbal Summer Skin Care Inside & Out

It’s finally looking a bit like summer here in Halifax, and especially after a long winter indoors, our skin is more susceptible to sun damage. Incorporate these herbal remedies into your summer skin care routine for healthy, happy skin.

In this post we’ll share some practical ways to reduce sun exposure, herbs that have healing benefits for different skin conditions, and ways to use those herbs in skin care recipes to nourish and protect your skin. We’ll also talk about healing your skin from the inside with nutritive teas and a healthy diet.

PRACTICAL SUN CARE

The best way to reduce sun damage is to reduce exposure during peak sun hours. I know you probably want to run outside and soak up every drop of sun while it lasts, but it’s best to start gradually in early summer so you don’t burn. It’s ok to get some sun exposure, but the most critical risk factor is burns. It’s most important to avoid sun burns to prevent disease. Avoid getting burnt with these practical tips. 

  • Gradual exposure in early summer
  • Avoid peak sun exposure during the summer, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Cover up with light clothing
  • Seek shade during peak hours
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Avoid burns
  • Get enough sun exposure – small, frequent doses

Sunscreen is not a failsafe method of avoiding burns, so it’s important that you don’t fall into a sense of false security, thinking that because you used sunscreen, you’ll be fine. Sunscreen wears off over time, and in water and sweat, and can’t be relied upon for complete protection from the sun.

Topical Summer Skin Care

Our skin is sensitive and absorbent to what is applied to it. Chemicals found in skin care products will soak through to deeper tissues of the body, which can then make their way to urine, blood and breast milk.  There are short and long term cautions and potential harm stemming from the use of certain chemicals found in sunscreens and other skin care products.

Read the ingredients when choosing a sunscreen and look for ingredients that are effective and not harmful.

Choosing a Sunscreen

A great resource for helping you choose a sunscreen is this website.

Environmental Working Group – 13th Annual Guide to Sunscreens

https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/

Types of Sunscreen to Avoid

Skin is not an impermeable barrier, and many harmful chemicals that can be absorbed into the skin. Some chemicals in sunscreen are potentially toxic, and hormone disrupting. Avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone, PABA and trolamine salicylate, vitamin A.

Although Vitamin A is beneficial when ingested, it is harmful when applied topically and combined with sun exposure. Vitamin A might be listed under other names such as Retinol, Retinals, provitamin A, or beta-carotene.

Avoid artificial fragrances, and choose sunscreens with pure essential oils instead.

Spray sunscreens may seem convenient, but they are a respiratory irritant and potentially toxic. It’s best to smear on sunscreen the old fashioned way.

Higher SPF (sun protection factory)  is not necessarily better. There is also debate about whether or not the really high spf sunscreens (40, 50+) offer any more benefit than SPF 30. The SPF scale is not linear, and although SPF 30 sounds like twice as much protection as SPF 15, that’s not actually the case. In reality, SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays and SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays, so it’s better to focus on getting a high quality sunscreen rather than a really high SPF.

Ingredients to Look For in Sunscreen

Titanium dioxide and Zinc oxide, which are safe, effective sunblocks.

Even though you’re choosing a safe, effective sunscreen that meets all the right criteria, it’s not a foolproof solution.

  • Sunscreen alone is not enough protection.
  • Melanoma on the rise, despite the increased use of sunscreen.
  • Sunscreens are designed to prevent sunburn but don’t necessarily offer protection against UV damage to DNA and skin cells.

Don’t forget to wash off your sunscreen at the end of the day.

Uses for herbal summer skin care: after sun care, heat rash, treatment of burns, protection from skin damage, bug bites, wounds, infections

Herbs for Summer Skin Care

Medicinal herbs can also benefit your skin. Some nourish your skin from the inside, and some can be used in luxurious recipes to pamper your skin, or soothe it after sun exposure.

There are several herbs that are especially beneficial to the skin, for a wide variety of ailments, including summer sun care.

Calendula is easy to grow, and it has anti-inflammatory and soothing properties when applied to the skin. It’s not too late to grow right now. You can still plant it in Halifax and get a late summer harvest.

Wild rose petals are fabulous for skin care. You can get rose water from most Middle Eastern or Mediterranean grocery stores, and you can use it as a nice cooling spritzer in the summer.

Lavender flower, like rose and calendula, is soothing, especially if you’ve had a burn. Lavender essential oil is a great thing to be included in a skin care recipe.

Violet grows wild all over Nova Scotia. It has a heart-shaped leaf, and white or purple flowers. The heart shaped leaves have both tannins and mucilage, which makes them both toning and soothing. 

herbs for summer skin careRose water is also astringent, tones and tightens the pores. If you’re in Halifax, you can get rose water at Mid East Food Centre

Plantain is a common weed that is abundant in lawns. Like violet, it’s both mucilaginous and astringent. It can be used the same as violet, and it’s also good for stings, and mosquito and black fly bites. Chew it up in your mouth until it gets pulpy, and apply it to your sting or bite. Leave it on for about 10 minutes. It will alleviate the pain and itching.

Chickweed is a common weed that is specific for itchy skin. After mosquito bites, you can chew it into a pulp and apply it like plantain, or use it in a cream or lotion. Chickweed is also a good addition to a herbal tea mixture, because it’s cooling and refreshing, and can soothe you from the inside out. Chickweed is also helpful for moving lymph, so if you’re one who gets really swollen from bites, chickweed will help reduce the swelling.

Chamomile is another cooling, anti-inflammatory herb that is good for topical care. Chamomile and lavender are a great combination if you’ve got a bit of a glow from too much sun.

St. John’s wort is not a herbal sunscreen, as some believe, but it is good for after-sun care. It’s particularly helpful for inflamed skin and burns. It would be a good addition to a herbal oil, lotion or cream.

One thing to note is that taking St. John’s wort internally makes us photosensitive, so if you know you’re going to be in the sun a lot, it’s a good idea to avoid taking St. John’s wort internally, either in tincture or tea form.

Oats are great for itch and inflammation. If your whole body is itchy or needs some cooling after-sun TLC, take a bath in coconut milk and oats. Bree Hyland of Barre Studio recommends pouring a can of coconut milk into your bath and add a sock full of oats. When the oats are good and steeped in the bath water, squeeze the milk out of the sock.

If you want to go out foraging for these herbal treasures, we’ve got some wildcrafting tips for you.

Summer Skin Care Preparations

Baths

Baths are great for full coverage, when your whole body needs attention.

Make a really strong tea with calendula, rose, lavender. Double or triple the proportions that you would for drinking tea.

To make 2 L of tea, steep a full cup of dried herbs or 2 cups of fresh herbs in 2L of boiled water, then add it to the bath.

Lotions, oils, salves.

Oils infused with herbs are excellent for after sun care.

Oils are herbal infusions in an oil such as olive, almond, sunflower, or grapeseed. The oils have the ability to extract the plant chemical into the oil. You can use the oil directly on your skin, or you could prepare an oil and then convert that into a salve.

Salves or ointments. A salve is an oil-based preparation mixed with beeswax to make it solid so it’s a bit easier to apply.

Lotions are water based. You would mix a herbal water or tea with oil and emulsify it.

Compresses & Poultices

Compresses & poultices are local remedies involving wrapping up the skin with herbal medicines. A compress refers to making a strong herbal brew, soaking a cotton cloth in the tea. and wrapping up the area.

A poultice is similar to a compress, but instead of making a tea, you actually make pulp with the whole plant material and put it in direct contact with your skin.

Spritzers

Spritzers are great for cooling relief after too much sun exposure. Rose and orange flower water are available at most middle Eastern food stores. If you can find chamomile or lavender floral waters, they are also excellent for skin.

Herbal summer skin care from the inside

In addition to after sun care, and remedies for bug bites, it’s also important to get the right nutrients to keep our skin healthy. We can get nutrients from plants in herbal teas, herbal vinegars, and eating a healthy diet.

Herbal Teas

Herbal teas offer antioxidants, which are important for protecting your cells. Calendula, thyme, rosemary fresh from the garden make a yummy and uplifting tea that is rich in antioxidants. Some other high-antioxidant teas are green tea, dandelion leaves, parsley, and watercress.  

Herbal Vinegars  

Nutrition is another important element of healthy skin, and herbal vinegars are a great source of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium,

Making herbal vinegar is a great thing to do with spring greens. Chop up some greens and steep them in apple cider vinegar for a couple of weeks. Strain the vinegar, and then you can use it in salad dressings. There are LOTS of types of greens you can do this with, including horsetail, dandelion, evergreen tips, stinging nettles and more.

Sour Food & Drink

In Ayurveda, the ancient science of healthy lifestyle, the six tastes are associated with the increase or decrease of specific energetic properties. The sour taste is cooling, so it’s great to sip on a sour drink in summer. You can make a delicious, refreshing iced tea with hibiscus, rosehip, and hawthorn berries. Add the herbs and let them simmer for about 15 minutes, then cool it with ice and float some orange slices in it.

Diet

Increase your intake of antioxidant nutrients that offer protection from free radical damage from the sun.  These include vitamins A, C and E, and zinc and selenium. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables (5-9 servings per day), whole grains, nuts and seeds will supply these and other important nutrients for protection at the cellular level. In the spring and summer, it should be easy to get all your veggies.

Nuts and seeds have Vitamin E and Zinc. A great way to add these to your diet is adding walnuts or sunflower seeds to pesto. You can even add some other spring greens in there besides basil, and you’ll be getting a variety of minerals, too.

The skin is nourished and hydrated by adding essential fatty acids to the diet – fish, flax and hemp seed oils can be used in salad dressings and smoothies. If you eat fish, go for mackerel, sardines, wild salmon if you can get it.

Vitamin D: the “sunshine vitamin”

Vitamin D is another important consideration when it comes to summer skin care. We need sun exposure on our skin to activate the synthesis of Vitamin D in our bodies. Vitamin D is linked to the prevention of colon cancer and other cancers, diabetes, allergies, and many other ailments, and it’s known to improve bone health. Vitamin D production may be inhibited by sunscreen. It’s important, especially in northern climates to make sure we get enough sun exposure. This is a great reason to enjoy the sun, and to not approach the sun with fear.

With all these ways to take care of your skin with herbal remedies and nutritive herbs in your diet, there’s no reason not to get out there and enjoy the sun!
Have a great summer!

How to Create Your Own Herbal Materia Medica

The term “materia medica” is latin for “healing materials.” In herbal medicine it refers to the body of knowledge that describes how plants can be used for healing purposes. The term dates back to Roman times when Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides published a five-volume work called De Materia Medica. De Materia Medica was a widely used resource for 1500 years, until updated herbals were written in the Renaissance, one of which is Carl Linnaeus’ Materia Medica. (Linnaeus is the father of modern taxonomy, and the reason why we have standard, international botanical names.)

Carl Linnaeus' Materia Medica

Monographs for your Materia Medica

 

A materia medica includes a collection of herbal monographs. A monograph is an organized set of information about a specific plant, collected into a report. A monograph can be a brief description of only a page, or it can be many pages. They often have the same key sections of information about the plant, including description, medicinal actions, growing habitat, and more.

It’s great to have a library of herbal reference books, but it’s even better to collect information about plants that you already have experience with, and grow your own personal materia medica as you gain first-hand experience with more and more plants. Reference books will have many plants that you haven’t used or don’t have access to, so I recommend collecting information about each plant that you do use, and have space in your materia medica to record your own observations as you meet the plant. Your senses can tell you a lot about the plant, so make room to record tastes, observations and experiences.

 

Herbal materia medica books at Bloom

As you embark on a journey of herbal learning, it’s a good idea to start collecting monographs and expand your notes as you learn.

Here’s a long list of possible sections to consider including in your monographs, depending on your interests. Look through the list and make a template for yourself of the information that’s important to you. 

General

Name
Latin Name
Family
Safety
Description
Habitat
Harvest Month
Related Species
Geographic Range
Sustainability Issues
Harvesting Guidelines

Medical

Parts Used
Actions
Preparations
Uses
Doses
Tastes
Energetics
Key Constituents
References & Research

Cultivation

Zones
Soil
Size
Propagation
Siting
Problem Insects and Diseases

Other Information

Culinary Uses
Folklore
Magical Uses

Materia Medica Formats

So how should you collect all of this information?

The first decision is whether you want to collect the information in hard copy, or digitally.

A paper method is easy and versatile in that you can make it like a scrap-book. You can easily include , and The advantage of digital methods is that they are searchable and expandable. The downside is that it is not as tactile or accessible. It might be easier and more enjoyable for some people to simply keep a binder of monographs, and then easily add more pages. 

Paper Methods

Binder

A binder is a cheap and easy way to collect pages, and you can easily expand your materia medica as your knowledge grows. Another pro is that there are page protectors and clear sleeves that you can use to keep recipe cards, magazine clippings or even pressed herbs.

Disc-Bound Notebook

A step up from a binder, which I prefer, is a notebook with disc binding. Setting up a disc-bound system is more expensive than just getting a binder because you need a special hole punch, but once you have the punch, you can add any page to a disc-bound notebook, just like you could to a binder.

The main advantage is that the cover can fold back on itself so it’s much easier to carry around and take notes. The other potential advantage is that there are many accessories available, if you like to customize your notebook. You can get rulers, pouches, dividers, sticky-notes and all sorts of things that snap into the special discs. There’s also a wide variety of covers available.

Disc-bound systems are available at Staples (called the Arc system) and at Michael’s (called Happy Planner). The Arc system is a good way to start; it’s simple and utilitarian.

Index Cards

Correne at Spirea Herbs loves her index card system. She uses a card per plant and keeps them all in a a box, like recipe cards. This method is great if know you’re only collecting notes, but it obviously can’t accommodate add-ons, like pressed flowers or large images.

Digital Methods

Word Processor

If you want your herbal monographs to be searchable, but you would also like to print them so you can flip through them easily, you can keep them all in one document. In Google Docs, you can have one long document with all your plant information, and if you use the built-in hierarchy of header formats (H1, H2, H3, etc) you can auto-generate a table of contents at the beginning that will automatically update when you add new plants and sections. Instead of scrolling, you can jump to the right section by clicking in the table of contents.

Google doc with table of contents for materia medica

Database

I like disc-bound notebooks, but my absolute favourite method of collecting information is in a database.

If you’re a little bit tech savvy, you can collect your information in a database to make it easily searchable. Technically, the information in a database wouldn’t be a “monograph” because it’s a collection of information about several herbs, but the information in one record could be re-formatted into a monograph.

Database Terminology

A database is simply a structured method of organizing information on a computer.

A record is the collected information about one subject. The record contains fields, which are the categories of information about that record.

For example, you would have a record for each plant, and that record could contain fields of information such as Latin Name, Actions, Contraindications, Growing Habitat, etc.

The magic of a database is the versatility of organization. You can search for exactly what you’re looking for, and can arrange and visualize your records of plants in any way you want. You could search for a specific action or use, or for example, if you have a field for “Flower Colour” you could group your plants by flower colour, or if you have a field for “Harvest Month” you could arrange them by month.

My favourite database software is AirTable.  It’s an easy, free, online database software. It looks similar to a spreadsheet, but has many options for field types and displaying your data. You can even insert images and view your database like a gallery.

Just to give you some inspiration of how you can organize information with AirTable, I found this Base of someone’s garden almanac and this one with someone’s seed records. You can easily create your own custom database for organizing your plant knowledge. You can even make a table to keep track of inventory or medicines you’ve made, all in one place.

To help get you started, I’ve made this Google Doc Materia Medica template for you. If you choose Google Docs as your method for your materia medica, you can just copy and paste the template over and over to add more plants to your list. Make sure to keep a blank template to copy at th ebottom of the document before you start filling it in. And you can, of course, delete any fields you don’t want to fill in.

And if you decide to make your materia medica in another medium, you can always use this as a reference for the kinds of information you might want to include.

The sooner you start collecting and organizing your plant data, the better! Your collection will grow and grow as you become familiar with more herbs, so it’s best to build a good foundation.

If you’re interested in building your herbal medicine knowledge, and developing a relationship for each of the plants that you study, consider enrolling in Holistic Herbal Wellness. The course is one day a month throughout a whole year so you’ll get dozens of monographs to build your collection, but more importantly, you’ll get out in the forests and fields to meet each plant in season.

The class starts in September. Register now if you’re planning on going, because you can get the early bird price until June 15th.

common myths about herbal medicine

Common Myths About Herbal Medicine

There are many myths and misconceptions about herbal medicine. Some have a bit of truth to them, but many are preventing people from trying a very effective healing modality. Here’s the truth about the most common myths we encounter.

#1   Herbal medicine is not supported by research.

There is a growing body of research related to herbal medicine. Many healing properties of herbs have been known for generations, and every year, more healing plants are being “discovered” by science.

Scientific evidence is important, but there is also a lot you can determine about a plant by using your senses. The taste, smell and colour of a plant can tell you a lot about the plant’s properties, as can the sensations you experience when you pay close attention to your body’s reaction to it.

 

#2  I can’t take herbal medicine if I’m taking allopathic medications.

It’s true that some herbs do interact with allopathic medications, but that doesn’t mean the two are mutually exclusive.

A qualified herbal practitioner will know which herbs interact with which medications, and there are many herbs that can be taken along with medication to support the immune system and general health. Many herbs are gentle and nutritive, giving the body the vitamins and minerals it needs to repair itself without interacting with other medications.

It is always important to check for contra-indications before taking any new medicine, allopathic or herbal. Inform your herbal practitioner about all medications you are taking, and inform your doctor about the herbs you are taking.

 

#4 Herbal medicine is natural, so it’s always safe.

Herbs are safe, when used properly at the recommended dose, but natural doesn’t always mean safe. Some herbal medicines are very potent, and care must be taken to use the correct dose, for the proper length of time.

There are many gentle tonic herbs that are generally safe and non-toxic. These are safe for most people, barring any contraindications.

Herbs and herbal preparations vary in potency, and many plants are toxic in high doses, but when given in the appropriate dose by a trained herbalist, even some toxic plants can be effective treatment for certain conditions.

 

#5 Herbs must be taken for weeks or months before they work.

This is not always true. All herbs work differently depending on what they’re being used for. They may be needed for a long time to treat chronic conditions and bring the body back into balance, however some treatments can take effect after just one dose, or even a taste. The pungent herbs such as cayenne pepper, ginger and horseradish can stimulate the sinuses within minutes.  Plantain poultice applied to a bee sting will take away the pain and draw out the stinger within 10 minutes. The bitter taste, found in herbs such as dandelion root, will stimulate digestion immediately.

 

#6 Herbal medicine is expensive.

Not all forms of herbal preparation are expensive. Herbal remedies in pill and tincture form tend to be most expensive when purchasing from a retail shop.  Herbal teas are relatively inexpensive, costing as little as $5 for a bulk herbal tea to last 4 weeks.

Many herbal preparations such as tinctures, syrups and salves can be made at home, from herbs grown in your garden or sustainably harvested in the wild, which significantly reduces costs.

 

#7 Herbal medicine is the same as homeopathy.

Herbal medicine and homeopathy are two completely different therapies.

Homeopathy is a form of energy healing, in which the essence of a plant, animal or mineral. The substance is diluted to such a degree that there are no molecules left of the original substance in the final product.

Herbal medicine uses medicine from plants – either using the whole plant, or parts of the plant, and a variety of extraction methods, to make the active constituents available.

 

How to Safely Reap the Benefits of Herbal Medicine

#1 Positively identify plants

Going for a herb walk is a great way to get introduced to plants in their habitats. If there are no herb walks happening around you, get a good field guide and use it to familiarize yourself with the plants in your area. Our favourite field guide is the Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. 

#2 Consult with a professional herbalist

Find more information about our clinic here.

#3 Disclose any medications you are taking to your herbal practitioner & disclose any herbs you are taking to your medical doctor

If you plan to take both pharmaceuticals and herbal medicines, both your doctor and herbal practitioner should be know what you’re already taking to avoid prescribing conflicting remedies.

 

My Herbal Medicine Healing Story

Years ago, at the onset of my studies in herbal medicine, I was struggling with a lingering illness.  I consulted with a herbalist and the results boosted my confidence in the career path I had chosen.

 

When I was in my early twenties, travelling in India, I got dysentery, which is a debilitating infection of the intestinal system. I’ve never been more ill  and miserable, I thought I would die. I was in bed for three days with fever, delirium, diarrhea, and vomiting, followed by another three days in bed, too weak to get up.

 

The only thing I could consume was peppermint tea. I was unwell for many days after and never fully recovered from the infection. I continued to experience diarrhea, bloating, gas and digestive pain for the duration of my travels and my eventual return to Canada.  

 

By the time I arrived in Vancouver to begin my herbal studies I had been living with a chronic bowel condition for six months.

Healed by Herbal Medicine

Thankfully, I found my way to Gaia Garden Herbals and attended their student training clinic (much like ours at Bloom). I consulted with a herbal practitioner and several herbal medicine students, who created a herbal and dietary protocol to address my digestive health. I took a herbal tea three times daily, a tincture and a paste made from marshmallow root powder.

marshmallow blossomOnce I started taking herbal medicine, my recovery was rapid.

 

Within about one week I had noticeable improvements. By the time I returned for my first follow-up session a month later I was feeling 50% better. After three months following this program I was 95% better, and my condition continued to improve as long as I ate a healthy diet.

 

This was my first personal experience of herbal healing and the launch into my career as a herbal practitioner. It was a truly inspirational start to a twenty-year path of herbal healing.

Holistic Herbal Wellness Course

Discovering herbal medicine has changed my life in a profound way, and I’ve made it my life’s work to share this knowledge with others. That’s why I created the Holistic Herbal Healing course 15 years ago. In this course you’ll learn the value of the healing plants all around you. We’ll go outside and meet the plants in their habitats, learn how to harvest them and make medicines with them. You’ll learn about the systems of your body and how using whole-plant medicines can support your general health year-round, and treat specific conditions when needed.

 

There are healing plants all around you, just waiting to be discovered.

 

Learn more about Holistic Herbal Wellness program here.

Herbal Tonics for Optimal Health

You can What is a tonic?  Is it the same as a remedy? Read on to learn the difference between a herbal tonic and a remedy, and find Savayda’s favourite tonics for each body system for optimal health. 

Remedies and tonics are two different uses of herbal medicines. Some plants are both remedies and tonics, depending on how they’re being used and what they’re combined with. A qualified herbalist can determine how best to use a herb to either boost a bodily system or to treat a specific condition. For example, Hawthorn is a gentle tonic for the cardiovascular system, but can also be used to treat hypertension. Elecampane boosts lung health, but is also an expectorant and can be used to treat bronchitis.

 

Each herb has many phytochemical constituents, which means it has many potential uses, and many could be either a tonic, remedy or both. This whole-herb approach is very different than the allopathic approach, which separates and reduces the plants to single molecules, and aims to match each ailment with a specific constituent.

 

Herbalists are more comfortable with the complexity of both plants and people, and knowing which herbs to use and when, is the art and science of herb combining.

 

Tonics Optimize Health

 

A tonic is a mild approach that is used to restore and strengthen a system of the body or to promote optimal health and well-being. One way that tonics differ from remedies is that a tonic will give improvement even in a healthy state, whereas a remedy is aimed at treating a problem, but doesn’t alter an already-healthy system.

I like to compare herbal tonics to plant foods, we eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to supply us with the nutrients we need for basic healthy function.

 

A herbal tonic is generally thought of as a herb or combination of herbs that are gentle and nourishing, either to the whole body or to specific organs or systems. The mild herbs are used to promote a tonic action, often spread over many weeks or months to restore or support general health. They are used to bring balance to chronic conditions or to support general wellness and prevention of dis-ease.  

 

Herbal tonics can be taken periodically, rotating through different tonics for different systems. You could focus on a different system every month or every season.

 

A tonic may come in the form of a tincture, tea or herbal vinegar.

 

Tinctures are sometimes referred to as a tonic, which they may be in action, but tincture specifically refers to the preparation method of extracting the medicinal properties from herbs using alcohol. The terms tonic and tincture are not interchangeable.

 

Remedies Treat Ailments

 

Herbal tonics complement remedies. They help keep a healthy person healthy and offer support for the body’s systems, while remedies work to correct an imbalance or treat a specific ailment.

 

Like tonics , remedies come in different forms – teas, tinctures, syrups, etc, but the difference is that remedies offer a more direct input to the body’s healing processes.

 

Examples: St. John’s wort is a remedy for depression, calendula is a remedy for wounds, elderberry is a remedy for viral infections, turmeric is a remedy for inflammation.

 

Tonics as Remedies

In some cases, tonics can be an integral part of a remedy, and tonics can also supply a remedial action over the long them. Sometimes the use of general tonics can correct underlying problems, and long term use of tonics is one healing strategy.

 

This gentle strategy of long-term tonic use is ideal for people in weakened states, such as recovering from a major illness or surgery, children or the elderly. In these cases, the herbalist wouldn’t want to over-activate their system with strong herbs, so gentle remedies are better tolerated.

 

As an example, a herbalist might use tonics to support the immune and nervous systems of a patient undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, when their system couldn’t handle the addition of stronger treatments.

 

Savayda’s Favourite Tonics for Optimal Health for Each System

Hawthorn [Crataegus spp.] for the Cardiovascular System

Hawthorn is Savayda’s favourite tree. Named for its intimidating thorns, hawthorn is a very useful plant for heart health. It helps correct both high and low blood pressure, and strengthens veins and arteries. It’s a core herb to use for any cardiovascular conditions.

In addition to the physical heart, hawthorn also offers support for the emotional heart. It is good for protection and resilience when going through emotional difficulty.

Oatseed [Avena sativa] for the Nervous System

 

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Oatseed comes from the same plant as the oats commonly used for food in oatcakes and granola, but oatseed refers to the immature green, milky seed, before it matures into cereal oats. Oatseed balances the nervous system from the extremes of anxiety or depression and restores strength and energy to the nervous system when exhausted.

Raspberry Leaf [Rubus ideaus] for the Uterus

Good as a tea or herbal vinegar, raspberry leaf is used as a tonic post-partum or in late pregnancy. It’s also beneficial for women who are having some menstrual difficulties. It gives strength to the uterus so it functions better, and results in fewer menstrual cramps, and faster recovery, restoring tone to the uterus.

Partridge Berry [Mitchella repens] as a Fertility Tonic for Both Men and Women

Traditionally used to improve fertility due to its influence on normalizing endocrine hormones in both males and females.

Damiana [Turnera diffusa] for Prostate Function

Damiana is a mild hormone normalizer and general restorative for men.

Horsetail [Equisetum arvense] for Skin, Hair & Nails

High in silica and other minerals, horsetail is the best tonic for strengthening brittle nails and fine hair. It delivers required nutrients, acting like a food that encourages growth and strength.

Elecampane [Inula helenium] for the Respiratory System

A warming herb that soothes bronchial tube linings and acts as an expectorant for lung cleansing, and has a relaxing effect on smooth tracheal muscle.

Gotu Kola [Centella asiatica] for the Brain

Gingko biloba is often championed as an exceptional herb for the brain, but it is actually more of a remedy than a tonic. While Gingko biloba has direct action by improving blood flow for focus & memory, it is usually taken when there’s a deficit. In contrast, Gotu Kola can be taken in a healthy state, and also improves mental functioning. Gotu Kola is not too stimulating, and is more stabilizing and good for overactive or underactive brains.

Dandelion [Taraxacum officinalis]  for Digestion

Its bitter taste signifies its effect on the digestive system. Bitters tune up and gently stimulate the whole digestive system.

Astragulus [Astragalus propinquus] for Immunity

Astragulus helps to ensure that the body’s white blood cell count is where it should be. Produced in bone marrow, white blood cells are a critical part of the body’s defense system and should be ready to be called into action when needed.

Milk Thistle [Silybum marianum] for the Liver


Milk thistle is like nutritive food for the liver, helping to restore liver cells and protect them from damage.

Blueberry [Vaccinium] for the Eyes

You’re probably aware that blueberries are a powerhouse of antioxidants but did you know they’re also good for your eyes? They contain anthocyanadins that strengthen the blood vessels in the eyes, and can reduce the risk of cataracts and glaucoma.

Nutritive Herbs for the Musculoskeletal System

The best tonic for the musculoskeletal system is proper nutrition, and there are many herbs that can help you make sure you get your vitamins and minerals. Nettle, dandelion leaf, horsetail, and plantain are great spring greens that can be eaten whole, or made into mineral-rich vinegars. You can forage lots of nutritive herbs. Check out our Foraging Guide.

Adaptogens for Your Whole Being

Adaptogens behave like tonics, helping the whole body to resist stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical or biological. These herbs and roots have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions to promote optimize health, and are having a renaissance today. Common adaptogens include eleuthero, withania and schizandra.

 

Conclusion

Tonics are a wonderful first foray into the world of herbal medicine, and a great way to optimize your health. 

Remedies and tonics are not the same thing, but they can complement each other or be used for different purposes. Tonics are more nutritive and balancing, remedies treat specific conditions. Tonic herbs are generally safe for use for self care, but make sure you check for contraindications before taking any new herb. Although they are generally gentle for healthy bodies, the plants can still have strong effects that may interact with other medications or conditions.

 

Wildcrafting Tips & Best Practices

Savayda wildcrafting fireweed in a meadow. | Bloom InstituteWildcrafting is a great way to benefit from herbal medicine without breaking the bank. There’s a wide variety of healing medicinal herbs in Nova Scotia, and every season offers something different to harvest.

Wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting plants from their natural habitat for food or medicinal purposes. (The word “foraging” is often used for food and “wildcrafting” for herbal medicines, but they are interchangeable). Wildcrafted herbs can be used in a variety of medicines like tinctures, herbal salves, and infusions, and when done mindfully, you can reap the benefits of wild herbal medicines without disturbing the ecosystem.

Benefits of Wildcrafting

Wild plants are more potent and nutrient-dense than their monoculture counterparts because they come from richer terrain, often in relatively undisturbed meadows and forests. Commercial farms often have depleted soil, or only feed the plants with isolated nutrients.

It’s also a great way to enjoy the outdoors. You can bring a friend for a relaxing expedition. And when you return home, there are many easy herbal remedies you can make with your harvest of wild plants.

Wildcrafting herbs for food and medicine can support your efforts to:

  • eat nutrient-dense foods
  • reduce dependence on imported food and medicine
  • reduce dependence on Big Agro
  • enjoy nature
  • keep yourself healthy with natural tonics & remedies

You can also bring along family and friends and build community at the same time.

And just how many useful plants are out there? TONS! In one afternoon in northern New Brunswick, I identified 28 useful plants on one property, and there were definitely more I didn’t identify. Once you learn to identify some useful plants, you will see they are everywhere. Many useful plants are so prolific they are also known as weeds.

What to Bring When You Go Wildcrafting

You don’t need many tools to wildcraft, but there are a few essentials that will help your excursion go smoothly. Primarily, you’ll need something to carry your harvest in, and you might need some tools to detach the plants from the forest.

Baskets are great for short trips, and large paper bags are great for longer ones. Don’t store herbs in plastic because they can decompose quickly in the sun.

Depending on what you plan to harvest, you might need something for cutting, digging and snipping. You’ll want a trowel if you’re digging roots, and bring a good knife if you have to cut bark, or roots, and some kitchen shears or scissors for snipping greenery or flowers.

I love this hori hori digging knife for all sorts of wildcrafting and gardening tasks.It has one straight blade and one serrated blade and it is curved so it functions as a knife and a trowel. Another handy tool is a vegetable brush to clean roots with, to minimize the dirt you take with you. If you’re harvesting mushrooms, bring a paintbrush instead of a vegetable brush to avoid damaging them.

If you’re exploring a new area, a great field guide will help you identify useful plants. In my area (Halifax, Nova Scotia) Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs is the standard for medicinal plants, and here is the version for edible plants.  Another good, comprehensive one for this region that includes lots of pictures is Lone Pine’s Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada. The other nice thing about the Lone Pine guide is that it has both edible and medicinal plants in one volume.

Wildcrafting Packing List

  • baskets, paper bags, cloth bags
  • pruning shears or scissors
  • knife or trowel or both
  • a veggie brush for roots, or paintbrush for mushrooms
  • a field guide
  • camera
  • flower press
  • snacks and water
  • a notebook and/or sketchbook

What to Wear When You Go Wildcrafting

The type of habitat and the weather will impact your clothing choice. Something to think about will be the density of vegetation, and the possibility of muddy ground. It’s a good idea to wear long pants if you’re going into the forest or tall grasses,

Wildcrafting Best Practices

Get to Know Your Plant

Make sure you’re positive of the plant’s identity. When in doubt, leave it. For an introduction to some useful plants, it’s a great idea, and a lot of fun to take a class with a local expert. Bloom Institute’s Holistic Herbal Wellness Program is a year-long program that will immerse you in nature in Atlantic Canada and give you firsthand experience in identifying and using local medicinal plants.

When you’re encountering a new plant, it can tell you a lot about itself if you take the time to get to know it. The smell, texture and colour can sometimes give you clues as to what the plant’s uses are, and often a contemplative taste will also let you intuit what the plant does medicinally. One example is the soothing smell of linden that you might correctly guess is soothing and good for your heart.

wildcrafting dandelions | bloominstitute.ca

Harvest Plant Parts in the Proper Season

As the plants experience the cycle of seasons, different parts of them hold the most nutrients and medicine, and different parts will be available at different times. By harvesting each part in the best season, you’ll get the best yield and most potent medicine for your efforts.

LEAVES: In spring, before the flowers have blossomed, the leaves are at their most tender, clean and relatively untouched by bugs. After flowers appear, the leaves can become tough and tasteless or bitter. Harvest leaves before they fade in colour, wither, or get eaten by insects.

FLOWERS: If you’re after flowers, then obviously you also have a specific window for each flower in which to harvest. Pick buds just before they open, or flowers that have just opened and before the start to wilt. Some flowers start appearing in early spring and some species are still blooming in late fall, but most varieties appear in summer.

ROOTS: Roots are best harvested as late as possible, before the first frost. This is when the energy of the plant subsides into the ground, preparing for winter, but after the first frost, they’re sometimes damaged and spongey. It is especially important when gathering roots that you harvest no more than 10% of the population.

SEEDS: Collect seeds when they are ripe. Leave seeds on the plant to sun-ripen as long as possible, but harvest just before the wind distributes them. You can tell when they’re ready by the little stem that attaches the seed parts to the rest of the plant. If the stem is dry, the seeds are ready. Yellowed leaves can also be an indicator of ripe seeds. Collect them by putting a paper bag over the plant and cutting the stem. Always leave the majority of seeds there for the plant to return next year.

BARK: Harvest bark in spring or fall, ideally from recently fallen branches, not from the main trunk. Never harvest more than 10% of the circumference.

Harvest in the Morning

The best time to harvest is on a sunny morning right after the dew has dried. You don’t want to harvest wet plants on damp days, or in hot sun because the plants will wilt too quickly.

Practice Gratitude

Harvesting your own food and medicine is a great time to notice the abundance of nature, the interconnection of all living things, and to appreciate the importance of maintaining the ecosystem that provides this treasure.  When you find a patch of herb you want to gather, take a moment to attune to the plant and be thankful for the gift of mother nature.

Be A Steward of the Ecosystem

The most important thing is to gather with mindfulness for the continued abundance of the plant and its ecosystem. Never harvest rare and endangered plants. Always leave enough plants that they will replenish. Leave flowers for the bees, seeds and berries for the other critters, and for the plant to continue to thrive. Don’t harvest more than one root out of ten, and re-cover any remaining roots you have disturbed. Only pick what you can process.

Over-harvesting can decimate a plant population in a given area, and depending on what you’re harvesting, you can also disrupt other critters, so you want to be mindful that you’re leaving enough for the forest, the birds & the bees.

Harvest less than 10% of the population in a given area, especially if you are harvesting roots.

Most importantly, if a plant is rare in your area don’t harvest or disturb it. Many medicinal plants are at risk, so it’s good to check which ones are at risk in your area. There’s a list at United Plant Savers. If you’re in Atlantic Canada, check the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre‘s list.

Keep Good Records

One thing you’ll want to do now that will make your foraging easier in the future is to keep a good record of when you saw which plants, so you’ll be able to predict the perfect time to harvest each plant for next season. Each season when the first of each plant pops up, jot it down and next year you’ll be glad you did.

To help you keep great notes, I created a free printable Wildcrafting Log for you. It’s a printable A5 page with space for you to write down the details of your harvest. Its minimal, bullet journal style is just enough guidance to remind you of some things you should write down, but blank enough to let you add your own sketches and style. Sign up at the bottom of this post to download your copy.

Beginner Plants to Wildcraft in Nova Scotia

Coltsfoot

The first flower of spring in Nova Scotia, Coltsfoot can be identified by the unusual fact that the flowers grow on a stem straight out of the ground before any leaves appear. Harvest the flowers in early spring, making sure to leave most of them for the bees.
Coltsfoot honey can be made into a honey for coughs.

 

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Golden Rod

Goldenrod is a prolific plant found in open areas, such as meadows, prairies, and my backyard. Just tasting a goldenrod leaf can give you a sensation of cooling and freshness in your respiratory system, making it a popular remedy for colds and flu, taken as a tea.

 

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Ground Ivy

Ground Ivy, also knows as Creeping Charlie, is an invasive weed in the mint family. When infused in vinegar, it makes a beautiful pink potion that is a great addition to salad dressings. Research shows it has anti-inflammatory and diuretic activity.

 

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Japanese Knotweed

Please harvest knotweed! Knotweed is an invasive species that grows and spreads very quickly. The young spring shoots can be cooked and eaten like asparagus, or pickled. This is one exception to the 10% rule. Knotweed is extremely invasive and not native to Nova Scotia, and it is damaging our native ecosystems, so in this rare case, it is ok to harvest as much as you want.

 

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These are just a few to get you started, but there are dozens of local herbs to wildcraft here in Nova Scotia. Just remember to respect the habitat that you’re taking from: be thankful and don’t harvest more than 10% of the population.

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Savayda wildcrafting herbal medicine | Bloom Institute


Winter Forest Herbal Medicine Remedies

Herbal medicine is available for harvest throughout the year, even here in Nova Scotia. Pine and spruce are abundant. In this video you’ll learn some ways to identify them and use them to keep you healthy in winter.

Transcript:

I’m here in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and as you can probably see it’s winter here. It’s January. This park has edible and medicinal plants available to us year round, and in the winter we’re looking for the evergreens, some of which can be found at our feet, and we have many evergreen trees. Today we’re going to learn about pine and spruce, both abundant trees here in Nova Scotia.

These trees share many compounds in common, including acids, resins, essential oils, and anti-inflammatory compounds, so they have similar benefits to us. So I’ll start with the pine.

White Pine

This is white pine, and typically here in Nova Scotia, white pine grow to be quite tall and majestic. This is a young one, and you’ll know it’s a white pine because at the stem, they’ll have 5 long needles growing together from a single point. So that’s how you know the white pine from some of the other pine here. And I mentioned acids – ascorbic acid – pine is very high in ascorbic acid, which is Vitamin C. You can extract this by steeping it in apple cider vinegar for a few weeks, and it’ll not only extract the Vitamin C, but many other minerals and medicinal compounds.

Pine is one of my favourites for the urinary system. It’s a diuretic so it increases flow of urine, and will be helpful in cases of uric acid buildup, gout, and bladder infection. It has anti-infective properties for the bladder, also for the respiratory system and the sinuses.

Spruce

Much like its neighbour over here. So next to it we have a small spruce tree, another evergreen common in Nova Scotia. This tree, as you can see, the needles are much smaller, and they are rollable in the fingers, so you can detect the squarish, rollable quality of spruce. And spruce is probably my favourite winter remedy for the sinuses, so it’s very good to clear sinus congestion and inflammation whether that’s from a cold or flu, from allergies, or from a simple sinus infection.

Herbal Medicine Steam

And a herbal steam is a great way to make use of it for that purpose. You simply simmer the spruce tips in some water, put a towel over the head and inhale those fumes deep into the sinuses and also into the lungs if you have a lower respiratory infection. Within minutes you’ll have relief and breathe much better.

Evergreen Herbal Tea & Herbal Bath

Both of these would make a good tea, herbal tea for the respiratory system, and also a bath. During the winter when we’re chilly to the bone, and maybe our spirits are a little low. Both of these have an aroma that’s really uplifting to the senses, and awakening, just to help lift us out of the winter blues. And for that you’d make a very strong — about a litre and a half of tea, using a couple handfuls of each, simmered in the water for about 15 minutes and add it to the bath.

And for making a cup of tea for internal use, you just need a little bit, like one small length of either of the stems in a single cup of tea, simmered for about 10 minutes will do it, and then a half to one cup of tea a day is sufficient. They’re both quite very strong.

So while you’re out enjoying your winter walks, be on the lookout for these, take a few along the way, and enjoy them at home.

Be well. Thank you.

Bunchberry

Savayda finds bunchberry on the forest floor.

Bunchberry is a wild snack that is abundant in Nova Scotia. Learn its health benefits in this video.https://youtu.be/E4HG7nd8GE0

Hello, here we are on the forest floor again.

If your mother was anything like mine, she warned you not to eat the red fruit in the forest – that it might be poisonous. In fact there are many fruits in the forest, like this one here, that are safe to eat and quite delicious.

This one is bunchberry and it’s very popular throughout Nova Scotia and in shady, moist forests throughout Canada. It grows in bunches, so you’ll find bunches of them growing in colonies, and also there are bunches of these yummy berries growing on the stem together.

This red skin indicates that it’s high in antioxidants, in anthocyanadins in particular that help protect cells in our bodies from damage.

They’re also high in pectin, so the fibre in here is very good for digestive function. It lubricates and soothes the bowel and brings bulk to the stool, so it helps to promote regularity to digestive function.

Most importantly, this is just a yummy fruit. While you’re hiking you can just eat bunches of it and you can take some home with you to add to salads and to make a herbal vinegar. You simply steep these berries in apple cider vinegar for a couple of weeks, strain it off, and then you have this beautiful pink, delicious vinegar that’s high in minerals from the forest floor that you can add to your salads.

So, if you’d like to learn more about this plant, just get out there in the woods and just find it and eat it, and join us at the Bloom Institute for workshops and herb walks.

If you’re going out to forage for bunchberry, check out our foraging tips.