Working with a plant ally for a year
I have an intimate circle of friends. Nettles, comfrey, dandelion, burdock, violet, chickweed . . . These friends are my plant allies, a circle of a dozen or so plants that meet most of my wild food and medicinal needs.
While there can be a number of herbs in your wise woman herbal medicine chest, a powerful way to learn about herbal medicine is to work with one plant over the course of a year.
I prefer to align myself with these backyard herbal friends over some of the more exotic, foreign, rare or declining plants. The allies in my circle make themselves at home right at my door-step, they are local and abundant.
Over the years, I have developed friendships with many plants. Some plants, like nettle, were easy to get to know.
Building my relationship with burdock, however, took many seasons. Over the course of a year I learned the differences in her root, leaves and stem. I learned what was edible and what was too bitter, in what season the root tasted the best and when it was past its prime.
If you want to build a personal relationship with a plant, start by looking around. What plants do you see? It could be a plant you've noticed, and sometimes even resisted, for many seasons. Some of my students have told me that they had been fighting with the violet or dandelion in their yard for years before they realized it was a plant that had potent medicine and food to offer.
Exploring edible and medicinal uses of your plant ally
Harvest and eat the edible ones in the spring, summer and fall. Try the root and flowers as If your plant ally is edible, harvest and eat it in the spring, summer and fall. Try the root and flowers as well as the leaf (as long as all parts are edible). Pay attention to how your body responds to the plant. Discover aspects of your new friend.
Research and experiment with medicinal preparations that are appropriate for the plant you are working with. My students like to keep my Wise Woman Medicine Making Chart close at hand. It’s a concise summary of the primary herbal preparations—for the why's and how's of making herbal infusions, tinctures, vinegars, oils, and salves.
If you want to dive deeper into the nitty gritty of making herbal infusions and tinctures, see my blog article on making infusions and tinctures with simple and fun folk methods of our foremothers.
When you work intensively with one plant throughout the seasons, a powerful thing happens . . . your knowledge of herbal medicine grows through your hands-on experience. By developing these personal relationships with plants, we build a circle of plant allies. It is this circle of friends that will be there for us when we need them most.
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