Monday, August 25, 2008

Update on rendering beeswax

The beeswax is rendering quite well, although the summer months aren't quite cooperating. Supposedly it's August when it's really hot - still in the peak of summer, but here in the Methow we are experiencing temps in the 70's - and lots of cloudy rainy days - none of which are conducive to melting wax. So far we have two gallons of wax, with a half barrel more to go.

What you see in the photo is the "slum gum" left behind with the wonderful wax in the bread pan in the bottom. I hear the slum gum works great as a fire starter so we'll be giving that a try.

Here's a close up of the wax. We'll melt it again on the wood stove this winter to clean it up even more. Then we'll be making candles and putting some aside for salves.

Here's a toast to bees and their incredible gifts.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rendering Beeswax

An incredibly generous friend gifted me with a 55 gallon drum of un-rendered beeswax.

Another generous friend made me a solar still to turn this gloppy mess into pure beeswax for candles and salve making.

If you've never seen un-rendered beeswax, you'll immediately notice it's resemblance to alien intestines.

This picture doesn't quite portray the sticky, gloppy mess that this stuff is, nor can it demonstrate the beautiful beeswaxy smell that surprisingly emanates from it. My friend assures me that with the sun's help this will turn into beautiful beeswax.

Here's the solar still:

How it works, is you place the beeswax mix into the upper portion, close the window top and let the sun melt the mixture. It's melt at different times and the beeswax drips into a container down below. We've only just put the beeswax in, so I'll keep updating on it's progress.

Thanks to Dave and Gabe for making this project possible!

Braintanning Deer Hides

My husband has been busy this week scraping, soaking, and drying deer hides. These are actually hides from last fall that have been preserved until now. I can't wait until I have my full braintanned outfit.

If you've never seen this process or never felt the incredible end product you would be amazed. It's unbelievable to watch this bloody hairy hide turn into to some of the softest more durable fabric ever made - all with the help of bacteria, hard labor and you guessed it, brains.

What's even more amazing to me is that our ancestors figured out this complicated multi-step process all around the world.

Having braintanned clothing is one of our next steps in taking responsibility for our impact on the earth. 100% natural, local, and sustainable - these clothes shine in comparison with clothing shipped from overseas, made in sweatshops with deplorable conditions with fabrics grown with a multitude of pesticides. Plus, they are absolutely beautiful. I'll be sure to model my clothes as they become available.

Elderberry Capers

Elderberries are coming into season here in the Methow, but you can still find an abundance of unripe elderberries for this fabulous recipe. I first made this with my mentor, Karen Sherwood of Earthwalk Northwest.

This following recipe straight from Billy Joe Tatum's Wild Foods Cookbook, but I omit the sugar when making it for our family.

We enjoy these elderberries as we would regular capers - on fish, salads, and tuna fish sandwiches.

Elderberry capers:

2 cups unripe elderberries stems removed
¼ cup salt
1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
1 cup cider vinegar

1. Wash the green elderberries, drain well, and place in a sterile crock or jar.
2. Dissolve salt in water and pour over berries. Cover with a cloth and let stand for 2 days.
3. Drain elderberries or buds and pour into sterile half pint canning jars.
4. Boil sugar and vinegar together for 2 or 3 minute s and pour into jars (jars should fill to top) and seal at once.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Herbal First Aid

Dear friends of mine are getting married next week in Mexico where they've been living for the past year. They are traveling aficionados having met in Vietnam and traveled the world once over since. Always on the practical side I gave them a customized herbal first aid kit for their travels.

Here's what's in it:


Wormwood (Artemesia absinthium): This is an invaluable tincture while traveling. It can be used against parasites and food poisoning that manifests itself as cramping and diarrhea. I was unfortunately given the opportunity to use this tincture while traveling this year, although I am happy to report back how amazingly quick it helped to set my system right again. After eating some questionable food I had cramping and diarrhea for 24 hours. At first I decided to let it run its course, but after 24 hours I was facing a 6 hour bus ride that I wanted to be well for. I followed Susun Weed’s dosing suggestion of three drops of tincture in water once every hour for up to four hours. By the third dosage I was feeling fine.

Later in the trip I met up with a dear friend of mine from college. She was very ill and had been so for over a week with intestinal issues, mainly cramping and diarrhea as well as gas and bloating. She had gone to the doctor and been prescribed antibiotics which she had been taking for a week without any sign of improvement. I shared my wormwood experience with her and she decided to give it a try. Again, after three doses she felt great! That is after many days of turmoil. Needless to say we were both impressed and both very thankful for the powers of wormwood.

Herbalpedia reports that wormwood repels roundworms and threadworms probably due to its sesquiterpene lactones. Steven Harrod Buhner writes in his book, Herbal Antibiotics, that wormwood is effective against malaria and Staphlycoccus aureus, as well as intestinal worms. I used it externally this summer to stop poison ivy in it’s tracks.

To use for diarrhea: take three drops in water once an hour for up to four hours.

Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia): Echinacea, the darling of many herbalists is a powerful preventive for colds and flus. Taken at the first sign of a cold or flu it helps to boost our immune system. To be effective it should be taken in large doses and frequently. Buhner suggest the following:
Strep Throat: Full dropper (30 drops) of the tincture as often as desired, not less than once each hour until symptoms cease. Mix with saliva and dribble slowly over affected area down back of throat.
Onset of colds and flus: Not less than one dropper full (30 drops) of tincture each hour until symptoms cease.

It can also be used externally for burns, wounds, skin infections and as a wash for poisonous stings and bites. To do so mix the tincture with equal amount of water and wash affected area liberally every 30 minutes.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Counters bacteria internally and externally, and repels insects. It can be used as prevention for colds and flus, for sore throats, or for fevers. To use as an insect repellant I keep the full strength tincture in a spray bottle and spray liberally and frequently. Can also use it externally to clean wounds. Mix the tincture with equal parts water.

Peach: I use peach tincture to settle my nerves and anxiety especially when there is a headache present. Traveling doesn’t always go smoothly and it’s nice to have peach’s settling effects. Plus it’s absolutely delicious. Take five to fifteen drops as needed.

Valerian: Want to go to sleep? Try fifteen drops of this – also can combine with peach for added effect. Don’t go over the recommended dosage for this one as it can have the opposite effect. You can also use valerian for muscle cramping. (Menstrual cramps, leg cramps, back spasms, etc.)

Ginger: Ginger is unparalled in it’s ability to help with motion sickness. Take before you get on that sketchy bus that is traveling along a tiny road up the mountain, as well as when the nausea hits. I also put in some ginger candy (but try to leave this for nauseus moments, not just when you want something sweet!) ☺

Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree oil can be used externally for a whole range of issues including fungal infections and herpes virus. I don’t leave home without it for its fast acting effect on cold sores. I apply it with a Q-tip at the first tingle of a cold sore.


I always carry a healing salve with me wherever I go. My favorite mixture is comfrey, calendula, and plantain. I also always bring along some cottonwood lip balm.

Peppermint: For upset stomachs, flatulence, and heartburn.

Chamomile: For nausea, anxiety, or used as a steam for clearing up congestion.

Cold and Flu Tea: I make this tea myself and seal in hot press tea bags. Take it at the onset and during a cold or flu. I would put five small tea bags or one big tea bag in a pint of water, let sit for at least a ½ hour before drinking. You can drink this liberally.

Cold & Flu Tea:
One Part Elder Flower
One Part Yarrow
½ Part Peppermint
½ Part Rose hips


Bandaids of course. :) I also put in some store bought throat drops as I haven't made any yet with a good storage record. Have you? Let me know about it. :)

Acid indigestion: 5-10 drops of Dandelion root or Wormwood tincture every ten minutes until relieved. I use a dose of Dandelion before meals to prevent heartburn.

Bacterial Infections (including boils, carbuncles, insect bites, snake bite, spider bite, staph): 30-50 drops Echinacea or Yarrow tincture up to 5 times daily.

Colds: to prevent them I use Yarrow tincture 5-10 drops daily; to treat them, I rely on Yarrow, but in larger quantity, say a dropper full every 3-4 hours at the worst of the cold and tapering off.

Cramps in gut: 5-10 drops Wormwood, once.

Diarrhea: 3 drops Wormwood hourly for up to four hours.

Fever: 1 drop Echinacea for every 2 pounds of body weight; taken every two hours to begin, decreasing as symptoms remiss. Or a dropper full of Yarrow tincture every four hours.

Insect: prevent bites from black flies, mosquitoes, and ticks with a spray of Yarrow tincture; treat bites you do get with Yarrow tincture to prevent infection.

Sore throat: Gargle with Yarrow tincture. Or place Echinacea tincture on the throat.

Wounds: I wash with Yarrow tincture, then wet the dressing with Yarrow tincture, too.

Sweet Calendula

Aaahhh, Calendula. It’s easy to love this beautiful flower that offers us so many gifts.

Not having a garden this year I relied on Ancestree Herbals to provide me a pound of these sunny flowers.

I tinctured the fresh flowers in everclear. Call me silly, but I have a tough time cutting up flowers for tinctures. Don’t they look so beautiful whole?

The rest my husband laid out to dry.

I’ll be making a varicose vein spray, infused oil, and tea with these. Richo Cech recommends making a tincture with dried flowers, so I may try that as well.

The two main ways I use Calendula is for it’s affinity to the skin and it’s anti-fungal properties.

My favorite lip balm I make is with both calendula and dandelion flowers.

Monday, August 4, 2008

St. John's Wort

I was so happy to find a healthy stand of this golden gem this summer. I've gone somewhat over the top with making various extracts and enjoying a lot of experimentation.

For those of you not familiar with this sunny wonder, St. John's Wort has a number of uses from uplifting the spirit to combatting viruses. It has has fantastical flowers that bloom around the summer solstice, however the stand I found was several miles up Twisp River Road and didn't reach it's peak until mid July.

Although the flower itself is a bright yellow, if you rub the yellow flower between your fingertips you’ll find a lovely purple stain left behind. This is due to it's magical abilities as well as the constituent hypericin which studies show is a powerful anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-depressive, and anti-inflammatory substance. This has launched hypericin capsules and tablets – but I’ll take the whole fresh plant for my healing.

In the past I had mostly harvested the open flowers, but while I was rubbing the flowers between my fingers I noticed this year that more color was secreted in the flower buds.

I love St. John's Wort for it's ability to completely stop herpes virus in it's tracks. When I feel a cold sore coming on I reach for this herb first. I take the alcohol extract internally - 20 drops three times a day, as well as use external applications of the alcohol tincture and oil. This past weekend I made a very effective cold sore care lip balm with St. John's Wort, lemon balm, and tree tea oil. With frequent applications it stopped the cold sore I was getting in less than three hours.

I've been experimenting with using different alcohol strengths this year. Yet again, the 95% seems to be much more vibrant, while the 40% vodka seems to be a watered down version. However, for external application I prefer the 40% on my lips.

I also use St. John's Wort exclusively for nerve pain, either as an oil or liniment. I had a client two weeks ago complaining of chronic sciatic pain. Diagnostic testing revealed that her deep external rotators were completed restricted and her lumbar spine was under compression as well. I gave her some oil and extract which she used palliatively, until we could get the rest of her sorted out.

I've also used St. John's Wort Tincture externally for fungal infections. Again, it works great, although it can temporarily give skin a reddish hue.

A few weeks ago I made a trauma salve with equal parts:

St. John's Wort
Lavender EO

and last night I made up a bug bite salve with:

2 parts plantain
1 part St. John's Wort
1 part cottonwood
Lavender EO

Herbal Oils

I had a request to describe how I’ll be using the herbal oils I listed in this spring/summer’s herbal medicine making. I have to admit that while I have extensive experience with some of these oils, others I am making for the first time and can only tell you what I’ve read.

The first herbal class I ever took was Lip Balms and Healing Salves with Karen Sherwood of Earthwalk Northwest. I remember that class fondly as it firmly marked the beginning of a new path for me. That day I learned what a cedar tree was and asked Karen to point out plantain for me. (Not kidding!) Now it seems ludicrous to be that out of touch with a sense of place, but we all start someplace and that’s where it was for me, at the very beginning.

Karen taught me to use freshly dried herbal material for my oils, which I did with good results for years. This year however, I switched to using freshly wilted plant material and I really prefer the rich colors of the oils after infusing for six weeks.

Most of you probably know how to make herbal oils, but for those of you who aren’t herbalists and just read the blog because you love me (Hi Dad!) I’ll give a short run down of how I do it.

Simplest method for oils:
For most leafy plants I let them wilt overnight in order to lose most of their water content. The next day I chop them up very finely and place them in a mason jar. I want to fill the jar loosely. I then pour organic extra virgin olive oil over the plants, stir, and pour oil again until it goes to about a ¼” from the top. I then cover this with a paper towel, and a mason jar ring. I let it sit in a dark warm place, and stir it every day for at least two weeks. However, I stirred my comfrey, plantain, and arnica oils every day until I strained them off 6 weeks later.

There are variations to this of course. St. John’s Wort Flowers and Dandelion Flowers get put in the sun and as a rule I don’t chop them. For any herb I feel needs a little prodding, or I want things to move a little more quickly I warm the oil first, or place them in boxes or paper bags and then put them outside in the sun. I like infusing my cottonwood buds for at least six months, preferably a year.

Currently I mainly use olive oil and coconut oil for my infusions. This fall, however, I’ll be experimenting with using rendered lard. Every year my husband and I try to take large steps to gathering all of our needs locally. Olive oil and coconut oil are one of the only things we still depend on from far away. Luckily lard is available abundantly and I have rendered fat several times to make pemmican (yum!).

So how am I using those herbal oils?

St. John’s Wort: I have a much longer blog post waiting for pictures all about St. John’s, so I won’t go into much detail here. This has to be the most dramatic oil to make as the yellow flowers give way to a blood red oil indicating the presence of hypericin, an anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal substance. To make this oil I gather the tops of the plant just before flowering, cover in oil, and let sit in the sun. This year the oil was a deep dark red in about four days, but I’ve left the flowers in for a couple of weeks now. I use this oil in a cold sore lip balm (along with lemon balm), and for topical use on nerve pain for clients. Many people report using St. John’s Wort oil as a sunscreen of sorts, but I can’t handle oils on my skin, so I haven’t tried this myself. (Maybe infused in jojoba oil…)

Cottonwood: If St. John’s Wort oil wins a prize for its brilliant color, cottonwood wins it for its intoxicating smell. I made up well over a gallon of cottonwood oil this year as I add it to all of my salves as a preservative. A wonderful all around healing salve, I use it on clean cuts, scrapes, as well as superficial muscle pain.

Arnica: A friend gathered me a whole paper bag full of fresh arnica this spring, so instead of letting it go to waste, I made oil with all of it. arnica is well known for its use on unbroken skin strains, pains, and bruises.

Comfrey: No matter which side of the comfrey controversy you stand in, we can all agree that comfrey is strong medicine. Used as a base in healing salves it works magic on diaper rash and healing clean superficial cuts and scrapes. This herb is so powerful you would never want to use it on deep broken skin, or on an infection as its cell proliferant capabilities will seal the skin shut, trapping the infection inside. Besides using it for healing skin, I use it on clients with tendinous and ligamentous strains and sprains.

Calendula: Bright and beautiful, calendula blossoms take special care of our skin. Herbalist Kimberly Gallagher not only makes calendula oil each year, but also freezes a good supply of blossoms for poultices. Last year was the first time I was able to grow calendula myself. Each day we harvested the open buds and dried them on the counter until I had enough to fill a jar. I let the flowers infuse for the winter, straining after six months. The beautifully golden oil that I strained off has been used in all my lip balms and vulnary healing salves.

Plantain: For diaper rash, bug bites, and healing cuts and scrapes, herbalist Kiva Rose suggests you “kiss your plantain” and I would heartily agree.

Hyssop: Hyssop is most used for its affinity to help the respiratory system. Gail Faith Edwards describes using hyssop oil externally for arthritic pain, rubbing it into any sore and inflamed areas of the body.

Lemon Balm: A wonderful herbalist in the valley gave me some lemon balm from her garden this summer to infuse in oil for my cold sore care lip balm. I’ve been placing this one in a paper bag in the sun each day and it should be ready soon.

Mullein Flowers: Mullein is flowering now in the valley, gracing our highways and pastures with long spikes of yellow flowers. Heather, from the Village Herbalist on says instead of individually plucking each yellow flower for infusing in oil, you can just chop up the whole flower head. I mention this for those of you who may be lacking in mullein, or for some reason don’t like plucking those waxy flowers. As for me, we’ve got plenty of mullein and harvesting is one of my favorite ways to pass the time. And, as you all probably know, mullein oil is used in conjunction with garlic oil and possibly St. John’s Wort oil for ear infections.

Red Clover: I did this on a whim as it was the Herb of the Month on in July. Red Clover is known for its anti-tumor activities and this will make a lovely breast massage oil – adding a little spice to those monthly exams.

Rue: I looked to Gail Faith Edwards for wisdom with Rue. She says, “Externally, rue is stimulating, anti-spasmodic, and a rubifacient” and reportedly uses it warmed on nerve pain, strained muscles, nervous spasms, and neuralgia.

Artemesia spp.: Kiva says it best here.

Yarrow: Yarrow has been an important herbal ally for me for years as I’ve witnessed it stop severe bleeding in an emergency situation, as well as cure many UTIs. Its pain relieving and antiseptic properties make it a great addition to vulnary healing salves.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The NW Herb Fest and Directions to the Gallagher's House

As previously reported I headed down to Eugene Oregon last weekend to attend Sharol Tilgner’s NW Herb Fest. I went not only for pleasure and my own learning experience but also to support and the Gallagher family by vending their fabulous herbal adventure game, Wildcraft!

The fest itself was very well organized with a large variety of herbalists attending as well as classes offered.

I think the highlight of my trip was meeting Robin DiPasquale, a naturopathic physician who worked at Bastyr for a number of years and now lives in Madison Wisconsin. Her classes on Oligomennorhea and Ammenorhea, The Liliaceae family and the female connection, as well as her plantwalk on trees contained just the right amount of botany, research, personal experience, herbal taste testing and sensitivity to emotional and spiritual aspects. Plus she is one of those people that glow with kind radiant energy.

I also really enjoyed two classes with Paul Bergner. One on insulin resistance and the other one treating pain with herbs. You can read more about insulin resistance here. The most interesting thing I took away from the pain lecture was how muskuloskeletel pain can be a symptom of food allergies. Paul reported that he had a big “Ah hah!” in his clinic when muscle aches and pains were inadvertently decreased when possible food allergies were taken out of the diet. So, of course, one student in the class asks what labs he uses to determine allergies. Paul’s reply is that he uses a very simple test that is over 80% accurate. He asks that client, “If there was a food that you might be sensitive to, what would that be?” For the most part people already know. He said if they needed further prompting he says, “You know the food that gives you heartburn, headaches, nausea, etc.” and they say, Oh, of course, when I eat (fill in the blank) I get … I appreciate that kind of testing. ☺

The other thing that I learned this weekend was the many different approaches to herbalism. I went to this conference looking forward to taking more intermediate to advanced workshops. I was ready to move on to that next level. However, in so doing I think I took a number of workshops not really suited to my own herbal approach. It seems like the more advanced classes were instructors disseminating clinical research for clinicians such as ND’s, MD’s, etc. As a result I took a class on Neurotransmitter Herbs that was a complete waste of my time. (Not that is was a bad class in general, just for me.) In Structural Medicine we spend a lot of time on the Nervous System as this is something we commonly need to effect for permenant change, so I was really looking forward to seeing an herbal role in this system, however, the whole hour and a half was spent describing the nervous system – something that is very complex, but can easily be read in any physiology textbook. I had gone to that workshop instead of one on moxibustion, so that was definitely disappointing.

Luckily my husband went to all the plant walks and brought back loads of practical useful information. If I go next year I will enjoy the plant walks instead of taking more advanced classes based on clinical research trials and textbook physiology.

It was overall a great weekend meeting so many other herbalists, getting a view into Chinese medicine, and seeing all the various places people take the amazing world of plants.

I think most importantly I confirmed for myself that learning to be an herbalist comes down to personal experience and focus with the plants themselves. Keeping it simple by learning from plants is my preferred herbalist path.

Now, you may be wondering how to find the Gallagher’s house (I hope you don’t mind me passing out directions, John.) So, head to Western Washington and stop at the largest patch of plantago major you see and there you will find the Gallagher’s house.