Monday, June 25, 2012

Wildcrafting VI - Resources

I hope this series on wildcrafting gives you a good start on the considerations for getting started on your own wildcrafting adventures.
This last section is a listing of resources available for further education.

But before I continue, if you've missed the earlier posts in this Wildcrafting series, you'll find them here: 
Wildcrafting Part I - Introduction
Wildcrafting Part II - Why Wildcraft?
Wildcrafting Part III - Tools of the Trade
Wildcrafting Part IV: Before you Harvest
Wildcrafting Part V: Harvesting Guidelines

From Earth to Herbalist by Gregory Tilford
This book is a great resource for ethical wildcrafting. He covers almost 50 plants that are commonly found in north america.
The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants AND  Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
Sam Thayer’s books are incredibly detailed, filled with many years of person experience. The plants highlighted in his books are more specific to the east coast of the US, but also have many plants that grow all over north america.

Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate  by John Kallas
West coast forager John Kallas has written a beautiful and descriptive book covering 15 common plants.

Websites Resources by Herbalists
These videos show specific harvesting techniques for a variety of plants.
Howie Brounstein has several articles on wildcrafting
Nettle, Yarrow, Usnea, Wild Cherry Bark, Willow Bark, Dandelion, Plantain, Butterbur
Resources for Growing At Risk Plants
It is our mission to provide certified organic seeds and medicinal herb plants directly from our farm to you. Our’s is the largest selection of medicinal herb seeds available from the US, an alive, growing collection started way back in 1985 and tended up until–today!  We know that its all about quality, and for this reason the vast majority of our seeds are grown by us, hand-picked, wind-winnowed, tested in a practical and rootsy manner, filled with love, in essence loaded with vibrant LIFE.  Every year we change out our inventory to give you only newly harvested seeds. 
Crimson Sage Nursery (Medicinal Plants Nursery), is a small family business nestled in the beautiful Klamath River Valley of Northwest California. We are surrounded by 5 rugged mountain ranges known as the “Klamath Knot” and our narrow, steep sided valley provides a fantastic growing climate for a large diversity of Herbs.
We offer some of the most extensive selections of rare Medicinal Plants in the country; including medicinal plants from the Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions, along with many rare Native American and European herbs.
Richters (Canada)
Richters has been growing and selling herbs since 1969. Our first catalogue dedicated to herbs came out in 1970. We have lived, worked and breathed herbs ever since.
Specific Plants (Web Resources)

Nome McBride and Milk Thistle…
 Do you know of more Wildcrafting resources? Please share in the comments! 

This series of articles was originally written for

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wildcrafting V - Harvesting

Spring beauty salad (Claytonia lanceolata)
By now you realize how much there is to think about before the actual harvest!

But before I continue, if you've missed the earlier posts in this Wildcrafting series, then here they are:
Wildcrafting Part I - Introduction
Wildcrafting Part II - Why Wildcraft?
Wildcrafting Part III - Tools of the Trade
Wildcrafting Part IV: Before you Harvest

There are no shortcuts and this article cannot cover all aspects of how to ethically harvest every plant. I will give general guidelines, but keep in mind there are ALWAYS exceptions that can be specific to the plant or the place.
To really get to know the specifics of each plant, learn about that plant as it comes into your life. In this way you can really focus on the plant and get to know it well before harvesting it. Spend time with the plant. Notice how it grows, ask other wildcrafters about their experience. Finally, once you are harvesting this plant, keep records so that you can consciously take into account how your harvesting methods are affecting that particular plant population.
Included in this section are worksheets for you to download. These will include a general questionnaire to consider before you harvest a plant and a record keeping sheet to document the areas you are harvesting from. You might fill these out completely each time you harvest or use them as a general tool to keep ethical harvesting issues in mind while out in the field.
Now for the specifics!
Leaves and aerial portions
Leaves are most often harvested when they are young and fresh looking, generally from spring to early summer. Some tips:
  • Spread your impact throughout the stand of plants by taking a few leaves from here and there instead of taking many leaves from a single plant.
  • When harvesting leaves from trees, take them from the branches but avoid taking them from the terminal (end of the branch) stem, unless you are pruning the entire branch. (More on pruning later.)
  • Many herbaceous perennials can be cut back completely and re-grow again the same year. You can usually get two or three cuttings from these plants by harvesting the entire aerial portion just before the plant goes to flower. Stinging nettle (Urtica diocia) is a great example-you can continually cut off the tops of nettle and in this way get many more harvests from a stand. Kimberly Gallagher shows us how to do this here in a video about harvesting stinging nettle.
  • Try to harvest leaves and aerial portions when they are completely dry. Mid-morning is probably optimal, but reality may dictate when you are able to harvest, too! Be aware that some aromatic plants lose their potency as the day wears on. One time I harvested rose petals in the evening and realized later that they had no scent. I harvested from the same stands the next morning and they were very fragrant. 

Stinging Nettle Leaves (Urtica dioica)
Harvest flowers at full bloom or just before opening, depending on the plant. For example, I like to harvest calendula and chokecherry blossoms in full bloom (before any wilting occurs), but I harvest rosebuds and St. John’s Wort buds along with the full flowers.
Some tips:
  • Flowers are very susceptible to mold, and must be harvested when dry (no dew present).
(A note about drying flowers. Plants in the asteraceae family (dandelion, arnica, etc) will turn into seed heads when dried. I prefer to let these wilt and work with them fresh. Other herbalists prefer to let them dry. If you harvest these plants in bud stage they won't turn into seed heads as readily. There is no wrong way; a good herbalist is continually experimenting to find what works best for him or her.)  

Arnica cordifolia
  • Keep in mind that the flowers you harvest will not go to seed or mature into fruit. When harvesting elderflowers, I keep in mind that I like to harvest elderberries as well.
  • Evening primroses are unique in that you can harvest them in the evening. Oftentimes the flowers are still vibrant in the morning but they will fade by the afternoon.

An evening primrose in the morning light.
Roots and Rhizomes
Harvesting roots and rhizomes can lead to the death of a plant. Sometimes this is necessary and can be completely ethical. However, there several things to know and consider before harvesting roots.
First, ask yourself whether you really need the roots. Many plants have the same properties in their aerial portions. For other plants, aerial portions can be combined with roots to make whole plant medicine, using less root material.
Again, it’s important to know the individual plant you are harvesting so that you can harvest it appropriately.
If harvesting the roots is your goal, then you can take other steps to keep the plant alive.

  • Some roots can be divided so the plant continues living.
  • The crowns of other plants can be replanted after the roots are removed. 
  • Other plants can continue to grow if some of the root is left in the ground. (Comfrey and dandelion are good examples, although generally there is not as much need to proliferate these plants.)
  • Rhizomes can be followed horizontally through the ground and harvested so that the plant continues to live. 
  • Other plants, like yellow bells and chocolate lilies, can be propagated by harvesting the roots. 
In general, roots are harvested in the late summer and fall after the plant has gone to seed and the energy of the plant has returned to the roots. If necessary, you can also harvest roots in the spring before the plant has put its energy into the leaves.

Yellow dock roots (Rumex crispus)
Bark is best harvested in the spring, when sap is flowing through the inner cambium. Typically, the inner bark is used for medicine. Sometimes I harvest new twigs from a tree and use the entire twig; other times I may strip the bark from the twig using a knife or a vegetable peeler. 
Bark can be harvested in three ways.
  1. Take a vertical strip from a growing tree. This is the least preferable method. Although it doesn’t kill a tree it can open the tree to infections.
  2. Gather from a recently felled tree. A drawknife (a horizontal knife with two handles) is a great tool for harvesting bark from the main trunk of a tree.
  3. Prune branches and harvest the bark of the branch
Pruning is a fabulous way to tend trees in the wild while also getting the medicine you need. Here are some simple principles:
  • Have the correct size pruning shears so that you can make a clean cut.
  • Keep your shears sharp!
  • Prune branches that are pointing down instead of up to the sky.
  • Prune branches that are rubbing together or competing for the same space on the tree.
  • When pruning a tree for bark, prune off any dead limbs to help the tree avoid infestation.
Ant acrobatics on a chokecherry branch (Prunus virginiana)
For more information about pruning see the USDA’s article about pruning here: How to prune trees.
Never harvest bark in a circle around the trunk of a tree as this will certainly kill the tree by literally cutting off its supply of nutrients.
One time, some friends showed me some saplings they had planted that had died. After their third attempt at planting saplings in this area, they had concluded that the soil must be bad. On close inspection I could see the entire base of the tree had been sliced open by a weed wacker. Once they realized their mistake they were able to grow saplings there without problems.
In Conclusion
This article is meant as a stepping stone for beginning wildcrafters to learn the basics of harvesting plants ethically and sustainably.
You will learn the most by venturing into the habitats around you, being aware of your impact on an area, and continually evolving your relationship with the ecosystem.
Much information about ethical harvesting has been lost to us in North America. The only way we can regain it is by developing these skills on our own.
Wildcrafting is so much more than the harvesting of plants. It’s the connection to the world around us and a growing responsibility of our own role in keeping an area vibrant and healthy.
It is my hope that with the rise of herbalism we will also see a rise of ethical wildcrafters tending to ecosystems with care and consciousness.  By regularly stepping out of our homes and into the world we can be aware of changes, both good and bad, to the areas we depend on for food and medicine. In so doing we can be the voice of the forests, parks, and beaches, and play a part in creating a world where our grandchildren’s grandchildren can safely harvest the bounty of the earth.

The redwoods in northern California

This series of articles was originally written for

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Herbal Remedies for Menopause

Supporting women through the Change of Life

Between the ages of 40 - 60 women undergo a change of life as their fertility declines and their monthly cycles stop. This natural cycle of life manifests differently for all women. Besides the physical changes, women also may find themselves going through life changes. This may include new interests and a new direction or purpose in life. This time can be challenging yet positive and enlivening. 

I want to give voice to the powerful and positive transition that can happen during this time. This article, however, is more focused on the physical changes that some women experience and how to assess these changes individually from a traditional herbal perspective. I’ll be drawing mainly on a differential diagnosis from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), however my goal is that those with no understanding of TCM will walk away better understanding the nuances involved during this change of life. My overall goal is to help people move away from treating symptoms to addressing patterns and underlying imbalances. 

Let’s begin by defining a few terms. The term menopause is often used in common language to describe many years of this transformative experience. The term menopause literally means the stopping of the monthly cycles. Thus menopause refers to a particular moment in time, the last menstrual cycle. Menopause is officially declared one year after the menstrual cycle has stopped. 

Perimenopause refers to the years leading up to the last menstrual cycle. Some women experience more noticeable changes during this time including erratic menstrual cycles, fatigue, hot flashes etc. 

Post menopause refers to the time after the last menstrual cycle and is declared a year after the last cycle. 

In Japan these peri-menopausal years are referred to as konenki translated as the “renewal years.” I think the english language could certainly use some better terminology for this transition. For this article I’ll use the term menopause as it is used colloquially. 

In recent years a lot of sensitivity has gone into reframing menopause, not as a disease, but as a natural process. “Hallelujah!” say many women as this is obviously important to recognize. However it is just as important to recognize that the severe symptoms that some women experience during this time should not be ignored or dismissed because it’s “natural”. 

We understand that menses is a normal cycle for most woman. It’s not a disease. However, heavy bleeding, severe pain from cramping, tender breasts and mood swings are not “natural”. These are symptoms of dis-ease and should be addressed.  

The same is true for perimenopausal symptoms. The cessation of menses is normal. Excessive menstrual flow, hot flashes and night sweats, mood swings, hair loss, insomnia, fatigue and irritability are not “natural”. Instead they are symptoms of an underlying imbalance and should be addressed. 

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Common menopausal complaints

In the western world many women experience the following during this time of transition: hot flashes, erratic menstrual cycles (both in length of cycle and length and flow of bleeding), lowered libido, increased headaches, dryness (notably dry vaginal tissues), insomnia, palpitations, irregular heart beat, fatigue, hair loss, bone loss, mood changes and changes in memory. 

The most common treatment for these in western medicine is hormone replacement therapy otherwise known as HRT. There is a lot of debate about HRT in the alternative health world, but this is beyond the scope of today’s article. 

Some practitioners of western herbalism approach these menopausal complaints with a western medicine mindset. They give herbs that contain phytohormones with the goal of balancing a woman’s hormones. Black cohosh, wild yam, and vitex are mainstays of these types of protocols. 

There are many excellent resources for this type of approach. Amanda McQuade Crawford, Aviva Romm and Jillian Stansbury are herbalists who write and lecture about using herbs for their phyothormone content. 

This article is going to focus on evaluating the individual and assessing common patterns associated with menopausal complaints. 

Proactive solutions

Of course the best ways to ensuring a breezy time of transition is living a consciously healthy life well before the time of transition appears. Furthermore actively consulting with someone trained in traditional herbal medicine can help correct imbalances before they are pathologies. Traditional herbal medicine excels at recognizing imbalances before they are entirely problematic. Prevention is key and women in their 20’s and 30’s who are actively engaged in creating vibrant health for themselves will benefit from this foundation for the rest of their lives. 

It is often touted that other cultures have less menopausal complaints than the women in our western culture. Diet and lifestyle are frequently the reasons given for this difference and many reasons are given in a soup du jour attitude. One study claiming increased amounts of soy in the diet the reason that asian cultures have less menopausal complaints. Another study showing dietary seaweed is the reason women in other cultures have an easier transition. Another study shows that cultural perceptions are the reason. 

I think we will be hard pressed to find the reason. Furthermore, we hopefully realize by now that there is no one diet or lifestyle for the whole population. Approaching people individually and constitutionally from the beginning of life will help us recognize and correct imbalances easily to promote a lifetime of vibrant health. 

Addressing menopausal complaints

Easily half of the people I see in my herbal practice come to see me because of menopausal complaints. 

In this article I will cover the three most common patterns that I see. Please keep in mind that these patterns are portrayed in a very broad and general way. There are many many distinctive patterns involved with this life process and much more specific ways of looking at it through particular organ meridians. A great resource for these are Healing with the Herbs of Life by Lesley Tierra. 

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)


Let’s begin with a pattern that is more excessive in nature. This is by far the easiest pattern to address! 

An excess pattern has many signs of true heat. 
  • Hot flashes. In particular these hot flashes are intense. Lots of heat and lots of sweating is involved. This is the person who has to change their clothes after a hot flash or change their sheets after having night sweats. 
  • Loud voice, red tongue and possibly a red face, not just red cheeks, but the whole face (important distinction). 
  • A lot of thirst.
  • Fast pulse
  • Possibly frequent headaches or headaches associated with menstruation. 
  • Excessive menstrual flow. They keep bleeding and bleeding, going through many pads and tampons in one day. 
  • This pattern often has heat in the digestive tract as well this may manifest as cold sores, mouth ulcers, sensitivity to spicy foods, ulcers, irregular bowel movements. 
To address an excessive pattern

There are two main strategies with type of pattern. First we want to use cooling therapies (herbs and lifestyle). Often referred to as eliminating and draining this include many of our bitter herbs. 

Fresh chickweed (Stellaria media)
Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale)
Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
Rose (Rosa spp.)
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
Motherwort (Leonorus cardiaca)
Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa)
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Secondly we want to support the adrenals using adaptogen herbs. We don’t want these to be too heating in nature. 

Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica)
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)
Milky oats (Avena sativa)
Astringent herbs can be applied for this pattern as well. Rose (Rosa spp.) and schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) are ones that I frequently use. 


Deficient patterns are what I see more commonly in people I work with. This pattern is much harder to correct. In general it is always easier (in terms of duration and type of treatment) to eliminate and drain than it is to nourish and build. 

Deficiency patterns usually arise after many years of draining the system through bad diet, excessive stress, improper movement etc. If a menopausal woman is showing signs of deficiency after 48 years of not nourishing herself, it’s going to take some time to correct this! 
Deficiency patterns include: 
  • Hot flashes with little sweating
  • Lethargy, fatigue, especially from 3-5 in the afternoon. This person may start off strong and then peter out quickly. 
  • Red cheeks and/or red nose (not a red face) 
  • Heat in the soles of feet, palms of hands or chest
  • Tinnitus
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Pale tongue, slow or weak pulse
  • Sore lower back, weak knees
  • Copious and clear urination
To address a deficiency pattern

In this pattern we want to nourish and build and many times restore moisture as well. Here we are thinking about moisture building herbs (demulcents and blood builders) and adaptogen herbs. 

Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)
Ashwagandah (Withania somnifera)
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
Dang gui (Angelica sinensis)

As always, diet is important to address as well. Although we all have different needs, people with deficiency patterns benefit from focusing on cooked vegetables, grains (if tolerated), organic and pastured raised meats, and warm foods. Raw fruits and vegetables are usually contraindicated along with iced drinks and fruit juices. 

Liver Qi stagnation

Liver Qi stagnation is a Traditional Chinese Medicine pattern that is frequently seen in today’s populace. This pattern can be in addition to either of the patterns above. 
Symptoms include 
  • poor appetite
  • mood swings
  • quick to anger
  • irregular menstrual cycle
  • cysts that come and go, fibroids
  • digestive complaints
  • wiry pulse
  • tongue may have curled edges or red edges
  • alternating diarrhea and constipation
  • fatigue and lethargy
  • difficulty swallowing
The classic formula for this is a Chinese formula, Xiao yao san. It is made up of 
Bupleurum 6-9 grams
Dang gui 6-9 grams
White peony 8-12 grams
Poria 9-15 grams
Dry-fried atractylodes 3 grams
Baked licorice 3-6 grams
Mentha 1-3 grams
Fresh ginger 1-3 grams 

In western herbalism, liver moving herbs would be indicated, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), calendula (Calendula officinalis), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) etc. I have the most experience with the above formula. 

Dryness vs. Dampness

Most women I see during this transition have symptoms of dryness. Dry skin, dry mouth, dry hair, dry vaginal tissues (very common complaint). Dryness can manifest “false heat” symptoms. These include red cheeks or red nose, heat in the soles and palms and chest, night sweats, anxiety, dry stools, thirsty, scanty and dark urine. 

Using moisturizing and building herbs like shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), prepared rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa), marshmallow (Althea officinalis), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) etc, can help to balance the moisture in the body. Likewise healthy fats and oils can be optimized in the diet. Lots of high quality olive oil and coconut oil can be added to the diet. Fish oil and evening primrose oil can be supplemented. 

For administering these herbs I especially like using them as powders stirred into ghee and coconut oil and if appropriate for the individual, a little honey. Decoctions also work well. 
For symptomatic treatment of dry vaginal tissues a vitamin E capsule can be pricked and then inserted vaginally at night, and as needed. 

Signs of dampness may include edema, loose stools, thick coating on tongue, swollen tongue, heavy vaginal discharge and nausea. For these women we want to remove dampness using eliminating and draining herbs such as nettle or dandelion leaf. 


My hope is that this article helps the reader to understand that there are no herbs for “menopause” and no herbs for “hot flashes”. Instead we want to evaluate the individual and then come up with a customized analysis (excess, deficient, stagnancy) and then a customized plan based on that analysis. In this way we work with people and we do not diagnose or treat diseases. 

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