Fall & Winter Workshops

wildpotluck2

This summer’s series of plant walks wrapped in September with an amazingly impressive wild potluck feast. It was wonderful to see all the dishes and drinks creatively made with a variety of foraged ingredients.

With the cooler weather here and snow inevitably on its way, it’s time to move indoors. All through the fall and winter I offer workshops in my home, on a variety of subjects and themes relating to herbal medicine.
workshop 003

I kicked off workshop season last Saturday with Herbs for the Musculoskeletal System. We had a full house with 12 lovely participants and one adorable baby.

after

I love those moments after a workshop ends and I sit down feeling exhausted but also wound up and kind of high and just ever so grateful to have been given another opportunity to share simple, practical information on how people can use the healing plants that are growing around them for medicine in the home. I find myself offering up a wordless prayer of thanks to the plants and asking for the grace and wisdom to do right by them, while recommitting to the journey of learning and deepening my knowledge and understanding of the material that I share with others.

If that sounds a little flaky, so be it. I don’t think you can go too far down the herbal garden path without leaving at least a little room open for flower fairies and plant spirits. It gladdens the heart and in no way interferes with my ability to understand the immune stimulating activity of water-soluble polysaccharides in plants or the connection between the bitter taste, T2R receptors, the vagus nerve and digestive health. At a certain point everything dissolves into mystery anyway; something profound and inexplicable. In the meantime I’m happy to explore what is knowable and not-so-knowable with both my brain and my heart.

But I digress. What I wanted to tell you about is that all the dates and details for my workshops this fall and winter are up and available for you to check out here.

springgreens 005

My workshops focus on easy to find, local, weedy plants that you can harvest yourself and make into simple remedies to support health and wellness. I always emphasize how good food, proper nutrition and healthy movement are foundational to health. I have a bias towards wild foods, nature awareness and walking and I’ll talk about all these things before I even get to the plants. I want people to use their senses to experience the herbs so I will invite you to taste, smell and feel plants in all their forms. This is whole plant medicine and it’s organoleptic learning. Sometimes it’s messy. I’ll probably tell you you’re throwing your money away on expensive tablet and capsule supplements (although I do believe there is a therapeutic time and place for these.)  I’ll encourage you to grow and gather your own medicine, but I’ll also show you how to choose quality herbal products in the health food store. I’ll ask you to make ethical choices (no wildcrafted goldenseal or echinacea please) and I’ll go on about the benefits of supporting local, small-scale herb growers and wildcrafters (full disclosure: I am one!) I’ll do my best to deepen your herbal knowledge beyond a ‘this herb, for that condition’ model that simply substitutes herbs for drugs. This can work sometimes, but it’s really hit or miss and doesn’t even come close to the kind of bone deep, whole body healing that is possible when you treat the person, not the disease and you know how to match the right herb with the right person. (The last 3 workshops cover this material in particular.) In my workshops there will always be tea and snacks! There’s handouts, lots of resources, and sometimes a little something else for you to take home to add to your apothecary. The groups are small, cozy and really friendly. I love the folks who come out and I think you will too.

Here are the upcoming dates and topics. They are $30 each. If you are a CSA member you can attend for free (although there is $5 materials fee). If you would like to attend more than one, get in touch with me directly for a discount.

November 15th Herbs for the Respiratory System
December 6th Herbs for the Female Reproductive System
January 24th Herbs for the Digestive System
February 21st The Tastes of Herbs
March 21st The 6 Tissue States
April 25th Intro to Constitutional Theory

Oh and you know what my favourite thing is about hosting workshops? I can guarantee that at least once a month my place will be thoroughly cleaned! So please come out and give me a reason to dust. :)


October

goldenrodfall

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
~ L.M. Montgomery

My morning yoga begins in darkness, with a single lit candle. Sweet potatoes and squash are back on the menu. Cucumbers are out. Iced herbal teas and fruit shrubs are replaced by mugs of bone broth and steaming cups of chamomile, yarrow, ginger… warming, diffusive herbs that stimulate and move circulation to the periphery. The sound of geese on the river wakes me in my bedroom and I watch them fly in formation as they cut across the sky over my garden. All that is green is fading away as the alchemical dance between chlorophyll and sunlight slowly dissolves, leaving behind the arboreal fire and gold of the temperate zone. The crunch of cottonwood leaves beneath my feet releases a rich, spicy aroma and the taste of salicin in my mouth. The acorns and black walnuts are dropping, ready to be gathered.  The afternoon sunlight is the colour of dried goldenrod flowers, and the sunsets of rosehips.

NEA

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, It-Brings-the-Fall

It is Autumn in my part of the world, a magical, transformative season of celebration and descent, roots and woodsmoke. It is the time of fall fairs, harvest festivals and giving thanks. It is a time of setting aside the large agricultural tasks of the year and to lay in the last of the food from the fields. It is a time when darkness grows and the veil between this world and that thins. It is time for honouring our ancestors. It is time for feasting.

crabapple 006

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou mayst rest
~William Blake

For the forager and wildcrafter there is still much to do, fruit and seeds to be gathered yet and root season only just begun. The early nights come as a blessing though. As much as I love summer, the endless days can seem a bit relentless when one works from sun up to sundown trying to capture all that the bright, short season has to offer. There is rest on the horizon and a folding inward to the long sleep of winter. My body is ready for it, longs for it like a lover’s embrace.
mushroombasket

Meanwhile, my fingers are stained with elderberry juice, nannyberries and black walnut hulls. Each day I pick the beggarticks seeds from my clothes and brush a twig or leaf from my hair. Every fair and golden day between now and freeze up will be lived fully and treated as the precious gift it is, in this world where there are Octobers.

viburnum

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
~Robert Frost


Petrie Island Plants

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11801694@N08/1214405740/in/photostream/

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11801694@N08/1214405740/in/photostream/

Well east of the city’s centre, beyond the government buildings, at the edge of deep suburbia, in the Ottawa river, lies one of the city’s most beautiful treasures. Sure Petrie Island has got a great, big sandy beach, beach volleyball leagues and Carivibe, but tucked away down a narrow spit of land is a part of the island that gets me really excited. Visit the quieter, western end of the island and you will discover a beautiful wetland and wilderness delight. A unique habitat, Petrie Island’s ecosystem is closer to the Carolinian forest of Southern Ontario, and includes many uncommon and rare species of plants that you won’t find elsewhere in the Ottawa region.

Last Sunday I led a plant walk hosted by the Petrie Island Nature Centre and we explored some of the edible and medicinal plants of the island.

petrieislandplantwalk

We found many of the usual suspects in flower like goldenrod, evening primrose and soapwort.

PIpic2

It was a pleasure to see so many aquatic plants in such abundance. We nibbled on a few pickerel weed fruits (achenes) and I talked a little bit about arrowhead and the use of its tuber for food. As an urban forager I don’t have access to clean sources of water so I could only speak about these plants from what I have read and not from experience.

PIpic3

The real highlight of the walk for me was finding groundnut growing profusely. This pea family plant has stunningly gorgeous and strongly scented flowers and produces an edible, starchy tuber that is high in protein. This ecosystem also supports an abundance of sweet gale, a sweetly aromatic, native plant.

PIpic1

As a conservation area, it is not appropriate to forage or wildcraft here, but it is a wonderful place to come and observe and learn about the plants of Petrie Island. The Nature Centre has done an amazing job of posting informative signs of many of the plants all along the nature trails, including botanical names and edible and medicinal uses. Visit the centre itself for wonderful, interactive displays on the flora and fauna of the site.

I was introduced to two new plants while I was there, showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) and square-stemmed monkey flower (Mimulus ringens). I can’t wait to return to learn more about these plants and see what other surprises I find.

Here are two short (not great quality- sorry) videos I took of a few other plants on the island.


 


July in the Garden

July is winding down, a cooler month than usual, but there is a steady ripening toward fruition nonetheless. Work in the garden has slowed down somewhat. Not because there is less to do, just that there is more to do elsewhere. The time I do spend in the garden continues to surprise me. I love how my plans and the seeds I sow enter into relationship with whatever nature has in store for me. This spring-seeded clover seems to get along just fine with the volunteer plantain. Both are wonderful edible and medicinal plants.
PlantainClover
Plantain (Plantago major) likes to grow in heavy, compacted soil. I have plenty of that, which means I also have plenty of plantain. I gather a basket most visits and bring it home to infuse into oil and dry for tea. I’m so grateful for this exceedingly common and abundant plant.
JulyGarden 034
The other abundant volunteer this year has been the Queen Anne’s Lace, aka wild carrot (Daucus carota). A member of the umbelliferous Apiaceae family and the wild progenitor of carrots, this plant must be approached with extreme caution. Without proper ID skills it could be easy to confuse it with poison hemlock or water hemlock, two of the most deadly plants in North America. (The former famously killed Socrates). In fact, stories are told of how trained botanists have made this, their last, fatal mistake. Some foragers avoid the entire family altogether to stay safe. I don’t think this is necessary. Once you have the skills, it is not difficult to differentiate the plants, but I absolutely agree with herbalist Howie Brounstein who teaches his students to always “Be humble with the umbels!
JulyGarden 009
At the very least, one can always admire its stunning beauty.
JulyGarden 023

JulyGarden 025

JulyGarden 028
I have been gathering the flowers and using them in salted herbs, as a hydrosol and this week I’m experimenting with making a Queen Anne’s Cordial. It will be ready to taste in another couple of days and I’m excited to see how it turns out.
queenannescordial
The yarrow I planted last year has flowered and it is a delight to gather armfuls of this amazing, aromatic plant.
JulyGarden 032
I dried some for tea and I also made this hydrosol, rich in the blue essential oil azulene, a wonderful anti-inflammatory for the skin, reducing redness, swelling and irritation. A potent antioxidant, it protects the skin from damaging free radicals and rejuvenates skin cells.

yarrowhydrosol

From a distance, the garden appears full of mostly white flowers, but there are splashes of colour throughout. These ingredients went into something I’m making exclusively for the August CSA!
JulyGarden 003
I had a friend come and and give me a hand in the garden this week and we harvested the first of the garlic. There’s 10 lbs here and I figure I have about another 30 or 40 lbs to go. I’m pleased with how it looks so far. Now I just need to find some space to dry it all!
garlic harvest 003
What’s happening in your garden?


June in the Garden- Part Two

OatsI love planting oats as a cover crop, as they serve multiple functions in my garden. They condition the soil and suppress weeds, and the seed heads are gathered in the immature, ‘milky’ stage for medicine. Milky oats provide a rich, nourishing remedy that supports the nervous system, aiding all those feeling a little run ragged and worn out.

See that crop circle in the middle of the top picture? That’s where I forgot to rake the seeds into the soil when I first sowed them. They just sat on top of the soil and never germinated. Oops! I went back a week later and broadcast more seed into the circle making sure to rake them in well. The seeds germinated quickly, so that the circle is filled in now and caught up with the rest.Oats

ValerianThe valerian is blooming. I catch the scent each time I pass. I love the creamy-white flower heads. So do the pollinators! I started the valerian from seed last year and they’ve really taken off. I’ll harvest some of the roots for medicine this fall and replant the crowns. My hope is that valerian will be a fixture in my garden for many years to come.Valerian2

redcloverRed clover is a short-lived perennial that flowers in its second year. Seeded last year, this patch has grown in lush and thick. Another excellent cover crop, clover is also a nitrogen fixer, adding this essential fertilizer to the soil through a symbiotic relationship between rhizobia bacteria and the roots of nitrogen fixing plants. Medicinally, red clover is a nutritious herb high in vitamins and minerals. Traditionally it has been used to support the female reproductive system and balance hormones, as well as aiding in respiratory issues such as bronchitis and whooping cough and to treat skin conditions and swollen glands. I think the deer have been enjoying the clover too. I see evidence of grazing and areas of flattened clover where the deer have lain down in the patch. That’s ok, there’s plenty for all of us.

DaisiesThese cheerful ox-eye daisies were kind enough to volunteer in my garden this year and I was happy to leave them to flower. I’ve been gathering them and drying them for tea and infusing them into oil to make a wonderful smelling massage oil for sore muscles.

FullPondRemember the freshly dug pond from last post? Well, we got 85 mm of rain in 24 hrs this week, which was more than enough to fill it up. I haven’t had time to seal it with bentonite clay yet, so this water will eventually drain, but it leaves me optimistic about the water harvesting potential of this feature in the garden.

YHAThe other exciting thing happening in the garden this summer is the Young Herbalist Apprenticeship program I am running for a small group of 8 and 9 year olds. The 7 of us meet every Wednesday morning for herbal learning, work and play. On this morning the group learned the patterns of the pea family.

It’s such a joy to spend time with children in the garden, exploring and discovering the wonders of the plant world together.

I can’t wait to see what July brings!


RSS Feed Subscribe to RSS Feed