Honoring My Elder – Grandma Vera

This Friday the 29th marks the ninth anniversary of my Grandma Vera’s death. She passed just shy of her 90th Birthday with a full head of black hair and happily living on her own. My Grandmother was a ‘tough broad’ hailing from London and born the year the Great War began. Her dry sense of humour and English mumbling are some of my most fondest memories of her which includes popular phrases such as “You dirty little devils!” and (as she pulls open the front of my shirt as a young teenager) “Are you wearing a bra?”.

I give thanks to Grandma for passing on her green thumb to my mother and thus to me. Her English style gardens bring back wonderful childhood memories of fragrant blossoms, humming bees, and Sam the cat hunting through the foliage. The plant that reminds our family of her is Lavender. Lavender took center stage during her celebration of life and when I think of Grandma the smell of Lavender always accompanies my memories. And so several years after her death in 2004, I was inspired to write a song called “The Sleep of Plants” which is about my connection with Lavender and when I sing the words they are sung for Grandma Vera.

The following link will take you to the song I wrote, recorded, and performed.


Vera Sybil Mezger ~1940


Harvesting Belt and Stinging Nettle Outing

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A couple weekends ago my husband Matt, my apprentice Fox, my co-worker Miriam and I went on our first Nettle harvest of the year. The crop was young and the plants were no more than five inches tall. This particular stand of Nettles I had not visited for several years and was curious to see if I could spot any changes to the health of the stand. Since only about 30% of the colony has even sprouted I found it difficult to judge. However, I could still see many of last years dead stalks which was an indicator as to how dense, tall, and spread out the plants have grown.

I explained to my apprentice how best to caretake this particular plant so that it will still thrive in the seasons to come. I showed her how I like to clip just above the second or third node from the top so that within a few weeks it will re-sprout another (or maybe even two) new tops. 2013-03-02 11.12.11

Harvesting Stinging Nettle that day was also an excuse for me to try out my newly designed harvesting belt. It isn’t very fancy, simply a carpenter’s belt found at Goodwill with a carpenter’s pouch still attached. On the left side of the belt I chose to attach my Mora knife and on the right my hand clippers.
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The leather pouch is useful for the smaller objects that I like to carry around when I am harvesting and IDing plants. So far it holds:

Botany kit: (loupe, probe, six inch ruler, razor knife)
Leather gloves
Feral Botanicals First Aid Stick Salve
Sharpie and Notebook
Several tincture bottles depending on my needs
Plastic bags
My keys

Soon I hope to add a Hori Hori knife to my belt once I get a nice one.
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I was impressed with the ease of using the belt that day. I could easily reach behind me to grab something and my clipper holster was always right there for easy grabbing.

In conclusion – I loved it! I am sure there will be improvements in the future but for now it’s juuuuuust right.

Now I will leave you with a picture of a premature baby goat named Whiskey.

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How to Make Willow Bark Medicine

Below is a guest post I wrote for the First Ways blog in 2011.

Ever since reading one of the “Clan of the Cave Bear” books by Jean Auel I had been entranced by the idea of using willow as medicine. I remember clearly one of the characters peeling willow bark and making a decoction for his injured brother to help ease the pain and swelling. Since then I have been itching to get out there to make a tincture or decoction, but I was nervous, thinking the skill was perhaps beyond my level. I just wasn’t sure how to go about peeling bark off a plant without hurting or killing it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I learned that an easy way to collect willow is to simply clip off willow twigs and then peel the bark off of the trimmings. Duh! It solves the problem of possibly killing the plant and it is a simple way to harvest in a caretaking manner. willow-flowers

Last week I took a trip to the coast and found quite literally a sea of willow bushes just inland of some of Oregon’s great sand dunes. Turns out these willows were most likely Hooker’s Willow, Salix hookeriana, a coastal willow. Willow loves to grow with her feet wet, so look for her on stream banks, near lakes and rivers, and marshy areas. There are many species of Salix and some may be small shrubs while others can be larger trees. The leaves are alternate, generally oval and elongated with smooth margins, however there is variation between species.

peeling-barkI decided to prune twigs that appeared overcrowded and unlikely to thrive. Some sources say to gather the twigs before the catkins even begin to come out as this has the most medicine, but many of the leaves were already unfurling and the catkins were starting to flower, so I picked twigs that were in an earlier stage of growth. However, you can harvest year round since the plants contain the medicine in it at all times. Early spring is when the plant medicines are most concentrated and so is the best time of year to harvest.

I peeled the inner and outer bark from the stick using my fingers, right down to the heart wood. It was slightly time consuming but also very meditative. The bark, buds, and new leaves all found their way into my pint jar. Then I added 80 proof brandy and screwed on the top. I will be letting this sit for up to 6 weeks before I strain out the material.

My goal for this tincture is to use it primarily for pain caused by headaches. I have not yet found my perfect headache plant and am excited to see how willow will do.

Willow has been used for thousands of years around the world for its amazing pain relieving, anti-inflammatory, and fever reducing effects. The magic comes from salicylic acid, a natural plant growth hormone that can be used for rooting new cuttings. In 1900 Aspirin was patented and sold as a Bayer product. In order to make aspirin, scientists combined acetyl chloride and salicylic acid. The salicylic acid was actually not derived from any willow species but rather from a plant called Spiraea ulmaria or meadowsweet (another plant I would love to work with) which is where the “spir” in aspirin comes from.

The Signs of Spring in Pictures

Spring is approaching quickly here in the Southern Willamette Valley.  After spending my formative years in Eastern Oregon I still can’t get over how much faster spring approaches on the West side.  At first the buds just begin to swell, crocuses poke out of the soil,  and chickweed takes over.  And before I can say “out like a lamb”  plants are bursting with blooms and new growth.  I would say we are just at the beginning of the plant explosion around the first week of March.  Not to mention the bird activity has shall I say, soared into action.  A couple weeks ago I got to watch and listen to dueling male sparrows – I even could tell who the winner was!

The following pictures are just a few of the signs of spring that I have noticed where I work in the wetlands.  They aren’t of the greatest quality being taken on a cell phone so please do not judge.

Taraxacum officionale:  good ol’ Dandelion.  Two weeks ago was about the time I saw dent de lion begin to flower.  Time for dandelion wine, dandelion fritters, tasty young bitters, and more.


Salix spp. Got a shot of both the male and female flower parts or catkins. Catkin is a Dutch word that means kitten.


Dipsacus fullonum  Last years teasel stalk where the seeds are sprouting on itself! Found this just feet from the back door at work.

Bonus Pics

Can you find the animal hiding in the grass?


How about now?


There it is! A GBH (Great Blue Heron) not 5 feet from the bike path.