A Forgotten Piece: A documentary about my life as an herbalist

Life with a baby has certainly hindered my blog posts, so I apologize for the lack of content these past few months. I have been busy however, and wanted to share with you a beautiful video a University of Oregon graduate student made about my life as a forager, herbalist, and mentor. Andrea did a beautiful job piecing together my story along with clips of me foraging, making medicine, and Jasper of course. I want to share this with you all and give you a little inside scoop of my life and vision for living with the Earth.

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Lilac Flowers – an Edible and Medicinal Treat

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Lilac shrubs have always been one of my favorite signs of spring. Growing up in Eastern Oregon we wouldn’t see the blooms until at least May, but here in the Willamette Valley we are blessed seeing them bloom as early as the beginning of April. Vases filled with freshly cut lilac reminds me of family, home, and my grandmother who passed on her green thumb to my mother and then on to me.

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My grandmother Vera Mezger circa 1940

Lilac or Syringa spp. (the common species is vulgaris) is in the olive family and is native to the Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe. People emigrating from Europe brought the shrub to plant in their gardens in order to savor a piece of home. Here, out west, pioneers brought lilacs with them during the 1800’s and now you may find lilac growing wild in abandoned lots and homesteads.

Lilac fragrance is wonderfully intoxicating, however, it is very difficult to capture the scent. Synthesizing in the lab is the only sure way to get a true scent. Here is an interesting recipe on how to capture the scent at home: How to Make Lilac Fragrance.

The flowers are edible and have some medicinal qualities. I have to say eating even a single flower raw is a flavor exploding experience giving my mouth a slight astringency (drying to tissues), bitter, and heavy floral taste. I would say these are best for garnishes and edible flower displays on pastries rather than whole meals.

Medicinal uses are still a gray area when it comes to just the flower. Most resources that I have found (random blogs, pfaf.org, A Modern Herbal) list that the medicinal benefits of Lilac come from the leaves and fruit. Apparently, it was used as a tea or infusion historically, and has been used as a anti-periodic. Anti-periodic basically means that it stops the recurrence of disease such as malaria. There has been some studies that indicate a febrifuge action which may help bring down fever.

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The flowers themselves I can only guess based on my taste observations which include actions of astringency, aromatic, and perhaps bitter qualities.

Astringents tighten, draw, and dry tissues such as skin. So a wonderful application would be a cold or warm infusion to use as a toner on the face. Or using the same method but apply to rashes, cuts, and other skin ailments.

An aromatic action causes irritation to the place that it is touching (think GI tract) and irritation brings blood flow and blood flow equals healing! Eating the flowers raw may help with gastric issues such as flatulence or constipation. Making an herbal infused oil may be a great way to capture the aromatics for healing purposes and to make your own fragrance oil. (*Update* The flower oil I made turned out to be pretty gross. I recommend wilting the flowers heavily before adding to the oil. Remember oil and water don’t mix!)

At the end of the blog I have included some links to great recipes to try with lilacs. I decided to try my hand at two of them that I will share. Lilac honey and lilac infused oil.

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Lilac Honey

Jar size of choice (1/2 pint, pint, quart etc.)
Local, pure honey

Fill jar with freshly picked flowers with a little room at the top. Pour over honey to the top and cap. Allow to infuse for at least 6 weeks. No need to strain afterwards – eat the flowers along with the honey! Great for adding to recipes, spreading on bread, or adding to teas.

Lilac Infused Oil

Jar size of choice (1/2 pint, pint, quart etc.)
Carrier Oil – Olive Oil, Jojoba, or Sweet Almond Oil are options
Optional – Vitamin E Oil for preservation

Fill jar with very wilted flowers (make sure the flowers are as dry as possible to discourage rancidity). Cover with carrier oil and cap. Allow to infuse for up to 6 weeks. After 6 weeks strain and use in salve formulations or as a base for an aroma oil. Try combining with Lavender, Patchouli, or Jasmine Essential Oils.

Here are some ideas for using lilacs in cooking from other recipes online:

Lilac Jelly
Lilac Wine
Lilac Liqueur/Cordial
Lilac Infused Blueberry Syrup
Lilac Ice Cream

One more point of interest. Lilac wood is supposed to be one of the densest in Europe and has been historically used to make musical instruments such as pipes or flutes. We had to cut down one of our lilac shrubs I am sad to say, however we kept all the branches. I will choose one to make a pipe (hopefully one day soon) and will describe the process in another blog post.

Stop and smell the flowers!

Rose of Sharon – Bring Me a Medicinal Shrubbery!

IMAG0493Matt and I purchased and moved into our first home back in February. At that time we had many small shrubs and trees that were bare and very difficult to identify. By Spring the lilacs, tulip trees, dogwoods, and the various (very old) roses were in full bloom or leaf.

Except for a very large shrub in the North East corner of our backyard/garden area. She took forever to leaf out and I was convinced may not even come back to life this Spring. Our wonderful neighbors to the North however had the scoop on everything that had to do with the previous owners including plant identification. Apparently the unknown shrubbery is a Rose of Sharon and yes she does bloom. By June however I was very disappointed with the lack of any blooming and thought that perhaps the neighbors were a bit off.

IMAG0499It wasn’t until early July that a bit of purple caught my eye in the sea of green. I thought perhaps I was seeing things when I investigated further – lo and behold a beautiful lavender/purple flower was unfurling. The first of the season! Now it is early August and the blooms keep coming. Hummingbirds, ants, bumblebees, honeybees all enjoy the luscious pollen and nectar. Anyone who comes to the house and notices the large shrub are astounded by the size of her! She is as old as the house which was built around 1952 and has at least five different branching limbs all of which shade that part of the garden and block our watering. Sigh.
Matt has been slightly terrified that I will do some research to see if the Rose of Sharon has any medicinal properties (because then I would be less ok with us trimming or taking her out). Guess what? She does!

Rose of Sharon or Hibiscus spp. (the species could be syriacus) of the Malvaceae family aka the mallows are deciduous shrubs native to Asia. The shrub is highly prized for the beautiful flowers that open during mid-summer which can be a wonderful addition to a home landscape when all other flowers are done by June. What most people are unaware of (including myself up until just recently) is that the entire shrub is edible and medicinal.

Eat the flowers raw or added to salads for a splash of color. The taste is very mild, not sweet or bitter – come to think of it very ‘mallow’ like if you have eaten any mallows. The young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked however I can’t say from experience about the flavor since it is too late in the season to eat them that way. Apparently the root is also edible but I don’t see any reason to dig it up just to eat.

Now medicinally I find this exciting. I never would have thought it would be in the Malvaceae family that is until I took a petal and squeezed it between my fingers. It was slimy! And boy do I get excited about slime or to be more technical – mucilage. Mucilage is our mucous membranes best friend whether internally or externally. Or other exciting terms are demulcent, soothing on the inside, or emollient, soothing to the outside.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the various medicinal uses of plants that are new to me. I see the list of actions such as the ones for Rose of Sharon: antipyretic, diuretic, stomachic, styptic etc. and understand what the words mean but don’t necessarily understand how to use them medicinally. So instead I break it down to my level of how I would use this plant and what she offers. So let’s just stick with the slime.

Mucilagenous substances soothes, heals, protects, any mucous membrane in your body. Mucopolysaccharides or mucous with many sugars, when ingested coats the inside of your body. When they reach your large intestine they are partially broken down by the bowel flora and long story short becomes a ‘pre-biotic’ because it feeds the good flora in your gut. Thus giving you good intestinal health and soothing. Now think of inflamed situations in the GI tract that Rose of Sharon could soothe: heartburn, ulcers, IBS, colitis etc.

One herb I always like to use if I have a urinary tract infection is marshmallow because the mucilage will also coat my urinary tract, reduce swelling, cool the fire, and heal the membranes. The Rose of Sharon can be a wonderful substitute since I don’t have marshmallow growing in my garden.

As an emollient the mucilage will help bring down inflammation from ailments such as rashes, burns, bites, and stings. If using a dried powdered form of demulcent and you add just a little bit of water it will actually act like an astringent in that it will dry, draw, and shrink tissue. I am excited to try it on poison oak dermatitis.

The leaves, flowers, bark and root bark can all be utilized as medicine. I would use the leaves and flowers as a demulcent. One article I read suggested drying the flowers and powdering them to keep on had for adding to tooth powders, facial exfoliants, or even added in to body butters. Here is the link to the neat blog about that.

Make the leaves and flowers into tea for internal soothing or even make an herbal oil with the flowers. It is possible to use the bark for demulcent qualities as well. The root bark may be used as a febrifuge and even a vermifuge. As far as I can tell Rose of Sharon is a very safe plant without many or any contraindications. As always be careful if you are pregnant or are on a cocktail of drugs.

I end my report with this: sorry honey the Rose of Sharon ain’t going anywhere!

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