Archive for May, 2014

Oh, Oak – would you, could you?

Posted on May 31, 2014. Filed under: Trees |

To think the Herbstalk festival starts in just a week!    Here’s a post I did for the Herbstalk blog back in April– Oh, Oak – would you, could you? Enjoy…and you better rush and buy your tickets for the festival! 🙂


We all know oak trees and we all love oak trees. But sadly, we don’t know them as well as we should including us herby folks who can forget the magic they offer.

English Oak (Querus rober) and friend; Family: Fagaceae

English Oak (Querus rober) and friend; Family: Fagaceae

Well, at least some love oaks like they should…right, my squirrelly friend?

There are a couple of classic species used by herbalists: Querus rober (English Oak) which is the mainstay of UK herbalism and Querus alba (White Oak) which is the oak of choice for US herbalism. Most of the common oak species have similar properties since the primary medicinal aspect are their tannins which are prominent in most oaks. The Northern Red Oak (Querus rubra) is one of the most common around here and quite useable for medicine making.

Generally speaking oaks are broadleaf trees with distinct lobes and sinuses which are alternately placed rather than side to side. Their leaves are longer than wide and asymmetrical (in contrast to Maples which are symmetrical and shorter.) Only oaks have acorns which is one of their best identifiers. Black/Red Oaks have pointed lobes while White Oaks have rounded ones.

Ideally, you make herbal preparations from the inner bark and you should use young twigs or small branches for it. However, you can also use the acorns, leaves and galls for it too. Historically, oak galls have also been used to make ink and many famous historical documents were written with oak ink, including the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. (And some Native Americans would use powdered oak galls for treating inflamed and infected eyes!)

Thanks to its tannin content the primary action of oaks is astringent. Think of really strong black tea (which is also rich in tannins) and how tightening and bitter it is when you drink it. This is why it is great for dealing with excess fluid, easing inflammations, helping with bleeding, and as an antiseptic. You generally use it as a decoction or tincture to treat things like diarrhea and dysentery, or for hemorrhoids, mouth inflammations, nasal polyps, sort throats and wounds.

You can use oak in so many ways:
•As a gargle for sore throats, mouth inflammations and coughs (decoction)
•As a cream or salve for hemorrhoids
•As wash for burns and wounds and generally as a disinfectant (decoction)
•As a mouthwash for bleeding gums (decoction)
•Chew on the bark for mouth ulcers and sores
•Use for poison ivy (tincture – the decoction won’t work as well because while the tannins help deal with the rash aspect, the alcohol part of the tincture helps disperse and breakdown the oil)
•Use for rashes (tincture or decoction)
•Use in salve form for muscular pains
•The leaves make for quick field medicine – soften by steaming or immersing in boiled water or just crush them a bit and apply them to wounds to ease inflammation and as an antiseptic
•Drink as a tea for diarrhea (Since the tannins tend to block nutrient absorption don’t take it for more than a couple of days – use it only to deal with the immediate problem of diarrhea and not as a daily tea.)

A couple of fun general oak uses that I love include the tradition of carrying an acorn to feel youthful. Or that the flower remedy is used to help folks be brave and strong in their lives, especially those who have trouble accepting their own weaknesses.

Finally, I’ve been experimenting lately with making acorn unguent – unguents are oily pastes for wound healing, rashes and skin conditions.

Essentially you make a decoction of acorns. (Be sure to throw away those that float when you first throw them in. ) Simmer it until the water is at least half its original volume. Press it out and mix (Slippery or Siberian) Elm bark powder to make a paste and apply as needed. Surprisingly good!

So go out and find some oak love – you’ll never regret it!

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Herbal Madness

Posted on May 22, 2014. Filed under: Events, Healing, Path of the Healer, Random Musings, Uncategorized |

As I mentioned the other week, I’ve been busy lately editing the Herbstalk blog lately, but as we head into the final couple of weeks before the Herbstalk Festival – and you know you want to go don’t you! Heck, I’m teaching there so it’s almost a must! 😉   So I thought that each week, I’d reprint one of my posts from the Herbstalk blog here.   Here’s one I did in February called – Herbal Madness! Enjoy…

Stop! Step away from those herbs…yes, I mean you. I know this is a blog for an herbal festival and so it is all about herbalism, but I just want to make the case for not taking herbs – at least every once and a while. 😉

Shocked Cat (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism

Shocked Cat (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism

It is pretty easy to get in the habit of always incorporating all the wonderful plant friends into our daily lives – teas, tinctures, capsules, etc.   But sometimes I think it is good just to take a break once and a while from them all.

Too often, we tend to think of ourselves as static instead of dynamic. When in fact, we change from year to year, season to season and even day to day as our world changes, our lives change and even the weather changes.

I find it helpful to take a break from time to time and see what is truly going on in your body. What changes have happened? Is there a new normal? Sometimes you can more profoundly recognize the effects of different herbs and what different combination are having on you when you aren’t taking them.

Taking a break and when you’re done – trying a new herb or re-visiting one that you never really connected with before can be a powerful experience.   And one always worth exploring. You may find a new herbal best friend or re-visit a long lost one! More importantly, you may learn something about yourself in the process.

One of the hazards of plant love is that we can begin to see the world through narrowed “herbal” colored glasses. Just like that old piece of wisdom, Maslow’s hammer – if all you do is hammer than everything looks like a nail.  You can see yourself, family, friends and customers and clients no longer as full individuals but as nails requiring an herbal hammer.

I see it all the time on line in places like Facebook, when a simple observation about a momentary mood, event in day, physical ache, pain etc. – invokes a torrent of “herbal” fixes from my many online herbal friends.

I generally just smile, roll my eyes and think “bless their well-meaning hearts”, but sometimes things just are and they pass. It is part of living life, impermanence and being.   Trying to “fix” things through herbs can be just as bad as the over-medicating that seems to be an epidemic in mainstream Western medicine.

Herbs: feel free to use and love them. Share that love with others.

But take a break from time to time to be not so attached. Then you can learn more about yourself and others while remembering to truly see people and be with them and not just see objects to be “herbaled.”

Just my own insane .02

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Where I’ve Been Lately

Posted on May 4, 2014. Filed under: Site News |

I’ve been a bit busy lately since I’m spending time editing the blog for the Herbstalk festival.   You should check out the festival in June (I’ll plug it again in a while!) and the blog!

Say What? (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Say What? (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

There are lots of great herbal posts there, including one by me earlier in the week about the wonders of Oak!

So be sure to read it regularly as we build excitement for Herbstalk and you can get to know the teachers (I’ll be one of those too – talking about Tree medicine!) via the blog!


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