Plant Friends

True Heart Tea

Posted on August 23, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Herbal Medicine Making, Plant Friends, Trees | Tags: , |

Sometimes in the flurry of daily life your heart can take a beating and become hidden away.   That’s when that happens,  I try to re-connect to my true heart via the magic of Hawthorn, Linden and Rose as a tea (with just a touch of Licorice root.)

True Heart Blend (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

True Heart Blend (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Linden -aka Lime, Basswood, Bee Tree (Tilia spp.)  Family: Linden

Linden is a pretty magical tree in of itself.  One of my favorite bits of folklore says that if you fall asleep under a Linden tree you will be whisked off to fairyland.  To be honest, as much as I’ve tried to replicate that, I still always awake where I started.  Dangnabit!

Although not classified as a Nervine, in its heart Linden is a Nervine. I think of it as particularly helpful for generally calming and relaxing the emotional nervous system and addressing a host of physical ailments whose underlying cause is emotional. Insomnia, IBS, headaches, indigestion and high blood pressure whose basis is more emotional are often best dealt with by Linden.

In this blend I think of it as having a special affinity for the emotional heart – soothing and gently unwinding the emotional knotting of it.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) Family: Rosaceae

One of its other names in England is the May tree because it tends to flower in May.  I like to think of it as adding “Spring/spring” to the heart.   It is also known as the “father of the heart” which speaks to its profound affinity to the heart.

It is the classic herbalist heart remedy and is great for almost every heart and circulatory issue. It strengthens the heart and its antioxidants components help protect the heart from damage. It relaxes the blood vessels and thus improves the blood circulation and circulation to the heart. It generally works in a fairly gentle and supportive way. Its full effect builds slowly so it works best over long periods of time. While not only a classic physical heart tonic it can be a great balm for the emotional heart as well and is almost nervine like in its ability to support in cases of nervous tension and stress.

So I place it in this blend for its healing of the physical heart but also for its ability to align in a healing way to the emotional heart as well.

Rose Family Rosaceae

There’s a saying that “Roses are good for the skin and the soul” and I think that is powerfully true.   While herbally they have been used for their anti-inflammatory properties and ability to help with everything from headaches to sore throat as well as in skin care.  Which is just a way to show off their ability to soothe in general.

There is a particular uplifting quality to ones spirit with Rose is involved, which makes it a great addition to this blend for the more spiritual aspects of the heart.

Finally, I usually add a touch of Licorice root to the blend to harmonize the formula as well as for the touch of sweetness it adds which always help sweeten not only the tea but one’s mood and life.

That’s my favorite True Heart Blend for keeping you “young at heart.”

Young at Heart – Jimmy Durante

Yes, I’ve been on a bit of Jimmy Durante kick lately.  🙂

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Skullcap, so happy together

Posted on April 15, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Plant Friends, Yoga |

In a way, I’m shocked that I haven’t written about Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora; Family: Lamiaceae, Mint) yet. Seriously one of my favorite herbs and my special nervine partner.

I just love it.

So much so that I can’t think of it, see it or hear about it without the Turtles song “Happy Together” running through my head.


Heck, I think my herby friends have a lottery going to see how long before I start humming the tune after someone says Skullcap.

Some of the other commons names for it are: Blue Skullcap, Hoodwort, Virginian Skullcap, Mad-dog Skullcap. Mad-dog Skullcap being the most amusing for its dubious use in the past for rabies.

Skullcap is a classic nervine, sedative, a bit of a bitter and mild antispasmodic. It is high in minerals useful for the nervous system, so it nourishes and supports it to help calm stress and anxiety. It’s a very commonly used for insomnia and pairs particularly well with Chamomile for sleeping issues in general.

Different nervines have different affinities and are better suited for some folks than others depending on their nature and the nature of the issue they are working on.   I tend to think of Skullcap as best for when you’re finding your nervous system is over stimulated and needs help to tone down.

My first flush of love for Skullcap was when used to have a dreadful time sleeping at night and it was a regular part of a tea blend to help me sleep. Nowadays that isn’t so much an issue for me and my regular use of Skullcap fell by the wayside, then I re-discovered it in another way.

Skullcap ties nicely with releasing tension in skeletal muscles, and helps ease muscle tension in general – especially related to stress as well as general physical or emotional exhaustion. It’s not a full on muscle relaxant, you’d look to something like Kava for that, but I’ve been finding it particularly adept in supporting my after yoga practice issues.

Sometimes when I’m working in new asanas or beginning to really have conversations with muscles long dormant and make demands on them they’ve never felt before. They get cranky and carry a bit of specific nervous tension to them for a while.

During those times I will often drink more Skullcap tea generally paired with Nettles for the extra minerals punch which cranky muscles love. Or eat more seaweed for the same mineral awesomeness. (And, of course, extra quality protein in building those muscles!) I’ve been finding the combination incredibly supportive in my yoga work.

So Skullcap has become a big part of my life again in my yoga practice.
In general, in Western herbalism we use the aerial parts (leaves, stems, flowers) which is an interesting contrast because it is originally a Native American herb (used mainly by the Cherokee) and they tended to use the roots and in somewhat different ways – more as a women’s herb. Where it was used in purification ceremonies associated with menstruation. Decoctions of the root were used to stimulate menstruation and ease breast pain. And it was also used to flush the kidneys as well as for diarrhea. None of which are uses we follow with in contemporary Western herbalism. But sound like interesting areas to explore….

Anyway, Skullcap has proven a twice blessed herb in my life first for aid in for sleeping problems I used to have and now again it support of my yoga practice.

Who knows what the future holds for us…

“Me and you and you and me
No matter how they toss the dice, it has to be
The only one for me is you, and you for me
So happy together…”

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Pine Trees – True Punk Love

Posted on October 2, 2012. Filed under: Plant Friends, Trees |

To me, Pine trees are totally Punkers.

The ever cool Siouxsie Sioux

Not only in appearance with their spiky hair and studded cones, but in the most important way as the band the Wrecks sang it so right “Punk is an Attitude” (Youtube video) and “Pine is an attitude” too.

There’s a special attitude and presence about Pine (Pinus spp.) trees in nature – they just stand out in a special way.  There’s their quality as an evergreen, that wonderful scent, the strong essence of strength that permeates the areas they are in.

White Pine Tree (Pinus strobus)

But sadly, just like Punk, their greatness has been co-opted into lack luster products.   Pine scented everything; Pine cleaners with no actual Pine, etc.  All of which hint at the truth of Pine – it is amazing cleanser.   It can actually clean and disinfect with great ease as well as offer spiritual and energetic cleansing.  But that’s just a part of it.

In the herbalist purvey is generally noted as an antibacterial, antioxidant, antiseptic, expectorant, demulcent and diuretic and is generally considered a warming agent.  The needles and bark have special affinities for the respiratory system making for its frequent use for congestion, coughs, lung infections where it helps to clear mucus and fight infections – it pairs wonderfully with Eucalyptus for all of that.  They have been used to ease tonsillitis and laryngitis.  And they also work well helping to flush the bladder and kidneys.

I love using it for its skin related properties.  The resin is the sap that seeps from wounds in the tree and is part of the tree’s defense against infections and is very antimicrobial and a strong disinfectant because of it.  You can use it on skin wounds (chew it for gum disorders and tooth problems!) and its natural drawing action helps with cuts, splinters, boils, abscesses and insect bites.   While the needles and bark can be used to make infused oil which is great for the skin – soothing, healing and greatly calming energetically.  I also make a hair oil with pine, nettles and lavender – which is nothing short of amazing!

Pine needle baths are warming and a great thing to enjoy in winter just throw some in your bath water – or in satchels to put in the water if you don’t want to clean them up out of the tub.  But not too close to bedtime or it might energize you too much.   I find that Pine needle tea imbues you with a wonderful sense of serenity.

Pine also is filled with nutritious goodness.  The needles are rich in vitamin A & C and plantation slaves used boil the needles with molasses as a vitamin and mineral tonic.  Let’s not forget pine nuts which are chock full of minerals such as potassium and magnesium.  Some Native American tribes frequently ate the bark and made teas from it and the needles for those reasons.  The Adirondack Indians name comes from the word “tree eaters.”

In the spiritual realm Pine is a symbol of immortality and the branches often used to cleanse worship areas.  The Iroquois use the bundle of five needles (White Pine) as a symbol of the Five Nations joined together and tell a story that I love:

“I, Dekandwi’d1, and the union lords now uproot the tallest pine tree and into the cavity thereby made we cast all weapons of war. Into the depths of the earth, down into the deep under-earth currents of water flowing to unknown regions we cast all the weapons of strife. We bury them from sight and we plant again the tree. Thus shall the Great Peace, Kayd”narh6’kS’wa, be established.”  (Certain Iroquois Tree Myths and Symbols by Arthur C. Parker.  American Anthropologist , New Series, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 1912), pp. 608-620)

Pretty nifty huh?  It cleansed the evils of war and violence.

Pine is wonderful.  Spend time getting to know it and work with it and you’ll love it too.

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Herb(s) of the Week: I Dream of Mugwort

Posted on July 17, 2012. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Plant Friends, Spiritual Practice | Tags: |

Ah, Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) so awesome and so loved.

Mugwort Fans

See that’s how people react with hysterical joy at seeing Mugwort.

Okay, not really. That’s how herbalists react then.

You don’t buy that either?

Alright…that’s how I react. Happy now?

I love Mugwort. I sometimes get a little too excited about Mugwort on plant walks and can ignore the plants herbalists are supposed to be excited about because they aren’t as common. And since Mugwort is so common it is easy to take for granted.

The fact that it is so common, especially in urban areas is part of the magic for me.

Mugwort—Artemisia-vulgaris (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

Mugwort loves being near us and supporting us like few plants do. New herbalists are often surprised to find it appearing at their door when it wasn’t there before. It’s just Mugwort’s job to be the herbal welcome wagon and welcome you to the plant friend community. 🙂

Personal Connection and Journey:

In the photo above was the Mugwort that welcomed me when I first started studying herbalism formally. It appeared in the doorway of an abandoned garage that I walked by every day on my way to work. It eventually grew to be more than eight feet tall and was the first plant I dreamed about. That specific plant appeared in a dream of mine, inspiring me to make a tea of its leaves and drink before I went to bed that night – leading me to a very life changing dream of reorienting my life to a healing arts path.

Early on in my herbal training I chose Mugwort as the first plant I explored in a journey. From my dream/journey journal of the time:

“I had the image of the green side nourishing me and the silver side protecting me by reflecting harmful energy away. I also saw it reflecting me so I could truly see myself. I felt it entering me and shifting my hormones and re-balancing them.”

At the time I didn’t know how accurate most of that was but it was my first lesson in the value of such explorations in working with plants in addition to actual study (never neglect formal study!)

So Mugwort has been a long time plant ally and even now I pick a leaf and chew it on the way to work each morning.

One of the most poetic summations of the wonders of Mugwort comes from the book Herbal Rituals by Judith Berger (Buy It! Read It! Love It!):

“Mugwort’s renown among common folk as a powerful systemic healer reaching into the reproductive, digestive, urinary, and respiratory tracts has earned this Artemisia the nickname cronewort. Like the old woman who has passed through many moons, harvesting wisdom into the folds of her wide skirt, this common weed, denounced and torn up recklessly by the ignorant, truly walks and lives amongst the people. As the village midwife once nurtured the heart of the community with compassion, knowledge, common sense, and magic, cronewort has soothed the pain of childbirth, eased the tenderness of aching joints, comforted bellies, and instilled vision among human beings for centuries with her knowing medicine.

Intractable and sturdy as a hag, cronewort stretches its roots amid those urban places humans tend to scurry rather than wander in, their hurried pace forgetful of the very existence of the natural world. Affectionately referred to in Russian as zabytko, which means forgetful, cronewort’s strong camphorlike oils, when inhaled, open up chambers of ancient memory with the brain, bringing one’s dream life stirring visions of past and future that overflow with magical imagery. The symbols which dance through our cronewort-touched dreams pull out the cobwebs of our forgetfulness and assist us in remembering old, unwritten ways of healing and living that attend to the needs of the spirit and soul.”

Just beautifully written and it really captures the magic of Mugwort.

Some of the Spirit Properties:

  • It is thought to help with fairy antics and to strip away illusion.
  • Generally considered magically protective.
  • Used for divination – use Mugwort for several nights in a pillow for clairvoyant dreams.
  • Believed to enhance spiritual vision, dreams and meditation.
  • Aids with connections to self.

I have to admit I tend to use it more along these spirit lines than anything else. But it, of course, has health uses as well.

Some of the Health Properties:

  • A bit of nervine and generally calming to the system.
  • It’s a good digestive bitter and a Mugwort vinegar will support and improve the digestive system and increase appetite.
  • A gentle diaphoretic and warming.
  • A strong traditional ally to women, hormonally balancing and an Emmenagogue (do not take during pregnancy.)
  • It can also be used as an external remedy with strong infusions helping with Poison Oak, bruises, ulcers, etc.

Not often the go to remedy for any of these conditions, but it is a shame because I think it is a wonderful supporting herb when used in combinations with the other herbs along those lines. Even by itself it is effective and has more gentle action than the first choice herbs used for similar ailments.

It has a variety of fun older common and folk names including: Artemis Herb, Cronewort, Felon Herb, Gypsy’s Tobacco, Mother of Herbs, Naughty Man, Old Man, Old Uncle Harry, Sailor’s Tobacco, St. John’s Plant, Witch Herb.

Here some of my favorite things that I’ve read about but never tried with it:

“Bruised Mugwort leaves mixed with fresh butter is a good remedy for sprains and dislocations. Boil 1 tablespoon Mugwort in wine and water, and take every two hours for gravel and bladder complaints.” – Brother Aloysius

Conclusion: Mugwort is a great plant ally, abundant and helpful. A friend to herbalists too often passed by for flasher herbs. Talk about the girl next door the hero ignores and shouldn’t – that’s Mugwort all over. Spend some time with Mugwort and learn to love it as the Ambassador of the Herbal World that is all around us.

References of Note:

Comfort to the Sick by Brother Aloysius
Healing Magic by Robin Rose Bennett
Herbal Rituals by Judith Berger (most poetic)
Backyard Medicine by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal (best write up)
Magical Herbalism by Scott Cunningham
The Magical Lore of Herbs by Marion Davies
A Modern Herbal by Maud Grieve
The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants by Matthew Wood

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A Beautfiul Day in the Herbalhood

Posted on May 6, 2012. Filed under: Nature, Plant Friends, Urban Herbalism |

I’ve been finding inspiration in the abundance of medicinal herbs right here on the streets of Boston.   As I’ve been appreciating all the marvelous plants and snapping pics on my cell phone, I thought it would be fun to post about it and to make it a sort of test of how generous nature is with her healing offerings even here in the city.

Here are the rules I set for myself:

  • The plants I cover can only be within three blocks of my house
  • They can’t be in parks, gardens, etc.  they have to be wild city plants.  Side walk spaces, median strips, vacant lots or off abandoned sections of yards near the street are fine – as long as it is clear no one is tried to plant them
  • They have to be in more than one location in that area.  If there is just one plant it doesn’t count or if it can only be found in one place it doesn’t count.  And there has to be enough that you could harvest for yourself if needed – not for making medicine to distribute to others.
  • And only finding these by casually looking in my normal walks to and fro.  No extensive searches or going up streets and locations I usually don’t.  I want to find what is offered, not what I can hunt down to exploit.

The notion is you’re home, you need something quick and within five minutes you can find what you need for yourself.  And in particular, I’m doing this focused on being in a city, not a suburb or the country, etc.  – that’s what I’d call an Herbalhood.

Be warned there are a lot of pictures here.  And because of the volume, I’ll only mention a tiny bit at best about what each is good for otherwise this would be a mammoth out of control post. 🙂

In alphabetical order by common name, here we go…

1) Burdock

Burdock—Articum-lappa (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

In this case I found two whole different abandoned lots filled with them.  Burdock is traditionally used for cleansing toxins from the system and considered good for the liver.  Hmm, that area has lots of liquor stores and really greasy, fast food restaurants.
2) Chickweed

Chickweed—Stellaria-media (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

Hey it’s all over. Soothing and good for various skin conditions as well as being a nutritive plant.  Pretty much everyone living in the city needs that.
3) Dandelion

Dandelion—Taraxacum-officinale (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

Detoxifying and cleansing – with special affection for the kidneys and liver.  It’s everywhere we are, because everywhere we live we need it.
4) Greater Celandine

Greater-Celandine—Chelidonium-majus (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

And it is everywhere as well.  Traditionally a cure all  – with affinities for the lungs and gall bladder.  Sap is used for warts.  But it is strong plant best used with knowledge and care.

5) Ground Ivy

Ground-Ivy—Glechoma-hederacea (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

Another one that is everywhere.  Often used with ailments and weaknesses of the ear, nose, throat and digestive system.  Hmm, all the things city air and life hurts the most.
6) Knotweed

Japanese-Knotweed—Fallopia-japonica (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

Don’t even need to point out how common this one is.  In traditional Chinese medicine it is used for cancer, inflammation and high cholesterol.  And here is considered as a treatment for Lyme disease.
7) Mugwort

Mugwort—Artemisia-vulgaris (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

To be truthful, this particular mugwort isn’t around anymore (not that mugwort isn’t plentiful locally enough to count.)  I chose to use this picture because it illustrates the ability of the plants to appear as needed.  This one was in a corner of door of an abandoned garage and grew to eight feet tall.  It was the first specific plant I dreamed.  I saw it in a dream and knew I had to make a tea from its leaves.  I did  so that night and had a very influential dream on my life path (I may share that another time.)   Mugwort is traditionally a digestive and for elimination of worms.

8) Mullein

Mullein—Verbascum-thapsus (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

Not as abundant as some of the others but I found four plants in different locations so I count it. Used historically for coughs and congestion.  And externally as a wound healer.

9) Nettles

Nettle-(Stinging)—Urtica-dioica (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

Another one that is everywhere we are.  And outside herbal community not given the love it should.  One of the most nutritional and nourishing plants around.  Better than most of the one’s we buy in the stores to put on our tables.  It’s detoxifying and helps with skin conditions.

10)  Plantain

Plantain—Plantago-major (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

Another one in abundance.  Where Europeans walk it follows so goes the lore of Native Americans (earning it the name White Man’s Footprint.)  Great for drawing out toxins from wounds and easing itching – mosquito and other bug bites.

11)  Red Clover

Red-Clover—Trifolium-pratense (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

Another fairly common one.  Often used for skin conditions and as an expectorant.  Plus it helps rebuild the soil.

12)  Reishi

Reishi (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

I found three of these which surprised me, so I decided to count them.  There are several different species of reishis which all have the similar immune building uses.
13) Shepherd’s Purse

Shepherd’s-Purse—Capsella-bursa-pastoris (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

This year we have an embarrassment of riches with Shepherd’s Purse.  Not just clumps of plants every 10 – 15 feet, but only stands like this every block or so it seems – particularly in the area of my neighborhood near where there had been several  shootings and assaults this spring.  It’s good for bleeding – coincidence?

14)  Violets

Violet—Viola-odorata (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

Another that is pretty common.  Used for coughs and congestion and in treating breast and stomach cancers.

15)  Yellowdock

Yellow-Dock—Rumex-crispus (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

I found one stand in with a bunch a knotweed, plus about a half dozen assorted individual plants in different locations.  So present and easy to find.  The root is a handy laxative.  Hey no one eating take out fast food in the city ever needs that, right?  😉

And two honorable mentions that aren’t used medicinally so much now but used to be.
16) Garlic Mustard

Garlic-Mustard—Alliaria-petiolata (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

It’s every where and particularly abundant this year it seems.  It is not only yummy to eat.  But it traditionally was used externally for ulcers.

17) Winter Cress

Winter-Cress—Barbarea-vulgaris (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

Another mustard that is making a strong showing in my Herbalhood.  I found about eight of these about.  Old scurvy treatment amongst other things.

Ta-da!  And that is almost a dozen and half without trying hard.  If I had looked harder or loosened my rules, I could have easily increased that number.  Heck, if I included trees alone that would have done it (I left off trees because in the city they are planted by choice rather than being provided by nature like these.)

And somehow, thinking about the neighborhood/Herbalhood, I feel myself channeling Mr. Rogers (who was so the Jimmy Page of children’s television!) and with apologies to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood I give you…

Mad Crow’s Herbalhood

It’s a beautiful day in this Herbalhood,
A beautiful day for a herbalist,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It’s a herbally day in this beautywood,
A herbally day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a herb just like you,
I’ve always wanted to live in a Herbalhood with you.

So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my herbal?

Won’t you please,
Won’t you please,
Please won’t you be my herbal?

Ah, brings tears to my eyes.

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Thanks Plant Friend

Posted on December 6, 2011. Filed under: Plant Friends | Tags: |

Red Clover (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

It was a struggling December day in Boston and my soul was weary, but it was made so much better because I stumbled across a beautiful patch of Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) on my way to work.

Not technically rare since there are autumn blossoms of it (but actually it isn’t autumn anymore), but it was a beautiful surprise since I wasn’t expecting it and it was growing in a place I walk by daily but had never seen it before.

So I paused and sat on the ground, despite being in my work clothes, and just spent time with it as the rest of my neighborhood marched on to the subway in their pre-caffeine zombified state.  It renewed my spirit, just at time when I needed it.

It’s easy to list out all the “bigger” ways the plants can heal us physically, but it is the subtle and random ways when they appear and heal the spirit where the true magic can be found.

Thanks, red clover!

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