Urban Herbalism

Surviving Our Winter Snowageddon

Posted on February 27, 2015. Filed under: Kitchen Herbalism, Seasons and Climate, Urban Herbalism |

You may have heard that here in Boston we’ve taken a right turn at winter wonderland and dove straight into more of a nightmarish wintery affair.  This has inspired me to share some of my tips for surviving emotionally and spiritually during our Snowageddon.

Nowadays, we look outside our windows to witness scenes like this:

Snow Bound  (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Snow Bound (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Which don’t exactly inspire hearts filled with gladness and joy.  And then when we head out we navigate walled mazes of snow…

Snowy Wasteland  (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Snowy Wasteland (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Just so icky!

One of the first things many herbalists will run to in these times are various combinations of nervines and adaoptogens to help ease that underlying nervous tension and to support you dealing with stress.   Which is a great start but I’m not going to dwell on this too much except to say there are a lot of them and finding the ones that work best for you as you need them is hugely helpful.

Personally, I sometimes go for  a blend I call “Reset Your Nerves” that I make in various forms and drink a couple of cups a day for the worst weeks of things:

Reset Your Nerves Tea (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Reset Your Nerves Tea (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Which is a combination of Tulsi, Oatstraw, Linden and Skullcap and or Passionflower.  And then I supplement things with homemade mushroom capsules with things like Reishi, Chaga and Cordyceps – which I’ll have a couple of times a days with meals.

Then sometimes I go with adaptogenic teas with things like ginseng, ashwaganda, eleuthero or chaga.  It’s depends on what is wanted or needed.

Beyond that when it is particularly cold and the season is filled with storms resulting in strenuous work like shoveling snow and hiking in the cold to get anywhere – I think that is the best time to break out the hawthorn to support your heart as it has to work even harder than normal.  Brew up some generous portions of hawthorn tea and carry a bit of hawthorn berry tincture with you.  It’s good for your nerves and your emotional heart as well – which is also struggling during the wintery onslaught!

There are a variety of supporting practices that I like doing depending on how things are going.

On the caring for you by caring for your skin note, I’m fond of:

  • Doing weekly home facial steams.  Usually on Friday night to help let go of the week.  Just boil up a pot of water, throw in the herbs, cover and turn off the heat.  Let them steep for a bit.  Then lift the cover and put your face over it a towel covering your head for capturing the steam.  Some great herbs are linden, elder flower (great for the sinus too so it doubles as a sinus steam!) and frankly any of the kitchen herbs that get commonly called Italian seasonings like Basil, Sage, Rosemary, etc. are great here and smelling them is so healing for your mood.
  • Never neglect the awesomeness of a foot bath.  Additions such as the nicer essential oils or herbs are wonderful.  Sometimes, I like going in a different direction and try to deal with winter shoe feet ick of all stripes by cutting up  some fresh garlic (let it sit a bit) and throw it in the hot water along with Epsom salt, Apple Cider Vinegar and sometime Tea Tree oil – it feels cleansing, tingling and warming to the soul and the soles!
  • Don’t forget the value of oiling your skin – in the depths of winter I tend to use sesame oil infused with herbs and warming things like ginger and massage it into my skin in the morning after I shower.  So amazing!
Garlic Foot Bath (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Garlic Foot Bath (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Yes, yes, that fresh chopped garlic floating in my foot bath water! 🙂

As silly as it may sound – go to bed early.  Yes it means you have less time in the evening, but even if you don’t realize it at the time your body and spirits will appreciate any extra sleep you can get this time of year.  It’s not like we aren’t all getting chronically sleep deprived in the US anyway, so it is always good advice.

It’s always a good time to indulge in a little food therapy.  Like the magic hot homemade soup on a wintery day:

Parsnip Ginger Soup (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Parsnip Ginger Soup (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

This was a wonderful Parsnip Ginger soup I made.  I grated some fresh ginger (a couple of tablespoons full), chopped up some onions, parsnips and shitake mushrooms and sautéed them for a few minutes in some pastured raised cow butter then added some water, tomatoes and some pepper and sea salt and let it simmer until it was yummy and warming awesomeness!

Provided you’re not snacking on sugary stuff all the time – this is exactly the time where a little chocolate therapy can be called for.

Healing by Chocolate - (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Healing by Chocolate – (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Some of my personal favorites from my emergency chocolate blizzard stockpile!

And last but not least…when there is already too much snow on the ground and there is yet another snowstorm in the forecast – don’t forget the vastly underrated value of just plain running and screaming in the night to release some stress! 😉

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Summertime Fun – When Life Gives You…

Posted on July 24, 2013. Filed under: Food and Cooking, Kitchen Herbalism, Urban Herbalism |

Sometimes you just have to remember to have stop taking herbs so seriously and have fun with them – and luckily that is what this post is kind of about. 🙂

Fun with Lemonade (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Fun with Lemonade (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

The other week Boston was suffering under a heat wave and in a nice bit of serendipity the medicinal herbal CSA I belong to included some Staghorn Sumac berries that week.  Thus Staghorn Sumac lemonade was totally on the agenda.

But, of course, being who I am – I didn’t stop there.   I went all herbal lemonade crazy including making:

  • Lavender
  • Basil
  • Jasmine
  • Rose

and more.   I also used blueberries, raspberries and strawberries and limes instead of lemons in my mad experiments.    In the picture above the lavender is on the left and jasmine on the right.

It was all good and so much fun.

The basics are embarrassingly easy.  Make a tea of your favorite herb that you think would be fun, add some lemon/lime juice and the sweetener of your choice (honey, maple syrup, succanat, etc.)  – stir and chill.  You can also add the juice of other fruits – berries especially are awesome.

I did overnight infusions of the herbs in a quart mason jar myself.  And for that size I preferred the juice of a whole lemon/lime and used either honey or succanat.

But that’s me.

Why don’t you go, play and make some for yourself.

Herbs are meant to be fun and are fun to play with.

You won’t be sorry. 🙂

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Herbstalk – Mega groovy!

Posted on May 13, 2013. Filed under: Events, Uncategorized, Urban Herbalism |

There’s something groovy and magical in the air.   No it is not the Groovie Goolies*, but it is the Boston area’s own groovy, magical urban herbal festival – Herbstalk!

herbstalk2013posterLast year was the first year it came to be and this year we’re doubling it to be two days of pure awesomeness.    So come on down to the Arts in the Armory in Somerville, Massachusetts on Saturday, June 8th and Sunday, June 9th and get your RDA of Peace, Love and Herbs (no actual RDA of which has been established but really can you ever have enough?!?)

(Last year, I got to be one of the very first teachers, teaching one of the first classes and this year I’m coming back to teach an expanded version of my Healing with Honey talk. Yay!)

This year,  leading up to the festival we’re running an Herbstalk blog, which I’m editing, with contributions from the organizers, teachers and vendors for the festival.   So in anticipation for the festival it’s the best place to get a sneak preview for the magic to come.  Check it out as you count the days to Herbstalk.  🙂

*Any resemblance between the Herbstalk organizing committee and the original Groovie Goolies:

is purely coincidental! 😉

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Killing Creativity by Should and Empowering it by Could

Posted on February 27, 2013. Filed under: Random Musings, Site News, Urban Herbalism, Yoga |

creativity

creativity (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

I’d become stuck in my blog writing the past month because I had been planning to review an herbal book that I read recently. Part of my resistance was my disagreement with the book but part of it was me having a bad case of Should (I should do this; I shouldn’t do that, etc.)….

As I read the book, I found my hackles rising. They had so many exact, seemingly arbitrary rules to their brand of herbalism it just struck me as soulless or at the very least very stifling. It was filled with rules that you Should only use one kind of alcohol for tincturing and no others were good, you Should only press out your tinctures at exactly x number of days and not sooner or later. Beyond feeling that was just plain wrong, it felt so undermining of the creative aspect of herbalism that I relish – of course, they had a bad case of Should too!  The result was that I felt very uninspired about reviewing the book, but I couldn’t let go of planning to review it because I Should…

I had also been really busy in my life the past month or so.  Heavy BASS (Busy Annoying Stressful Shit.) Sometimes when that happens I get into crisis mode where I become very seemingly calm and organized. This is great in an actual crisis (no panicking!) but very limiting and stifling to my creative self because it is all about what I Should be doing instead of what inspires me.

We all do this from time to time and in different ways.  When life gives us stress or chaos we try to impose order.  Ranging from full almost OCD rituals to subtler rationalizations – “I did it this way last time and things worked out, so I Should do it again the same way.”  Or when we feel out of control in one, or more, parts of our life we try order to impose order in others or actively avoid change and focusing on what we should, or should not do.

That’s Should.  But Should can be oh so stifling because too many rules can undermine creativity and strict rules can kill creativity.  Yes that is a rule but let’s not look behind that curtain.  Thank you Dorothy….

I see this pop up in herbalism a lot.  I’ve had conversations where an herbalist wondered why I was thinking of trying different types of alcohol in my tincture making when the ones I make were so amazing.  “You found something that works so you shouldn’t change it.”

Why?  Because that is how you learn and grow.  Being willing to shift things about is a foundation of creativity.  (As it turned out one of the different kinds I tried was even better.)

It also drives me nuts when herbalists, or anyone, gets caught in the better/quicker/more (BQM) trap – just because a particular herb or menstruum may work/extract BQM doesn’t mean you have to use it.  Others will work just fine.   Just because something is familiar doesn’t mean you should keep doing it that way!

Should is often all about ruts.

I realized how it was showing up in my yoga practice as well.  In my home practice, I found that too often after a long day of work  I tend to just go back again and again to a combination of asanas I remember and feel “comfortable” enough doing. And so a rut is formed….

I know plenty of other ones (even if that I’m not so skillful in them), just somehow when I get home after a long day and I’m rushing around shifting things in my space to practice I find my brain goes on holiday. Brain: “Nope, other asanas. Never heard of them…”  I know these so I should do them, but I don’t know those so well so I shouldn’t do them.

But how else do you grow but by practicing and trying what you can’t do, or don’t know, well?

Sometimes you get stuck because you find something you can’t let go of.  I’ve always loved this Zen story:

Two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido, traveling on pilgrimage, came to a muddy river crossing. There they saw a lovely young woman dressed in her kimono and finery, obviously not knowing how to cross the river without ruining her clothes.

Without further ado, Tanzan graciously picked her up, held her close to him, and carried her across the muddy river, placing her onto the dry ground. Then he and Ekido continued on their way. Hours later they found themselves at a lodging temple.

And here Ekido could no longer restrain himself and gushed forth his complaints: “Surely, it is against the rules what you did back there…. Touching a woman is simply not allowed…. How could you have done that? … And to have such close contact with her! … This is a violation of all monastic protocol…” Thus he went on with his verbiage. Tanzan listened patiently to the accusations.

Finally, during a pause, he said, “Look, I set that girl down back at the crossing. Are you still carrying her?”

Which is a great example of Should as well as not letting go of what doesn’t work for you anymore.

This brings me back to how I was stifling my own creativity by getting too narrow in my vision from being busy and becoming caught up by Should.  But also not letting go of what didn’t work for me.  You see, my blog wasn’t reflecting all of who I was anymore.

Yes I’m an herbalist, but I actually spend just as much time, effort and self in my yoga practice and studies.  So I’m just as much a yogi.  Then it hit me, that is where my authentic self lay in herbalism and yoga and my blog Should reflect it.

I’ll still blog about my herbal explorations, but I’ll also blog about yoga explorations.  Heck in the time I hadn’t reviewed that herbal book I didn’t like – I had read several yoga ones that I did.  I’ll also blog about my particular intersections between my yoga and herbal lives.  (Neat post about that coming up soon!)

So time to embrace change and real creativity through playful exploration and doing things a bit differently – or in other words by embracing Could instead of Should.

Which is one of the overarching themes of this blog, ain’t it?  Somehow Should caused me to forget that.   🙂

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Herbal Medicine Making: I’ve Got the Rhythm in Me!

Posted on October 10, 2012. Filed under: Urban Herbalism | Tags: , , |

I awoke the other night enveloped in the grip of the season’s cold.  Cold enough to break out the blankets and contemplate the heater, as I did I decided it was now time to harvest the Skullcap and Basil plants I have growing on my window seat in my bedroom (but first I went back to sleep because I’m a crazy Herbalist but not a get up at 3 AM to make herbal medicine crazy herbalist!)  From that I decided to give a quirky little run through of a typical medicine making for me.

After I thank the plants for their gift and have removed what I need, I usually lay them out to wilt a bit on some paper bags in my room safely away from the cats:

Basil and Skullcap Freshly Harvest (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

While that happens I try to decide what I want to make.

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is my favorite Nervine and one of my favorite herbs.  Somehow the Turtles song Happy Together” (Youtube video) goes through my head when I think of it.  (Someday I’ll do a blog post about it to the tune of that song perhaps with some photos of Skullcap and I frolicking, but back to THIS post…)  Skullcap is one of the more polite mint families members was very “Oh, I’d like to be tincture.  Please and Thank you.”  Which is just right.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a tougher member of the Mint family and had a bit of tone of “Screw that! I want to be a Glycerite.” For some reason when I grow Basil it always swears like a sailor.  But as usual with our plant friends, it was so right.

I have a little altar I use for meditation which I re-arrange a bit for medicine making experiments.

Altar for Medicine Making (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

And I leave some of my favorite statues there in support (Thanks Ganesha, Healing Buddha and Tara!)

Next I like to do something to enliven my spirits while I work.   In my case, I love putting on some music and often dancing a bit while I work.   And I’m not remotely ashamed to say I made the Basil Glycerite (using about 3 parts glycerin and 1 part filtered water) I was cranking some Electric Light Orchestra, while for the Skullcap Tincture (using about 5 parts organic cane alcohol, 4 parts filtered water and 1 part glycerin – which is the menstruum blend I’ve been playing with lately) it was the Four Tops!

Medicine Magic Begins (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

I put the wax paper between the lids and menstruum both because of evaporation potentially rusting the lid parts and BPA protection.

Mind you, I also made a bunch of bark tinctures since I was on a roll including White Oak, White Willow, Jamaican Dogwood and Wild Cherry.   So I have a nice kitchen cabinet of them along side some infused honeys in process.

And then I speak with and check them daily (which I talked about before.)  And even though I check them regularly, I like to enter in a special google calendar when I made them and set up some reminders about the appropriate time.   I’m a six to eight week medicine maker myself – but some call out for early pressing out while others need to work more.

Does this mean you should be making a music mix tape for medicine making? It’s totally up to you.  For me, the point isn’t the music but working in a joyful and lively way.   Or anything that syncs your intention with what you are making.   I just particularly like music to set mood and up my energy and spirits – and it is more fun to dance to while working.  I do the same thing when I’m cooking, despite the cats shaking their heads as I bop to some Bollywood tune while making dinner…

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Adventures in Urban Herbalism: Gardening – A Seedy Plot!

Posted on May 13, 2012. Filed under: Herbal Gardening, Urban Herbalism |

It’s been a while since I posted about my medicinal herbal gardening.   Sadly, I’ve gotten a late start since the yard I’m working with is shared with others in the building and this being the first year we had access to the yard we had to divvy up things.   I didn’t find out what my space was going to be until about four weeks ago.  But at last here it is,

Front View:

Plotting (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Side View:

Plotting (side view) (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

It’s about 7 feet wide by 9 feet long and gets plenty of sun.

I spent a little time Earthing and connecting to the soil.

Connecting with the Soil (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Which disturbed the neighbors for some reason, but scaring the neighbors can be good for the soul.  😉

Once I knew what the space was like I decided what I wanted to plant where by looking at the recommended planting distances and estimated heights.  Taken from the book Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs by Tammi Hartung (which is a great reference book!)

Give the space and conditions, here’s what I decided to try growing:

  • Calendula
  • California Poppy
  • Feverfew
  • Lemon Balm
  • Motherwort
  • Mugwort
  • Skullcap

I figured I’d do the Lemon Balm, Motherwort and Mugwort in containers partly because they tend to run a muck pretty easily and partly due to the heights of the last two so I can easily place them where they won’t block the sun of the other plants.  While the rest would go into the plot itself.

According to much of what I read, most of the seeds needed some cold to prep them (cold stratification) for two weeks.  Between the different books and sources there was a certain lack of agreement of the best way to do it (other than putting them in the fridge.)  In the end when I couldn’t decide which thing was best, I went with whichever seemed closest to what they’d find in nature.

I began channeling a little OCD and was putting one seed in each seedling cup as several sources recommended, but then as the seeds grew smaller I surrendered to it and if several fell in, then so be it.   🙂  Besides that is way more like nature.  (I did, just in case, set up 30 seedling cups when in the end I’m aiming for 15 plants.)

Everything thing I read warned you must label the seeds because you won’t remember what was where – with much talk about sticks, toothpicks, labels, etc.   All of which seemed quite excessive to me.  A seedling tray is a grid, just like a spreadsheet. So I just marked what was the front and entered it all in a spreadsheet.

Calendula Calendula
Calendula
Calendula
Calendula
Calendula
Skullcap
Skullcap
Skullcap
Skullcap
Skullcap
Skullcap
Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm
Motherwort
Motherwort
Mugwort Mugwort
Feverfew
Feverfew
Feverfew
Feverfew
Feverfew
Feverfew
California Poppy
California Poppy
California Poppy
California Poppy
California Poppy
California Poppy

See much easier!

While the seeds did their thing, I ordered some nice soil made by Vermont Compost Company.   So I could add another layer to the plot when the time comes and fill the containers for the three going there.  And these great Smart bags for the containers.

Two weeks ago, I took put the seedling tray on their warming mat, underneath their grow light and humidity dome and started waiting for the magic.    Within a couple of days a couple of California Poppies emerged gingerly and gently into the light.  Then a Skullcap and  by the end of the week the rest of the Skullcap.  Then a few more days and a Motherwort appeared and then nothing since…so I began to go into back up thinking, fretting and worrying.

Do I have to order seedlings?  I had lined up a back up place to order (Crimson Sage Nursery) seedlings from which carried all the ones I wanted.  I could probably harvest a few from around the neighborhood, etc.

I hadn’t written off the other seeds yet.  And more importantly,  I had to let go of a couple of things.

First was my attachment to what the books said.  I had become too caught up in the timetables offered by the seductive charts and tables, and my orderly notions that they would all be ready at the same time and all go outside together.  That’s human folly.  The seeds will grow when they chose (or not.)  Some will want to go in May and others in June.

And more importantly,  I may have wanted to plant certain ones, but some may be drawn more powerfully to come out than others.   The Skullcaps were amazingly venturesome, not only were the six you see, but since the seeds were so small I ended up with several seeds in each cup.  And I’ve been busily thinning them because each one seemed to emerge!   (Gee, I can’t image why  nervines would be so needed by someone who makes spreadsheets of a seedling tray….)

Seedlings Go! – (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

So maybe I’ll just end up planting what arrives into the world, when it arrives, because that it the way it should be.  🙂

One of the many reasons I chose this route instead of just buying seedlings.  There are so many learning opportunities at so many levels when you work with the plants rather than let someone else do it and buy their product.

More in the coming weeks as they develop.   🙂

 

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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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Adventures in Urban Herbalism: Gardening – Seeds!

Posted on February 19, 2012. Filed under: Herbal Gardening, Urban Herbalism |

Herbal Seed Packs (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

All my little packets of seeds for my herbal gardening have arrived.  Which somehow makes it all so much more real.  I guess I have to start deciding what I’m doing where (yard, containers outside and in), when I want to plant and figure out when I need to start the seedlings from there. Such fun!

Because it is about the season, there are lots of articles around about starting seeds, etc. in the magazines I get.  And,  of course,  info in the books.   But I think there is a community aspect to all of this as well.  Not just the community of plants and nature but of people.

So I found a local urban agriculture group  that is also offering lots of relevant workshops in the coming weeks that I will attend.   It is called The Food Project – which does lots of great work with inner city kids, the poor and homeless, so they sound like folks I’d love to connect with and maybe volunteer with anyway for lots of reasons.

And I’m starting to explore what other groups there are locally too.  There are lots of gardening groups, but none I see just for folks growing medicinal herbs.  I want to connect with those groups but something more specific would be great as well.  Perhaps that is something I should work on creating.

I have to check it out, but after scouting around I think I have found a local garden center I want to do business with – Boston Gardener.   They are local, independent, urban, organic specialists and support of lot of inner city garden projects. All things I want to support.

So step by step I’m getting there.

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Adventures in Urban Herbalism: Gardening – The First Steps

Posted on February 3, 2012. Filed under: Herbal Gardening, Urban Herbalism | Tags: , |

I continue down the path toward growing medicine herbs in my space in the city.

Marsh Bridge - (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

The Beginning Readings:

The first book I read was The Medicinal Herb Grower Volume 1 by Richo Cech which gave me a nice overview and things to think about. (I reviewed it a bit ago so I won’t go much into it here.) Now the second book I read, Urban Farming: Sustainable City Living in Your Backyard, in Your Community, and in the World by Thomas Fox, ended up rounding that off nicely and gave me some food for thought. I’m tempted to give it a full review another time but for now – it is an excellent overview of gardening, planting, etc. concepts that seem to be left out of some of the other books (because perhaps they just assume you know although you might not) as well as good food for thought. And most importantly I learned lots of things I didn’t know before and found really interesting! Which is so often what I really want in a book. Definitely recommend it.

Deciding What to Get and Where to Get It:

I decided to begin with an insanely unrealistic fantasy list first – just to flex the mental muscles and have fun. So I flipped through a couple of big herbal encyclopedias and made a list of everything that struck my fancy regardless of how sensible it was. I let myself squee with joyously irrational fantasies of actually growing them all…for about a week.  Eventually after looking at list with a some what more realistic eye I pared it down to things I could actually have a chance of growing. (A handy first step is getting acquainted with hardiness zones as outlined on the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone map – this gives you a rough idea of what will do best/survive in your area. Most books and places you order from will reference it as starting point.)

One final check I made before ordering was to see if anything I wanted was against the law to buy, plant, etc. in Massachusetts. (Hey and lets admit it, we herby folks loves us some plants that aren’t always beloved by others!) Most seed places will probably not have for sale things on the national list of banned plants, but the states vary a lot. Certain plants will be fine for one state but not another. (Here the list for Massachusetts.) Luckily, nothing I wanted was going to be a problem.

There were a couple of things I kept in mind when deciding on places to buy seed that I wanted the companies to offer:

  1. Safe Seed Pledge – places pledging not to use GMO seed. The Council for Responsible Genetics originated that and keeps a listing of those companies that do.
  2. Organic – the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association has a partial list, and lists many of the reasons why you should care too.
  3. Bioregion Grown – seeds from plants grown in your bioregion will be better adapted to growing in it. Permaculture Activist has a list of seed companies by state as a starting point.

Now mind you, I like considering everything, but remember it’s never worth getting overly obsessive about matching every criteria!   I ended up ordering most of my seeds from a place in Massachusetts – Organica Seed. And went to a couple of places out west to get the couple of things that I didn’t get there – The Thyme Garden Herb Company and Horizon Herbs. All great places.

So what did I order in all? – Here’s the list:

  • Calendula
  • California Poppy
  • Chamomile
  • Feverfew
  • Lemon Balm
  • Motherwort
  • Mugwort
  • Passionflower
  • Red Clover
  • Self Heal
  • Skullcap
  • Violet
  • Wild Bergamot

Probably slightly more than I may actually be able, or want, to grow but I’m up for the adventure of trying. If there are some I don’t end up using I may give or trade them away or see if I can let them find homes in other places around Boston.  Just call me Mikey Herbalseed! 😉

I’ll be doing some experiments of container and vertical gardening where some of these may end up. I may seed part of the existing soil in the yard space I’ll have with Red Clover to build up the soil for next year rather than plant anything else there. I may try some things with grow lights in my room’s window seat.  Making those decisions and planning the details is still part of the next steps.

To be continued…

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Ways I find the space for my herbs

Posted on December 30, 2011. Filed under: Urban Herbalism |

Sometimes I read the herbal blogs and see how folks store their herbs and realize that while I love what I see, it doesn’t really apply to me.   Many of them have houses with basements, spare rooms, places to build dedicated shelving.    And, sadly, I’m a city boy where rents are expensive and you have smaller spaces with roommates, landlords who won’t let you build, etc.

But I do find my work around ideas that I thought I would share.

The super cheap pine furniture works wonders.   CD racks work for smaller tinctures bottles,  while cheap DVD pine racks work beautifully for larger sizes.  Here’s a range of sizes in a DVD rack:

(Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

And the cheap pine bookcases work well for the dried herbs, which I store in half gallon mason jars:

(Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

And to cover them I installed a cheap curtain rod from a hardware store and scooped up an Indian print on sale from a Tibetan shop in the area:

(Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

Which actually looks way better in real life than in the photo.   I use a little velcro to hold the curtain in place on either sides of the case, which still makes it very easy to open and close the curtain for access.

I’ll be doing the same for the tincture units in the future for aesthetics.

When space is at a premium, like here in the city, things like this work really well and look fairly nice.

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