Early Fall in Louisiana

I can’t believe it’s been since the summer solstice that I have sat down to share with you. We had our trip to England July/August, have done endless hours of improving and expanding the garden project on the property we are renting, started homeschool co-op where I am teaching health and wellness one day a week, have vended at a few events including the always fun Cirque du Lake, spent time with friends old and new,  acquired a calico cat (long story) and so much more in addition to my current work of  expanding and deepening my work as a clinical herbalist,  harvesting and making medicine with the plants in the garden, wildcrafting when it makes sense to do so and supporting Dan’s paid jobs both at the nature park and landscaping. We also had an INCREDIBLE chanterelle season this year- it was long and abundant and thus we were able to provide quite a bit to local chefs this year.  And also there has been some growth to the etsy shop! Here’s to more of all of that!

And also, with all of that goodness comes the overwhelm at feeling busy with so many tasks each day and yet not feeling a sense of growth around any of it. I like to think of each big step as comprised of hundreds of tiny actions, each seeming disconnected and insignificant but over time, building up brick by brick a new structure, a new paradigm,from which we can begin to build again and again.

But sometimes that doesn’t happen, or it doesn’t feel that way and we are just scrubbing toilets, doing dishes, folding laundry, reading books to your kids and so much unpaid and unappreciated labor.

In the field of my own life, I have found this to be a seasonal pattern. Summertime is hot and we want to be outside, but doing so takes a toll. Add in the financial stress of vacation time and extra childcare, plus the societal expectation that we are just natually toned, tanned and carefree in the summertime,  and transition easily back to “real life” in the Fall. Or maybe you work in an office, or in a cubicle, or in a store, so all that doesn’t really apply to you. Summer is just like all the other days, except you are spending 8 or more hours in super cold air conditioning.  Our bodies are amazing creations, and works so hard and well at maintaining hormesis (….) that we don’t always notice subtle imbalances. For most people, Fall is a time to rest more, rebuild with nutritive herbs and nutrient dense foods, nourish the immune system, and calm our minds while we continue the tasks of harvesting and processing the last vestiges of the summer garden, and the abundance of right now. It’s a time for work, establishing routines and finishing tasks, but with a calm and focused heart.

Here are some of the foods that require our attention to partake in, and some  herbs to support that work.

 

 

Passionflower

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Passionflower vine keeps on thriving well into October, flowering even. In some gardens, the Gulf Fritillary butterfly larvae have laid waste to entire.  I’ve included passionflower because it demands my attention right now. The vine is still beautiful and growing while flowering, and so if I want to store any more for tea over the next year, I must pick up the pace and harvest more for drying.

Passionflower is a classic nervine herb, especially helpful for insomnia characterized by circular thoughts.

 

Hackberry is a most useful staple food, if you can collect enough to store. They are fiddly to harvest and time must be invested but if you are able to collect enough to make hackberry milk, it is well worth your time. Hackberry milk is bright orange, slightly sweet and makes a perfectly fine substitute for almond or soy milks. It can be used for most any recipe that calls for milk. I like to think of a hackberry as having a date m&m coating, and it kind of does. Crunchy and sweet shell around a hard seed interior.

Persimmon

Goldenrod

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Sumac

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Think about elderberry syrup. We could add some persi

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Learn to Make Herbal Remedies with Pineywoods Permaculture

I’m really pleased to have been asked to participate in this awesome event at Caddo Mounds State Historical Park in Alto,Texas.

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If you are local to NWLA or ETX, come out! Registration required.

Fall CSH Wild Medicine Box now ready!

Coming Soon! (1)

We are so pleased to announce that our Fall CSH is now available for purchase.

What’s a CSH, you ask? Are you familiar with the concept of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). It’s the idea that you buy into a share of what the farmer grows that year, paying upfront for a box of produce that you will receive according to the terms of the agreement. In this case, we have taken elements of that system to come up with something that works for our unique situation. You see, as an herbalist, I choose to work with plants that grow in my bioregion. That means that the vast majority of my herbs are either grown in the apothecary garden or ethically wildcrafted in my area. That means that necessarily the plants used change from season to season. As they should! Our bodies respond to the seasons, and our needs change from month to month. It is my belief based on observation and practice that the most basic needs of our inner ecosystem can be met with that is ripe and abundant in our greater ecosystem.  That said, you don’t have to be from Northwest Louisiana to benefit from the remedies found within the CSH. Plant medicine that is thoughtfully prepared from any bioregion is wonderful support. Also, I love to see what beautiful combinations and novel ways to use plants that I also use in different ways my fellow herbalists come up with.

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This is also a great way to introduce plant medicine into your life and your routine if you are new to herbalism  and perhaps are unsure of what to use or how to use it. One of the key differences of buying into a CSH instead of purchasing a single remedy is that you get detailed instructions and information on the plants and preparations found within. This offering is truly an offering of love, and i am so happy to share it with you.

The Autumn Wild Medicine Box will contain:

Elderberry/Sumac/Monarda/Oregano Oxymel

Medicinal Mushroom Extract

Goldenrod and Wild Persimmon Elixir

Seasonal Fire Cider

Respiratory Steam

Immune Support Chai

By ordering this way, you get seasonal products that are not offered anywhere else because they are crafted specifically for my CSH customers. You also get discounted products by purchasing a box, and you get heaps of free information on the hows and whys of each item you receive.

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If you really want to support me and my work, I also offer a yearly subscription, which includes some extra lagniappe along with your boxes.

If you would like to purchase you Autumn Wild Medicine Box, you can do so using this listing https://www.etsy.com/listing/549245007/wild-medicine-boxes-autumn-edition?ref=shop_home_active_22 or you can contact me at redearthsbc@gmail.com.

I look forward to getting these boxes into your hands.

Summer Solstice- Herbs and Rituals for Connection and Healing

 

What exactly is the summer solstice? It’s a phenomenological event that happens each year, around midsummer,  when the rotational axis of the Earth is most inclined to the Sun.  Consequently, it is the longest day of the year. It is certainly an auspicious time, and cultures the world over since time immemorial have marked this day with festivals, feasts, ceremony or ritual.  We don’t have to be aligned with any particular spiritual or religious path to recognize the importance of marking time throughout our lives, and the older I get, the more poignant that marking time throughout the year becomes to me. A large part of my personal healing path has been to learn to embody the marking of time through the year, both with my herbalism and also with my life and spirituality. That is a continually evolving process, but one that I would like to begin to share more about.

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To me, the primary energy around the Summer Solstice is FIRE. Working with the elements in this way gives us a paradigm of wellness and balance in an experiential way. There are many ways that fire can manifest in our life: digestive fire, personal fire and passion for our life and livelihood, our creativity, our ability to bring forth the physical manifestation of will. We might find places where this fire is deficient, and discover ways of igniting it and keeping it stoked sustainably over the course of our lives. We might find areas where it is in excess (easy to do in the summer- too much Pitta from an Ayurvedic perspective) and turn to herbs and practices that balance excess heat.

You could question your relationship to Fire in your life:

What are you fired up about?

Is there a good balance between activity and rest in your life- is your fire burning too hot in some areas?

What is growing and working in your life, nurtured by the long days and heat of summer? What is not working and needs to take a break?

Herbs for the Summer Solstice:

St. John’s Wort Hypericum perforatum

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St. John’s Wort is not an herb that grows wild in my bio-region, and I haven’t experimented with cultivation yet. I have however, found other Hypericum species wild, which was incredibly interesting. During our time in Spain, St. John’s Wort was one of the first plants that we ever harvested for medicine making. It grows so abundantly there in some areas, and I will always equate this plant with the Summer Solstice. I like to make medicine (or acquire it) this time of year to use specifically in the middle of winter as part of a SAD- Seasonal Affective Disorder protocol.

St. John’s Wort has been popularized for it’s use in treating depression, but it goes far beyond that. It has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. An infused oil of the plant, which should come out bright red, is vulnerary  and analgesic, which means it is healing and pain relieving. This makes it particularly effective for painful skin conditions and burns.

I don’t use St. John’s Wort much these days, but I felt like it is worth mentioning due to it’s long history of use and reverence this time of year. One of my teachers, Darcey Blue, has written a lot about this herb. She recommended making kombucha with freshly made St. John’s Wort tea, which I did last year. It was a potent and medicinal brew for sure. If you happen to have dried St. John’s Wort on hand, you could try it- simply add your scoby to the sweetened St. John’s Wort infusion instead of traditional black tea. You may want to use an extra scoby, as the powerful antimicrobial actions of the herb could degrade your scoby over time.

Mexican Mint Marigold Tagetes lucida

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Sweet Mexican Mint Marigold 

Mexican Mint Marigold, sometimes called Mexican Tarragon, definitely has a tarragon like flavor. Tarragon is an Artemesia species plant, whereas Tagetes are all Asteraceae or Sunflower family plants.

This beautiful and hardy plant can is perennial as far north as zone 9, and I think that it could be protected as far as North Louisiana. It makes an incredibly delicious tea- I am loving it as a cold tea as it gets hotter and hotter here. Medicinally, it has an incredibly long history of use in Mexico down into Central America. It is thought to be native to Guatemala. There, it is used as a carminative for digestive upsets and excess gas. Again, tending to our digestion this time of year can free up excess energy that can be used to fuel other areas in our life.

Last year, during my time as an apprentice at the Wildflower School gardens and apothecary, there was an abundance of this beautiful plant. I had the opportunity to work with this Tagetes a lot by harvesting and drying a large quantity, and Nicole Telkes, my teacher, blended it into an amazingly delicious blend cooling tea with hibiscus and other herbs.

Calendula Calendula officinalis

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Calendula is yet another wonderful plant to grow in a garden. Although calendula is most known for it’s notable vulnerary actions (wound healing), it is also useful in that capacity for it’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. In addition to that, calendula is extremely helpful as a lymphatic herb. The health of our lymph is related to the health of our immune system, and sluggish lymph can be easily moved with movement and herbs. Calendula has many other actions beyond these, but for the sake of brevity, I will focus on the digestive tract. I have had success using calendula internally for many types of gut issues- the lining of our digestive tract is skin! Since we are working with the fire element this time of year, and our digestive fire is definitely implied, calendula could be a wonderful plant ally to focus on healing the digestive tract.

As an infused oil, a salve, a tincture or a tea, calendula is easy to grow, easy to use and easy to love.

Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis

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One of the first lemon balm harvests of the year. 

Lemon Balm is a wonderful plant to have in the garden here in Louisiana. It grows quickly, and is perennial, so it should come back each year. If you have grown or used lemon balm, you would have noticed it’s distinctive citrus scent and flavor- hence the name! Lemon balm has a high concentration of volatile oils, including citral and citronellal. It is calming and antispasmodic to both the nervous and digestive systems. Lemon balm also has strong antiviral properties, and is used specifically for the herpes virus. Lemon balm can make a delicious tea or tincture and combines well with many other calming herbs <nervines>.

I love how lemon balm really gets going this time of year. It is right before the plant goes to flower, so the concentration of volatile oils and other constituents is highest- hence it is the optimal time for medicine making.

This time of year, around the Summer Solstice, it is perfect time for a few specific and nourishing practices:

  • Medicine Making

With all of the plant in bloom and growing vigorously, harvesting is necessary! It doesn’t have to be a selfish act in the energy of taking. Harvesting can be what a plant needs to thrive- pruning to provide air flow, allowing energy to flow back into the roots for an ultimately stronger plant, to encourage vigorous growth, etc. For me, medicine making simply means finding ways of getting plants into my body. That is what herbalism really is- ingesting plants, taking them into your body, as often as possible! Done with care and attention, making a batch of sun tea is most definitely medicine making. Do you have lemon balm or lavender growing in your garden? Drink it! As an herbalist, I am making tinctures, infused oils, cordials and syrups, infused honey, and drying plants for later use a lot these days. You can do that too! Get a few plant starts from a local garden center and plant them in pots if you need to. This part does not have to be complicated. You can also have me come out to your property and tell you what edible and medicinal plants you have growing on your property.

  • Tending the Digestive Fire

One sad truth about summer time is that cold drinks are not wonderful for the digestive fire. That said, I’m truly not willing to forgo ice cubes and refrigerated quarts of tea all summer long! We can make sure we keep our digestion running smoothly this time of year by eating more simply. This is easy with all the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables in perfect season right now- tomatoes, yellow squash and zucchini, peppers, lots of garden herbs, okra, eggplant…Most people are drawn to salads and lighter fare beginning around now. We can make a point to give our digestive system a break by eating lighter and also with some of the herbs I talked about above. Aromatic and carminative herbs and spices can be appropriate and help stimulate adequate digestion. Bitters may also be appropriate if the digestion is stifled or sluggish. Dandelion root, burdock root, there are a lot of herbs that could help here. You can always have an consultation with an herbalist if digestion is a concern you have. These are very general suggestions, because what it means to tend your digestion will ultimately be different for you, because our needs are different.

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Lemon blossom infused honey is incredibly easy!

Movement is also critical for optimal digestion, and for igniting the metabolic fire.  The details of the type of movement isn’t really that important- but what is important is that we move every day.

Another piece for digestive fire, and the Fire element in general is a yogic practice called Breath of Fire. It is not difficult to learn but a little tricky to explain, so here is a video to help you get started:

Breath of Fire with Anne Novak

  • Simple Fire Ritual

This can mean so many things! I really just mean finding a way to consciously bring the Fire element into your day. It can be building a bonfire, or simply lighting a candle. Smudging can also be a way to bring in this fire element and burn away negative though patterns and energy.

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Smudge Stick with yarrow, Artemesia ludoviciana and Monarda fistulosa. 

I really like to burn smudge sticks with intention, thinking about the parts of myself and my life that are no longer serving me, and cleansing them away with the smoke. You can also write out a few things you would like to prune from your life on small pieces of paper and then carefully burning the bits of paper in the flame of a candle. Make sure you have a plate or a large shell to catch any ashes.

A nugget from the 2017 We’Moon :

“Often, this time of year, we feel as if there is too much of everything, including good things. There is so much to do and be! It’s not easy to handle this overload with grace, and we can experience confusion, frustration, shame and fatigue. It’s comforting to recognize that we are in the grip of nature’s fecundity. This is a time of assessments- am I creating consciously? Am I nurturing something that no longer serves me? Is my own Desire guiding me? Should I stay the course? Feeling out of control may be a sign that something is out of balance. Personal ritual around overwhelm can help us tip the balance from chaos to feeling the sweet fullness of life.”

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Texas Star hibiscus! See the passionflower vine surrounding this beauty?

Early Summer Sensory Explosion

Right now, the weather has been heating up here in NWLA, although we have had some amazing rain storms that have resulted in ridiculously lush gardens and general vegetation.  It’s around this time that I start to miss the cleavers and chickweed and other tender wild greens of springtime that have long since withered or disappeared entirely from the landscape. However, there’s a few trees and plants that are literally making my life right now!

  1. Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)mimosa
  2. Elderflower (Sambucus canadensis)

  3. Bee Balm (Monarda spp.)

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    Monarda punctata <Spotted Horsemint>

  4. Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

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    photo credit: http://www.atlanticavenuegarden.com/

Runners up in the plants who make this time of year amazing contest goes to gardenia, citrus blossoms of all types (kumquat and ponderosa lemon are two that are blooming right now in my yard) and various and sundry seasonal fruits (blueberries, blackberries and peaches)

While spring may be succulent mild tasting greens, digging juicy roots, early wild dewberries, mulberries, loquats and more, this early summer period is all about the flowers. While that means that on a practical level, it’s less about procuring nutritional sustenance from the landscape, and more about pure sensory experience. Maybe we could even go so far as to call it Beauty Medicine. First off, the smell! This is an incredibly aromatic time of year- when trees are in bloom! We know that some of these scents have been captured for millennia as fragrance and in cosmetic use. Citrus blossom (neroli, for example), magnolia and gardenia all are exquisite. Less well known may be the thymol rich and intense scent of Monarda, or bee-balm.  Elderflower has a very delicate scent that is both incredibly hard to define and very distinctive. Mimosa has a delicate cotton candy vibe to it and is very aromatic.

Added to that is the way that these plants all bloom at the same time a year. Mimosa can be very invasive, and elder is also quite weedy, and so in a wet environment, these two can absolutely thrive and form dense thickets, which are spectacular to behold.

How then, can we make use of this incredible abundance right now? Here are some ideas:

Mimosa

Here’s why I love mimosa blossoms- they are a delight to the senses- the trees smell incredible, they look like the famed Truffula trees in the Lorax, they have a flavor akin to honey cotton candy. With all that gorgeousness, it isn’t hard then to believe that mimosa (both the blossoms and the bark) have been used medicinally, especially in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. It is known and used to bring in a lightness of spirit, and it is known as the Tree of Collective Happiness. It is a joyful tree, and it isn’t a stretch to see how it can bring in that quality through it’s physical medicine.

-syrup

This is my recipe for Mimosa Blossom Syrup

  • one pint fresh mimosa blossoms
  • one pint filtered water
  • one pint demerara sugar

Bring water to the boil, and add sugar. Stir briskly to melt sugar. Turn off the heat, add blossoms and cover. Let steep for a few hours or overnight. Strain and jar. Store in the fridge.

While this syrup is made with sugar, you could definitely try making it with honey instead. This syrup recipe is not quite shelf stable, and I wouldn’t keep it in the fridge for more than a few months.

Use this syrup anywhere you want something delicious- in sparkling water, iced teas, drizzled on a bowl of berries and cream, cocktails, on cakes- I promise you won’t have to think hard in order to use it all.

Makes approx 1 pint. 332

-cordial

Fill a jar with fresh mimosa blossoms. Cover with equal parts brandy and local honey. Let steep for 4 weeks. Strain, store in a beautiful bottle and enjoy until the mimosas come back next year.

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-wine

I haven’t made a wine or a ferment of any kind using mimosa. Well, I have used mimosa syrup in the second fermentation for kombucha. Apparently though, mimosa blossom wine is a thing:

http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/request235.asp

-tea

Use the dried blossoms all year to add to your herbal tea blends for a pick me up.

Elderflower

Elderflower is a classic European edible and medicinal blossom. It is still very common in many different countries in Europe to see sodas, cordials, liqueurs and more flavored with this beautiful white umbel flower. Elderflowers (like elderberries) have a market diaphoretic action, which means that it allows the pores to open and the body to sweat. It has been used since antiquity as an effective treatment for colds and flu alone or with complementary herbs.

-cordial

Fill a jar with elderflower blossoms. It’s a little tedious to take the blossoms off of the stems, but you can do it. Just be mindful that it will take a while. Do it as a family, or get a group of friends together for maximum enjoyment. Add equal parts brandy and local honey. Let sit 4 weeks, strain, bottle and enjoy. Lasts indefinitely and can be used as medicine in the case of colds and flus. This is strong food medicine.

-wine

Elderflower wine is a classic, and actually quite easy. We made our first batch last year, and it was drinkable! We are hopefully going to make another lot this year and see if we can tweak it (or wait longer) to be even better.

Here’s an elderflower champagne from forager and accomplished author Leda Meredith:

http://ledameredith.com/elderflower-champagne-recipe-wild-edible-plants/

– syrup

Fresh Elderflower Syrup

  • one pint fresh elderflower blossoms
  • one pint filtered water
  • one pint demerara sugar
  • 1tbsp. lemon zest

Bring water to the boil, and add sugar. Stir briskly to melt sugar. Turn off the heat, add blossoms and lemon zest and cover. Let steep for a few hours or overnight. Strain and jar. Store in the fridge.

While this syrup is made with sugar, you could definitely try making it with honey instead. This syrup recipe is not quite shelf stable, and I wouldn’t keep it in the fridge for more than a few months.

Use this syrup in exactly the same ways you would use the mimosa syrup- ice cream, cocktails, sparkling water, iced teas…

-fritter

Fried whole fritter blossoms- like elderflower funnel cakes!

http://deeprootsathome.com/recipe-for-old-fashioned-elderflower-fritters/

 

You can also dry elderflowers for tea, or infuse them in honey for a quick way to preserve and use them.

Monarda

Ah, Bee-Balm. This plant in all of her glorious forms has been a principle plant ally of mine for a while now. I wrote a monograph on her during herb school, and I would like to post that here sometime soon.  That said, Monarda is such a versatile and important plant to have in any herbal first aid kit. Monarda has high levels (higher than thyme) of the strongly antimicrobial constituent Thymol. There are a number of different species of Monarda that are native to Louisiana, and there is much variation between them. Monarda is also a wonderful plant to grow in the garden, where it is a perennial and even can get a little weedy! It’s great to cut it back and make medicine when it starts to get out of control.

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Beautiful Bee Balm

-respiratory steam

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, throw in a handful of dried Monarda leaves and/or flowers. Cover and let steep/cool for 5-10 minutes. Grab a towel, and carefully open the lid, cover your head with a towel and breathe in. Be extremely careful not to scald yourself, depending on a lot of different factors, even 10 minutes may not be sufficient for the liquid to cool enough to safely inhale. Please do not do this without being extremely careful and checking the temperature thoroughly before.

This steam is wonderful for respiratory infections like bronchitis, and really helps to open up the sinus cavity to breathe fully when you are stopped up and feeling yucky.

As Monarda has antifungal properties, this could even be used as a foot soak for athletes foot.

-tea

For best results, you want dried bee balm. Use 1 tbsp. leaves and/or flowers for around 1 pint of tea. It will be strong, but deliciously oregano like and a wonderful wellness tonic to drink once in a while or if you feel like you are getting sick or already are sick.

-food spice

When I make dishes that call for oregano, I almost exclusively use bee balm instead. The leaves have an oregano like taste and I just love to use it whenever I can.  Used with chili powder and cumin for taco meat, added to spaghetti sauce, blended into pesto or chimichurri, it is an extremely versatile wild spice.

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Monarda fistulosa

Making an infused honey is a wonderful and easy way to use your fresh blossoms. Fill a jar with blossoms, cover with local honey, let steep for a month and strain. You can dry the honey coated blossoms in a dehydrator for an instant (and free and all natural) cough drop that really works. Use your infused honey in place of regular honey in recipes or enjoy by the spoonful for sore throats.

Magnolia

Oh magnolia blossoms. Such a quintessential Southern spectacle. And also the state flower of Louisiana. I grew up with a magnolia tree in the front yard, and each spring my mother would place a blossom in a bowl of water on our coffee table, replacing it each day until there were no more blooms. That is pure aromatherapy there, no essential oils required.

-pickled magnolia blossoms

A few years ago, we fermented slightly unripe magnolia blossoms in brine with a little kimchi juice as an innoculant for the ferment. It worked very well, but we have missed the season for it this year. We don’t have a great place to collect any magnolia blossoms right now, sadly.  We did that year though, and I would make these again in a heart beat. You don’t use a lot of it, as the flavor is quite pungent and aromatically floral, but a few slices of pickled magnolia blossoms on a Ploughmans lunch plate, or blended into a piquante thai sauce, or rolled into sushi is perfect.

-infused vinegar

So easy- add a few roughtly chopped blossoms into a jar and cover with apple cider vinegar. Let sit for a few weeks and then strain. Use in salad dressings, sprinkled on cooked greens. You could even add sugar or honey and create your own magnolia blossom shrub soda.

-leaf as spice

Our Deep South Magnolia grandiflora is in the Laurel family, along with bay leaves. While magnolia leaves are huge, you can substitute part of a leaf for bay leaf in any recipe. I use them in stews and broths and they definitely make an acceptable substitute.

That year we found ourselves with an abundance of magnolia blossoms, we also distilled a hydrosol, or flower water, from the flowers. I used that in a spray bottle as a face toner, and found it to be calming to the skin, anti-inflammatory and slightly astringent.

I feel like I could do an entire post on each of these plants themselves, and perhaps I should have in retrospect. I hope you get out there and make something that brings you joy! Ask the plants for permission, harvest with respect, and enjoy the incredible gifts that this time of year offers.

Red Earth Wildcrafted at The Shreveport Farmers’ Market 2017

We are back for another season at the Shreveport Farmers’ Market.  This year we will be in booth A-18

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In addition to some of our staple products like Louisiana Fire Cider, Wild Herb and Mushroom Salts, and Yaupon Tea, we are excited to offer a seasonal apothecary of herbal wellness products specifically for the force that is a summer in the deep south. Calming, cooling, skin soothing, liver supporting- these are some of the themes that we are working with in the creation of targeted and incredibly useful products!

Cordials

  • Kava and Mimosa
  • Mayhaw and Milky Oats
  • Elderflower and Rose

Wild Wound Spray

After Sun Spray

Wildflower Antioxidant Facial Serum

Nourishing Hair Serum

Love Your Liver Syrup

Juniper and Goldenrod Salve

The Healer’s Garden Salve

and so much more….

Come out this June and say hello!

We enjoy supporting our local food scene, and also bringing our own flavor to the table with us. We love introducing people to some of the incredible plants that are unique and abundant in our bioregion.

My Foraging Practice in Late Spring

I was listening to a podcast <Rewild Yourself, holla!> the other day where the host was discussing his foraging practice, and it make me realize how although I definitely have a foraging practice and have done for a long time, I am not always directly conscious of it and with that comes a detriment to the depths of enjoyment and understanding.

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Dandelion leaves, flowers and dewberries

For the last few weeks, I have been foraging lots and lots of dewberries. We ate a lot of fresh dewberries while out harvesting, and just by the handful while standing at the fridge. I also made a lot of cobblers, sometimes with added garden blackberries, or loquats- and urban/suburban foraged favorite of mine, and once with fresh mayhaws from a local farm. I sometimes used acorn flour I had collected in late fall/winter and recently processed into this last batch of flour.

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Dewberry and Blackberry Skillet Cobbler

I fermented a jar of dewberries, and froze some, too.

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lactofermented dewberries for the fridge

I feel like I made an effort to “stack functions” when it comes to my foraging practice this year. I have said before that I feel that especially for women, this is community work. It has been hard to find like minded souls who will be respectful of the process and the plants. This year, I went with friends dewberry picking various times, generally with children, and was attentive to movement- making sure to practice squatting and moving in a squatting position, although in retrospect I could have done more.

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Handful of fresh, delicious loquats!

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Can’t forget the mulberries! We too advantage of this fleeting abundance too!

Another foraging practice I have is what I will broadly refer to as weedcrafting (phrase coined by my teacher, Nicole Telkes) In the early spring, we do leave our yard to find large quantities of chickweed and cleavers, but most of the year that simply means collecting and eating, or drying or tincturing the weeds in the yard.  This year, that period of abundant tender and juicy wild spring greens came early- in Feburary, and so now the chickweed and cleavers have all but disappeared. I still go around a collect small amounts of violet leaves, dandelion leaves and flowers, plantain leaves, and dock leaves for various salads and preparations but the incredible abundance of those greens is gone.

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Dewberries, mulberries and Prunella vulgaris

Also, wild onions and garlic! I collected a lot of this, sold a little and dried a lot. I generally don’t pull up the bulb, although our local field garlic and wild onion species are not threatened in the same way that ramps are. They are prolific reseeders and grow like weeds. No fear and no shame about harvesting these.

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To be honest, this time of year my foraging practice has fallen by the wayside, because of the necessity to tend the garden. It is definitely a shift, and one that I am not always convinced is the best one. I try to mitigate this by installing perennial foods and medicines into the garden so that my practice of tending and harvesting in the garden looks and feels more like the experience of harvesting wild plants, but that is absolutely not the case with the labor and resource intensive annual food crops we as a culture love to eat (tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, yellow wax beans, blue corn, and okra to name a few we are currently growing).

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Rainbow chard and beet greens, tatsoi and a selection of peppers, all from the garden.

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Purples in the garden- thai basil, hyacinth bean, lavender and sage

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The last of the daikon, peas, and broccoli with banana peppers and thyme for a breakfast sautee.

Soon, the chickasaw plums will be ripe and we will go a few days and collect our allotted five gallon bucket per person per day (as per the rules of our local wildlife refuge), the bee-balm will be fully in bloom and I will harvest some, although this year I am growing no less than 4 different varieties of bee-balm in the garden. I will also collect dock seeds to make into crackers and flour. I’m also awaiting the ripening of a few of our early grape species around here.Those are a few of my foraging plans for the near future.

It is also the beginning of chanterelle season, and although last year we had the good fortune of being able to collect quite a few, this year we haven’t yet. I don’t know that we will have much of a chance either. That is the trade off with a foraging practice- it requres time that many of us don’t have these days. We missed pine pollen season this year (luckily we made enough last year to see us through) simply because Dan was working the days it wasn’t actively raining during the extraordinarily brief window. With climate change, seasons and times for plants shift and you have to be acutely aware of the signs of each different plant so that you don’t miss that opportunity. Hopefully the weather will be perfect for chanterelles, we will have an abundance of time to explore and we will find the perfect honey hole! If not, that’s okay too. It’s always in flux and you have to be flexible.

That said, it is all an imperfect work in progress. I see my foraging shifting more into gardening, but that doesn’t fill my soul in quite the same way as getting my basket and going out into the forest to collect food and medicine straight from the source. I don’t want for my actions to glorify the act and encourage those without a grasp of ecology to overharvest. But I can also say simply and truthfully that without having been introduced to the beauty of the natural world vis-a-vis plants, and specifically foraging, I cannot imagine how the trajectory of my life would have unfolded. You cannot protect what you do not know, or what you do not have a vested interest in saving. Conservation efforts are ultimately more successful when people intimately know the land and when they feel a connection to it. I know the land around here, and I care about it BECAUSE I forage and wildcraft in it. It’s just an abstract otherwise.

What are you growing and/or foraging right now where you are?

Cleansing, Detox and Seasonal Tonics

It’s now late March and we have passed the vernal equinox (how did that even happen?) We are past the onslaught of New Year’s resolutions and social media commitments to juice fasting. We are into Spring! In case you didn’t know, the dead of winter is the absolute worst time of year to consider cleansing your body. Our bodies are built to hold on to nourishment for that time of year, and so forcing a cleanse is actually biologically inappropriate. There are many reasons why I don’t recommend hardcore cleansing or fasting for the average person, but here are a few reasons in a nutshell:

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A selection of wild and garden greens.

  1. Most people need nourishment, not punishment. For most people in most cases, a cleanse is the last thing they need to do. Many people choose to do a cleanse after a period of illness, or feeling run down for a while. When this is the case, the body generally is depleted and needs nourishment, not punishment. This is not to say that cleansing does not have its place, but that its place is much smaller than the health food industry would have us believe. Add to that the fact that as our soil and food supply is severely depleted of minerals, so too, are our bodies. Most of us really need building up, not a massive clean out.
  2. Our bodies are already great at cleansing themselves-lets’s support it! Cleanses are chosen sometimes due to weight gain, or because a person knows they have been eating crap for a while, and they don’t feel good because of it. Our bodies know how to detoxify our system. We have kidneys to extract waste from our blood and our liver to detoxify chemicals and other foreign substances. We also have an entire lymphatic system that does a damn fine job of filtering out and moving out most of what is harmful to us. We can definitely support these organs/systems in doing their job more effectively, but that happens by cutting out the crap and letting them do their job!
  3. The way we like to cleanse is not at all ancestral in nature, although cleansing itself can be. Hello, master cleanse! I’m looking right at you here. While I don’t dispute that many people report positive changes while subsisting solely on lemon, maple syrup and cayenne powder, many people also have had less than optimal experiences on that type of fast. Sometimes the shift itself, regardless of what the change is, that is the healing agent.

What I recommend instead:

Seasonal Tonics! This is what our ancestors did, and we can play with that to create some unique and delicious seasonal tonic blends for ourselves and our families. Right now, my family is feasting on the veritable bounty of detoxifying wild greens. We make juice with cleavers and chickweed, add in henbit and deadnettle to our smoothies, eat lots of salad with fresh garden greens, make pesto with all of the above wild greens plus plantain leaf, dock leaf, dandelion leaf and more. We also infuse these wild greens into a mineral rich spring tonic vinegar to add into other recipes. We take advantage of the short season for poke greens, preparing them properly and adding to fritattas, curries and more for a more substantial yet powerfully cleansing and lymphatic system supporting seasonal food.

In addition to all of the fresh wild greens available right now, there are other traditional springtime cleansers. These herbs generally fall into the category of alteratives, which by their nature cleanse and purify the blood. Some locally available and bioregional alteratives to consider are yellow dock root, burdock root, red clover, sassafras root, and prickly ash.

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Precious dandelion root and leaf

Nutritive herbs We want to build the body by giving it an abundance and variety of minerals and vitamins. Typical nutritive herbs  would be nettle, oatstraw, raspberry or blackberry leaf, dandelion leaf, plantain, and red clover teas. Polysaccharide rich decoctions with burdock root, dandelion root, yellow dock root and medicinal mushrooms like turkey tail and reishi also build and nutrify the body on a cellular level; massage oils infused with those same herbs listed above provide another pathway for the herbs to work.

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Reishi- one of the medicinal mushrooms listed above

Have you ever committed to making a nourishing infusion for yourself regularly? There is a lot that can shift by deciding to add in a mineral rich herbal brew to your routine every day, without having to take away anything or deprive yourself. My hunch is that you will find yourself craving junk and sweets much less, because that is just what happens when a body is optimally nourished. If you are looking for a place to start, start here. Take one ounce of dried nutritive herb (see those listed above-nettle, oatstraw, dandelion etc.), put it into a large quart sized mason jar and pour hot water over the top to fill the jar. Cap and leave for at least two hours, but overnight is great. Strain and drink that quart over the course of the day and evening. Switch out your herb over the month, and once you develop a taste for the plants you can always mix and match following your tastes and intuition.

Digestive fire Coming out of winter, when the nature of things is to slow down and hibernate sometimes the truth is that we need a kick-start for our digestion. Warming herbs such as ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and chili pepper can be added liberally to food. Spicy curries are great this time of year, as are steaming mugs of aromatic chai tea (have you tried chai made with our native yaupon holly leaf instead of black tea? Still caffeinated yet bioregional and local). Homemade lactofermented sauerkraut with added garlic and chili pepper is a great addition to any meal to not only increase our digestive fire (Agni) with the spices but also gut healing probiotics. I wholeheartedly recommend that anyone who has ever experienced digestive upset to increase their probiotic intake- whether through supplementation or ferments.

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Spicy native Chiltepin peppers

Bitters (though generally cooling) can be used to start the physiological digestive process and prepare the body for food.  The bitter flavor is one that in our modern diet, we have shied away from and decided that we don’t enjoy it. It is however, a fundamental flavor and part of an entire cascade of processes that the digestive system goes through to get the body ready to eat and digest. One drop of bitters is enough to activate the salivary glands and stomach enzymes necessary for proper digestion.

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Lacto-fermented radishes are spicy, bitter and probiotic rich. Perfect!

Exercise. If you don’t have a routine already, starting small and gentle is the best way to go. Walking around the neighborhood, exploring a local nature park, YouTube yoga videos, working on your squats- all of those are wonderful.

Specifically for building and amping up your digestive fire, Sat Kriya is a great standalone exercise from Kundalini Yoga. It involves breath of fire and mantra practice. Start out at one minute and work your way up to 11 minutes at a time.

Sat Kriya video

And lastly,

Sunlight The healing effects of sunlight in general and Vitamin D in particular cannot be overstated. It’s no secret that we spend entirely too much time inside, especially during winter when the cold, rain and depending on where you live, snow, make it not the most appealing prospect to be outside in the elements. Well, now we can! Sometimes that means that we have to shift some habits to open the time and space to make it happen. Committing to 20 minutes of being in the garden each day and/or a weekly nature walk are both so necessary for our body, mind and spirit.

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Perfect sunlight filtering through the forest on a walk in Arkansas last year

I want to link to a few Red Earth Wildcrafted products that are the perfect support for this time of year. While collecting and using your own weeds and herbs is ideal, I recognize that it isn’t always possible or practical for everyone, which is why I created my apothecary line. I want for everyone to have access to the healing and restorative power of nature through the experience of wild foods and bioregional herbalism. So here are some springtime tonic offerings for this moment in time:

Nourish and Balance is a blend of nettles, holy basil and red clover. This tea blend helps support the liver in detoxifying stress hormones from the body and provides a healthy dose of mineral rich nourishment. Great for those who want to incorporate nourishing infusions into the routine.

Mineral Vinegar Tonic is chock full of wild spring greens gently infused into apple cider vinegar in a way that can replace your regular ACV in salad dressings, splashed in to brighten up soups, stews and grain dishes, added to bone broth at the beginning of cooking, or mixed with water as a cleansing morning shot.

We also have our Spring Clean Liver and Lymph tincture formula locally at the Agora Borealis or in our shop by request. This seasonal blend of wild greens and liver supporting herbs is a great way to support your body in doing what it does best. We like to add a few droppers to our water bottle throughout the day for ease of use.

I hope this helps! Let me know what you are doing to take advantage of this auspicious time for awakening our body and senses to spring.

 

Adaptogens in Bioregional Herbalism

“All plants contain adaptogenic/tonic compounds, because plants have to contend with a good deal of stress themselves.” -James Duke

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Homegrown Holy Basil

Adaptogens are a trendy topic nowadays, with herbs such as astragalus, ashwaganda and shatavari  being household names in some cases. This is partially due to adaptogens being highly publicized in health food store marketing, publications and products.  I think it also has to do with the fact that so many of us are struggling to be sane in an insane world. We live in a time where for most people, literally every aspect of our lives is lived contrary to our biology and adaptation. Sitting on a chair in an office cubicle for 8 hours a day at a desk while staring at an artificial light emitting box is something that many of us do for a large percentage of our life. If it’s not in an office cubicle, then it is in our homes. This is not an adaptative behavior that humans have evolved, and doing so creates physical strain and stress on the body, as well as mental and emotional stress and a whole host of other issues related to it (lack of sunlight and Vitamin D synthesis, breathing in recycled air, wearing professional/uncomfortable/restrictive clothing, etc.) These have impacts on our health over the course of our lifetimes. For folks who are awake, aware and conscious of the impact of our “business as usual” behaviors and lifestyle on our own sense of health and wellbeing, there is an enormous sense of stress that comes with the feeling of inability to change or subvert the culture in which we are a part of.

Point is, we are all stressed out. We all have busy lifestyles, live in a culture of stress, and that is the definition of an adaptogen! An adaptogen is an herb that helps the body respond to stress in a better way. In the book Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes,

Adaptogens are remarkable natural substances that help the body adapt to stress, support normal metabolic functions, and help restore balance. They increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors and provide a defense response to acute or chronic stress. They are unique from other substances in their ability to restore the balance of endocrine hormones, modulate the immune system and allow the body to maintain optimal homeostasis.

That said, the functional definition, as defined in 1968, is:

  1. An adaptogen is nontoxic
  2. An adaptogen produces a nonspecific response (an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical or biological agents.)
  3. An adaptogen has a normalizing influence on physiology, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor.

It is interesting to note that the term ‘adaptogenic’ is relatively  new to herbalism. It was first coined in 1964 by Russian scientists studying Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng). It is a new category of herbal action that was not used in Traditional Western Herbalism, although it can be thought of as analagous to the Chinese TCM ‘chi tonics’ or the Ayurvedic ‘rasayanas’

Some of the adaptogenic herbs I have worked with the most are:

  • -Eleutherococcus senticosus (eleuthero)
  • -Astragalus membranaceus (astragalus)
  • -Ganoderma lucidum (reishi)
  • -Panax ginseng  (Asian ginseng)
  • -Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng)
  • -Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi/Holy Basil)
  • -Schisandra chinensis (Schisandra)
  • -Asparagus racemosa (Shatavari)
  • -Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice)
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American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), a native medicinal that is now extremely rare in the wild.   photo: US Fish and Wildlife Services

Now, each of the herbs listed above are adaptogens. Each of those herbs has a set of energetics, an affinity for a particular (or set of) body system, organ or tissue, actions and constituents that are unique to that plant. That means that some herbs might not be the best choice for one particular person with a particular set of circumstances. Adaptogens are generally safe (hence number one of the functional definition above), but this is one of many reasons to work with a practicing herbalist!

Another piece for me is the bioregional piece. This idea of adaptogens or “tonic herbs” in the TCM sense isn’t as well developed in the western materia medica. This goes back to the term being coined in the 1960’s.   That isn’t to say that we don’t have analogous herbs, but this hasn’t been researched fully as far am I as aware.

As a bioregional herbalist, a gardener, and a person who is concerned about the consequences of our global economy, buying ANY herb from across the world is not my first choice. I believe in local herbs, and finding alternatives that work for us on a local scale. Holy Basil grows wonderfully in my bioregion, and I suspect some of the other herbs would too. I have heard it discussed in the permaculture world that my state, Louisiana, has much in common with certain regions in China in terms of climate and topography. It would make sense that many plants that grow well in those regions would do well here too. There is a native species of Schisandra, but like with many plants, it is now very rare. I don’t know much about it’s use as an adaptogen or a medicinal herb in general, as there is very little information and it would be impractical to find any AND also unethical to harvest any amount of such a rare plant. There is much to be said about the sustainable use of Panax spp., but that is not in the scope here.

Wise Woman Herbalist Susun Weed has discussed the invasive shiso or perilla mint as an adaptogenic herb with energetics similar to tulsi. I saw some of this growing in a yard on my walk to the post office this morning. I don’t personally find the flavor of it as compelling as that of tulsi, but I do like it and use it in practice quite a bit.

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Wild Shiso (Perilla frutescens)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the growing body of evidence that adaptogens are being used by many people unsustainably- to power through fatigue without changing key lifestyle components contributing to stress. In some studies, even though taking an adaptogens results in an initial reduction of cortisol levels, long term use of the adaptogen actually showed increased cortisol levels, which can result in adrenal burnout- one of the main conditions that adaptogens are used for.

One of my teachers, Paul Bergner, has discussed this in a lecture entitled  “The Dark Side of Adaptogens: Appropriate and Inappropriate Use”

To end, I would say that adaptogenic herbs can be an incredibly helpful allies for many folks during times of acute stress. My personal approach is to use them daily, as foods,   for specific and limited periods of time.

Sometimes I like to rotate tulsi into my daily nourishing herbal infusion. I like to add astragalus root, reishi, and even eleuthero into my bone broth when I make it. Shatavari and tulsi both work very well added into a nice chai tea blend.

I haven’t gone in depth on any particular adaptogen, but I hope to have discussed various aspects of the larger idea of adaptogens. I wrote about Reishi in a previous post Reishi Mushroom: Ancient Forest Being as Medicinal Ally for Trying Times and will be writing monograph style entries on a few more soon.

If you’d like to try one of our products that contain adaptogenic herbs, we have available here on Etsy:

  • Tulsi tincture, made with fresh homegrown holy basil.
  • Reshi tincture, made with wildcrafted reishi mushrooms
  • Open to Joy tincture, with tulsi, mimosa, lion’s mane mushroom, and milky oat tops.
  • Nourish and Balance tea, a calming and nutritive blend of tulsi, nettles, red clover and lemon balm.
  • Magic Broth Maker, our herbal broth blend, contains reishi, astragalus, and/or eleuthero.

Crossvine: Native Medicinal for Rejuvenation

I want to talk about one of my favorite wild plants, Crossvine. Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) is a perennial native vine that is common in forests of the Southeast. Crossvine is also sometimes grown as a garden ornamental because it has incredibly gorgeous trumpet shaped orange and yellow showy flowers that hummingbirds love. It flowers in early spring, when most other plants have not begun to bloom, and is one of the first sources of nectar for ruby throated hummingbirds as they journey back into the area. Crossvine is preferred forage for the swamp rabbit and is also eaten by white tailed deer.

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It is a member of a largely tropical family of plants that includes Catalpa, trumpet creeper and Paulownia or Empress Tree. Crossvine has leaves that are semi evergreen and opposite, compound with 2 leaflets appearing as 4 leaves per node. Oblong, lanceolate with rounded bases. The leaves are smooth and hairless. There are branched tendrils for twining and clinging between leaflets.

 

There is a long documented history of use as a medicinal herb, although it is not usually included in the materia medica of modern herbalists (even those from the southeastern US). Native American usage of Crossvine was passed to slaves, but largely fell out of use as modern medicine popularized and traditional herbal remedies fell out of favor. The leaf was used by the Cherokee as a blood purifier or alterative herb; the Koasati used the leaf for rheumatism and the bark was also used in baths a a remedy for headaches.

Crossvine was brought back into use by Alabama Appalachian folk herbalist Tommie Bass. I first learned about Tommie Bass’s use of crossvine for mules worked to exhaustion and as an adaptogen from Darryl Patton, who himself learned from Tommie Bass. The only other reference in popular herbalism that I have found is from Matthew Wood in The Earthwise Herbal: New World, where he references both Darryl Patton and Tommy Bass.

 

Chemically, crossvine is interesting. It seems to contain an indole alkaloid (reserpine) which was previously thought only to be found in another plant family. The small studies that have been done on crossvine seem to show that yes, crossvine does have an effect on human physiology, but that most likely it isn’t down to the effects of that one alkaloid (surprise!)

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Crossvine is drunk as a tea. Traditional usage is 3 leaves per cup as an adaptogenic herb for fatigue and exhaustion. It was also used by Tommy Bass together with pippissewa as a “renal rejuvenative”

I find crossvine to have a very mild and ever so slightly sweet green flavor. Crossvine is intended to be used over the course of time, and people say that after a week or so of drinking crossvine tea, they find that they feel less worn out and tired than before. My favorite blend to make with crossvine is combined with goldenrod and nettles for when allergy season is in full swing. I react to our juniper species here in northwest Louisiana, Eastern Red Cedar, and find this blend to be helpful to mitigate some of the symptoms, as well as the general tired malaise that comes from a histamine response in the body.

The only possible look alike I can think of comes from the same plant family, trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), but the leaves are really quite different. Compare the leaf in the two photos:

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Bignonia capreolata Crossvine

With the crossvine above, leaves are opposite and pinnately compound. The leaves have a branched tendril between them. When they are growing on a tree, it can appear that there is a cluster of four leaves (see second photo above). Also, the blooms generally appear mid March to June.

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Campsis radicans Trumpet Creeper

Trumpet creeper have leaves that are pinnately compound, with 4 to 6 pairs of leaflets and a terminal leaf. This means that the leaf is a lot more complex looking than that of crossvine. Also, trumpet creeper generally begins to bloom when crossvine goes to seed.

  • Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany
  • Patton, Darryl- Plant walk November 2015, Stalking Wild Louisiana
  • Wood, Matthew The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal       Plants
  • Miller and Miller Forest Plants of the Southeast and their Wildlife Uses
  • Personal experience

All photos thanks to wildflower.org