Every year when the garden begins to wind down, I go through a series of mixed emotions. I am grateful for another great season and for the time spent outdoors in the garden, and look forward to another spring in the coming year. I also feel sad that it is all over, and keep thinking there was so much more I wanted to do that did not get done. So it is at this time that I stare out my window at the beautiful copper tones of fall, and make peace with myself and remember that each season is a gift, even the season away from the garden.
Winter is the time to make plans for next year’s beds, ordering and organizing seeds, and to dream of new adventures in the garden in the warm sunshine of the coming year. So this year I will raise a warm mug of tea and toast to the beauty of each season and welcome the turning of the wheel.
Happy autumn everyone!
Cleavers, Galium aparine
Cleavers is an interesting plant that I have found volunteering in my garden for years. I had always been curious about it because it has little barbs or hooks that stick to my gloves and sleeves, and it would always ‘catch’ my attention. Unsupported, it only grows about 8-12 inches high (or thick). If it finds your garden fence or another plant to support it, it can climb to over 2 feet tall. Here, it happily grabs on to what ever happens to brush by it. In the fall it produces little clingy seeds that get them selves transported all around the garden on various passers bye!
In our bodies, cleavers has the same clingy action, clinging on to gunk that gets caught in our urinary and lymphatic systems. It is useful for an inflamed urinary tract, swollen glands, and as gentle lymphatic tonic. As it is gentle and safe, it is also a powerful diuretic, so it is not recommended for diabetics to use. It tends to lose its medicinal benefits upon drying and heating, so it is best to make tincture with it using fresh stems, flowers, and leaves.
Plants also carry emotional supports, and according to Mathew Wood, cleavers “helps to filter out little materials, and helps people who are irritated by little things”. We also have our flower essences to support us, and JJ Pursell recommends cleavers flower essence to support attachment and appropriate bonding, and for keeping relationships flowing and love strong.
The name Burdock is a combination of the words ‘burr’ and ‘dock’ (to cut) because the burrs it produces stick to everything, and you might want to cut it down before they form! I have read that a Swiss man developed velcro by modeling it after the action of the burrs and thistles that would catch and hold fast to his socks, pants, and everything they touched as he walked by. Burdock is also known as Beggar’s Buttons, and little boys know burdock as a great weapon to be launched into little girls hair (not so nice).
I have this theory that the things that we need will present themselves to us, and we just have to be able to see them when they do (that’s the tricky part).
I discovered burdock growing within 10 feet of my front door, and I knew that I should start paying attention to this wonderful medicinal plant. (Elecampane landed within 10 feet of my front door, all on its own, and out of nowhere too, but that’s a story for anther time.)
The root of the burdock plant is most commonly used, however the seeds (inside the burrs) are used medicinally as well. (Never eat the seeds raw with out first removing the little hairs that surround them, as I have read that they will stick in all over your mouth and are painful and difficult to remove).
Burdock is a biennial herb that flowers and dies after its second year. Harvest the root in the summer of its first year as it begins to rot from the center after the winter. Bring a nice shovel with you, because the roots run deep and are tenacious. I like to scrub and wash the roots, let them air dry, then chop them up before dehydrating them for storage. Definitely cut them up, because after they are dried, they are as hard a stone! The first year I harvested the roots, I cut them in strips and even then found them hard to cut up once dried. Pre-cutting them makes them easy to add to a decoction, and it is a good size to use when tincturing as it exposes lots of surface area.
Burdock is a good liver cleanser, and is therefore also good for skin conditions. The liver is a processing and filtering organ, when it gets congested, it can push things out to the skin to help process which can then manifest as skin issues. It is a blood purifier and blood tonic, it increases the flow of urine, and helps fight kidney and bladder infection.
Elecampane is an interesting herb that popped up in an old abandoned flower bed in my yard. I had wondered for years what it was. It grew so tall, about 5-6′ with lovely yellow flowers, reminiscent of a sunflower with dainty, skinny petals. The leaves were so interesting too because they were really big and hugged or cupped the stem where they attached.
So fast forward a few years, and I have sewn some elecampane seeds and planted them in my garden. As they come into their second year, I begin to recognize who they are, and that I already had their sister in my yard for years! Since then, another specimen, the grandest of them all, has seeded itself right in the crack between my house and my lawn. It easily grows 6-7′ tall with leaves 1.5′ long! Elegant and beautiful, elecampane has gently entered itself into my garden and into my life.
The part of the plant that is used medicinally is the rhizome/root. It is gentle and effective for chronic coughs and all matter of respiratory issues. It is an expectorant and brings up stuck mucus. It has demulcent properties which make it soothing to the digestive lining and mucus membranes. It stimulates the appetite and has traditionally been used as a stomach tonic. It is warming, mildly bitter, and anti-microbial.
According to JJ Pursell in “The Herbal Apothecary”, the flower essence of elecampane helps one move through and move on, and overcome deeply ingrained fears or grief.
Steep 15-30 minutes for an infusion (tea), or simmer 15-30 minutes for a decoction. Parts used are the rhizome or roots.
For this month’s herb of the month, I thought I would relate a story of how I have been using my herbs to make a poultice. My husband has recently injured himself. He has overworked the muscles on the left side of his rib cage, strained them with a lingering cough, and then followed up with some real damage by ‘pushing through’ a weight lifting work out. So, along with some tender love and care, I created a poultice for him and have been applying it twice a day with positive results.
Using fresh herbs from my garden, I selected chamomile for the pain, yarrow for mending, and comfrey for its soothing abilities. Taking a handful of each, bruising them and cutting them up a bit, I put them in a pot and added about 1/2-1 cup of hot water from my kettle. I covered it and let it sit about 3-4 minutes.
Meanwhile I cut open an aloe vera leaf and spread its juices over the injured area on my husbands torso and let that sink in. Then I place a muslin cloth over the injured muscles, removed the herbs from the pot and squeezed out most of the water (the water temperature was hot enough that I could handle it, but not so hot as to burn myself or him). I place the herbs on top of the muslin cloth and then covered them with one of my father’s large, old handkerchiefs folded over, and gently pressed the whole mass against his injured rib muscles.
Then I had him gently hold it in place while he relaxed for the next 10-15 minutes. After which time, I removed the cloth, herbs and handkerchief. We did this twice a day until it all healed. He said he felt better after each application. I think the heat and the herbs were relaxing and restorative for him, and I also believe that taking out intentional time to directly focus on healing made a huge difference as well.