Friday, July 1, 2011

Weeds or Treasures

In the circles I travel in, not wealthy, survival minded, thrifty for a purpose (like supporting missionaries), sustainably independent of mass marketing and interested in natural methods for everything, there is a tendency to take another look at our immediate environment to see what it has to offer or would offer in case of natural disaster or economic downturn. I began doing this 15 years ago when I first made "Meadow Magic" I was living on a floating log raft on the Pacific ocean. We were off shore of an uninhabited island called Tuxecan, in Southeast Alaska. A friend had come over in her boat from a larger island to help us with our annual beach asparagus gathering event. We cut the beach asparagus with scissors as to leave the roots undamaged for a new crop next year. People tended to cut while watching over their shoulders for the bears, who shared our love for this coastal vegetable. Isaiah at age 8 or 9 was no exception, which resulted in his cutting the tip of his thumb off. He removed the tip back into the nail bed, but not quite to expose the bone. My friend, an herbalist immediately bruised some tender yarrow leaves and pressed them into the wound. Almost instantly, the wound stopped bleeding and the shocky, panicked look left Isaiah's face.

Later, I bruised more yarrow leaves and warmed them in deer tallow until the leaves looked spent and the tallow was a beautiful mint green and smelled sweetly of yarrow. I applied this "ointment" to Isaiah's thumb and bandaged it. I reapplied and rebandaged once a day for several days, until it had healed over. Within just a very short time, the 2 thumbs were almost identical. That success got me started working on "Meadow Magic". I now have access to olive oil and beeswax which I substitute for the deer tallow. This gives it a more pleasant fragrance (though the original has a nicer texture), I have also added plantain, lavender and spearmint.

Plantain grows everywhere in the western world. Actually, I have seen it in people's yards and roadsides in every country I have ever visited. It is exceptionally healing, containing an allantoin like substance. It is proven to increase healing and to protect a wound, once cleaned, from infection with no fear of growing resistant bacteria due to antibiotic ointments etc. It was chewed and applied to bee stings when I was a child in the south. Even laying a bruised plantain leaf over a sting or wound will give quick relief from pain and inflammation. In the mountains above Oaxaca Mexico, I saw a woman who claimed to be 100 years old walking around like a much younger person would. To help with her rheumatism, she put plantain leaves in her clothes next to her skin and bound them to her sore joints.

Yarrow also grows everywhere I have been and is considered a roadside weed. It has many uses, showing up under multiple headings in your herb books, from a fever breaker to blood stopper. I use it for its regenerative qualities in wounds and for its anesthetic properties when applied to a painful injury. It really complements the effects of the plantain and increases the pain relieving properties of the salve.

Lavender and Spearmint are added to my recipe. Though they both have medicinal uses, particularly the mint when simmered to make a tea. I add them to the salve to bring about a feeling of comfort and well being. Both are known to be calming and reassuring when you smell them. I find, especially with children, this calming aroma is very helpful when there is a painful or stressful situation. (Remember baby lotion?)

My children call me a mad scientist and admittedly, I do think a lot about how to make things and how things work. But, you don't have to be a mad scientist to benefit from the plants around you. If you have a patch of ground around you that is not manicured and sprayed, take a walk and look down. Take pictures or pick specimens. There are many online resources for identifying herbs. I think a good herb book is a must have as well. You may find some amazingly beneficial herbs right in your own back yard. Even if you aren't inclined to use them in teas, tinctures or toddies, it is guaranteed to make your morning walk more interesting and help develop an appreciation for what God has put on the earth to benefit us.


P.S. It was 40 degrees on my porch at daylight this morning. I built a little fire to take the chill off for my children.

1 comment:

Nannie said...

I did find yarrow in the back yard, and I think I figured out how to thicken the vinegar, you will love it.