Saturday, May 12, 2007

Spring Tonic

Gallium aparine-Cleavers
Spring Tonic Extraordinaire

What are the plants that spring up by your front step?

If it grows near to where you live or walk it is a reminder that it is calling to you.

For me it's Cleavers. gallium aparine.

Here is an beautiful old drawing

and the quintessential herbal info site

It's a powerful little weed. Bright green and reaching towards you, this is to me the signature of a spring tonic.

A troublesome weed to many gardeners, you'll recognize it as a plant that is long and stringy and sticks to you like velcro.

It's great for making garlands to add flowers to because it will stay on your head when everything else tends to fall awkwardly to one side.

I walked by a flower bed today and I could see some cleavers reaching up to wrap themselves around the spent tulips toward the sun. I picked the tops (about 8 inches) of four or five stalks. I put them in my purse and brought them to work. I simply placed them as they were in a heat-proof pint glass and poured boiling water over them. I let it steep for about ten minutes and have drunk about half of it and I will add more water to it throughout the day until there is no more flavor. You could also just drink it the once and compost the herb, but I like the never-ending cup of tea. It's beautiful in the glass and so alive and vital. The taste is clean, light, green and slightly sweet and mineral-y.

Cleavers are traditionally used as a purifying spring tonic, nourishing in particular to the glandular system.
tonic: An invigorating, refreshing, or restorative agent or influence.

I also make a tincture of cleavers that I reach for throughout the winter when my glands are swollen. The first time I drank my cleavers brew from the previous spring's harvest, I could feel the cool drainage down the sides of my neck within an hour.


I make my cleavers tincture in wine, because it is easily extracted, there is no need for anything stronger.
To make your own:

Simply snip cleavers into any size clean jar. Fill to the top with the herb then fill to the top with wine. You can use any wine, but I prefer to use a white wine so I can watch the color changes. I generally do a triple tincture with cleavers, which is to let the first infusion sit in the fridge for a week or two, then strain out and compost the herb adding more to the same jar of wine, increasing its potency.

Now I just wait until I feel a bit sluggish or my glands feel swollen. I'll either just nip off the top of this or I'll strain and rebottle.
I keep this in the fridge due to the low alcohol content.
The dose I take is a couple tablespoons in a beautiful cordial glass or a small jelly jar and I find it tastes better if you let it warm to room temperature. It tastes a bit like beets if it is a strong infusion. To make a stronger brew just strain the herb from the wine and to the same wine add more herb and let it set for two weeks with each batch of herb.

Don't wait on this one, it really is a Spring herb.



Generally speaking, I recommend harvesting Hawthorne flowers on May Day. By the calender May Day is May 1, Lunar May Day was May 5 and astrologically it was another day completely, so I figure that I have some space to expand my original intentions.
Yesterday I found a window of time and I took advantage of it.

a super close up with my fab new camera
amazing flowers, aren't they?

can you see the thorns? (haw-thorn)

I went to a favorite spot just on the outskirts of town, slipped on my sneakers and had a nice walk with the Hawthornes.

Here are the trees that grew the flowers that will be in this years Love Potion.
There were birds singing, sun shining, the scent of the flowers and their beauty, seems like May Day to me.

sweet caterpillar

In Tracks by Louise Erdrich there is a woman whose name translates from Ojibwe
to mean something like "the place where a deer sleeps"
this picture below is one of those places.
It was under the canopy of the largest of the Hawthornes. very cool.
I had to make a choice between disturbing this beautiful place and getting
scratched to bits by last years fallen hawthorne branches.
Of course, it was an easy choice. And besides, I have plenty of healing balm.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Purification & Protection Potion for Spring Cleaning:

The weather this week has gone from sunny to cloudy to hailstorm to rainbows then drizzle and cycling around in enough variations for anyone to see that it’s spring in Portland.

Today was a rare sunny and dry day for a May Day festival complete with ribboned May pole dancing.

I decided it must be time to do some spring cleaning.

My intention was to actually clean the floors but also to purify and protect the space in a deep cleaning spring cleaning sort of way.

I began by making a strong tea with

Rosemary for protection, for remembering what is good and for clarity

Hawthorne, very strongly protective, because of the thorns and it’s especially powerful this time of year, it is the “branch of May” from fairy tales and the scent of the flowers is old and wise, (a lot of people think it stinks)

and a bit of

Sea salt for good measure. Sea salt is the ultimate purifier.

Oh yeah, I used red roses

Roses invoke love, that’s what we want, love is all you need.

After I gathered the herbs, I brought them to a simmer in a big pot of water, then turned off the heat, covered and steeped for twenty minutes.

In the meantime, I filled a bucket with a couple tablespoons of dish soap, I use Ecover, but whatever you have will do.

If you want to try this and you don’t have all the ingredients listed, just wing it and trust your instincts.

There are a few things we say again and again in classes and especially in Herb Camp and “Wing It” is one of them. You often just have to make due with what you have. Think of it as a creative process.

Life is complicated enough, don’t stress just use some salt, parsley and rosemary from your kitchen, a blackberry leaf from the alley and some of your will.

You get the idea.

So, the recipe:

Equal parts (I used a big handful. You could use a teaspoon if you like):

hawthorne leaves and flowers

rosemary leaves


and a pinch or two of salt

Put it all in a big pot of water, bring to a boil, turn off heat, cover and steep 20 minutes or longer

strain the herb mixture into your mop bucket (you can use a colander if you made a lot)


2 tablespoons dish soap in a bucket

Fill with warm water, set your intentions and get to work

As you mop, either old-school on your hands and knees the way my grandma taught me or the modern way, think of all that you want to be released (washed away) and all that you want to invite in.

Hum, sing, say your prayers, whatever feels right, but stay in the moment. Take your time.

Perhaps the most important thing is to dispose of the dirty water as soon as your work is done.

Pour the dirty water down the sink or in the toilet then rinse the mop & bucket and wash your hands twice. Once for the dirt and once for letting go of any last things.

Taking a shower would even be better.

Good job.


*do a patch test to make sure this won’t stain your floors

Friday, May 4, 2007

late for work

OK. I always think I’m going to post something witty, thoughtful, clever, enlightening even.

I have decided to try to get over it.

The thing is, I’m a storyteller, not a writer.

I gesticulate, use great expressions & sound effects, so who knows if the essence of the story will even come across remotely how I had intended.

Here goes:

So I’m late for an appointment this morning, I try for a spot at the parking lot that is cheap after 9:30am not the one that gets more expensive after 9am. They’re pretty close to each other, I don’t get it.

Thursday for some reason is the busiest day downtown. It is always hard to find a place to park and inevitably this is the day that I am the latest.

So I see one lone parking space at the very far end of the lot. I decide to go in. I’m late for my 10 o’clock appointment already. It’s a tricky spot, up against the 5 foot high cement wall, a red convertible (who would notice if I even touched their car with a feather) on the other side and to boot there is a giant white truck blocking me from getting in at good angle.

I should say that I am a fabulous parker, is parker a word? I’m great at the parking of cars. I have managed an amazing angle that I’m sure will get me into the spot, then I panic and think maybe I misjudged and then my second-guessing-I’m-late-for-my-meeting freak-out steps up and I have lost my confidence. A guy walks by and sees from where he is up above the sidewalk that I need a little help. He says simply “I’ll help you”. I look at his eyes, put the car in neutral, pull the parking brake and hop right out of my car, he sets his coffees down and scooches through the bars on the street down into the parking lot and his look tells me he meant to verbally help me. Oh well, he hops in and decides to follow my lead. Then he pauses to look at my open purse, the keys in the ignition. I am also thinking on the one hand how great it is that I can trust this guy with my car, car keys, purse full of credit cards, cash, cell phone and all the odd personal and intimate details one carries around every day with such thoughtlessness.

I am happy to have help when the sweet helper man starts backing out very quickly (towards the exit!) and I think maybe I have made a mistake. After a few moments I actually run after him and when he slows down I reach in and touch his shoulder the way one does to a friend and say “you’re not going to take my car, I’m not being an idiot am I?” he looks as if I had tempted him and yet of course I can trust him and yes maybe I am a fool. But he just tells me that he needs to back my little car in.

I know this is a long story and I think it would go faster if you could see my hands and I'm also talking really fast but alas.

Finally the car is parked and we are both smiling except he’s not and I think maybe I've offended him after all, but he says sadly that someone took his coffee. He is really disappointed, and very sad. I looked in my wallet to give him the money to cover his drinks but of course I had a single hundred dollar bill and a single dollar.

And remember I am late for my appointment.

I asked him what drinks he had and told him I would bring coffees to him in an hour.

Because the coffee he had stolen was two tall lattes from Starbucks it seemed only right to get him two tall lattes from Starbucks in their place.

I am now late for work, 11:10. It’s my store but still I’m late.

It’s not like there are hordes of people standing outside my store at 11am on the dot, but you never know.

There is a local coffee shop a few blocks closer but I am replacing something specific that I was responsible for getting stolen. I go the few blocks get the lattes, and a weird cookie bar with toffee as a meager gesture while I am thinking would I eat this? I should be baking him cookies.

I’m now walking down the street with a beverage tray of Starbucks thinking, I’m an herbalist, I make tea for a living, I am the queen of tea, I’m all about the local, and here I am advertising with what at the moment makes me feel like the largest Elizabeth in the world of coffee.

I find the parking garage that this guy works at, (not the one he helped me at) and he looks equally happy and surprised to see me like a vision walking across the parking lot towards him in slow motion with two tall lattes.

It’s not so bad being late.