Sunday, April 6, 2008

Spring Flower Tonic

I love Oregon Grape.
I love harvesting the roots and scraping the bark down to a smooth magical twig.
I love finding a patch of bushes on a hike in the woods.
I love to eat the flowers this time of year and I love the berries in the summer and the tiny new leaves in the springtime.
But for today we are focusing on the flowers.
The taste of the flowers is strongly bitter and yet sweet somehow with a bit of a floral note.
What I didn't know until today is that they smell like heaven.
I've never cut the flowers except to pinch a few to eat on the trail, but when I brought them into my house and they came to room temperature, I couldn't believe the smell. Pure heaven. The smell is a bit like tiny magical daffodil, which is what the flowers look like up close.

As spring comes I change. Yes, I know we all change everyday but springtime completely undoes me.
I need spring tonics like some folks need meds.
I look for my spring tonic to do a couple of things.
First off the tonic should shed any winteriness in you. body/mind/spirit.
A tonic should bring vigor.
A spring tonic for me is a way to balance the transition between the winter me and the burgeoning summer me.
When I visioned for the perfect plant for me this season I kept seeing in my mind's eye, Oregon Grape's vivid yellow flowers.
Partly I wonder if it isn't Elizabeth from the English Dept. and all her fabulous yellows passing by me each day that is part of the vision, who knows.

I keep thinking about the cold energy of oregon grape and then I become concerned that it's not going to be stimulating enough to be a good tonic and then I am reminded of it's power to shift and change and yes, cool, the liver. I know that for me it's ok because I run hot, eat spicy foods, tend to get flushed cheeks, etc. but if you're a cold type with poor circulation this may not be the tonic for you. However, if you want make this work for you, just put a couple of slices of fresh ginger root or a cinnamon stick into the jar while making the tonic to warm it and you up.

Here are some pictures of one of the patches I harvested from.
From this big patch I took only 3 bunches of flowers.
It's hard to explain without being in person with you and the plants about the finer points of ethical wildcrafting. I've been thinking of the analogy of a jewelry box that someone has offered for you to take something from.
How do you choose what to take and what to leave?
Partly that depends on what is available. If in this case there are 40 jewels (blooms) I would take and did take one pristine beautiful flower and 2 other very nice but modest and out of the way blooms.
I went to another patch and did the same.
The most important thing to remember when offered something in the plant world just like anywhere else is to use your manners, then you'll be just fine.

The flowers have many of the same properties as the root and berries, but flowers are what I want and need right now.
Something light and fluffy and pretty and bright.
Oregon Grape is a superior liver tonic, is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. It is also a great blood purifier and a digestive tonic.
Always remember that anything that is good for your liver is good for your skin.

I made this spring tonic exactly like last years spring tonic. (follow the link to the recipe) It really is so simple.
The only difference between the recipes is that the cleavers were snipped with scissors and the oregon grape needs a little garbling.
Garbling is something we herbalists do, and it's a word that really means sorting this from that.
In fairy tales they're always garbling. Poppy seeds from dirt, moldy this from fresh that, the good apples from the rotten.
The word garbling I find annoying, but the process itself is incredibly calming and satisfying.
So here is a bit of the sorting. The flowers on the right will go into the jar, the green parts on the left go into the compost or to the chickens.

We always do garbling at Herb Camp with the kids.
It's a good life lesson.
I think if we could sort this from that on a daily basis with our papers, our burdens, our visions, our desires, we would move along our path of destiny at a much smoother clip.

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