Journey into herbalism

How did it all begin? Moving away from the world I knew to a life I only dreamed of, romanticized, and idealized was the first step. After more and more faith-led steps, giant leaps and becoming entirely airborne, ungrounded, and not exactly sure how to put one foot in front of the other, I listened to a song in my heart that was calling me toward plant medicine.

I had learned the names of the wild things that grew throughout the woods of Robinwood and beyond. I foraged spring greens, summer berries, fall mushrooms, and I dried wild flowers and drank them as teas. One day in late 2016, I came across the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, and took the plunge. It was one of the best decisions I made for myself, and in doing so, I was pulled from the floating clouds of infinite possibilities, down to the ground, the rich soil, the seeds, the medicine of the earth.

Here are some of my favourite photos and memories of this journey.

beginning

I began with a loose and ambitious plan and garden designed around tractor accessibility with long straight rows, and the entire perimeter of the garden tilled up to be turned into beds. (Later, it would become apparent that I should have tilled out under and past the garden fence, as there’s nothing like long, unmowable grass and buttercup to seed endless weeds.

I also got busy and planted about 700 seeds in soil blocks in the hoop house, most of which fell victim to rascal mice. So, re-doing many of the seed trays the seedling count was in the thousands. It was so nice and warm in there.

greenhouse

I had all the rows sifted and mulched by April, a gaggle of toads had moved in to the hoop house to keep me company, and I planted 25 blueberry plants.

IMG_7220 IMG_6523

Summer 2017 was all about the garden. I focused on two rows of vegetables, and the rest was flowers and herbs, mostly perennials.  Every seed I started was loved and became a part of the garden. Most of the perennials, like the echinacea, wild bergamot, valerian didn’t grow more than a few inches high. But the annuals, like California Poppy, Calendula, Borage, and the mints and catnip grew like crazy and I dried so many herbs that summer. I took advantage of the natural abundance in the meadow and harvested rose petals, self heal, red clover, yarrow, plantain, dandelion, cottonwood, burdock….

IMG_0109

You can’t see in the basket, but it was full of Self-heal, (prunelis vulgaris) which grows wild through the meadow.

dandelionroot2

Cleaning and cutting up dandelion root down at the office. My apprentice watching and learning. And we found an eagle feather!!!

elderflower

Even Doug is intoxicated by the lovely scent of Elderflower!

rivermint

Down at the office again, which is also the wild mint garden.

cottonwoodbud

Earliest of springtime foraging; the sticky resinous cottonwood buds for Balm of Gilead.

elderandeverett
A visit to the Okanagan and a day of harvesting blue elderberry with my nephew.
dryingbus4

And here it is, “The Herb Bus” and it worked pretty well for drying the herbs, although it was very vulnerable to weather and temperature changes… that is; it got very damp in there on cool rainy days, and hot as can be when the sun shone bright. Maybe not the best drying conditions.

yarrow3
catnip1

Catnip and yarrow drying in the Herb Bus

rosepetals

I can’t even describe how lovely this was.

 

rosedrying

I set up this huge screen in the bus to dry the rose petals, but the bus got way too hot I think and the petals all ended up losing their colour and fragrance. I left them there too long.

witchkitchen

californiapoppydryin
End of summer first year: California Poppy drying in the cabin now, moved from the bus. Because for some reason, this herb takes a long time to dry out! …. my kitchen before the sink was installed. So much counter space!
IMG_0818
A view of my garden; labour of love, great achievement, relationship to the earth, connection, bliss. This photo is end of summer 2017. 

SECOND YEAR, 2018

garden
Fast forward to the next summer, and the echinacea is beautifully established and it is becoming a garden of gorgeous blooms.
echinacea1

After 2 failed attempts at propagating echinacea from seed, (ya ya, dang mice) and then waiting a whole year to see these blooms, you can believe I was pretty thrilled! It was the first time growing it, and I had no idea that the cone was so spikey and hard!

Here is a glimpse at the vegetable side of things… And something I had forgotten to mention, was water. Ohhhhh, precious water. Last year, I was still watering everything by hand. This easily took me a few hours per day. But this year, Byron made me a sprinkler system, and my life has changed.
*
comfrey1

A garden’s best friend. Comfrey! I harvest this a couple times per year. A full morning sitting with the bees, hacking down the comfrey and then cutting the leaves off the stalks for mulch for the other plants in the garden. It is also, as you may know, a potent healing medicine for wounds and injuries. 

IMG_9265

My Happy Place, a jungle of nasturtiums!!! (Where are those tomatoes and cucumbers even???)

 

When you’re pregnant, you gotta relax!!!
tulsichammomilehops
IMG_0691
A constant, cycling wheel of abundance.
pestooo

I made a ton of this pesto; Wild mint, Lemon Balm, Tulsi, and Calendula. It was pretty great.

herblife
Tea time!
happy

I did not anticipate the romance with flowers that blossomed with this course!! (Along with my belly 🙂

californiapoppy making tinctures

Making California Poppy Tincture, which is good for anxiety and sleep. 

wildbergamot2

Monarda Fistulosa. First year I planted it they only got at most about 12 inches high, with no blooms. Second year, they are HUGE! You can smell this patch from a long ways off.

wild bergamot

Kind of in love with the Wild Bergamot.

wildbergamot drying

So, second year, being pregnant, I did not have such a prolific drying operation, I just used my little cabin kitchen. Here is the Wild Bergamot drying.

jars

So. many. jars.

IMG_9835
Spilanthes and Echinacea tinctures all bottled up, along with Robinwood’s version of Tiger Balm; COUGAR BALM!!
I made the spilanthes tincture into a throat spray and it has become one of my favourite medicines (the other being Usnea). Spilanthes is anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and strengthens the immune system so it’s one I am taking at any sign of  upper respiratory infection/cough.  Robinwood’s own medicine to the rescue!

usnea usneatinctures

Here is a bountiful harvest of Usnea, and liquorice fern root. Can’t go for a walk in the woods without a basket around here! I have a friend who is a naturopath, and she told me that this Usnea tincture was one of the best, and most medicinally potent she’d ever tried. Woohoo!!

herbs n baby
Teach them young! This is my baby Arrowynn; a sweet little soul who will grow up with a herby mumma, a woodsman papa, in a tiny little cabin in a beautiful meadow on the edge of a river surrounded by mossy green woods.
(The last 2 photos of A are from 2019, if not obvious)

whimsey

Relaxing after a long day in the herb garden…. 😉

IMG_7106

And here is my certificate…. I hope that all these photos inspire you all. I started out not knowing much at all. And now I have a massive herb garden, and a fully developed passion for getting down and dirty in the garden, nurturing and growing food, herbs, and flowers for the bees, a love of foraging, plant identification, and finding magic in the beautiful earth.

 

I now grow echinacea, lemon balm, valerian, vervain, marshmallow, licorice, witch hazel, arnica, california poppy, wild bergamot, catnip, elderberry, calendula, tulsi, hops, lambsquarters, thyme, sage, rosemary, motherwort, forsythia, elecampane, spilanthes, astragalus, lavender, daylily, fennel, tobacco, comfrey, chamomile.. oh there’s more I’m sure, as well as what grows wild around here. I’m in a state of abundance, and pure joy.

There are way more photos of the garden and life in general out here, in the month by month archives… if you have nothing else to do!

A vacation in Cayman

This March, we got away from Robinwood!! The thick of the winter took its toll, so we snuck away for 10 days to a different kind of paradise. We were lucky enough to be the spoiled guests of my dear high school friends, Dave and Michelle who are both talented designers and down to earth really good humans living in the Caribbean. Lots of laughs, great food, awesome company, fun in the sun (and the shade), and ohhhh it was so nice and warm!!! The ferrel chickens and roosters, the parrots and grackles, the super swift little lizards, and that one night when a scorpion crossed in front of me, as I was taking Arrowynn to bed. (We captured it, honoured it, and decided it’s fate… what else? leave it to wander the suite where little feet were pitter pattering??) and the only thing missing was a chance to take photos of the underwater world that we explored almost every day. We swam with a sea turtle and stingrays and tarpins and parrot fish, needle fish, barracuda, ocean trigger fish, angel fish, cera, box puffers, grouper, barjacks and many more colourful and beautiful fish.

We came home under the wire as the pandemic started to explode, and are all healthy and happy to be home in this secluded paradise of our own. I’ve been since busy expanding our garden, and Byron continues to work away at the house. In these uncertain times, we certainly have a lot to do. Much love.