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Herbal Study Group 2006

2006 Herbal Study Group at Luna Farm

“Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners”.
-John Holt


January 11, 2006 Herbal Spotlight: Chickweed


With the start of a new year, the Herbal Study Group started a new ‘series.’ Last month we finished up the final session of the Susun Weed lessons and I began contemplating what type of lessons to start writing about. Even though the Susun Weed course was not cumulative, I think people were hesitant to join up in the middle of the series so I decided the best course of action for the Study Group would be to focus on one herb a month. And so, last night, we learned about chickweed.

The turn-out was awesome. There were 12 people who came, half of them being here for the first time. I hope to see all of them back next month!

As usual, we started off in the living room. I asked everyone to introduce themselves and explain their background in Herbalism. Once we went around the room, we jumped into learning about chickweed.

One thing I hope to accomplish by teaching these sessions is for people to see the relationship between health and eating healthy. Each month, we will learn about both the medicinal and the culinary uses of the herb we are focusing on. What is interesting to note about herbs is a lot of them are packed full of vitamins and minerals. By incorporating them into our daily meals whether it be by adding them to salads, pasta or drank as an infusion, we can give ourselves a good dose of health, free from our own yards!

During the hands-on section of the class, we tasted both fresh and dried chickweed. Dried tasted a lot like spinach while fresh reminded us of the smell of corn silk.

Next, we tried infusions of both fresh and dried, in chilled doses and warmed infusions. Again, results were vastly different. Everybody had a different preference as to which way they preferred the infusions. Some preferred the fresh ‘green’ taste, while others preferred the dried ‘tea’ taste. Tim made an interesting observation that our preferences could be tied in to our physical state of healthiness which I thought was an excellent good point.

I also provided students will both photographed pictures of the plant and a live specimen so that they could observe it up close and sketch it to help put the plant to memory.

Finally, I had made up a sample of chickweed salve for everyone to try and to take home with them.

In the future, I hope to also have culinary dishes available for everyone to try. Unfortunately, the chickweed did not want to cooperate with me so the amounts I found were limited.

Everyone had a great time and afterwards, we were able to enjoy some great food and great conversation while we got to know new faces and old faces a little bit better.

February 8, 2006 Herbal Spotlight: Pine


This month, we studied the mighty pine. When one thinks of herbal medicine, usually, plants come to mind. There are a vast amount of trees that also can be considered herbs and are used for their healing powers: willow, wild cherry, slippery elm and pine to name a few.

We learned that there are 30 native species of pine growing in North America and Tim informed us that there are over 50 native species to Mexico. Pine was an important tree to the Native Americans. Not only did it provide food and medicine to the people, it also provided resin for cement and pine needles for sewing.

We focused on the white pine last night and I had branches that were trimmed from Jennifer’s trees. It was interesting to observe the branch formations on the branches that we looked at. Towards the tip of the branch, the smaller branches branched out singly, but as they got closer to the base, they started growing out in two’s, three’s, four’s and even five’s. It would be interesting to observe the actual tree and see how the larger branches cluster around the trunk.

We learned that pine is high in vitamins A and C and that it can be used for a variety of ailments from muscle soreness and stiffness, arthritis and neuralgia to chronic coughs, bladder and kidney complains and nerve pain.

Pine can be used as an infusion of the needles and/or inner bark, as an inhalant and the resin heated can be used as a dressing to draw out imbedded splinters.

We tasted the needles, inner bark, pine nuts and resin (everybody get that out of your teeth yet?!). We sampled a cold and warm infusion of pine needles and finished off the taste tests with a yummy pear and pine nut bread. Pretty delicious!

Everyone got to take home a jar of Pine Sore Throat Remedy to try out the next time their throat is feeling scratchy. Here’s hoping that it won’t need to be used!

Next month, we will start focusing on spring tonic herbs. Our first herb will be plantain.

March 8, 2006 Herbal Spotlight: Plantain


This month, we studied plantain. Although not a native to America, plantain has become naturalized in every state and practically everywhere in the world that has enough water to sustain it. Plantain originally came over with the pioneers. Seeds would become trapped in their boots and wherever they walked, would drop and start to grow, earning them the name “Englishman’s Foot” by the Native Americans.

Plantain is high in Vitamin B1, Riboflavin, Beta Carotene and Calcium.
Like most herbs, plantain has a variety of uses from being a diuretic, expectorant and astringent to having a laxative effect. It is best known for its use in respiratory ailments due to its mucilage action and for dermatitis issues such as insect bites and contact dermatitis.

Plantain has many culinary uses as well. It can be eaten raw in salad form or can be steamed and creamed in place of spinach. If you are interested in recipes using plantain, try checking out one of these books from the library:

The Edible Wild by Berndt Berglund

The Wild, Wild Cookbook by Jean Craighead George

Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by “Wildman” Steve Brill

Next month, we will be studying dandelion.

April 12, 2006 Herbal Spotlight: Dandelion


Last night, we had a “dandy” time studying about dandelion. Although the stems cannot be used internally, all parts of the plant are used medicinally. From cleansing the liver and gall bladder to removing warts, corns and moles, dandelion has a multitude of uses. And, it is one of the world’s most nutritious plants.

Dandelion is high in beta-carotene, iron, calcium, vitamins A, B1, B2, B6. B12, C, D, E andP as well as biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc.

And yet most people consider it their nemesis.

Me? I consider grass to be a weed and dandelions welcome anywhere they want to grow!

We had quite a time tasting the roots and leaves. We decided fresh green leaves make the most pleasant tasting infusions while the fresh roots made the most awful tasting infusions (and no, they were not even decocted!).

We had a huge drink selection to choose from for our edible portion: dandelion chai, roasted dandelion root and dandelion soda. All were yummy! This was my first experience with chai and I must say, I’m hooked!

Next month, we will focus on violets. May will be the study group’s 1 year anniversary and I plan to throw together something to celebrate the past year’s rewards: herbal knowledge and new friends. It’s my way of saying thanks to everyone who has made this group a success.

May 10, 2006 Herbal Spotlight: Violet


Wow! We had a full house here for Study Group this month! Welcome to all the newcomers…we hope to see you back next month.

This session marked our one-year anniversary for the study group here at Luna Farm. It has been a great year. We have met a lot of great people, made a few new friends and learned so many aspects of herbal study. I look forward to teaching many more years through the study group.

Our focus this month was on violets. Violets are used both medicinally and for eating. They are high in iron and excellent to add to an iron tonic mix.

Violet leaves are very mucilaginous meaning they can be slimy when chewed so are best added in small amounts to salads. Flowers make a beautiful garnish to salads, can be sugar coated to decorate cakes, infused to make violet jelly or violet syrup which is useful for coughs.

All parts of violet are useful medicinally; however, the roots can be toxic if taken in large doses (roots are useful as an emetic in place of ipecac). The leaves are used as an expectorant, diuretic, anti-inflammatory and alterative.

Specifically, violets are used to treat :

· Mouth and throat infections

· Coughs, bronchitis and phlegm

· Eczema, long-term approach to rheumatism, urinary infections

· Traditional treatment of cancer (especially breast cancer), blood purifier

As usual, we were able to examine and sketch a live specimen, sample both fresh and dried leaves and a variety of infusions combining hot/cold and fresh/dried. I always find it amazing how different an herb can taste based on the temperature and form of the herb.

Next month, St. John’s Wort will be in the herbal spotlight.

June 14, 2006 Herbal Spotlight: St. John’s Wort


Study group was held outdoors this month as the weather was wonderful, the lighting good and the herbs fresher.

Our focus this month was on St. John’s Wort. Most known for its anti-depressant qualities,it also has other uses. It has the ability to heal wounds and burns,is helpful in bladder troubles and used to treat chronic catarrh of the lungs, bowels and urinary passages, among other things.

St. John’s wort actions:
· Aromatic
· Astringent
· Resolvent
· Expectorant
· Nervine
· Diuretic
· Anthelmintic

Next month, our focus will be garlic.

St. John’s Wort Oil Infusion

July 12, 2006 Herbal Spotlight: Garlic


Once again, we held study group outside. It was a bit cooler out in the shade with a breeze than inside without air conditioning.

This month, we learned about garlic. One of the most interesting facts is that one milligram of allicin (a volatile oil in garlic) is the estimated equivalent of fifteen standard units of penicillin, making it a highly effective antibiotic replacement without the harmful side effects that the usual antibiotics cause such as killing off the beneficial bacteria in the body.

Garlic is one of the oldest remedies known to humans and is among the few herbs that have a universal usage and recognition.

Nutritionally, garlic contains vitamins B1 and 2, C, Beta carotene, protein and minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium ,manganese, copper, zinc, tin, germanium and selenium.

Sampling raw garlic can be a little rough, but if you have a cold or infection coming on, it’s one of the best remedies you can take. We tried garlic raw, dried and powdered, infused in both forms cold and hot and pickled. I think everyone agreed, the best was saved for last as the pickled garlic was quite the hit (both pickled in vinegar and tamari).

Pickled garlic: tamari-honey and vinegar-honey

Everyone was given a sample of garlic oil to take home with them. Warm garlic oil is excellent to use on earaches.

Next month, our focus will turn to catnip.

August 9, 2006 Herbal Spotlight: Catnip


This month’s Herb of Honor was catnip. Most people associate this herb with cats and their liking to the herb. However, catnip is a wonderful medicinal herb with many worthwhile qualities to keep around.

Although it originated from England, it can be found growing in Scotland, most of Europe, Asia and North America. It is a perennial herb that spreads through root cuttings and seeds. The plant itself grows up to 3 feet high and has the telltale square stems and woolly leaves. The scent has been described to resemble both mint and pennyroyal.

Catnip has lots of nutritional value including Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, and B12, phosphorus, sodium and sulfur.

Medicinally, catnip is used for treating colds and flus, reducing feverish conditions, especially when associated with acute bronchitis, eases stomach upsets, flatulence and colic and works well as a sedative on the nerves. Because of its mild action, it is a great herb to use for children.

Tasting catnip can be tricky. When being made into a tea, it’s best to use it fresh as the dried herb tends to be extremely bitter which can turn children off to its healing efforts. When used dry, it is best to mix it with peppermint to increase its palatability.

Next month, we will learn about the mighty comfrey plant.

October 11, 2006 Herbal Spotlight: Comfrey

We are finally back into the swing of things after taking a month off to adjust to our new arrival. So that we wouldn’t skip an herb, we backed up the herbs of the month.

This month our focus was comfrey.Well known for its healing abilities, comfrey is on my top 10 list of herbs to always have around.

Because it heals so quickly, care should be taken with very deep wounds, to avoid abscesses. It is wise to mix comfrey with calendula when using it for wound healing properties as the calendula is an antiseptic and will keep out infection.

Comfrey is highly nutritious and contains clacium, potassium and phoshorus. It’s actions are demulcent, expectorant, emollient, vulnerary and anti-inflammatory. It is maining used for wound healing (both internally and externally), bronchitis and irritable coughs, external ulcers, wounds and fractures, chronic varicos ulcers and to stop hemorrhaging.

November 8, 2006 Herbal Spotlight: Yarrow


Our focus this month was on yarrow. Yarrow is not used in cooking, and as we sampled the leaves and flowers, we could understand why!

Both parts are very bitter, with the flowers being the most bitter. We discovered that the only way to swallow this potent medicine without the bitter taste was the fresh infusion.

The plant has many actions: diaphoretic, hypotensive, astringent, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, anti-microbial, bitter and hepatic. It is used to reduce the phlegm associated with upper respiratory problems such as hay fever, stops bleeding and encourages clotting, stimulates circulation and is effective in bringing down fevers.

As usual, we were able to examine and sketch a live specimen, sample both fresh and dried leaves, dried flowers and a variety of infusions combining hot/cold and fresh/dried. I always find it amazing how different an herb can taste based on the temperature and form of the herb.

In January, Sage will be in the herbal spotlight.

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