Hands on Herbal Medicine with Susun Weed
by Karen Joy
Well, it's been almost a month now, but I still remember these last two one-day classes of the season with Susun! -- "Hands-On Herbal Medicine" and "Winter Miseries". Though these classes are usually held in October, her Ireland trip pushed them up to later September. I know the season has not ended for Susun or the Wise Woman Center yet, but as I left on Sunday, I felt a sadness, since for me the year had ended there, until next spring. It was such a beautiful year of classes with Susun and the goats, Micki and the geese, now goose, some faces I saw more than once, and all the plants I watched grow from early spring through fall.
As the Saturday and Sunday of these classes approached, upper New York was surely heading into fall, with crisp nights, cool breezes, the color of asters and goldenrods, yellowing leaves, and seedheads. This time of year signals me to head inward as it does the perennial and biennial plants who start sending their energy down to the roots, and the annuals who produce massive amounts of seeds for future children. The perennials too, I noticed, begin their spring rosettes now to get a firm start before freeze and snow blankets them.
At home I had begun preparing our home for winter colds and snows, and with abundant foods I was putting up in my fermenting jars for winter goodies. Outside, I had begun gathering seedheads, both for food and next spring's crops. Though it wasn't quite time to start digging roots, there were still some plants to put in vinegars for minerals and wild food reminders through the cold of winter.
As I readied our home, it seemed natural to learn what herbals to get ready for the coming season, and these two classes came at the perfect time for me!
First was "Hands-On Herbal Medicine" where we visited plants and learned the best methods of preparing them, and why. We learned how the different menstruums (I love this word!) worked on the herbs to draw out the properties we most wanted. My question I wanted to learn more of in this class was was how and what to prepare with honey. I was thrilled to learn herbs are prepared in this way the same as with oils or vinegars or tinctures when made with fresh plant material. We pack a jar to the firmness of a fairy's mattress (not so hard she can't sleep, but not so loose she falls through!), then pour over our menstruum until the jar is again full, using a chopstick to stir the air bubbles out. We make sure the top of the herb is covered, and we cap. We let it sit for six weeks, then decant if it is oil, but can leave the material in if we want for the others as long as the menstruum covers the top. In the case of the honey, just like sometimes with vinegar, we can eat the herbs in there as well. And yum, what a treat! Susun brought out on the deck, after lunch, some samples from her house to let us observe, smell and taste. She also put up some preparations for us to see done, noting the importance to label the herb, menstruum and date right away.
Though I have been making tinctures, oils, and vinegars for years now, I still find this class useful because as we go along we talk of specific plants and their properties and uses, hear the experience of others, and I am always learning something new. We also learned in this class how to collect and dry herbs, and why we would want to do this in certain cases. Then of course we learned again how to prepare, and the benefits of, infusions. One specific I remember about making honeys, from the tasting of her samples, is the benefit of using mint family plants (well, the tasty ones anyway). When wanting a tea, all one needs to do is scoop a bit into a mug of hot water and voila sweetened mint tea! I was also surprised to learn that we can keep these herbal honeys with our other concoctions -- in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. I do not need to refrigerate!
On Sunday, the class was "Winter Miseries", and true to its name the day rained on us and we spent most of it in the studio. The class was also smaller, with women from the day before so we knew each other. I find I love big groups and meeting new people, then I also love these small intimate groups with people I feel familiar.
So as the rain came down and the chill sat outside, I could feel the need to discuss winter miseries.... as we always do before class, we passed the talking stick and shared whatever we would like, including if we wanted, our hopes to get from the day's class. I expressed that in the past I didn't prepare for colds, because somehow that felt like I was creating their occurrence by thought, though this year was different. I also expressed my concern about the mold in my house, and soon I would be indoors more in a closed in house with forced air heating.
Susun enlightened us on the difference between bacteria and virus, and that viruses are very heat sensitive, yet bacteria very strong. She told us about how we spread colds/viruses most by wiping our body fluids (mucous, saliva) on our hands and passing this on. This she learned from a study trying to get people sick to see how sickness is passed. Wet heads and bare feet outdoors didn't do the trick.
One of my favorite learnings is garlic in honey, as I mentioned learning in the previous class. This tasted yummy and was easy to make since the cloves didn't even need to be peeled. The healing of the honey and the garlic are both great things to have around.
Susun suggested a thought about my house. She heard somewhere that when a person is injured by a sword for example, the sword then needs to be healed as well as the person, and in the same manner. So as an experiment she mentioned I could approach my house in much the same way. I am still mulling on how best to do this, but I sure do like the idea. It is even a further extension for me on the Wise Woman approach to health by nourishment. I would approach my house not as some evil making me and family sick so needing punishment, destruction, or abandonment. I would approach it as the beautiful thing it is and has offered and offer it the same healing I would give me. Of course, I may still choose to move out for our health, but my love and attention was still given which I think is the most valuable.
I learned again of mullein infusions for my lungs, and now of the value of pine resins. So for my house I have thought of burning regularly frankincense and myrrh (pine resins for those named trees) and even wondered about burning mullein leaf in the house. I have thought of making an infusion of an herb like cronewort to wash down the walls and floors. I love the thought of "herbal healing for homes"!! Of course I have heard of herbal cleaners to make for your home but the focus is cleansing dirt and the herbs are primarily in the form of essential oils. With my thoughts I am wanting to nourish it with plants growing abundantly at its feet!!
White pine, which grows abundantly around us here, was mentioned as a superb friend for these months. Teas of the needles any time of year, as well as vinegars of them, are rich in vitamin C (I believe the vinegar is? I do know it is tasty!).
Susun talked about mucous. I hope one day she writes about it. I have shared elsewhere on this forum what I am understanding from learning this from her and some have disagreed, but as I learn it more it makes more sense to me. I understand that our sinuses are like cups making mucous that pours out from the top. Also that mucous moves continuously through our body (by gravity I imagine) and this is healthy. It carries out bacteria that enters our body (to our lymphs or out through intestines I am not sure?). It is a vital part of our bodies. When it is not flowing freely, either from getting dried or not enough production, the bacteria aren't carried out and instead are able to proliferate and we get infection. So if you think of the sinuses as a cup without enough mucous... they are not able to overflow and move and we get a sinus infection. What we need at this time is to boost mucous production. Especially being indoors with heat that usually dries us out this is important in winter. So we drink linden blossom infusions (YUM YUM!) and we nourish our lungs with mullein leaf infusions, and I believe (not sure) comfrey leaf infusions are beneficial here as well.
I will end on this controversial subject, and again say my praises for all the one-day classes with Susun I so enjoyed this year!!
Oh yes, one more -- We learned how rhizomes grow and the importance of leaving the new growth behind when collecting, and of digging roots after some frosts and after at least 3 years growth!
Introduction by Jean Houston.
Superb herbal in the feminine-intuitive mode. Complete instructions for using common plants for food, beauty, medicine, and longevity. Seven herbs -- burdock, chickweed, dandelion, nettle,
oatstraw, seaweed, and violet -- are explored in depth.
A Special Tenth Anniversary edition of this
classic herbal, profusely illustrated. 312 pages.
Retails for $21.95
Read a Review
Order HEALING WISE in our Bookshop
I just started reading your book, Healing Wise. Your
humor and approach to life seem so "down-to-earth",
just like your favorite powerful weeds. Thank you for sharing
and nourishing! ~ Diane