Wise Woman Ezine with herbalist Susun Weed
November 2008
Volume 8 Number 11
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What's Inside Wise Woman Herbal Ezine this Month...


Wise Woman Wisdom ...
Herbal Adventures with Susun S Weed
The Polygonaceae family
- knotweed, buckwheat, or smartweed family

Herbal Adventures with Susun S Weed
The Polygonaceae family

- knotweed, buckwheat, or smartweed family

by Susun S. Weed
read other Herbal Adventures part 1, part 2 , part 3 , part 4

* as seen printed in www.sagewoman.com


Herbs that we can eat and use for medicine grow all over our planet. It's fun to travel and meet new herbs, or to read about, and then buy, the latest greatest green from someplace exotic.the Art of Elena Parashko  But I'm a great champion of using the plants that grow nearest to us: the weeds. Weeds pack a powerhouse punch of vitamins and minerals, reawaken our "wild woman" selves, and form the basis of most of my self-help medicines. I'm about to introduce you to a whole family of troublesome weeds. Despite their naughty ways, I'm sure you'll like them.

If you have a garden, or access to a vacant lot or a farm, you'll surely find one or more members of the fascinating "many knees" family. The Polygonaceae (poly is "many," gona is "knee," as in genuflect) family is also known as the knotweed, buckwheat, or smartweed family. When I asked a couple of local farmers about smartweeds, one told me: "You got to be smart to know which ones to eat." His friend did not agree: "If you eat the wrong one, your tongue will smart!" he grinned.

Whether your tongue is smart or smarting, no need to worry. There are no poisonous members of the "many knees" family, at least above ground. All the knotweeds produce edible (though not always delicious) greens and seeds. Below ground is a different story. Some dock roots are such violent cathartic laxatives that they are the next best thing to poisonous. "Many knees" refers to their swollen joints, or knots, which are usually found most easily by looking at the flowering stalk, right where the leaf meets the stalk. The knee is often covered by a conspicuous papery sheath, perhaps the plant equivalent of a silk stocking?

One of the most stately ladies in this family -- and one who is always wearing her silk stockings -- is Miz Ruby Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum). She's also known as Chinese rhubarb, or turkey rhubarb, or one powerful way to blow out your colon. When men (and a few women) went to sea to kill whales, they subsisted on a diet of dried salted meat, dried beans, hardtack, and beer or rum. Not the kind of diet the doctor -- or the wise woman -- would recommend for regularity. Ruby provided that; she is one of the most regular women I know. The ships took on thousands of pounds of her, and the ships' hands--from the captain to the youngest boy--got a weekly dose of rhubarb root boiled in water. Watch out below!

A more common, but just as beautiful, member of the "many knees" family is yellow dock (Rumex crispus). She has a heart of gold, but a will of iron. Women everywhere use her as an iron tonic, especially during pregnancy. (There's a recipe in Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year.) Her ability to improve digestive functioning -- by nourishing and tonifying the liver, stomach, spleen, and gall bladder -- as well as her tendency to get things moving makes her ideal for the latter months of parturition. She also has quite the reputation for giving cancer an eviction notice.

"Dock" refers to any plant with big leaves. So the plant with big leaves and burrs is "burdock." And the big-leaved one where fairies play is called "elfdock" (another name for elecampane). An old name for comfrey is "heal-dock" since its big leaves heal everything. Yellow dock has big leaves too, and a yellow root. (And of course there's Bugs Bunny's favorite plant: "What's up doc?")

There are many related many-knee yellow docks including Rumex crispus (curly dock), R. acetosa (sour dock), R. acetosella (sheep sorrel), R. alpinus (Monk's rhubarb), R. aquatica (red dock), R. aquaticus (water dock), R. hymenosepalus (wild pie plant), R. mexicanus (Mexican dock), R. obtusifolius ( bitter dock), patientia (patience dock), R. scutatus (French sorrel), and R. verticillatus (swamp dock). No matter where you live, you ought to be able to make the acquaintance of my friend Mama Dock.

Her towering hennaed hair-do is one of the easiest ways to pick her out of the crowd. (To the botanist it's a seed head, not a hair-do.)the Art of Elena Parashko Her strap-like leaves are not that difficult to identify either.They are tasty cooked by themselves or with other spring greens. They are the star of a Russian soup I know as Shav.

By mid-summer there's hardly a yellow dock leaf to be seen, but the flowering stalks are rising, rising, some up to 4 feet. Her flowers are green, not flashy, but en masse (especially if you find a field of sheep sorrel blooming) they have a faint reddish hue which hovers like a haze around them. The flowers mature into russety reddish-brown seeds which stay on the stalk for months, providing important nutrition to birds when snow covers the ground.

Those seeds are not just related to buckwheat, they are wild buckwheat. I harvest them when they are mature and dark brown. If I wait too long they get too wet or too buggy. I harvest on a sunny day and lay the seedheads on shallow paper-lined trays to dry.

To prepare the seeds, I strip them off the stalks and rub them briskly between my palms. While not sharp, the seeds and stalks are abrasive, so you may want to wear gloves if you are going to process a lot. It is nicest to do this outside in a light breeze. With a little practice, you can get the wind to take the husks away for you. Inside, you will need to use a sieve with holes too small to allow the seeds through, but big enough to pass the husks. Don't worry if some husk is still in with the seeds. They won't hurt you; they're just bitter.

Seeds can be stored in glass jars until ready to use. They last about 20 years. Just before cooking, I lightly toast the yellow dock seeds in a cast iron skillet. This improves both the flavor and digestibility. Ordinary buckwheat seeds are white when harvested but brown when we buy them because they've been toasted. I usually grind my toasted wild buckwheat and combine it with wheat flour in pancakes (yum), muffins, and breads.

Buckwheat greens -- in fact, all the edible leaves in this family including those from curly dock, french sorrel, and sheep sorrel -- are an excellent source of bioflavonoids, sometimes called vitamin P. Bioflavonoids support collagen production, helping our skin feel good and look good. Bioflavonoids increase capillary strength, which reduces bruising. They keep blood flowing freely, which helps prevent strokes. And they help our immune system build a protective barrier against infections, which makes us feel better in so many ways.

I'm out of space and time already? There are so many more "many knees" to meet. and I didn't tell you why it is they are so naughty. Perhaps next time. For now, I urge you to grab a field guide, go outside and introduce yourself to the local knotweeds. I guarantee you'll be glad you did. Until we're together again, reweaving the healing cloak of the Ancients, I send you green blessings.

serves 6

The color of this soup is an unfortunate drab green, but the taste is indescribable and delectable.

4 cups fresh curly dock leaves
1 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large potatoes, chopped
6 cups water
salt to taste
3 cups milk, yogurt, or cream

Wash and chop dock leaves. Saute onion in olive oil until clear, then add greens and cook, stirring, until the bright greens turn drab green. Add potatoes, water, and salt. Bring to a boil; cook until potatoes are very soft. Cool slightly. Puree with an immersion blender or a food mill. Put your soup in the refrigerator at this point if you wish to serve it cold.

Just before serving -- either hot or cold -- add milk or yogurt. Garnish with violet blossoms or rose petals.

Preparation time: 45-60 minutes total; 35-40 initially, 5-10 just prior to serving; ten minutes in the garden or park to pick dock leaves. Be very careful when reheating this soup as it tends to scorch.


with Susun Weed

FOUR COURSES: Green Witch, Green Allies, Spirit & Practice of the Wise Woman Tradition, and a new course ABC of Herbal Medicine. All are multi-cultural and are suitable for beginning, intermediate, or advanced students. Most of my students take 13-15 months to complete one course, but there is no time limit.

Green Allies explores herbal medicine through direct experiences with plants, plant spirits (fairies, devas), and plant medicines. For those who want to deepen, rather than broaden, their knowledge of plants: a year's worth of investigation and experimentation with one plant ally.
Learn more about Green Allies Correspondence Course...


Green Witch focuses on personal and spiritual development. You'll create rituals, prepare an herbal first-aid kit, encounter your Goddess archetype, discover the magic of your menstrual/menopausal changes, and develop wise woman ways of living and healing.
Learn more about Green Witch Correspondence Course ...


Spirit & Practice of the Wise Woman Tradition focuses on understanding, internalizing, and using the Three Traditions of Healing (Wise Woman, Heroic, and Scientific) and the Six Steps of Healing. Health-care practitioners find this course exceptionally helpful, but anyone who cares for the health of others (even family members) will benefit.
Learn more about Spirit & Practice Correspondence Course ..


ABC Herbal Medicine This is a special course for the aspiring herbalist who would like to have me "by your side" teaching you how to identify, harvest, and buy 52 healing herbs. I'll "watch over your shoulder" as you make nourishing herbal infusions, tinctures, vinegars, oils, honeys, poultices, soups, and beauty aids.
Learn more about ABC of Herbal Medicine...



Hi Susun!
You are awesome. . thanks so much for coming to SB and imparting us with your wisdom, grace, joi de vive and especially your wild spirit :) I have been a fan of yours.

Thanks to your wise woman wisdom and herbs, I am sailing through perimenopause while women around me are determined to tread the slippery slope of mid-life clutching their addictions with their well manicured hands.. .gotta have those Du Pont hormones, martinis, starbucks, bad drama and plastic fantastic surgery. blah, blah, blah. What can you say, this is Hollywood land.

I learned so much from you, particularly about supplements. . yikes! I look forward to participating in one of your events when you are back in this neck of the woods, or maybe I might get to Woodstock some day.





Healing Wise

by Susun S. Weed
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


5 CD's
Susun Weed reads aloud - just for you - her alternative medicine classic Healing Wise. Her wise observations and warm voice add special savor to a rich and satisfying feast of ideas about health and healing.


What's in HEALING WISE ~ Set Two
CD 1
Simple Approaches with Herbs
The Everchanging Wholeness
Being Unique
Chickweed Speaks

CD 4
Burdock Talk
Burdock Weed Walk
The Sweetness of Burdock Root
Burdock Seed and Leaf
CD 2
Chickweed Weed Walk
Using Chickweed
Dandelion Speaks
Dr. Dandelion
CD 5
Nettle Speaks
Nettle Weed Walk
Using Nettle, pt 1
Using Nettle, pt. 2
Nettle, Seed, Root & Sting
CD 3
Dandelion Weed Walk
Dandelion the Supreme Tonic
Dandelions, Fact and Fun

Get this wonderful CD Collection in our Bookshop



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