Our gardens like tea too!
We drink tea for different reasons. We sip peppermint tea to quiet an upset stomach. We make a blend using plants from our gardens to enjoy throughout the winter, not only savoring the aroma and taste, but receiving health benefits too from minerals and vitamins contained in flowers and stems, leaves, and roots.
Making compost tea from weed clippings is easy and gives additional nourishment to plants free from synthetic fertilizers, or chemical ones.
Weeds are a powerhouse of minerals, in trace amounts that the soil uses and needs to stay strong and healthy, a good base for our plants to grow. When we clip weeds rather than pull out all roots we keep an incredible underground network intact. This network of fungi, mycorrhizal hyphae, microscopic in size, and insects sends nutrients where needed. I have stopped pulling weeds from garden paths. They are often soft and I can easily keep them cut and low but I have become keenly aware that they have an extremely important role in maintaining garden health. It’s like we have an underground highway beneath our feet, one that delivers information, nutrients and even aid, all through an intricate communication system. It can pick up messages about an unwanted pest and send signals to plants to prepare, if possible.
My guest this week, Kris McCue from the Bionutrient Food Association, stresses over and over that healthy soil makes for healthier food. The BFA has great articles, youtube videos, information to assist in keeping soil healthy. And I don’t know about you, but I love a juicy tomato fresh picked from my garden on a hot summer’s day filled with taste and flavor.
So let’s get back to compost tea. It’s nothing new and yet it seems to me to be even more important now that we are uncovering the incredible network joining various root systems underground. Like sun tea, we use water, weeds, and sun to brew the weeds in a bucket, strain. The resulting tea can be watered onto a garden and even used as a foliar spray.
Compost Tea Recipe:
- Use cut plant material, typically weeds, and place into a quart bucket. Some sources suggest a bucket with a tap too. Consider placing them into a cloth, like cheesecloth so small pieces do not clog the hose when you are ready to use it.
- Fill 1/2 container with plant material, then cover and fill the bucket with water.
- Let sit for three weeks, understand this will smell.
- Stir every couple of days
- Add one large spoonful of molasses and stir again.
- When three weeks is over, you can water your garden with this tea. For a foliar spray, it is often recommended to dilute the tea in a ratio of 1:10: one part tea to ten parts water. Add 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil to 4 quarts of water so the tea adheres to the leaves.
“Compost tea is an effective, low-strength, natural fertilizer for seedlings and garden plants. It can suppress fungal plant diseases. The tea-brewing process extracts (and in some cases grows and multiplies) nutrients and beneficial bacteria and fungi and suspends them in water in a form that makes them quickly available to plants.” Rodale Press
Biodynamic farming, organic farming sources give many examples of healthy thriving gardens that employ these practices.
I like tea making for myself and family. I have used many weeds for their nourishing properties. In previous posts, I have highlighted the nourishing components found in common weeds that are edible. Our garden’s soil needs food too. Compost tea is easy to make, can be kept outside and replenished with more cut weeds as we use the tea water.
Got tea? Don’t forget your garden! Notice any difference? Send us your observations and use of compost tea. We’d love to hear from you.
Can a plant give us a clue by its structure, its form? Can the color of a flower or root be an indication of some of its properties or the organ system it helps?
Apparently, that’s not new information. In herb classes, the Doctrine of Signatures is a well-known reference to these correlations. Stemming from the ancients and passed down through the ages, often referred to as folklore, gave herbalists, the village healers, doctors, a reference point for which ones to use in healing various conditions, disorders, organ systems.
“The doctrine of signatures, dating from the time of Dioscorides and Galen, states that herbs resembling various parts of the body can be used by herbalists to treat ailments of those body parts.” (Wikipedia)
“Paracelsus was a physician and alchemist (early 1500’s) who believed that medicine should be simple and straightforward. He was greatly inspired by the Doctrine of Signatures, which maintained that the outward appearance of a plant gave an indication of the problems it would cure. This theory is sometimes surprisingly accurate.” (USDA forest service)
Today we have advanced equipment, labs to test the validity of some of these claims and guess what? Science is proving what the oral traditions, the folklore traditions knew: clues from the plant, their structure, their form, colors that seem to help heal, can, in fact, help heal specific organ systems. Nature reflects back to us what we are and offers help. Many successful healers looked at the plant world in this way. They were connected to the sun and moon cycles, very aware of the weather, knew their landscapes well.
Centuries ago and not that long ago, we did not have the knowledge of bacteria, viruses that we can see with super microscopes. Evil spirits were the names of the stuff that gets you, brings in illness etc. That was the lingo of the times. There was a deeper more colloquial connection to the Creator, to God, by whatever religion you followed. There was a recognition that the Divine in nature provided clues, assistance. My Native elders said that we have all that we need for healing if we pay attention to what’s beneath our feet, what’s near us. Observe.
My guests this week, Andrea and Matthias Reisen, have over 25 years experience as growers deeply connected to the plants and their land. They are caretakers in the true sense of the word, offering prayers of thanks, gratitude, and acknowledgment for the gifts the land provides. In our discussion, we touched upon invasives, Japanese knotweed in particular. My curiosity piqued. I decided to look into this plant more carefully because the Reisen’s harvest it, for use in the medical community for Lyme’s disease.
Name: Japanese Knotweed: Polygonum cuspidatum var. Japonica or Japanese bamboo; bamboo-like stems with somewhat heart-shaped leaves, herbaceous perennial shrub-like.
Where Found: Originated in Eastern Asia, member of the buckwheat family. It was introduced in the US in late 1800’s. Thrives in disturbed areas, forms dense thickets; little grows with it so it crowds out vegetation. Unfortunately, the soil remains bare between the stems which can be susceptible to erosion. This plant decreases species diversity, alters ecosystems. Can grow to 3-15′ tall. Its stems are easy to identify, notched like bamboo and have purple-red speckles.
Properties: very high in resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes, peanuts, mulberries, red wine
Uses: Leaves, young shoots: spring vegetable in Asian cultures, Used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine with other herbs for gastrointestinal issues, cardiovascular issues as well as cognitive function. Resveratrol continues to be studied for its effect on decreasing cancer and helping combat Lyme’s Disease. In the plant, resveratrol acts to stop microbial infections. It’s this observation that links the way Japanese knotweed may work in Lyme’s disease.
I came across this article, from the forager chef, on how to cook and use it. I am not familiar with foraging this plant but the recipe I link you too looks delicious. It’s too early here but I know of a patch and will keep an eye on it. Young stems 12″ or less need to be cut in the early spring. Otherwise, as the season and growth progresses, the stems become too fibrous and not very palatable. You can make a refreshing tea from its roots.
Let’s look at the root, known as ‘tiger root’ in the orient..
Healing Spirits Herb Farm has been selling the root for many years. It’s been difficult for me to find a picture of its roots due to royalty rights. However, from the ones I found, I can see Matthias’ description very well. There’s a knot, then root, then knot, then root and the root can go down 10′! No wonder once you got it, it won’t go away. It’s the root that he harvests and because he does so, he contributes to managing the land space where this plant is located by his ‘neck of the woods’ in western NY. Will it go away? No. but by harvesting in large quantities he helps control its spread.
Now, tying in the Doctrine of Signatures, the root system seems to have notches, like steps, Maybe this pattern gives a clue as to how the plant works. Studies are showing that the root in tincture or capsule form helps kill the bacteria found in Lyme’s Disease. The resveratrol may work on the bacteria in steps. Can we prove this? Not yet. But observations from nature have validity and patient healing offers hope for healing Lyme’s disease.
Today, its too early to gather the young shoots and leaves but I want to try. I also want to make a tea this summer from its root. How about you? We have plants in our backyards we have forgotten how to use. How about looking into an invasive such as Japanese knotweed and use it. Get your neighbors involved. Make a recipe and bring to a block party, a family picnic. Remember it’s a cherished food in Asian cultures.
Send me your recipe, a short story on how you use Japanese knotweed. I look forward to hearing from you.
Description: Join Andrea and Matthias Reisen and me in a discussion about the world of herbal medicine, preserving plants, and trends in growing medicinal plants. They have 25 years experience as growers, harvesters as well as educators. Since my focus is on holism, respect, and sustainability, their wisdom fits right in. They are practical, down-to-earth and inspiring.
About my Guests: Andrea and Matthias Reisen have been community herbalist for over 25 years, co-founding Healing Spirits Herb Farm and Education Center located in Wallace, New York. Healing Spirits Herb Farm have been producing high quality certified organic medicinal herbs both fresh and dry for shipment throughout the United States and some foreign countries. They have co-created their own line of value-added products under the Healing Spirits label.Both are former Peace Corps volunteers in the Philippines.They have studied numerous body therapies and are certified as Zero Balancing Therapist. Together they have raised five children, there are three generations living on the farm. Their goal is to live and work in balance and harmony with mother nature and humankind.
They are practical, down to earth caretakers. Join us for an uplifting discussion of sustainability for our medicinal plant populations.
Transcript: #8 Andrea & Matthias Reisen
Have you ever been to a Talking Forest? Do you have a beautiful backyard and want to create a sanctuary or some type of plant preserve? Are you concerned about our harvesting practices, loss of habitat for plants, especially medicinal species and want to do more? United Plants Savers, a grassroots organization committed to preserving plants, is for you!
I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Susan Leopold this week, UpS Executive Director. She’s knowledgeable, passionate about the issues facing plants especially with the increased use of plant species for food and medicine. A few years ago I visited the UpS sanctuary in Ohio. At the left is a photo of the entrance to their “Talking Forest” which was really wonderful. Trees and plants, marked with information sprinkled this walking trail, raising awareness about our valuable plant species.
Herbalism, the study of plants for their medicinal uses has been a passion of mine for many years. What could I find in my backyard that could help with common ailments like colds, cuts, scrapes, bruises, and inflammation without having to rely on pharmacies? Remember, I am a nurse by training and have respect for the ways conventional medicine works and helps. But I prefer to harvest my own herbs for minor conditions so I can monitor habitat, conserve resources such as water and energy from gas-powered mowers, converting lawn space into a more natural landscape. When I did just that, allowed part of my backyard grasses to grow without mowing, I was surprised by the variety of species and critters, insects that showed up. They taught me much about their lifespans, their uses and how they cooperate in a meadow- like situation.
“These Are Exciting Times for Herbalists. We are witnessing the art of herbalism rapidly regaining its rightful place in the American tradition of health and healing. However, as herbalism flourishes and winds its way into the “mainstream” of America, it is eliciting a unique set of problems and concerns.
Where once herbal enterprises were few and far between, it is now a competitive marketplace which has increased the demand on wild medicinal plant resources. Furthermore, other countries with an uninterrupted tradition of herbalism are experiencing a severe shortage of medicinal plants and look to the North American continent for supplying these herbs. This increased usage along with habitat destruction is causing an ever-increasing shortage of wild plant resources, including some of our most treasured medicinal species.” (UpS)
Important message, with profound implications. UpS has a species at risk list of plants on their website I encourage all gardeners, landscapers to review. UpS has added a new tool: At risk assessment tool: It’s available for free on their website.
UpS also created a botanical sanctuary network across the United States. Folks like you and me who have taken care of backyards, maybe even forested areas can participate in the sanctuary network. There are over 90 folks participating and some are open to the public. I highly recommend stopping at UpS’ sanctuary in Ohio where intense efforts in research and plant propagation continue today for American ginseng, goldenseal and more. They offer a beautiful state map where you can find sanctuaries close to you. If there are none, how about starting one? Our fellow critters, insects, and bugs need habitat. Wildflowers, often medicinal, provide beauty and sustenance, homes for much of our wildlife.
(photo: courtesy Judith Dreyer: goldenseal)
I have been a member off and on of United Plant Savers, UpS, since it began nearly 25 years ago. It’s an amazing grassroots organization that seeks to preserve plant species especially medicinal, edible ones for future generations. When I taught at Western Connecticut State University I gave this advice to my students: if you use herbal supplements, drink herbal teas whether you can grow some or not, please support an organization like UpS. Every dollar helps support plant research, plant preservation, and education concerning issues and trends facing the harvesting and use of plants for health and well-being.
Have you created a sanctuary in your backyard? Send me comments or a short summary of what you have accomplished, the joys and successes. I enjoy hearing from you.
My podcast guest this week, Gail Reynolds, spoke about her love of bogs and marshland ecosystems. She gave us a variety of plants that live in these types of areas which I include here.
She also mentioned witch hazel, an unusual shrub, native to North America that puts out its blossoms in late fall.
Name: Hamamelis virginiana, Witch hazel, sometimes known as winterbloom; tall flowering shrub, blooms in late fall, yellow star-like blossoms are seen on bare twigs; blooms after leaves fall off. After flower blooms, a seed is formed which is explosively released giving the shrub the nickname of snapping hazelnut. It can grow tall about 10-12′. This shrub puts up several trunks that cluster together.
Where Found: dry or moist woods
Parts Used: bark, dried and leaves can be fresh or dried
Uses: astringent, tonic, used for centuries for treating hemorrhoids, bruises, inflammation, varicose veins, bags under the eyes, burns, and scalds earning a place in many a home medicine chest. Witch hazel contains tannins which give it its astringent qualities. Applying witch hazel water to acne, pores helps reduce inflammation, a very popular remedy. Witch hazel’s most popular use is to reduce the swelling from hemorrhoids.
Witch hazel, a native, shown to early settlers by Native Americans found its way into the settler’s home and into our pharmacopeia as an effective remedy. Some sites researched claim there is a low number of studies performed today on its effectiveness though some sources claim it is safe to use topically.
Iroquois Indians used a tea made from bark and twigs, made into a poultice to reduce swelling and inflammation from bruises, sprains. It worked. Euell Gibbons, one of my favorite authors on the use of edible plants in our local environments, supported by the University of Pennsylvania’s agricultural department, made teas, distilled leaves for a poultice. He acknowledges witch hazel as one of the most commonly used folk remedies.
Gail Reynolds, Master Gardener, plant scientist, and Middlesex County Coordinator for that program here in CT stresses proper ID before using any plant from the wild. I agree. However, we have folkloric traditional use of our plants. They were effective at a time when there were no antibiotics, no words for bacteria and viruses. They used these plants effectively and passed down that knowledge generationally. We have many uses both edible and topical from our native plants, many right in our backyards or visible on our local trails.
Before taking plant material, research the plant well, know the parts used. Also look into its habitat, pay attention to how many plants exist in one area and if sparse, leave alone. All contribute to sustainable wildcrafting practices.
What are your family’s plant stories? So many of our families stories and use of local remedies is lost. I recently appeared on a radio show and someone called in and spoke of a plant remedy for removing a splinter when he was a young boy. Today he remembers the story but doesn’t remember the plant. Many of my university students came from different countries and were quite familiar with successful local remedies. I encouraged to listen more carefully to the stories, be the one who passes the knowledge down.
Do you have any local plant stories? Please send me a note as I would value hearing them.
When you walk into the forest what do you see? Beautiful tall evergreens, strong oaks, and hickories, underbrush? Leaves fill trail paths as do the needles from pines, creating a softer forest carpet to cushion our steps. An animal or a bird may get our attention. We feel more peaceful as if the forest itself takes our tasks, lightens our load at least for the time we are among them.
As an herbalist, I tend to look around to see what plants are edible. And while I don’t strip large swaths of bark for medicine making, I remember that trees supply us with food and medicine. Acorns and chestnuts make a delicious flour. Twigs and pine needles make tea filled with minerals and vitamins, and nourishment.
Today I would like to go back to the white pine, Pinus strobus.
Twigs, bark, needles, and resins promote health and healing when used properly. Native Americans would use the resin and combine it with beeswax to seal the seams when canoe-making.
From the perspective of holism, I have another question. How does the tree heal itself? Our Native ancestors observed nature, using nature’s gifts from trial and error, yes but also how nature heals itself. How does a species such as an evergreen survive?
Let’s look at a wound that trees have to handle, a broken limb which creates an open wound. These open wounds on a pine and others expose the tree to different fungi and pathogens by infiltrating the center core of the tree, the hardwood. The hardwood is the largest part of the tree, the middle of the tree. When the living barrier, the Cambrian fails, is penetrated, the hardwood starts to soften which weakens the integral structure of the tree. While limbs breaking etc are part of a tree’s life cycle and they learn to deal with these occurrences to some extent, trees use resin to heal these wounds. The tree uses the resin which not only heals the wound but contributes to their longevity. We see this to some extent in our native forests.
White pines produce resin we think of as sticky, very hard to remove, thick and a problem when dropping on the metal exterior of a car. The US Forest Service tells us:
“Resins are plant products that,
- are not soluble in water,
- harden when exposed to air,
- do not play a role in the fundamental processes of the plant, and
- are generally produced by woody plants.
Resins are produced in special resin cells in plants and are also produced when an injury occurs to the plant. Resins can be produced through the bark of a tree, the flowers of an herb, or the buds of a shrub.”
However, let’s go back to the pine tree. With the loss of a limb, resin seeps in, in an attempt to create a band-aid for the empty spot. It creates a seal and hardens. It is this observation that prompted our ancestors to try resin for sealing as in canoe making and for wound healing.
The dot I hope I connect here is this: we have learned much from nature. If that is true, and I believe it is, why are we disregarding her now? We forget about the forest community filled with so many species each with a purpose and a role. We forget to give thanks for her gifts. We forget to use the gifts she brings. In simple ways, such as tea making we can bring nature home. And, science, field observations, and tests are proving that we have harmed water, air, and soil to our detriment.
Ellen Moyer, Ph.D., this week’s podcast guest, is committed to sustainability and creating solutions. We can go over the problems again but we’ve done that. Now is time for practical action. Check out her website for a free gift: 55 things simple things you can do right now to make a difference.
What are you doing that reduces your carbon footprint? What about this earth moves you? As an herbalist and educator, I enjoy teaching about her gifts. Whether trees or plants, animals or resources, she offers much. What have you observed in nature that applies to us? We’d love to hear from you.