Dreaming of Roots

exposed tree rootsAnd don’t think the garden
loses its ecstasy in winter.
It’s quiet, but the roots
are down there riotous.

I was talking about plants in winter with a friend recently and she asked about staying connected with them in the winter when all seems dead. It was a surprising question to me because I never think I am not connected with the plants, no matter what the weather or where I am.

I believe that plants have spirits and intelligence in their own way, and that we can connect with them on an energetic and spiritual level, as well as getting to know them in the physical realm. So I always feel in some way connected with my plant friends.

When my friend and I talked about it I mentioned that even in winter, there are plants that may seem dead but are simply sleeping. We may not even know they are there (plants that die back to the ground) or think they are alive, but they are very much alive, with their roots tucked away in the ground.

Roots are so important to plants—they help the plant get nutrients and water, keep it in place in the ground, keep it from falling over. Interestingly, roots not only pull things up out of the ground for the plant to use, but also pass things back down into the ground, such as carbon which then gets absorbed back into the soil.

Roots are also one of the ways plants can communicate with each other, by exchanging soluble compounds and by the threads of fungi that spread between plants. And that is just what we humans can measure with our physical tools.

I find the idea of roots very important in our human lives as well. We say we are putting down roots when we make a commitment to live in a place. We talk about being rooted in a place when we are firmly established somewhere. When we want to ground ourselves, we visualize roots growing from our feet deep into the earth. The concept of roots is about being grounded and connected, as is the actual experience for plants.

So dreaming about roots in winter is dreaming of the plants, those visible above-ground and those slumbering invisibly through the cold, knowing they are alive and feeling their spirits, their energy.

It is thinking of connections, those of people connecting with people, and those between humans and plants.

It is knowing that even when nothing seems to be happening, there is growth and life flourishing and nurturing below the visible surface.

(Image courtesy of Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/en/root-tree-root-hanalei-kauai-276446/)

Foraging for Winter Decorations

Holly with berries.

Holly with berries.

Decorating with greenery as winter settles in is an ancient tradition for people living in northern lands. Many ancient cultures believed that bringing plants indoors that stayed green when others were dead or bare brought in the magic of the plants, the energy of ongoing life.

When I was a kid I loved finding branches of greenery and putting them at the corners of windows, over the ends of the curtain rods. I don’t do this anymore as I am the one who has to pick up the fallen needles, but I do like to bring in greens and red-berried branches to decorate my home.

At my church this past weekend we decorated a number of planters with foraged greens and birch logs, a labor of love that resulted in a really fine-looking display, that is wintry and seasonal without being particularly Christmasy. I had a lot of fun helping to get these planters together!

Even if you live in a city or town, you can usually find bushes that won’t mind a little trimming and offer beauty for your home. Below is a list of a few of the shrubs and trees you can use for holiday decorating.

Red-berried plants: Holly, barberry, roses—rosehips.

Many holly bushes have clusters of red berries. It is the female plants that have berries, so if the bush doesn’t have berries, it is male.

Barberry bushes are widely used in landscaping and so are readily available for pruning a few branches. They have lovely small, dangling red berries, but the stems are very thorny, so handle with care or with a sturdy pair of gloves.

You may want to take those sturdy gloves with you to harvest rose hips, as many roses have very thorny stems. There are two abundant rose species growing around Eastern Massachusetts, easily found in the wild for harvesting hip-adorned twigs. The first is the seaside rose (Rosa rugosa), which has clusters of plump red berries the size of small cherries that are fabulous to see in any arrangement. If you don’t live near the ocean, some gardeners grow these care-free roses and you can ask for a few twigs.

multiflora rosehips

Multiflora rose rosehips.

The second rose that abounds is the multiflora rose, with numerous, very small (less than pea-sized) hips in clusters at the ends of many the rose’s twigs. They have a delicate appearance, but have study stems (and thorns!) and are marvelous to include in arrangements, or just use on their own.

There are many other roses that produce beautiful hips, and whatever you can find will be a beautiful addition to your arrangements.


Many species of spruce, including the beautiful blue spruce, are common in New England. Some species have drooping or “weeping” twigs, others have straight twigs; but all are prickly to the touch—they have “prickly handshake”. This makes spruce less than comfortable to work with, but it is pretty and sturdy when used in arrangements.


Pine, with its lovely long needles, is a beautiful addition to arrangements. There are a couple different species of pine, with differing number of needles and slightly different looks and textures, but all work well in arrangements.

Juniper and cedar

There are a few different species. Some junipers have blue berries, sometimes in somewhat of a cluster. Often these trees have rather spikey needles or very narrow leaves. In some ways they seem like the quintessential green for holiday decorations. All are great to use, but the branches with berries are particularly lovely.

Arbor vitae with cones.

Arbor vitae with cones.

Arbor vitae

This is a much-used native landscaping shrub or smallish tree, and thus easy to find. Some have pretty small cones, often in small clusters. The needles are flatter than other cedars. They work well in whatever arrangement you choose.


A shrub used a great deal in foundation and landscape plantings. It has flat, short needles that also grow on a rather flat plane on the twig. Because of this it appears to be rather sparse and therefore is not my favorite green for arrangements. But if it is available I will use it, as it does add some volume and greenery. Since it is easily found and planted in so many places, it is useful to keep in mind.

Depending on where you live and what grows around you, you will find other shrubs and trees to use for your decorating. Let me know what you do for your decorating. (If you can’t post below, e-mail me instead.)

But even if you don’t decorate, go out and enjoy the beauty and company of the bushes and the trees that give their beauty so generously!

Abundant Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichoke tubers

Jerusalem artichoke tubers, ready to be cut up and cooked.

I’ve just finished harvesting the first bunch of Jerusalem artichoke tubers from where they have taken over one end of my garden. There are many more to come, but I’ll wait a couple of weeks until it’s colder and I’ve figured out what to do with this batch. I’ll leave some in the ground on purpose (some always stay no matter how hard I try to get them all) so that early next spring I’ll be able to again harvest the nicely preserved tubers.

The j arties, as I refer to them, grew in a pile of unspread compost, and as happens when they are well-fed and happy, the plants grew to be 6 to 8 feet tall! They are quite an aggressive plant, able to grow many feet under the snow between fall and the next spring. They have several tubers per plant, not as many as you might like at first, so you understand why they are not cheap, but after a while, you find you have far more than you expected and begin to wonder what you will do with them all, especially as friends to whom you offer them look at them and say, “What are those? What do I do with them?”

You may be wondering just what the heck are Jerusalem artichokes. It took me a long time to finally find the tuber-bearing perennial sunflower that I had read about. Then I discovered it growing in my yard, the gift of a passing bird!

What are Jerusalem artichokes?

Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is a perennial sunflower (meaning it comes back year after year) that is probably originally native to the midwestern part of North America, and is found throughout the East and Midwest of this continent. It can grow anywhere from 3 feet to 8 feet or so. A stand of them can be an impressive sight! They have pretty, daisy-like yellow flowers, which don’t look like the garden sunflower blooms we would expect, and bloom late in the season, usually not until September.

The edible part is the tuber, which is the food storage portion of the plant, allowing it to winter over with nice nutrient reserves for the spring. Tubers can vary in size and shape, from round to knobby to long and slim. They also vary in color, sometimes depending on the variety, and sometimes they just vary. Colors range from beige to reddish to purplish on the outside, but all are creamy-white inside, as far as I know. The color doesn’t affect the taste.

Jerusalem artichokes are also known as sunchokes, and are available at some upscale markets and farmer’s markets. Sometimes you can find a stand growing wild, and harvest some for yourself.

When and how to harvest

The best time to harvest Jerusalem artichokes is mid-to-late fall, when the tubers have had a chance to develop to a good size (anywhere from 1 inch to 5 to 6 inches or so). After that you can harvest them as long as you can dig in the ground. In the spring, you can harvest them as well, but at some point they will become soft and spongy, with a sponginess in the center of the tuber, and that is the signal that they are done for the season. Later on if you dig around the j arties, you may find empty balloon-like sacs, which are the spent tubers.

The best way to harvest the tubers is to use a garden fork. I have tried a trowel (okay, so I’m too lazy to get a shovel) and a shovel, and neither of them really gets at the tubers that are randomly located under the surface of the soil, sometimes down 6 inches or more. With a garden fork you can automatically sift through the dirt and find those solid tubers (along with the requisite New England rocks).

After harvesting, you may want to soak the tubers for a little while to loosen the dirt, before scrubbing with a vegetable brush to get off the surface dirt and any dirt embedded in crevices.

Storing and preserving Jerusalem artichokes

Store in the refrigerator or on the counter for a few days to a couple of weeks. My experience is that the tubers start to dry up and get soft fairly quickly, so you want to use them up within a short period of time.

If you want to preserve your j artie harvest, dehydration is the way to go, in my opinion. Slice the tubers very thinly, about 1/8” thick and place in a dehydrator or low oven (150 degrees F. with the door left slightly open) until they are leathery or crispy. You can store the slices in a paper bag or glass jar until you’re ready to use them.

To use your dehydrated j arties, you can presoak them and add to soups, stews, and stir-fries, or whatever else you come up with. You can also grind them in a coffee grinder to make a flour that you can add to other flour for baking.

You can also dice or slice them, boil for a few minutes, and then put them in the freezer until you need them.

Cooking Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes contain inulin, a soluble starch that doesn’t affect the blood sugar system, so they can be eaten by diabetics. However, some people have problems digesting inulin, and therefore the tubers should be cooked before eating.

You can cook fresh Jerusalem artichokes alone, boiled or baked, and serve them with butter and salt. They are very mild-flavored, which can be a boon or disappointing, depending on your taste. They are great mixed in with potatoes and other root veggies, either as a mash or a diced bake. They go well in soups, stews, and stir-fries as well.

Here is a recipe for a delicious way to eat the fresh tubers. (I found the directions for this on-line, but I don’t remember where.)

Coconutty Jerusalem Artichoke Chips

Coconut oil, preferably organic
Jerusalem artichoke tubers, cleaned and thinly sliced
Sea salt

Heat several tablespoons of the coconut oil in a pan.

Add a single layer of the thinly sliced (about 1/8”) Jerusalem artichoke tubers. Let cook for a few minutes on one side, then use a fork to turn them over.

When they are slightly browned and looking a bit crispy (though they don’t have to be), take them out and place on paper towels to absorb the extra oil.

Immediately sprinkle with sea salt, and eat while still warm. They are delicious and hard to stop eating. Enjoy!

How do you like to eat your J arties? What have you done with them? Let me know in the comments section.


What is Sustainable Herbalism?

Lady's mantle and more

Herbs growing in a garden.

Sustainability is becoming more and more important as our economy continues to struggle and as people realize how fragile our planet is. As an herbalist and plant lover (and child of the 60s) I have always thought in terms of sustainability for my life and my work, and so, of course, it is something that is inextricably tied in with my practice of herbalism and of foraging and wild-crafting. I thought it would be useful to write something about sustainable herbalism and what it is, at least from my point of view.

In wanting to write about this topic I spent time on the Web looking to see what is out there on the subject, specifically “sustainable herbalism”. Along with various businesses that include sustainability as part of their practices or include the word “sustainable” for some of their products, there were some interesting blog posts and articles. They helped to expand what I had been thinking about sustainability to a broader level, beyond the more local level I usually think of.

Definition of Sustainability

Wikipedia begins the entry on sustainability with this: “In ecologysustainability is the capacity to endure; it is how biological systems remain diverse and productive indefinitely.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability) And the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sustainability as “able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed; involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources; able to last or continue for a long time.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sustainable

This is how i think of sustainable herbalism: using locally growing and grown plants whenever possible for healthcare and other needs in ways that are harmonious with the environment, with the needs of a community, with one’s budget. It is wild-crafting responsibly and using wild plants when feasible. It is about growing what I can grow as much as possible, and when I can’t, to buy from people who grow organically and responsibly and/or ethically wildcraft, locally when possible, as much as I can. It is working with plants in ways that make sure the plants and the medicine will still be there next year, in five years, in 10 years, for the next generation, the next seven generations to come, and beyond.

Sustainably Global

As I was looking at articles and blogs I realized also that it is about approaching the growing and using of plants and their medicines with responsibility and care around the world as well.

I realized that sustainable herbalism is also more global and universal, encompassing the way plants are grown, harvested, processed, and transported around the world. That this happens in ways that maintain the integrity of the plants and where they are grown, the environment, and that don’t use excessive amounts of resources for growing, handling, and transporting, especially non-renewable resources such as petroleum or plastics.


One of the most important parts of what I think of as sustainable herbalism is affordability. It is crucial that if herbal medicine is going to be able to be used and incorporated into one’s healthcare long-term that it be affordable and available on an on-going basis. It doesn’t make sense to use rare, exotic herbs that are very expensive to grow or find, ship, and buy (unless they are what you really need and you can’t find a substitute). That is not a sustainable practice for a person or family of ordinary financial means. Being able to use a medicine as long as needed without worrying about the cost is hugely important and necessarily a part of sustainability.


And so to one other aspect of sustainability, though not an absolute requirement. I think it is much more sustainable to be able to make you own medicines—tinctures, vinegars, infused oils, salves, capsules, etc.—if you have the knowledge, skill, and inclination to do so. It can make working with an herb affordable where buying the ready-made products might be vastly more expensive. Even being able to make a tea is a simple form of medicine-making that just about anyone can do.


I also found some resources. One of the resources I found was the Sustainable Herbs Project, started by Ann Armbrecht, one of the film-makers for Numen: The Healing Power of Plants. Armbrecht is making a documentary about the growers and producers of herbs around the world, and the project is about “following medicinal plants through the supply chain of the botanical industry.” It is about knowing who is growing or collecting the herbs, how they are processed and distributed, so that those who are using the herbs know how they been treated from harvest to medicine–making. They can see whether the plants were grown without chemicals, irradiated, stored correctly or not, and more. It is a way to know and support the small herb producers around the world, as well as make sure that the herbs you buy are good quality for good medicine. sustainable herbs project.

Here is a good blog post by herbalist Juliet Blankespoor on wild-crafting which lays out some good guidelines for foraging and wild-crafting herbs to use sustainably.

What are your thoughts and opinions on sustainability and sustainable herbalism? What do you do to work with herbs sustainably? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Making an Herbal Wreath From Gathered and Foraged Plants, Part 2  

Plants drying hung on a pegboard.

Plants drying on a pegboard, using long hooks. I also use the usual pegboard hooks. (The wreaths are already dried.)

Herbal wreaths are so beautiful, and summer is the perfect time not only to be making them, but collecting materials to dry for future wreaths. In part 2 of Making an Herbal Wreath, I discuss how to dry and store what you want to save for later projects, and give you a list of suggested herbs, flowers, and plants.

There are many plants—herbs, flowers, “weeds”—that grow in our gardens or in fields, empty lots, woods, that are perfect for including in wreaths. Below is a list of some suggested plants. Don’t be limited by what is on there. If there is something you think might be pretty or dry well, try it! If it doesn’t work out, don’t let that discourage you, try something else next time. Experiment and have fun! Or just use what you already know will work.

Methods for Drying Plants, Flowers, etc. for Wreaths

There are a number of ways to dry to plants, flowers, and herbs for wreath-making. I will cover a few of them that are quick and simple, though I know there are others.

Hanging Your Bunches

The quickest, simplest way to dry plants, in my opinion, is to hang them in bunches. Simply pick whatever you are going to dry with at least 4 “ stems, tie them together with a piece of string with a loop at one end or put a rubber band tightly around them, and hang. Use just a few stems per bunch; if you make it too thick, things may not dry adequately.

Queen Anne's lace and a bit of yarrow hung to dry

Queen Anne’s lace and a bit of yarrow hung to dry (with Evening primrose leaves drying as well, they are for soup stock.)

They can be hung from pegs on a peg board, as I do, or pegs on any sort of coat-rack or board with pegs. If you have something with slats that you can hang from the ceiling, you can use unbent paper clips as hooks for hanging the bunches. If you don’t have anything else, you can use a coat hanger and unbend paper clips to use as hooks to hang the plant bunch on the hanger.

Be aware that the petals of your flowers will all point down or in the same direction, as they are being hung upside down. That means that if you want a flower with the petals spread out you will have to dry it by a different method, which I go over below. Flowers can look lovely with the shape they take from being hung to dry, but it may not be what you were expecting.

Laying Things Flat to Dry

If you have a window screen or, even better, a door screen that you can lay flat, you can simply place your plant material on the screen, remembering to place it in a position that will look good when it is dry. Remember not crowd your plants or allow them to cover each other, or they won’t dry well.

If you have a large enough basket, then that will also serve as a good service on which to lay your plant material to dry, and it will give adequate air circulation for good drying.

Other Methods of Drying

To have the petals of a flower spreading out from the center of the flower when it is dry, there are 2 things you can do.

You can take a bottle, such as a water or wine bottle, and put one flower into it so that the head of the flower rests against the mouth of the bottle. This way the petals will dry spreading away from the center. However, if they are long, they will then be pointing backwards from the center, so be aware of that.

You can also take a tray from a nursery that has a criss-crossed or hatched bottom. Many nurseries have these for customers to use in taking their plants home. The many small openings make it possible to stick a stem through the opening while the head of the flower cannot go through. Spread out the petals to dry and they will then be in a lovely circle around the center of the flower. You must prop the tray up on something so that there is room for the stems to hang down and dry. You can do a number of flowers on one tray this way.

Storing Your Dried Flowers and Plant Material

When you have dried your flowers and other plant material, such as seed pods, that you will be using later on, you will need to store it.

I like to use shoe boxes that I can label with the contents. If I have enough plant material I will sort it by colors and types.

A covered basket also works well for storing your plant material.

Plants to use in Wreaths

Here is list of plants and flowers to use in wreaths. Some can be used either fresh or dried, and some are better just used fresh. I have indicated whether the plants can be used fresh, dried, or both.

These are herbs, flowers, and other plants that can be grown in your garden or foraged/wild-crafted.

Legend: f=fresh  d=dried


Dried black-eyed Susans

Dried black-eyed Susans waiting to be used in a wreath.

Anise hyssop-f,d
Baby’s breath (gypsophila)-f,d
Basil flowers-f,d
Bee balm-f,d
Black-eyed Susans-f,d
Catnip flowers-f,d
Chive blossoms-f,d
Cockscomb (celosia)-f,d
Cornflowers or bachelor’s buttons-f,d
Delphinium, larkspur-f,d
Dusty miller flowers-f,d
Flowers of artemisias, mugwort, wormwood, southernwood-f
Globe amaranth-f,d
Lamb’s ears flowers-f,d
Mint flowers (all varieties)-f,d
Oregano flowers—f,d
Pearly everlasting-f,d
Queen Anne’s lace-f,d
Red clover-f,d
Sage flowers-f,d
Sea lavender-f,d
Some asters-f,d
Sweet Annie-f
Yarrow (all colors; cultivated and wild)-f,d

Leafy plants/herbs:

Artemisias-silver king and queen, silver mound, Powis Castle-f
Dusty miller-f
Lamb’s ears-f,d
Opal or purple basils-f
Sage (regular green sage is best, purple dries brown)-f
Sweet Annie-f

Seed heads:

Anise hyssop
Bee balm
Curly dock
Evening primrose
Hibiscus, hollyhock, some mallows
Lamb’s ears
Rose of Sharon

If you love herbal wreaths but aren’t able to make your own, I make beautiful wreaths and would be happy to make you one, or have you select from a few that I have already made.



Making an Herbal Wreath From Gathered and Foraged Plants, Part 1

feverfew and artemisia wreath

Fresh feverfew and Sliver Queen artemisia wreath before drying.

One of the best ways to enjoy the beauty of herbs is with an herbal wreath or arrangement of dried herbs. Making a wreath is wonderfully creative and lots of fun. This blog post gives instructions and suggestions for making a wreath with herbs and flowers to hang on a wall, a door, or use as a centerpiece.

There are a few materials and supplies that you need to gather before you start your wreath, and a few decisions to make.

Types of Wreaths

dock seed stalk wreath

Dock seed stalk wreath.

There are several kinds of herbal wreaths. Wreaths made with fresh herbs and then dried, wreaths made with already dried herbs, wreaths made a combination of both. Wreaths made with just one herb, such as a sage or chive blossom wreath, or wreaths made only with herbs, or wreaths made with flowers and herbs, or wreaths made with all flowers. Also, wreaths made specifically with culinary herbs to be used for seasoning in the kitchen.

There are various ways to make wreaths, from wiring herbs onto a base, to gluing them on, to poking them into the spaces of a vine wreath base or a styrofoam base. The instructions I am giving you are my way of making a wreath, which is wiring the herbs onto a vine base, using fresh herbs or a combination of fresh and dried herbs and flowers.

Gathering Your Supplies

Supplies you need:

  • Wreath base
  • Herbs and/or flowers—fresh, dried, or combo
  • Wreath wire
  • Scissors (that you can cut thin wire with) and/or wire cutters

Wreath base: Get one made from vines, usually grapevine, or other vines that you have collected yourself and fashioned into a wreath shape.

Wreath-making wire: This comes in a couple of different gauges, I find the thinner wire easy to handle, but I have small hands, and you might find the thicker wire easier to handle. It also comes in silver or green, and I don’t have a preference, since I try to make the sure the wire doesn’t show anyway.

Scissors and/or wire cutters: Use scissors you don’t mind messing up, because you can cut the wire with them. Conversely, for the most part you can cut plant materials with wire-cutters also, so either will do. I usually use a pair of craft scissors or plant scissors.

Design for Your Wreath (How You Want It to Look)

artemisia, cornflower, black-eyed susan wreath

Silver Queen artemisia, Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed susan, and cornflower wreath.

You may not be thinking “design” when it comes to making a wreath, and I don’t usually think in those terms, but when you are gathering your plant materials and deciding what colors and textures to put together, you are actually in design mode. Even a decision to only use one herb is a design decision.

When you are designing your wreath, or figuring out what you want it to look like, there are a few things to consider:

  • Size: an estimate of the finished size, since it will be bigger than the base
  • What herb or herbs and/or flowers you want to use; single herb, multi-herb, etc.
  • Use fresh, dry, or combo of the two?
  • Colors and arrangement of colors
  • Is there a focal point for the wreath, and if so, top or bottom?

Now you want to actually plan your design and start putting your herbs together. Think about repetition and what colors and textures you want repeated and in what order and how often.

Making Your Herb Bunches

For your bunches you can either use fresh herbs, dried herbs, or a combination of both.

To begin the process of getting plant material onto the wreath base, start with making bunches of herbs that will be attached to the wreath base with a continuous piece of wreath wire. (To have an adequate length of wire that is easy to manipulate, wind several yards of wire onto a small piece of cardboard piece or popsicle stick. It will be easy to maneuver into small spaces of your wreath.)

To make an herb bunch, take several stems of herb and/or flowers and group them together. Wind a short piece of wire around the stems near the bottom of the bunch to hold them together. This will make it much easier to hold in place as you are wiring it onto the base. As you become more adept at the process you can choose to skip this step, but don’t at the beginning, you will have a much easier time!

Don’t make the bunch too thick, nor longer than about 4 to 5 inches or so, unless you have a very big wreath base. Too thick or long a bunch makes for an unwieldy, awkward-looking wreath. Make sure the bunches are approximately the same size for a prettier, more consistent look.

You can make all your bunches at once and then wire them onto your base, or you can make a few bunches at a time and attach them as you go.

Putting It All Together

Think about where on the wreath base you will start and end. I like to start somewhere in the middle of the left side, but that’s just my personal preference.

first 2 bunches of herbs on grapevine wreath base

The first 2 bunches of herbs on grapevine wreath base.

I don’t recommend starting at the very top or bottom. Getting the ends tucked in under the first bunch can be awkward, and you don’t want the join to be in a conspicuous spot. If your focal point is the top or the bottom, you definitely don’t want to end at your focal point.

Start with putting 2 bunches together side by side on the wreath base, and wind wire tightly around them and the base to attach.

third bunch of herbs on wreath base

The third bunch of herbs on outside of wreath base.

Now put another bunch on the outer side of the wreath, down slightly from first bunches, covering the wire on the first set of bunches. Attach with the wire.

Now put another bunch on the inner side of the wreath base, down slightly from the first 2 bunches, covering the wire already on the base. Continue with another bunch on the outside of the wreath base, then the inside, and so on. You are overlapping the top of one bunch over the bottom of the previous bunch and thus gradually moving around the curve of the wreath base.

fourth bunch of herbs on wreath base

The fourth bunch of herbs on the inside of wreath base.

You want to be covering the wire with your bunches, as this makes the finished wreath much more attractive. If you have a lot of wire showing you can cover it with bunches as explained in supplementing your wreath.

When you finish your wreath, you will want to make sure it has a loop for hanging at the top. You can make a loop with wreath wire, other wire, a pipe cleaner, or even a paper clip.

The Finished Wreath

If you have any fresh plant material, in other words not dried, you MUST leave the wreath lying flat until everything is dried, or the fresh plant material will droop and it will look awful.

How long will it take for your wreath to dry? That depends on how much material is in your wreath and how damp or dry the weather is. You can test it periodically to make sure it’s dry.

Once your wreath is dry, or finished, you can hang it where you like. Make sure you don’t hang it in the sun or over a heat source, like a radiator, or it won’t last very long.

How long will your wreath last? Depends on the plants and where you have it and what you consider is over the hill. Some wreaths can last for years, others will be pretty for just a year or two.

Why Use Fresh vs. Dry Herbs and Flowers?

There are reasons to sometimes use fresh plant material or dried plant material.

One of the big reasons to use fresh plant material is that it is much easier to shape and it won’t break.

There are some herbs that I think it’s essential to use fresh, such as sage. Sage is very fragile when it’s dry, and will break and shatter easily. It will not fit prettily onto a round base and will be rather awkward. Often the leafy herbs I use as the foundation in a wreath are fresh—usually artemisias such as mugwort or silver queen artemisia ( a garden plant related to sage brush) or garden sage.

On the other hand, using dried flowers allows you to have flowers from a number of different seasons. You can dry chive blossoms that bloom in spring and combine them with zinnias that bloom in fall. Or daisies and goldenrod, and so on.

One thing to keep in mind is that plant material shrinks as it dries, and so your flowers may not be as showy when dry and your wreath may not be as full as when made it.

If you find your wreath doesn’t look as full or colorful as you like, you can easily fix it by supplementing the plant material.

Supplementing the Wreath

plant bunch pick

The plant bunch with twisted wire pick for inserting into wreath.

Sometimes you may want to add plant matter or flowers to a finished wreath, for added color or interest, or to fill out a wreath that looks too skimpy.

You can do this by making bunches that you wire at the ends with a bit of twisted wire poking out to poke into the wreath. Sometimes you can just push in a piece of herb or flower if it has a strong enough stem.

Where to Get Supplies, Including Plant Material

You can get wreath-making wire at Michael’s or A.C. Moore, or other craft shops. You can get wreath bases at these stores.

You can also get some dried plants and flowers at these stores.

If you pick or buy flowers and herbs it is easy to dry them.

Some places to find your plant material: your garden or yard or a friend’s, wild-crafting (picking them where they grow wild), farmers markets, florists, bouquets and centerpieces that are left over after an event.

I ‘m sorry I don’t have online sources for you, so if you want to order supplies of dried plants on-line, you will have to do the research.

More Information Next Time

In my next blog post I will give a list of plants and flowers to use in wreaths and several methods of drying them for use in wreaths

Have You Made a Wreath?

If you have made a wreath, please post a picture to show us what it looks like!

All photos and wreaths by Iris Weaver.

6 Plants to Start the Spring Foraging Season

Spring and sunlight and warmth, oh my! Here in the Northeast after an extremely long, cold, and snowy winter, the plants, animals and birds, and humans are stretching toward the warmth of the sun and sighing with relief. My favorite spring plants are popping up, though later than usual, and I am thinking about what I will put on my plate, in my soup pot, and into my handcrafted herbal medicines.

Here are 6 plants that are coming up and that are ready to be used now. Some have parts that must be harvested now before they get too woody/stringy/invested in plant growth, others will be able to be used for a while. All are used for both food and medicine, except for garlic mustard, which as far as I know has no medicinal uses.

Note: Please be very sure you know what plant you are picking before you use it so that you don’t run the risk of poisoning or illness. A couple of good plant i.d. books and sites are listed at the end of this article. If you’re uncertain and want to learn more, up close and personal with the plants, I lead foraging walks throughout the growing season. Click here for my calendar.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion leaves

Dandelion leaves in spring. Note the irregularly-toothed leaves with wide teeth/lobes.

Dandelion leaves in spring. Note the more finely cut, narrower teeth/lobes.

Dandelion leaves in spring. Note the more finely cut, narrower teeth/lobes. Dandelion leaves are very variable.

More young dandelion leaves. Note that there are fewer teeth/lobes.

More young dandelion leaves. Note that there are fewer teeth/lobes.

As some of you may know, dandelions are one of my most favorite herbs. They are edible and medicinal and their yellow blossoms are immensely cheering. When I was a kid I used to take the blossoms and try to make perfume with them! (It didn’t work, darn it all.)

This is the perfect time to be digging up the roots for making bitter tonics and tinctures. Susun Weed says that spring-dug roots are more bitter than autumn-dug and excellent for bitter tonics. She says the best time to harvest the roots is between the warming of the earth and the first buds appearing.

If you want to eat the leaves before they get too bitter, you have to hurry, as the dandelions are already setting their buds, and once they start putting up their buds and blooming the leaves will be much more bitter.

If you want to know where the dandy buds are, get down on your knees and look into the center of a rosette of dandy leaves. Nestled into the very heart of the leaf rosette you will find a tightly-shut bud, ready to come up at the top of its individual stalk. It is amazing to watch the flowers grow, it is quite unique in my opinion.

Dandelion roots, leaves, buds, and flowers all are edible and can be used for medicine as well. Maude Grieve, in A Modern Herbal, gives a nice description of dandies and what can be done with them for food and medicine, here is a link: http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/d/dandel08.html

One of the best resources for using dandies for food and medicine is Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise  which has a whole chapter, with wonderful recipes, on all parts of our friend Dandelion. And Dr. Peter A. Gail has a couple of books on dandies, as well, with easy recipes.

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Young mugwort leaves in spring. The leaves will look very different once the plant starts growing, and on the stalks that will bear blooms.

Young mugwort leaves in spring. The leaves will look very different once the plant starts growing, and on the flowering stalks.

Mugwort is just peeping above the ground and it is the perfect time to use her for spring greens. Trim close to the ground and add the greens to your soup or stir-fries. Some Asian cultures are very fond of the young mugwort greens in the spring.

Later in the summer mugwort can be used for flavoring foods and for medicine, as well as dried for smudge sticks and moxabustion, if you’re so inclined.

Evening Primrose (Oenethera biennis)

evening primrose leaf rosetter

The leafy rosette of young second-year evening primrose.

Surely one of my favorite plants. Now is the last time you’ll be able to eat the roots until the fall. These biennials are gearing up for their second year of growth—leafing, blooming, going to seed, and then dying.

The roots are still edible, in that they have not yet gotten too stringy. The rosette of leaves as well is edible, with a peppery taste similar to the roots.

I use evening primrose roots in soups, stews, and stir-fries, and also throw them in the stock pot when making soup stock. The roots can be eaten raw in salads as well.

The rosettes of leaves get used similarly, before the plant starts its growth and flower-making process.

At this time of year you will only find second-year plants, as last year’s seeds have not yet started to sprout.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

young second year garlic mustard leaves

Young second-year garlic mustard leaves.

Another biennial, but considered very invasive, so feel free to eat as much as you want! It has rather heart-shaped leaves when the plant comes up, the stem leaves are pointed instead.

As the name implies, it has a garlicky scent when the leaves are crushed. It also has a garlicky taste when eaten raw, but that taste disappears when it is cooked, leaving the bitter taste paramount.

As with many mustard greens (and it is in the mustard family), it has a bitter taste, especially when cooked. Depending on your tastes, you may or may or not enjoy eating this plant, but it certainly is nutritious.

Garlic mustard can be eaten raw or cooked, and all above-ground parts can be eaten, including the flowers when it blooms. If you harvest a lot of it you can freeze it for use later.

Plantain  (Plantago major, P. lanceolata)

yougn broad-leaved plantain leaves

Very young broad-leaved plantain leaves.

Young narrow-leaved plantain leaves

Young narrow-leaved plantain leaves.

A trusty perennial, there are actually two species that abound in our area of the Northeast, and indeed, in many places in North America. The 2 species are broad-leaved plantain (Plantago major) and narrow-leaved, lance-leaved, or English plantain (P. lanceolata). Both are used the same way for food and medicine.

If you are going to eat plantain, now is the time to do so, when it is very young. It quickly gets too tough and stringy and then is good for teas and infused oils, but is not pleasant to eat.

Boil the young leaves for 3 to 4 minutes and eat as a veg or in soups, or make teas with the slightly older leaves. I dry the leaves to use in teas and to add to the stock pot during the cold months.

I also infuse the leaves of both species in oil, usually extra-virgin olive oil, for a really effective oil for skincare that gets added to lip balms, salves, and lotions.


burdock leaves

Young second-year burdock leaves.

All hail to this marvelous plant, another of our biennials! Again, the leaves you see coming up are from second-year plants, as the seeds from last year haven’t yet sprouted.

This is the perfect time to harvest leaves and roots. If you are going to eat the leaves you want to do so while they are very young and relatively tender. Later they get tough and unpalatable and are good for teas and infused vinegars, but not really for eating.

This is also your last chance to get the roots before the plant starts into its growth and bloom cycle. After this the plant will be putting its energy into growing, thus taking nutrients and energy out of the roots, and they will also become too stringy. Now is the time to eat the roots in salads or soups, or make them into medicines.

Violet (Viola spp.)

Young violet leaves.

Young violet leaves.

Violets are coming up now, and their slightly mucilaginous, mild-flavored leaves are a great addition to salads and soups. I especially like adding violet leaves to pea soup, they add nutrition and oomph to it.

Make sure you are harvesting violet leaves, as there can be some look-a-likes. Our common wild violet, which is the one you are most likely to encounter, has heart-shaped leaves that unfurl from the center; some other species have differently shaped leaves. Here is a link to help you properly identify wild violets.The wild violet can take over your garden plot if you don’t watch out (I am currently taking out numerous patches from my garden!).

The wild violet flowers are edible and medicinal. Generally they are eaten raw in salads, made into syrups, or candied for a condiment. The cool thing about these flowers is that you can use as many as you want without affecting the reproduction of the plant! The flowers are actually sterile, and therefore don’t set seed. The fertile, seed-setting flowers bloom later in the season, and are non-descript, growing close to the ground. These flowers and root-extension are how the violet spreads.

The wild violet leaves are very nutritious and mild-flavored, as well as being good medicine, and can be eaten throughout the season.

Both Susun Weed, in her Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise, and Peter Gail write about violet and how to use it for food and medicine.

Throughout the growing season I take people on walks to meet the many useful plants growing around us. It is wonderful to see the abundance of what is growing even in the middle of the city or in a lawn. If you’d like to take a walk with me, check out my schedule and come meet the plants!

What wild plants are you seeing come up and harvesting? Let me know in the comments below.


  • http://apps.winterroot.net/   Wildman Steve Brill’s app for foraging and plant i.d.
  • https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/   identification tools for New England plants


(Desperately) Seeking Spring, and a Couple of Violet Recipes

snow field with trees in background

This is the snow bank behind my house.

This picture shows what the field by my house looked like 4 days after the official start of spring. As Henry Van Dyke said, “The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.” I am hoping that by a month from now, I will be seeing only grass, and no snow!

Although this wintry, snowy view greets me at my windows and my doors, I am keeping a sharp eye out for anything that says “Spring!”

The birds are not deterred by the snow and are calling out their mating songs. Even the redwing blackbird is back in town, I can hear his cry. Cardinals are thinking reproduction, robins are rife, and the sparrows and chickadees are just plain excited.

The trees and shrubs also know it is spring. Examining twigs and branches closely, or observing the tree tops, will show the swelling of buds. You can see a halo of gold around the weeping willows and a blush of pink at the tops of the maples.

Buds have been enlarging for a couple of weeks now. Walking in Cambridge recently I was captivated with the bushes that had various sizes and shapes of buds. They obviously are not at all impressed by the snow! There was a largish witch hazel with about one-quarter of its branches lined in vibrant yellow blooms, which just made my heart sing.

What I am waiting for is dandylions and chickweed and speedwell and the tiny cresses (in the mustard family) that pop up early in the spring, or even late winter in other, milder, years. I am eager to see the particular blue of the speedwell, and to start nibbling on dandylion leaves and the tiny cresses. My neighborhood greenhouse is providing a few chickweed plants, but I want to see them in my garden, intermingling with the speedwell.

Soon enough, then, the violets will start to put out their leaves and their delicate flowers, which I will happily pick to make syrups and cordials. In honor of spring, below are two recipes that make use of the common wild violet that pops up all over New England lawns and gardens (sometimes to the chagrin of gardeners and lawn-lovers)

Happy Spring! (whenever it arrives…)Violet with blooms and leaves

Sweet Aunt Vi

1 cup packed violet blossoms
¼ cup water
Juice of 1 organic lemon
2 ½ cups organic sugar or raw honey

Make a thick paste of the violet blossoms, lemon juice, and water in your blender or food processor, or with a mortar and pestle. Blend in your sweetener very, very well. Store very cold, the freezer is fine and will keep it indefinitely.

Use ¼ teaspoon at a time, every hour or so, as needed, to help ease coughs, constipation, headaches, and grief.

I usually make half this recipe and find it sufficient for myself as a single person.

This recipe is from Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise by Susun Weed, Ash Tree Publishing, 1989.

Split Pea Soup with Violet Leaves

½ cup dried split peas
4 cups water plus ½ cup water
1 cup fresh violet leaves
Olive oil or lard
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Sour cream (optional)

Soak peas overnight, drain, then add water and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer until mushy soft. In separate pot, cook violet leaves in ½ cup water until they are very soft. Put in blender or food processor and blend into a slurry. Add to pot of cooked peas.

In a frying pan, put 2 to 4 tablespoons of good olive oil or lard, add onions and garlic and cook until nicely softened. Add to pea and violet leaf mix. Reheat until nice and hot.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream if you like!


Herbal Infusions and Teas

infusion in quart jar

An infusion of peppermint, lemon balm, and bee balm leaves and flowers (all from my garden)

Want to drink something delicious and healthy, cheap and simple to make, and easy to carry with you? Herbal infusions are the perfect answer! They are one of the most basic and easy ways to enjoy herbs and get their wonderful benefits.

What is an herbal infusion? It is simply a water extract of one or more herbs. It is stronger than an herbal tea, and takes more herb material. But it is as easy to make as a loose-leaf tea.

Because there can be confusion as to what is an infusion and a tea, and the differences, if any, between them, let’s define them, at least for the purposes of this article.

Many herbalists and herbals use one or the other term and they seem to mean the same thing, referring to a water-based extraction that uses a fairly small amount of herb steeped for 10 or 15 minutes or maybe half an hour (to me this is a tea). At other times the term tea refers to using a large amount of herb matter steeped for a short period of time. However, my understanding of the difference between an infusion and a tea, gained in part from Susun Weed, is that an infusion is much stronger and more concentrated than a tea.

My definition of teas and infusions is this: A tea uses 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of herb/s per cup of boiling water, steeped about 5 to 15 minutes. An infusion uses 1 ounce of herb material to 1 pint to 1 quart of boiling water, and is steeped anywhere from ½ hour to 8 hours or overnight, depending on the herb.

An herbal tea may be drunk for its medicinal properties or for the pleasure of its taste, or both. An infusion is quite often clearly medicinal and will often be used for its medicinal qualities.

Often, I am not sure quite what I want from my herbal drink—do I want something medicinal, just something that tastes good, or both? I will end up doing something that is between a tea and an infusion, using a goodly quantity of herb/s—more than a tea requires, but less than an infusion. I end up with a strongly-flavored drink that is at least somewhat medicinal and often tastes good, if I’ve gotten the right blend of herbs (I am always using different combinations, again depending on my mood).

Herbal Teas

Making herbal teas is fun! Don’t be afraid to experiment with combinations of various herbs you like and try different amounts mixed together. When it comes to taste, there is no right or wrong, only what delights your mouth and your senses.

In my experience, using a good quantity of herbs for your tea makes for a better tasting brew. If you think herb teas are insipid and weak, then you probably have not been using nearly enough herb matter for a cup of tea. Use more! The taste will be surprisingly robust and may truly change your mind (or your friends’) about what an herbal tea can be.


Generally, the proportion of herb to water for tea is to use about a tablespoon of dry herb to a cup of boiling water. Pour the freshly boiled water over the herb, cover (to keep in the essential oils and other good stuff), let steep for 15 minutes, then uncover and sip. You can add sugar, honey, maple syrup, or stevia for sweetening, and/or milk of your choice. Enjoy!


dry herbs for infusion in quart jar

Dry herbs ready to be infused

An infusion is made by soaking plant material (usually dried) in water that has been brought to a boil. The infusion steeps anywhere from ½ hour to 8 hours, depending on the plant material being infused. Boiling water must be used to break open the cell walls of the plant to allow them to release their constituents. Make sure you have good strainer to strain out your herb material.

What you need:

  • A heat-proof pint or quart jar, such as a spaghetti jar or canning (mason) jar (You can also use a cooking pot or pan that has a lid.)
  • A lid to fit the top of the jar, screw-on and tight-fitting if you will be transporting your infusion.
  • Boiling water
  • Herb/s
  • Strainer


Using the proportions of plant material to water below, put your herb material into the heat-proof jar with a lid or other covering that won’t allow steam to escape. Bring your water to a boil, pour over the plant material in the jar to the bottom of where the lid comes, and cover. (The lid needs to be kept on to keep volatile constituents from escaping.) Now let it steep for the time indicated for the plant materials you have used. When you are ready to drink it, strain it out with your strainer into another jar or into a cup or mug.

Usually it’s easiest to infuse one herb at a time. If infusing an herb blend, infuse for the time needed for the ingredient that gets infused for the shortest time. For instance, if you’re infusing a blend that includes anise seeds or hawthorn berries, even if it includes roots, you will only let it sit for ½ hour. If you’re using a blend that includes chamomile flowers, you’ll only let it sit for 2 hours, and so forth.

However, I don’t worry too much about being exact when I am steeping an infusion, and often mine sit for hours before I get to them.

Infusions can be drunk warm or cold. If you’ve let it steep for several hours, you can warm it up on the stove or in the microwave.

flowers and herbs infusion in quart jar

Flowers and herbs infused, ready to be strained for an herbal bath

Infusions are easy to take with you in their jars, strained or not. They only last about 24 to 36 hours, even with refrigeration, so plan on making fresh infusions every day or two. If it starts smelling or tasting off, let it go—give it the plants, indoors or out.

Infusions can also be used as the basis for other herbal products, such as shampoos, or as the base for soups, drinks, and other herbal consumables.


For all parts of a plant, except roots and bark, the proportion is 1 ounce of dried plant material to 1 quart of boiling water. For roots and bark, it is 1 ounce of plant material to one pint of boiling water. See chart below.

                                    Length of Time for Infusing

Plant Part           Amount            Jar/Water       Length of infusion

Roots/Barks     1 oz./30 g.         pint/500 ml      8 hours minimum

Leaves              1 oz./30 g.         quart/liter       4 hours minimum

Flowers             1 oz./30 g.         quart/liter       2 hours maximum

Seeds/Berries  1 oz./30 g.          pint/500 ml    30 minutes maximum

The information on making infusions and the table of proportions are from The Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise by Susun Weed, Ash Tree Press, 1989.

Some Definitions of Herbal Terms

hand-made herbal products

Hand-made herbal products

Many people who use herbal products often don’t know what some of the terms they’re using mean. Do you know what a “tincture” really is? Can you define “herbal vinegar”? (Actually, that one is kind of easy.) How about a fomentation? (No, not about foaming at the mouth.) Or, just what is a salve?

Below I have put together some definitions of terms and products that will make it easier to understand what it is you are using or reading about in your herb books and on-line.

Let me know, in the comments section or by e-mail if there are any other terms you would like to know about. I will include them in later post.

Please note that these are my definitions and some of them may differ from those of other herbalists, books, or websites.

Compress: A cloth that has been dipped into a hot herbal tea or infusion and is applied topically. Also called a fomentation.

Cream: Often, a mix of an herbally-infused oil, an emulsifying agent such as beeswax, and distilled or flower water. Sometimes, just a firmer version of a lotion or a slightly more liquid version of a salve (infused oil and emulsifier, no water).

Decoction: An extraction of plant constituents in water, cooked or boiled on the stove for a period of time. Often used for woody plant parts or roots, or as the base for a syrup or elixir.

Elixir: A sweetened herbal syrup containing alcohol. The alcohol helps in the extraction and preservation of the herbal constituents.

Extract: A liquid containing herbal constituents that have been extracted from the herb. Often refers to a tincture, but can also refer to other herbal liquids, such as infusions or glycerites.

Fomentation: A cloth that has been dipped into a hot herbal tea or infusion and is applied topically. Also called a compress.

Glycerin: A sweet, balnd-tasting, somewhat thick and sticky liquid; a sugar alcohol. Used both internally and externally.

Glycerite: An herbal extract using glycerin and water to extract and preserve the herbal constituents. Naturally sweet, the glycerin extracts somewhat different properties than alcohol, though some are the same.

Herbal or Medicinal Vinegar: Vinegar that has been infused with one or more herbs.

Infused Oil: An oil, whether from a plant or animal source, in which one or more herbs have been infused and then strained out. The oil acts as both a carrier and preservative for the herbal constituents. Only used externally.

Infusion: A strong extraction of plant constituents in which boiled water is poured over the plant material instead of cooking it (as in a decoction). Often a lot of plant material is used and the steeping time can be from ½ hour to all day or overnight.

Lotion: Often, a mix of an herbally-infused oil, an emulsifying agent such as beeswax, and distilled or flower water. Sometimes, just a softer, more liquid version of a salve (infused oil and emulsifier, no water) or another combination of herbal liquids.

Poultice: Plant material, fresh or dried, that has been chopped up and sometimes mixed with boiling water (especially in the case of dry plant material), and applied topically.

Salve: A mixture of an herbally-infused oil with an emulsifying agent, usually beeswax, to give it some hardness, used to apply healing herbal constituents to the skin. Contains no water. Can also be called a balm or an unguent.

Syrup: A thick, water-based extract of an herb or herbs, usually sweetened. The sweetener acts a preservative and to make the extract more palatable.

Tea: An extraction of plant constituents using boiled water poured over the plant material. Usually, not much plant material is used and it is only left to steep for 5 or 10 minutes.

Tincture: An extract of an herb in alcohol and water. Often the ratio of alcohol to water is approximately 50:50. Tinctures contain a concentrated amount of plant constituents, and act to preserve them. The alcohol and water each extract somewhat different constituents from the herbs or plants.

Vinegar: A fermented liquid containing acetic acid, often standardized to about 6% acetic acid. Vinegar can be the end product of apple cider, wine, malt liquor or other juices or liquids. Acts to both extract and preserve plant constituents. Vinegar extracts somewhat different constituents than a tincture.