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:

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.


  •   Wildman Steve Brill’s app for foraging and plant i.d.
  •   identification tools for New England plants


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.

Glowing Skin with DIY Sugar or Salt Scrubs

sugar-salt scrub in gold-capped jarSo the holiday season is over and you’re tired, wan, and your skin feels like an alligator’s from the cold weather. On top of which, no one gave you anything to make your skin happy! Insert your unhappy face here…

In about 10 minutes you can make yourself a lovely scrub that will leave you feeling rejuvenated and your skin soft and happy. It’s easy to make with ingredients you most likely already have in the kitchen, except for the essential oils (unless you’re like me, and the essential oils are in a cupboard right there).

Here’s what you need (more about the ingredients below) and what you do:

-Organic sugar or evaporated sugar cane crystals
or Sea salt or other natural salt of your choice
-Organic oil—olive, almond, sesame, or other oil of your choice,          preferably infused with a skin-loving herb (e.g., calendula)
-Essential oils (optional)
-Clean, dry jar

 SuperFacial Sugar Scrub

½ C. sugar, plus a little more
¼ C. oil of your choice
Essential oil/s of your choice—32 to 40 drops

Mix sugar and oil together. If you don’t like the texture—too soupy or too hard, add a little more sugar or oil until it’s the texture you like. If you want scent, add the essential oils you like. You can use more than one essential oil for scent, but the total number of drops should be 32 to 40 to begin with. You can add more if you want the scent to be stronger.

Put your scrub in a clean, dry jar and label it. You’re all set to go! (Your scrub may separate; if so, just take a clean spoon and stir it back up.)

This makes a wonderful scrub for your face but can also be used for a body scrub!

Invigorating Salt Scrub

½ C. sea salt, plus a little more
¼ C. oil of your choice
Essential oil/s of your choice—32 to 40 drops

Mix salt and oil together. If you don’t like the texture—too soupy or too hard, add a little more salt or oil until it’s the texture you like. If you want scent, add the essential oils you like. You can use more than one essential oil for scent, but the total number of drops should be 32 to 40 to begin with. You can add more if you want the scent to be stronger.

Put your scrub in a clean, dry jar and label it. You’re all set to go! (Your scrub may separate; if so, just take a clean spoon and stir it back up.)

This makes a fabulous scrub for your whole body and all the rough places that need smoothing out!

Sugar and Salt Scrub

¼ C. sugar
¼ C. sea salt, plus a little more
¼ C. oil of your choice
Essential oil/s of your choice—32 to 40 drops

Mix sugar and salt together, then add and mix in the oil. If you don’t like the texture—too soupy or too hard, add a little more salt or oil until it’s the texture you like. If you want scent, add the essential oils you like. You can use more than one essential oil for scent, but the total number of drops should be 32 to 40 to begin with. You can add more if you want the scent to be stronger.

Put your scrub in a clean, dry jar and label it. You’re all set to go! (Your scrub may separate; if so, just take a clean spoon and stir it back up.)

This makes a terrific combo scrub for your whole body and all the rough places that need smoothing out!

 Why Use These Ingredients

There are good reasons for using the ingredients in this simple but effective recipe. Sugar and salt both have an effect on the skin, and the oils we use for skin care are good for the skin.

Sugar is slightly acidic and can act like retinoic acid and help clear off dead skin cells and expose new skin. It can leave your face and skin feeling very fresh.

Sea salt is rich in minerals and helps remove dead skin cells and dirt when used as a scrub, as well as stimulating circulation. Be aware that it can burn broken skin.

Vegetable Oils—olive, almond, grapeseed, sesame, and more all have marvelous nutrients that can nourish and heal the skin in various ways, as well as help with hydration. It’s your choice as to which oil you choose. Olive oil tends to be heavier and the other oils mentioned tend to be lighter. Remember you won’t have it sitting on your skin for long. If you have oily skin or are prone to breakouts, avoid olive oil at least on your face.

Herbs that are good for the skin, such as calendula, chamomile, comfrey, and more, have nutrients that affect the skin and can help with soothing and healing. When you infuse them in oil, you get the benefits on your skin through the oil. Click here for an article on making an herbally-infused oil.

Essential oils make your product smell good and can have an effect on your skin and even your mood, depending on the oil. For example, lavender will be more soothing, peppermint more stimulating. It’s up to you to decide what pleases you and makes you feel good when you use your scrub.

I hope you have fun making a scrub or two for yourself! Let me know how it turns out in the comments section.

Early Winter Foraging for Edibles and Decoratives (Rosehips, Evening Primrose, Burdock, and More)

multiflora rosehips

Multiflora rose rosehips.

Even though it’s late fall or the beginning of winter, there are still wonderful plant gifts to find outdoors. It just takes a little looking, and is also somewhat dependent on the weather.

Rosehips are at their best right now. Some will have been nipped by the frost and be mushy, but oh so sweet, while others will still be firm, all on the same bush or the in the same cluster. You can eat them straight off the bush, as I was doing the other day, or cut off the cluster and dry them for use for teas or holiday decorations. The hips of commonly found rugosa or beach roses and multiflora roses are beautiful included in wreaths or arrangements, or even just in a bouquet on their own. They are as pretty dried as they are fresh.

Another prickly plant with red berries is barberry. Japanese barberry is used extensively in landscaping, and at this time of year its red berries are hanging in rows beneath the thin twigs. If you protect your hands while picking the berry-bedecked twigs, they make a nice addition to holiday decorations. The berries, while not terribly exciting, can be used to make a jam or snacked on. I recently heard that the berries were included in Seventeenth century stuffings, but I don’t think it was the berries of the Japanese species, which are not at all juicy, but common barberry with tastier fruit.

Evening primrose leaf rosette and root

Evening primrose leaf rosette and root–both first-year plants.

Evening primroses are also at just the right stage to eat, the roots being full of nutrients and the rosette of leaves having a delicious peppery taste. Now is the time to dig the roots before the ground gets frozen. You can use the roots in soups, stews, stir-fries, or root-veggie mashes, or slice and dry them for use later in the winter season. They are mucilaginous and healing for the gut and mucous membranes.

multiflora rose rosehips and evening primrose seed stalks

Multiflora rose rosehips and evening primrose seed stalks.

The seeds of evening primrose are numerous in their shapely seed pods, and the birds, especially gold finches, love to eat them, usually in the fall and spring. The seeds are really tiny, maybe the size of this period . and they are the source of evening primrose oil. Even though the seeds are very numerous, with their tiny size you can see why the oil is so expensive. Just think how many seeds it takes to make one ounce of oil! You can get the goodness of that oil into your diet without cost, however, by harvesting the seeds and adding them to whatever dishes you like. One friend suggests using them on baked goods like poppy seeds! It is really simple to harvest the seeds—just cut the seed stalks and stick them upside down in a paper bag and shake. (You can use the seed stalks for decorations after that.) If you want more of the seeds you can split the seed heads open and finger out the seeds, which is time consuming, but something to do while watching a movie. The seeds will keep for months in a jar.

Burdock burrs are distinctive and easy to find in the stripped landscape. If you are lucky, there will still be a few leaves you can harvest for teas or soups, and if the ground isn’t frozen you can grab a few roots. Great for food or medicine at this time of year!

Burdock’s burry seed stalks make a nice addition to arrangements, and the seeds can be harvested for medicinal uses. They can also be eaten, though they are rather bitter (which is good for you). Be careful when taking the seeds out of the burrs, however, as the hairs from the burrs can get onto your tongue and cause discomfort. You will want to wear some sort of gloves, if possible, as this will protect your fingers from the prickly burrs.

seedheads-goldenrod, mugwort, barberry berries

Feathery seed heads of goldenrod, sedate seed heads of mugwort, and 2 red barberry berries.

If you like a natural, Nature-inspired decorating theme, for the holidays or the winter, then now is the time to go out and collect dry seed heads from the garden or the fields. Goldenrod has lovely rather feathery seed heads, mugwort has more refined seed stalks, evening primrose has stalks with upright, bell-shaped seed pods, and Queen Anne’s lace has seed heads resembling birds’ nests. Any or all of these can be sprayed with silver of gold paint or rolled in glitter if you want to add a bit of sparkle to you natural look. Mixing them with red rosehips or barberries will give added punch to your arrangement, or you can mix them with seasonal greens in arrangements or wreaths.

So just when you thought the foraging season was over, you now have a reason to go out and harvest a few last plants! Let me know what you do with your late fall/early winter gleanings in the comments section.

Preserving Your Foraged or Cultivated Harvest by Drying, Part 2

dehydrated apples and tomatoes in jars

Dehydrated apples and tomatoes in jars.

Are you looking to save some of the food from your garden, your foraging walks, or the farmers market for use during the winter? If you are short on space as I am, one of the best ways to do it is to dry or dehydrate your food and plants.

In “Preserving Your Foraged or Cultivated Harvest by Drying, Part 1” I discussed drying by hanging bunches of plants or herbs or laying them on flat surfaces where air can circulate. It’s a marvelous way to preserve your food simply and easily.

However, once I got a dehydrator, I found that it was very useful for preserving a number of things including tomatoes, squash, and leafy greens like goosefoot and amaranth.

In this article I discuss how to use a dehydrator for simple drying and dehydrating of plants and herbs, vegetables and fruits.


I have an excellent electric dehydrator from Excalibur, which makes my job easy. This brand is the one I recommend. You can buy other brands, and you can also find instructions for making solar and other kinds of dehydrators.

If you don’t have a dehydrator you can use your oven, putting it on its lowest setting and leaving the door slightly open.

My dehydrator get its greatest use in the fall. I dehydrate kale, apples, squashes, and other fruits and veggies. My cupboards get crowded with paper bags and glass jars of dried produce ready for my winter soups, stews, puddings, and apple crisps.

I take a very relaxed approach to dehydrating, not worrying terribly much about getting just the right temperature or just how long it will take.

Directions for Dehydrating

Here are a few suggestions for drying some of the produce that is still available at this time of year.

Note: I will sometimes dry 2 or 3 different things in the dehydrator at once, such as apples and kale. After a few hours I will check for how dry things are and take out the pieces that are ready to be put away, then continue drying the rest of what’s in the dehydrator.

I have found that I usually put the dehydrator at about 105 degrees F. and that seems to work for whatever I am drying.

  • Kale: Strip the leafy part off of the midrib. The midrib will take forever to dry and is better either thrown in the freezer for soup stock or composted. Lay the leafy portions of kale on your dehydrator tray, flattening them as you can, and making sure not to overlap them. It is quite easy to feel when the kale is dry enough, and is often somewhat crumbly when done.
  • Apples: I don’t bother peeling my apples, but if you don’t want the
    cut apples ready for dehydrating

    Cut apples ready for dehydrating.

    peels, then take them off. I core the apples with an apple corer, then slice them across the cored area into rounds that are about 1/8 inch thick. If you get lumpy, wild-grown apples, it may not be worth trying to core them, and then just slice them from side to the other around the core. If you get bothered by your apples turning brown you can dip them into lemon juice before placing them on the trays of the dehydrator. Many of your slices will twist and buckle slightly as they dry. The apples slices are dry when they are leathery and have no moisture when you break a slice open. If you aren’t sure if they are dry enough, let them go a little longer. Also, storing them in a paper bag with allow for any extra moisture to evaporate rather than possibly molding as would happen in a glass or plastic container.

    sliced tomatoes ready to be dehydrated

    Sliced tomatoes ready to be dehydrated.

  • Tomatoes: slice ¼ inch thick, clear out as much of the seeds as you can, place in a single layer on the dehydrator tray and dehydrate. The slices will be leathery when dry. (You will have tomato-y juice from slicing afterward, I like to put it in soups or drink i t.)
  • Summer squash and zucchini: slice ⅛ to ¼ inch thick, place in a single layer on the dehydrator tray and dehydrate. The slices will be leathery to crisp when dry.
  • baked butternut squash

    Baked butternut squash, ready to have flesh scooped out.

    Winter squash, such as butternut, acorn, or kabocha: Cook squash first. The easiest way to cook the squash is to cut it lengthwise and place the halves cut-side down on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F. The squash is done when a fork easily pierces the skin and flesh. When the squash has cooled, scoop out the seeds and eat them, give them to the squirrels, or compost them. Scoop the flesh out of the skins and use a blender or food processor to thoroughly puree the cooked squash so you don’t have lumps, otherwise it will not dry evenly.

    dehydrated squash puree

    Butternut squash that has been pureed and dehydrated.

    Using parchment paper or special sheets that come with some dehydrators, spread the pureed squash in a thin layer about ¼ inch thick. Proceed to dehydrate until thoroughly dry. The squash will easily lift off the sheet at this point, and will look somewhat like fruit leather. It is easy to see if it is still damp at any point and needing further drying. I break up the sheets of dried squash for storage. I use it in puddings and soups. Very convenient!

I hope you enjoy dehydrating your wonderful harvest, whether it’s a bushel of apples or just a few kale leaves. Let me know what you dehydrated and how it turned out in the comments section.


Preserving Your Foraged or Cultivated Harvest by Drying, Part 1  

Dried goodsefoot and amaranth leaves in paper bag

Dried goosefoot and amaranth leaves in paper bag, ready for winter stews.

Do you like to preserve your harvest for the coming winter months? Even though I don’t can and only have a tiny freezer, I love to preserve the plants and foods that are ripening and fruiting at this time of year. My answer to limited space is to dry and dehydrate.

I have been drying my herbs for years, and a few years ago started drying more weeds and flowers, such as day lily flowers, to use in winter dishes like hearty stews. Last winter when a particularly vicious depression hit, the dried goosefoot, amaranth, kale, and other foods in my pantry were a real life saver.

Here are some suggestions on drying herbs and plants for the winter and general use that I have developed over the years.


By drying I mean drying the plant matter completely so that there is no moisture left and it can be stored in paper bags or glass jars. I don’t dry fleshy fruits or vegetables this way because they would take up too much room and I would worry about molding.

To dry plants that I will use for food or medicine, I hang them or lay them on wicker paper plate holders or other flat, woven basketry. When using wicker or basketry, make sure to put the plant material in a single layer so it will dry quickly and well. Piling it makes a good environment for mold. You may have to turn the plant material or stir it a bit to facilitate the drying process.

pegboard with drying herbs

Pegboard in my kitchen with herbs and flowers ready to dry.

I have a piece of pegboard on the wall of my kitchen with pegs on it on which I hang bunches of plant material, flowers, and seed heads. There is plenty of air flow around the plants and they dry very well. I used to have the side rail of a baby crib that I hung with chains from the basement ceiling (we had a dehumidifier so it kept the basement dry and worked for the plant material) and made hooks that hung off of the slats and held the plant bunches.

An easy way to make a quick drying apparatus is to take a clothes hanger and use pulled apart metal paper clips for hooks to hang your plan material. Make sure to hang it where it will get good air circulation.

Pegboard with partially dried herbs.

Pegboard with partially dried herbs and sundry items.

There are many other ways to hang your plant materials—rows of wooden pegs, off of chandeliers, hooks or nails in a shed, and so on. One other way to dry plants is to put them in a paper bag with plenty of air space. I don’t often do this, but some people swear by it.

Drying Roots

When roots are small enough and thin enough, I will hang them to dry, especially if they are attached to the above-ground part of the plants, as with small dandelions. Generally, however, the best way to dry roots is to chop them up and spread them out on a wicker surface, or just a regular plate, to dry. You want to chop up your roots unless they are really small and thin, because otherwise when they dry out they can be very difficult, if not impossible, to cut into small pieces that can then be put into the tea pot or eaten in soups.

Preparing Your Plant Material for Drying

To prepare your plants for hanging to dry, make sure they are dry and clean of all dirt. Rinse off dirt if you need to.

Gather several stems of what you drying into a bunch and bind it tightly at one end, either with string or a rubber band. (When you use string you can put a loop at one end for hanging.) Hang your bunches spaced slightly apart so that the air can get to all parts of them. Let dry for several days to a week or more until plant material is completely dry, there is no moisture left in it.

Leaves are dry when they are somewhat crumbly. You will need to judge more by the look and feel for flowers and stems. It can be hard to tell at times if something is completely dry. It can take experience with the different plants you are drying to know what is dry enough. If in doubt, leave it a bit longer. Storing your dried plant materials in a paper bag is helpful if you are unsure about dryness.


red clover in jar

Red clover in a jar for teas and infusions.

I store what I have dried in glass jars and paper bags. Paper bags are especially easy to pile and squeeze into your cupboards or storage space. I like to leave my plant materials as whole as possible, as It gives less surface area for air to diminish the nutrients. I do, however, crush leaves when it makes it easier to get them in the bag or jar, or when I am trying to get as much as possible into the container or bag.

I hope this gets you started on drying some food or herbs for your winter dishes, and for general use year-round.

What have you dried and how have you used it? Tell me in the comments section below.

Foraged Blackberry Vinegar and Syrup: Summer Goodness Year ′Round


Blackberries–ripe, unripe, and very unripe

Blackberries in summer—what could be better? The blackberries on the canes edging the woods near my house are starting to ripen and I am starting to harvest them. I will of course be popping them straight into my mouth, but I will also save some for my morning oatmeal, find room in the freezer for a few, and make my favorites: blackberry vinegar and blackberry syrup.

Blackberry vinegar is the first step to making blackberry syrup, and they are both really easy to do. I used them both to make a delicious drink last winter, until I ran out of the vinegar. Needless to say, I will make and have on hand more vinegar this year!

Before I give you the directions for making these delightful products, let’s take a quick look at blackberry.

It is a plant in the Rose family, and as with other members of this family, its white flowers have five petals. There are a number of species of blackberries, and they are native to many parts of the world, including Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Australia. There are blackberries that grow in great bushy piles, with canes many feet long and wicked thorns, and there are blackberries that trail along the ground, called dewberries.

Thimbleberry Rubus_parviflorus in flower

Flower of thimbleberry, a species of blackberry.

I don’t worry too much about what species I am picking from, for I know that whatever it is, it’s edible and that’s what counts!

It is a perennial, meaning the plant lives for a number of years. It spreads readily by root extension, and can be very invasive, with very strong, persistent roots. This is great if you want lots of berries, not so great when you have to keep pulling prickly shoots out of your garden.

According to A Modern Herbal, blackberry flowers, leaves, and fruit were used for various health issues from ancient times. However, in the present the parts of the plant that are used medicinally are the leaves and the roots, both of which contain a good proportion of tannins, though the root more so. The astringency of the tannins contributes to their medicinal actions. The berries may also be used medicinally.

In years past I have dried the leaves, sometimes mixing them with raspberry leaves, and used them for a pleasant tasting tea which is slightly reminiscent of black tea, or mixed them with other herbs in herbal teas.

Blackberries are ripe when they easily pull away from the vine. They don’t ripen off the vine, so don’t try harvesting any before they are actually ripe. The nice thing about blackberries is that they ripen over a period of several weeks, so you can go back a few times to get more.

Here are the instructions for making, first, Blackberry Vinegar, and then Blackberry Syrup (the recipe is from A Modern Herbal). I suggest you make some of each as they are both delightful. Remember that you can also use the vinegar for salads and desserts, and the syrup is lovely on ice cream, too.

 Blackberry Vinegar

1 quart of ripe blackberries, destemmed
Vinegar—apple cider, red wine, or malt

Fill a quart jar with blackberries to just below the threads where the lid fits. Fill the jar with vinegar until the berries are just covered. Put on the lid and let sit for three days to draw the juice out.

After 3 days strain through a sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth.

Let your berries sit and drip for a few hours until the vinegar-juice has finished straining.

At this point you can bottle it up with a pretty label and use the vinegar, or you can make Blackberry Syrup.

Note: If you are using raw apple cider vinegar, as I do, your vinegar may get a white bloom on top. I am not sure what that is, whether it is the growth of a vinegar mother or something else. If this concerns you, simply put your vinegar in a pan and boil gently for few minutes to pasteurize it.

Blackberry Syrup

bottle of blackberry syrup

The end of last year’s blackberry syrup.

1 pint blackberry vinegar
1 pound sugar—can be raw, sugar cane crystals, etc.

Place vinegar and sugar in a pan. Heat to boiling and gently boil for 5 minutes, removing any scum that arises. Let cool and bottle with a pretty label.

Note: I used slightly less sugar than this recipe calls for and my syrup came out fine. You can experiment and see how much sugar you want to use.

According to A Modern Herbal, 1 teaspoon of the syrup, mixed with a glass of water, “will often quench thirst when other beverages fail and makes a delicious drink in fever.” It makes “a fine cordial for a feverish cold.”

I find that putting the vinegar and syrup together makes a drink that is tasty and very thirst-quenching. Here are proportions to start with, and then you can adjust to your own taste.

Blackberry Tonic

1 qt. water or carbonated water
1/3 to 1/2 cup blackberry syrup
1/4 cup blackberry vinegar

Mix and enjoy! You can pour it over ice for a refreshing drink on a hot day.

A  Modern Herbal by Mrs. Maude Grieve, originally published in 1931, reprint available from Dover. Online version:

The Berry Bible by Janie Hibler, 2004, William Morrow


Three Herbs to Forage Now for Year-Round Skincare

marigolds in basket

Marigolds drying

If you like making your own skincare products then summer is prime time for gathering herbs and making the basics that you will use for your skincare all year long.

Here are 3 herbs that can be wild-crafted or foraged to either dry or infuse in oil, alcohol, or vinegar: plantain, St. John’s wort, and yarrow. All of them are available or ready for harvest around mid-summer (the month of June) or soon thereafter, depending on the weather and local factors.

Drying the herbs or infusing them in oil or vinegar or vodka are ways to both preserve the herbs for longer use than if you only use them fresh, and also to make their properties more readily available to your skin, as well as make them available for a wide range of uses.

Dried herbs can be used in poultices and compresses, as infusions for washing or rinsing the skin, in baths, and facial steams. Herbal oils can be used directly on the skin or hair, or as the basis for salves, lotions, scrubs, massage oils, and more. Herbal vinegars can be diluted and used for skin toners, hair conditioners, and to treat rashes and other unpleasant skin ailments. Tinctures can be a great asset in quickly treating bites, rashes, scratches, pimples, and other skin discomforts.

Here are the 3 herbs to wild-craft now:

Narrow-leaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata) in flower

Narrow-leaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata) in flower

Plantain (Plantago major, Plantago lanceolata): Parts used—leaves

Both species are perennial herbs with rosettes of leaves and flowering stalks that stand above the leaves. The two species, both introduced from Europe and naturalized in the U.S., are used interchangeably.

P. major, greater plantain or broad-leafed plantain, has wide leaves that mostly stay close to the ground; P. lanceolata has narrow leaves that are more upstanding.

I tend to harvest the leaves throughout the season, as I am able to grab them and deal with them, drying them or infusing in oil. However, I find that the leaves are in the best shape (less insect and fungus damage) earlier in the season, and I don’t have to pick through so many leaves to find the best ones. If you are drying the leaves, spread them out well and dry them quickly, so they are less likely to discolor.

The fresh leaves of either species can be used to help with bug bites, rashes, stinging nettle, and so forth when outdoors. Simple grab a leaf or two, chew it up to release the juices, and put it on the bite or sting (please note: if you are allergic to bee stings, this won’t help). It will have a soothing effect. You may have to replace it in a little while to get complete relief.

Properties: Astringent, emollient, anti-allergy
Plantain can help reduce swelling and itching, and reduce to some extent excretions from the skin. It soothes, tones, and heals the skin, also making it feel better. And it helps heal wounds.

What to do with it: Dry the leaves, or infuse them in a good quality oil. (Directions for infusing oil here.) I usually use the infused oil in healing and all-purpose salves.

St. John's wort in flower

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) in flower

St. Johns’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): Parts used: The flowering tops
St. John’s wort is a generally short-lived perennial, 2’ to 3’ high, with cheerful yellow blossoms starting around mid-summer’s eve, and continuing sporadically throughout the summer into fall. I infuse this plant in oil for skincare uses and don’t usually bother with drying it.

To harvest it, you pick about the top ¼ of the plant, including flowers, buds, possibly beginning seeds, leaves, and stems. Actually, I usually cut off a bit of the top and then the side stems, leaving the main stem to continue producing. I go back to the plants that are still blooming throughout the summer to gather small quantities that I can then infuse in oil.

Properties: Anti-inflammatory, astringent, vulnerary

St. John’s wort relieves inflammation and pain and helps wounds heal. It helps speed the healing of wounds, bruises, varicose veins, and mild burns. It is especially good for sunburn. I have seen it help with allergic rashes and eczema. It is useful for injuries to areas rich in nerve endings and can help with nerve pain topically. It is considered one of the best skin herbs.

What to do with it: Infuse in a good quality oil, or infuse in apple cider vinegar. The flowering tops can be dried for use in washes and other herbal preparations. I prefer the infused-oil or vinegar products, and use the oil far more than the dried herb.
(Directions for making St. John’s wort oil here.)

To dry the flowering tops: put into small bunches and hang to dry, or lay them out on a basket or screen. When dry strip off the leaves and flowers and compost the stems. Store in a glass jar or paper bag.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Parts used—flowers, leaves
The finely feathered leaves of this perennial are a delight to see, and the flowers are sturdy and dainty at the same time. For medicinal and skincare purposes the white-flowered yarrow is used. It can grow singly or in patches, and is easily found along roadsides and in fields. Often you can find the leaves well before it is in bloom. Don’t confuse them with the leaves of Queen Anne’s lace or tansy.

This is an easy plant to dry. You can harvest the flowers and tie them in bunches to hang until dry, then store in a glass jar or paper bag. The leaves can be treated the same way, or laid out on a plate or screen to dry, then stored with the flowers. It is recommended to harvest the plant while flowering, in which case you can just cut as much of the plant as you can get and hang it to dry. I usually strip the leaves and flowers off of the stems once dry and compost the stems.

Yarrow is very good at helping to stop bleeding. People have taken the fresh plant and chewed the leaves to put on a cut to stop the bleeding, or taken some of the dried leaves, crushed or already in powder form, and applied them to stop bleeding. I use the tincture for this purpose.

Properties: Astringent, styptic, antiseptic, antifungal
Yarrow is known for its ability to help stop bleeding and heal wounds. It also a lovely anti-itch herb because of its astringency. It helps prevent infections because if its antiseptic properties, though if you have other, stronger antiseptics it is advisable to use them as well, just to be on the safe side.

For years I have carried a tincture of half yarrow and half shepherd’s purse to use for any cuts, scrapes, and scratches that occur in my travels. I also have both a spray bottle and a dropper bottle of this tincture in my bathroom. Though I like using shepherd’s purse with the yarrow, you can use the yarrow tincture alone for the same effects.

The tincture is great at slowing bleeding and helping to keep it from recurring, though you may have to reapply the tincture a few times. It helps wounds heal faster as well, and reduces the chance of infection (the alcohol in the tincture helps here as well).

Since yarrow has an astringent affect, it is helpful for rashes, itchiness, and oily skin.

What to do with it: Dry the flowers and leaves, infuse in alcohol for a tincture, or infuse in apple cider vinegar. Tinctures can be used for skin problems, and vinegars can be used in skin toners and similarly to tinctures. The dried plant can be used in rinses and washes, poultices, and more.

I hope you are able to find all of these abundant, superbly useful plants and add them to your skincare routines!

The Plants Call to Me, Even in Winter

spruce tree

My friend Spruce Tree

The plants have been talking to me when I go out for my daily walks.

It’s the middle of winter and you’d think nothing would be awake or paying much attention, but that simply isn’t so.

Driven by a recurrence of depression and needing to add a new approach to my coping skills, I have made a commitment to get outside everyday, even though we are in the midst of an extremely snowy winter.

You might think that I, an herbalist, would welcome any and every chance to get outdoors, but that hasn’t been the case. In the past years I have taken more and more to snuggling (um, well, hiding) in bed and reading a book or watching television as my primary modus operandi for dealing with down and uncomfortable times.

This stopped being an acceptable way of coping when I got hit with deep depression a few weeks ago. It was clear I had to do something different. Walking turns out to have been one of the answers.

First I had to walk to physical therapy half a mile away after hurting my hip. Then I set up a plan with a coach for whipping the depression’s ass harder than it was whipping mine.

And then—the plants spoke to me.

No, not actual words from some anthropomorphized rose bush. But their energy and the quiet messages that can be felt in paying attention to that came through clearly.

snow-covered mulitflora rose vines

Snow-covered mulitflora rose vines

First a multiflora rose snagged my sleeve as I was walking back from the compost heap (I put my compost there all winter long). I unsnagged myself and walked on past the black locust trees and past where the ground ivy and cleavers grow in great profusion in summer. I suddenly felt so much love and affection surrounding me, coming from the plants. The message I received was how much they love me, and need me to be here in this world for them, all of the plants.

Another walk a few days later and the same message. And then a walk down a long patch of turf where the grass never gets that tall and there is much moss and lichen mixed in (this was before the snow began). It is a long, tongue-shaped area, bounded on either side by trees. Near the tip of the “tongue” is a big old spruce tree who contributed needle-filled twigs a couple years ago to make spruce syrup with my apprentice.

Spruce suggested I drink a tea made of its needles, and perhaps partake of that spruce syrup as well. I took some fallen twiglets home for tea.

The trees also suggested that I come visit every day for a week, and I have, those that I can reach wither through the snow, or near the plowed road.

The glory of a walk, even in winter, is the beauty of the plants, whether evergreen trees, bare trees, seed stalks, or finding the mosses and “weeds” and plant friends that stay green throughout the coldest months.

Seeing the stands of seedstalks I remember what grows there in summer. Looking over toward the pond, I think of the skunk cabbage under the layer of icy snow. Approaching the filmy-barked white birch I admire the ethereal creams and peachy-pinks of its trunk.

The plants call to me, even in winter, and I am learning to listen and answer.