Fire Cider for the Cold and Flu Season

Fire Cider for the Cold and Flu Season

Fire Cider Vinegar November 2021

Fire Cider Vinegar November 2021

It’s cold and flu season and lots of people swear by fire cider vinegar for getting themselves and their families and friends through the sniffly time.

You can buy fire cider vinegar at the farmers market or some stores, but if you are so inclined, you can make your won and customize it your taste or what you have available (though I think with its heat flavor isn’t as much of a consideration). Making your own is also much cheaper if costs are a consideration. and ingredients can be purchased with SNAP benefits!

Fire cider (often with “vinegar” left off the name) is an old way of infusing cold-and-flu-bug-busting herbs and making them palatable and easy to take. It was named over Fire Cider Vinegar over 30 years ago by Rosemary Gladstar, who began sharing her version of the recipe; it now has almost as many variation as people who make it.

You can take fire cider vinegar to help your immune system fight off what’s around, at the start of cold or flu symptoms (and sometimes it seems to stop them, though no guarantees), or it seems to lessen the severity of the cold or flu, though again no promises.

 How to take Fire Cider Vinegar (FCV): Most people don’t take it straight, but diluted in some way. Take a tablespoon or two (or a glug or two from the bottle is it in) and put it in a glass of water, juice, or a cup of tea–you decide how much it needs to be diluted. You can take it every couple of hours, or, when you are feeling better, a 2 or 3 times a day.

You can also use FCV in a mixed drink, or use it in salad dressing–for some or all of the vinegar portion.

Below are two recipes, one from my friend Charles Garcia (, a wonderful Hispanic herbalist, and one from me with interesting choices and no particular measurements.

Fire Cider Recipe from Charles Garcia

Ingredients (makes about 2 quarts):
2 glass quart jars
1 heaping teaspoon of black pepper for each jar
1 lemon in 4 slices (2 for each jar)
3 small slices of apple
1/2 diced red onions
16 garlic cloves (8 for each jar)
Approximately 2 ounces sliced fresh ginger
Approximately 2 1/4 ounces horse radish in 1 inch chunks
1 Anaheim or Serrano pepper sliced into 1/4 inch slices,
separate them into equal amounts for each jar
20 Allspice seeds split evenly for each jar
2 heaping Tablespoons of honey for each jar

Pack everything tightly in each jar. Fill with apple cider vinegar. Allow bubbles to escape and add more vinegar.

Seal and shake. Keep in fridge. Shake every day. After three weeks remove all solid material and keep the liquid in the jars and use as needed.

Fire Cider Vinegar ingredients, waiting for vinegar

Fire Cider Vinegar ingredients, waiting for vinegar

A Recipe for Fire Cider Vinegar by Iris Weaver

Take some garlic, onions, hot peppers, horseradish or garlic mustard root, any herbs that are anti-microbial or anti-inflammatory, etc., that are in your garden or cupboard, whatever else appeals to you. Use whatever amounts you like or have on hand. Warning: go easy with the horse radish; from experience too much makes the fire cider tooo firey!

Chop the herbs, put in a jar, top with ACV (organic and local if possible) and let sit at least 6 weeks. When you strain it out, add local raw honey if you like (some people add honey in with the vinegar while it is steeping). To me this is easy–no fussy measuring or worrying about having just the “right” herbs! Oh, and if you have someone who can’t do alliums, just eliminate the garlic and onions.

The usual herbs that seem to be the base of any fire cider recipe are garlic, horseradish, ginger, and hot peppers. But, again, use what you’ve got.

Dose: 1 to 3 teaspoons in water, juice, tea, several times a day. This is also great added to soups, stir-fries, and salad dressings (but be careful how much you use–hot, hot, hot!).

Suggested herbs and other ingredients (fresh or dried; organic if possible):

  • Hot peppers/chilis
  • Ginger
  • Horseradish, or wasabi radish, or garlic mustard roots
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Astragalus root
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Lemon Balm
  • Bee Balm
  • Peppermint/Spearmint
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Turmeric
  • Organic, raw Apple Cider Vinegar

Decide whether you want to make a quart, a half-gallon, or a gallon, and have appropriately sized jars, or use what you have!

Use organic citrus and ginger, and herbs if you buy them. Chop up your fresh herbs, onions, garlic, horse radish, etc. and slice your citrus if using (don’t worry about peeling it).

Fill your jar between 1/4 to 3/4 full with chopped ingredients, and then fill with apple cider vinegar to bottom of where lid sits. You can also add a bit of honey, you decide how much, in place of the vinegar and let it all infuse together. Put on lid and let infuse.

Make note of what herbs and ingredients you used and the date, Helpful for labeling and if anyone wants to know what’s in there.

Let it sit for 6 weeks or longer and then strain out the solids and bottle and use. Enjoy!

The Hugeness of Shame

This is how it felt to try to put the word “shame” to the actual feeling.

I remember the first time I realized that “shame” was a word that actually related to feelings I had. It was such a teeny, tiny word for such an immense world of feeling that it seemed to have nothing to do with the hugeness of the feeling.

For years and years I had been living with these big, amorphous feelings that were just there, that I had no words for, that just permeated everything inside of me and outside of me.

By the time I finally could put that teeny, tiny word to that immense world of feeling I had been working with my now-long-term therapist for several years, and I must have cleared enough of the fog that sat in my feelings to be able to start to get focus on something inside that enormous mess.

Years later I can use the word “shame” and apply it to a human-sized feeling that can make me feel awful for a little while, but doesn’t overwhelm me and stop me in my tracks. I know what that feeling feels like, I know what started it way back when, I know sometimes what calls it up now. It is a feeling that I can live with, finally.



“What Is ‘Fragrance’?” in Cosmetics

This is taken directly from the Environmental Working Group website, and I have put it here to make it easy to access. 

Ask EWG: What is “fragrance”?

December 6, 2007

Question: Is it true that the cosmetics industry can put any chemical into a product’s “fragrance” without showing it on the ingredients list? What do they put in there?

Answer: It’s true. When you see “fragrance” on a personal care product’s label, read it as “hidden chemicals.” A major loophole in FDA’s federal law lets manufacturers of products like shampoo, lotion, and body wash include nearly any ingredient in their products under the name “fragrance” without actually listing the chemical.
Companies that manufacture personal care products are required by law to list the ingredients they use, but fragrances and trade-secret formulas are exempt. An analysis of the chemical contents of products reveals that the innocuous-looking “fragrance” often contains chemicals linked to negative health effects. Phthalates, used to make fragrances last longer, are associated damage to the male reproductive system, and artificial musks accumulate in our bodies and can be found in breast milk. Some artificial musks are even linked to cancer. And if you’ve got asthma, watch out– fragrance formulas are considered to be among the top 5 known allergens, and can trigger asthma attacks. The same kinds of chemicals are often used for fragrances in cleaning products, scented candles, and air fresheners.
To avoid those unpleasant side effects, choose fragrance-free products, but beware labels that say “unscented.” It may only mean that the manufacturer has added yet another fragrance to mask the original odor. Check ingredient labels carefully, or search Skin Deep to find products that do not list “fragrance” as an ingredient.
The best solution is not to allow cosmetics companies to get through this loophole. They should be required to list all of their ingredients on the label where consumers can find out what they’re buying. On top of that, cosmetics manufacturers regularly include ingredients with known or suspected links to cancer, reproductive toxicity and other negative health effects. The federal government must set safety standards for personal care products.

From the website

Learning the Plants, Part 2

blackberry in flower1 6-1-2016

Flowering blackberry vines at the beginning of June.

Now that I am familiar with the plants around me, as I wrote about in my last post, I want to get to know them in more depth.

This is like meeting someone you like and find interesting and want to get to know better. It takes spending time with them and getting to know who they are below the surface, what makes them tick, their good and bad points, what particularly makes the two of you click. All of this leads to friendship, connection, and bonding.

So it is with plants, or to begin with, one plant that you want to get to know better. You want to know its name (common name, botanical name), where it came from (native or introduced, in what part of the world it originated), what it does for a living and for fun (growth habit; annual, biennial, or perennial; actions and properties), where it lives (what kind of soil, light, water requirements), how it spends its days and develops itself (watching it over the course of a year). In this way to start to develop an intimacy with the plant that goes beyond mere acquaintanceship and deepens into true knowledge and friendship.

Many herbalists and plant people suggest choosing one plant and focusing on it for a year, deepening your knowledge and connection with it. This is a wonderful idea, but I have always had too many plants that I wanted to get to know at one time and a somewhat scattered attention span, so I have never done the in-depth thing, instead greeting and observing various plants around me. Over the course of several years I will then have gotten to know a number of plants, both wild and cultivated, through all the seasons of the year. I know them from tiny sprouts in the spring to mature summer plants, to winding down in the fall, to winter silhouettes.

Get Up Close and Personal

New growth at tips of hemlock tree branches. June 2016

New growth at tips of hemlock tree branches. June 2016

One of the best ways to get to know plant friends is to spend a bit of time with them, even just a few minutes. Many times when I am working in the garden, or taking a walk, or even rushing to the train, a plant will catch my eye and I will have to spend some time looking at it, closely examining it, maybe the one part that caught my eye—the new growth at the tip of the branch, the flower, how the leaves are formed and attach to the stem. Maybe just how the whole plant looks and grows.

Growing plants gives such excellent opportunities to observe them up close and see them at different stages. If growing from seed then I get to see what the seed leaves look like, the first true leaves, how the plant develops into its mature form.

If I am getting a plant that’s already growing I can see how it settles in and how it goes through the different seasons.

Weeding is a particularly fine way to get to know weeds, or simply the extra plants that are more than I have room for in my garden. Pulling plants out by the roots gives you a very fine view of the whole plant, and a better than usual understanding of the roots.

When I am picking or harvesting plants, in the garden or in the wild, I also get to closely observe them. It’s important to know what parts I am harvesting, and if it is a plant that will continue to be there, how to do so without harming it. Just the fact that I am that close to the plant means I can’t help but notice its form and growth habits.

Communicate/Meditate with Your Plant Friends

Spending time connecting with the energy of plants is hugely important for knowing them.

Doing guided meditations or shamanic journeys to connect with the spirit of the plants, to ask questions and receive answers, or just to foster a deeper connection, changes your relationship with them.

Paying attention to what you perceive about a plant, to any whispers you may hear when you are with a plant helps you know the plant better. You can check what you learn/hear/perceive with books and other herbalists, but also listen to your intuition. A plant may work differently with you than with anyone else, and have gifts for you to use and share that it doesn’t share with other people. Many people find that they have one or a few plants that are their “go-to” plants, that have an efficacy that seems to go beyond the usual.

Live with Them

Sometimes getting to know a plant is as simple as living with it in your environment, whether in your living room or greenhouse, your garden, the local park, or the fields where you walk.

Having a plant, or plants, in your living space really helps you to get to know it better. Paying attention to it, caring for it, gives you a more intimate connection. And if it’s in your garden and you are really caring for it, that’s living with it too, and gives you the same benefit of getting closer to it.

I have found that also having the plant around in its dried form, ready for tea, or the dried stems or even whole plant, allows me to get a sense of it over time. Just having it in my living space for months, sometimes years, before I even do much of anything with it. Just feeling my way into familiarity with it.

Use Them!

dandylion flowers in a jar

Dandylion flowers in a jar

Of course, living with them leads naturally to using them in the different ways that make sense to you: Teas, infusions, plant medicines of all kinds, salves and lotions and scrubs, wreaths, dream pillows, dyeing your handspun yarn or silk scarves or fabric you love, energy work or magic, eating it.

If you have come to a plant in a time of desperation because of sickness then of course you will be using it right away as medicine. But there may be other uses for the plant, or other ways to know it. When you are no longer in crisis, you can explore those avenues. Maybe it is also edible. Maybe it dries nicely for a wreath or arrangement. Maybe its energy is used for Magic or energy work. Or it is dye plant. Even just getting to know its medicine better will get you more connected.

Every use you make of a plant teaches you more about it, deepens your connection with it.

Here is an article that addresses some aspects of getting to know the plants by Steph Zabel of Flowerfolk Herbal Apothecary: “Thoughts on Knowing Plants (meeting them with your heart)”.

What have you experienced with a plant you especially like? Share in the comments section below.



Learning the Plants, Part 1

foraging books on a shelf

Some of the foraging books on my bookshelf. I have three different books called Edible Wild Plants!

When I lead my foraging walks I am sometimes asked how I got to know so many plants, and I usually just say “over time”. I can’t at the moment remember how I learned so many plants and their uses, and certainly not in any kind of order. I’ve been doing it for so long, my process is no longer visible to me.

But my recent visit to Florida gave me the opportunity to see my process in action and remind me how I have done it.

The first full day I was there was capped by a visit to a bookstore to find a good field guide for the area. I couldn’t find an actual field guide (maybe I was in the wrong section), but after scanning several books I found one on garden and landscape plants that are grown locally that seemed like it would serve the purpose, and it did quite well.

I immediately started trying to identify the plants that were outside the door of the condo we were in, that were on the walk to the beach, that lined the roads. And I got to see my process in action.

When I want to learn about the plants in an area I start with a couple of good general field guides and look at all the plants I can. I want to know what every plant I see is, whether it is cultivated or a “weed” (wild-growing), large as a tree or as small as a couple inches high. So my first order of business is simply identification. I will find out about what the plants are used for later after I have identified them. In this way I know what a great many of the plants are that I am looking at, just as you probably know your neighbors, even if you aren’t friends with them. They’re in the neighborhood, you can identify them.

Once I have started to familiarize myself with the plants, then I start looking to see what they are used for: food, medicine, crafts, ornament and beauty, eh—it’s just there. These equate to your friends, your acquaintances, the people you can’t stand.

I now have a view of the environment around me that I can “read”, that is visible and known, identifiable and familiar.

Using Different Kinds of Field Guides

This is what I did when I moved to Salem, Massachusetts, a little over 30 years ago. I first got the National Audobon Societ Field Guide to Wildflowers of the Eastern Region. I went all over my neighborhood, getting down on hands and knees on sidewalks and lawns and leaning over fences to see even the smallest plants and the ones that were less accessible from the street. Everywhere I went I had a running commentary in my head of the names of the plants I was walking past. It was a good education, and after a few years I bought the next edition of the field guide, better than the previous one in some ways, lacking in others. I spent many hours looking through them both.

A few years later I learned about another field guide, Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, which despite the name includes some shrubs and vines as well. I liked this guide even better than the Audobon guide, and it became my go-to for identifying many plants. It had become dog-eared and written in, with bits of pressed plants stuck between the pages here and there. I finally had to buy a new copy to use on my walks!

I also started getting more specific field guides about medicinal and edible plants, so that I could learn the more particular uses of the plants around me.

I got several edible plant guides which I still consult. Some are more comprehensive than others. I didn’t find as many medicinal wild plants guides, but there are a few.  The ones that are easiest to recommend are the Peterson Guides, both edible and medicinal, but there are plenty of others, and with the resurgence in interest in uses of wild plants, more books are coming out from contemporary authors.

In my experience, you need both general and specific field guides. This is because no one guide covers all the plants you will meet, and even when you have many guides you still will come across plants that aren’t included in any of your guides.

General plant guides help you identify the many different plants you encounter. They include medicinal and edible along with the other plants, and usually will not be identified as such in a general guide. You will find that the guide/s you are using will include useful plants that may not be included in the particular edible or medicinal guides you have. So if you are curious about the plants all around you, you will want and need one or more general guides.

For edibles and medicinals, you will want at least 2 or 3 guides for each, as no one guide covers as many of the useful plants as are out there, and different guides will give you different uses and different information for identification. You will get a much more complete view of the plants this way and a more thorough grounding in their uses.

Why Books?

By this time you have probably figured out that I am quite old school, using books for goodness’ sake. I don’t even own a smart phone!

So I am not offering you apps or websites in this article. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that books are what I know best. but I also think that in some ways they are easiest (maybe because I am old school). It is so simple to run through a book’s pages to find the different plants that are you looking at in the field. When you are flipping through, in the field or at home, you will be grabbed in print by other plants along the way and they will start to work their way into your brain without you even trying. I think it’s a great way to learn!

There are apps out there to help you identify plants. I haven’t used them and so can’t comment on them. I do know that in the foraging community there seems to be a consensus that apps that let you take a picture of a plant and then identify it for you are notoriously unreliable and very prone to wrong identification. This is not so bad if it’s a benign plant, but if you misidentify a poisonous plant it can make you sick or even prove deadly. So please use apps with caution and have additional means for identifying your plant/s.

Learning the Plants from People

One of the best ways to learn your plants is from another person. They can show you little details and answer your questions right on the spot. Often there are details that may not be covered in a book or video that are vital to identifying a plant and differentiating it from others, some of which may be non-edible or poisonous. A person may also be able to give you a broader picture of what the plant is used for, and even some uses that are unique to the person.

Fortunately there are gradually more and more people who are knowledgeable and offering plant walks and lectures so that you can get a thorough introduction to the useful plants.

My season for offering plant walks is April through October here in eastern Massachusetts, as that is when there are enough plants available to really observe and learn them. I will eventually also do winter-time walks, as it is useful, interesting, and fun to be able to identify winter-hardy plants, seedpods, and dried stems. It can help you find food and medicine in winter, and know where to locate the plants you want in warmer weather.

If you are interested in taking a plant walk, I offer Urban Foraging Rambles and other kinds of walks that you can find at

What plants have you gotten to know in your backyard and elsewhere and what books have been especially helpful? Please let me know in the comments section below. I love to know what your experiences are!

In my next post I will write about deepening your connection with and knowledge of the plants in your environment.

Happy foraging!

A few helpful, related posts:

Steph Zabel, a Boston-area herbalist and proprietor of Flowerfolk Herbal Apothecary has a blog post about getting to know your plants:

Nathan Carlos Rupley, a naturalist and forager, has reviewed a couple of good contemporary foraging titles:


Observing the Plants Where You Visit: St. Augustine, Florida

crinum lily flower fla 1-21-2016

Flowering crinum lily in St. Augustine, Florida, January 2016.

“Send me outdoors and I shall be well-entertained.”
Iris P. Weaver

I got a fabulous Christmas present from long-time friends this year: a round-trip ticket to visit them at their condo rental in St. Augustine, Florida, in January. Besides the obvious pleasure of being in at least marginally warmer climes than New England, the trip was a chance to meet new plants and see a very different environment than I inhabit in northeastern Massachusetts. I always love seeing what the plants are wherever I am visiting.

Before I left I didn’t even know where St. Augustine was in Florida, and had to look at a map when I got there to discover that it is in the northeastern part of the state. I did know that it is on the ocean, as beaches were mentioned before I left.

In Massachusetts I also live near the coastline and beaches, and so know the coastal landscape and flora quite well. It has been fascinating to observe the differences between the two coastal areas.

I didn’t know that Florida has a range of climate zones. I had previously only been to Orlando and Miami Beach, and just assumed that Florida is warm, warm, hot year-round. Not so. There are actually several growing/climate zones, ranging from Zone 8a to 10b according the USDA Plant Zone hardiness map. A book I got (Florida Landscape Plants: Native and Exotic*) divides Florida into 3 zones: North, Central, South, but the USDA map is more nuanced, dividing Florida into six growing zones. I had no idea there was so much variation in temperature and climate in this one state! The USDA places St. Augustine in Zone 9a and Florida Landscape Plants in the Northern zone.

flowering aloe-Florida, 1-21-2016

Aloe in bloom, St. Augustine, Florida, January 2016.

I was surprised to find that there is not as much diversity of plants in St. Augustine, both garden and landscape plants and weeds/wild-growing plants, as there is in New England. I guess I thought that warmer automatically meant lots of diversity, maybe even more than in colder climes.

Nevertheless, it was wonderful looking at the plants and wondering what they were, or seeing familiar plants, some that live only in pots in Massachusetts (though of course some of them live in pots in Florida as well).

It was so different from the last time I went to Florida, almost 40 years ago. Not that I didn’t notice the plants then, and wonder at and appreciate them. But since then my connection with them has grown so much, and my knowledge and ability to observe have grown as well. I am able to see, know, and understand so much more about the plants that I am meeting, and able to make some educated guesses about the plants that I don’t know.

It is amazing, for a Northern gal like me, to see plants growing in the ground that in Massachusetts are sold in the indoor, tropical plants section of stores like Home Depot, and that must either live entirely indoors, be brought in before the snow begins to fly, or get treated as annuals. For instance, lantana grows wild as well as being a garden plant, and hibiscus bushes bloom everywhere in front yards and ornamental hedges.

Plants that live in pots or are annuals in New England

asparagus fern, Florida 1-2016

Asparagus fern with ripe berries, St. Augustine, Florida, January 2016.

As well as the lantana I mentioned that gets treated as an annual in New England, and the various tropical hibiscuses that also have to winter over indoors, there were other tropical plants in the ground in Florida, such as asparagus fern (related to our culinary asparagus), snake plant or sanseiveria, and philodendrons. Agapanthus, lily of the Nile, was everywhere, though it wasn’t blooming. I recognized it by its leaves. There were clumps of aloes by the sidewalk where we walked to the beach, and a few were just starting to bloom!

Live oaks and Spanish moss

spanish moss strand curly

A single strand of Spanish moss.

I was ecstatic to get off the plane and see live oaks and Spanish moss. For some reason I hadn’t seen them when I had been in Florida before. I had to ask to be sure the trees I was seeing were live oaks, because they have small, unlobed leaves that are very different from our oaks in New England, and from many other oaks. But the Spanish moss was unmistakable! I recognized it immediately.

Fresh living Spanish moss is greyish, with a slight greenish tint to it. It is surprisingly springy and alive-feeling if you’ve only ever encountered it as the dry stuff used for crafts and basket filler.

spanish moss strand stretched

A strand of Spanish moss stretched out to show growth pattern.

It has a very interesting growth habit. It has a rosette  of skinny leaves, around 4 or 5 of them. One of the leaves grows a few inches longer and another rosette grows out of it, then another one of the leaves grows longer and another rosette grows out of it, and so on. This is how you get a long strand of Spanish moss. This strand is actually very elastic—if you pull it out and let go it will quickly pull itself back into its somewhat wavy, curly pattern. It doesn’t exactly snap back, but springs back.

You get a lot of these growing together and they become long beard-like formations dripping off of trees, or sometimes even directly on the bark of tree trunks.

Palm Trees

There were so many palm trees! which I knew there would be. It was interesting to see how many different kinds of palm trees there are. Since I just didn’t know them well enough, I couldn’t tell if some palms were different species or just the same species at different point of development or growth. But I was able to tell a few kinds of palms were the same.

One ubiquitous palm is the cabbage palm, state tree of Florida, and a native plant. It was recognizable because of the falls of black berries hanging under the palm fronds. I also saw a palm which had tannish-yellow berries which looked edible and I learned in a book they were, but I didn’t buy the book, and the palm wasn’t in the book I got, so I don’t know its name.

Also, there were lots of palmettos, looking like very truncated palm trees, one of which is saw palmetto, whose berries are used medicinally.

Visiting a Historical Garden

blooming cactus, Florida 1-25-2016

Blooming, leafy cactus, seen on one of my walks; St. Augustine, Florida January 2016.

I went to a historical site, the Washington Oaks Gardens State Park. It’s a family estate that was given to the state to be used for the enjoyment of the public 50 years ago. The woman who gave it to the state was a talented gardener and her gardens have continued to be maintained. They are lovely. I saw so many cool plants!

The gardens are beautifully laid out with a wide variety of both native and introduced/exotic plants. There were 2 species of bird-of paradise, one that gets about 4 feet tall, and one that gets about 20 feet tall! There was also a beautiful Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochea) climbing on a short fence near an orange tree. It has an odd, amazingly shaped and  colored flower. You can wander around for a quite a while looking at the broad variety and beauty of the plants.

Same Plants Down There As Up Here

 The Washington Oaks Gardens has an herb garden in raised beds near the parking area. There are some familiar plants included, such as thyme, rosemary, and mint. It was lovely to see familiar friends.

In various places I went I also noticed dandelions and chickweed, inkberry (a native holly), and gaillardia, also called blanket flower and another native.

What I found most interesting was to see the wide growing range of some the plants that I know so well in New England.

So what places have you visited and what plants have you seen that piqued your interest? Comment below (the problems with commenting should be fixed).

*Florida Landscape Plants: Native and Exotic 3rd edition 2014 University Press of Florida



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:

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!

Surviving the Holidays

snowflakeSo you’re all cuddled up with your gift list, checking off all the gifts you’ve gotten for everyone you love, and you’re thinking about how fabulous it’ll be getting together with the fam and all your groovy, fabulous relatives… Or maybe not.

In actuality, this is a really tough time of year for many people, and the planning we should really be doing is how to get through it with as little damage as possible, keeping what we can of our sanity and our good humor.

So here are a few suggestions for taking of yourself, ‘cause if you don’t do it, who will?!

If you are visiting family or other folks that will be difficult to be around, for whatever reason, there are a few strategies that you can use:

  • Give yourself a set time by which to leave. You can always stay longer if things are going well, but if not, have an appointment or other super-important event that you forgot about until just then, but which you must attend to immediately. Or just say you need to go and do so.
  • Have a friend call you at a particular time to check in. Have a code word, if needed, for her/him to know it’s too much and help you make your escape. Or they can just check in with you to help you make it through the insanity. Or have a friend that you can call.
  • Try to take your own vehicle, so that you can leave without having to persuade others to leave when you need to.
  • Find a compelling reason to be doing something else entirely that day or days that prevent you from attending.
  • Have some of your favorite herbs for relieving stress with you. What I have found is really helpful is to take a water bottle and put 2 or 3 doses of my herbs in the bottle. Than I drink half or a third of the water at a time to get one dose (I am not worried about it being exact). Since I take a number of herbal tinctures this makes it fast, easy, and portable. You can also make herbal teas or infusions and have them ready in one or more water bottles or thermoses.
  • Take time to relax with a lovely bath or even just a foot or hand bath (I wrote about herbal baths here). It can be wonderfully relaxing and rejuvenating. Have mug of your favorite herb tea while you’re soaking and you’ll feel even better!
  • If you have any sort of dietary restrictions or preferences, make sure your host know beforehand. If you’re not sure they’ll have the food available that you need, be sure to bring a few items with you that you can eat if you need to (you don’t have to be obvious about it, but do make sure you can eat what you need to). If you have food allergies this can be particularly important.

Being kind to yourself is ultra-important right now. It is much more important to take time to catch your breath than to get one more gift (I know, easier said than done).

If you don’t get everything done that you want, or even one-tenth, give yourself credit and props for whatever you did accomplish. I share with you my latest motto (for what it is worth): Completion, not perfection.

If you mess up with your family, if you can’t be with loved ones, if you are grieving or alone or whatever else, it is even more important to be kind to yourself. Speak kind words to yourself, make yourself yummy comfort food, watch a favorite movie or show, listen to wonderful music.

Stop beating yourself up for whatever you feel, even if it’s vile or uncomfortable or “I’m not supposed to feel this way”. You feel the way you feel and the feelings will pass. You are allowed the full range of your feelings, and no one has to know what they are except you!

Do find people you truly love being with even if only for a few hours. Buy yourself a gift.

Go outdoors and revel in the beauty of the season, whether snow-covered or bare and brown (and if you’re where it’s warm and green, enjoy that!)

I wish for you at this time of the winter solstice and the holiday season much love and loving connection with others and yourself.

Healing Herbal Baths for Body, Hands, or Feet

herbs for a bath

Herbs ready for a relaxing bath

Herbal baths are delicious and soothing and, yes, healing. They are available to anyone— even those without a tub! While you may not be able to soak your whole body, if you use a dish pan or bucket or even a large pot, you can the same benefits as a full-body bath.

What makes a bath with herbs healing? And how do you make a bath with herbs?

Any kind of bath into which you put herbs, herbal infusions, herbal vinegars, or essential oils have healing qualities from the herbs themselves.

To have a bath be more directly healing you can ask the plants and plant spirits to bring you their healing. I have a prayer I learned form one of my teachers, but you may have one that you like or that you come up with on your own. Or you can simply speak to the plants and plant spirits and tell them what you are asking for and thanking them for their help.

The act of focusing your attention and intention brings more healing directly into the bath.

Water is the substance that can extract almost anything from anything. It is a marvelous medium for carrying both the physical healing properties and the energy of the plant/s into contact with your body. This is the gift of a bath, that you only need a substance as simple and available as water.

Getting Your Bath Ready

closeup of sage

Sage (Salvia officinalis), a great bath herb

There are a several ways to have an herbal bath. One way, of course, is to get into the tub and have a full body bath. But if you don’t have the tub or time or inclination to do this, foot baths or hand baths are just as effective.

 You only need a few items to make an herbal bath, whether full-body, foot, or hand. You need:

  • One or more herbs
  • A tea kettle or a pot for boiling water
  • A pot, heat-proof jar (a spaghetti or canning jar works well), or other container for steeping the herb/s
  • A strainer      
  • Bathtub or basin
  • Optional: essential oils, herbal tinctures, herbally infused oils, and/or herbal vinegars

Begin by making a tea for your bath. To make the tea take a couple handfuls of fresh herb/s or a handful or a few tablespoons dried herb/s. If the herbs are whole (not chopped or cut and sifted) chop them up or crumble then to make it easier for water to extract their constituents.

Bring 2 cups to 1 quart of water to a boil, pour over the herbs in jar of container, or stir the herbs into the pot of boiling, cover (it’s very important to cover the herbs while they steep so you don’t lose precious constituents), and let steep for 15 to 20 minutes, or a couple of hours if you forget or want to do your bath later.

When you are ready for your bath strain the tea or infusion into the tub or basin you will be using. You can add a few drops of essential oils if you like, but it’s not at all necessary. Get into the tub or put your feet or hands into your basin, and enjoy!

There are quicker ways to do this if you like. You could just put the herbs into the tub, but I don’t recommend it! If you put herbs directly into your tub you will clog your drain! This can be annoying and time-consuming to clean up or a costly visit from the plumber. Be aware and plan!

For a full-body bath you can put a handful of herbs into a washcloth and close it with a rubber band, or into a muslin bag that is tied shut. You can just let this float in the tub and squeeze occasionally to get out the herb juices. You can also rub it on your body to get more of the herb on/into yourself and for a mild exfoliating effect.

For a hand or foot bath, you can also put the herbs directly into the basin and run hot water over them. Crush and squeeze the herbs to get out the constituents. Then soak. Be sure to strain the herbs out when you dump the water, however, or toss into your compost heap or water your plants with it.

Taking the Bath

Ideally, you should soak at least 15 to 20 minutes to relax and get the full effect of the herbs, whether full-body, hand, or foot.

When you are finished, wrap yourself in a warm towel, or use a nice clean towel to dry your hands or feet.

If this has been a full-body bath and you have the time to do so, get into warm clothes or pajamas and get into bed for a while to let the healing energy of the bath and the herbs continue to work on you. If you are sick or have emotional issues going on, this is an important part of the healing ritual of the bath.

Even if you only do a hand or foot bath, taking time to be quiet and wrap yourself up in warmth and comfort will facilitate the healing.

Some Herbs for Baths

  • Roses
  • Mints–peppermint, spearmint
  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Powdered mustard seed
  • Artemisias–mugwort, wormwood, southernwood, sagebrush, silver queen artimisia
  • Oats
  • Plantain
  • Comfrey
  • Marigolds