मुख्य Southwest Medicinal Plants: Identify, Harvest, and Use 112 Wild Herbs for Health and Wellness

Southwest Medicinal Plants: Identify, Harvest, and Use 112 Wild Herbs for Health and Wellness

Wildcraft your way to wellness!

The Southwest is ripe with wild edibles, no matter the season. From deserts to grasslands, river canyons to forests, a rich harvest of tasty plants—many found only in this region—awaits the curious forager. In Southwest Medicinal Plants, herbalist, educator, and lecturer John Slattery shares his expert foraging knowledge, including traditional methods of gathering and processing. Savor fresh mulberries along the trail, or blend them with foraged nuts and seeds for snacking. Enjoy a simple but delicious sun tea made from desert willow flowers. Along the way, learn what to look for, when and where to look, and how to gather the abundant wild edibles of the Southwest responsibly.

• An A-to-Z guide for foraging year-round
• Detailed information for safe identification
• Suggestions for sustainable harvesting
• Tips on preparation and use

Thorough, comprehensive, and safe, this is a must-have for foragers, naturalists, and herbalists in Arizona, southern California, southern Colorado, southern Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, western and central Texas, and southern Utah.
वर्ष:
2020
संस्करण:
Retail
प्रकाशक:
Timber Press
भाषा:
english
पन्ने:
392
ISBN 10:
1604699116
ISBN 13:
978-1604699111
ISBN:
B07NMMB94X
File:
EPUB, 32.08 MB
डाउनलोड (epub, 32.08 MB)

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The leaves of aspen, Populus tremuloides.





SOUTHWEST


MEDICINAL

PLANTS


IDENTIFY, HARVEST, AND USE

112 WILD PLANTS

FOR HEALTH AND WELLNESS

JOHN SLATTERY





I dedicate this book to my ancestors, and their spirit, which lives on within myself and my daughter. To those ancestors whom I have not even met, and to those I have, your counsel embraced me as I stood amidst you in the forest, at the edge of the desert canyon, in darkness, in the absence of moonlight, at the edge of the sea.





CONTENTS


Preface

INTRODUCTION

WILDHARVESTING WITH THE SEASONS


MEDICINAL PLANTS OF THE SOUTHWEST

agrimony

alder

algerita

American licorice

anemone

Arizona cypress

ash

aspen

beebalm

Bermudagrass

betony

blazing star

bricklebush

brittlebush

buttonbush

California poppy

camphorweed

canyon bursage

cáscara sagrada

chaste tree

chia

chickweed

chokecherry

cholla

cleavers

copperleaf

cottonwood

cow parsnip

cranesbill

creosote bush

cudweed

curly dock

dandelion

desert cotton

desert lavender

desert willow

echinacea

elder

estafiate

evening primrose

fanpetals

figwort

filaree

fireweed

flor de tierra

globemallow

goatbush

goldenrod

golden smoke

gumweed

hackberry

hawthorn

hopbush

hop tree

horsetail

horseweed

inmortál

jojoba

juniper

kidneywood

lobelia

mallow

manzanita

Mexican palo verde

mock vervain

monkey flower

Mormon tea

mulberry

mullein

nettle

oat

ocotillo

oreganillo

oshá

oxeye daisy

passionflower

pearly everlasting

pecan

pine

plantain

prickly ash

prickly pear

prickly poppy

puncture vine

queen’s root

red root

rhatany

rosemary mint

sage

self-heal

shepherd’s purse

Siberian elm

silk tassel

skullcap

snakeweed

sow thistle

spikenard

sweet clover

thistle

tickseed

tree of heaven

violet

walnut

wild buckwheat

wild mint

wild oregano

wild tobacco

willow

yarrow

yerba mansa

yerba santa

yucca


Metric Conversions

References

Index





PREFACE


When I initially sought out books on herbalism, I didn’t really know what I was lookin; g for. I wanted to learn more about plants. I knew I wanted to become better educated about the world around me, in the spirit of seeking to understand the interconnectedness of life, and my place within it. But I didn’t yet comprehend how vast and limitless the potential information gathering is (this was before Google). I sought to have a grasp on this knowledge, the knowledge of how to heal with plants, in such a way that I could call upon any of it, and within a moment have it at my fingertips. This was my discipline, my dream. I had no idea how far-fetched and impossibly grandiose it truly was.

Settling into a weekly walk through our desert home landscape with my then-2-year-old daughter, I stopped to feel the place I was in. To listen to it with the utmost openness and as much silent receptivity as I could muster. Her playfulness amid all Nature was a continual reminder of how little one truly needed to “know” to enjoy this world we live in. To enjoy it is to become part of it. To listen deeply. In a poignant moment, I began to hear the desert speak to me again. A voice that I had been missing. A reawakening to an old friendship, a deep knowledge waiting to unfold from within, and all around me. I allowed myself to journey with this voice as my daughter amused herself by the stream, declaring all the wonderful things she was noticing.

Messages come as if from the Earth herself, guiding me, teaching me, telling me where to go and what to look for. It’s as if I’m on a treasure hunt and there is nothing more important than finding that which I don’t even have a name for yet, but I’ll know it when I see it. This is the healing, the reawakening, the coming back to life that occurs as I step out into the wild in the spirit of companionship with the plants, with no preconceived notions about how I should do it, or where I should go. I simply begin to move—and listen.





I hope that my daughter develops this type of relationship with Nature, on her own terms, in her own time. If there is one thing I feel we have done, that has injured us the most, it is to divorce ourselves from Nature’s daily embrace by sequestering our senses to a place that is highly controlled and artificial. For all our modern advancements, we have left so much of great value behind.

The cold, damp air of early February penetrates my lungs, searing them, making them heavy. The chill up my spine provokes me to move across the desert floor toward the next rays of low-hanging early morning sunshine. We are exploring, my daughter and I, amused by this interplay between our imagination, the diversity of Nature around us, and our senses. We feel a sense of freedom, which for the moment we don’t speak to but simply enjoy. Cold, sweet water comes out of the mountain spring, wetting the sand beneath our feet; we savor it one taste at a time. For now, there will be no talk of scientific names, no plant quizzes, no studying of animal tracks and identifying the contents of their last meals. We are immersed, at one with our home place, seeding our consciousness back into the Earth, trusting in her ability to regenerate and renew us with no true loss of self. The truest healing is to let go of ourselves and our misconceived hold on the world around us, and to simply “be,” in harmony with it all.

I invite you to entrain your heart to your landscape once again, as you did as a young child, finding your way with curiosity, awe, and wonder for all that you saw in Nature. Healing with plants is more than drinking a cup of tea, or making tinctures. Their spirits call us to return to a place of splendor and delight within ourselves, reigniting our creative spark, healing our bodies, minds, and spirits.





INTRODUCTION


Welcome to the vast world of working with plants for medicine. This book contains an array of medicinal plants known throughout the greater Southwest region for their remarkable healing properties. Most of these herbs have been used for thousands of years here in the Southwest; others were brought to this continent over the past 500 years and have become integrated into the local ecology and folk medicine practice. Lifetimes of knowledge are embedded within this collective wisdom still being passed down and continually reinvented through our intimate and loving relationships with wild plants. This book may introduce a whole new generation of those seeking to answer the call to know the plants once again, or to reacquaint those who have lost track of this knowledge, perhaps bridging the gap between what remains and what has been lost to time and neglect.

The first section of this chapter will describe the various habitats we have throughout the Southwest, preparing the reader for what they may find on their own sojourns into the wild. We are fortunate to have endless realms to explore, from deserts to lush conifer forests and canyons.





OUR REGIONAL HABITATS


The Southwest bioregion is exceptionally diverse, spanning 8 states and covering roughly 470,000 square miles from the deserts of southern California eastward to the South Texas Plains, up along the Balcones Escarpment, and up into the cross timbers, great plains, and high plains ecozones of western Oklahoma. This volume seeks to encapsulate an ecological region that is independent of specific political boundaries. Although entire states are encompassed (Arizona, New Mexico), many partial states are included (California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma). This is meant to provide continuity for the reader as well as encompass the general ecologies and plant communities that are present throughout our Southwest bioregion.

Although several interpretations are in existence, I’ve decided to use some rather basic habitat (or ecozone) definitions to assist beginners in their understanding of our region. Those of you familiar with more exacting definitions of habitat variations will begin to see overlap as well as subtle differences among the various categories provided here. Please note that these categories are not meant to be adhered to rigidly; rather, they are to be utilized as a general guideline for locating the plants you’re seeking, or getting a general idea of what you may find when entering a particular habitat.

Keep in mind, too, that these habitat types may be so close in proximity that one could conceivably weave in and out of them along a half-mile hike, in some areas. Alternatively, one could walk for days on end, in some areas, without leaving a particular habitat type (such as high-elevation conifer forests, or the Hill Country). What follows is a listing and brief description of each habitat featured in this book.





Desert, Desert Grasslands, Cactus Forests


This habitat makes up the majority of our western half and is largely absent from our eastern third. Cactus forests predominate in the lower Sonoran desert bioregion (below 5,000 feet) intermingled with desert grasslands. Moving into southern California, or eastward into the Chihuahuan desert of New Mexico and western Texas, there are no columnar cacti, and grasslands are less common: inappropriate grazing and cropland development have removed much of the historic grasslands. This is the hottest and driest part of our region, where temperatures may exceed 120F in summer and barely reach freezing in winter. Rainfall is 2–15 inches annually. This area is characterized by such medicinal plants as rhatany, prickly pear, wild tobacco, and brittlebush.



Giant saguaros reign over rocky slopes in cactus forests interspersed by desert grasslands.





Disturbed Areas, Gardens, Trailsides, Clearings


This section is a bit of a catchall that covers a wide elevation range and includes many nonnative and landscaped plants, some of which may be naturalized. We may find sow thistle, for example, in winter parking lots, gardens, and roadsides from Tucson to Palm Springs, yet find it along the trail or in a campground in July at high elevation in southwestern Colorado. The conditions are roughly similar but juxtaposed across wildly different times of the year. A traveling wildcrafter with a trained eye will begin to see these patterns across the entire Southwest over a year’s cycle of changing seasons. Additional plants one is likely to see in this habitat include curly dock, plantain, fanpetals, and mallow.



This mountain road cuts through a meadow adjacent to conifer forest.





High Desert


From the western tip of the Oklahoma panhandle to the high desert surrounding Las Vegas, Nevada, this habitat weaves in and out with high plains, conifer forest, and canyonlands. It is distinct from our low deserts, with relatively fewer and smaller cacti and an abundance of drought-tolerant conifers, such as juniper and piñon; floral diversity is significantly lower here than in our cactus forest and desert grasslands. These rocky hills and mountains, dense low-growing forests, and sand dunes are home to Mormon tea, snakeweed, and thistle.



This sandstone canyon has cottonwood and willow below and Mormon tea, ash, juniper, and serviceberry above.





High-Elevation Conifer Forest


This lush zone ranges from approximately 5,000 feet in shaded mid-elevation canyons to over 12,000 feet at some of our highest mountain forests. Here winters are quiet, often with several months of snow-covered ground. Late spring brings a flurry of unfolding wildflowers, and the autumn is cool and sunny as the last nuts and fruits ripen. Ponderosa pines often predominate in sunny, exposed areas. Douglas fir, Englemann spruce, and aspen cover shaded, north-facing hillsides; oshá inhabits forest clearings and semi-shaded spots throughout the forested mountains.





High Plains


Ranging from eastern New Mexico through the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and up into a small section of southeastern Colorado, this area may also be called the shortgrass prairie and includes the “rolling plains.” Once the domain of the Comanche and Apache, this habitat has largely been turned over to cattle grazing and some agriculture. Although the floral diversity is limited, in special locations you will find desert willow, chokecherry, echinacea, buttonbush, queen’s root, and several oak species.



As above, so below . . . A pristine high-elevation lake beckons us to reflect on what moves within and around us.





Hill Country


One of the smaller sections among our various habitats, this area is unique to the Edwards Plateau of central Texas and known for its tremendous wildflower displays each spring. The limestone substrate that rises up from the Balcones Escarpment to the east sits atop the Edwards Aquifer, giving rise to numerous springs and streams throughout the area. Cutting through San Antonio and rising toward Austin, this region has seen a dramatic rise in population and many new land practices over the last century, including excessive grazing and fire suppression. Although Ashe’s juniper has come to dominate much of this botanically rich ecozone, we’ll still find abundant algerita, silk tassel, hop tree, sage, and skullcap throughout.



The Pedernales River running through the Texas Hill Country in spring.





Oak Woodlands


This ecozone overlaps with several others, including the Hill Country, conifer forests, high desert, prairies, cactus forests, and desert grasslands. As the national tree of the United States, oaks are found throughout the country but are particularly diverse in the Southwest, with at least 24 species represented. In these woodlands we’ll also find bricklebush, red root, cáscara sagrada, tickseed, and manzanita. Oak woodlands are significant in nearly every area of our region and have been held with reverence and closely stewarded throughout the ages.



Post oak, Quercus stellata, in the Texas Hill Country.





Prairie: North-Central Texas and Oklahoma


Heading north from Austin, through Dallas, and up into the forested areas of south and western Oklahoma, we encounter a transitional habitat that is generally more humid than much of the Southwest (more than twice the rainfall, on average, than Santa Fe, for example) but that still holds much in common with other plant communities of our region. It includes the blackland prairie and cross timbers regions. Here, among various species of oak, cottonwood, elm, walnut, and sumac, we also find estafiate, cholla, and prickly pear.



Oklahoma’s prairies support herds of bison and boast many species of medicinal plants.





Rivers and Canyons


Ranging from near sea level to over 8,000 feet in elevation, this is another ecozone that stretches across our region. These areas may have perennial water or be seasonally dry; they are particularly significant in such places as the high plains, where the sudden appearance of a deep canyon presents a whole new variety of flora to explore. This contrast of ecosystems occurs throughout our high desert and desert grasslands. Many of our rivers find their beginnings at springs tucked into the lush hillsides of our high-elevation conifer forests. Rivers and canyons present an opportunity to explore a diversity where edges meet—where prickly pear grows beside elder, or buttonbush and yerba santa thrive a short distance from desert lavender.





South Texas Plains


Sharing much in common with our desert grassland and cactus forest areas, this often hot and dry ecozone is characterized by a diversity of thorny vegetation. Bordered by the subtropical Rio Grande Valley to the south and the grasslands of the Gulf Coast to the east, its variable rainfall can produce huge wildflower blooms alternating with long-standing drought. Just south of San Antonio, we’ll begin to find goatbush, kidneywood, puncture vine, flor de tierra, and prickly poppy.



The South Texas Plains possesses some unique flora, including goatbush and flor de tierra.





HOW TO USE THIS BOOK


The value of this book is relative to the reader’s experience of spending time in Nature, observing. So before you read any further, make sure the scent of the forest, the feel of the desert’s texture and heat, and the taste of wild water is within you. Then come back to sit with this book and digest the words as a supplement to what you have gathered through your senses. This book is not explicit direction on what you have to do, or should do; it is a collection of knowledge from the field as well as a guide to developing one’s senses, developing one’s true knowledge through the direct and discerning experience of Nature herself. As you walk into the forest, across the desert floor, or into the matrix of a juniper grove, open your senses and surrender yourself to the gifts available before you and within you. Open your heart to the healing that is present in the trees themselves, conveyed to you as you walk openly among them, humbly and confidently. This is true medicine. Our medicine.





Scientific names


Although the plant profiles in this book are organized by common name, each plant is attributed a scientific binomial. This serves the purpose of organizing plant names to a (supposedly) fixed and universal name. Different common names can be applied to the same plant, causing confusion, or the same common name can be applied to entirely different plants, causing not only confusion but potentially serious injury when plants are mixed up as a consequence. As advice is passed across cultural boundaries in which similar names are ascribed to different plants, or a plant is marketed according to a common name that represents a different plant where the raw material is actually being gathered for market, serious mistakes can ensue. Scientific names do change. Plants are even placed in new families, based upon changing perspectives, or the development of DNA analysis, for example. This is challenging, to say the least, and we are in flux for the time being. All the more reason to be diversified in one’s knowledge, both “field literate” and well versed with the literature, for when one knows the plant itself, one cannot be fooled.



Ceanothus integerrimus, one of several species of red root.



When a plant profile covers a genus generally (e.g., prickly pear, Opuntia species), this is meant to identify those situations where there are far more similarities than differences between separate species with regard to our interest as herbalists—an important differentiation from the specifics of botany (they don’t always cross over). Undoubtedly, differences between closely related plants can and do occur. That is to say, a stand of hawthorn growing in north-central Texas may have unique energetics compared to a stand found along a mountain stream in southern Colorado, or central Arizona. These subtleties are discovered through experience and intimate relationship with plants. This is the subtle power latent within intimate relationship with plants, a power that knows nothing of scientific nomenclature. Botany is a tool, which as herbalists we can employ to learn more about cross-cultural usage and international research.





How to identify


Plants are often unfamiliar to you—until they are not. Take the time necessary to look closely at plants as perhaps you’ve never done before, or at least since you were a small child. There is no rush to identify, classify, and gather. Identification is easily taken for granted when someone simply tells you the name of a plant. Spending time to get to know a plant involves much greater nuance, calling upon our deeper reserves of sensitivity and insight.





Where, when, and how to wildcraft


This section of each plant profile attempts to place into context potentially broad concepts stretched across our vast terrain. You may not find rhatany in your local stretch of desert grassland or cactus forest. This doesn’t mean the book is inadequate or that your local ecozone need be reclassified. It’s simply an example of the great diversity latent within the broad concepts of habitat offered in this section. When to wildcraft ranges from a highly nuanced to a simple and straightforward matter. Perceiving the annual fluctuations in seasonal shifts in your area is as important as any information offered in this book.





Medicinal uses


I’ve attempted both to arrange a simplified look at the medicinal properties of each plant and to lend key insights gained through my personal experience and from speaking to other herbalists firsthand about their medicinal applications. Within several profiles, I’ve also endeavored to paint a picture of the plant’s nature, such that the reader can interpret according to a unique situation that may arise, rather than just “it’s good for xyz.” I’ve utilized notes from nearly 20 years of study, the books of other herbalists, and the available ethnobotanical literature for our region. A reader may very well find new uses for each plant listed in this book, or find that some of the uses listed don’t work. It is true. Herbs don’t always work, through no fault of their own; each “failure” is an opportunity to learn more about the plant and the person who has taken it for medicine.





Future harvests


In this section of each profile, I briefly discuss options to help steward the plant under discussion. Whether through transplanting, seed scattering, or an approach to gathering, we can interact with wild plants in many potentially productive ways.

To move towards the landscape with an open heart and a watchful reverence, you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you. Landscape isn’t just matter, but is actually alive. Landscape recalls one to a mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence where you can truly receive time.

Irish poet, John O’Donohue





Caution


Any necessary information about potentially injurious effects an herb may have on an individual will be conveyed here. Yes, any herb can cause injury, most often under extreme or unusual circumstances. By simply following the guidelines for gathering, preparing, and ingesting the medicinal plants listed in this book, most potentially unsafe scenarios will be avoided. When you begin to make your own medicines, start simply and safely, and use that experience to ask questions and set up a broad foundation of experiential knowledge for yourself. Rare and unusual responses to plants do occur, so always start slowly when trying new plant medicines.

One truth that has been borne out for me over my years of working with plants and attempting to convey this information to students is that there are no absolutes. Apparent contradiction and paradox is the rule, the further and deeper one explores. To adhere to dogma or rigid thinking simply blinds one to the inevitable contradiction lying in wait. Thus, I take all rigid systems of categorization and classification with a grain of salt. This goes for scientific nomenclature and herbal energetics as well. To see clearly what is before one’s eyes and within one’s heart is the ultimate science.



Gathering yerba santa.





BECOMING A BIOREGIONAL HERBALIST


Becoming a bioregional herbalist, in my opinion, is developing relationships with the totality of life in the world around you. This includes the basic elements of Nature, and all aspects of the natural world, even if our particular focus is working with plants for healing. As we seek to find our place within the natural world, we practice listening, feeling our way through. In this endeavor, there are no right answers; there is simply to be.

Gathering plants from the wild can be an exciting endeavor. One never quite knows what’s lurking around the corner, thus each outing is an adventure. It is also a responsibility. To gather a plant is to take a lifeform, or a portion thereof. Once that act is done, it is the responsibility of the gatherer to treat the herb with respect and apply it as expressed, or intended. Contemplating what one needs a plant for and what one intends to do with it before gathering it is an essential step for the competent and responsible bioregional herbalist. The plants are here to help us. If we give a moment’s thought as to how we desire to proceed, express this need and a bit of gratitude for what is to be offered, it can go a long way in supporting our endeavors. The three fundamental ethics of an integrated bioregional herbalist are gratitude, honor, and respect. Should we unfailingly keep these principles in our hearts and minds, we will be supporting harmony in our world and making it more beautiful in the process.

A wonderful first step toward developing a bioregional perspective is to go for a walk—and do so consistently. And observe. Observe. Patient observation and self-reflection are the two greatest teachers. When you first feel compelled to begin gathering herbs, stop for a moment and reflect. “Is this necessary?” “How do I intend to apply this medicine?” “Am I prepared to treat this herb with honor and respect while gathering it?” If you can provide clear answers to these questions, and the way before you is open, you will next need to be prepared for the gathering, handling, and processing of certain plants.





Relationship through listening


At an herbal conference in the Rocky Mountains several years ago, I led an herb walk. At the end of the walk we stopped at the plant fireweed. I asked everyone to stop, sit down, connect to their breath, feel the Earth beneath their seat, and release their preconceived ideas about the world around them. As the group settled in, the energy shifted around us. The world became something new, and what we felt suddenly became pertinent, relevant, and important. I guided them to connect with the plant before us, without identifying it and without giving any information about usage. We were going to enjoy this experience unfettered by bias or any knowing which we’d brought with us that afternoon. In moments like these, significant knowledge may arrive immediately like a swift breeze in a moment of pure stillness. I heard . . . “courage . . . adeptness . . . erection . . . male reproductive system.” These bits of information were unlike anything that I had previously “known” about this plant, and, despite having innumerable experiences like this before, I was still a bit reluctant to believe what I had heard. The following morning, as I was out on my walk amongst the verdancy of high summer at 10,000 feet, I stopped before a patch of fireweed, squatted down and nibbled a leaf in quiet contemplation. There was little of the previous day’s experience fresh in my mind at the moment. As I stood up and walked across the patch I heard a voice whisper, “aromatase”. Did I just make that up? I thought. Driven by an even greater curiosity now, I sat before my computer and typed “Epilobium + aromatase” into the search engine. Sure enough, a study from almost 20 years ago had demonstrated fireweed’s ability to inhibit aromatase thereby improving conditions such as prostatitis or benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH).

This is the approach of a modern-day bioregional herbalist: bridging the gap between the heart-mind and the intellectual-mind. I experienced the plant openly and directly in its natural habitat. I combined that with my previous experiences with the plant as well as my broader knowledge about physiology, plant energetics, botany and ethnobotany. Trusting in the unfolding of the process, I was brought to a specific bit of knowledge. Had I learned this information in a book or a classroom, I would be much less likely to retain it as knowledge, apart from being a simple fact memorized. The walk of the bioregional herbalist is to begin to pull from all sources within the Circle of Life, one by one, compiling a personal story of inter-relationship with the living world, Mother Nature, the Elements, and the Plants as our guides.





Basic tools and equipment for the wildcrafter


Personally, I often carry as little as possible. I love the feeling of being in Nature with little or nothing to carry. But there are certain items which, when available, may make your work, both in gathering and transporting any herbs you encounter, much easier. I’m all for trying to make use of what you have available, but if you’re interested in procuring some useful tools, then consider obtaining the following items to outfit your wildcrafting kit.



This small assortment of tools can provide for all the needs of a wildcrafter on a day’s gathering journey. The blue-handled file can be used to sharpen bypass pruners quickly without disassembling the blade.



Pruners. Simple bypass pruners will suffice for gathering the majority of aboveground plant parts, those with a diameter of ½ inch or less. Pinching or breaking off by hand is also an option with a great number of plants. When purchasing pruners, choose something above the mid-range in price, as it will often be made of more durable materials and of better quality overall. Keep a range of file grits on hand to sharpen the edge before and after each use. Long-handled pruning shears (aka loppers) work great for removing branches 1–2 inches in diameter.

Pruning Saw. A pruning saw is essential for severing tree limbs up to 4 inches in diameter. Be sure to carry a lightweight, folding pruning saw in your daypack whenever you venture out into the backcountry or head out on a road trip.

Shovel/Digging Stick. A short-handled or folding shovel can be very handy when hiking into wild areas. A hori hori is a versatile Japanese digging tool with a sharp cutting edge on each side, one of which is serrated; it’s easily tossed in a bag or worn on a belt.



Folding shovel.



Knife. A sharp knife can handle a good number of tasks that the wildcrafter encounters. It is particularly well suited to stripping bark but can be used to cut stems from trees and cut herbaceous plants. If large enough, it can chop large, leafy plants as well.

Gathering Bags. Bags of cloth, paper, or other woven natural materials are preferred for gathering herbs; something with straps will keep your hands free, especially when hiking in. Some prefer to use baskets for more fragile items, such as flowers or ripe fruits. Bed sheets come in handy for long plants, such as nettle or horseweed, both of which are irritating to the skin; laying them on a sheet with gloved hands while gathering helps to reduce skin irritations.

Sharpening Stones. Diamond sharpening stones and honing files can now be purchased inexpensively. These tools help to keep your sharp edges refined and ready to cut.





Where to wildharvest


The world around us has become largely compartmentalized and segmented through our approach to life. When we walk out of doors into the world around us, what do we see? We could begin wildharvesting right in our own yard, neighborhood, local parks. The questions regarding legality are another matter. I believe it is our right to participate with the natural world around us. Acknowledging private ownership is an aspect of recognizing that mutual right. Some public lands prohibit gathering of anything whatsoever; some are open to gathering various plant parts for personal use. Check with local authorities about their current policies, but above all, conduct yourself with honor and respect with regard to the plants and always offer your gratitude.

The United Plant Savers is a non-profit association dedicated to fostering awareness of plant species loss in North America. In the Southwest, a few species are of limited concern, largely due to habitat loss. Identify threatened or at-risk plants within your area and work to learn more about their ecology. You will be better prepared to protect them, if necessary.





Gathering, processing, storing


There are some basic points to remember when gathering and processing herbs. Some herbs (elder, ocotillo flowers) will mold quickly, whereas creosote bush and other plants can sit in a bag for 3 days before being spread out to dry. Before gathering, be sure that you have ample space that is shaded and relatively dry. With a little planning and ingenuity, this can be accomplished on a road trip or while camping. Nearly all herbs should be dried in the shade, but darker roots can be dried in the sun. Drying screens or repurposed window screens can be stacked to allow for air flow, which expedites drying and thereby reduces the potential for mold. Bringing herbs into an air-conditioned home (where moisture is reduced) may help prevent spoilage in humid areas. Occasionally, when the weather is particularly cold and/or damp, a dehydrator may be necessary for heavy, moist herbs.

Upon gathering, inspect your herbs to clean out any foreign debris, and shake or wash off any excessive dirt. Fresh herbs can be processed by hand or with the tools listed earlier. Upon drying, they can be broken down by hand or powdered using a kitchen appliance with a blade assembly, or with a traditional mortar and pestle. Even though it adds time to the project, every step in the process is layered with the intention to heal.

Whenever possible, store dry leaves whole, especially those of aromatic plants. This will help maintain freshness and viability for many years. Keep away from heat and light to whatever extent possible. I have used herbs stored in plastic bags, away from sun, that were still potent medicine although they were gathered 12 years previously.



Ocotillo flowers, gathered fresh for sun tea.





Seri (Comcáac) herbalist Maria Luisa Molino Martinez of Punta Chueca, Sonora, stores her herbs in plastic, too.



Gathering Tree Medicine. How we approach gathering tree medicine impacts both the health of the tree and the potency and vitality of our medicine. Several trees in this book are really worth getting to know for their medicine, but it’s important that we gather from them properly. Due to the differences in tree and shrub species within our region, these instructions may need be followed with some accommodation in order to achieve an optimal outcome.

Recognizing that life force flows through trees differently at different times of the year (as well as at different times of the day and lunar cycle) will aid us in gathering optimal medicine. As a tree rests over winter, much of its vital force is held within its roots (even evergreens). As spring begins in early February, the sap held within the roots begins to move more freely up through the inner bark. The tree’s bark is full of potency throughout the spring and summer. Gathering bark in autumn is also beneficial as the tree is often finished producing seeds by this time (if not much earlier). During the late autumn, the bark’s vibrancy diminishes somewhat, as the tree’s vital force slowly returns to its roots.

Be on the lookout for recently downed trees or fallen branches from high winds. Branches loosed from the tree will make great medicine, and there’s no need to cut into the tree. When cutting a branch is necessary, select one that is no more than 2 inches thick, with smooth bark. Seek out branches that will soon be shaded by larger branches, or areas of the tree where branch production is thickest. Cut the branch just above where it attaches to the larger limb. If the tree produces sap, collect some and cover the scar to reduce pathogenic infiltration. Remove twigs and smaller branches, which may be used whole for medicine. To remove the bark from relatively straight, smooth-barked branches (ash, aspen), score the bark around with a knife every 12 inches or so, then make long cuts in between these circumferential scores. Pry underneath the bark strips and pull off. Dry the strips on a cloth or gather them loosely in a paper bag. Some branches, especially when gathered during drought conditions, may require stripping with a knife, as the bark does not readily come off in strips. In a humid climate, these strips may need to be pierced and hung in order to dry properly.

Some bark is well suited to fresh tincturing (pine, kidneywood) and other barks are best dried before tincturing (chokecherry, aspen). Bark can be broken down into small pieces to store more easily. Grinding down to a powder, however, will cause the bark’s constituents to degrade more rapidly.

Digging Roots. When performed with awareness, digging wild roots can be a deeply moving experience for the wildcrafter. These instructions are meant to assure optimal potency of the medicine one gathers, to support the health of the stand, and to fully engage one’s heart and mind in the act of unearthing this medicine from the underworld.

As always, when wildharvesting medicine, first ask permission and blessings from the plants, and from the guardians of place where you gather. Offer something of value (e.g., tobacco, water), perhaps something of ourselves (e.g., a lock of hair), or words of gratitude, to express respect and appreciation for what is being offered, to set the stage for a beneficial outcome of the endeavor, and to allow the healing to unfold before us.

When digging up plants for medicine, some prefer not to use metal tools out of respect for the plants, instead choosing “softer” materials such as wood, bone, or stone, as our ancestors did. Whatever your choice, remember that some plants may require digging a hole large enough to bury a sink. Others (e.g., cholla) may require only prying up around the perimeter; in sufficiently wet soil, some may be uprooted simply by pulling up on their base (e.g., filaree). A digging stick or pickax (aka mattock) works well for prying up distal rhizomes; the mattock, when paired with a spade shovel, is very effective for excavating big holes. Other digging tools not yet mentioned include a trowel, a San Angelo bar (best for hardpan caliche soil), or, of course, one’s hands. Which tools are chosen may depend on personal preference and the circumstances of the gathering location. Hauling in a San Angelo bar and mattock pick on a 4-mile round-trip hike is not so fun. A short-handled shovel or a hori hori and a digging stick may be all that is needed for such backcountry jaunts.

There are various things to consider when identifying which plant to dig. In large, mature stands of oshá and other relatively long-lived perennials, I often gather from the perimeter of the stand, where the newest growth tends to be. When the stand appears to be at a climax, I dig from within its center; the digging and perturbation serves as a healthy and stimulating intervention for the stand, and regrowth will occur. Developing relationship with the location and the movement of the seasons and their recent effects on the local ecosystem and the plants you’re considering, will all play a significant role in deciding where and how to dig. Often, simply engaging in active listening leads to a clear-headed and practical decision. This approach to digging is not necessarily the most efficient, although it will foster a deeper respect for and understanding of the plants one works with. Remember: it is often an important and wise decision to not harvest anything. You simply need to be in tune with the needs of the local ecosystem.

When beginning to dig, look around for sensitive plants in the vicinity and, if encountered, either choose a different spot, carefully replant them, or if possible utilize them in your harvest. Clear away any mulch from the top and set it off to the side; retrieve it to cover up the soil when refilling the hole to help maintain integrity within the ecosystem and preserve moisture under the soil’s surface.

Loose, damp, sandy soil is often the best digging substrate in our region. In such a soil, you can pull out roots that are still buried several inches simply by rocking the plant back and forth several times as the soil loosens around them. Challenging locations include rocky areas (e.g., nettle root weaving through boulders in a wash); zones interpenetrated by tree roots (aspen groves); or dry soil with a relatively high clay content, which can bend thinner metal tools that attempt penetration.



Digging a biennial thistle with a mattock.



Once an optimal location for digging has been identified, take into account the size of the roots you are gathering. This can vary greatly from one plant to the next, and often bears no relation to the size of the plant’s aboveground parts. If making a tincture for personal use, a half-pound of root should be plenty. Refrain from gathering more than is necessary, especially on the first time gathering a plant. Wait until you have a better feel for the plant and its usage before gathering more. Roots are powerful medicine, and a little often goes a long way.

As a general rule of thumb, for every foot of depth, dig 1½–2 feet out from the center of the plant, in all directions. In some cases, you may be able to extract a large root by digging up 180–270 degrees of the plant’s circumference; the shorter the arc, the less likely you are to chop off roots that may be difficult to find later. Some plants may resprout if root pieces are left in the soil, but that is not always the case. Experiment with replanting root crowns of perennial plants after the distal portions have been harvested, and mark those locations to come back the following season, or year, to see if they have resprouted. Some roots (e.g., oshá) require delicate handling to keep intact while harvesting, but if broken off from the root crown, they may possibly sprout again.

Keep your roots from dehydrating too quickly by keeping them in a cloth bag in the shade while in the field. If you intend to dry what you gather, there are several ways to approach it. Primarily, roots are dried in the shade, but oshá and other darker roots can be dried in the sun to hasten drying, if necessary. Some roots (algerita, red root) dry so hard that they must be chopped prior to drying.



Queen’s root, unearthed.



Once finished digging, push the extracted soil and rocks back into the hole you dug. Re-situate plants that needed to be dug up in hopes they will survive the replanting. If on a slope, attempt to make a small berm on contour to allow for some water catchment at the digging spot. This is also an opportunity to plant seeds, especially if you’re digging in the fall (or perhaps you’ve brought seeds from the previous season to sow after digging). Many may think this is “Nature’s job”; however, we as stewards can make our wild medicinal plant gardens more robust and beautiful through thoughtful and intentional involvement with the stands we interact with. This is the legacy of the ancient ones who once cultivated abundantly fruitful wild plant gardens throughout the Americas.





THE ART AND SCIENCE OF HERBAL MEDICINE MAKING


Concocting healing creations to imbibe for our health and wellness is a sacred rite as much as it is the right of every human on this planet. The wisdom of how to heal with the help of wild plants was once passed down from generation to generation. Alive and fluid, it was an integral part of all cultures across the globe. To reclaim this right is to embrace what it is to be human, to answer the call from within and from the world around us. Always remember, there is at least as much art in the co-creative endeavor of herbal medicine making as there is science.

Variability is the rule when it comes to plants and healing. Once we tune in to the world around us, we can see that change is the general rule of Nature. It’s inevitable. Yes, the climate is changing, and the world is changing around us. To adapt to change, to become resilient in the presence of major shifts and alterations in our environment, despite the severity, despite the degree of adversity—despite the particular virulence of the microorganism—is the epitome of what our ancestors recognized as vitality.



Making tincture out of roots (here, of spikenard) and rhizomes often allows for more efficient use of the plant material.



Turning to the wild plants growing around us for our medicine and developing a sensorial relationship with them carries tremendous power and healing potential for our physical, mental, and emotional ills.

In this section, I’m going to share with you a variety of traditional herbal preparations that can be easily prepared at home, or in the field, by the beginner. We’ll explore some of the “whys,” including some of the scientific principles behind the methods we use as herbalists. As I introduce you to these concepts (or refresh your memories, as the case may be), I’ll be encouraging you to follow your inspiration within these relatively loose guidelines. May your new skills help you to forge a deep, loving relationship with the vibrant plant communities with whom we share our Southwest home.



Glass jars of tincture set out by folk herbalist Doña Olga Ruíz Cañez of Imuris, Sonora.



Please remember that these instructions are meant to be guidelines. Exceptional and endless variability exists within the plant kingdom, despite our best efforts to compartmentalize and categorize it. As a result, you may find different and/or better ways to extract the herbs you’re working with; utilize these guiding principles to get you started and get your footing, then build from that foundation as your experience and confidence grows. Pay close attention to what you observe, and follow your intuition. Beautiful and powerful medicine goes well beyond the realm of reductive reason.





Dosage Considerations


▪ ~50 drops of tincture = 1ml

▪ 3ml = 1 teaspoon

▪ ~150 drops = 1 teaspoon

▪ 75 drops = ½ teaspoon

▪ 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon





Poultices


Aside from eating plants, poulticing is one of the simplest ways to use plants as medicine. Chew up a plantain leaf, place it upon a bee sting, burn, or fresh wound, and witness the pain diminish rapidly. A fresh plant poultice can provide immediate relief in a variety of situations. Simply gather up a small quantity of fresh herb and roll it around in the palm of your hand. Place it directly over the affected area and hold the poultice in place with a bandage, a bandana, a T-shirt, a belt, or even other plant material. Change frequently if bleeding is an issue, or leave on for several hours, or until the pain-relieving benefits have worn off. A dry plant poultice can be prepared with powdered plants. Either sprinkle the powdered plant directly onto a wound, or blend with powdered chia seed to help the poultice stick together. Scoop it onto a sheet of plastic wrap or a piece of cloth, then cover the affected area. Remove and replace, as needed.





Water extractions


Decoction. If you want to extract medicine from bark, roots, twigs, seeds, and pods, you will generally want to use the method of decoction, which refers to the simmering of plant material in water. Decoctions extract all water-soluble constituents from an herb. The continued application of heat allows for the structural cell walls of the plant matter to be broken down most efficiently, thus allowing the plant constituents to become readily soluble in the water.

The ratio for a standard decoction is 1:32—one part plant material by weight (1 ounce) and 32 parts solvent (water) by volume (32 fluid ounces).

First, combine the water and the herbs in a stainless steel, glass, or ceramic pot—these materials have the least reactive potential with the plant material (aluminum and Teflon-coated pots should be avoided). Bring to a rolling boil, then turn the heat down to a low simmer. Leave the pot covered for at least 20 minutes while simmering. Then turn the heat off and leave the pot covered where it was cooking for another 15–20 minutes before pouring through a strainer. Pour enough water back through the herb to obtain the original volume of water. Drink the tea as advised. Make enough tea for 1–2 days’ worth.

For optimal extraction of minerals, slowly decoct mineral-rich herbs over low heat for several hours or overnight.

The remnant herbs, or marc, can be utilized again in most cases. For acute cases, replenish with fresh herb stock before making another preparation to gain the fullest potential from your tea. For chronic cases, or regular nourishing and balancing support, reuse the herbs until there is no more taste left in the tea. Since the medicinal potency decreases with each subsequent batch, this is not recommended for acute infections.

A strong decoction is made by simmering 1 ounce of herb in 16 ounces of water (1:16), medicinally twice as strong as a standard decoction. Simmer the herb for 30–60 minutes, then let sit covered for 20–30 minutes before straining. Pour enough fresh water through the herb to regain the 16 fluid ounces you started with. The tea can be reheated before drinking.

A weak decoction uses half the amount of herb as a standard decoction—½ ounce of herb to 32 ounces of water (1:64); it is otherwise prepared the same way. This preparation is most often used for stronger herbs, for the elderly, or for children.

Fomentations (aka compresses) are generally made from decoctions. A fomentation is made by soaking a piece of cloth in a hot or cold tea and applying it directly to the body. When applied hot, it is often advisable to cover the fomentation with a dry towel to hold the heat in. Leave it on until the heat dissipates, and repeat if needed. A fomentation is a valuable remedy for cold, stiff, achy conditions.

A steam inhalation is yet another healing method derived from the decoction. The exact ratio is not as important, but it should generally be made as a strong decoction, or stronger. Boil the herb for 10–15 minutes, then remove from heat or place on low. With a towel spread overhead, lower your face carefully over the steaming pot and gently inhale the warm vapors. This can also be done in the bathtub as a full body bath, or in a sweathouse or sauna, if available. This is another ancient healing method with so many applications.

A sitz bath is commonly utilized postpartum to help heal the vaginal tissues and prevent uterine infections and postpartum fever. Decoct the available herbs and add the liquid to the tub before drawing the bath. Herbs most appropriate for infusion (e.g., desert lavender) can be added once the heat has been turned off and allowed to sit for at least 30 minutes. The tea can also be added to a small tub in which the patient can comfortably sit, a method useful for a variety of genitourinary complaints. An intermediate step is to place a steaming pot of aromatic herbs, prior to straining, directly beneath a perforated or open seat. The patient, male or female, sits and takes in the healing aromatic steam directly on the genitalia and anus. This is useful for a variety of conditions, including those requiring enhanced circulation to the area.

Infusion. Most delicate plant parts—leaves, stems, and flowers—are preferably made as an infusion (aka tisane), which is made by pouring boiling hot water over dry herbs. Dry herbs are preferred over fresh herbs as they are more soluble and readily give up their constituents in water. What is generally referred to as a “tea” is, in fact, an infusion—“tea” being a specific plant, Camellia sinensis, the source of both black and green tea.

A standard infusion is generally understood to mean a ratio of 1 part herb, by weight, to 32 parts water, by volume (1:32). Add 1 ounce of herbs to 32 ounces of boiled water. Let sit, covered, for 20–30 minutes. Strain and drink.

For a strong infusion, cut the ratio in half (1:16). A stronger preparation method maximizes the therapeutic effectiveness of the herb for immediate benefit.



A cold infusion of rhatany.



Another type of preparation is the cold infusion. Cold infusions are a superior preparation method for herbs that contain mucilages, aromatic oils, or bitter principles. Begin with 1 part herb by weight and thoroughly moisten it with cool to room-temperature water. Place the herb in a muslin tea bag and suspend it in a jar in 32 parts of room-temperature water overnight. Squeeze the herb out into the tea in the morning and return the total volume to 32 parts by adding water.



A sun tea of desert willow flowers.



Sun teas are yet another sort of infusion. Exposed to direct sunshine for 3–5 hours, the vibrancy and warmth of the sun’s rays permeate the herbs and the water, uniquely energizing this preparation.





Tinctures


A tincture is a solution of plant material within a menstruum, or solvent, such as ethanol (e.g., grain, cane, or grape alcohol). Tinctures are valued for their convenience, portability, and potency. They are also one of our primary way of safeguarding certain plant medicines that may otherwise be overused. Some at-risk plants can be taken as low-dose tinctures thus requiring a minimal amount of herb per dose. Herbal tinctures have been part of medical practice in North America since the early 1800s and go even farther back in Europe and elsewhere. Whenever any plant part is covered in a menstruum and allowed to sit for some time, a tincture is made. The alcohol is the means and method of extraction in itself. It is hydrophilic (Greek for “water-loving); it sucks water and therefore dehydrates the plant. Through this process of dehydration, the plant relinquishes a variety of its constituents into the menstruum. Certain plant constituents are more soluble in alcohol (e.g., essential oils, phenolic compounds, terpenoids, phytosterols); other constituents are more soluble in water. Most plants, fortunately, have a good mix of alcohol- and water-soluble constituents. Herbalist and chemist Lisa Ganora writes, “Highly polar compounds tend to dissolve in highly polar solvents (e.g., water); compounds with low overall polarity tend to dissolve in low-polarity solvents (e.g., ethanol). Solvents with similar polarities to one another will mix (e.g., ethanol and water); solvents with very different polarities will not mix (e.g., oil and water).” The general principle? Like dissolves like.



Root tinctures macerating. Left to right: Ceanothus, Urtica, Aralia.



Vinegar and vegetable glycerin are often used as solvents to avoid the use of alcohol for ethical, psychological, or physiological reasons; however, these two solvents are generally inferior. In most cases, they don’t extract the plant’s constituents nearly as well as water or alcohol. The relatively low pH of acetums, or vinegar solutions, lends itself to alkaloid and mineral extraction but not many other plant constituents; acetums can be made according to the same methods as the fresh and dry plant tinctures. Glycerin has a higher polarity than alcohol and may be used to your advantage in cases where that is desirable (e.g., polysaccharide extraction).



Always prepare tinctures (here, of fresh spikenard leaf) in glass or other nonreactive containers, which have zero potential to pollute the extraction.



Tinctures are made from both fresh and dry plant matter. Using a dry plant can have several benefits. The drying process may render any toxic substances inert, and having dried plant material offers easy accessibility to a plant’s medicinal components if the plant is not in season. For many plants, whenever you have access to them is when you can make tincture from them; others need to be harvested in the season they are available in order to prepare them fresh.

Some plant parts (roots, bark, woody fruits) can be left in the menstruum for years with no problem. But fresh, leafy plants will need to be pressed within a short period, often within a few days. Searching for a means to extract every last bit of medicine from your menstruum may be an expensive endeavor. Heavy-duty plant presses are more efficient but rather costly for the home user. What one can do with their hands and a little ingenuity goes a long way toward getting a tincture strained with little waste. A used fruit press may provide increased efficiency at an affordable price.

There is no one way to make herbal tinctures, but there are safer and more effective ways. The overall approach should be a familiarity with the particular plant rather than any dogmatic approach to tincture-making. That said, let’s look at a detailed approach to making fresh and dry plant tinctures.

Fresh Plant Tincture. Ratio 1:2. Items needed:

▪ 1 quart canning jar with clean lid (plastic or metal)

▪ 10 ounces fresh, chopped herb

▪ 20 fluid ounces organic cane alcohol (95%)

Thoroughly chop the herb to break the cell walls of the plant and to increase the surface area exposed to the solvent. Chop to less than ¼ inch for fresh, leafy plants. Larger pieces occupy too much volume when the jar is filled, disrupting the intended 1:2 ratio. Lightly pack a quart canning jar with the 10 ounces of finely chopped herb. Then pour the 20 ounces of alcohol over the herb. Poke the herb repeatedly with a chopstick, or something of similar shape and size, with an up and down motion for several minutes. This helps release any air trapped within the liquid and prevents mold growth within the tincture.



Finely chopped mock vervain, ready for tincture.



Watch as the color recedes from the herb over the following days. Fresh, leafy herbs such as mock vervain should be pressed out within 4–7 days. Most barks, roots, fruits, and some drier, leathery leaves can be left to macerate for several weeks to several months. A good rule of thumb is to taste your tincture weekly to ascertain how the maceration is developing over time. Some tinctures, for instance, may be serviceable in a month but reach a greater potency and fullness of extraction after 2–4 months. There is no need to shake fresh plant tinctures as they macerate. The extraction process is facilitated by dehydration from the alcohol. However, if you observe a substantial amount of solvent not touching the herb (most often the case with heavier herbs), shake the tincture jar to redistribute the solvent.

A simple method for pressing out tinctures that have finished macerating is to place a metal sieve over a glass or metal bowl, leaving some space below the strainer to accommodate a volume of tincture. Place a muslin cloth, bandana, or some similar weave over the sieve (cheesecloth may be too porous for finer materials). Pour the tincture out onto the cloth, scooping out the herb from the jar as needed. Wrap the bundle up by pinching the corners together tightly, twisting the excess material down to the bundle of herb. Squeeze vigorously with your hands, wringing out as much of the solvent as possible. The remnant herbs, or marc, may be composted. The remaining liquid is your tincture. Keep it in dark, clearly labeled, glass bottles and store away from heat and light. Properly stored tinctures can last a decade a more. Only very rarely does a tincture lose its potency within a few years.



Making fresh plant tinctures in the field.



Dry Plant Tincture. Ratio 1:5. Items needed:

▪ 1 quart canning jar with clean lid (plastic or metal)

▪ 5 ounces dry, chopped herb

▪ 12.5 ounces spring water

▪ 12.5 ounces organic cane alcohol (95%)

Dry plant tinctures are simple to prepare, given that the herb has already been fully processed. Both water and alcohol are used in all dry plant preparations. As a general rule, the herb:solvent ratio is 1:5 (5 ounces of herb to 25 total ounces of solvent). A solvent that is half water, half alcohol is a safe bet, although some preparations may benefit from a slightly higher ratio of alcohol to water. We generally use half water and half alcohol, dividing the 25 total ounces of solvent by 2, or 12.5 ounces each of water and alcohol.

Cut or crush the herb into a coarse powder to optimize total surface area exposed to the dehydrating effects of the alcohol. You don’t want a fine powder, as this will tend to clump and decrease solubility. Weigh out 5 ounces of dry herb, then add to the quart jar.

Measure out 12.5 ounces of water and 12.5 ounces of 95% alcohol, and combine in one vessel to produce 25 total ounces of solvent. Mix together and pour directly over the dry herb, filling the jar. Shake the maceration on a daily basis in order to fully incorporate the herb with the solvent if the level of the solvent reaches well above the level of the herb, facilitating an equal and optimal extraction.

Allow 4–6 weeks for a full extraction, then press as described for a fresh plant tincture. Dense, dry herbal material (roots, bark) will yield much less from mechanical pressing than fresh herbs.





Honey infusions


Fresh flowers, thoroughly chopped roots, and some leaves make excellent honey infusions. Always use wildflower or other high-quality organic honey for honey infusions. Begin by measuring the herb and honey; in general, 1:4 is an adequate ratio. Add some of the herb (2 ounces) to a glass jar, then pour some honey on top (8 ounces). Alternate the two until the jar is full, or all the herb has been used. If the herb has a high water content, the infusion may need to be strained within 4–7 days; roots and many flowers can sit for 4–12 months with no concerns. Many flower infusions are ready within 2 months. Roots should macerate for 4 months to develop a richer flavor profile. These honeys are used therapeutically and may also be used in preparing food.



Wild oregano honey infusion.





Oxymels


An oxymel is an ancient preparation dating back millennia. Its name refers to its sharp (oxy) and sweet (mel) flavors from the two main ingredients: vinegar and honey. With these two ingredients alone, this preparation is considered a respiratory and digestive tonic, but in combination with herbs, an oxymel can stimulate a great variety of effects. (See the entries on oxymels under various plant profiles.) One option is to simmer the herbs in apple cider vinegar (1:16), strain the herbs out, and add about ½ part honey to the vinegar, or the herbs can be decocted in water (1:10), or a combination of water and vinegar (1:16). Honey is then added at an equal amount to the tea after straining (vinegar is added along with the honey for a water decoction). Simmer to the desired consistency. Tinctures may be added to the oxymel once removed from the heat. Oxymels are usually taken in cool water during hot weather, or in hot water in cold weather.





Syrups


A syrup can be obtained by making a strong decoction and adding honey to the strained tea at 75–150% of the final tea volume. The more honey added, the sweeter, of course, but the shelf stability will increase. Refrigerated syrup should last at least a year with a minimum concentration of 75% honey by volume of tea.





Oil infusions


Alcohol Intermediate Oil Infusions. This method, our preferred method for oil infusions, has been in use since the 19th century (if not much longer); it allows for the optimal extraction of a wide array of constituents. The alcohol initiates the extraction process, and the oil finishes it. Items needed:

▪ dry herb

▪ 95% alcohol

▪ organic extra virgin olive oil

▪ blender

▪ scale, bowl, measuring cups

Grind the dry herb to a roughly uniform coarse material; if using a blender or high-powered kitchen appliance, add only a small amount of herb at a time, as such devices are designed primarily for liquids. Weigh out the desired amount of herb and transfer it to a large glass, ceramic, or stainless steel bowl. Add the alcohol; the amount to use is normally 50–100%, by volume, of the given herb’s weight. Begin by adding 50% and gradually add more, until the herb is properly moistened. Cover and let sit for 12–24 hours. The alcohol will begin acting as a solvent on the crucial medicinal constituents of the plant. Only use high % alcohol for this (75% or greater). After the time has passed, add the herb to a blender along with at least 5 ounces of olive oil for every ounce of herb (be careful not to overfill). Turn it on and blend until the sides of the blender become warm. At this point, you can either strain out the plant debris and collect your finished oil, or pour the oily slop into a glass jar and place it in a warm place (on top of the fridge or water heater; in a paper bag in the sun) for a few more days. This may result in a slightly better extraction, but a perfectly serviceable oil results straight out of the blender, thanks chiefly to the preliminary alcohol extraction. Most herbs work best with this method.

Fresh Plant Oil Infusions. Although fresh plant oil infusions are common, the risk for molding is much greater, and the finished product is often inferior to what the alcohol intermediate can accomplish. The amount of water and resins in a fresh plant may be influential factors. Fresh plant oil infusions need to be subjected to consistent heat and must be watched carefully to identify any fermentation, or subsequent mold invasion. Keeping the oil slurry well ventilated allows the plant moisture to evaporate. Items needed:

▪ fresh herb

▪ organic extra virgin olive oil

▪ serrated knife, pruners, or utility scissors

▪ cutting board

▪ scale, bowl, measuring cups

Finely chop the fresh herb with a serrated knife, bypass pruners, or utility scissors. Add the herb and the olive oil to the jar, alternating each, layer by layer, softly stuffing the herb as you go along. Once all the herb is in the jar, finish by fully covering the herb with olive oil. Close the lid and set it in a warm place for at least 4 days. During warm, sunny weather, place it in direct sun in a paper bag, and it may be ready in as little as 3 days. When ready to press (as described for a fresh plant tincture), be careful not to extract water from the plant into your oil—that is to say, don’t squeeze too hard. You may feel as if you are sacrificing some of your oil, but you are preventing it from going rancid by keeping the water out. If you do notice water patches in your oil, you can slowly heat it on the stove top at the lowest temperature, or in our hot and dry climate it can be left out in a shallow pan to allow the water to evaporate.

Why not use alcohol in all preparations in order to extract the best medicine? Applying alcohol to a dry herb at a 1:2 ratio will often yield a nicely moistened herb; adding much more alcohol than that is excessive and will create a soup. Dry herbs readily absorb alcohol, whereas fresh herbs do not absorb alcohol. Rather, they become dehydrated by alcohol, leeching their water out into the alcohol, leading to fluid accumulation in the oil, making it susceptible to mold infestation. Heat, to some degree, must take the place of alcohol in a fresh plant extraction. Certain herbs simply turn out better as fresh plant oil infusions.





Salves


A salve is the combination of an herbal infused oil (or animal fat) and beeswax. The greatest utility of a salve is in its protective effects and its ability to act locally. Salves work as a mechanical barrier on open wounds or dry, irritated skin; they are also convenient, allowing the individual to apply the therapy at any time, without having to prepare an infusion, decoction, or poultice.

Herbal oils are the primary ingredients of salves. Salves can be made up of a combination of plants. Mix all the crude herbs and prepare the oil as a formulation, or pour the individual pre-made oils together at the time of making your salve. There is no difference in outcome. It’s your choice. Items needed:

▪ herbal oil infusions

▪ beeswax

▪ double boiler

▪ heat-resistant spatula

▪ scale, glass bowl, Pyrex measuring cup

▪ containers for finished salve

Place the glass bowl in the freezer. This will be used to weigh the beeswax. Make space to arrange open salve jars so they are ready to receive the liquid salve; the edge of the table may work best. Begin heating the double boiler. Measure and combine the oil infusions in the double boiler to heat them. Use 1 ounce of beeswax for every 5 ounces of oil infusion for a medium-density salve; use less for a softer salve, more for a harder salve. Measure the beeswax in the glass bowl from the freezer, and add the beeswax to the hot oil when ready (beeswax melts quickly at 160F). Using the spatula, stir in the beeswax until melted. Once fully integrated, pour the oil/beeswax mixture into the Pyrex cup, and quickly but carefully pour the liquid salve into the containers. Place your salve in the freezer for 5 minutes to harden it, so you can test the consistency. If you find it too soft, then you can add more beeswax. If it’s too hard, add more oil. Salves remain effective for many years away from heat and light.





Herbal energetics


This is a vast subject, but I will endeavor here to introduce some of the basics. Various advanced systems of healing from around the globe have evolved around knowledge of the fundamental building blocks of Nature. Although this varies somewhat from culture to culture, there are some basic universal concepts. The most basic may be deemed the 4 Qualities of cold, hot, moist, and dry. Additionally, 3, 4, or 5 Humours, or Elements, may be seen as the basic building blocks of all life in the universe. For example, in Ayurvedic medicine, the 3 Humours are Phlegm, Bile, and Wind. These 3 humours are present in all things, thus are manifest in plants, places, and humans alike, in a myriad of combinations. We, too, can perceive the Humours as they present themselves throughout the seasons with variability, yet in a fluid, emerging pattern. Thus, the effects of herbs can be witnessed within the triad of reflection occurring at any given time between the person, place, and plant.





4 Basic Qualities Cold Hot


Cold

Hot

Moist

Dry





Humours


Ayurvedic Humours

Phlegm

Bile

Wind

Galenic Humours

Phlegm

Blood

Yellow Bile

Black Bile





Flavors


Ayurvedic Rasa

Sweet—heavy, cold

Acid—heavy, hot

Salty—heavy, hot

Acrid—light, hot

Bitter—light, cold

Astringent—light, cold

Additionally, herbs can be viewed as having affinities for certain organs. Thus, their energetics are generally directed toward those organs, or are likely to affect those organs. More advanced herbal pairing takes into consideration these organ affinities alongside the prominent qualities, humours, and flavors present in each herb. Tasting herbs and spending time with them in their native habitat can teach us so much about the energetics of plants.





Safety concerns


Nothing is entirely safe in this world, so why should herbs be any different? Knowledge of plant usage since ancient times is extensive across the globe. Although we are emerging from a relative Dark Age of herbalism, many are present among us to guide the way. Following the example of experienced herbalists, asking elders within your community, consulting local plant experts, and reviewing the ethnobotanical literature is due diligence toward reestablishing a healthy and vibrant personal relationship with plants. Be sure of what you are gathering and—always—begin by consuming a very small amount. Toxic plants do exist, but the vast majority of plant poisonings are due to negligence and carelessness that ignored reason, common sense, and basic awareness. Take your time. There are abundant safe herbs available for us, and relatively few toxic plants. Rather than emphasize what is toxic in this book (as nearly every herbal does), I will emphasize following a path of awareness and sound reason. Although its 112 plant profiles may be enough for many to begin gathering, this book is not a direct invitation to gather herbs. Rather, it is an invitation to develop a relationship with your home landscape through stillness, listening, and continued observation. As we open our awareness once again to the stories Mother Nature has to tell us, we become educated in her expressions of fluidity and her subtle and unexpected commands.





Mid-summer desert willow foliage, gathered by Ofelia from a desert wash after recent rains.





WILDHARVESTING

WITH THE SEASONS


Each season engenders a particular feeling within each of us—its own memories, smells, desires, and dreams. These sensations are all indicative of the medicine within a season, or, in turn, our own tendencies toward illness. Seasons can be viewed as a collection of elements continually presenting themselves to us in a consistent pattern, albeit in infinite subtle variations. Spending time observing the plants through the seasons imparts in us a sense of wholeness through a fluid continuum of this expression of life.

I’d like to frame the seasons in a particular way for you to follow throughout your experience of this book. In our culture, seasons are often seen as beginning on a certain date on the calendar; however approximately accurate that may be, I’d like to reframe it. The conventional way we view the beginning of a season is, in fact, the height of that season. For instance, when we say the “beginning of spring” is 20 March (or whenever the vernal equinox falls in a given year), we are actually witnessing the height of spring. For spring begins roughly 7 weeks before that, halfway between winter solstice and the vernal equinox—a time my Irish ancestors referred to as Imbolc (1 or 2 February), which was marked by the calving season and the reappearance of sheep’s milk in the local diet. In turn, the beginning of summer would occur around May Day (1 May) or the feast of Bealtaine, as spring began its quiet retreat and summer’s heat increased with lengthening days. The full flowering of summer then heralded the fruits of late summer and early autumn. Thus, we experience an overlapping presence of seasons in a dance, an ebb and flow, which speaks to the tremendous variety and vitality present in all Nature, present within ourselves.

Some may say the Southwest possesses no seasons, but in the Sonoran desert, for example, we recognize 5 distinct seasons. These seasons are distinctly, or slightly, different as one moves across our region’s landscape.

Throughout the Southwest, winter is relatively cold and damp. The higher the elevation, and the further north you go, the greater the likelihood of snow. The southernmost, lowest deserts experience very little freezing temperatures, but the longer nights grow considerably colder. Spring emerges in stages, again continuing northward and up in elevation as the months move on. The late spring is exceptionally humid in central Texas, but grows drier and hotter from the Chihuahuan desert westward, all the way to the southern California deserts. High-elevation conifer forests are often moist throughout the year, relying upon snowmelt during the relatively dry late spring weather. Monsoon rains grace the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts roughly June through October, whereas the southern California desert generally remains dry throughout this period. From north-central Texas up into Oklahoma, the tendency is for drier winters with more rainfall in the warmer months (particularly April–June), but rainfall is possible any time of the year.

In short, moisture can be found somewhere in the Southwest at any time of the year; but due to occasional drought conditions, nearly the entire region can experience dry spells simultaneously.

As you spend time in your local environment walking the land, observing, and feeling, you will be developing an internal catalog of experiences, an individualized and intimate language that will forever serve you in your continually deepening awareness and progression of knowledge. To understand plants in a strictly literal context—excluding their natural state of being and the elements that surround and create them, season by season—is a very limited understanding. As you begin to feel the seasons within you and become familiar with their emerging characteristics, you will be awakening to the language of our ancestors, still alive within you and all around you in the natural world, thus accessing the subtler knowledge of how plants heal. Nature as a whole conspires to bring us back to a state of harmony, continually calling us back to this state, season by season, blossom by blossom, carrying us to the ocean of our belonging, to the greatness of emerging creation itself.

Note: in the seasonal lists that follow, unless a specific plant part is mentioned, presume that all parts of the plant listed in its profile may be gathered at this time.





WINTER


We now celebrate our New Year in the heart of the winter season. In past ages, many of our ancestors viewed this as a midpoint, a gathering of energies, a time of great potency. The sun reaches its lowest point on the horizon during the winter solstice, and the days grow longer over the next 6 months. The further north you go, the more noticeable the difference. We experience varying degrees of winter in the Southwest, from several feet of snow on the ground for months at high-elevation conifer forests, to only a handful of freezing nights at the lowest sunbelt elevations. Illustrating the significant difference between these two life zones, one can find the same annual plants growing at high elevations in the summer that grow at lower elevations during the winter. As always, habitat observation is key in discovering what the area around your home offers. Gathering of medicinal plants in the Southwest can continue well into the winter season; however, wildharvesting is most often curtailed from late November to mid-January (even longer at the higher elevations) throughout our region.

Winter begins as the nights grow cold and noticeably long and dark. This is the time my Irish ancestors knew as Samhain, from which the modern holiday of Halloween is derived. This time is associated with the process of beginning the descent into quiet tranquility within oneself. As we look at the natural world around us, we can see something similar occurring: many plants become senescent and drop what is no longer necessary (their leaves), drawing their life force deeper into their root system within the Earth. A quiet stillness ensues.

Seeking to harmonize with this particular season, we seek the quiet stillness of our own bedroom, or the cozy couch beside the fireplace at night. This is a time of beginning. Walking through the desert, mountains, or river grove, we hear the stillness present around us. Our world becomes smaller, our focus more internal, our senses more attuned to the steady rising of the breath as the cool, crisp air of winter strikes the surface of our lungs, bracing us and perking us up. Trees and shrubs become identifiable by their buds, twig and bark patterns, or perhaps the persistent fruits left behind to nourish overwintering cardinals or the stalwart squirrels of the conifer belt.

In winter, contemplate all that you have witnessed throughout the preceding seasons, and meditate on what you seek to create and experience in the coming half of the year. Take note of the new plant friends you have made, and visit their graves in the dead of winter, paying homage to their lives while bidding them return once again as their season comes into fruition.





Winter plants by habitat


Desert, Desert Grasslands, Cactus Forests


canyon bursage root

cottonwood leaf bud

desert lavender

desert willow bark

goatbush stem

golden smoke

hopbush leaf

ocotillo bark

queen’s root

rhatany root





Disturbed Areas, Gardens, Trailsides, Clearings


chickweed

curly dock leaf

desert willow bark

evening primrose leaf, root

filaree

mallow leaf, root

nettle leaf

shepherd’s purse

sow thistle leaf, root

thistle root





High Plains


cottonwood leaf bud

desert willow bark





Hill Country


curly dock leaf

nettle leaf

thistle root

yucca root





Oak Woodlands


dandelion

manzanita leaf

yucca root





Prairie: North-Central Texas and Oklahoma


chickweed

cottonwood leaf bud

dandelion

evening primrose leaf, root





Rivers and Canyons


cottonwood leaf bud

dandelion

desert willow bark

evening primrose leaf, root

filaree

monkey flower

thistle





South Texas Plains


goatbush stem

nettle leaf

thistle





SPRING


Observing my local habitat, I’ve discovered numerous events that indicate spring has begun. In addition to the initial wafts of warm breezes arriving on the morning air, desert anemone blossoms may begin to open along with the dangly male (staminate) flowers of jojoba and the tiny cream-colored hopbush flowers, tinged with magenta.

A bursting forth of vibrancy across the landscape is characteristic of spring. I’m sure the reader has felt this very same thing, deep within. As irrepressible life re-emerges, reclaiming the right to grow up and out across the landscape, herbalists are enticed to partake of Nature’s succulent offerings, re-enacting an ancient and sacred rite. Spring’s verdancy is resplendent in myriad ways—even in the desert Southwest. Down in the desert washes, male and female flower buds of cottonwood often open at the full moon of mid- to late February. As the landscape reawakens, there’s a singing and dancing among the insects, birds, and mammals. The presence of the creative force of Nature becomes apparent once again across the land. As the calendar moves into May, spring extends up the mountainsides to higher elevations when tree buds such as aspen and oak begin to open.



The fresh greens of a Sonoran spring.



Within our own bodies, the liver and gall bladder respond to the spring season most actively. Their harmonious activity is responsible for our own foresight, initiative, and impulse to grow and create across the landscape. Distributing our nutrients and moving our blood throughout the body, they spur us toward courageous action. When excessive, these actions breed disharmony within us. Proper equilibrium is maintained through thoughtful contemplation and clear vision, leading to the benefit of all through this natural expression of the self. Through quiet observation of our local environment, we begin to harmonize with it. We can see its qualities reflected back to us, bringing insights to our state of health.





Spring plants by habitat


Desert, Desert Grasslands, Cactus Forests


algerita

anemone

ash leaf

bricklebush

brittlebush

California poppy

canyon bursage leaf

cáscara sagrada bark

chia

cholla

copperleaf (southern California)

desert cotton

desert lavender

desert willow

elder leaf, flower

estafiate

evening primrose leaf, root

filaree

flor de tierra

globemallow

golden smoke

hackberry

jojoba

kidneywood bark

manzanita leaf

mock vervain

monkey flower

Mormon tea

mulberry leaf, fruit

ocotillo

oreganillo

plantain

prickly pear flower

red root

rhatany

sage

thistle

wild buckwheat

wild tobacco

yerba santa

yucca





Disturbed Areas, Gardens, Trailsides, Clearings


Bermudagrass

chickweed

curly dock

dandelion

desert willow

evening primrose leaf, root

filaree

globemallow

mallow

Mexican palo verde

mock vervain

mullein root

nettle leaf

oat (milky seed)

plantain

prickly pear flower

shepherd’s purse

Siberian elm

sow thistle

sweet clover

thistle

tree of heaven bark

wild tobacco

yerba santa





High Desert


algerita

bricklebush

cholla

curly dock

desert willow flower

estafiate

evening primrose leaf, root

filaree

monkey flower

Mormon tea

pine inner bark

queen’s root

rhatany

Siberian elm

thistle

wild buckwheat

yucca root





High-Elevation Conifer Forest


alder leaf, stem

anemone

Arizona cypress

aspen catkin

betony

cow parsnip root

elder leaf

evening primrose leaf, root

filaree

fireweed

globemallow

horsetail

mallow

mock vervain

monkey flower

mullein root

nettle leaf

pine inner bark

plantain

red root

thistle

violet

wild buckwheat

yucca





High Plains


algerita root, fruit

bricklebush

curly dock

desert willow bark, leaf, flower

estafiate

globemallow

mock vervain

plantain

prickly pear flower

rhatany

thistle

yucca





Hill Country


alder leaf, stem

algerita root, fruit

anemone

ash leaf

beebalm

blazing star

bricklebush

camphorweed

cáscara sagrada bark

curly dock

elder leaf, flower

estafiate

fanpetals

flor de tierra

globemallow

goldenrod

hackberry

hawthorn

hop tree leaf

horsetail

inmortál

kidneywood bark

mock vervain

mulberry leaf, fruit

nettle leaf

plantain

prickly ash bark, leaf

prickly pear flower

prickly poppy

queen’s root

rhatany

sage

silk tassel

skullcap

sweet clover

thistle

walnut leaf

violet

yarrow

yucca





Oak Woodlands


algerita root, fruit

anemone

bricklebush

cáscara sagrada bark

cholla

estafiate

evening primrose leaf, root

filaree

flor de tierra

globemallow

goldenrod

inmortál

manzanita leaf

mock vervain

monkey flower

mulberry leaf, fruit

nettle leaf

pine inner bark

plantain

prickly pear flower

red root

rhatany

sage

silk tassel

skullcap

thistle

violet

wild buckwheat

yerba santa

yucca





Prairie: North-Central Texas and Oklahoma


anemone

ash leaf

beebalm

blazing star

bricklebush

cáscara sagrada bark

chickweed

curly dock leaf

dandelion

elder leaf, flower

estafiate

goldenrod

golden smoke

hackberry

hawthorn

mock vervain

mulberry leaf, fruit

mullein root

plantain

prickly poppy

queen’s root

rhatany

sage

yarrow





Rivers and Canyons


alder leaf, stem

Arizona cypress

ash leaf

bricklebush

curly dock

dandelion

desert willow leaf, flower

elder leaf, flower

estafiate

evening primrose leaf, root

filaree

goldenrod

hackberry

hawthorn

hop tree leaf

horsetail

mock vervain

monkey flower

nettle leaf

oat

oreganillo

plantain

silk tassel

skullcap

thistle

walnut leaf

wild tobacco

willow bark

yerba mansa





South Texas Plains


algerita fruit

ash leaf

beebalm

blazing star

cáscara sagrada bark

estafiate

fanpetals

golden smoke

mock vervain

nettle leaf

plantain

prickly pear flower

prickly poppy

sage

skullcap

thistle

yarrow





SUMMER


There are two summers in the Southwest, a dry summer and a wet summer. In the central part of our region, the wet summer follows the dry summer, often beginning late June or early July. Conversely, from central Texas northward, the dry summer follows the wet summer. In southern California’s desert region, rains cease around April and don’t return until late autumn, early winter. Given elevation changes from below sea level to over 12,000 feet, our region offers a floral variety that rivals most of the continent. In the warmest and wettest areas of the Southwest, this results in seasonally tropical habitats—and summer is the time to explore this variety.

The dryness of the desert is akin to the proverbial clean slate. When the rains appear once again, baptizing the earth with their life-giving magic, seeds begin to sprout and perennial plants come alive again. This dynamic is tempered by the long, hot days of summer, challenging our bodies to stay cool and keep our internal organs properly moistened and nourished amid the searing temperatures. Inactivity, a form of hibernation, is often the best way to deal with this heat. Upon the first indications of autumn’s arrival in early August, our bodies feel a sense of relief; however, it will be a couple more months of heat before the nights are consistently cool enough to begin recharging our batteries.

Exposing our bare skin to the sun is necessary for our well-being, but if we are overexposed we can suffer. Just as in winter, moderation is more challenging in summer. Observe the habits of indigenous peoples and the creatures native to your area to better understand how to moderate the effects of the extreme seasons.



Spending time near water, tall trees, and moist earth is essential for our well-being in the summer.



As the chubascos (monsoon rains) drench the desert and pour down from the mountains, rivers and streams swell. A fullness is experienced by the landscape and the animals alike. Damp conditions become prominent and are exacerbated within those who carry dampness, or who dwell in more humid locations. Look to drying and cooling herbs (curly dock, Mormon tea, creosote bush) for topical and internal use when hot, damp weather aggravates skin conditions, respiratory problems, autoimmune conditions, or digestive disorders. Observe the effects of the weather patterns on your physical body, mental body, or emotional body. Noticing and acknowledging what is present before you lends a subtle power to your well-being. Your ability to make sound choices in advance of illness or harm, a skill that is rarely developed or communicated within our current cultural framework, will expand and grow in complexity.

The long days of summer can be spent exploring new terrain, gathering an abundance of herbal material, and processing robust and powerful medicines to store away for the seasons to come.





Summer plants by habitat


Desert, Desert Grasslands, Cactus Forests


algerita leaf, fruit

bricklebush leaf

brittlebush leaf, sap

buttonbush

camphorweed

cholla

cleavers

copperleaf

creosote bush

cudweed

desert lavender

desert willow leaf

elder berry

estafiate

evening primrose flower

fanpetals

prickly poppy

red root stem, flower

snakeweed





Disturbed Areas, Gardens, Trailsides, Clearings


agrimony

Arizona cypress leaf

beebalm

Bermudagrass

camphorweed

chaste tree

chickweed

cleavers

copperleaf

cudweed

curly dock leaf

desert willow leaf

evening primrose flower

fanpetals

gumweed

horseweed

mullein flower

oxeye daisy

pearly everlasting

puncture vine

self-heal

sweet clover

tickseed





High Desert


algerita leaf, fruit

blazing star flower

bricklebush

camphorweed

cleavers

cudweed

desert willow leaf, flower

elder

estafiate

evening primrose leaf, flower

filaree

globemallow

goldenrod

gumweed

horseweed

monkey flower

plantain

prickly pear

prickly poppy

rosemary mint

sage

snakeweed

thistle

yucca





High-Elevation Conifer Forest


agrimony

alder leaf, stem, catkin

algerita leaf, fruit

Arizona cypress leaf

aspen bark

beebalm

betony

bricklebush

chickweed

chokecherry fruit

cleavers

copperleaf

cow parsnip seed

cranesbill

cudweed

curly dock leaf

elder

evening primrose flower

figwort

fireweed

golden smoke

horsetail

horseweed

mullein flower

oshá root

pearly everlasting

red root stem, flower

sage

skullcap

spikenard leaf, fruit

wild mint

yarrow





High Plains


algerita leaf, fruit

beebalm

blazing star

bricklebush

buttonbush

camphorweed

chickweed

copperleaf

cranesbill

curly dock leaf

desert willow leaf

estafiate

golden smoke

gumweed

horseweed

snakeweed

yarrow





Hill Country


alder catkin

algerita leaf

anemone

beebalm

blazing star

bricklebush

buttonbush

camphorweed

chaste tree berry

chickweed

cleavers

copperleaf

cranesbill

cudweed

curly dock leaf

elder berry

estafiate

fanpetals

gumweed

horsetail

horseweed

passionflower

thistle

tickseed

walnut hull

yarrow





Oak Woodlands


algerita leaf, fruit

beebalm

betony

bricklebush

cleavers

copperleaf

cranesbill

cudweed

curly dock leaf

estafiate

evening primrose flower

horseweed

passionflower

plantain

red root stem, flower

tickseed

wild oregano





Prairie: North-Central Texas and Oklahoma


agrimony

alder leaf, stem, catkin

beebalm

blazing star flower

bricklebush leaf

buttonbush

chickweed

chokecherry fruit (late summer)

cleavers

cranesbill

cudweed

elder

estafiate

figwort

gumweed

horseweed

lobelia

snakeweed





Rivers and Canyons


agrimony

alder leaf, stem

Bermudagrass

bricklebush

buttonbush

camphorweed

chokecherry fruit

cleavers

copperleaf

cudweed

curly dock leaf

desert willow leaf

elder

estafiate

evening primrose leaf, flower

horsetail

horseweed

lobelia

Mormon tea

passionflower

self-heal

tickseed

walnut hull

wild mint





South Texas Plains


algerita leaf, fruit

beebalm

blazing star flower

camphorweed

cleavers

copperleaf

cranesbill

creosote bush leaf, stem, flower

cudweed

estafiate

fanpetals

goatbush fruit

horseweed

passionflower





AUTUMN


In the desert Southwest, the first hint of autumn comes on the cool, dry breezes of the early morning air at the beginning of August. By mid-autumn, at the autumnal equinox, the nights may show their first hint of cool crispness, yet they are still followed by warm, dry days. These days may be interspersed by heavy rains from offshore hurricanes, or chilly, damp weather that heralds the winter season to come. On either side of these wet spells, a warm, dry “mini spring” occurs in mid- to late autumn (mid-September to mid-October); perennial plants may put out new growth just as they would in spring, annual plants germinate, and some plants may attempt to flower once more before the arrival of winter and its shorter days of limited light.

In southern California, the rainy season begins by late autumn; in the eastern portion of our region, the summer rains continue through autumn and into winter again.

Autumn is a time of scaling back our energy output and gathering what has come to fruition. A time to begin reflecting on what we have endeavored to create and where we have ventured over the previous two seasons of expansion, while we appreciate the fruits of our labor. It is a time of richness in the fat of the land, and a time for appreciating all that we have been given.



Cool temperatures set maples ablaze with color each autumn.



Wild animals move about the land gathering up winter provisions to be stored within their bodies, in the earth, or in tree trunks. Many tiny life forms begin to transition, leaving their carcasses behind to replenish the soil which will nourish the new life to come.

As herbalists, our attention may shift toward root, seed, and bark medicines as some of the last flowers of the year make their appearance and transition into seed. Some medicines may come from our gardens, while others can be found only in the wild. These stands must be protected, looked after, and our deep gratitude continually offered to show our appreciation and encourage growth and renewal. The concentrated energy in root and seed is made into medicine as tincture, honey, or oil infusion, or dried for tea. Roots macerate on the shelf in a dark corner, slowly imbuing the solvent with their medicine, drop by drop.

The essence of these wild medicines will one day provide relief to those in need. The beauty of this circle of life is experienced in the form of healing by the humble plant friends we have come to know throughout the seasons.





Autumn plants by habitat


Desert, Desert Grasslands, Cactus Forests


algerita root

ash bark

canyon bursage root

cáscara sagrada bark

cholla root

creosote bush

desert lavender

desert willow bark, leaf

elder leaf

estafiate

evening primrose flower, root, seed

fanpetals

ocotillo bark

oreganillo

pecan fruit

prickly pear fruit

thistle root





Disturbed Areas, Gardens, Trailsides, Clearings


American licorice

Bermudagrass

curly dock root

desert willow leaf

evening primrose flower, root, seed

fanpetals

mallow

nettle seed

plantain

prickly pear fruit

sow thistle

thistle root





High Desert


algerita root

American licorice

blazing star root

cholla root

curly dock root

estafiate

evening primrose root, seed

juniper berry

prickly pear fruit

thistle root





High-Elevation Conifer Forest


alder bark

algerita root

aspen bark

chokecherry bark

evening primrose root, seed

juniper berry

mallow root

nettle root, seed

oshá root

plantain

spikenard root

thistle root

violet

yarrow root





High Plains


blazing star root

cholla root

curly dock root

desert willow leaf (uncommon)

echinacea root

estafiate

prickly pear fruit

thistle root





Hill Country


algerita root

alder bark

ash bark

blazing star root

cáscara sagrada bark

curly dock root

elder leaf

estafiate

fanpetals

hop tree bark

inmortál

juniper berry

nettle seed

pecan fruit

plantain

prickly ash fruit

prickly pear fruit

thistle root

violet





Oak Woodlands


algerita root

American licorice (southern Utah and southwestern Colorado)

cáscara sagrada bark

cholla root

estafiate

evening primrose

inmortál

juniper berry

monkey flower

nettle seed

prickly pear fruit

thistle root

violet





Prairie: North-Central Texas and Oklahoma


ash bark

blazing star root

cáscara sagrada bark

chokecherry bark

curly dock root

echinacea root

estafiate

juniper berry

mallow

plantain

thistle root

violet





Rivers and Canyons


American licorice

alder bark

ash bark

Bermudagrass

chokecherry bark

cottonwood bark

curly dock leaf, root

desert willow leaf

elder leaf

estafiate

evening primrose

hop tree bark

juniper berry

monkey flower

nettle seed

oreganillo

pecan

thistle root





South Texas Plains


algerita root

ash bark

blazing star root

cáscara sagrada bark

creosote bush

estafiate

fanpetals

nettle seed

prickly pear fruit

thistle root





MEDICINAL

PLANTS

OF THE

SOUTHWEST





agrimony


Agrimonia striata

PARTS USED aerial

Agrimony soothes and relaxes where tension breeds anxiety and frustration. Relaxing the liver, it brings warmth, through increased circulation, throughout the body.



The deeply divided and serrated leaves of agrimony fully clasp the stem, which is covered in stiff hairs.





How to identify


This herbaceous perennial has alternate leaves with serrated margins; the 7–13 oddly pinnate leaflets of each leaf are softly fuzzy on the underside. When first emerging, agrimony can be difficult to distinguish from Potentilla species (such that even herbarium specimens are frequently incorrect), so wait until the terminal flowering raceme begins to emerge, which clearly distinguishes agrimony from Potentilla and other high-elevation rose family relatives; nonetheless, the uses between Agrimonia and Potentilla are thought to be interchangeable (Wood 1997). Maturing at 20–40 inches tall, agrimony stands out amongst the surrounding lush vegetation once its tiny, 5-petaled yellow flowers begin to open. These are followed by small, round achenes with stiff burrs upon maturity.





Where, when, and how to wildcraft


Agrimony occurs abundantly in our high-elevation conifer forests. Look to shaded, moist areas, often alongside mountain streams. It can also be found (along with Agrimonia parviflora) in shaded areas of the plains of Oklahoma. Flowering begins mid-summer and continues into late summer. Gather the flowering stems and process fresh for tincture, if desired, or dry loosely in the shade for tea, or dry plant tincture.



Agrimony’s 5-petaled yellow flowers appear on terminal spikes by mid-summer.





Medicinal uses


All the species within our region have been used for medicine. Traditionally, agrimony has been used as an infusion to treat fever, build the blood, help soothe and limit vaginal discharge or diarrhea, and address various digestive complaints. Drink the hot infusion daily to improve leaky gut. It has been snuffed for nosebleeds and employed as an anti-emetic and, conversely, an emetic. In my own experience, I find it to be warming and relaxing, and a bit drying. Increasing the circulation initially, it brings a sensation of warmth throughout the body, which may relieve musculoskeletal pain or anxiety (particularly in cold, deficient states). The experience of increased blood flow links agrimony to the liver, further relating it to the female reproductive system, digestive complaints, and traditional applications of having “too much gall.” From an Ayurvedic perspective, this plant calms wind and enhances the fluidity of the bile humour. In Chinese medicine, it is used to reduce liver and gall bladder heat/constriction. It’s also astringent to the urinary tract, and it’s specific for kidney ailments as well as pain in the lumbar region passing through to the abdomen. Try agrimony for restricted breathing, tension headaches, or migraine. As a Bach flower remedy, agrimony is used when one hides their true feelings behind a cheerful facade. Applying the tea or tincture for tense, aggravated states will also prove beneficial.





Future harvests


Modest gathering practices (2 of every 10 flowering stems) will support the longevity of this plant in areas where it is already established. Consider digging up rhizomes in the autumn to replant in suitable locations.





HERBAL PREPARATIONS


Herb Tea


Standard Infusion

Drink 4–8 ounces, up to 3 times per day.





Flower/Leaf/Stem Tincture


1 part fresh herb, by weight

2 parts menstruum (95% alcohol), by volume

or

1 part dry herb, by weight

5 parts menstruum (50% alcohol, 50% spring water), by volume

Take 25 drops to 3ml, up to 5 times per day.





alder


Alnus incana ssp. tenuifolia, A. oblongifolia

alamillo

PARTS USED bark, leaf, stem, catkin

This age-old remedy offers a mild flavor and an array of medicinal applications. Apply in cases of skin rashes, chronic infections, swellings, sore joints, leaky gut, and much more.



Alder inflorescences appear in late autumn and open the following spring.





How to identify


Alder grows in two basic forms within our region—a tall tree (30–160 feet high) with a single trunk, or a shrubby tree (no more than 25 feet tall) with multiple thin trunks. All Alnus species have alternate leaves that are doubly serrated (the teeth have teeth). Alnus incana ssp. tenuifolia has narrower leaves, which are often rounded and lobed at the base; the leaves of A. oblongifolia are elliptic, oblong, or lance-shaped. The longer male catkins and cone-like female catkins occur on the same tree and appear in late autumn; they remain on the tree until they open in spring. The female catkins linger on the tree through summer and are brick-red upon maturity. The bark is dark gray and smooth, breaking up into oddly shaped flat plates as the tree ages. When elk and deer scratch their growing, itching antlers against an alder in the spring, they may reveal the bright reddish orange inner bark beneath.





Where, when, and how to wildcraft


This noble tree grows near water. Look streamside at mid- to high elevations in the central portion of our region. Alnus serrulata and A. maritima are occasionally found along the eastern edge of our region from Austin northward. The leaves and stems are best gathered in the spring; the catkins can be gathered late summer. For direction on harvesting bark, see “Gathering Tree