Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. This is the time of year when the mountain meadows and forests are their most fragrant and flowerful. Blooms have just passed their peak, with many already dimming a bit. Their aroma drifts from the heated dust and duff, pungent with the herbal bounty.
A week ago last Saturday, on August 8, local herbalist Arwen Ek took a group, most of them visiting from California, on a trek through the Mud Lake Open Space area. Their purpose involved seeking wild weeds that are edible as well as medicinal.
The Californians were delighted with the perfect weather and the landscape as they ambled through the woods, learning from Arwen what was good to eat and what would make them feel good. It was notable that some of the weeds they sought are also the ones that are considered noxious and are being pulled out and destroyed in and about the Town of Nederland.
Before the group began their tour, they were each given a bag to hold their collection of plants, stalks, leaves and flowers for the hands-on workshop that followed at the Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center.
Arwen knelt next to a dark green patch of kinnikinnick, or bearberry (which is native, not noxious). The glossy leaves are evergreens with bright red berries that ripen in the fall. The thick ground-cover plant’s berries were just beginning to ripen. The leaves are historically known to be smoked by Native Americans. Bearberry tea, she said, is healing for bladder infections and kidney stones and may be added to smudge sticks.
The next stop was at a common Ponderosa pine, whose needles, said Arwen, could be boiled into a “get well drink,” as they are packed with Vitamin C. She said that one could smash the needles and add raw apple cider vinegar and honey and allow to sit in a cellar for up to six weeks and it will be a great mid-winter boost to the immune system.
In the middle of an unassuming patch of hard dirt, the gray-green leaves of artemesia, known to many as our local sage plants, scented the air with its spicy fragrance. It grows everywhere in the mountain area and is most used for smudge sticks. It is also, Arwen said, an effective bug repellant and may be as steam for chest congestion. Pick both the flowers and stems, mix with honey, and add juniper berries. According to Arwen, artemesia tea is often used for urinary tract infections and when juniper berries are added, may be used for joint pain associated with arthritis.
“Wild geranium stuffed up one’s nose will stop a nosebleed and it also makes a nice tea,” said Arwen. “It also good for bleeding gums and bronchitis. Mother Earth has natural abundance; there is everything we need right here.”
Arwen sat down under a tree and pulled a drum out of her large bag. Her son Jimmy, 2, beat it a few times and then his mom led the group in a chant expressing their gratitude for the abundant planet. She said her mother raised her in the art of wild crafting and taught her to talk and sing to the plants.
“My mom, Peggy Ek, raised me in the Wise Woman tradition of herbalism as taught by herbalist, educator, and author Susun Weed: ‘The Wise Woman tradition is the oldest tradition of healing known on our planet, yet one that is rarely identified, rarely written or talked about. It is an invisible tradition….The Wise Woman tradition is an oral tradition…and flows from experience rather than faith in books; from creativity rather than dogma; from many unique individuals creating new ways….There’s no president, no guru, no chairman of the board. There are no rules to follow. You can’t get a degree or certificate in the Wise Woman tradition. You can’t be tested on it, because there are no right and wrong answers.’ “
Arwen’s mother kept an extensive herb garden with nettles, hops, yarrow, comfrey, and mint. She put comfrey on Arwen’s “owies” and gave yarrow tea for fever. The songs and chants sung at the Wild Weeds Workshop were the same songs her mother sang to her as a child.
When Arwen moved to the mountains, Peggy Ek was happy to show off all the thriving medicinal plants growing wild on their land. As they walked along, her Peggy exclaimed, “you have wild violets!” The plants are so tiny and so well hidden she had completely overlooked this important edible and medicinal herb.
Six years ago Arwen’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. She treated it with herbs and homeopathy, and watched the cancer go into remission for a while. Then it came back and she opted for conventional treatment. She self-treated with oatstraw to help keep her strength, nettles to recover quickly from chemo, and even red clover to melt away smaller cancerous lumps.
“I imbibed profound wisdom watching her living fiercely and dying gracefully with the help of natural remedies and her Wise Woman ways,” said Arwen.
Although she wasn’t a good student as a child, Arwen’s mother’s quiet, simple ways in the garden planted seeds that are just now beginning to sprout and she is finding her inspiration here in the mountains.
Arwen’s budding non-profit, The Holistic Homestead, is all about increasing health literacy by sharing the joy of healing with simple medicines, remembering how our not-so-distant ancestors lived in harmony with the environment and had all the food and medicines they needed, and bringing more self-sufficiency to the community.
Arwen stopped in front of a tall, small-leafed plant that had yellow flowers and smelled like summer. Right now the yellow sweet clover lines most roadsides, dispensing its fresh-cut grass aroma everywhere. Yellow sweet clover relieves insomnia, stress, headaches, and depression, according to Arwen.
All thistles are good for the liver, she says, especially musk thistle, which is on the noxious weed list. Mullein tea relieves cough symptoms and is “nature’s toilet paper,” she added. “If the mullein flowers are mixed with oil and garlic, it will soothe earaches. Dried mullein makes a convenient torch and smoking mullein leaves can help one stop smoking.”
The group returned to Wild Bear for lunch, which included rice pudding with dandelion syrup, dandelion salad with nettle dressing, and hummus spiced with Nettle Me seasoning.
Emptying their bags, they began concocting their own balms and oils and smudge sticks, using what they had gathered at Mud Lake. Achy Joints was the favorite medicinal rub and is one of Arwen’s bestsellers.
Babz Cauchon of San Diego said the wild weeds tour was exactly what she had hoped it would be. “I feel like we came here just for this cosmic event. It is serendipity.”
For more information, contact http://theholistichomestead.org or for those interested in Homestead products they can e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.