Monday, October 25, 2004

Madrone (Arbutus texana)

A few weeks ago, I can across a stand of plants that I don’t get to see very often: Texas Madrone trees (Arbutus texana). These small, beautiful trees are native to the Texas Hill Country, growing on limestone hills from here to west Texas, southeastern New Mexico, and down into Mexico. Texas Madrone bark is smooth to the touch, pinkish, and it darkens and peels away from the tree as it ages. The leaves are simple, thick and leathery.

A few days before I found this small but healthy stand of small Madrone trees, I had been wondering about my “UTI Free” formula. “UTI” stands for “urinary tract infection”. I designed the formula to help clear out a bad UTI, a common problem experienced by many women [especially those in their 20s] and the formula works quite well. However, the formula relies on Manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.), a wild medicinal plant that I gathered last time I was out in Arizona, but which does not grow wild here in Central Texas. What was I going to do when I ran out of Manzanita? What could I use locally that would have the same kind of astringent effect on the urinary tract?

When I came across the Madrone stand, I knew right away the answer to my question. Madrone leaves can be substituted for Manzanita (as well as for its better known sister herb Uva-Ursi) in teas, sitz baths, and yes, tincture formulas such as my UTI Free formula.

I carefully gathered some leaves – just a few from each tree, so few that no one would be able to tell that I had even been there – and took them back to my office kitchen to tincture them. Once again my beloved plants had come to my aid!

Sunday, October 3, 2004

Gumweed (Grindelia sp.)

I am thrilled! Tomorrow I get to head west of Austin, into the beautiful Hill Country, and gather some gumweed (Grindelia sp.). My friend Shakti says it’s blooming! and so we will go to gather this old and much-needed friend.

The last time I gathered gumweed was 1997. It was actually my first ever wildcrafting trip; my friend Deirdre and I set out to study with Michael Moore (the herbalist not the filmmaker) in the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado. But I ran out of that batch of gumweed tincture years ago, and have been unable to find it since. Until this spring.

This member of the composite family (Asteraceae) has yellow flowers (no surprise if you know the composite family), sticky leaves, and even stickier flowerheads. This sticky resin may serve us in two ways as medicine: the first, as a first rate bronchitis remedy, and the second, my favorite, ... as a poison ivy remedy. We just gather the sticky flowerheads to make poison ivy remedy tincture.

One customer in particular is very poison ivy prone, and has been asking me for more gumweed for the past two years. The first time she used it, I told her to take the tincture internally, and to cut out spicy foods, dairy, and alcohol. She reported definite relief from the itching, and the poison ivy cleared up more quickly than usual.

So for all of you that are poison ivy magnets, give us a couple of weeks for the tincture to macerate, then go ahead and place your order for gumweed tincture, the poison ivy remedy supreme!

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Vervain (Verbena sp.)

Blue Vervain (Verbena spp.) Verbena, “Vervain,” or “Blue Vervain,” is one of our wildflower medicines of Texas springtime. We have at least three species of medicinal usefulness (see hyperlinks below for photos): Verbena halei and V. hastata, which are tall (2-3 feet) with small blue or purple flowers on the tall spikes, and V. bipinnatifida, a species we see often in cultivation (they seem to be every at the Wildflower Center, for example), with small but showy pink, magenta, or purple flowers in a circle at the terminus of the stems. I have used both V. halei and V. bipinnatifida with success for nerve-soothing (nervine) and sedative properties. As a tea, verbena is bitter, and is best tempered with other, tastier herbs. Because of this bitterness, I generally use the herb either as a tincture or a glycerite. At the onset of a cold, when your body aches and you have trouble sleeping, verbena is lovely for soothing the nerves and promoting general relaxation, often allowing you to sleep if you need to. I give verbena glycerite to my daughter, sometimes alone, as a “simple”, or in combination with valerian and chamomile, when she is wound-up and its 11 PM and mama and papa need their beauty rest. Works like a charm. Check out these photos on line and see if you can’t find some verbena growing nearby! Remember, never gather by the side of the road, and only gather if you are certain you have the correct plant (!!) and the plant is found in abundance.

Friday, February 6, 2004

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Winter is not quite over, yet herbalists around town are stumbling out of hibernation as our plant friends are making their first appearances. Chickweed (Stellaria media), a fragile little cute lookin’ plant with bitty little white flowers (see photo:, is abundant enough for harvesting right now. It only grows in Central Texas when it is still chilly at night; once the warm weather moves in, chickweed dies back. A common garden “weed” in February, it’s nowhere to be seen in July. Get it while you can! Chickweed has a natural affinity for children. My 3-year-old daughter loves to find it and eat it straight from the garden. A salve made from the above-ground parts of the plant (i.e. the leaves, stems, and flowers), is particularly soothing to itchy bug bites and small, inflamed cuts, scrapes or “ouchies”.

Chickweed Salve Instructions: Collect about a quarter cup of chickweed; brush off excess dirt. Spread chickweed loosely across piece of cardboard (to absorb moisture) and allow chickweed to wilt for at least a day. Place the wilted plant (now about an eighth of a cup) in a clean Mason jar with 8 ounces (1 cup) olive oil, making sure all the chickweed is below the surface of the oil. Herbalist Niki Telkes taught me the trick to making good chickweed salve: cover the jar with cheesecloth and the screw lid, but leave off the top lid, so that the chickweed oil can “breathe.” This lessens the chances of the chickweed oil going bad. Let the chickweed oil steep in a warm but not hot place, like the top of the refrigerator or hot water heater. After two weeks, strain the oil (discarding the plant material) into a measuring cup (measure the amount of oil you have left). Pour oil into a pan (double boiler is best); add x amount of beeswax. Turn heat on low, and stir, allowing beeswax to melt. When beeswax is completely melted, remove from heat and pour mixture into small salve receptacles. Allow it to harden before using. Enjoy!