Saturday, June 25, 2016

Wildcrafting Basics: How to Reap the Healing Bounty of Mother Nature

So, you want to start using the abundant medicines of Mother Nature? To herbalists, the practice of harvesting wild plants and fungi is called wildcrafting. This can be a long trek through deep woods or a quick step into your own backyard. It counts as wildcrafting as long as the plants sprung up independently--in other words, they weren't grown by people.

Wildcrafting is a great way to get your herbal medicine for a few different reasons. For one, the plants are very fresh and rather inexpensive (by which I mean free). Wildcrafting is also a way to get in tune with the wild world and appreciate the bounty that grows all around us. It’s a practice that brings us back to our roots, literally and figuratively. Long before our ancestors farmed, they were hunters and gatherers, counting on what they brought home in their baskets to keep them alive. Even now, we too can return to nature and rediscover the life-giving plants that our ancestors used. 


Yarrow Leaf
The single most important aspect of wildcrafting is learning how to properly identify the plants--it can mean the difference between medicine and poison. Get yourself a good field guide for your area and start with what’s in bloom--flowers are by far the easiest way to identify plants. Even better, take a class with an herbalist, or find a trusted person who knows the local flora and go on a plant walk together. 

Before harvesting a plant, do some research to find out if it has any poisonous look-alikes. Queen Anne’s Lace is a notable example here, as its look-alike Poison Hemlock can be fatal when ingested. The two plants have several notable differences; for example, Hemlock has purple blotches on a smooth stem, and Queen Anne's Lace has a furry, green stem. But, every year a few people perish from picking Poison Hemlock by accident. (For more information on identifying these two plants, here's a more in-depth comparison.) When in doubt, don’t take any chances—especially with mushrooms. (Our fungal friends can provide delicious food, powerful visions, and deep healing...but they can also melt your insides. Identification is tricky at best, so be certain that you're certain.) Better safe than sorry!


When taking plants from nature, respect is crucial. Humanity in general must learn to revere rather than pillage our planet, and although herbalists are usually nature-lovers, the same is true when it comes to medicinal plants. Some herbs have become endangered due to over-harvesting, and it is the responsibility of each of us to ensure that these plants stay on the planet for future generations. 

St. John's Wort
United Plant Savers is an organization committed to this goal, and they have compiled a list of at-risk plants (click here to check it out). If your desired herb turns out to be rare and endangered, it’s best to leave it alone in the wild. You can often find suitable alternatives, as many different plants can be used to treat the same condition. But, if your favorite at-risk plant is simply irreplaceable in your eyes, believe me--I get it. Each plant has its own unique personality and spirit, and sometimes only the one you want will do. 

In this case, consider buying it from a sustainably-grown source--or learn how to grow it yourself! While growing at-risk plants like Goldenseal can be a challenge, it can also be an empowering experience, in which you also foster your own growth. In this way, you enter into a deeper relationship with your beloved plant and give back to Mother Nature. But I digress--back to wildcrafting!

Permission and Gratitude 

Sarah with Grandfather Pine

In keeping with the spirit of respect, it’s nice to practice gratitude when harvesting plants. Although many herbalists view the plant kingdom as simply a body of useful materials, those who are spiritually-oriented feel that each plant possesses a consciousness and a spirit. To honor this spirit, it’s best to ask permission from the plant before harvesting. Express your intention to harvest, and wait to receive a response; it could be an answer in your mind or simply a feeling. Plants are natural givers, so it’s likely that permission will be granted. If not, there is probably a good reason for it--perhaps the plant is trying to protect you from a nearby patch of Poison Ivy, for example. I've also heard stories from herbalists who've asked permission to harvest and heard a distinct "No," only to walk a few more feet down the path and discover a much bigger, better stand of plants waiting for them. Trust the guidance of the plants, and trust your own intuitive senses to receive their guidance.

During and after your harvest, give thanks to the plant. Be especially mindful when harvesting roots, for this usually requires taking the life of a plant. Many herbalists leave ceremonial offerings in return for their bounty. A bit of tobacco or cornmeal are traditional, but you can also leave a wooden bead, a lock of hair, or even a song—the important thing is that it has meaning for you.

Picking Potent Plants

Red Clover Harvest

When you’re ready to harvest, there are several tips that will help you pick healthy plants for your medicine cabinet. 

  • For starters, be mindful of the area: Is there much pollution? Is there a chance of contamination from chemicals? Tempting though it may be, it’s best to avoid roadsides. I know it's exciting when you see gorgeous medicinals on the side of the road--they seem to call your name, saying "Pick me! I'm right here!"  But consider all of the road trash, car exhaust, oil, and herbicides that land in those zones. Do yourself a favor and find those same plants elsewhere. Similarly, if you’re picking Dandelions from someone’s lawn, be sure they don’t use chemical fertilizers. In general, the more remote your location, the more pure the plants--with the exception of chemicals used in conventional farming. Avoid the edges of fields that are sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Again, I know this can be a tempting prospect, as many medicinals grow in border zones. But trust me--you want to make healthy medicine to use and share with your family and friends.
  • This may go without saying, but choose plants that look healthy, vibrant, and lush. Pick leaves that are green, not wilted, spotted, or browned. Use common sense--if a plant looks unhealthy or diseased, leave it alone. 
  • Consider your timing, as the rhythms of Nature are a crucial aspect of plant life. It helps to understand that each herb puts its energy into different parts of the plant at different times of the year. Spring is the best time to harvest leaves, because the plants are putting all of their vital energy into their green growth. After the plant begins to flower (the timing will vary depending on the plant), the leaves will lose some of their potency, as the energy has moved into the blossoms. Roots are best harvested in the fall, after the top portion has died back and the plant has pulled its essence underground. This may mean deferring gratification—perhaps you spot a bunch of Burdock in mid-summer, but wait until fall to harvest the roots. In today's society of instant-gratification, a little patience is a welcome lesson from our green friends.

With these tips in mind, you’re well on your way to a happy and healthy wildcrafting session. If you keep your eyes and heart open, you can discover the joy of providing yourself and your loved ones with healthy medicines straight from the wild heart of Mother Earth.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

How to Make Your Own Herbal Throat Spray

Antibacterial and antiviral compounds create an uninhabitable environment for all kinds of viruses and infections. - See more at:

Sore throat? Ugh--we all know what that's like. If you're like me, the throat is often where a cold first takes hold. It starts with a feeling of dryness or a tickle. Then it progresses into actual soreness. If I'm not careful, I might end up with a full-blown head cold--but not if I catch it early enough and use herbal remedies (along with rest) to fend it off.
Antibacterial and antiviral compounds create an uninhabitable environment for all kinds of viruses and infections. - See more at:

Herbal throat spray is a big part of my strategy when it comes to preventing colds. I can often fend off a cold or flu by keeping throat spray in my purse and using it throughout the day at the first sign of a sore throat.

While it might be tempting to reach for a conventional over-the-counter sore throat spray, these merely mask the symptom of pain are inferior for a couple of reasons. First, they only mask the symptom of soreness. They make your throat feel better for a while, but there is no real healing element in these sprays. In fact, it's just the opposite. They often contain artificial colors, flavors, and other chemicals--the last thing your body needs when its immune system is already compromised!

Herbal throat sprays are a great alternative, because they are full of antibacterial and antiviral ingredients that help soothe your sore throat while also creating an uninhabitable environment for all kinds of viruses and infections. And because you end up swallowing the mixture, it will also give your immune system a boost.

Throat spray also comes in handy even when you don’t feel sick. When you’re traveling, it can ease a dry throat caused by hotel rooms and airplanes. It’s nice to use before all kinds of performance, from speaking engagements to concerts. And if your voice gets hoarse during the show, you can use it again afterwards to get your voice back more quickly.

Antibacterial and antiviral compounds create an uninhabitable environment for all kinds of viruses and infections. - See more at:
While there are several fine natural throat sprays on the market, it's far less expensive to make your own. It's also quite easy, provided that you can make a tincture. (Need some help with that? Here is a nice article that will teach you how.) Plus, the process fosters a deeper connection with your medicine. When you get involved with your own healing process, you create a strong intention for health that works with the mind, body, and spirit to foster healing on multiple levels.

Fresh, Homegrown Goldenseal Root

Choosing the Herbs


There are many plants with medicinal qualities to heal a sore throat and boost the immune system. I will list several so that you can pick and choose based upon your needs and what is available in your area. If you’ve never made a tincture before and are starting from scratch, it’s easiest to choose 2-3 plants to start out with. As you continue to dabble with herbalism, you can always add more plants to your brew. Of course, you can also purchase pre-made tinctures, but that will add more cost to your throat spray.

  • Sage: Specific remedy for sore throat; antimicrobial and antioxidant.
  • Thyme: Highly antiseptic, anti-fungal and expectorant.
  • Echinacea: Superb immune-booster that heals all kinds of infections; anti-inflammatory to ease pain; also cleanses blood and lymph for detoxification.
  • Red Root: Specific for sore throat, even severe conditions like mononucleosis, tonsillitis and pharyngitis.
  • Goldenseal: Antibacterial and antifungal; eases chronic inflammation of the throat and pharynx. (This is a strong remedy as well as an at-risk plant, so use it sparingly in your formula.)
  • Horehound: Treats hoarseness and laryngitis; expectorant.
  • Marshmallow: Has a soothing and softening effect; especially useful for dry throat.
  • Elderberry: Tasty and sweet; antiviral and anti-inflammatory.
  • Elderflower: Opens the throat for speaking and singing; also good for cold, flu and fever.
  • Tulsi/Holy Basil: Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiviral remedy that adds a pleasant flavor.

Other Ingredients

With a blend of herbal extracts as your base, now it’s time to add two more (optional) ingredients:

  • Tea Tree essential oil will really enhance the antiseptic qualities to nip any infection in the bud. Start with just a couple of drops and increase to tolerance.
  • To sweeten the deal, stir in a bit of honey. A supremely healing substance on its own, honey has natural antiseptic properties that will heal and soothe a sore throat. It also greatly improves the taste of your throat spray, which can be strong and bitter depending on which tinctures you add.

Final Tips

A 1-ounce glass spray bottle is a great way to keep your throat spray handy and portable. If you make a larger batch, put the rest in an airtight glass jar, label it, and store it in a cool, dark place. Alcohol, essential oils, and honey are all natural preservatives, so your remedy will keep for a long time (we're talking years).

It’s as simple as that! Herbal throat spray is a wonderful tool that will help keep you healthy everywhere you go. It also makes a nice homemade gift for family and friends.