Befriending Plants…Heal All

I had been busy, too busy to choose a plant to teach on for my Befriending Plants class.  There are so many plants that I treasure and want to introduce others to in a more memorable way.

The day of my class, I got up early to hike to the white rock overlooking the valley.  It is my favorite place to watch the sunrise.

As I sat there asking for guidance the sun’s first rays bore a hole in the hills on the horizon and instantly the pasture surrounding me sparkled with glowing gems of dew illuminated with the light.  I thought of the verse “The sun of Righteousness will come with healing in His wings”.  Now with the sun’s light illuminating my ability to read, I opened my Bible to Luke chapter 1 looking for the words Zacharias uttered when his baby boy, John the Baptist, was born, “And you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord (the Messiah) to prepare His ways; to give His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise (the Messiah) from on high will dawn and visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Wow, Jesus is our Healer!  He came to make broken things whole…to shine Light in the darkness…to heal the broken hearted…to bring Life out of death…Peace.

And then I saw my plant, Heal All or Prunella vulgaris.

It’s royal purple flower spikes were carpeting the illumined landscape celebrated with the strength of the sun’s rays.  I picked one and looked at it fascinated by it’s beauty magnified by the jewelers loupe.  I recalled all the herbal preparations I had used it for in the past and it’s healing powers.

God gave me my plant to introduce for the day and now I could hardly wait to share this precious gift with my students.

At the beginning of each class I share a devotional, which I had just been given on the mountain side J And since I was teaching about a plant of rather remarkable healing qualities, I asked my friends to share someone in their life that is a true healer and always made them feel better.  We shared our stories and then I introduced them to this beautiful perennial plant.

Prunella vulgaris is the proper name for a highly powerful healing plant.  It didn’t earn the nicknames: Heal Al, Self Heal or All Heal for nothing!

Prunella’s beautiful orchid-like flower spikes are magnificent to behold under a jewelers loupe, lavender faces that bloom from tiny plum shaded buds.  Prunella means little plum for this reason and vulgaris is Latin for common.   Vulgaris is the name given to herbs that were commonly used for healing (Thymus vulgaris, Artemisia vulgaris…)

The family is lamiaceace, the mint family, and has it’s familiar characteristic of the square stem, opposite leaves, and irregular flowers.  It is not however, aromatic as most lamiaceace (Mint) family members are famous for.

For centuries this ubiquitous sprawling plant was considered a medicine cabinet all to itself, but sadly it has been neglected and under appreciated in all but traditional Chinese medicine today.

Edible?

Yes…as a tea or raw (chopped fine) in a salad for it’s bitter digestive qualities.  It is high in Vit A, B, C and K, and manganese and zinc are it’s key minerals.

Medicinal?

Heal All is used as an alterative, antibacterial, antibiotic, anti inflammatory, antimuteagenic, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent, bitter, carminative, cholagogue, diuretic, febrifuge, hemostatic, hypotensive, immune stimulant, liver stimulant, stomachic, tonic vasodiolator, vermifuge and vulnerary.  It earned the nickname for historically being used for everything that ails you.

I will highlight only a few of it’s many virtues and how to prepare it for each health challenge.

  • Vulnerary

Self Heal is perhaps known best for it’s vulnerary (wound healing) properties. Another nickname “Carpenters Weed” indicates this plant to be useful for any mishap a carpenter might face. Good for bumps, hammer blows, bruises, sprains, strains, scrapes.

The salves, liniments, and creams I have made with the fresh plant are useful for this.  I like adding Rosemary and Lavender essential oil to a Prunella infused olive oil to rub into strained muscles or bruises.  Rosemary essential oil has a powerful circulatory action stimulating the blood flow and a gentle rubbing of this oily combination will help disperse the stale blood and bring fresh blood to the injured area facilitating healing, Prunella does the rest.  It is really remarkable.

To make an infused oil with this plant or any plant, simply gather it fresh at the peak of it’s energy, dry it a bit in the sun, chop with a knife to break the cell walls releasing the healing constituents, cover with a good quality seed oil to infuse for a few weeks, keep it covered and stir daily, finally pour off the infused oil and bottle for use when making salves, lip balms, liniments and creams.  Heal All helps things heal up a bit faster.

My herb mentor, Heather Nic an Fhleisdeir sold infused Prunella vulgaris olive oil to a cosmetic company in Italy who contacted her for Heal All infused oil to use in making lipstick for cold sores.  The first run of the oil was a hit and they were selling 500 lipsticks a day.  Now they have 20,000 orders.

We made some lip balm at our foraging class on Friday with the infused oil and everyone loved it.   I also made a roller with the oil and some Melissa oil for ready use for anything topical.

  •  Antiviral

Many herbs are also anti viral, Prunella vulgaris is excellent at treating all things viral.  Ulcers of the mouth, herpes, cold sores or ulcers in the mouth… Make a lip balm with the infused oil for cold sores.  Gargle with a strong infusion of the tea made with the dried plant for mouth ulcers and taken as a tincture for internal use as an antiviral are all great options for attacking viral conditions.

Another great use for Prunella tea is as an eye wash for sties and pink eye.  It’s astringent, antiviral, antiseptic and anti inflammatory properties work so quickly and effectively.  Make a weak tea and wash infected eyes with the tea.

  • Immune Stimulant, make a strong tea or take the tincture in a bit of warm water.  My herb mentor Heather Nic an Flheisdeir says this about Prunella vulgaris

“I especially love Prunella for her antibiotic action.  At the first sign of infection adding Prunella to herbal maintenance helps to shorten the duration of an illness.  At the same time, if the infection is bacterial in nature, Prunella will help to fight off the bacterial infection as well as a viral infection.”

  • As a Bitter it upgrades digestion, helps a sluggish liver get back to work and stimulates bile flow.  I love eating it’s flower heads chopped small in a raw salad to get the bitter benefits.
  • High Blood pressure, Prunella’s diuretic, vasodilation and hypotensive actions are helpful for lowering blood pressure.
  • Heal All contains ursolic acid, an anti tumor compound that can be useful for treating tumors.  As an anti mutagenic, it can stop the growth of mutagenic cells.

This plant is so smart, it knows how to take care of troubles of all kinds.

Today this plant is underutilized as a medicinal herb which is a shame since it grows readily wherever it is planted and has such a wide variety of uses.  Prunella should be found in every medicine cabinet.

Here are some of the ensuing poems that my students wrote about this beautiful yet powerful healing herb.

Prunella Poem by Lynn Maxwell

Fuzzy wuzzy was Prunella,
She’s a little square stemmed fella. 
Orchid like her flower face, 
All healing is her saving grace. 
Speared green leaves and purple blooms,
Selfheal will mend all your wounds. 
Drink in tea or salve your cut,
It will heal you head to butt!

 

Prunella Poem by Laura Weant

Prunella Vulgaris
Bitter-tasting sweet medicinal
Spiky wound healer
Fever reducer
Un-minty germ killer, anti-tumeral
your fuzzy, pointy flowerhead lies low
but fast advances
tiny orchid antiviral
green cone-like blood clotter
in honey, in tea, infused in oil
you heal all wounds
from beginning to end
little plum
little pineapple
little orchid
nothing little about you

The last thing I shared after the poems were read and enjoyed, was a time when God used Heal All, Self Heal, All Heal, Prunella to heal my broken heart.

April 2, 2014 I sat under a magnificent Maple tree on a mountain top waiting for the phone call from my husband to tell me that our son had died.  Brian was a wingsuit pilot that survived a flying accident in the mountains of Switzerland. He was filming for a TV show on BASE jumping and wingsuit flying.  Rescued by helicopter on the cliff’s edge he was on life support at a hospital in Bern.  My husband had the privilege of being with him and though he was not conscious we had hopes of his survival. When the MRI results revealed no brain activity…we had to let Brian go.  Once this decision was made I knew my son would only be breathing for an hour on his own and I asked to not ‘pull the plug’ till I was on my mountain top alone with God.

The time I had on that summit was one of the most precious times I have ever had with my Savior.  I asked for a blue bird to comfort me but Jesus sent a hawk instead.  It flew straight at me and did aerobatics right over my head showing off it’s agility and then flew into the sun.  At that very moment my cell phone rang and my beloved husband spoke these words, “Brian is with Jesus now”, “I know”, I whispered.

I will never forget the Love that filled my soul and the tangible ways that God held me in my grief on that day and the days that followed. 

The following Winter, further grief sent me back to my mountain top and there under the same Maple tree I discovered literally thousands of Heal All seed heads right where I had been sitting at Brian’s passing.  I picked one and God told me that He would heal ALL that hurt and make me whole in His love.  The tears I cried were healing tears and the bouquet I picked of Heal All seed heads I have to this day.

 

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds, healing their pain and comforting their sorrow.” Psalms 147:3

Once again I am reminded that we are here to be Loved by the One who is Love itself and we are not alone.

 

Forage to Feast with Marc Williams

Marc and sign

One of my favorite WILD peeps

My dear mentor, Marc Williams, came to my house to do his thing! Which is to lead us on a Forage to Feast wild foodie event!   In 2009 I attended a wild feast Marc hosted with his mentor, Frank Cook, and that began a wild fire that has been blazing ever since!  Marc is a renowned ethnobotanist, wild plant authority, author and teacher extraordinaire, world traveler, gourmet chef…to name a few of his virtues. 25 of us enjoyed his fascinating plant walk and then we all cooked up a storm with the wild edibles that I had been ‘buying’ from nature’s supermarket in preparation for this event in my wild kitchen.

First, Marc led us on a plant walk around our land. Each person was given a recipe to be responsible for and to forage for.  Marc’s talk added a new edible possibility to my bucket list: making nut milk from my Shagbark Hickory nuts!  After we  garbled our catch (my term for sorting our weeds), we cooked our entree for the big meal. Finally, we feasted on nature’s bounty and enjoyed each other’s company as we sipped Dandelion root coffee, wild meads and enjoyed a Queen Anne’s Lace carrot cake for dessert.

Pretty sure that everyone’s horizons were expanded as we rediscovered the green gifts that God has so generously provided for our food and medicine… reconnected to our roots and reclaimed some knowledge that will feed our bodies and spirits.

Marc teaching

Getting to know each other’s stories and hearing Marc launch us into the world of wild edible weeds. So fascinating!

Plant walk with Marc

Marc teaching us about the plants as we walked around my house. Interesting to note, that Lambsquarter is the weed responsible for turning him into a wild foodie! He spent an entire Winter making cold frames to grow spinach, tending the seeds and spacing them, cultivating and in the Spring the baby Lambsquarter was far more vibrant and abundant, 7 times higher in nutrition than Spinach and it was FREE. Sold!

 

The Process

Preparing for a Forage to Feast is a bit like giving birth to a unicorn.  It is a LOT of work.  Fortunately, I love this kind of work and I have an artist husband who is always willing to go ‘shopping’ with me to an organic farm of grocery store for the photo ops it affords him.  And Max (our Jack Russel terrorist) likes the adventure as well! 

Shopping

I dug up Burdock roots at an organic farm in Valle Crucis,  plucked Milkweed buds and pods from several Milkweed patches, snipped Plantain seed stalks from a lush patch along the New River, collected green Cattail cobs from the swamp with my new wild friend Louise Klein, dug up Wild Carrot first year roots at Molly’s Branch farm, gathered a bushel of Amaranth and Lambsquarter leaves at another nearby farm, clipped green Elderberry umbels, snipped a LOT of Purslane…and that is just the shopping part…

Burdock root FIG

Shopping for Burdock root is WORK…but so worth it!

Cattail swamp

I love this place! I love Cattail!

Milkweed patch

Milkweed at the potato stage. I can never have enough! Stocking up for pickles and other goodies for the Winter.

Garbling

Once I am home with the free food the real work begins….  Garbling each wild edible, getting rid of buggy parts, a few bugs, yellowed leaves, anything that doesn’t pass my inspection.  Then the roots need to be scrubbed, although this time I scrubbed the Burdock roots in the cool mountain stream which made it EASY!

Burdock and Max

Max helped me cleaned the roots in the creek. I found that by shoving them point first into the sand it did a fine job of scrubbing! I will remember this!

Ready to Boil and Eat

Green Cattail Cobs ready to strip their meat off and marinate

Preparing

Everything is gathered, inspected, sorted, cleaned, bagged and then comes the preparation.  I made Elderberry capers with their green berries a week in advance of the Piccata recipe so they’d be pickled just right.  Marinated the meat of the green cattail flowers. Destrung the stringiness of the Burdock stems, Parboiled the Milkweed flower buds and pods so they’d be ready to cook with, made Beebalm, Peppermint, and Goldenrod tea from last year’s tea stash, Elderberry, Beauty Berry and Kudzu Flower Spritzers with water kefir grains.  Cheryl came over the day before and helped me make the Wild Carrot cake and the Wild Seed Crackers.  Thank you Cheryl!

MW flower buds

Milkweed flower buds ready to use in cooking. Boil for 3 minutes in salted rolling boil. These were used in our Spaghetti sauce.

Organization

A cuisine theme of Mediterranean was chosen…so now to choose the recipes to feature the wild delectables in….all non wild ingredients need to be purchased…recipes need to be printed out for the cooks to refer to…stations need to be set up in my kitchen and porches to put all ingredients and utensils for each cook to have easy access to…. steeping teas need to be refrigerated…mason jars labeled with each name…the house prepared for guests…flower picked and arranged for centerpieces…table set…the welcome sign on the road…water boiled for the air pot… last minute phone calls of people canceling or asking it there is still room for a wild foodie to attend….

Centerpiece

One of my wild apprentices, Hannah Hengst, arranged our centerpieces for the long table.  She has that knack!

Are you tired yet?  And to think I used to do these Forage to Feast events once a month!  Phewww!

Set table

One of my MOs for cooking and eating well, is to have the table set in advance of the meal. Makes everyone think dinner is going to be awesome, even if I haven’t decided what to cook yet!

Marc feast table

Just a few of our wild dishes: edible flower salad, purslane quinoa salad, burdock stem pizza rolls and wild carrot cake….the milkweed lasagna, chicken and portobello piccata and cattail polenta were on the stove and the drinks at the drink bar.

Portabella Milkweed pod piccata

Portobello Milkweed Piccata with Elderberry capers!

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WIld dinner on a burdock leaf

Burdock leaves make lovely plates

 

Wild Mediterranean Menu

 click on the links for the recipes and some of Holly’s wild cooking tips

Beverages
Wild teas: Beebalm, Peppermint, Goldenrod Punch
Wild Sodas: Kudzu Flower Grape Soda, Beauty Berry Soda, Elderberry Spritzer
Hot drinks: Dandelion Root Coffee
Wild Meads

Appetizers
Violet Leaf Hummus & Carrot Sticks
Wild Seed Crackers & Brie

Salads
Wild Leaves & Edible Flowers 
Purslane Quinoa Salad

Main dish
Chicken or Portobello Cap Piccata w/ Elderberry Capers, Milkweed Pods & Burdock Root Mushrooms

Cattail Cob, Amaranth Polenta
Pizza Rolls w/ Burdock Stems
Milkweed Bud Lasagna

Dessert
Wild Carrot Cake w/ QAL Cream Cheese Icing &  Edible Flowers
Plantain & Lambsquarter Seed Fudge

wild-carrot-cake-rev

Wild Carrot Cake, decorated by Brook Brown with edible flowers. Brook also made the Queen Anne’s Lace jelly that I mixed with cream cheese and butter for the icing. Beautiful!

Thank you everyone for the lovely evening!  We were a team!!  Thank you Marc for your wild wisdom and caring heart!  Thank you God for the variety of green gifts that you have hidden for us in plain view!

Wild Blessings abound!

Holly

“We all wait for You to give them our food in due season.
You give to us, we gather it up;
You open Your hand, we are satisfied.
You send forth Your Spirit, and we are created;
And You renew the face of the ground.”  Psalms 104:27-30