Summer Cocktails: Herbal Syrups, Bitters + Recipes

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fresh herbs, warm breezes and evenings that come to life. Summer is one of my favorite seasons for luxury and languor. When the days are hot and the hours long I usually find myself gravitating toward nighttime kitchen crafting and, of course, cocktails.

Ingredients arrayI am a night owl by nature. I thrive like a moonflower in rich evening hues. When the clock strikes midnight something about those high shadows bring me to life. It’s been that way since before I can remember, I imagine it’ll remain that way for the rest of my life. Summer, in all its bounty of cucumber nights, tangy sunsets and sherbet-colored sunrises, is the one season where such late night behavior is not only condoned, it’s encouraged.

Last month we hosted our annual summer cocktail soiree. Every year we kick the gathering up another notch. Usually we put out at least several herbal cocktail potions for people to sample, often with a written invocation to read and a deep intention to set the mood. This year, inspired by the rainbowed bounty of our well-tended garden, we offered a whole bar of fresh squeezed juice, seasonal syrups, and medicinal bitters for our guests to peruse.Cocktail color canvasHerbs are the original liqueur accoutrements; they have the ability to give any drink a touch of the sensational. Long before herbalists were making tinctures, herb folk of all kinds were using plants to ferment meads, spice cordials, and smooth liquors. The whole ritual of a pre-dinner cordial originated as a way to improve digestion by imbibing medicinal digestive bitters.

Crafting your own bitters and syrups is simple, and sure to make a wave at your next soirée. I love to focus on what is most currently bursting into bloom. Medicine making, like superb hostessing skills, is about way more than just combining the ingredients. It is an alchemical mix of season and sensation, temptation and mood. I prefer to create my syrups and bitters in tune with nature’s own rhythm, encapsulating each herb at the height of their potency or bloom. By doing so each bottle becomes a kind of capsule, an entryway into a distinctively fragrant, intoxicatingly specific moment in time.Strawberry syrup photoAs a hostess, I am interested in creating an experience that can be remembered with every one of the senses. Unique, exploratory, and delicious—Herbal bitters and liqueurs will never be forgotten. Interested in crafting your own medicinal syrups and sensational brews? Read on for some simple how-to’s…

Tulsi syrup

+++ Medicinal Syrups +++

Medicinal syrups are simple, versatile and oh-so delicious. Syrups make wonderful medicine for young children or the picky of palate, and are simply divine when mixed with late-evening cocktails.

  1. Gather, Harvest, Chop. To start, harvest or gather your material. I like to collect what is most fresh, abundant and seasonally sensational. How much material you harvest will depend on how much syrup you’d like to create! In general, you can guesstimate by chopping or otherwise pressing your herb into a measuring cup. You can expect the finished product to produce about as much volume as the original fresh herb. (Ex: If I harvested ½ oz of fresh lavender flowers, I will generally expect ½ oz finished syrup)

Note on processing: Some small or delicate herbs, like lavender flowers for example, will not need to be further chopped or processed. Simply add them straight to your water. Bark, like black birch, will need to be stripped from the branches with a knife. Roots must be roughly chopped, a butchers knife or pair of pruners work well.

            Dry vs Fresh: Fresh herbs already have a good amount of water content inherent to them, so they will be fluffier, bigger, and more voluminous than dry herbs. As a general rule I use a 1:1 ratio of herb to water if using fresh herbs, and a 1:2 ratio of herb to water if using dried herbs.

  1. Make a strong tea. Once you have your herb chopped or otherwise processed you are ready to make the base of your syrup…a strong tea!

If using herbs + flowers: Make an infusion- bring your water to a boil separately, than turn the burner off completely. Remove from heat and add your herb content to the hot water. Cover the whole concoction for 20-30 minutes to steep. (Examples of herbs to infuse: lavender, lemonbalm, mint, basil)

If using bark, roots, berries or seeds (tougher material): Make a decoction- add your herb directly to your water and bring the whole mixture to a boil. Reduce the boil to a simmer and cover for 20 minutes. (Examples of herbs to decoct: sassafras, cinnamon, elderberries coriander, black birch, wild cherry)Early kitchen

  1.  Strain your tea. Once your tea is done steeping or simmering, run your tea through a strainer to filer out all the plant material. (A fine mesh spaghetti strainer perched over a wide mouthed bowl works supremely well)
  1. Gently reheat your tea (sans herb material) and add the sweetener. What makes a syrup so sweet? Why, sweetener of course! The sweetener is also a natural preservative, which is how syrup came about in the first place (and to get children to drink their medicine!). A general ratio is 1 cup sugar or honey per 1 cup water. But you can add the sugar/honey to your taste. The higher the sugar content the longer your syrup will keep.
  1. Storage. Plain syrups are best imbibed within two weeks of creation. If you’d like to keep your syrup for several seasons you can add alcohol to preserve. In general, a syrup with about 20% alcohol content will preserve long-term. If you have dipped into making infused liqueurs or tinctures it’s fun to experiment with preserving your syrup with an already altered alcohol (such as adding a dash of ginger tequila to a cinnamon syrup). If making syrup as medicine, adding a medicinal tincture to your syrup greatly increases its potency. When I make elderberry syrup I combine previously infused elderberry tincture to my freshly made concoction for full spectrum medicinal mixture. Store your syrups in the refrigerator to prolong their life.

 Sage and pestel

+++ Herbal Bitters +++

Herbal bitters are a hot commodity these days, as our modern diets are embarrassingly lacking in this traditional taste. Bitters are amazing agents of digestion, helping to increase the production of our digestive juices, dramatically improving processing, retention and even our mood! (If you haven’t already, check out the bevy of research illustrating our brain/gut connection) Bitter constituents are prevalent in many of our healing herbs, and can often be used as an indicator for a plant’s medicinal strength! Bitters are the prince who has been unceremoniously turned into a frog and I think it’s time to give all our bitters a good kiss on the lips and induct them back into the romance of our kitchens.

Making your own bitters can be as simple as covering a handful of dandelion roots in some alcohol, or as complex as creating your own Peychaud’s. I’m offering a very simple guide here, but feel free to be as creative as a butterfly between hibiscus leaves!

  1. Gather your bitter herbs. Some well known and deliciously effective, bitter roots include dandelion, sassafras, elecampagne, Oregon grape, angelica and ginger. You might also want to try citrus peels, vervain, cacao pods, coffee beans, fennel, and (the gold standard of bitters) gentian (I recommend using the flowers of gentian, rather than the root, as it is over-harvested)

            +Aromatic vs simple bitter: Aromatic bitters are bitters that have a warming, stimulating, often quite spicy flavor. They are bitter… with a kick! Some good examples include elecampagne, angelia, sassafras and ginger. Simple bitters are just that, simply bitter. Simple bitters include gentian, Oregon grape root, yellow root and dandelion .

  1. Create your tincture. Making bitters is basically just a process of making a tincture. You can choose to create single herb batches or throw it all together into one! The benefit of single herb batches is the ability to mix and match. Also, kitchen-sink batches can sometimes end up tasting dominantly like one herb or another, depending on what heavy hitters you’re using. If you are interest in a whole-shebang type of bitter I suggest looking up recipes for proportions online! (These recipes from The Kitchn look divine)

Chop or otherwise process your herb so it is in small pieces. The more surface area of herb touching your alcohol, the stronger your mixture will become. Put your herb into a glass mason jar and cover with booze of choice. Store your bitter brew in a dark place for 6 days up to 6 weeks! Sample your bitters frequently, their taste will change overtime. If you are in a hurry you can make your bitter batch the very week of your soiree. Just remember, bitter compounds often take a few days to really steep. I have a friend who found this out the hard way when he was making a stevia extract. He let the stevia leaf sit for longer than the recommended couple days and his extract turned out mouth puckeringly bitter, which would have been wonderful for some pre-dinner digestive, but not so stellar for making sweets!biden and fawn

A note on alcohols: I really enjoy vodka for my bitters. Vodka tends to have less of an innate flavor than other alcohols. If you want a fuller, huskier batch of bitters try brandy or even whiskey. Gin is already chocked full of herbs, but I bet it wouldn’t mind a few more companions!

  1. Press and Bottle your bitters. When your tincture brew has sat long enough to pucker your taste buds, it’s time to press and bottle your bitters. I like to pour my alcohol/herb slurry through a fine mesh strainer first to separate the alcohol from the herb. Then, I take the left-over herb content and press it in a potato masher to extract every last drop of juice. Conversely, if I don’t have such a press, I dish out the herb into a tight weave cloth and wring it by hand. Whatever method you choose, as long as you are separating the alcohol from the herb content you are doing it right!

Now is the time to add in any extras. Perhaps some fresh pressed OJ to your orange bitters brew? Mint syrup or wildflower honey? Is your bitter crafted for any specific drink in mind, or a simple pre-dinner sipping cordial? Your bitter is your tabula rasa, feel free to get wildly creative.

When you bitters are mixed to your taste filter them into a bottle for storage. I will often line the filer with some fine meshed cheese cloth to catch any last debris, and funnel directly into the bottle. Label, cap, store! Your bitters should last decades if they are a simple alcohol solution. If you added any additional juices or sweeteners you can refrigerate and keep your bitters for 2-5 years.

 Apple bitters

+++ Garnishes +++

Great cocktails (and parties for that matter) are all about the accoutrements. Here are some great hints to add some extra sparkle to your night.

Edible flowers: Summer is a bounty of edible flowers, including calendula, daylily, lavender, beebalm, mint, honeysuckle and sage. Don’t forget to scatter your bar with fresh flowers and garnish your drinks with their petals and blooms. Spilanthes makes a particularly striking edible flower when skewered on a tooth pick and floated into a drink. Sometimes called eyeball plant, this mouth-tingling (and immune enhancing) flower is an oddball cocktail garnish that has been gaining popularity amongst the herbally inclined.

Spilanthes drink

Creative citrus: Simple lemon wedges are so utilitarian. Try slicing a rainbow of citruses into wheels instead to illuminate your drink with vibrant moons. Zest your lemon or lime on top of a well mixed drink for some extra magic in your sipping experience.

Decorative ice cubes: Why should ice be boring? Anoint your ice cub trays with edible flowers from the garden like borage, bee balm or calendula. Just add your flowers to your ice cube tray, cover with water, and freeze. Use immediately to preserve the flowers color and flavor. (On that note, would you like to see the most gorgeous herbal ice cube blog post on the internet?)

Borage ice cubes

 

+++ Herbal Cocktail Recipes +++

You’ve sampled your syrups and bragged about your bitters, now is the time to become a maestro (and maybe get a bit tipsy) with your herbal creations! For our part we cajoled our friend, and esteemed cocktail Prometheus, Curtiss P. Martin to bartend at our party. After stealing fire (and sassafras syrup) from the gods he came up with the following cocktail mixes. Read on for details about how to shake up such treats, and what medicine is inherent to each drink.

This evening, or sometime very soon, I invited you to whip yourself up one of these drinks. Kick off the day’s to-dos. Let down your hair and get barefoot outside. Drink in the cool of these ephemeral summer evenings. Sip, enjoy, let go, luxuriate.

Watermelon drink

Watermelon Mojito
2oz Rum
1oz Fresh-pressed Watermelon Juice
1/2oz Fresh-pressed Lime Juice
1/2oz Tulsi Syrup
4-6 Mint leaves, Muddled
Dry Shake, Add Ice, Soda to Fill
Mint + Lime Garnish

Tequila Honeysuckle
2oz Tequila
1oz Fresh-pressed Lime Juice
3/4oz Local Honey Syrup
1/2oz Fresh Orange Bitters
Garnish with thin lime wheel and fresh honeysuckle flowers
Pineapple sage tequila
Birchbark Sassafras Daiquiri
2oz Spiced Rum
1oz Fresh-pressed Lime Juice
1/2oz Sassafras Syrup
1/2oz Black Birchbark Syrup
Thin Lime wheel Garnish

 
Black Birch bark: Wintergreen minty and delicious, Birch bark is a lovely remedy for muscle aches, joint pain, headaches and inflammation. The secret of Black Birch’s minty relief lies within its methyl salicylates—  the aromatic pain-relieving compound from which our modern day aspirin is derived.

Sassafras: One of the original ingredients in rootbeer (and America’s first wildly successful export) sassafras has a distinctly exotic flavor. The root bark of this yummy plant is known to help stimulate our bodies and minds, ease indigestion, alleviate inflammation and cleanse the blood. Used acutely for colds, flus, fever and rheumatism, Sassafras has been a beloved medicine in North America for thousands of years.

Tulsi drink blue
Pineapple Sage & Tulsi Tequila
2oz Tequila
1oz Fresh-Pressed Pineapple Juice
1/2oz Fresh-Pressed Lime Juice
3/4oz Tulsi Syrup
4-6 Sage leaves, Muddled
Sage Garnish

Tulsi Gin + Tonic
2oz Gin
3/4 Tulsi syrup
Tonic to Fill
Lime wedge +Tulsi sprig Garnish

 
Tulsi: One of the most sacred herb of India, this holy plant has been grown as a truly miraculous health tonic for thousands of years. Tulsi (or Holy Basil) is a gentle and effective adaptogen– it helps the body and mind to deal with stress, encouraging gracefulness in your every day dealings. Tulsi is also an antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, antiinflammatory, antidepressant and immunomodulator. Traditionally, holy basil was called upon for colds and flus, indigestion, and as a tonic for asthma and sinus allergies. This sweet and tasty herb is also a supremely clearing tonic for the mind; it has found to be helpful in unfocused thinking, poor memory, forgetfulness, ADD and ADHD.  In Ayurvedic medicine, Tulsi is though to balance all seven chakras and considered to be a rasayanic herb, or a medicine that brings balance to the emotions and promotes the feelings of devotion, love and compassion.

Lavender Blueberry Ricky

2oz Vodka
1oz Fresh-pressed Blueberry Juice
1/2oz Fresh-pressed Lime Juice
3/4 Lavender Syrup
Soda to fill
Lavender flower Garnish

Lavender: Oh, the joys of fresh lavender. This much beloved flower is known to help soothe digestion, calm the spirit, and settle the nerves. Used for centuries to freshen dwellings, lavender is a renown antibacterial and antifungal, as well as a beloved herb for rest and relaxation.

Lavender for syrupCheers!

The Woodland Within

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

This Fall I am delighted to be offering a fresh workshop at the HerbFolk Gathering. This herbal rendezvous, which takes place in the wilds of Northern Arizona, is one of the most inspired plant gatherings in our country. (Read my review of last year’s enchantment here). This year the gathering is stepping into a brand new incarnation of classes focused on folk tradition, mysticism and lore. In celebration, I debuted a short piece in the Plant Healer newsletter to unveil the themes and dreams, stories and scholarship that has ignited my workshop this year. I invite you to explore, The Woodland Within.

Big creekIn the old stories, whether you be girl or goose, goblin or goddess, the forest was a place of profound encounters. At the edge of town, beyond the thickets of heather and ivy dark vines, stretched a limitless space, a mystery that was asking to be experienced. Once upon a time the boundaries of the mapped world ended at the edge of the woods. After that, stretched the unknown.

Throughout history the space of enchantment created by forest narratives has served to expand the very possibilities of our reality Within the woods you can transform—from man to doe, mortal to faerie. Meet with elders and find guides amongst the trees. In the forest, anything is possible. Gods and goddesses live here, monsters and Kali-like creationists, too.

John waterhouse

John Waterhouse

As a people, we are forever enchanted with spaces of the unknown. Over and over again we reenter the woods for answers, profundity and connection. We are creatures who originate from a kind of woodland within. At the borders of our conscious minds lies a vast and often uncharted land. This is the realm of the unseen— spirit, soul, intuition, and the unconscious. We may live in a comfortable and cottaged physical world, a place of brilliant stories and community. But when night falls, like the twelve dancing princesses, each and every one of us slips the bounds of our physical world to explore places of deeper consciousness, spirit and dreams. Often times we may not even remember such travels, but our well-worn shoes will always tell the tale.

House in fog

To leave the comforts of our homes and venture into the unknown can be exhilarating, confusing and profound. When we enter the woodland within, we give up the security and the trappings of our day-to-day minds. The consciousness of the woods works in modes of twilight. It is a space that is neither here nor there. Traditional shamans knew easily how to travel between such realms, as did the ancient mystics of Daoist meditation, eyes slightly closed. When we travel, we chase experiences, transformation and remembrance. But, above all, it is guidance we seek.

||  Intuition and the Knowing Unknown ||

Intuition, like dark mushrooms on a nurse-log, is a part of our very being. Mysterious and yet familiar – intuition has been creatively defined for centuries as instinct, gut feeling, magic or memory. Intuition comes from a place that can be only be described as the “knowing unknown.” In truth, intuition is a kind of revelation— a word that, by definition, means to glimpse and then be re-veiled. A vital shepherd through even the darkest wood, intuition is a form of guidance that comes directly from such uncharted places of mystery, and it is available to us every time we part the veil and enter our inner woods.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

In my workshops, I like to bring people into direct encounters with their own places of intuition, guidance and mystery. As earth lovers and flower gatherers, blue jay singers and botanists—medicine makers of all kinds— developing an interaction with your own knowing unknown is as vital as watering the hidden roots of a newly planted willow. As healers, we have a sacred responsibility to venture into such places of forgotten remembrance, and we can begin to bring such inspiration back into our worlds through magnificent power of myth.

||  Mythology and Maps  ||

In our country, herbalists are some of the few that make it their business to enter the woods, not only to dig roots or simmer cups of pine needle tea, but to venture beyond the limitations of what we’ve been given and explore the mysteries inherent to healing. Traditional herbalists knew the magic of a well-told tale; they were often their own mythologists. When asked, each and every herbalist I know will give you the story of how they first arrived and fell-to-their-knees in love with the growing world. The more we share these stories and connect to our inner unseen sources of guidance, the more, as a whole, we can heal.

Astronomy-Map-Bootes-Hevelius

Stories are one of the most powerful forces on earth. In many indigenous religions, the entire world began with a word. As some storytellers recount, there was a time when the distance between our thoughts and our creations was much thinner. The stories we spoke, were the stories we lived.

Whether you lose yourself in Tolkien or find conversation around a cup of tea, stories continue to inform our daily reality. They can help us define who we are, where we are, and why we are. Human beings have lived with mythology as a bedfellow since we first looked to the rising sun and wondered what it might mean. The purpose of mythology, as Joseph Campbell so famously popularized, is the practice of creating maps. Through our stories we can invoke an invisible universe, a vanishing atlas of the treasures just beneath our feet, so that we may more confidently move through this visible world.

Vasilisa

Ivan Bilibin

In traditional folklore the best stories were replete with many creatures and beings of consciousness. Plants, as some of human’s closest allies, are also some of our most powerful story keepers. Often, when we fall for a plant, we are seduced by a kind of storyteller. When you become enchanted by a particular plant, are you not eager to go shouting their praises from every hilltop? In their deepest power, plants can act as traditional psychopomps, or guides of the soul, helping us to re-enter our own stories once more.

 

||  The Story that is Waiting to be Told  ||

Like Scheherazade, stories are what keeps us alive. Every day we tell ourselves tales about our lives. Some of these stories are invoked from the popular mythologies of our time— whether that be the tales of the Buddha or Martin Prechtel, the free-spirited Juliette de Baïracli Levy or our own mama’s yarns. And within, beneath, inherent to all of this, is the story of your lifetime. At the center of your existence, lives a story that is waiting to be told. As the Aborigine’s of Australia say, the biggest stories are hunting us. We can begin to live more richly, more directly from our passions and purpose, by learning the stories that yearn to be brought back from these places of the unknown.

(To read more about the important alchemy of story hunting I highly recommend the dreamy work of Robert Moss)

little red riding hoodThis coming Fall I’ll be teaching a workshop at the HerbFolk conference with the intention of leading a group of such travelers into this woodland within. We’ll explore concepts of intuition and the richness of myth, approach the guiding role of traditional folktales and how they can help counsel us through the perils, possibilities and magic of plant-based intuitive work. As a group we’ll undertake a guided meditation/conscious dream journey to our own woodland within to meet a plant spirit ally who is waiting to help us tell our biggest story. Together, we’ll visit these inner places of fable, mystery and myth, and return to translate our deep encounters into our own personal folktales.

Mountain stream

When you enter your woodland within, what will you find? A frog who has been waiting to become a prince or a white witch in disguise? A welcoming wolf clan or dwarves who can tell you your real name? Perhaps you’ll run into a friend of mine, an elder who has built her thatch cottage in an old deer bed. She is a woman with river lines in her face, and an apron faded to soft threads. Her house is an apothecary, cabinets lined with bottles and medicines of all kinds– not just willow bark or Solomon’s seal, but dragon scales, and discarded chrysalises, stones from the far-off veils of waterfalls. If you encounter her, she will most likely invite you in, share a drink as pink as mimosa flowers, and hand you a mortar and pestle so you can create your own brew. When you explore your inner woodland, what medicine will you find there?

Herbfolk banner

 

Summertime Leisure

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Max patch 1This past weekend I let myself be free. At around 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon on Friday I pushed all my lingering work in a drawer, packed the car with a basket of food and my favorite blanket, and drove west into the sea-blue mountains. I stopped often, taking time to dip in the river and swim under the branches of mimosa trees in their full fuchsia-bloom. There was no aim, other than to sit on thick river moss and find familiars in the stones. Later, after the swim, after a thunderstorm, after the sun crept back out to dry my hair,  I took a winding road up to a high mountain meadow to watch the sun set. One of my favorite places on earth, Max Patch looks out onto the blue folds of mountains in all directions – north, east, south and west. It was all the food I needed. I drifted up to the top of the world with a bottle of sparkling water and my thoughts. Quiet wind and clover up to my knees. I watched the sun descend through the clouds in bright drops of strawberry and wine. There was nothing to do but be. It was sherbet-perfect, nothing less than divine.

Mimosa circleMax patch 2It’s been a while since I’ve taken myself on such a date. The months leading up to this year’s Solstice have been beyond full, brimming. Tending the garden of one’s life is a full time job. Planting, planning, nurturing the germination of every single seed. I have sometimes felt like a clematis vine…. my spirit having gone from its early days of sleep, to creep, to now leap… and it’s all I can do but continue to climb. After a long season of work, everything inside of me seems to ache for the kind of exploratory leisure that makes even the smallest moments come alive. With the sun at her lazy zenith, and the whole hemisphere saturated in life, I find myself seduced by a novel concept – the leisure of time.

red cloverMelon relaxingWe spend our time. Have you noticed? Day-in, day-out I often find myself quantifying time in dollars or what “makes sense.” Parceling out hours into quarters, constricting it like a cuckoo to a small wooden clock. Yet… in my best and most transformative moments, time is a kind of creature– shapeshifting and alive. Time is as diverse as a well-fed creek. On a slow sunny day, wind-blown and dry, it may move as slow as threads down the mountainside. And yet, on the next, with thunderclouds overhead, hours rush as fast as ocean waves. Time moves the way we invite it to. Our attention, our intention, is the spring that feeds all waters. In every moment we have the opportunity to decide: how do we want our time to flow?

Big laurelProcessed with VSCOcam with c1 presetTo me, it is a simple fact. When I let myself wander, allowing long moments of soft fascination and pause, life feels eternal. When I un-dam the spontaneous flow of my imagination, creation simply flows. The best inventions are born from such spaces of effortlessness. What if all we needed to feel fulfilled, as rich as strawberries in a bowl of porcelain cream, was to allow ourselves time to ripen?

Reishi bud

Reishi bud

When I was a child, summers were like fairyland eternities, and I was invited, every hour of every day, to  play. Bare feet and half-finished flower crowns, cold sprinklers and baskets of berries. The whole landscape of my imagination unrolled, like cloth at an emperor’s rich feet. The older we get the more we are encouraged to step away from this imaginal realm, pushing ourselves out into a terrain where the space between thought and creation is so much denser. As we grow, many of us abandon our beautiful tapestries of imagination and play, and the weave, like a well-loved but forgotten dress, fades.

Cali poppy on rug

California poppy harvest

Every moment of every day we choose how to experience our lives. When I focus on that which feels incomplete, stressful, small or scarce, I bring the whole of my being into relation with limitation. When I consciously choose to shift my mind, investigate the beauty, the blessings my life (and all the beings in it) my entire existence expands.

Intuitive plant medicine altar

Intuitive plant medicine altar

This past Fall I contracted Lyme disease. It has been a long road of rebalancing and recovery, and a seriously deep journey of learning. In truth, one single revelation has been my biggest teacher: Whenever possible, do what you want to do, when you want to do it.

When I engage in the activities that feed me – writing, reading, medicine making, exploring – I am full of energy and vigor. I forget that I even have spirochetes in my body. When I linger too long on the computer, push my body to work past dark in the garden, or pour too much energy into other people’s projects— I get sick. It’s that simple. It’s that novel.

My invocation for this summer season is plain but powerful. To enjoy. Life, like rivers, like well-fed streams, moves fast. If I don’t take pleasure in my existence now, then who will? When?

Mimosa flowers in jar

Mimosa flowers

So how about a toast?

To choose, in this moment, to invite the deepest leisure into our days. Let’s allow ourselves the time to be delightfully present, inquisitively alive. Seek soft adventures, bask in sunlight thick enough to drink. Let’s invite life to ripen in its own time. Allow our deepest fascinations be our guides.

As Walt Whitman says: lean, loaf, invite your soul. It’s summertime.

*************************************************************

In the spirit of following ones fascinations and inspirations, I am delighted to introduce One Willow’s newest elixir (and my most constant summertime companion).

Easy livin with text copySundresses and sangria, fresh cucumbers from the garden and mint tea. In summer, even the simplest things can be a cause for celebration. Frisky and effervescent, Easy Livin’ elixir incites a deep devotion to summertime’s bliss.  Crafted with melon-scented wildflowers, strawberry syrup,  birch bark mint and champagne, Easy Livin’ encourages you to embrace an expansive season of
leisure. Whether you are reclining on sun-warmed rocks or falling under the spell of a twilight romance, Easy Livin’ invites the softest fascination to be your guide.

Summer is a time of deep abundance— baskets of blueberries and rope swings into cold mountain streams. Easy Livin’ reminds us that our richest creations arise from such moments of effortlessness; the best ideas appear like fireflies, bright and fluent in the dusk. This sun-drunk elixir encourages us to live from the inspiration of the present and recognize that all we truly need to be fulfilled is to let ourselves feel free. Picnic in fields of wildflowers or watch the crickets jump in cascades. Sip mojitos in the early moonlight and flirt with the very idea of evening. Easy Livin’ reminds us that we are allowed to take the deepest pleasures in our lives. Today is a fizzy drink, full of lively possibility and faint notes of jubilee. You must only tip your cup and toast to your own vibrancy.

+ Extracts: Black Birch (Betula lenta), Pedicularis (Pedicularis canadensis),
Kava (Piper methysticum)
+Essences: Strawberry, Hibiscus, Kyanite
+Strawberry syrup & Champagne

//Visit Easy Livin’ in the shop//

Gentle Spring // Cleansing

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Cherry blossoms

This year’s spring has been a revelation, sweet and slow. The mountains here held winter much longer than usual—we’ve even seen April snows. Crocuses were the first to awaken, scattered across a wild lawn by the lake. It was such a welcome sight, I stopped my car in the middle of the road. The pageant of blooms has been a leisurely unveiling, requiring the patience of a sugarbush pan over a woodstove. Soon after the first amethyst-colored crocuses the daffodil greens arrived, pushing up out of forgotten soil like vines. The Bradford pear down the street flushed out like a white-chested goose and the very first Cherry blossoms blushed— the bosom of spring had begun. Every day I’ve had new eyes for the world. I watch the hyacinths unfurl low to the ground, rich as embroidery on the earth. The tulips pop up with shocks of color, as sensuous as parted lips along the road. The dandelions have already flashed from teeth, to green, to yellow, to puff in less than three weeks. Sometimes I think I can barely keep up! In the woods the ephemerals have come and gone and come again. Bloodroot petals have already disappeared into the duff, the first spring beauties long gone. I sit on my haunches like the trilliums and count the mayapple umbrellas before they unfurl.

Bloodroot risk to bloomRedbud branchesSpring is a many-petaled season. It is beautiful and fickle, exacting and loose. It bequeaths our hearts with so much hope and abundance, and then flits by as quickly as a cardinal at the window. It is a slow pour of both fulfillment and longing, our spring. The pain and the beauty both, gentle.

Daffodils in the rain

Spring is the traditional time of cleansing. After a long, internal winter Spring bursts forth, gracing us with the inherent energy needed to slough off that which has begun to feel stagnant or stuck, relearn how it feels to bloom. Every Spring I teach a class on Spring Cleansing. In the class we meander through all the fresh greens that grow wild in early spring: dandelion, chickweed, cleavers, violet, bittercress, creasy greens, poke… We discuss the mechanics of fasting and explore how to incorporate our herbal allies into our cleanse. I love this class because it encapsulates one of my greatest passions— connecting to the earth in her subtly, in her seasons, in her bounty of medicine changes. This year, however, we began the class much slower, quieter. I had every student sit down in meditation, take time to breathe, and do some gentle stretching to get our energy to begin its flow.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Fasting and strict cleansing rituals have their time and place. They are vital, transformational tools for a detoxification on all levels of being. But sometimes, like the first meandering snow melt stream, the kind of cleansing you most need will be subtle, gentle, incremental and deep.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

When we cleanse, no matter how we cleanse, it is the intention that we bring to our process that initiates transformation. All healing comes from within. Our bodies are constantly working to repair and detoxify, our bright spirits will never cease in their insistency to come through. Why else are we so struck by a newly opened daffodil? We recognize within its sunny disposition our own ever-returning light. Conscious cleansing is simply a way to acknowledge this process, and deepen its process by lending the power of your conscious mind.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

praying dogwood

This Spring I have embarked upon a very gentle cleanse, a slow shedding of layers that fits the subtly of my own shifts perfectly. I’ve shared a few of my favorite allies and practices for cleansing below. Each day might have seemed very small, but at the end of nearly two months of intentionally focusing my energy on healing the changes I’ve witnessed, the blooms in me now open and free, are astounding. Every day I continue to give the gift of myself, my presence and peace of mind, to the world, and I am excited to see just what unfurls from here.

Screen shot 2014-04-24 at 12.12.53 PM

Now matter how you decide to cleanse the most important element is simply honoring where you are, and allowing the space for unforeseen transformation. All winter we witness the bare trees and forget about blooms or leaves. Then, suddenly, there will be buds and we will only wonder what lies inside them. And finally, on a day so gloriously sunny that we will have forgotten all else, they will blossom and we will come to know the world with even newer eyes.

 

// Violets //

violet flower essence sans textViolets might be my most beloved springtime allies. When I first moved down to these mountains I was in a time of deep transition. I had left a long-term partnership and had just arrived in a town where I, frankly, knew no one and nothing! It felt like the right decision for me, but there were moments where I felt profoundly adrift. That spring it was as if I was seeing violets for the very first time. Suddenly, they were everywhere! They blanketed the half-acre around my house; a moss of purple so thick you forgot the grass even existed. I couldn’t get enough of them. I would pick them by the handful, eating the sweet blooms and heart shaped leaves while lying on my back and staring up at the trees. They were a comfort, a companion; I hoped they would never leave. The next year I made an essence from their blooms and the information that came through was revelatory.

patch of violets white oak

Violets are incredible allies for helping you to feel comfortable and content with yourself. They are flowers of self-acceptance, harbingers of self-care. As a powerful alterative, Violets are potent physical allies for clearing and detoxifying the body. If nothing else you could cleanse solely by munching on a fist-full of violet flowers every day! On a more energetic level, violets help us to do the internal clearing of habits that have kept us feeling stuck or small. Violets consistently encourage me to let go of negative patterns of relating (most especially to myself) and foster a deep desire for self-exploration. They help me make a commitment to be warm and generous to myself, and honoring of the space and time, the stillness that I need to heal.

Processed with VSCOcam

If violets are calling to you simply spend some time sitting with them. Explore their petals and their roots. Nibble on their flowers and heart-shaped leaves, sprinkle their medicine in a spring salad or fresh sandwich. Steep a violet tea and drink this dark amethyst brew for a daily detoxification ritual. Don’t forget about the power of on–the-body medicine. Lay down for a spell in the sunny grass and get a friend to cover you with blooms.

 

// Clear Quartz //

Screen shot 2014-04-24 at 11.51.25 AM

Known as the “master harmonizer” in Chinese medicine, clear quartz is a powerful cleanser and amplifier. On the physical level clear quartz is thought to increase and regulate the Qi, bringing vitality to all areas of the body. Clear quartz is one of my favorite stones to work with because it is so deeply versatile. Like our own spirits, it can be focused and attuned to any kind of purpose. In traditional Taoist medicine clear quartz was often used to draw energy from other stones, animals, elements or lands. By pointing quartz at a certain celestial body, for example, the stone inherently absorbs some of the energy of that entity and can become an emissary of that medicine wherever it goes.

colorful quartz

Experiment this Spring with programming clear quartz with your favorite medicine places. Take quartz with you when you wade through the rivers and bring this medicine home to make elixirs, grids, and mandalas. If you have a specific intention for healing, hold a clear quartz in your hands and gently ask the quartz to take up the power of this medicine. Speak your intention clearly and imagine that everything you need to heal is infuse directly from you into the stone. Clear quartz will hold this intention for you, reminding you to return to its flow. Let yourself play. there is no end to the manifestation of healing that can take place through quartz. If there is a particular cloud or concert that seems to be calling your name, ask its energy to go into a piece of clear quartz and take this moment in time with you wherever your go. Sleep with quartz until your pillow to get to bring this healing with you into your dreaming. Make healing elixirs by putting your programmed stones in water over night. Drink your elixir water first thing in the morning and witness how you feel.

 

// Presence + Breathing //

Tulip close

This element of cleansing might seem too simple for some, but if you can master the art of truly being present all healing will happen on its own. This season I’ve simply practiced being present. I take time every day to walk and witness what new leaf has budded out, which bulb has finally bloomed. By connecting into the seasons with presence and gratitude, I give my body and spirit permission to simply cycle naturally. I allow myself to soak up the medicine of a single moment and allow my own inherent healing to bloom. So much imbalance is caused by worry, anxiety, projection and regret. When we take our attention out of what will be or what was, and simply return to what is we relocate the incredible power of our energy into the present moment, where it is available for our healing.

Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset

Whenever I feel an edge of anxiety creep in I simply stop what I’m doing, walk outside if I can, and breathe. Three deep belly breaths are usually enough to bring me back down. If that fails, I’ll trying a few rounds of alternative nostril breathing. On the high-stress days, when my heart continues to race, I put one hand squarely on my chest and speak out loud: “I am here. Now. And it is beautiful.” It is always such a potent reminder. There is no time but the present, so why not begin our healing in this gentle moment of spring?

Processed with VSCOcam

 

Many blessings on your cleansing journeys this spring! May your days be full of bounty and peace, may every bloom surprise you with its destined unfurl.

 

 

Beloved: Dreams + Medicine

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetFebruary is the only month in our calendar year when we are encouraged to not only celebrate, but explore love. It is a time of both recognition and seeking… and sometimes visionary revelation. Far beyond the commercialism of candy hearts, the sparks created by this fiery heart-centered holiday can be profound. It is no coincidence that Valentine’s Day falls within the sometimes dark and dreary bowl of late winter in our hemisphere. It is a timely reminder. Though our days may still be marked by isolation and interiority, hibernation and cold, the warm river that gives life its eternal flush continues. Love continues.

weaverville viewEvery Valentine’s day I am submersed in so many representations of love, I often find myself in a state of reflection. When I step back and ponder the predominate culture that surrounds me, and all its messages about love, I can’t help but feel constricted. It is as if I’m looking into a tiny, tiny pond. When the truth, the reality of love, is so much vaster. I am in a time of my life—the late-winter of an important, but increasingly waning, phase of youth and its cocooned vision— in which I am turning away from the contained waters of what I has perceived to be love and seeking the greater ocean.

Our language itself holds such narrow definitions of love. The word spread thin, like a prudent amount of butter over a single slice of toast. In truth, love is not an object (of either affection or desire), it is not a thing we can covet or a state to achieve. Love is a gateway to remembering to our widest, wildest selves. The boundless beings that are fused with all of the world. The creaking oak, the changing sky, the mantras spoken by low creeks over cold winter rocks.  Love is a state of being, of giving, of receiving… of knowing that at the center of all things rests a kindred flame that burns eternal.

Water lilly 1In my dream of the world, Valentine’s Day is embraced as a day in which we recognize not only romantic love, but all incarnations of love. We would treat this holiday as a blessed opportunity to honor all the sources of love that suffuse our world—family and friends, beings that surround us both seen and unseen, the love of the land that holds us and the sun that rises and glows, gently now, warmer and warmer, every day. Most of all, I approach, again and again, the ceremony of self-recognition this month of love deeply demands. I begin the walking meditation in honor of the bedrock from which all over love springs— the love we are here to find within.

Self love has become a nifty catchphrase these past few years. Like a refrigerator magnet, the term is so habitually encountered that the meaning itself has faded into yet another assumption of the eye. We see it so much, we stop seeing it. For years when the term “self love” was brought up I would all but swish my hands dismissively through the air, an impatient motion like shooing a fly from one’s face. Of course, I loved myself. Yes, I love myself, Can’t we move on? And yet, the deeper I have allowed myself to go within the caverns of my own heart, the more I have realized that loving myself is a life-long journey of remembering who I am… and that it is a quest that I have only just begun. winter bath

We are the source from which we live every day. We are the sun that opens our eyes in the morning, the light that colors and catches, illuminates each facet of the world we see. We are the only flower we will ever know in this lifetime, and our sole purpose is just to bloom.  I remind myself everyday that each bud deserves affection, adoration, exclamation and love. I remind myself everyday that without opening first, a flower can never truly see the world into which it blooms. Without opening to my own sources of inner-unconditional love, how can I love the world within which my own spirit so freely suffuses?

I am surrounded by an abundance of love in this lifetime. I am blessed by the spectacular love of both family and friends. I am touched by the everlasting love of this earth, the plants and animals and waters that feed and clothe me, still caring for me despite my small-sightedness, my forgetfulness, my sometimes entitlement. Despite it all, I am still loved. Despite it all, I live and continue to discover unconditional love.

Water lilly 2Just as the love of this world continues, as constant as the mountain’s forever-sighing streams, so does our own inner sources of love. In a place before words, I know I have loved myself forever. It is a feeling that comes upon me in only the most serene of moments. Leaning up against the maple tree in my front yard on the first warm day of late winter, I think about the sugary sap running now from the roots to the crown, nourishing the whole tree. I know, without having to think or grasp, that this tree loves itself unconditionally. It does not disparage its broken branches, or pecked perches. It does not wish it was growing across the street, or even ten feet over where the garden soaks up so much light. It loves itself because it is, and there is nothing else for it to do but love its being.

Learning to recognize and embrace this steady stream of inner-unconditional love, learning how to let it in and let it feed my whole being, even after the long parch of a very cold and lonely-feeling winter, is part of my work in this lifetime. And every day, I remind myself to simply be-loved.

Water lilly 3

 

Screen shot 2014-02-10 at 10.30.04 PM

Rose close

In celebration of this month of amour, I asked for the guidance to create a medicine that would help me to remember the love that exists so freely within this world. In my dreams that evening I traveled to a thatched cottage at the edge of an ancient wood. There, an old woman welcomed me, wiping two root-worn hands on a faded apron-full of medicine. Her face changed, turning silvery sides like butterfly wings— from young porcelain-skinned beauty to a chestnut weathered crone. She hummed to herself as she stirred together newly opened blossoms and jars of white roots, powdered rose quartz and steaming tea into a plain clay vessel. In the dream, the elixir was as pink as a cherry blossom and smelled like sugarcane. She handed it to me and I drank it down heartily, thanking her for the healing. Afterwards, she brought me to a rocking chair by the fire, and told me to rest with myself for a while. When I closed my eyes there, I woke up here. And I brought a new healing elixir, Be.Loved, with me.

Be.Loved is my way of honoring this blessed time of love. I honor the love I find within myself, and I honor the love that continues to find me. I offer this elixir in honest hope and heartfelt prayer: may we all remember that we are surrounded by love. May we all love and be-loved.

:: Read more about Be.Loved in the shop::

BeLoved

 

A Snow Globe, Shook

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

I was watching a cat, calico and sunning herself on the metal roof of our shed, when the weather suddenly shifted. One moment the light was grazing contentedly upon the emptied winter landscape and the next, the whole earth had clouded over with snow. Moody and feline, more than falling, the thick flurries raced toward the ground. It was a complete surprise.

Snowglobe storm steps

We’ve been dogsitting for a large, ruggedly handsome German shepherd this week. With the furious arrival of so many flurries, I ran to the back door to rescue the poor dog amidst the storm. Poised like a sphinx on our back stone steps, letting the whirl of the unexpected blizzard lick at his fur, he was decidedly nonplussed. He looked at me, cold flakes scattered like pearls across his paws, and my plans for hot tea and cozying in bed quickly dissolved. I threw on my coat, slung my camera around my neck and launched myself out into the snow.

The sky nuzzled my face; the wind pushed my coat open with its insistent snout. The sun hid, and I didn’t miss its light. I explored the small slope of my backyard and caught the tiniest flakes. The mountain itself was obscured, forgotten. There was no need for grand vision, because it was all happening now. In that moment, I let go of all the biggest things. I released the overarching resolutions of transformation, the great callings for initiation, the howling insistence of change. Talent the dog bounded in loops through the high winter’s yellow grass. I ran after him. We both chased the tiny unseen patterns of the storm.

Snow globe storm tree line

We spend so much time trying to approach the vastness of the world. In the seemingly endless array of diversity and opportunity, I am often overwhelmed. There are always new arcs of possibility snagging my attention, great shifts with unheeded arrivals, universal callings that tug at me like bramble to the hem of my sturdy winter coat. But the reality is that the world, my world, can also be gloriously small. There is revelation in each precious detail: the dark hedge of queen anne’s lace defining the collar of the hill, the dense cloud of snow forming shapes in a miniature space of sky, forgotten stones gathered like tiny, well-worn villages in the swirl.

I make this pilgrimage through my life, not only to encounter the wide world I inhabit, but to touch the smallest worlds that inhabit me.

What is inside each moment is so incredibly brief and varied. It takes courage to stop and simply appreciate the perfectly rounded circle of what exists within your reach. Today, the world was a snow globe, shook— and I gave myself permission to spend a long moment witnessing it settle.

Snow globe storm tricolor

A New Year

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

circle in the skyThe new year arrives subtly. After the long holiday build-up of champagne and anticipation the calendar shift, so stark on the page, sneaks slowly into our consciousness. Like a low draft from the hem of a door; you have to get used to its breath on your skin. The change happens in almost imperceptible increments. After a long time simply sensing the difference, it is as if the year itself decides to settle like a cat ceasing its circle on the bed.

It always takes me a while until I’m able to write the new year’s date without pause or reflection. It reminds me of fading bridal henna. While it lasts, the patterned sand colored ink is a reminder of the liminality of this moment. No longer a maiden, not yet a mother… you are expected to simply bask in this time of transition. This is often how I feel for much of January. I am neither the cheery-eyed concoctress who baked almond Yule cookies in voluptuous volumes, nor am I the mistress of all my future resolute planning and dreams. I am simply in-between. Changing woman in a changing year.

feather and amethystI like to give myself a few solid weeks to arrive in any new place— whether it be an unfamiliar forest, unknown inner landscape or an actual calendar year. 2014 has arrived even more slowly than others. For the first two weeks I have been like the snowflakes that covered most of the northeast, floating. I traveled from Fishtown, Philadelphia and its quietly buried cemeteries to the Adirondacks where I spent my days lounging by the woodstove and letting the thick layers of butter cream snow and sharp glazes of ice keep me slow and satiated.

philly cemetary

cats by woodstove lit house adirondacksIt wasn’t until I arrived back home to Appalachia, almost mid-way through the month, that I felt close to beginning something new. The hullaballoo of the new year can feel eerily close to pressure. Somehow we’re all expected to clean our slates within days, make a list of resolutions that border on fanaticism and force ourselves into a strict regime of self-improvement that is neither kind nor inspiring, nor even helpful.

But what gives the whole idea of a “new year” power is that we believe in the possibility of rebirth. We always have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves, reorient our lives so they can mirror the freshness we feel inside.

My favorite new creation in the apothecary this season was a Reincarnation ritual package. Offering this package was, for me, a true exercise in reincarnation. Much has been stirring and changing within me and the ripples of transformation is sure to affect all I do– including One Willow. I have allowed this new year to be a herald of a new era for myself…

citrine points instaThe reality is that great change does not arrive with a calendar date, it arises from within. At any moment we have the opportunity to create our new year. We must simply invoke the many-faceted stone of our intention and focus it like a light.

In my room I have two continuously revolving altar spaces. The more recent altar was an eclectic combination of items arranged in honor of my ancestors, the other a Healing Lyme mandala that has sat collecting artifacts and notes of support for almost four months (I was diagnosed with Lyme disease early this past October. Hence my prolonged vacation from Woolgathering + Wildcrafting). In the presence of this new year both altars felt stale, static. So, without too much fanfare, I cleared them off and started anew.

sunlit roadThis year, instead of resolutions, I wrote my intentions for the year. I dedicated a whole day to simply breathing, stretching, recognizing. I went for a long walk and felt the warm sun on my winter shy skin.  I sat down and wrote a list of everything that I am proud of from this past year (how important it is to remember our accomplishments!), a list of everything I am ready to release in this new year, and then a list of all that I wish to invoke. What do I want to see more fully realized in my life? Plans, goals, dreams… yes, but also feelings and ways of being. When I really thought about it, I realized that I needed little muscle in the way of long-term blueprints or ambitious projects—I have plenty of those. What I truly ached for was a vision of how I could feel contented, sublime, inspired on a daily basis. In truth, this is my biggest intention for this year…and one that I am absolutely resolute upon seeing manifest. I want to greet every day with happiness.

AltarIn the end, I created a simple altar. With small teardrops of local North Carolina quartz, a partridge wing and The Sun. This was my intention:

I call in a new year of magic, fulfillment, inspiration and joy.

May this new year herald a new era of groundedness, inner peace and joyous experience.

May I release all fears that limit me and the fullness of my being and expression.

May I embrace my life fully— recognizing the abundance that surrounds me and the infinite nature of all blessings.

 May I let go of all coulds and shoulds and invite in my own unshakable knowing— the pureness of my being.

May all the possibilities of my life be like flowers in a wide, wild meadow and may I give myself the time and space to simply play.

May I remember, always, that love suffuses all— and that life is meant to be a celebration.

Let this, or whatever is in my highest good, be.

amethyst cone dark

Harvesting Wild Rice: The Poetry + The Process

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

pond lillies

The Initial Daydream

This August I fulfilled a long haunting dream of mine – to harvest rice in the wild beds of Minnesota. The idea began as a simple seed in my early twenties. I was idealistic, entranced with the world and still exploring the ideas of livinggreen rice close to the land, harvesting the natural nourishment around us. I was in college and devouring land-based literature of all kinds, including a healthy stack of contemporary indigenous writers. One book in particular catapulted me into a new era of interest: Night Flying Woman by Ignatia Broker. An Anishinabe (Objibwe) elder of the Ottertail Pillager Band, Broker tells the entrancing creation tale of her matrilineal heritage from pilgrimage to work to deliverance. And at its heart, was the rice. Soon, this book, along with an influential teacher (poet and scholar) Molly McGlennen, sent me across the country to intern for a short summer month with WELRP (White Earth land Recover Project), an initiative founded by the awe-inspiring Winona Laduke. I lived in a house with a collective of native women and worked on the initiative’s farm to school project. The direct link between land and bodies, wild berries and children running along the narrow lines of the playground, entranced me. But the most bewitching of all, was the rice.

I remember when the time came on the reservation to pick lottery numbers for the best ricing lakes. I was days away from leaving, and the parting felt almost painful. Someday, I vowed to myself, I would return during ricing season. Explore the slow ponder of a boat, part the thick waves of rice and paddle silently into the deep beds. This year, that possibility became a reality.

Pole RicingThe Harvesting

The wild rice itself (Zizania palustris) is one of the most elegant plants I have ever encountered. Suspended gently in the silty mud at the bottom of the lake, each stalk sways strongly in the passing breeze. It covers the low lake, skirting the shallow shores of mud and cattails, old beaver paths and fallen logs. It is food, habitat, home. They provide shelter for the sweet and matronly mud ducks and an underbelly of fish hidden in the tea-colored water. Some stands are sparse, like grass at the edge of a long stretch of stand, and some so thick your boat runs aground onto the flattened stalks and is stuck in their woven arms. Sitting within a canoe in the middle of a dense bed feels in the rice with knockerstantamount to being lost in a graceful, fertile maze. There is nothing before you and nothing behind you, but the rice and its falling.

The act of ricing, or gathering the ripe seed of the wild rice, requires some equipment and a good deal of practiced skill. At the outset, you will need a canoe, a pair of “knockers”— tapered wands carved smooth and easy to handle, and a long pole (upwards of 17 feet) either forked or attached to a “duck bill” so you can push gently along the thick bottoms. In Minnesota the knocker sits in front of the puller, her back to the effort so she can see the coming rice. It is the knocker’s job to develop a fluid rhythm, a movement that looks like conducting a rapid symphony. With one wand, you pull the rice gently into the boat, careful not to bend the stalk too hard or knock any of the ripe seed before you are ready. With the other, you lightly but swiftly run the length of the knocker along the stalk, directing the barbed rice into the boat. Side to side: bend, swipe, swish, follow through.  Meanwhile, the poler balances herself at the back of the boat, pushing the silent, rice-laden barge through the green stalks. A good puller matches her pace to the skill of the knocker, keeping her in well-falling rice. A well-seasoned poler can lift up her pole from the lake’s soft bottom (a motion akin to a sailors hand over hand climb up to the crows nest) without disturbing the steady movement of the canoe, gazing out at lakeevenly placing it back into the silt for another glide farther into the bed.  (If you are interested in a more in-depth ricing “How-to” check out Samuel Thayer’s incredibly informative chapter in Foragers Harvest)

When the rice is good, it rains into the boat. Sometimes all you have to do it touch the furtive stalks and the bearded grains of purple and green fall into your palm. The act of ricing is near to addiction. Every morning we were up early, pulled out of bed by some magnetic force, pushing off the muddy landing with our lunches and cool jugs of water in tow. As a pair, you move out into the flowage and the shoulder-deep stands of rice. Once within, the forest of stalks obscures the senses. Sounds and sights seem dimmed. All you hear is the tiny, bell-shaped sounds of the rice falling into the newly empty boat, the dip of the pole in the water, the alternating absence and presence of wind.

Some days, it felt akin to prayer. All there was to ponder, to accomplish, to call in, was the rice. The intensity of the sun, the heavy water-laden pole, the long ache of our impeccably worn muscles, would fade into a rhythm. When I stood poling, I was handful of ricecontemplative, and soaked by the cascade. When I sat and knocked, every inch of my arms and legs, clothes and hat, was covered in the fractured beards of rice. I watched the boat grow fur as more and more of the grain piled in. Small spiders encircled the inside of the boat like garland, creating delicate trims of translucent lace. Rice worms wriggled free of the fallen grain. The landscape was a strange and teeming stillness, and within it I felt my mind itself fill with the possibility of each new stroke, a hearty and fecund fall, and the emptiness of such simple movement. Every once in a while, there was an interlude. Mud ducks scared silently from the thicket of their homes, taking to the sky in hush of quiet wings. A gust of wind strong enough to shake the stalks. The faraway hum of another boats conversation. And then, once more, silence.

stalk closeThe other ricers on the lake were mostly old timers – those who fell prey to the rice’s enchantment long, long ago. For these ricers, the few weeks of good rice falling was a holiday for which they waited all year. Many reserved their vacation days specifically for this— the lakes, the motion, the ability to harvest a whole years worth of precious grain in only a few days. Out on the flowage, you come to know something intimate of divinity, and of gifts. Here grows wild some of the most nutritious, delicious and filling grains in the world— and you can harvest it by the ton. On a good day a well-seasoned ricing team can pull in over 300 lbs of green rice. Parched, hulled and processed, this translates to at least 150 lbs of finished grain. It is not only possible, but easy, to harvest enough rice to last you an entire, nourished year.

pond lillies vibrant

The Poetry & The Process

We camped back in a planted pine forest, alongside the flowage and next to a large meadow— ideal for drying the bounty. We bent a landing out of an old beaver path. A dark corridor of decomposing cattails and wapato (duck potato) over which we walked. It was like crawling over partially set pudding. Every few steps you’d plunge in unexpectedly, sunk up to your thighs in the thick wet humus. Pushing off in the morning was one thing…pulling a canoe laden with over a hundred pounds of rice back to shore was another. My ricing partner and I (both petite, yet tenacious women) would count to three, after which, with each gargantuan effort, we’d move the canoe forward a good six inches. At the end of a long day a swim is absolutely necessary. With thigh-high lines of pond muck and an unseen, yet supremely itchy, layer of broken “rice beards” covering your whole body—a good dip in the deep part of the flowage felt like a rich treat.

boats on dark dock

The Landing

At night we cooked over an open flame: beaver and goose, bear fat and duck potatoes with wild rice and any greens that graced our camp. By the time we were all done eating, many of us shirked the pleasure of building up the fire for the comfort of our sleeping bags and a long night of sleep. For me, even in my dreams, the ricing continued. Every night, late into the night, I would awake from a dream with the high paranoia that I was still out on the lake, rocking in the small waves. A feeling like I was missing something, had somewhere yet to be. Then, the lake itself seemed to wake me up and I would remember: yes, I was allowed now to drift into other dreams and sleep. And so I would.

sunset on the flowage 1Harvesting was a breezy kind of labor—the variety of work that you marvel at in its making and reflect back on with pride. Processing, however, was a purer and more brutish form of drudgery. Most people these days bring their rice to a processor, and for good reason. The whole event— from start to finish— is marked by intensity, toil and, at times, extraordinary boredom. Laid out to dry in large tarps for several days, the brittle green-hulled rice in brought in grain bags to a parching station. There, it is tipped into a big metal pan, under which we build and continually feed a hot, ember rich fiber. Two rice laid out to drystirrers sit with paddles (which we hewed from green wood) and constantly shift the rice back and forth, back and forth, walking in circles around each other and the fire. Careful not to burn the rice, parching makes the outer hull brittle and easier to remove. Parching also lends the rice a secret, smoky scent, a taste that far succeeds any spices or salt. Once properly parched, a process that usually takes about 45 minutes, the hot rice is brought over to the dancing pits.

The pits themselves are dug and lined with thick hides: in this case we used elk and moose. We constructed a kind of frame around each pit, so the dancers would have poles onto which they could bare their weight. Each dancer laces themselves into buckskin booties and then lowers themselves into a scalding pit of rice. The dancing, or jigging, which sounds so sweet and stoic is actually more of a prolonged cardio workout consistenting of one repetitive motion. The goal is to grind the two stirring the ricechaff from the grain—pulverize it. And so you jig in a motion that looks like Elvis on an elliptical. Over and over. The faster you jig, the easier it will be because the heat makes the chaff give way. As the outer barbs turn to crumble, each jigger becomes increasingly more covered with a fine layer of the itchiest dust imaginable. By the end of a days span, many of us looked like woolly mammoths or unsightly Muppets. Jigging is intense: plain and simple. By day two I could hardly walk. On day five my ricing partner blew out one of her knees. Everything hurt— your shoulders, your feet, your hands. Blisters between the toes were common and dehydration an ever-present concern. We began in mid-morning and often danced until after dark.

pit dancing in motion blurpaddles stirring motion cropIt took a day and a half for our troupe of ten people to parch and dance the thirty gallons of finished rice my partner and I brought in. A week later, the day I left, I stood in an open field for hours, winnowing. After the tumult of harvesting and processing, winnowing was a serene luxury. The feeling of completion was tangible, something I could taste— as the chaff billowed in the air and the finished rice fell into our buckets. A poem formed in my head: A Good Day for Winnowing.  And I think it might do the process more justice than I could manage in prose—

<<<< = >>>>

A Good Day for Winnowing

First, you’ll need a wind.
Rather than seek, you’ll wait
like a young wife at empty docks
—expectant, sensory, humble.
Ignore the fickle breezes, breaths that
begin and end in the same syllable murmur.
Abide the long moments of still, deflated exhale.
For winnowing, you’ll need a straight-forward wind,
one that you can read
the direction of it like Braille on your skin.

On a good day, it doesn’t take long.
Heft the sacks of some earlier harvest
to a place cleared, cleaned by wind
and let the world separate for you
the chaff.

Take your basket to the altar, the ever-open mouth
and toss, toss, all that must be tossed
toss again
until that which has weight, falls
and that which has been crushed, spent
is whisked away.

Our lives are fed by the smallest nourishments.
A single revolutionary idea that must be freed.

So hold the empty pans, hold the separating
the separate
and pray that the wind inside of you
takes even the smallest grains away.

<<<< = >>>>

finished rice close

Finished rice

For two weeks I thought of nothing but rice, and of everything kept waiting in my life. I knocked a thousand tiny ideas into the small movements of my mind— and I allowed the possibility of a single path of nourishment to unfold in the marsh. I walked in circles and I danced, I forgot what it felt like to dip my hands in hot water and remembered how to read the direction of the wind on my skin. Every repetition, repeated, was something new. From the lake, I drove—my car heavy with many gallons of rice and my heart light as butter. Ready, I felt, to allow that which has weight to fall and that which is spent to stay behind… in the soil of the fields, the surface of the water, the moments of time crushed, exhilarating, crude. The toil, already forgotten, the food of a new year replete and ready to be served.

rice in boat on water

rice in hand

Mythical Mushrooms & Dark Magic Reishi Tuffles

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s summer in Appalachia and there is endless rain. Some days it has poured from grey dawn to greyer twilight, the sound of it like trees harshly arguing. It’s become a rhythm: the rain, the rain. Last week, it reached a pitch. The soil was saturated; every step raised small lakes of footprints. Low fields became like shallow ponds, their basins filling with mud from the river and the tiny eggs of tadpoles. Up north, whole bridges washed away. Times like these I wonder if the earth itself doesn’t experience that same sharp catharsis we call crying. The moment when something inside finally tears, and there is nothing to do but allow the fresh gift of deep weeping.poppy in rain

Rain is a part of these mountains, as ancient as the softened curves of its stones. It is a harbinger—sometimes soft, sometimes thunderous— of the dying and the born. Old trees topple with sodden roots to the forest floor. The waterfalls carry boughs away. Plants grow heavy, yet ravenous. Moss and mold cover all unmoving things. Deeper still, in the rotted logs of the woods, death is transformed, stunningly and sudden, into life. This is the time for mushrooms.

Ganoderma tsugae

Ganoderma tsugae

Mushrooms have always held a great and murky magic in my mind. They are mysterious. Neither plant, nor animal, nor mineral, mushrooms occupy a space of being that is hard to communicate…let alone conceive. Like us, mushrooms breathe. They take in the same oxygen we so unconsciously praise, and exhale the same spent carbon dioxide. Many people lump mushrooms in with the plant kingdom but mushrooms are actually as different from those chlorophyll-loving beings as we are from a blade of grass.

The shrooms that we see growing from soft logs and standing trees, are actually the wisely-timed blooms of a much larger, hidden network of vegetation called mycelium— colonies of branching beings that extend underneath the soil of our entire world.

Mycelium breaks down massive amounts of organic material, turning winters leaves into the rich humus of a forest floor. Without mycelium, life on our planet, and the great relief of dying, would be irrevocably altered. Mycelium is not only an organism (and some say the largest organism on earth) it also functions as a vast network of interaction. Some scientists believe that trees and other plants are able, not only to communicate, but also send vital nutrients to each other through the infinite strings of this mysterious web. Mycelium is so adept as breaking down organic compounds, many think they might be the first to adapt to the new chemicals of our world, transmuting radiation and pollutants into something more benign.

Richard Giblett - Mycelium Rhizome

Richard Giblett – Mycelium Rhizome

Mushrooms, often as ephemeral as an orchid in the rich cove of spring, are rare heralds in our world. They remind that we are all connected, in vast and unfathomable ways. That our lives, singular and unique, are but a single bloom enriching the whole. They lay bare the pungent, primal fact of existence: that the release of one form ignites another. From death and decay, the darkened sway of one life extinguished, Double layered reishinew life arises and is born. They show, exquisitely, how all are really one in the same. Here in Appalachia, the birth story of reishi begins with the death of the Eastern Hemlock.

Our abundant local species of reishi is Ganoderma tsugae, named for the scientific genus of the tree on which they flourish. Eastern hemlocks (Tsugae candensis) used to dominate large swaths of southern Appalachia. Today, almost all of these great hemlocks are falling. The wooly adelgid, an invasive East Asian insect, has single-handedly brought down an entire population. As the hemlocks falls, the reishis boom.

In these mountains, reishi is sought after, searched for and prized like gold. Every season I try to dry enough to get me through the long winter. I like to decoct reishi for an everyday immune tonic tea, and add it liberally to my soup stocks and broths. For many people, finding a good patch of reishi in the woods is tantamount to being blessed inexplicably by a fabulous, life-affirming dream. You feel unshakably on the right path.Reishi on log

The Asian species of Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is called “Ling zhi,” which translates as “spirit plant” or the “immortality mushroom.” In traditional Chinese medicine, this rare wild mushroom was reserved for the emperor and his court. Reishi was cherished for its ability to nourish the heart and safeguard shen (the Chinese word for the concept of a person’s mind/consciousness and emotional balance). Chinese reishi is considered an adaptogen, cardiotonic, immunomodulator and gentle nervine tonic.

There has recently been a crisis of confidence in the world of Southeastern herbal medicine. Some herbalists in the region have become so convinced that our local species of mushroom is inferior to the imperial G. lucidum as to declare it useless. To that, I say, “phooey!” I live in Appalachia and I believe, fixedly and with all my heart, that the medicine you need is always growing around (and within) you. When I collect our local reishi, I feel its medicine radiate through the very air we both breath. The experience is sensory, incandescence, pungent with a humid and fragrant fate. I believe in the medicine of this reishi.reishi above rushRecently I went for a solo hike at a beautiful high elevation trail. I was hoping to skip between the breaking bouts of torrential rains to find a hint of this illustrious mushroom. I hiked down the slippery mud-laden path through the fog to a spot rumored to be rich with early summer buds. Finally, after two hours, I dropped down into a forest of old hemlocks, and slowed my pace. For a while, I only spotted last year’s reishi, far off the trail and up high on the dead standing trees. I passed several streams, swollen with water. I saw no one. And then, in the soft distance, I heard the rush of a much madder flow. A waterfall, or a new river, pushed from the stones by our recent deluges of rain. As the sound grew, and I neared closer…I suddenly knew: in the middle of the torrent there would be a soaked log laden with reishi. Without question, without expectation, without pomp, I opened into the white water clearing, and there it was. If you listen long and hard enough, you can always hear medicine speaking.

four reishiI couldn’t help it. I threw caution to the wind (and my shoes in a nearby tangle of roots) and climbed up onto the precariously perched log. It was slippery, bogged with water and furred with moss. The fresh sweet buds of reishi and the illustrious varnish of their mature orange fans cascaded down its long body. I angled myself with my camera, careful not to let an elbow slip lest I tumbled myself into the falling mass of white water. Underneath me the wood radiated the fragrant, mineral breath of loose earth. I lingered for a long time, exploring life at the edge of such a deluge, listening. When the reishi gave its soft nod, I harvested. I cut a few creamy nibs off the fleshy buds, to be slow cooked later in warm butter and a cast iron pan, and took precisely four mushroom blooms. On the hike back the sky grew ponderous, unhinged and finally poured. I sloughed through the rain in a wide poncho, singing to myself as I climbed the trail, already dreaming of the enchanted reishi concoctions to come…

dark magic truffles

Dark Magic Reishi Maple Truffles

I crafted these bittersweet delights on a dangerously stormy afternoon. The soft music of the kitchen was swallowed by the drum of the rain and the thunder shook the whole house. Lightening drew close and gave an electric spark of energy to these dark magic creations.

This recipe is a decadent way to incorporate reishi medicine into your life. The combination of the cacao with a luscious dash of dark maple syrup, makes for some seriously addictive incantations. Night owls be warned. These chocolates have kept me up into the wee hours of the morning. On their own, neither reishi nor cacao have ever been able to keep me from sleep, but there is something in the synergy of these truffles that had me (and my roommate) twiddling our thumbs and daydreaming until dawn. Eat one before a rich evening of conversation, live music by firelight, or studying in your library.

reishi balls lined upIngredients:

1 cup dried chopped Reishi (if you are using powder I would reduce the amount to ¼ cup)
3 cups Water
1/3 cup Maple Syrup (depending on your sweet tooth)
1/3 cup Cacao butter (melted) – you can also substitute coconut oil
1 cup Pecans ground (or nut of choice)
½ cup Coconut flakes
½ cup Cacao powder
Optional: Maca powder, to taste

[Makes approximately 20 heaping teaspoon-sized truffles)

reishi in teacup far

Directions:

The medicinal constituents of reishi are most soluble in water. To encapsulate the medicine of these mushrooms, this recipe involves the finesse of creating a truly delicious bitter syrup. To start, combine your dried reishi and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and cover. Simmer until the water content is reduced to 1/3 cup (The water line will be just covering the reishi. You can press the decocted reishi through a cheesecloth or potato masher to get out every last drop of bitter mushroom goodness. Save the spent reishi in the fridge and add to your next tea for a gentle taste of mushroom).

Pour your concentrated reishi decoction back into your empty saucepan and combine with maple syrup. Gently heat (uncovered) until you have reduced your syrup in half.

reishi in teacup super close

Dried reishi

Pour your reduced reishi syrup into a separate bowl. Taste to determine strength (Ideally you would have a perfect balance between reishi’s bitter medicinal and the mellow sweetness of the maple). Reserve a spoonful of syrup to drizzle over the finished truffles if you so desire.

Cacao butter ready to be melted

Cacao butter ready to be melted

Melt cacao butter over low heat and then combine with your reishi syrup to make a small pot of pure manna.

In a separate bowl combine ground pecans (or nuts of choice), coconut flakes and cacao powder until well mixed. (Add your optional maca or other super food powders)

Cacao powder

Cacao powder

Measured pecans

Measured pecans

Slowly pour the liquid cacao butter and reishi syrup into your combined dry mixture. Stir well. If it still feels runny, add an extra dash of coconut flakes or nuts. It should be warm, supple consistency.

Put your finished mixture in the fridge for at least an hour. Remove when it is solid enough to roll into teaspoon-sized balls. Finished your truffles with a variety of creative toppings. You could try toasted sesame seeds, candied ginger and cayenne, or ground pistachios and sea salt. Drizzle with your reserved reishi syrup and serve on any rainy day.

reishi balls in a rowreishi collection on ottoman

Oh, Roses: Medicine, Magic & Honey

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On the craggy side of our driveway, arching over a rusty fence, there is a rose bush that has grown wild. Once upon a time, I imagine, it was planted by a quiet, well-mannered couple. Decent, hardworking folks who placed that bush, square and manageable, at the far end of their placid yard and expected it to behave. Fortunately for us, it never has.

rose wall with stool

The first year we moved in, the roses took to bloom in a flurry of surprise. Like the vivid adventure dreams of a midsummer’s nap. Pop! Suddenly, they were exhilarating and everywhere, speaking to us of something grand. The next year, we had only a few blossoms. I almost forgot about the scraggly vines. But this season…this season has been something closer to resplendence. The blooms are opulent, bellied, swollen with perfume and that ineffable scent of ahh, a bewitchment that never fails to make my knees go slack and my eyes close…

rose full shot

Their petals cover the ground, like small mouths softly consuming the soil. Every day a new bloom pushes outward, begins its slow and sensuous unpeeling. I stand with both arms stretched out like wings beneath the tall canopy of pink. I carry them into the house, watch the chambers unfold by candlelight. They are like perpetual poets. Sometimes I get so close to them, my hands, my face, I feel as if I am drinking.

Roses. They hold a power over me.

roses close

Maybe it’s in my blood. According to family lore, my great great grandfather died for the sake of a single rose. An English gardener and flower breeder by trade, in the late 19th century this passionate predecessor entered a maddening race: to be the first man to breed a black rose. He tried for months. Time and time again, there was simply too much purple, a discouraging dash of pink, a ruining run of crimson. Finally, one fateful day, a new bloom opened and there it was, dark, rich, fulfilled– the black rose (or at least as close as anyone had yet come). At this point, the race had become so vicious, so contested, my great uncle refused to leave the rose. As my grandmother tells it, he decided to sleep out in the greenhouse rather than leave his beloved black bloom to the threat of poachers, known to be keeping close tabs on the race. The way I see it, the glory of the black rose drove him into a steeply dedicated madness. In a plot twist worthy of the romantics, my great great grandfather, who slept dutifully besides his single rose, caught pneumonia in that green house and fell deathly ill. Within months, he passed away, out of the history books and forever disqualified from the race. All for the sake of a single rose.

CarolynJenkins-Folio-Illustration-Agency-Watercolour-Botanical-Horticultural-Realism-Rose-LCrushed, coddled, beloved– Roses have surpassed that solid, statuesque position of symbolism. In the rich tableau of our cultural history, story, and song roses have come to hold a meaning that belongs to them alone. Like catching a heady embankment of your lover’s old perfume, Roses have simply become that which we have always ascribed to them. Love, longing. The double-edged sword of opened beauty and hidden thorns. Protection. Delicacy. The bravery to open fully to the delights of existence. I once read that there is a roses in basekt closeterm for an object or creature that has come into being–exists– simply because so many people, for so long, have believed in its reality. Perhaps, this is the case for our roses.

I like to think that the roses always knew we would adore them. Perhaps it has been planned from the beginning. Maybe they visited the Ancient Persians, the first to cultivate the wild rose, in their dreams, swept them under the velvet robes of their bewitchment, and bid them to begin their devotion. And I’m sure it was the inner ebb of those blooms, the voice that belongs to them alone, that first told us of their medicine. In traditional Western Herbalism, rose petals and buds are prized for their nervine properties. They are powerful medicine for healing grief, loss, sadness, fatigue and heartache. Cooling and uplifting, roses are also used as a general anti-infective and anti-inflammatory. They are a sumptuously effective remedy for wounds, burns, traumatic injuries and sore muscles. Rose medicine is as diverse as the incredible multitudinous of their species (Dive into southwest Herbalists Kiva Rose’s Monograph for a rich introduction to the healing powers of Rose).

Rose Honey & Liqueur

rose love medicineOne of my favorite ways to preserve the medicine of rose season is to craft a fresh batch of rose honey. Sensuous, evocative, and downright delicious, capturing this sweet stretch of profuse blooms is wonderfully fun. Visit your roses in the evening. Wait until the light has grown honey-warm and the scent of the blooms has spread like wine through the air. Or perhaps you’d like to venture out first thing in morning to shake off the dew. What matters is this: take time. Learn how to make the moment delicious, and all else you do (including your honey) will spin out from there. Get as close as the rose will allow. Slide your nose into the velvet folds and deeply inhale. Close your eyes. Feel their scent stir something inside you, humming some deep part of your body. Run the tips of your fingers across the arc of the petals. Watch how the unopened buds bounce in the wind. Observe, reflect, share your breath with this wild plant. When the time is ripe, gather. Wait until you have drunk your fill, and have been acknowledged by the rose…(and what an extraordinarily enthralling idea, to be recognized and accepted by such a specimen of perfection). Bring a basket or a woven bag of cloth. Collect the blooms, open and budding. Be gentle, touching the thorns on occasion. Once you have collected a few good handfuls, you are ready to make your honey.

rose in evening

Recipe & Directions

1.  Destem the blooms.
2.  Roughly chop the petals and pack lightly into a mason jar. (Add one intact bud for extra invocation of fullness and enchantment, the beginning of something new)
3.  Pour honey over the mixture until the petals are just covered.
4.  Add a good dash of brandy or your favorite alcohol to make a seriously seductive liqueur (you can choose to do half honey, half liquor for a stronger brew)
5.  Cover and let the honey sit in a dark place for at least 6 weeks. (If the mixture is close to the rim of your jar, line the underside of your lid with parchment paper)
6.  Sneak off spoonfuls as needed (eating the petals as you go) or simply strain by pouring your mixture through fine cheesecloth. If your honey mixture is stubbornly thick, pour the contents of the jar into a double boiler and gently heat until the honey is warm enough to run. (If you don’t have a double boiler you can easily create one by placing the metal rim of a mason jar in a large pan and covering with water. Balance your smaller pot onto the metal rim with its bottom just submerged in the water of the larger pot. Et voila).cool roses in bowl

Rose honey is a fabulous remedy for wounds and burns, you can apply directly to the skin. In my life however, this nectar almost always ends up dedicated to the realm of the edible.

Unveil your honey at a late summer garden party and serve with warm scones and sweet basil cocktails. If you made honey liqueur, try bringing your homemade elixir to the riverside with a lover and a picnic basket full of pillows. See what unfurls. Savor the special medicine of rose season in any slow corner of the year.

oh roses pintrest

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 805 other followers