Category Archives: WILDCRAFTING

Sweet Fern

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47dc-4fae-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.rThe fragrance of Sweet Fern after a summer rain is unmistakable. It’s as if somebody peppered the very air with an exotic spice. Fresh and refreshing are the words that spring to mind each time I breath in the aroma of this versatile plant.

Once you know that Sweet Fern (Compton Peragrina) is cousin to Bayberry (Myrica cerifera),  you begin to understand the lure of this lesser known member of the Myricaceae family.

Also known as Meadow Fern, and Spleenwort Bush, the plant is not a fern at all, but a deciduous shrub. It grows in rocky, sandy habitats, often on sunny hillsides along roadways. It reaches a height of two to three feet. Sweet Fern was a well used medicinal remedy among Native American tribes.

As a flower essence, Sweet Fern opens energy channels, making it an important component in my Energy Healer blend, along with Lilac to reconnect deep memories, and Lady’s Mantle to imbue Mother Earth’s nurturance.

The blossoms of the Sweet Fern are small. They can be easily missed when they present in late spring. There are male catkins and female, cone-like buds. Pollinated buds burst into a tiny fruit, or more correctly seed pod.Seed PodIt’s late in the season to be seeing the bright green seed satellites with their spiky hulls, especially this year, with the unusually high temperatures and drought like conditions we’ve been experiencing in the western Lake Superior basin, but I spied a few on my morning walk today.Brewing

Since I’m running low on last years stock of Sweet Fern essence, I decided to give it a go with the fruits of the plant. After all, the theory behind flower essence is that the plant’s vital energy is primarily in the blossom, and at it’s height in early morning. It seems to follow that the same would be true of the fruits and seeds—the progeny of the blossoms and method of procreating the plant. I’ll be sure to let you know how it works out.

Bottled Sweet Fern Stock Essence

Sweet Fern is a very versatile plant medicine. All parts of the plant can be utilized in many different forms. You’ll find loads of information and uses with a simple search.

Normally after I’ve bottled up my stock solution, I use the mother essence to water my houseplants. This time I’m saving it to add to a weak infusion of the leaves, which I’ll cut using sterile water. I want to try it as an astringent eyewash.

Finally, I’m going to harvest the leaves to dry in bundles along with my prairie sage to use as a smudge.


I spent a few very pleasant hours this sunny autumn afternoon grounding myself in nature. It’s something I don’t do as often as I’d like, or should. If only I would remember how good it is for me to get away from my work/the tech screens and out of my head.

Being outside, whether rain or shine, working or playing, draws my energy back down into my body, to my lower chakras. It reminds me that I am a spiritual being very much captive in a limited human form. The limitations mean I need rest, I need reconnection with my source energy. I need to ground.

Today I spent my time outdoors harvesting herbs from my garden gone wild—mint, culinary sage and native prairie sage, gently cleaning them, stripping any browned or spotted leaves and layering the best of my crop into my drying basket.


My back porch makes the perfect drying room, facing the south and west it gets toasty warm in the late afternoon. The two exterior walls are brick, so it holds the heat for hours after dusk. With only one window out of range of any direct sunlight, the herbs can dry naturally on top of the high wardrobe without any discoloration caused by oxidation.

My back porch smells sooooo good, spicy and savory scents filling the 10×10 space. Dried Bee Balm and Mint

There was a previous crop of mint and bee balm in the basket all dried and waiting to be bottled. I can’t explain why I derive so much joy from seeing these natural, organically grown herbs filling up baskets, coffee filters and jars, but I suspect it comes from active connection to the web of life.

It’s magical, when you think about it. Shoots poking up through the dirt from scattered seeds or roots that laid dormant through a frigid northern winter. Coming to life, reaching for the light, budding, flowering and, eventually, dying back again. There is comfort in knowing they will return and live again next year.

The cycle of life, the manifestation of energy transformed through seasons.

Connecting with nature helps me internalize and accept the Five Remembrances:

am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill-health.
There is no way to escape having ill-health.

I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love
are of the nature to change.
There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
My actions are the ground on which I stand.

 – Buddha

At face value, I suppose those words can be quite depressing, but their truth is inevitable. I am like the herbs I harvest and forage, here for a time, vital when conditions are favorable, but time passes and so it behooves me to stay present and enjoy the now.

A dear friend passed away earlier this week after first beating cancer several years ago, but then being stricken by Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. It was a long but valiant leaving; I don’t believe I ever saw him without a smile on his face and a cheerful disposition at the ready. I’m sure he had difficult moments and moments when he was being difficult, but in the loving care of his wife he continued to enjoy social engagement to the last. I’m guessing he didn’t waste time worrying about what was to come, but endeavored to stay grounded in the present.

He is now transformed; his spirit is free of the body that progressively limited his final years. He lives on in the memory of his wife and sons, his grandchildren, father and brother and his many friends.

Rest in Peace Mikey. May your spirit soar and your memory be eternal.

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This Ain’t Witchcraft. It’s Wildcraft.

Wildcraft or Witchcraft? This explanation from Anna Wess at Appalachian Ink is the most eloquent and accurate I’ve ever read. Enjoy the beauty of her words.

Pieces of April

The climate in my northern realm usually puts us about a month behind the adage, April showers bring May flowers, but every so often we’re blessed with a good year; this year is holding promise to be just that. The snow melted away nearly a month ago and the frost has worked it’s way out of the ground. Green shoots are poking up in the flower beds.

violets and lilly of the valleyI spent the morning in my gardens, picking windblown leaves from around emerging daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, rhubarb, wild strawberries and mint. I can barely wait to pick my first bunches of violets and fragrant lilly-of-the-valley to fashion into fairy bouquets, though their bloom time is a good six weeks away.

It felt good to be scratching in the soil again after a long winter. By noon, I kicked off my shoes and socks to reacquaint my feet with mother earth—Gaia’s spirit and mine connecting. Barefoot, I padded around my little acre checking for signs of green life.

April is a month of transition, a wild woman changing her moods with capricious will. Rain turns to sleet, then to fluffy flakes and back again to rain—all in a matter of minutes. Sun and sixty degrees mid-morning gives way to a cold chill on the wind and thunderstorms rolling in by late afternoon. A late season blizzard can bring two feet or more of snow; with the only consolation knowing that it will melt away in a day or two.

Geranium leafNo matter the unpredictable weather, April holds the promise of summer ahead. I found that promise in the bright green leaves of my wild geranium, rocketing up from the soil in a sunny southwest corner of the garden. They were pungent with the spicy, concentrated sap of spring. I plucked a handful of the leaves to whip up a batch of my Gardener’s Hand Scrub.

I’m co-teaching a class on using garden variety flowers, herbs and plants in home remedies. Though technically not a remedy, making a scrub is entry level herbalism. I want to bring samples for the students, so the little handful of wild geranium leaves was a happy surprise; they’ll add a clean, refreshing scent to my Gardener’s Hand Scrub.

I keep a jar of hand scrub by my kitchen sink all year round, but I especially appreciate it when I’ve given my hands a good workout in the yard or garden (I don’t wear gloves as often as I should). The grit of the sugar or salt powers off the grime, exfoliates my hands and cleans up my cuticles, while the oils condition my skin and nails. I just scoop out about a teaspoon full and work it into my dry hands, scrubbing and massaging, especially around my cuticles, then thoroughly rise with warm water and pat dry with a soft towel.

Basic Sugar or Salt Scrub

  • 1 cup of sugar, sea salt or Epsom salt.
  • Approximately 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon vitamin E oil
  • 1 or more Tbs of aromatic herbs of choice, chopped.

Pour about 1/4 cup of sugar or salt in food processor, add herbs and pulse until herbs are finely chopped. This will result in super fine sugar or salt, and depending on the moisture content of the plant material it may become  pasty. Remove mixture from processor and add to remaining salt or sugar, stirring to incorporate. Add vitamin E oil. Add olive oil (start with about half the amount) and stir all together. Continue adding oil until the mixture reaches consistency of thick paste. Place in a clean jar or other container with tight lid. If it seems too dry, add more oil. Too loose, add more sugar or salt.

It isn’t necessary to use a processor; you can make your scrub by simply mixing the sugar or salt, oils and aromatic herbs in a bowl. I like the method above for breaking down the plant matter and releasing the volatile oils.

So what’s the difference between salt and sugar in a scrub? Sugar is a more gentle exfoliant because the shape of the grains are more rounded, less sharp that salt. The glycolic acid in sugar moisturizes and conditions skin. Sugar scrubs are also stickier than salt scrubs. Salt not only offers a more vigorous exfoliation, it also contains beneficial minerals; salt has long been used for purification and healing, though it can be more drying than sugar. Can’t decide which one to use? Mix it up with a half of each.

You might also try putting all of the sugar and/or salt into the processor. The superfine consistency results in a very gentle scrub. Your scrub should keep for 4 to 6 weeks (the more plant material in the scrub, the shorter the shelf life; check your scrub often to be sure it isn’t spoiling). Keep it by your sink and use it every day! Try these common herbs and plants in your scrubs:

  • Mint leaves
  • Marigold petals
  • Rose petals
  • Lemon balm
  • Citrus zest (may shorten shelf life)
  • Lavender (buds or leaves)
  • Cedar

Try combining two or three for your own, custom aromatic blend.

Cooking Up a Dose of Relaxation

Cooking Up Sweet Succor for My Spirit

Bubble, Bubble – No More Toils or Troubles

I have to admit, I’ve been feeling stressed the past few months. The late spring and sudden summer, with yard and garden chores backed up, the long list of home projects never getting shorter despite the number tackled, and taking on a few new writing gigs have compounded to set me on edge. I want to simplify my life, not complicate it.

Long before bucket lists became the buzz, I had a retirement list. A mental bullet list of things I was going to do when I had more leisure time and while I was still able.

  • Learn to paint
  • Learn to play an instrument
  • Learn to quilt
  • Write a book
  • Read more books
  • Put all my photos into albums

Yeah, right, like that last one is ever going to happen. And now I can add organizing all the images on my computer into file folders that make some kind of sense.

The bump in this stretch of my mid-life path is that my husband is retired; I am not. I have a tendency to follow detours into his realm. I find myself remembering that working from home does not mean I am not working. I still have client projects, I still have deadlines, I still have to work – even if it is part-time and even if it is on my schedule.

I could quit it all. I could be just as retired as he is (even if my official retirement age is more than a decade away). In all truth, I have made a (halfhearted) attempt at retirement. But there is always some project that is too tempting, some client whose enthusiasm is contagious and the next thing I know I’m spinning back into the work vortex.

Jump starting a few of my retirement list dreams has only added to my conundrum of too much to do with too little time to do it. When I’m stretching myself thinner than a diet wafer cookie, I turn into that woman with one nerve left and everybody is getting on it. That’s when I know I need to step away from the computer, step away from the house and step away from the retired husband.

Violet Blossoms from the MAD Goddess's Garden

Violet Blossoms from the MAD Goddess’s Garden

Today I closed my eyes to all that needed to be done, and opened them to what wanted to be done. I spent over an hour picking violets instead of pulling weeds from the garden. I spent nearly as much time plucking the petals from the stems, rather than picking last fall’s dry leaves from my flower beds, even though perennials are struggling to push through. Instead of scrubbing the kitchen floor, I stirred up a sticky mess and dirtied a sink full of dishes. Instead of putting the laundry away, I put up four jars of the loveliest jelly I have ever seen – though the delicate pink of rose petal jelly is a worthy rival.

Bottled Sunshine

Bottled Sunshine

It took me the better part of the day to make just a few small jars of this ambrosia. It was work – back breaking work stooping and bending to pick hundreds of violets. It was sweaty work sterilizing jars in boiling water and standing over a hot stove, stirring the mixture while it bubbled in the pan. But a magical thing happened – my stress just melted away as the day went on.

Any time that I can spend outside in the garden and under the bright summer sun, any opportunity to be immersed in nature, is a healing balm to me. Add the alchemy of taking the gifts nature offers and transforming them, creating something of beauty – whether a lovely pastel jelly, an herb infused oil, a jar of pickles or a pot of garden vegetable soup  – and I am in my zone.

Chances are I may have to repeat the cooking and bottling if the jelly doesn’t set. I’ve done this before. Working with ingredients that have no natural pectin is always a gamble and I’ve learned that violet or rose petal syrup is still just as beautiful and tastes delicious over ice cream or pancakes, or as a sweetener in my tea.

It’s all good.


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