Three herbs you can harvest right now to stock your Herbal First Aid Kit

In my corner of the country, the soggy Pacific Northwest, we’re beginning to see the green little shoots of spring growth from some very exciting plants.

Yes, you read that right, exciting plants.

These plants just might blow your mind with their medicinal power that’s been hiding right underfoot in the forest!

In fact, I am going to be guiding a small herb walk this Saturday to introduce some folks to three fabulous plants which they can use as part of an all-natural first aid kit, so I decided I’d like to write about the plants so that you can learn alongside us.

It doesn’t take much investment, aside from your time, to learn about how to treat your family’s medical needs with herbal options.

GaultheriashallonproSVRDU
https://green.kingcounty.gov/gonative/Plant.aspx?Act=view&PlantID=33

Salal

Gaultheria Shallon

This perennial bush is native to the Pacific Northwest which has waxy-shiny green leaves that remain on the plant all year long. The berries of the plant are high in antioxidants and can be used to make jellies and jams. But beware, they’re a bit tart!

Of course, February is too early for the berries to be ready for the picking, that must wait till this summer, but we can still benefit from the wonderful leaves! The leaves have historically been used by many native peoples for coughs, colds, wounds, and digestive problems.

A tea can be made with the dehydrated leaves, which have drying properties, supporting health by removing congestion and mucus from the sinuses to through the respiratory system. When you gather the leaves, go in spring and summer and seek out the most vibrant, healthy-looking leaves.

stinging-nettle-image
http://www.ediblewildfood.com/stinging-nettle.aspx

Stinging Nettle

Urtica dioica

This plant is not only medicinal, it is also a food source of many vitamins and is highly nutritious. It is a leafy plant growing in stands connected by an underground network of rhizomes.

I’ve always loved the word rhizome, maybe I’ll name my first son Rhizome…

Anyways.

The plant is famous for the tiny stinging hairs on the underside of the leaves. I for one learned very quickly as a child exactly what it looked like and not to touch it!

It has been used for generations to treat conditions including painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. I also personally know herbalist friends who use nettle as part of their regimen in treating their seasonal allergies and hay fever.

When you collect stinging nettle it is important to cover your exposed skin by wearing gloves and long sleeves. The leaves can be dried to make a tea or to use in cooking.

800px-Lichen_3
http://www.methowvalleyherbs.com/2013/11/usnea-herb.html

Usnea

Usnea longissimus

Usnea is a lichen (another cool word!), which is a combination of an algae and a fungus growing together. It grows prolifically in areas which have heavy rainfall, such as the Pacific Northwest.

You can often find the lichen growing on old fallen branches or decaying trees. I’m sure you already realize from looking at the picture that it has been surrounding you on many hikes when you didn’t even know it!

It is a potent anti-microbial and anti-bacterial defender. It can be used for a great many effects on the human system, including for infections, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, sore throat, fungal infections, vaginal infections, sinus infections, colds/flu, mastitis, and boils.

It is very important not to over-harvest usnea because it grows quite slowly, so when harvesting take only as much of it as you will need. It can be prepared as a tincture and a decoction.

I hope you enjoyed your brief education on early spring-time herbs, and that you will go out this week and look for these or other medicinal herbs in your area.

You’ll be amazed to see what you can find growing in your own backyard!

-M.

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Check out these websites for more great information on these plants:

Stinging Nettle on Edible Wild Food

Usnea on Methow Valley Herbs

Usnea on Susun Weed

Salal on Wild Foods and Medicines

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The Balance(ing) act: Also known as swallowing your pride and making sacrifices for healthy habits..

I hate feeling controlled.

I’ll admit it; I have a slightly rebellious nature at times, and one thing I crave more than most other things is a sense of autonomy; of self-determination. To take a page from my old friend Merriam-Webster:

(self-de•ter•mi•na•tion): “free choice of one’s own acts or states without external compulsion”

There is much to be said for the feeling of being the reader of one’s own life compass, the forger of your own trail, the captain of your own ship. In fact, I think that often the desire for further autonomy and expertise is part of what drives people to work harder and better.

In general, I tend to feel a bit suffocated by routine and requirements. I’m great at following rules, don’t get me wrong, but as I follow the rules there is a tiny version of myself with blue war paint smeared on marching around inside my brain waving a cardboard sign and chanting “Freedom!” in protest.

Sometimes excercise sounds like about as much fun as these ladies make it look like.
Sometimes excercise sounds like about as much fun as these ladies make it look like.

Habits always start out for me as an exciting, shiny new proposition which I carefully selected for myself from off of the self-help shelf at the IntelliMart, that clearly is going to be not only easy to follow but also, at times, fun! But without fail, within the first few weeks of implementing my new habit, I start to feel a smoldering grudge against being “forced” to do something lurking, growing ever bigger as I make more sacrifices in order to abide by my habits. They get less shiny, they get less new, and they start to feel more and more restricting if you allow yourself to hold a grudge against them.

However (and this is a BIG however!), I have learned that without positive habits (i.e. routines that we choose for ourselves), it is very difficult for me to find balance in my life.

Excercising in nature makes me feel as free as a bird.
Excercising in nature makes me feel as free as a bird.

I have always kept some type of regular exercise routine as a part of my weekly schedule, but for a year or two after a running injury I let myself “be flexible” with when and how often I exercised. But when “being flexible” became code for “I never go to the gym anymore and I hate it when I do go because I feel so out of shape,” that is when I started to miss the habit of running and strength training on a weekly schedule, because it offered me accountability that I began to miss (and so did the screaming seams on my blue jeans).

I love spending time in deep conversation with good friends. I have learned that it is an integral part of who I am to have serious chats with people I respect on the regular, but for long spurts I allowed myself to be starved of those wonderful times with good people because I was “so busy” with “important things to do” that I just “didn’t have time for it.” But then I realized that my loneliness was my responsibility, and I started scheduling weekly exercise and telephone dates with people whom I respect and care about so I could have those talks. Although sometimes there were weeks with nothing much to say, on the weeks when one of us needed a shoulder to cry on I was so glad that we had made the arbitrary schedule to create a space for it.

We all have similar stories, of giving up our healthy habits in exchange for the drive-thru Dollar Menu version of what can make us truly joyful. For one person that habit may have been deep breathing techniques to reduce anxiety, for another it may be something quite grave like sticking with a vow to be sober.

The habits that bring balance to your life all depend upon you. Your unique personality, needs and values determine what brings energy to your day. But as I said to the waitress at the fabulous bistro where I ate lunch today: “If this were my last meal on earth, what would you recommend that I eat from your menu?”

In the same way, if this were your last week on earth, what would you want to fill up the hours in your day with?

I believe that by simply having the desire to change ourselves and find our balance, we have already moved halfway there.

-M.

Challenge #1: Take some time to truly reflect on the activities, relationships, nourishment, and places in your life that bring you balance and fulfillment.

Challenge #2: Find time and physical space in your calendar which is filled with items that are unnecessarily keeping you from the things you brainstormed in Challenge #1, and clear them from your calendar. That’s right, just do it. If it were your last week on earth, I don’t think you’d regret it would you? Now fill that time and space with the beautiful things that bring you balance.

Would you like help thinking of ways to create more balance in your life? I would love to help. Email me at halfway2harmony (at) gmail.com to start the conversation.