Health and well-being were the topics of conversation last weekend at the third annual Green Bank Herb Fair held at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Guest speakers shared knowledge on the external and internal benefits of using common and not so common herbs in your diet and as part of your daily routine.
Herbalist Suzanna Stone, of Scottsville, Virginia, led the class “Filling Your Medicine Bag: Herbs for First Aid.”
Stone shared a list of her favorite herbs to use as part of a first aid kit. Whether the herbs are in tincture form, oil form or a salve, there are many easy-to-find herbs that come in handy as part of a larger first aid kit.
When selecting herbs for a first aid kit, Stone said it is important to find herbs that have several healing attributes.
“What I do when I’m building this medicine bag is I’m looking for plants that are going to have more than one action,” she said. “A great saying is ‘it’s better to know one plant a hundred ways than a hundred plants one way.’ Some of these plants you can do everything with.”
Two of those “multi-tasking” herbs are yarrow leaf and plantain.
Externally, yarrow leaf stops bleeding when used as a spit poultice. It is also an anti-microbial, so as it is applied to stop the bleeding, it will help expedite the healing process.
“I tend to also keep yarrow in a spray bottle,” Stone said. “The way it works with the blood – it stops blood congestion and so it will stop bruising. It works with cuts and then if you have somebody who has soft tissue damage or has sprained their ankle or a stubbed toe, you can spray yarrow tincture on there and it will stop the bruising from happening.”
Most of the herbs Stone carries in her medicine bag are in tincture form, which she makes herself at her apothecary, Owlcraft Healing Ways.
Tincture is made by pre-paring the harvested herb, whether it is the flower, leaf or stem, and mixing that with grain alcohol.
“When I’m making tincture, I make them in a large container,” Stone said. “I use a pint jar. I tincture in a way known as the ‘folk method’ or the ‘wise woman method,’ and I use fresh plant material. I like vodka and I use cheap vodka. You want to make sure it’s drinking alcohol, not rubbing alcohol. One hundred proof vodka is great for tincturing.”
Once the herbs are properly harvested – taking only what is needed and leaving plenty of plants behind to continue propagation – the herbs are coarsely chopped and placed in the pint jar with alcohol.
“My teacher was an herbalist named Susun Weed, and she said, ‘you pack it like a fairy mattress pack. You don’t want it so hard that the fairy can’t sleep through the night, but you don’t want it so soft that she’ll fall through to the bottom, so just firm enough,’” Stone said. “You fill your jar [with the herbs], then you take a hundred proof vodka, and fill your jar up again to the top and you take a butter knife or a chopstick, and you’re going to poke around because you want to release air bubbles. You don’t want the plant material to oxidize.
“So, you get all the air bubbles out, and chances are you’re going to have to fill your jar up again,” she continued. “You fill it up all the way to the top, put your top on, label it with the name of the plant, the date you made it and the menstruum you used. The menstruum is whatever liquid you’re using to extract the medicinal parts of the plant.”
After the process is complete, the jars are set aside for six-to-eight weeks before the tincture is complete. The tincturing process – known as maceration – is complete when the plant material is strained out of the liquid.
“You’re going to take a fine mesh strainer and you’re going to strain out the plant material,” Stone said. “Squeeze the plant material, get all the tincture you can possibly get out. Do not throw away that plant material. Give it back to the Earth. That’s a really important step because that plant gave you medicine. You’re going to compost it. If you’re somewhere where there is no compost, you can always find a piece of land, even in the middle of a big city. Give it back to the Earth and then you have your tincture and it lasts forever.”
When Stone makes an herbal oil, she uses California-grown extra virgin olive oil. The process for making an oil is the same as making tinctures.
As she spoke about the individual herbs and the medicinal uses of each one, Stone said it is important to appreciate the plants.
“If you’re going to be taking the plants’ medicine, then you need to be going to the plant, and in the fall, you need to be spreading seed,” she said. “If it’s a drought, take that plant water. It’s a commitment. If you’re asking for the medicine, you’re going to give back, and it’s a very serious commitment. It’s people not doing this part of the commitment which is part of why plants aren’t lasting as long.”
Many medicinal herbs are on the endangered list because they are not properly harvested. Stone said it is important to take only what you need and to leave behind mature plants in order for the younger plants to learn how to grow.
Stone includes the following herbs in her medicine bag:
• Yarrow Leaf as tincture and dried leaf. Used for cuts, bruising, bug bites and stings, digestive complaints and as a bug repellant.
• Plantain as a tincture, oil/salve and dried leaf. Used for bug bites, stings, snake bites, scrapes, rashes, vomiting and/or diarrhea.
• St. John’s Wort as a tincture and oil. Used for burns, viruses, injuries, viral infections, the “blues” and nerve pain.
• Goldenrod as an oil. Used for muscle cramps, muscle aches and tension headaches.
• Catnip as a tincture. Used for stomachaches, anxiety and trouble sleeping.
• Echinacea as a tincture. Used for bacterial infections, snake bites and bug bites.
• Elderberry as a tincture. Used for viral infections and stimulating the immune system.
• Lobelia as a tincture. Used for asthma and spasms.
• Wild Yam as a tincture. Used for spasms of hollow organs.
Along with the individual herbs, Stone carries a Nervine blend she concocted and named Soul Shine. The tincture is a formula containing Holy Basil, Mimosa Flower, Milky Oats, Motherwort, Blue Vervain, St. John’s Wort and Prickly Ash bark.
“It’s a balanced formula, and it targets a whole bunch of different aspects,” she said. “It’s got bitters in there. It’s got spirit herbs in there. The Prickly Ash bark, what it does is it goes in there and directs the other plants and tells them where to go in the body.”
Stone also carries a Green Salve with Chickweed and Plantain, used for chapped lips, skin irritations and any external spot that needs soothing.
The mix of homemade remedies is joined by activated charcoal tablets and a Chinese herbal powder called Yunnan Baiyao.
“Activated charcoal just binds stuff up when it comes in contact with it,” Stone said. “It’s really great to use if you think you’ve had food poisoning. The other thing that I carry, it’s called Yunnan Baiyao powder. It stops hemorrhaging. We’re talking knife wounds, gunshot wounds, really intense hemorrhaging. Yunnan Baiyao used topically will stop it.”
Stone provided a list of herbs for those interested in creating their own herbal medicine bag.
Other speakers at the event were Leslie Alexander, Maureen Burns-Hooker, Monica Chapman, Mirjana Danilovich, Ashley Litceky Ellenbaas, Mimi Hernandez, Marcia Laska, Andrea Lay, Sherry Ratliff and Heather Wetzel.
The fair also included locally grown vegetables and herbs provided by members of the Pocahontas County Farmer’s Market and a picnic provided by the Dunmore Country Mart and Bakery.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org