How do we use plants?
Oh, the wonderful world of plants! We have been adapting and co-evolving with plants for thousands of years. Through out posts and videos, we will visit our rich, shared history, remember our roots and the shifts to agrarian societies, discuss all sorts of topics & issues in our relationships with plants: socio-political issues, whole systems health care, stewardship, medicine and nourishment.
To watch the video that starts with a little rant about the Republicans' repeal of parts of the Affordable Care Act, please visit and subscribe to Meraki Farmacy on the 'tube.
In this post we will explore some of the ways humans use plants. Personally, I use plants as food, drink, tincture, infusion, flower essences, essential oils and smudges. Plants are part of my spiritual practices, emotional and mental health, physical health and my business of making self care essentials. Plants are my friends, teachers and healers, co-workers and comrades. Plants remind us of our own roots, growth, blossoming, resourcefulness, unique magic and interdependence with all of nature and life.
To go into all the ways we use, with all the plants is a life long, evolving, personal, universal, rich and rewarding series of experiences. My intent here with this is to introduce some of the basic ways we can use plants with some widely accepted and very old processes. Hopefully it fuels interest, sparks imagination and inspiration. This is a skim along the surface of the deep, rewarding and rad world of flowers, leaves, stems and roots.
This is Folk medicine.
There of course is variety and differing opinions on technique. Again, my intent is to show you how easy, accessible and rewarding it is to do and hopefully inspire you to learn and do more. I am CONSTANTLY learning, making mistakes, having successes, like this, not liking that, learning the “hard way” – such is life, right? Advice to you: be curious and open, have some fun, do what feels good and true, explore and really enjoy the process as much as the end results. That’s in general, and with plants.
One last thing before we dive in: Accessibility, self sufficiency and personal power are things that are important to me. No one person or demographic owns herbalism or plant medicine. I deeply admire, respect and appreciate everyone who has dedicated time and effort to studying with impressive discipline the biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, ecology, and more that is required to be an effective and responsible herbalist (and other health practitioners.) However, we all can use plants in our daily lives, while consulting with masters of all the ways of healing and improving health. I am not a doctor or herbalist. Meraki Farmacy and I can’t provide diagnosis or prescribe medical treatments. Consult with your health care providers as often as you need to and use any appropriate medicines or treatments as you see fit. But don’t forget how old and universal and part of humanity our plant friends, healers and teachers are. And how powerful, creative and responsible you are for you own well being.
Ok, so How Do We Use Plants?
Spoiler alert: the best way to use a plant is to eat them! Whole, raw, grown without chemical poisoning, grown by yourself or someone local. Unfortunately, there is not equal access to whole, organic foods for all people – as there very well f^*@ing should and needs to be! We address that problem of inequality & discrimination with the same creativity, compassion and activism as we do other socio-political concerns:
There are hundreds, probably thousands of ways to prepare and eat vegetables. There is no shortage of free recipes on the internet. Use your own creativity. Grow and eat what you like, what is wild, what is local and seasonal. Teach your kids. Learn from others. Start a cooking group at a community center or local place of worship if you can’t find one.
Not sure how to cook? I bet there is either a local person or organization that can help! Go to the library. Ask your grandparents. Ask your kids. Ask Jeeves. Just kidding, ask Siri. There are books, online videos, magazines, classes.
Don’t like to cook? Listen, no one is asking you to be a chef. But taking responsibility for your meals and cooking whole foods is fundamental to health. You don’t have to get fancy. You don’t have to be the best. I am willing to bet, though, once you start cooking some things you will find it fun and creative, or at least worth the effort as your body, mind AND soul feels better.
The other ways to use plants for well-being: teas, herbal oil, herbal vinegar, tinctures, flower essences, essential oils and smudges. In any of these techniques there are some general guidelines:
If I am making an infusion for something like the full moon or summer solstice, I will also set the jar out under the moon or sun, maybe with some flowers or a crystal like a rose quartz. Totally not necessary but for me it is a fun ritual that I believe enhances the intent and experience; it’s medicine in it’s simple action.
Whenever I plant, harvest, prepare and use some plant medicine I say what’s up to my friend. I thank it, I welcome it into my body and ask it to share it’s radness with me.
TEAS, INFUSIONS and DECOCTIONS (plants + water)
I never was into teas. I had a single story in my head that teas were something rich, white, anglo folks drank. A British thing. (eye roll. Geez, lioux, really?) Woman, what a silly story! Humans have been drinking teas in all areas of the world, through all cultures for eons. Tea drinking is accessible and open to personalization, customization and ceremony. It can be as simple or as elaborate as you desire. Tea drinking ceremonies are rich in ritual, honor, rejuvenation, nourishment, connection and healing. You can have one all by yourself or with your family or friends. You can use ornate pottery or whatever you have at home.
A tea is simply a drink made from pouring boiling water over dried or fresh plant material, covering and letting it steep for a range of time, usually about 15 minutes but up to a few hours. Teas are a wonderful way to learn about plants, take time for yourself, practice mindfulness, be creative, and supplement your diet with vitamins and nutrition.
Educate yourself about plants and the techniques on how to use them. Explore the dynamic history of tea throughout the world, introduce your folks about what you learn and create and find responsible sources of plant materials for you to use for your mind, body and spirit. Drink plants. Welcome them and their sweet magic medicine into your body. They know what you need, and where to go.
HOW TO MAKE:
You can make a large batch of tea and it will keep in the refrigerator for 7 days.
You need dried or fresh plant leaves or flowers, water, a heat source, a container to heat the water in and a cup. That’s it! If you can boil water you can provide yourself and others with delicious, healthy and deeply nourishing beverages.
General ratio: Fresh plant: 1 oz or 1 hearty handful. Dried: half that/ per 1 quart of water
A tea or water infusion with roots and/or bark is called a decoction. Because that material is tougher, woodier, you need to “cook” it down to get all that dope medicine out of the plant and into your cup.
General ratio: 2 parts fresh or 1 part dried/ 3 quarts water.
You can always add honey or molasses to any kind of tea for some natural and medicinal sweetness.
Making an herbal oil is pretty much the same procedure as making a tea or decoction.Oils infused with medicine can be used as first aid, skin care, ingredients for a number of skin care products, as body oil, or as cooking oil.
You can use fresh or dried herbs. If using fresh I recommend waiting a day or two after harvest, laying the material out and letting it dry for a bit. Water and oil don’t mix, and any water on the plants can lead to growth of mold which could spoil the oil, literally. Rancid oil is . . . rancid. But don’t fret! I often make herbal oils with fresh material and have minimal trouble. If mold is growing, scoop it off the top. If the oil smells gross ( you will know), give it back to earth and start over. It happens!
There are different thoughts on making an herbal oil, of course. Some folks swear by the slow and steady method – which is making and infusing for 4-6 weeks, or 2-4 depending who you ask. I do a moon cycle. Other folks say there ain’t no shame in not being that prepared and infusing an oil with herbs on the stove top. I have done both methods and if there is a measurable difference in the medicine power of the oil, I can’t tell.
Quick note on oils before instructions – talk about oils in itself can be a long dialogue. Different oils have different properties. No matter what oil you use, first know your desired outcome.
Is this a facial cleansing oil?
Is this a cooking oil?
An oil for boo-boos?
Do you want something with antioxidant power?
What do you have? What is responsibly sourced and can be used for more than one purpose in your home? Things to think about!
Briefly, here are some oils, called carrier oils in this context, and some of their properties related to skin. Remember, the plants you choose to use will also provide lots of medicine and nourishment. And that everyone’s skin is different and will respond uniquely.
TO MAKE HERBAL OIL:
General ratio: 1 oz herb to 4 oz carrier oil. If using fresh herb, make sure it is dry.
You can infuse oils with heat for a faster infusion: if fresh, to help evaporate some moisture out and with dried herbs, for a more potent oil. Fill your jar as noted above but do not cover. Place the jar in a double boiler and simmer on low heat for an hour. You aren’t cooking this, so keep the heat low. You can also place the jar in an oven at 125 degrees F, on a radiator – anything with low, gentle heat. Do this for 10 days, strain, bottle and label.
To make a healing salve with an infused herbal oil:
Tinctures are another fanfriggintastic way to harness some plant medicine. The benefits of tinctures are: they are potent, are used internally, they keep and store for a very long time, are easy to take, are convenient to travel with or toss in the car or a bag. You take a few drops straight to the mouth or into a drink. The majority of tinctures are made with alcohol: that is what both draws the medicine out of the plant and preserves it. You can use glycerin or vinegar, also, and dilute a mother batch with some water. You can use fresh or dry herbs but I recommend using fresh plant material. The alcohol preserves and will prevent any mold or bacteria from growing from moist, fresh plant. You can use any part of the plant to make a tincture.
General ratio: 1 part plant stuff to 4 parts alcohol/vinegar or glycerin
Follow the same directions to make a vinegar infusion!
I didn’t talk about in the video about essential oils, aromatherapy and fragrance oils. Essential oils are not infused oils: they are concentrated, volatile plant extracts from different parts of different plants, hard to do without proper equipment for steam distillation (or chemical extraction, which I am not really a fan of). They provide scent and medicine, are worth having on hand from reputable suppliers and are a whole, interesting world of plant potency. Essential oils are very strong, used in very small quantities – like drops – are most often need to be in a carrier oil before being applied directly to skin. Essential oils are not taken internally.
Some suggestions for essential oils for skin, and mood:
There you have it, folks! A quick introduction (yes, for real – we could talk about all these things in way more detail. We didn’t even talk plants, yet!) I hope you find this helpful and know that this information belongs to us ALL.
Thank you so much! See you soon!
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