Our full moon gathering of wild chaga yielded abundance that we are now processing into useable forms of chaga, for tea, for tincture/extraction, as well as skin preparations. Wild chaga is very dense, hard, and much like the wood it grows upon, and does not break down easily. This is how we chose to work with our own beautiful forest gold.
The first thing we did was clean and sort the extra bits of the woods that came indoors with our wild chaga. The balsam and pine needles, leaves, dried bits of grass, spider webs and such all brush off easily with an unused toothbrush, or a vegetable brush. The toothbrush helps get into the smaller cracks and crevices.
After brushing thoroughly we now had the task of breaking the large pieces of wild chaga down into smaller pieces, working our way toward a powdered form of chaga. This was done in a series of different steps, trying to find a way that worked most efficiently for us.
It worked well to wrap the smaller pieces of chaga in a kitchen towel, and working outside on a hard surface with a hammer, pound the wild chaga through the towel with plenty of force, much like driving a nail, until pieces break down to one inch or smaller. You may also powder your chaga in this way, however, be sure to know that the chaga is very hard and shreds your dish towels. So use some old ones, and be sure to stock up on new ones for the next season!
For the larger pieces of wild chaga, we found that breaking them down on a chopping block with a sharp hatchet first, yielded pieces that were easier to pulverize with the hammer and towel method. Use caution if you choose to use a hatchet, be sure your fingers are clear, or you won’t have them when you are finished with your chaga.
After chaga has been broken down into more manageable one inch pieces or smaller, lay out on baking sheets to dry. This part of the process may take a few days, dependent upon the temperature and humidity of your home. Stir them around occasionally with your hands or a large wooden spoon, helping the wild chaga pieces to dry evenly.
Once dried, you may now store the large chunks of wild chaga as they are, or turn them into powder form to take up less storage room. Dependent upon what your needs are, and how you plan to use your chaga, you may choose to store them now and grind into a powdered form as needed. Whether in powder form or chunks, store chaga in an air-tight glass container in a dark, cool cabinet or cupboard.
Deep fall when leaves have left their precarious perches high above heads, making their journey back to the earth, after the color, the vibrancy, the autumnal glow is fading, is the time to gather wild rosehips. The hard frost has been upon the homestead steadily for over a week now.
Breaking through ice that freezes thick on water troughs has become routine during our feeding and frolicking with the critters. Soon we will have to turn over our collection of water tanks that hold rainwater for both garden and animals. I hold off as long as I can, as we carry water from the kitchen sink during the frozen months. Soon it will be time.
Today is the time to gather the wild rosehips that grow alongside the wooded edges of our homestead. Sunshine sparkles diamonds across the frozen landscape this morning as it makes it’s welcome, warming presence known. We gather to prepare for the coming winter. The wood, the food, the herbs and medicines that will be needed for the frozen, dormant, hibernating season.
Wild Rosehips offer nature’s glory in a fire-red orb. They are the fruit of the wild rose, whose heady perfume in early summer elevates the senses as you walk by. Wild rosehips are a potent, reliable source for vitamin C in a frozen climate. The taste is sweet-tart with a noticeable tang. My favorite way to keep these valuable globes of nourishment for the winter months is to dry them and use in tea to boost immunity, maintain nutrition, and for infusing oils to make healing balms for cold, dry, chapped winter skin.
It should be said that the seeds of wild rosehip should not be consumed. They are covered in tiny hair-like fibers that prickle and stick in mouth and throat. This is why I like to dry our winter hoard of wild rosehips. I do not need to de-seed them, I use them whole in tea and infusion, then discard what is left. I have found this to be the most efficient way for us to utilize them on our homestead.
Many of the foods we eat are medicinal. It is my belief that Food is Medicine. Every bite and swallow that we imbibe in either nourishes and strengthens the body, mind, and spirit, or in the case of processed, industrialized, or junk food, it harms, depletes, and overloads the body’s systems. Wild and foraged food, if found in a pure, natural environment contain the highest amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants readily absorbed by our human bodies and those of the animals that we raise on our homesteads.
(I refrain from using the word “farm” or “farmstead” because the modernized, mechanized way of doing things has changed the way food is grown on most farms today. It is my experience that those who choose to homestead, or classify their ideals as homesteaders, adhere to a much more natural, holistic view of growing and raising food).
Heirloom seeds bridge the gap between wild & foraged and cultivated. Heirloom plants are able to maintain their high nutritive value as they are the seed that has been curated and saved for countless generations, all being traced back, if you look far enough into their history, to indigenous and native peoples, before the modernized industrial food systems were introduced after the end of World War Two.
Hybrid seed and plants cannot do this. They were developed for seed companies to market to heirloom growers and homesteaders, as a new modern variety, available only through their company. You could not save the seed from these plants as they were engineered to last only for that season, so that you would have to buy more seed from the company for the following year’s crop. This model exploded the use of mail-order seed catalogs and made a very profitable business for a few folks, at the expense of the nutrition and health of the plants as well as the fruit and vegetables that they bore. This has directly impacted the nutrition of both us as the consumers of these fruits and vegetables and the animals that we raise.
On our homestead we are becoming more aware and educated about the value of wild & foraged foods. I grew up foraging for berries to make homemade jellies, jams, and a little country wine, and we have also added wild mushrooms, chaga, dandelions, greens, and herbs to our repritoire. I am excited to learn more each season about the wild foodstuffs and medicines that grow native to our region, and also in our fields and forests of our own homestead.
Enter the Wild Strawberry.
I always knew I loved freshly picked strawberries, but never paused to consider the “Medicinal” qualities of both the leaves of the plant and the fruit. David and I always find joy in looking for wild strawberries. They grow thick in our front pasture and amongst some of our wooded areas. Foraging for wild strawberries is much like a treasure hunt as they are very tiny little berries, (about the size of my pinky fingernail), with big, bold flavor that will knock your socks off, and make your eyes widen with delight! I find it amazing how nature has packed so much power into such a tiny package.
Common Herbs for Natural Health by Juliette de Bairacli Levy describes Wild Strawberries as being high in minerals, antiseptic, cooling, strengthening, healing, and a mild vermifuge (anti-parasitic). They were utilized extensively by Native Americans. Beyond the fruit, the leaves and root of the plant are also medicinal, administered as a tea for fever, to thin blood, treat lowered vitality, feeble nerves, a lack of appetite, bowel and stomach disorders, liver diseases, and undue sweating. The leaves were also utilized in treating and preventing miscarriage, and bringing balance to irregular menstration.
The fruit of the plant, the berry, is a powerful nerve tonic. It is thought to soothe and strengthen the nerves. Wild Strawberries are higher in iron than those that are cultivated, and therefore an important part of a foraged, seasonal plant-based diet. The leaves can be eaten raw, a handful per day, and are great tossed in with salad. With Wild Strawberries’ strengthening, cleansing, and antiseptic qualities, one can understand why they would be an important part of a seasonal, traditional diet, to cleanse, rebuild, and strengthen the body after a long winter.
Externally, Wild Strawberries have wonderful antiseptic qualities. The fruit may be used as a cleanser and brightener for teeth and facial applications. The drawing power of the fruit whitens teeth and lightens dark spots, discoloration, and blemishes in the skin. The leaves, when brewed into a tea, can be used as a soothing and healing lotion for eczema, sore/tired eyes, and styes surrounding the eyes and the lids.
Wild Strawberries pack a powerful punch for such a dainty little package. I plan to utilize the medicinal properties of the plant and fruit much more readily now that I understand what a powerful herbal ally they really are. I would imagine that my organically grown heirloom descendants out in the garden still retain at least trace amounts of these properties. It is no wonder they are so good!!!!
….and why you should love it too.
This is and should be the subtitle of this post.
Now that we are all aware of my shamefully unabashed love for Chai tea, let me explain myself.
And yes, I know that justification and excuse making are sure signs of addiction, but before ya’ll sign me up for a 12 step program, just hear me out. 😉
There are health benefits of drinking Chai Tea.
It is not merely a delightfully yummy drink that warms up not only your body but also your soul in the wintertime…it also is GOOD. FOR. YOU.
Chai Tea is loaded with herbs and spices that benefit the body in many exciting ways. The tea is also loaded with antioxidants, and vitamins, depending upon whether you drink Black Tea, or Red Rooibos. Let me break it down for you.
Let’s start with the herbs and spices:
Cinnamon: Considered a medicinal herb and has been used as such since before biblical times. It has a warming and uplifting effect upon the body and spirit, supports and soothes digestion, is an expectorant (breaks up and rids body of mucus), encourages proper circulatory function within the body, has strong antioxidant properties, is an analgesic (pain reliever), diaphoretic (encourages proper perspiration, which we all know is good for us ;)), alterative, (“a drug used empirically to alter favorably the course of an ailment.” (as quoted by Miriam Webster online), carminative (as in, gets rid of gas, flatulence, and bloating…I know you love cinnamon already!), emmenagogue (supports menstruation). No worries guys, this is not adverse to your physiology. Other studies indicate that cinnamon may also help support healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and also promotes wound healing.
Wow! Cinnamon alone could convince you to add Chai Tea to your daily routine! But wait! There’s more…
Cardamom: Used widely in ayruvedic medicine since ancient times, science is catching up with ancient wisdom. There are many exciting health properties of cardamom, so let’s dive in!
Cardamom is uplifting and aids in battling depression and fighting off stress, helps relieve digestive problems such as; indigestion and upset stomach, constipation, gas, heartburn, and even dysentery. It also gently encourages a healthy appetite for those under stress and prone to loss of appetite. Cardamom is even in chewing gum, because it is so effective against halitosis, (bad breath), it is used widely in South East Asia to combat tooth and gum disease, and helps to heal a sore throat, and horse voice. Lab tests show that Cardamom is loaded with antioxidants and phytochemicals to help the body to resist stress and aging and also to support the body in its healing process. Last but not least, one of the most exciting new scientific finds is that cardamom has strong anti-cancer properties. The studies show that it may be effective against hormone-responding cancers such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and prostate cancer. Science is proving the ancient healing wisdom of this herb in its ability to not only fight these cancers, but also to prevent them.
Clove: The earliest written record of clove being used for medicinal purposes date to 300 B.C. It has been extensively used throughout history as a medicinal for many ailments. This made clove one of the most sought after spices in the ancient spice trade. Clove is known as an anti-inflammatory (used to relieve inflammation within the body), antimicrobial (killing bacteria and parasites within the digestive system), antifungal (rids body of fungal growth and infection), strong antiviral (a main ingredient of “Marseilles Vinegar” or “Four Thieves Vinegar” during the Black Plague- kills viral infections), analgesic/anesthetic (pain reliever-pain killer, provides topical relief from pain, historically used in the dental industry) anticoagulant (keeps blood from clotting), antioxidant (helps to support liver and organs at removing free-radicals from the body), anticonvulsant (clove is a mild sedative and can help to relax and smooth muscles within the body), it also has wonderful properties to support proper digestion. Clove can aid in relieving an upset stomach, and help relieve gas and bloating. It is also an expectorant (works to expel mucous- so great to use for an upper respiratory infection, colds, and flu). Scientific studies are showing that clove has strong anti-cancerous properties as a strong presence of phytochemicals work as a chemopreventive used in treating and preventing lung cancer. Read more about this in the Oxford Journals here. Another exciting medicinal use for clove is in treating diabetes. It is found that clove may mimic insulin to help control blood sugar levels.
Chicory: Native Americans have long since known the plethora of health benefits in chicory. Ancient Egyptians used it, as well as Europeans throughout history. It has the highest content of inulin of all plants and herbs. Inulin is a soluble fiber that helps to regulate the digestive system. It fights against acid reflux, heartburn, and indigestion by reducing the acidity within the body. Inulin is a strong probiotic helping to maintain essential balance of good bacteria in the intestines. Inulin is not digestible so it helps to maintain healthy glucose levels within the body. Think of inulin like this- it is a cleaner, sweeper- it moves through your digestive system mopping up the toxins and yuck carrying them along to gently remove them from your body. While this cleaning action is taking place the good bacteria benefit and grow as the inulin feeds them. Its a win-win situation! Chicory is also high in vitamin and mineral content, making it a wonderful addition to your diet. It is also a strong anti-inflammatory, being used in treatment of osteoarthritis and other inflammatory ailments. Showing great promise in reducing pain and stiffness in joints. Heart disease is another of Chicory’s foes. Chicory is high in plant phenols and antioxidants helping to support the cardiovascular system and maintain health. the inulin also plays an important role in cardiovascular health by helping the body to maintain and remove bad cholesterol (LDL). This allows the body to maintain healthy blood pressure and also healthy arteries. It is also an antitumor (fights against forming and growth of tumors within the body). With chicory’s high level of antioxidants and nutrients it guards the body against cancer. It also boosts the immune system, supports liver and kidney function, encourages relaxation, and fights against stress and anxiety.
Ginger Root: Traditional wisdom and medicine tells the story of a potent healing herb that has been used throughout the ages in Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine. Ginger root is a digestive aid, supporting proper function of the digestive system, giving relief from nausea, motion sickness, indigestion, colic, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and many other digestive maladies. It has a warming effect on the body, supporting proper circulation among blood vessels and may cause a warming sensation throughout your body. Traditionally it is used to treat ailments caused by cold ad damp conditions. Ginger is the go-to remedy for anything that ends in– ‘itis’, arthritis, tendonitis, bronchitis, the list goes on… It has strong anti-inflammatory properties proving over the ages its effectiveness to treat inflammation within the body. It is also used in treating cancer because of its high levels of antioxidants, and the effect it has shown in some studies to halt the growth of cancer cells. Studies are promising and more research is planned to explore ginger root’s effectiveness to fight cancer. It also has expectorant qualities and helps to break up and dispel mucus. It is an anticoagulant helping to keep things from sticking together, it is this action along with gingers positive effect on the circulatory system that may help keep cholesterol levels in check, as well as blood pressure. Ginger is also an anesthetic, helping to relieve pain. Many cultures use it to relieve headaches. Ginger also helps to remove toxins from the body, has antiseptic and antiviral qualities and is quite effective in treating colds and flu.
Black Pepper: Egyptians, ancient monks, and tribes all valued black pepper as a medicinal herb. It was and still is one of our most highly utilized and valued spices on the market. Most people use pepper on a daily basis so let’s learn a little more about it! Black pepper is stimulating and energizing. It is good for facilitating proper digestion, aids in the prevention of intestinal gas, and also in relieving the intestinal system from gas by encouraging it to move downward through the body in a healthy motion rather than pressing upward on organs and chest cavity. Black pepper is warming and encourages circulation, and perspiration allowing the body to rid itself of toxins. It is also high in fiber, assists in breaking down fat cells to help the body lose weight naturally. Black pepper is a rich source for vitamins and minerals, including iron, manganese, potassium, vitamin c, and vitamin k. It is also an anti inflammatory, has antiseptic and antibacterial properties, is an expectorant, helping to treat and prevent the common cold, flu, heart disease and high cholesterol, respiratory infection, diarrhea, and dental disease. Black pepper’s effectiveness in treating Alzheimer’s is also being explored as it has a stimulating effect on neuropathways in the brain helping to reduce memory and cognitive impairment on those suffering from age-related dementia or other free-radical induced cognitive impairment. Black pepper is also a carrier herb. That means that it helps make other herbs more effective by supporting and carrying them where they are needed within the body.
OK, so I knew there were health benefits of my Chai Tea habit, but I really had no idea, the extent of it! It appears Chai may be quite the health tonic! It definitely gives the body a nutritional boost, and also plenty of herbal support to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I have listed just a brief overview of these herbs in this post, I am leaving you with a list of resources and encourage you to research further if you are intrigued by any one, or all of these herbs. There is some exciting and surprising information and more studies being done on the healing properties of herbs. Science has begun expressing the ancient healing wisdom of herbal remedies. It is an exciting and empowering time to be confident in claiming back our health and wellbeing.
Essential Oils Desk Reference, Third Edition, Young Living Oils
Ten Essential Herbs, Lalitha Thomas
Making tea is a wonderful start on your path to herbal healing and wellness. Tea can be a wonderful soother for a busy, stressful days. Making ‘tea time’ a family tradition is a wonderful way to include the kiddos, as is learning, gathering, growing, blending and preparing herbs and herb for tea.
The boys love to blend their favorites. Their intuition often amazes me in their selection of herb. It is always fun to see what they choose, and gives me a little insight into where they are emotionally, and physically. A wise Mama knows she can use all the help she can get….especially when things get tough, boys often choose not to communicate, but their herbal language speaks volumes.
Often we have tea in the evening after supper, before bedtime. It has become an accidental tradition, that my boys will ask for, especially after very hectic days. It is a wonderful gift to connect as a family over steaming mugs of herbal tea prepared and brewed with love.
To continue with our Homemade Homestead Apothecary series I would like to list a few of our favorite homestead herbal tea blends.
This is my youngest son, David’s, absolute favorite tea. It is based on the Celestial Seasonings blend, SleepyTime Tea, hence the name ‘Bear Tea.’ If you have ever seen the box for Sleepytime Tea you will know that it has a cute bear in a nightcap sleeping peacefully in his chair in front of the fireplace. Sounds lovely to me.
This tea is wonderfully soothing to the nervous system, it is gentle and relaxing to body and spirit. If I were going to name it, I would probably call it Peace Tea because of its peaceful and rejuvenating effect. It soothes tension and anxiety, and is exceptional at repairing frazzled nerves after an overstimulating day.
It is simple to blend and prepare as it only has three herbs.
To make the tea you will need:
Prepare tea with the steeping method, as described here.
This is the original tea blend as given by Yogi Bhajan. It is a very healing and balancing blend of herbs and spices that is rejuvenating to the entire system. It is my favorite tea. It is a warming chai tea that is wonderful in the winter months, and around a campfire in the summer! It makes a big batch, so is great for a family, or company.
Prepare tea with the simmer method as described here.
In a large kettle with a lid, add 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil and add:
20 whole cloves
20 whole green cardamom pods
20 whole black peppercorns
5 sticks cinnamon, or about 1 heaping teaspoon of cinnamon bark chips
1 heaping teaspoon dried ginger, or one fresh root, sliced
I also found a recipe for a single serving if you are the only tea drinker in your home. I usually make a big kettle to sip all day, but sometimes a smaller batch is nice. Here it is.
3 whole cloves
4 green cardamom pods
1/2 stick cinnamon
1 ginger root sliced, or 1/2 t. dried ginger
1/4 t. ground black pepper
10 oz. water
1/4 t. black tea, or 1 t. roobios tea
1/2 c. milk
raw honey to taste
I have recently started using valerian in my bedtime cup of chamomile tea. To help make it more palatable, I have also added some spearmint echoing the recipe for Davey’s Bear Tea. Though I am finding I like the taste of valerian just fine, which tells me that the herb resonates with my body. I feel this tea is appropriate for adults and teens who need help relaxing for sleep, and also battle with insomnia, but not necessary for younger children. It would be an extreme case that chamomile would not be strong enough for a child’s restlessness.
Valerian is a very strong sedative so please take care when using it. This herbal blend is extremely relaxing. I would not drink it any other time except when I am ready for sleep. I have been known to fall asleep in my large cup of tea before it is gone! It is also good for those nights when sleep just won’t come, or is fitful.
Valerian is has the ability to soothe nerves, and release anxiety. It is very calming especially when paired with chamomile. Spearmint is just plain ol’ yummy, and good for digestion. It helps to tie the others together and makes a very smooth cup of tea.
To Make the Tea you will need:
valerian root, cut
Prepare this tea using the steeping method.
This is a perfectly blended tea best enjoyed with friendly conversation. It is relaxing and soothing, calms anxiety, and releases stress, tension, and nervous energy, restoring balance to mind, body, and soul. Kind of like a good friend. So call a girlfriend, brew up a cup and chat away.
To make the tea you will need:
jasmine green tea
lavender Flowers, whole
Prepare this tea using the steeping method.
This herbal blend is our homesteads go-to for colds, and flus. It is has antiviral and antibiotic properties, it is calming and soothing, and high in vitamin C.
To make the tea you will need:
1 t. comfrey root, cut and dried
1 t. ginger root, fresh or dried
1/4 t. whole cloves
1/4-1/2 cinnamon stick, or 1/4-1/2 t. cinnamon bark
1 t. rose hips
1-2 T. lemon or orange juice, freshly squeezed
raw honey, to taste
Prepare this tea using the simmer method.
Enjoy blending your own homemade homestead teas with your family, and who knows, maybe you will start an accidental tradition of your own on the path to wellness!
The time is upon us to take back our health and wellbeing. The call is out there, I hear it on the wind and in my heart to share what I have learned, and continue to learn about caring for and healing our bodies, our hearts, and those of our families.
The Homemade Homestead Apothecary is a new section devoted to just that. Here we will learn together how to care for, nurture, and heal ourselves and our loved ones by making herbal preparations and medicines. I will feature herbs, their properties, and how to use them, as a tool to help get you started in your personal healing journey. Each post will provide you with some knowledge to empower you to begin opening up your personal quest to learn how to take back your health and wellness. There are many sources out there to learn from, so please do not regard this as definitive. Instead, allow it to be a doorway, opening a path to pursue natural healing for your family.
Tea is a simple and perfect way to start using herbs. It is very friendly to beginners, easy to do, and usually very palatable for ourselves, and our children. There are a couple of different approaches for tea making, both are dependant upon the type of herb used. Leafy herbs, and flowers need gentle steeping, whereas roots sometimes need a bit of simmering to draw out more of their healing properties. I will walk you through both methods of preparation, and also how to prepare an infusion, and decoction.
Herbal Tea: Making herbal tea is as simple as heating water. In a kettle on the stove top, heat pure, clear water to boiling. A tea kettle is nice, but not necessary. The basic recipe for tea is one teaspoon of herb to one cup, or eight ounces of water.
Choose the herb, or herbs that you would like to prepare for tea. This may be a pre-blended tea, or you may blend the herbs yourself simply by adding them to the tea bag or ball. I like re-usable muslin tea bags. But a tea ball or strainer works just as well.
Place tea bag/ball with herbs into cup.
Pour boiling hot water over tea bag.
Cover your cup. A saucer works very well for this, so does a widemouth mason jar lid. Let steep for 5-10 min. I usually let my tea steep for about 10 minutes. When tea has steeped the desired amount of time, remove tea bag/ball, add raw honey to sweeten if desired, and enjoy your homemade homestead remedy.
Place herbs and water into your kettle on the stove top. Remember to use a non-reactive pot. Place lid onto kettle to cover. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, then turn down to medium low, or low heat. Use the lowest setting that will maintain a gentle simmer.
Let simmer gently for 20-30 minutes.
Once desired timing is reached, remove from heat. Strain into cup, add raw honey to sweeten, if desired, and enjoy.
Infusion: An infusion is considered a concentrated herbal preparation. It is made by steeping the herb for a longer time period, 20-30 minutes, versus 5-10 minutes. The basic recipe for infusion is one ounce of herb to 2 cups of water. It is taken in smaller amounts, usually 1/4 to 1/2 cup at a time. The need for a more concentrated brew is simply to get more herb into the body in a smaller amount of time. However, please do not underestimate the power of a properly prepared herbal tea. It in itself is quite appropriate most of the time. Stronger is not always better.
Decoction: A decoction is considered the simmering of the tough parts of the herb. For example, the woodier stems, roots, barks, and seeds are more appropriately prepared in this way. It is also a more concentrated herbal preparation. In preparing a decoction, the basic recipe is to simmer one ounce of herb in 2 cups of water for 20-30 min. The dosage for a decoction because it is also a concentrated herbal preparation is 1/4 to 1/2 cup at a time as needed.
If you are a beginner start with traditional herbal tea preparation by steeping your herbs. Once you are comfortable with that process, you may move on to using infusions, and then decoctions. You will gain confidence as you gain practice in each process, and begin to identify when to use a particular preparation method.
*Please note that this post is not intended to replace a medical professional’s opinion or diagnosis, rather it is a tool to help empower you as a homesteader, householder, wife, mama, daddy, grandparent, and/or free-citizen to embrace your own health and well-being. Please use common sense and seek a medical professional if needed.
The Barn Hop www.theprairiehomestead.com