Sunday, June 08, 2008

Herby wildness abounds!

So, after two weeks getting settled in our new old home in the desert, I finally got a chance to run off into the hills for a morning of wild herbal wonderfulness! I almost cried with joy as I got out of the car into the blazing desert sun and ran into the dry wash towards the shade of the oaks and junipers. Home! All my friends were there, the grapes, and the junipers, and the agaves, and manzanitas and so much more!!

I always avoid the trail, because often bikers whiz by at breakneck speed, and it's less shady and pleasant on the trail, and most of my plants are growing in and around the wash. So under the road through the culverts into the dry wash I went.

Oh and the plants were abundant and lush. I got some of my favorite native artemisia ( see the picture above), which I've been without for more than a year. It's a bitter and versatile medicine, and so abundant and hardy! It grows like crazy in this wash, even though the spring runoff has long since dried up. Silvery, gentle wands of leaves growing out the crevasses of the rocks in the wash. I gathered them up and bundled them together for the trip home. This will make a very bitter tea, excellent for overheated livers and digestive systems, it is cooling and draining, but stimulates digestive secretions to improve digestive function. It is one of my reliable remedies for late night heartburn. It's a beautiful cooling and disinfectant herb, useful as poultice or compress for rashes, wounds, stings, bites, burns (sunburns beware!), cold sores, and fungal infections. Finally I use it frequently as a powerful smudging ally, to clear away negative energy or bad air. I often mix it with the juniper ( also shown in the picture above) for a potent cleansing pair. It's also a strong dream inducer, and it can be turned into an amulet, hung above the bed, or ingested for work in the dream world, day or night.

I also was looking foward to visiting the canyon grape vines that ramble along this wash. They climb the trees, and over the rocks. They don't make much in the way of fruit, I think not quite enough water for that, but they always are covered in tart little leaves, full of bioflavanoids and vitamin C. I picked many, many handfuls of the larger leaves to add to our diet this summer. Many of the leaves were still very small, so I'll come back later in the summer to gather more as they get bigger. The ones I did gather I brought home and promptly put up in a salty brine to preserve them. They'll make wonderful wrappers for rice, meats and other tasty morsels. I'm imagining lamb and brown rice with pine nuts and mint and olive oil wrapped in brined grape leaves. Yum!!!

Of course the Manzanitas are just covered with ripening fruits, which in July and August can be harvested for making jams, or sweet tart infusions. I'm thinking of fermented manzanita juice...oh, yes, that could be miraculous!
There was also some quelites, or lambs quarter, not even flowering yet, so those came home with me too to go into dinner or breakfast in the next few days.

Much to my delight and suprise, I found quite a large stand of the native Stachys. Stachys coccinea, which has beautiful red flowers, likes to grow in shady protected washes with some moisture. I knew this plant grew in this wash, as I've seen it often, but only individual plants, not a large group like I found today, under my special tree. It was like a gift from my tree and plant friends, to go to my special place, and find this special plant.
And if you know me at all, you know I'm rather obsessed with another herb in this genus, Stachys betonica, known as Wood Betony. I've always kind of wondered if this native Stachys was useful in anyway, especially if it is as useful as Wood Betony is. So, I did what most people should never do, but plant geeks are wont to do occasionally. I tasted a leaf. Yup...tastes an awful lot like Wood Betony leaves. Even my sweetie agreed when he tasted it. So, I was willing enough to pick a small handful of the leaves and bring them home and tincture them. I'm going to start experimenting with the herb in small quantities, as well as see if I can dig up some ethnobotanical info on this species in particular. Culpepper mentions the use of other Stachys species, and Michael Moore mentions another species in his book on the Pacific Northwest. So, if there is anything to this Stachys species, I'm determined to find out!

Among the other wonderful plant friends I saw on my walk were Garrya (Silk Tassel), Oak, Penstemon, Cottonwood, Arizona Cypress, Ocotillo all leafed out, Verbena, Camphor Weed, Yucca and Soapberry Tree.
Non medicinals that I saw included a beautiful flowering stalk of Shin Dagger Agave flowers ( which smell absolutely devine!) Flowering Coral Bean (Erythrina), which is highly toxic, but makes the most beautiful coral colored beans to be used in Jewelry or ceremony. Here are the amazing looking flowers. The beans won't be out till later when the monsoon comes.

There's a million other plants in this area that I'm not going to name at the moment, but I'm hoping to offer an herb walk in the area soon, if you are willing to brave the heat a little. It's easy enough to stop in the shade of the oaks often enough, and take frequent breaks. I'd love it if you'd join me!
To quote a lovely little friend from the Anima Center, Rhiannon, today was a HAPPY HAPPY DAY!!

I'm so glad to be home!!


Kiva Rose said...

Yay!!! I've been waiting for this post ;)

Exciting about the Stachys too, I've been looking for a local one as well... excited to hear what you find out.

Your Manzanita berries look about like ours do at the moment, I'm looking forward to gathering a bunch later this summer in the burned out places in the mountains.

Yay for Artemisias! That plant has been so good to my belly, I just love it.

Our grapes only make fruits every few years, probably partially moisture and partially a cyclic thing (like the pine nuts perhaps).

happy for you and sending love.

Shamana Flora said...

Thanks! Yes, I've been chomping at the bit. next stop is the Tanque verde wash to check on the elders, walnuts and such...

Anonymous said...

Hello, Darcey is it?
I came across your blog because I am looking for an experienced herbalist in the Tucson area to take me on an herb walk. I am attending school for a master herbalist certification, and would LOVE someone to mentor me a bit in all the wonderful things the desert has to offer. As I've been looking through your blog a lot of what you have written resonates with me. If you are interested please send me an email.

With love,

"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~