Spring Notes, Bud Harvesting & Two Good Books
The first Nettles are up, growing quietly in the shade of Junipers and Cottonwoods. The Canyon’s first flowers, the Mountain Candytufts have buds ready to pop, and our most common second flower, Golden Smoke (Corydalis aurea) is beginning to show its first ferny leaves in rocky area and among the usual Nettle patches. On the hillsides, Oregon Grape Root is showing new growth and tiny Yarrow leaves are peaking out from under last Autumn’s wet brown Oak leaves.
In the village, the Elm branches are swollen with buds and there’s Hollyhock leaves unfurling from the wet ground. There may be a few more snows this month, but it does seem that the plants think warmer times are on their way. The Catnip plants are uncurling their leaves in wonderful purple velvetness, and full of their peculiar yet pleasantly rank scent.
Nevertheless, the river is still freezing, and by the time I got across it yesterday morning, my feet were numb and my skin pink and purple nearly to my knees. I sat on the other bank shivering and wishing for fur lined boots for a moment, and was then promptly distracted by some newly hatched Wild Geranium leaves, so it couldn’t have been that bad. Coming back down later, the water was thankfully a bit warmer and I think the Geraniums were even a bit bigger.
It’s past time for gathering Cottonwood buds, so I better get after that, and get some extra Alder catkins while I’m at it.… I also want to make a Willow bud tincture, as there’s something so magical about this particular phase of growth, with the plants all purple and red, and the buds fat with developing fluff.
Two new (to me) books have caught my eye, and perhaps my favor. One is a cook/food book by the name of Honey from a Weed by Patience Grey, I haven’t read it yet but my thrice over examination declares it very promising, at least for someone who really loves primitive cooking, meat (there is a section entitled “What to do with a Pig’s Head”, after all), weeds, literary cookbooks and Mediterranean food. I’m extra delighted by her love of weedy plants, and her intimacy with the land she live on.
The second is a just released hardback called Western Herbs According to Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Practitioner’s Guide by practicing herbalist Thomas Avery Garran (studied with Christopher Hobbs and Michael Tierra, among others). I’ve read it through once quickly, and Garran seems to be a very hands on, experience based kind of guy. His photography is lovely, and his assessments accurate most of the time (Osha used for both wind-heat and wind-cold, thankyouverymuch), although I find his Nettle monograph leaves something to be desired (there’s potential, but not enough development and bad categorization IMO) and I’m annoyed by the fact that he doesn’t recognize the nerve tonifying aspects of Skullcap, but those are fairly minor quibbles. I don’t know enough about TCM to be able to judge the book from Chinese Medicine perspective, but from a Traditional Western Medicine standpoint, it’s pretty good. I especially like the focus on native Western (and Western US) plants like California Spikenard, Osha, Oregon Grape Root and Yerba Mansa. I also appreciate his emphasis on sustainability and the ethics wild harvesting. Oh, and he is among the few herbalists I’ve read or talked to who utilize Chinese Medicine’s very useful practice of modifying herbal properties through preparation techniques like honey frying and vinegar frying using Western herbs. More about both books as I get to know them better.