PO Box 2458, Tijeras NM 87059

Mountain Gardens--finding success with plants for the high desert and East Mountains of New Mexico

Monday, September 17, 2012

An Herbal Walk

 After giving classses all summer, I finally had time to attend one. We all went on an herbal walk, and then made tinctures with the native plants we gathered.

Despite all the herbs we grow, and have planted in our own garden, Aly and I haven't had the nerve to try using them for any but the usual culinary applications (me cooking, her and Wilbur eating). I have tried the toothache plant, and the feverfew, chewing a few leaves cautiously, and of course tea--chamomile, et al. but....guess the warnings in the herbal books gave me pause. I have seen some remarkable results with herbs since we've been in New Mexico, and my curiosity has been piqued. Many of my customers are involved with herbs, and alternative practices, and when one suggested the walk, well...sometimes you just have to be shown something--

Now, let me say, I have been growing hop tree from seed, and have a hawthorne in my own landscape, but I never would have recognized them in their native habitat. They look nothing like mine, or the pictures in books, even good books! It was great to have a guide who recognized them, and could tell us about their herbal uses. Each of us had a tiny jelly jar which we stuffed with leaves, berries, and /or seeds. (Part of our pre-walk intro was a discussion of harvesting wild plants sustainably, taking only a small portion and only if the plant material was abundant). We each chose something different.
Hop or Wafer Ash Tree

We hadn't even left the parking area when we encountered native hyssop, mostly past its bloom period but a few still showing purple petals. The leaves of hyssop make a calming tea. Nearby, though not on the tour, was a stunning stand of native geranium blooming in full sun! I'm guessing Fremont geranium--a purply magenta color, and just swarming with bees. We have native geranium down in our arroyo, but its a blue purple, and very sparse. Then there was globe mallow, ubiquitous in the mountains; its a demulcent--chew the leaf to make a 'spit poultice.'

Our next encounter was creeping mahonia, a groundcover with an edible berry. Most people are familiar with mahonia aquifolium, flowering yellow in late winter, a much larger shrub though also with an edible berry. It grows well here though its native range is farther west. Mahonia repens is native and very common here, in moist canyons at higher elevations. The berries are high in vitamin C.

The hop or wafer ash tree is a scrubby small tree or large shrub. I was kind of relieved to see that the native looked as stressed as my seedlings. I'm forming a theory that natives, being native, are familiar to native pests. These hop trees were stippled  and discolored, and when the leaves were turned, the backsides were dotted with the husks of native insects. Hmmm. But I still chose it as the subject for my tincture. It's good for the stomach.

the lacy 'wafer' seed of the hop or wafer ash


We inspected mountain mahogany, some springing straight from rock, and the hawthorne, a small, graceful tree dotted with red berries--good for the heart. Artemesia will kill parasites like giardia when boiled in the water, and can be taken internally for the same purpose. Our guide uses it as a topical for poison ivy. There were large patches of woods rose, the hips also high in vitamin C.

As we passed a bank on the way back, I dug my hand into the soil--rich, dark, moist and crumbly. We have so many kinds of soil in such a small area. Wish I had some of this!

After the walk, we made our tinctures, or prepared them--they have to steep in alcohol for six weeks before we squeeze the moisture out, and bottle the resulting liquids.

We each carefully washed and dried our small harvest, then tore or snipped the leaves into small bits. They were crammed back into the jelly jar and covered with alcohol, not rubbing alcohol--this was ordered specially. Every day, we'll shake the jars to keep the leaves covered, and maybe push the contents down with a spoon if they don't seem to be settling into the alcohol. In six weeks, we'll discard the plant material, and put the liquid into dropper bottles.
Wilbur preps the hawthorne

We each got a bottle of usnea which was ready to drain and be used. Usnea (I had to look it up on wikipedia) is a lichen that grows in alpine conditions. It has an ancient heritage, and is a powerful anti-bacterial.

Next? We're going to try tincturing clary sage; not only is it beautiful, it has many beneficial properties!

Aly drains the usnea

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the information..I will definitely be in touch with you..

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