Chickweed is back! Spring is here! My three-year-old delightedly munches the luscious green shoots, and offers me a handful. Chickweed's return means it's time to make medicines again, starting with vinegars in April and May.
Many wild plants can be extracted into vinegars, but chickweed, nettle, and mugwort are my favorites, both for medicinal value and sheer flavor. You can easily make these vinegars yourself, with one or all three of these plants.
Chickweed is the most widespread of these three beauties. If you have garden beds, you probably know that chickweed loves rich garden soil and thrives in the cool, wet weather of Spring and Fall. But many gardeners donít realize that this weed is nutritious and delicious in wild salad or herbal vinegar.
You can tell chickweed by its tiny, white, star-shaped flowers, which give it its botanical name, Stellaria media. Also look for opposite leaves. When harvesting chickweed for vinegar, set aside some for wild salad!
When it comes to wild medicinals, Nettle is one of the easiest to identifyóif you're not sure you have the right plant, just brush your hand against it! The nettle sting, which is mild for most people, is felt immediately, and usually wears off within a few hours. The benign sting is actually used as a treatment for arthritic joints!
There are two species of nettle in our area: Barn Nettle, Urtica dioica, and Wood Nettle, Laportea canadensis. Long used as an iron and adrenal tonic, Urtica diocia is the species widely recognized for its medicinal value, but either species can be eaten (and Wood Nettle stings much less). Nettle can be gathered with gloves anytime from when it peeks out of the ground until just before it flowers.
Mugwort is a fragrant, magical herb that is traditionally used in dream pillows to make dreams more vivid and more memorable. It can be harvested for vinegar until it is one foot tall. After that, it becomes bitter and somewhat toxic.
Mugwort can be confused with other plants, so check for its fragrant smell when crushed as well as the silver sheen to the back of the leaf. In fact, this silver color, associated with the moon goddess Artemis, is where Artemisia vulgaris gets its name. Try some in your pillow tonight!
Herbal vinegars are delicious in salad dressing, on cooked greens, in marinades, or in sauces. Some people prefer to take a tablespoon in water as a daily tonic.
Our soils and our bodies in these times are chronically depleted of minerals, contributing to many health challenges, especially in the hormonal, nervous, and immune systems. It is much easier for the body to digest and absorb minerals from a wild plant, which our ancestors evolved with, than from a tablet! Because of its acidity, vinegar is the best medium for extracting the minerals from these nutritious wild plants.
To use your Springtime harvest, follow these easy steps:
Tightly pack a jar full of plant material. If you are using more than one plant, brew them separately so you can get to know what each of them tastes and feels like. You can always combine the finished product later.
1. Fill the jar to the top with apple cider vinegar. (raw, organic vinegars give you beneficial microorganisms much like yogurt does.)
2. Since vinegar rusts metal, a cork or plastic top is preferable. Placing a piece of waxed paper or plastic between a metal lid and the jar works too.
3. Label your jar with the plant name and date harvested.
4. The next day, the plant may have absorbed enough liquid to end up uncovered, so top off the liquid level. Check the liquid level once or twice over the next week.
5. Six weeks later, strain out the plant material, and you have your own wild herb vinegar!
Corinna Wood is the director of Red Moon Herbs, making herbal medicines from fresh, local plants, with a focus on women's health, since 1994. A gifted teacher and powerful visionary, Corinna has opened the hearts of thousands to the wisdom of the plants and their own bodies. Corinna's background includes an extensive apprenticeship with Susun Weed in 1993 as well as a B.S. in Biology. Corinna is certified as an herbalist, a fertility awareness teacher, and also in permaculture design. Corinna Wood is the Director of the Southeast Women's Herbal Conference, an annual fall conference in Black Mountain, NC that inspires and nourishes women. She is also on the faculty of the Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism.
Herbal medicines that are still made the Wise Woman way! Red Moon Herbs makes medicines from local, abundant plants to prepare their potent tinctures, vinegars, salves, and oils. Based in Black Mountain, NC, Red Moon Herbs is known and loved through the Southeast and beyond.
Corinna's hands-on, in-depth style of teaching makes it easy for students to incorporate the edible and medicinal plants into their daily lives. Classes include Wise Woman Fundamentals of Herbalism, Fertility Awareness for Natural Birth Control or Pregnancy Achievement, and more.
The Southeast Women's Herbal Conference that gathers in Western North Carolina annually in the fall, brings together women to learn and share about herbal medicine, women's health, and women's wisdom. This unique and powerful gathering weaves together women of the Southeast and beyond.