My first very own field guide finally arrived today! It is the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to New England. Now you might wonder why am I getting a field guide when my current location is new york city. (and yes, I realize New York is not included in the new england states but I decided there is probably a fair amount of overlap in the flora and fauna). Well, over the last couple of years my interest in plants and animals has been steadily growing. I always loved the outdoors but it has only been recently that I have wanted to know the plants more intimately by name, medicinal use, nutritional qualities, habitat, ecosystem function and more. And the long and short of it was that it was when I came to NYC to live with my grandparents for a month and help take care of my beloved grandpa post op my curiosity finally drove me to buy a field guide. Even in riverside park there is much to find! And I found myself without a more knowledgeable friend close by wanting desperately to know what this tree was, whether that shroom was poisonous, and what the name of that bird is. And so I ordered what I hope to be the first of many field guides.
I have slowly been gaining knowledge by going on plants walks with those more knowledgeable when I can and taking advantage of other opportunities. This summer’s permaculture course made me feel even more strongly about the importance of knowing plant functions in ecosystems. Then in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I have gone with my parents for many years to do art as a family, a took a new interest in El Charco de Ingenio, their botanical gardens. There I saw a totally different desert ecosystem overflowing with a diversity of cacti. Tapping into a recently evolved “green map” of San Miguel I found out about a one day workshop on tincture and salve making using medicinal plants. And so in one short day I found myself learning how to, and actually making, right there on the spot, herbal tinctures, infusions, teas, vaseline or oil based creams, and beeswax based creams- wow! I didn’t know it was so easy! Here are some basic recipes.
(CAUTION: I am not an expert and each individual herb should be researched and used accordingly. Some are poisonous if ingested or if the wrong part of the herb is used, and these recipes are simple basic recipes of a beginner, so please do your own research before trying anything you plan on taking or giving to someone else.)
Tinctures (alcohol based)
1 part dried herb
4 parts alcohol (vodka or gin or glycerin work)
Leave for two weeks in the sun, agitating or shaking daily
Strain out the organic plant matter and put in a dark container and store in a dark, cool place and it should last over a year! Don’t forget to label it clearly!
20 drops of this concentrated tincture in a glass of hot water can be used to make a tea or taken directly.
40 drops in hot water can be used to soak gauze or other material to make a compress.
Tea or Compress
Most of us know how to make a tea but here are a few words of advice if you are using it for medicinal purposes. The water has to be boiling or just at boiling point. Purely hot water won’t do. Steep it for 5 to 10 minutes, not more as it will get bitter. To use a tea as a compress just soak some gauze in the tea and put it where you need it.
Infusions (oil based)
1 part dried herb
4 parts olive or jojoba oil (other plant or fruit oils can work too)
Add Vitamin E to keep oil from going rancid (This is optional but will help extend the life of your infusion to about 1 year. Otherwise it will last a few months. It works well to just buy a capsule of vitamin E and break it open, adding the content to your infusion.)
Leave in a closed container in the sun for 10 to 14 days, agitating daily
filter out organic matter and put in a dark container in a cool place to store.
Infusions can be massaged into skin or heated to release odors of herbs
Solid Cream (beeswax base)
100 ml of olive oil or other oil
5 grams of herb
5 grams of beeswax
Heat the oil and herb for 1/2 hour in a double boiler
Strain herb out of oil (Optional. Some people leave the herb in)
Add the beeswax while still hot, pour into desired container, and allow to solidify
And done! This can also be used to massage into skin, as lip balm or other topical use. Also, you can play around with the ratio of beeswax to oil to get different levels of solidity.
Vaseline Based Cream
Double boil vaseline and herb together
Pour into your desired container and let solidify.
Then use as is! No straining, no nothing. This is the lazy man’s version of the above solid cream. Personally, I would prefer to not used a petrol based product and it seems you can get the same consistency by altering the ratios of oil to beeswax with the previous recipe!
I also learned a bit about a few common herbs like arnica (do not ingest this one! It should be used only topically), chamomile, calendula, lavander, and mint but I think I will save that for another post.
Then when I returned to Ithaca, NY Peter and I asked our very knowledgeable friend Micah to take us mushroom hunting. And oh did we find a lot of mushrooms!
(once again, a word of CAUTION: many mushrooms can be deadly! A few are even dangerous to touch, so be very cautious. Go with a knowledgeable guide. This list of “ten commandments” for the mushroom hunter are also a good guide to follow).
But we found maybe 6 or so pounds of black trumpet chanterelles- delicious cooked up with lots of butter and garlic. And we also found some old man in the woods, toothed fungi, and artists fungus and oyster mushrooms. This experience in particular made me really want to know my flora. Imagine being able to eat like a queen and not have to pay a cent!
And so when I arrived in new york my eyes were trained to look around me and notice the flora and fauna. And there are so many fascinating plants in riverside park that I do not know! And birds that also intrigued me. I also found Maitake mushrooms, which, after much debate, I decided not to eat due to the possibility of accumulated toxins and pollution in them. And I also found what I think is an artists fungus and some puff balls! But I am excited now to go out and try and identify the many plants and birds that I have not been able to name with my new field guide. Oh, so many possibilities! What was that fragrant plant whose smell I recognized but name I did not know that was growing by the hudson river? I will hopefully let you know in a few days.