Secret medicines from your garden
As we move into the middle of August, one of the wild plants most visible in fields and along roadways is goldenrod. Its tall stalks of deep yellow flowers call attention to themselves and signal the transition toward fall.
Many people who suffer from seasonal allergies think goldenrod is their enemy when, in fact, it’s more likely they’re allergic to ragweed, which blooms at the same time and whose green flowers blend with other vegetation, making it less noticeable. But if you are convinced you’re allergic to goldenrod, herbalist Ellen Evert Hopman has a suggestion that might surprise you. She advises gathering the fresh flowers now and soaking them in olive oil or organic apple cider vinegar to use as a tincture throughout the fall and winter. The tincture will also be helpful in alleviating other pollen allergies.
“Goldenrod builds the immune system, especially the urinary tract,” Hopman says.
The Belchertown writer and herbalist uses the goldenrod oil or vinegar on salads all winter. Eating foods that have local pollens in them helps to build tolerance to those pollens, Hopman says. So — while you’re waiting during the month that your goldenrod tincture needs to steep — eating raw honey from a local apiary, where bees have foraged on local pollens, is a good idea.
H o p m a n’s new book, “Secret Medicines from Your Garden: Plants for Healing, Spirituality & Magic,” was published recently by Healing Arts Press in Rochester, Vt. Hopman just heard that the book was chosen as the winner of the 2016 Thomas De-Baggio International Herb Ass o c i a t i o n’s annual book award.
“It means it’s been chosen as ‘Book of the Year,’ essent i a l l y, ” Hopman said happily.
“I don’t know why I didn’t write this book sooner,” Hopman adds with a laugh. “It’s getting more attention than any of my herbals. What you find in the book is a lot of what I’ve been teaching for over 30 years.”
“Secret Medicines” is a fascinating compendium of knowledge, lore, modern research and practical advice on how to make tinctures, salves, teas and other healing remedies from plants. A recipe for violet, rose or dandelion jelly intrigued me, though there’s only one rose on my old-fashioned tea rose bush right now. But come spring, my yard is always generous with violets and dandelion flowers.
H o p m a n’s book is amazingly well-organized. Its four indexes enable you to seek plants by common or scientific name, look up a health concern to find plants that might alleviate it or search a general, alphabetical index. Beautiful botanical plates provide visual identification of many of the plants. Hopman prefers the vintage plates to photographs.
“The old plates include the leaf, the flower, the seed: every part of the plant,” Hopman says. In contrast, “A photograph is only a snapshot of a moment in time.”
Among many, many other recipes in the book, Hopman shows you how to make herbal bug repellent, an antiinflammatory horse chestnut salve, nonalcoholic birch beer, peppermint mouthwash and an elderberry elixir that helps boost the immune system and stave off winter colds.
“Right now is the time to gather elderberries,” Hopman says, speaking by phone from her small garden on the edge of a large oak forest in Belchertown. Hopman gathers elderberries from wild bushes and tinctures them, along with echinacea roots, leaves or flowers, in vodka. It’s important to use fresh herbs when preparing remedies, Hopman says, because that’s when the volatile oils are most present.
In addition to the wealth of practical knowledge she offers, Hopman also includes a chapter titled, “Exploring Invisible Dimensions of the Plant World.” The chapter explores North American animal spirit medicines, herbal astrology and working with plant spirits.
An archdruidess in the druid clan of Dana, Hopman thinks of plants as sacred. She rejects the Biblical imperative from Genesis that tells humans to, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.”
It’s the “subdue it” part that bothers her.
“D o n’t get me started!” she laughs. “I’m a pagan for a reason. As a druid, I see plants as sacred, animals as sacred, people as sacred. We have to see it all as sacred.”
Herbalism talk and courses
Hopman will give a slideshow and talk titled, “The Herbal and Spiritual Properties of Trees,” Saturday, Sept. 3, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at The Bower Studio, 378 Daniel Shays Highway, Pelham. Sliding scale of $10 to $15 includes a $5 registration fee. Books and salves will be available for purchase. To register, go to: www.thebowerstudio.com and click on “classes.” Or, you can call 413-687-6761.
Hopman will also be teaching a six-month herbal intensive that meets two Saturdays a month, October through April. The course will include formula making, case taking (sitting down with a client to determine which herbs might be helpful for specific ailments), Chinese Five Element theory, homeopathic first aid and working with flower essences, among other aspects of herbalism. Students will learn how to identify plants and how to make tinctures, poultices, salves, body scrubs and soaps — a new addition to the class this year. Participants receive a certificate of completion, and Massachusetts nurses can receive continuing education credits for the course.
To find out more about the intensive or to sign up, get in touch with Hopman through her website: elleneverthopman. com. You can also order books, signed and with a personalized note, through the
Recipe: Alcohol-Based Elderberry Elixir/Tincture
The simplest way to make an elderberry elixir is to fill a jar with the berries and then barely cover them with vodka or any alcohol that is 80-proof or above.
I like vodka because it is basically tasteless, and the flavor of the berries comes through.
Let the jar steep for a few weeks, shaking every few days to distribute the liquid.
When the berries begin to break down, strain the liquid through cheesecloth into a glass jar and store in a dark cupboard or in an amber or blue glass bottle.
Because of the alcohol, no refrigeration is needed; the tincture keeps for about five years in a cool, dark place.
To further enhance the potency, add echinacea root (Echinacea augustifolia), fresh or dried, or echnacea leaf and flower (Echinacea purpurea) to the jar.
You can get even fancier by adding astralugus root, rosehips, Siberian ginseng or elecampane root. The elixir/tincture can be taken 20 to 40 drops at a time in hot water when you are sick, three or four times a day , or added to a warm cup of tea.
From “Secret Medicines from Your Garden: Plants for Healing, Spirituality & Magic” by Ellen Evert Hopman Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. She is always looking for poets, writers and artists to interview for her columns. She can be reached at email@example.com
LOCAL WRITERS SPOTLIGHT
Writer and internationally-recognized herbalist Ellen Evert Hopman with a small birch tree in the forest behind her Belchertown home. Every spring, Hopman makes a bloodcleansing tonic using birch twigs and sassafras root.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: LISA POTTS