3 Herb Mamas

Seasonal Living: RED RASPBERRY

Red Raspberry
(Rubus idaeus, R. spp.)


It may seem like an odd time of the year to be writing about Raspberries but since this is my very favorite fruit of the wonderful fruits of the Earth I find some reason to think about, use, and appreciate Red Raspberry in every season. If you grow Raspberry canes in your garden, and I certainly hope you do, then February is the time to begin fertilizing for the year. I am a little behind schedule this year because we keep having snow and ice cover on the ground. It may actually be the first week of March before I can begin side-dressing my canes but I am hoping for a window of opportunity this weekend. Here is a recipe from an old Amish “receipt book” for Fruit Cane Fertilizer:

1 gallon well-sifted wood ash
1 gallon white lime
1 handful sulphur powder
1 handful epsom salts
Mix well and put one large handful around each plant February, March, April, and again in fall.
Make sure to sift out any chunks of wood from your ashes or they will lock up nitrogen as they break down and prevent your plants from benefiting from the nutrient.

Another reason I am thinking of Red Raspberries right now is because this is the time of year when I take stock of what is in the freezer and pantry. I like to make plans to use up anything that has been overlooked and it helps me make plans for the coming gardening season by letting me know what I need to plant more of and what we had in excess. I was delighted to find that we still had about 20 quarts of Red Raspberries in our freezer. Probably half of that will be made into Raspberry Jam to use, along with other flavors, as favors at our oldest daughter’s upcoming wedding this summer. I also made Raspberry Vinegar by simply filling a half gallon canning jar halfway full with frozen berries, then filling it to the top with raw Apple Cider Vinegar. Labeled and capped, this will be ready in plenty of time for making Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing for our spring salads. I can hardly wait!

Red Raspberry Vinegar

I also made Red Raspberry Butter by combing 1/2 cup Raspberry puree with 1 cup softened butter and a generous tablespoon of local Honey. I whipped this well using a stick blender and stored it in the refrigerator to serve to top pancakes, waffles, toast, biscuits, or scone. Heavenly!

Raspberry Butter

I will also simply add thawed Raspberries to my morning homemade yogurt for a nutritious and delicious breakfast. Raspberries are rich in flavonoids, namely quercetin (along with others). Flavonoids are plant pigments with a plant metabolic function that benefits us, when we consume them, by signaling cell pathways and antioxidant activity. Quercetin is one of a group of flavonoids that reduces allergic responses and boosts immunity. Other good food sources of quercetin include red wine, onions, green tea, apples, buckwheat,and most berries. Other good herb sources include St. John’s Wort, Ginkgo, and Elder.

Raspberries and Yogurt Raspberry Yogurt

Several years ago I began eating 1 cup of berries, usually Red Raspberries or Blueberries, every day. A recent eye exam revealed that my vision had improved slightly and that the partially detached retina had healed and re-attached, although this only very rarely happens according to my eye doctor. This is only anecdotal information and hardly conclusive, but I think I will continue eating my daily cup of berries just the same. Red Raspberry is a “medicine” that does not need “a spoonful of sugar” to go down. Yummm…

Red Raspberry (or any of the other bramble species such as Black Raspberry, Wineberry, or Blackberry) leaves make a delicious tea that has an astringent toning effect on female reproductive organs and has a long tradition of use during late pregnancy and after giving birth. It is also effective for treating diarrhea and dysentery. Raspberry leaves are a rich source of minerals, especially calcium, iron, phosphorous, and potassium, as well as vitamins B, C, and E. I include this important herb in my own Herban Iron & Minerals syrup as well as in herbal vinegars that I use to boost nutrition in my salad dressings and marinades.


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Wednesday’s Weeds: WINTERGREEN

(Gaultheria procumbens)


Tiny Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) shrub is easy to overlook in the winter landscape.

Probably one of the tiniest shrubs, we generally think of Wintergreen as an evergreen ground cover. Although you can find this sweetly fragrant plant year round, I associate it with the coldest months of the year and winter woodland walks. I have delighted in leading each of our four children to discovering its tasty wonders at a time when the Earth seems to be sleeping and our taste buds have become dulled by stews and starchy meals.

If you have tasted Teaberry gum then you are familiar with the flavor of Wintergreen. Both the leaves and berries are edible and have this delicious flavor. Each plant produces two to five 1-2 inch long leaves that are thick, shiny, oval, and very slightly toothed. It spreads by underground runners so you will often find them in little lines or clusters of individual miniature shrubs. It’s fun to think of them as towering fairy trees if you like to engage in childlike imaginings. In July and August in our area tiny white, bell-shaped Wintergreen flowers can be found dangling beneath the leaves. Later the red berries often persist until the next flowering season. Wintergreen prefers acidic soils so I generally look for them around Pine trees in our woods and I am almost always rewarded. It likes to grow in the same places that wild Blueberries or Huckleberries like to grow.

Wintergreen 2

Nice little village of Wintergreen lining up.

Wintergreen can be eaten (leaves and berries) as is, which is my favorite way, or brewed into a sweet and delicious tea. Since it contains methyl salicylate, a compound similar in structure to the active ingredient in aspirin it would be contraindicated for those with aspirin allergies. I have found Wintergreen tea to be a wonderful headache tea for my own children along with some Chamomile flowers. I would like to point out that Wintergreen essential oil comes with many warnings about toxicity. This highlights the fact that the form in which an herb is used matters. Steam-distilled essential oils are highly concentrated products and should not be used interchangeably with fresh or dried herbs. I have read that a single drop of essential oil is equivalent to 28 cups of brewed tea from that same plant, which explains why what seems like a “small” dose like 1/4 tsp. can really be a huge one. Additionally, essential oils are structurally different from whole plants. Both are useful, each in its own appropriate application. Research, positively identify, and educate yourself before ingesting anything.

When gathering take only one or two leaves from each plant so they can continue to photosynthesize and flourish. Be conscious of the population of the Wintergreen tribe, taking from only 1 in every 5 or more plants. Sustainable and respectful wild-crafting practices will assure there is plenty of Wintergreen for generations to come. Sometimes, especially in winter, leaves become tinged a reddish color. Both red and green leaves are equally tasty.

Given the common name Teaberry, this plant was obviously used historically for tea. Author Ellen Zachos, in her book BACKYARD FORAGING: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat, says she also likes to use it to flavor ice creams and liquors. She has several recipes but I think I may try this one: Fill a small jar with leaves, cover with good quality rum and allow to macerate for several weeks to produce a delicious winter aperitif.

According to Peterson Field Guide to Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants by Steven Foster and James A. Duke, Wintergreen tea is traditionally used to treat colds, headaches, stomach aches, and fevers. Externally it is used as a wash for rheumatism, sore muscles, and lumbago. It is analgesic(pain relieving), carminative (flatulence relieving), anti-inflammatory (reduces inflammation), and antiseptic (prevents the growth of disease-causing microorganisms).

Now that is a cup of tea worth brewing and a leaf worth chewing!

Wintergreen 3

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Wednesday’s Weeds: PINE

Pine (Pinus spp.)


Weed walks and wild herbal foods and medicines are not just activities for the warm months. There are wonderful plants and botanical virtues to be discovered on cold and frosty mornings, too. An easily recognized tree in many areas is the Pine. What is not so readily recognized are its many nutritional benefits and uses.

White Pine (Pinus strobus) is very common in Appalachia where I live. This cone-bearing evergreen has clusters of long, slender needles along the twigs and branches and each bundle contains 5 needles. Pine trees produce both male and female flowers. The latter matures into the familiar dry, woody cones and bears seeds. According to Thomas J. Elpel in his wonderful Botany in a Day, “the female cones briefly become elongated, exposing the ovules to the pollen in the wind. The shape of the cones causes air currents to swirl around them to help catch the pollen. After pollination the scales grow rapidly and again cover the ovules, allowing them to mature into seeds.” Isn’t Nature enchanting?

Pine Cone

Tender new (light green) shoots can be stripped of needles, peeled, and boiled in Maple syrup or even a simple sugar syrup to be candied. Save those needles and chop them up to brew into a tea that is rich in vitamins A & C. All parts of the Pine are edible including the seeds if you can manage to collect them before they are fully dry and dispersed. I am going to experiment with this next fall.

Young Pine Bark Pine Bark Older

Just as with human skin, Pine bark shows considerable variation as it ages from smooth and youthful to ridged and aged.

Right now is an excellent time to study the bark of Pine trees, noticing the variations as it ages from young sapling to towering elder. In fact, studying other nearby trees using a good winter time key is a great way to hone identification skills.

My goats love Pine in the winter when there is so little fresh and green for them to eat. I am steeping Pine needles in both extra virgin Olive oil and in apple cider vinegar to compare the results. The inner bark can be dried and ground into a flour although it will have a pine-y flavor. Pine resin has a long history of use for treating sore throats and I can remember my Grandmother using it. As you would expect with a resin, it coats and soothes. However, I have read that it can be stressful to kidneys in excess. This resin has also traditionally been used as a drawing poultice for boils and abscesses.

White Pine Needle Bundles  Pine Needles

An identifying characteristic of White Pine (Pinus strobus) is that needles are arranged in bundles of five.

According to several of my field guides Pine enriches and improves poor and degraded soils. I think about that when I walk through the Pine-y woods with such thin soil on our rocky mountain top. And I smile gratefully at the variety of young and old Pines gracing the little patch of Earth we call home.

I love the total sensory approach that herbalist Matthew Wood takes to getting know plants. Here, from his book, The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicines, he explores the sound facet of Pine:

Not many plants have distinctive sounds. However, the sound of wind blowing through the tall White Pine has a peculiar relaxing effect, which this plant carries into its medicinal action. Pine is soothing and strengthening to the nerves, at the same time it is an expectorant and antiseptic (it brings up viscid, green, sap-like mucus), and a powerful drawing agent (think of the power it takes to draw that sap up the tall trunk).

A phenolic extract from pine bark (PEPB) from the species Pinus massoniana has been studied and found to be a stronger antioxidant than either vitamins E or C (90.38% for PEPB compared to 88.61% for vitamin E and 85.68% for vitamin C). In vitro studies have also shown that PEPB inhibits the growth of human breast cancer cells.* Stephen Harrod Buhner in HERBAL ANTIVIRALS: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections, suggests it is also effective for addressing herpes simplex virus 1 and 2, as well.

Pine tips with cone forming

Pine needle tips with cone forming.

During these closing days of winter, before the blizzard of spring sprouting greens and freshly scented blossoms vie for our attentions, remember to take some time to walk in woods that are dominated by Pine and other evergreens, breathing in the fresh, clean aroma.

In Mother Nature’s Herbal, author Judy Griffin, PhD says that the affirmation of encouragement that Pine offers is the following, which seems perfectly suited to the season:
I bury the past and look forward to the future.

*Yu, Limei, et. al., Antioxidant, immunomodulatory and anti-breast cancer activities of phenolic extract from pine (Pinus massoniana Lamb) bark (abstract).

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