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Earth-Deep: On Roots and the Cold Moons

Posted Nov 01 2010 8:31am

Deep roots are not reached by frost” – J. R. R. Tolkien

Cebadilla/Green Gentian - Frasera speciosa

As the dark months roll in and the seasons change, I find myself spending a great deal of time digging, washing and chopping freshly gathered roots. The sharp fragrance of Elecampane, the earthy bite of Cebadilla, the anise intensity of Sweet Root, the unmistakable aroma of Oshá and perhaps especially the sweet spice of American Spikenard all permeate the cabin kitchen, the medicine lodge and even my skin. I have often been known to take bites right out of the freshly washed Aralia or Ligusticum roots, chewing them thoughtfully as I continue my processing. I find that this direct sensory interaction with the plants greatly aids my understanding of how the herbs work and the particular properties of the specific batch.

A great many of my roots, once cleaned and cut into small pieces find themselves immersed in honey in some fashion, often with a bit of whiskey or brandy for good measure. A regular ol’ tincture or even well-stored dried root would of course suffice but I love having these root honeys and elixir on hand during the winter. In some cases, as with Spikenard, the honey simply amplifies the already exquisite taste of the plant. In other cases, a good example being Elecampane, the honey help to moderate the very strong “medicinal” (this is a polite way of saying “tastes like shit” in most cases) flavor of the root. It’s certainly a great way to get most any child or persnickety adult (you know who you are!) to ingest their medicine.

Oshá (Ligusticum porteri) elixir and roots

Even my daily nourishing infusions this time of year are often actually decoctions, made up of spicy, warming roots and barks that act as warming, cheering allies as the green pulls back and the nights grow longer. The stews that simmer on the woodstove usually include Astragalus and mushrooms such as Maitake and Morels, not to mention the root vegetables like Parsnips, Carrots and Turnips that provide so much nourishment and flavor all Autumn and Winter long.

It’s a yearly ritual for my family to make up a good-sized batch of Gila Harvest Cider , complete with Horseradish root, Turmeric, Garlic and Ginger in addition to hot Peppers and the season’s last fresh Basil. Lately I’ve been adding Lovage as well, which has become a favorite plant ally in the last few years.

Cebadilla/Green Gentian (Frasera speciosa) roots

A particular pleasure of mine while the snow falls on the Canyon is to gaze at the many quart and gallon jars filled to the brim with Autumn harvested roots and berries as they macerate in their various brews. I especially love to unscrew the lid of the Oshá Elixir and deeply breathe that spicy sweet scent that so evokes the wild Aspen-clad verdancy of my beloved home here in the American Southwest. For a long moment, it brings me right back to being on my hands and knees in mountain meadows with my hands full of black, rich soil and the heft of fresh-dug roots. There’s a magic in this medicine, fraught with the spirit of wild land. Warm with the last days of Summer. Earth-deep and heavy with much-needed nourishment.

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In other news, all of the details on my Herb Energetics course with Learningherbs.com have been released and signup is almost here. You can sign up for a limited time only, so head over to http://herbenergetics.com if you’re interested and read all about it before enrollment is over. John Gallagher has done an amazing job making this course interactive and easily accessible for a wide range of people. While my own homestudy courses do contain an herbal energetics component, it is quite different in format than the Herb Energetics course and doesn’t include any of the video or audio files at all. The window for sign-up is very small due to limited enrollment space so consider doing it right now!


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