We call the plants the First People.? They were the first created in our oral tradition before the animals, before the fish, before the birds, and their duty was to hold the earth together and live their life as a teaching for those who would be created in the future.?
The plants left many things to us as human beings.? They left the ones who would be our food, they left the ones that would be our medicine, they left the ones that would be our building material, they left the ones that would be our basketry material, they left the ones that would be the scent and fragrance of the sacred in this universe, they left beauty and they dressed the earth.? The earth was bare before the plant people were created.?
Bruce Miller, from Gifts of the First People
Bruce Miller was a revered Skokomish elder and cultural bearer who inspired the Northwest Indian College Traditional Plants and Foods Program.? He and other Northwest Coastal Indian Elders have told us that plants are our teachers.? If we remember how to listen to them and learn from them, they can help us become good healthy people.? Plants can help us to remember and re-connect with where we come from and the cultural wealth that we carry.
Our plants program embraces and promotes the healing traditions of plant medicine.? Please watch our news blog for information about harvesting, preparing, preserving, and using medicinal plants that are in season.? To view our favorite resources on plant medicine see the Indigenous Foods and Herbal Medicines Resource Guide at the bottom of this page or on the Resources page.
HARVESTING AND DRYING HERBS
Few things are more rewarding than venturing out into the wild to harvest your own food and medicine. If you have never gathered plants before, it may feel a little daunting at first.? If possible, find someone who can show you how and where to gather.? Proper plant identification is essential.
Plants that you grow or harvest yourself will probably be higher quality than what you could buy.? Unfortunately, many herbs in stores may have been sitting on the shelf too long or may be grown or processed in poor conditions.? It is reassuring to know where your plants come from and who handles them.? Having said this, make sure that the area you are gathering from has not been sprayed with pesticides?or other chemicals.? Gathering along roadsides or in agricultural areas is not recommended.
HARVESTING THROUGHOUT THE SEASONS
Knowing when to harvest a plant can be confusing.? Your intuition will tell you a lot.? As you watch plants through the seasons, look for where the vitality is.? Harvest whatever part of the plant you need when it is at its prime.
Leaves: spring and summer
Flowers: spring and summer
Seeds: summer and fall
Bark: fall and spring
Roots: fall and spring
TIME OF DAY
The best time of day to gather plants is in the morning after the dew has dried.? This is usually when their medicine is most potent.? If you are gathering plants to dry them, do not harvest on a rainy day.? Chances are, they will mold.
HOW MUCH DO I HARVEST?
Always check out the area and make sure that you are leaving behind enough plants for the plant community to continue flourishing.? Use your senses and your intuition to estimate how much you can take while keeping the plant community strong.? Most plants will actually benefit from some pruning and harvesting.? Also, make sure you do not take more plants than you have time to process at home.
If you are drying flowers, hips or seeds, lay them on flat baskets or in paper bags.? Spread them out so they are only one layer thick and turn them every day so they will dry evenly.? Plant stalks or leaves can be dried this way or can be bundled with rubber bands and hung from the ceiling on a beam with nails or a hanging rack.? Dry plants in a warm place out of direct sunlight.? Good airflow will help speed up the process.? Wait until the plants are completely dry before storing them in mason jars, paper or plastic bags.? When your plants are dry, they should look and smell like the plant did when it was fresh.? If they have turned brown and have lost their scent, they have probably lost their nutritional and medicinal value.
PREPARING HERBAL TEAS
The making of herbal teas for enjoyment, nourishment and wellness is a creative art.? There is a bit of science to it as well, but for the most part, brewing teas is a flexible and forgiving process.? The following guide-lines are intended to help you extract the healing properties of plants into tea in an easy & efficient way.
GATHERING YOUR HERBS
Dried herbs are usually used for making tea.? During the drying process, plant cell walls break open and dehydrate.? When hot water is poured over plant material it easily rehydrates and extracts the taste, scent, nutritive and medicinal properties.? Fresh herbs are fine for making tea if you want a light and aromatic brew, but it will not be as strong tasting and medicinal as dried herbal teas.
Having good quality herbs makes all the difference in the flavor and medicinal effectiveness of tea.? If you buy herbal teas at the store, try to purchase loose-leaf tea that has not been ground into a fine powder (these teas are not in bags).? The more ground up herbs are, the more they lose their medicinal value over time.? Loose-leaf teas can be put directly into a teapot or non-aluminum pan with a lid.? You can buy a strainer that fits over your teacup to catch the herbs.
When available, purchase organic and fair-trade teas.? They may be a little more expensive but they do not contain pesticides and you are supporting sustainable plant growers.? If you buy teas in a store, make sure that the dried herbs look and smell something like the fresh herbs.? Well-dried herbs should still have color and scent.
PROPER PROPORTIONS OF HERB & WATER
When preparing teas, feel free to experiment and choose the proportion of herb to water that suits your taste.? If you are using the tea as a medicine, the ratio of herb to water should be enough to produce a fairly strong and medicinally active tea.? The ratio should also be consistent so that you can measure an appropriate dose of the tea each time you prepare a new batch.? A general ratio for infusions is:
1 ounce of dried herb per 1 quart of water or
1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon per cup of water (use less for dense herbs and more for light-weight herbs)
The aerial parts of plants (leaves, flowers, soft fruits, and any seeds high in volatile oils) are usually made into an infusion, which means they are soaked in boiled water.? Gently crush the dried herb between your fingers if it is not already coarsely ground (cut and sifted).? Fresh plant parts are usually chopped before infusing, but you may want to leave some flowers whole so that you can enjoy their beauty as the tea is steeping.
Making an Infusion:??Place the proper amount of herb in a container (a teapot or a quart canning jar, for example) and cover with boiling water.? Place a tight fitting lid on the container.? Let steep for 10 to 20 minutes, and then pour through a strainer.? Tannin-rich herbs such as black and green tea should steep for less time because they will turn bitter if steeped too long.? Mineral-rich herbs such as horsetail, red clover and nettle are best when steeped several hours to overnight.
Teas can also be prepared using the energy of the sun.? These infusions will rarely taste as strong or be as medicinal as those prepared by boiling water methods but the sun lends its own subtle healing energy to medicinal teas.? To prepare a solar infusion, place herbs in a tightly covered clear glass jar and set in direct sunlight for several hours.? Douglas fir tip, lavender, rose petal and mint are some favorite sun teas.
Roots, bark and tough fruits and seeds are usually simmered in water to enhance extraction of their medicinal properties.? This method of tea-making is called decocting.? The plant should be coarsely chopped.? (This can be achieved either by purchasing “cut and sifted” herb, by chopping the herb with some clippers or by grinding the herb in a clean coffee grinder or blender.)? In the United States and Europe, the usual time for simmering a decoction is 15 to 20 minutes.? It is worth mentioning that in China and many other countries, herbs are often simmered for several hours and very strong medicinal decoctions are consumed.? Remember that roots that are high in volatile oils, including valerian or osha, are best infused instead of decocted so that aromatic compounds are not lost during boiling.
Making a Decoction:??Measure herb and water.? A general proportion is one teaspoon of herb per cup of water or one oz. of herb per quart of water.? Place herb in a pot, cover with cool water, and gently bring to a boil on the stove.? Reduce heat, cover the pot with a lid and let tea simmer at least 15 minutes before straining.
Teas are best consumed fresh, but when necessary, you can prepare larger batches and store them in the refrigerator in a tightly closed container for up to three days.? Teas may also be stored in the freezer for a few weeks.
Healthy Heart Tea
1 part Hawthorn leaf and flower
1 part Hawthorn berry
1 part rosehip
1 part lemon balm
? part lavender
Hawthorn and rosehips are high in antioxidants and flavenoids that help to strengthen cardiovascular tissue.? Lemon balm is an uplifting herb that is used to ease wintertime depression and fight viruses. ?Lavender helps dispel tension and adds a nice flavor to this tea.? Blend all ingredients and store in a cool place out of direct sunlight. ?Use 1 tablespoon per cup of hot water, steep 15 minutes, strain and enjoy!