When its springtime in the Rockies – Growing and wildcrafting the Essiac herbs, Part 1
April already! really??? Cool! This is the time of planting seeds, digging sheep sorrel root, and reveling in the warmth and wonderful earthy smells in the greenhouse here at Rene Caisse Tea.com!
This marks our first spring for growing the Essiac herbs in Montana. A year ago April was also busy..I was the sprout-grower for a two-week intensive permaculture design course given by Michael "Skeeter" Pilarski, a well-known and much respected elder in the network of herbalists/permaculturists in the Northwest. I was somewhat familiar with permaculture and wanted to learn more and apply the principles to Essiac, growing the herbs as part of a complete symbiotic system. I got way more out of it than that. Permaculture is a way of life, of living in the world in such a way that interconnected relationships create a sustainable whole. It can be applied to gardening but much more, including building and community design and even school curricula and other structures. Its about caring for the earth, caring for the people, and reinvesting the surplus created by this caring. There is a great YouTube video presented by Toby Hemmenway, author of Gaia's Garden called Redesigning Civilization With Permaculture, for further info on permaculture.
It was quite an indoctrination making LOTS of sprouts at the permaculture training, but I did manage to learn a lot at the classes too. After the training, I moved into my new house, and although I would have loved to have begun transforming my yard from turf to a permaculture paradise, I was just a tetch short on time, energy, and money...summer was upon us in no time. However, not to worry..a central tenet of permaculture is 'observe'. I put this to work, planning the layout and design for growing the herbs this spring. The beginnings are humble, but the endeavor is officially underway~ growing medicinal herbs in the Flathead Valley!
There were a number of potted Sheep sorrel and Slippery elm plants started mid-season that wintered over nicely. I covered them all with straw in the greenhouse last fall. Sheep sorrel doesn't mind freezing, but Slippery elm babies do seem to not handle it too well.. They appear to have overwintered just fine, though, plus it was a pretty mild winter. Most remained in their pots, but I actually planted a few Slippery elm saplings from Horizon Herbs, right in the ground, inside the greenhouse. I will move the greenhouse when alpha elm gets too big - along with the Pau d'Arco and Moringa trees I can't resist trying to grow here in the "banana belt" of Montana. There is a fine three-story botanical garden at the U of Montana in Missoula, where they can go live should they need more room, like in the Rocky Horror Picture Show or something...lol. I believe the Slippery elm will take to living out in Montana just fine, though.
I had tried to grow Slippery elm in Idaho. Its hardiness is to -40 F. but we put the saplings out too soon, and they froze. Adequate mulching seems to be the ticket, until they are big enough to overwinter with grace. The largest specimen was doing really well in a pot on my porch last fall, and then the deer nibbled on it -rrr....but its still alive 🙂
It dropped its leaves, which is what they do in the fall anyway, and I've been waiting all winter to see - is it alive??? .. I'm tickled to announce, the buds are forming! I just discovered the first leaf today! Its a good thing to plant Slippery elm, since it is such great medicine, and its numbers could use reinforcement since so many died of Dutch Elm disease and over-harvesting in the past 40 or so years.
Here is the full picture of the Slippery elm with the first leaf - as you can see, it and Burdock are friends!
All of the Sheep sorrel wintered over just fine. Below is a picture showing how much variety there can be between plants, depending on soil and other regional variations - all are rumex acetosella.
Its also wildcrafting time for Sheep sorrel. I have found a nice patch not far from here, and was out last week digging some. It was wonderful being in the sun, with hands in the earth! This time of year, Rene Caisse used to use the whole plant. As you can see below, the new growth, being pretty tiny yet, is no doubt packed with nutrients! Total time spent about 5-6 hrs., for 1.2 oz. root 🙂 There are worse jobs 🙂 The most time-consuming part is cleaning the root, to separate out the other materials like fine grass roots. Its interesting to note that when Sheep sorrel is growing in a field, the grasses will compete with it and it seems to adapt by putting out lots of fine 'hairs' that mimic the grass roots, leveling the playing field so to speak.
I joined the United Plant Savers today! Slippery elm is one of the native medicinal plants they are working with. Their mission: "to ensure the perpetuation of important medicinal plants and their native habitat so that when future generations of plant lovers walk upon this planet, they, too, will know and appreciate the medicines of their ancestors and the healing power that grows from the heart of the earth."
And so it goes..installment one of a growing story! I know a lot of you are also doing the same thing, judging by our Essiac seed kit sales! I would LOVE to hear how your growing experiences are going.
Earth laughs in flowers.~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
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