Tuesday, December 7, 2010


No, I don't mean that physically. But if you do want to poke someone right now, feel free. I give you permission to annoy someone today.

I'm actually referring to the Poke plant, Phytolacca spp. This beautiful plant is coming up everywhere! Literally and figuratively. A couple months ago I was out in the back pasture with my grandma, and she asks me what this weed with seductive purple berries is. I tried identifying it, but couldn't. I was baffled. At school during the past year I always parked in the same spot. The spot is right in front of a thriving Poke plant, and I liked to see it's stature and charisma as I drove up in the morning. A few weeks after visiting my grandma, I was pulling into "my spot", and smacked my forehead. Duh! The "weed" at grandma's is a poke!

Poke kept coming up in class the last few weeks because of some experimenting with the berries (which I'll explain!). And Mary, at Herban Lifesyle, asks,
"I have poke weed growing in abundance, and I love the purple berries. I have read mixed reviews on the safety and uses of this "weed." What information can you give me on the harvesting and use of its various parts?"

My short answer is the same as late great Michael Moore, USE WITH CARE.

The plant is apparently very toxic, both to humans and animals. Decreased blood pressure and heart palpitations, nausea and headache are the common symptoms I heard of. That said, Poke has a long history of medical use in Europe. The entry in King's American Dispensatory is quite lengthy, but very comprehensive. I've heard/read that the toxins are limited to the seeds, and if juiced properly, the berries may be used in cooking. I've also heard that when taken in small quantities, the berries (including seed) can help open the mind.

None of this has convinced me to experiment with Poke. Some of my fellow students did, however. Some used the berries for dye, which turned the fabric a beautiful red. One might be concerned with if the toxin is getting in through your skin. On the other hand, a couple friends used the berry juice as face paint! And some tried part or a whole berry, just to see how it affected them. The results ranged from feeling nothing, to some nausea. But nothing dramatic.

I would trust the entry in King's Dispensatory as the authority if you do choose to use any parts of the plant, Mary. Search "phytolacca" in Michael Moore's formulas and you'll get his recommended dosages.

So again I reiterate, if you do choose to use this plant, in cooking, medicinally, or for dye, USE WITH CARE. But it sure is lovely!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ask Me A Question!

Hey y'all!

I'm no longer writing you from the beautiful hills and vales of Sonoma County, but from the vast farmlands of the San Joaquin Valley. What a whirlwind the last couple months have been! And as the song (almost) goes "I left my heart in north bay San Francisco". ;)

But I'm excited to get farmin' and herbin' in The Valley. It's going to take some time (and $) to get going, so in the mean time I'm looking for a "normal job". And in the mean time on this blog, I thought I'd ask you for your herb, botany, alt medicine, hippie, etc questions!

This is inspired by my friend Vivian who asked in a comment (a long time ago, sorry I'm so slow!):
"I'm curious. What are milk thistle good for?, because there are a ton at my parent's cabin. All they do it poke us!"

Milk thistle is good for your liver. The seeds in particular are the medicinal part of the plant. The leaves are nutritious; you could cut off the barbs and put them in your salads, sandwiches, ... But it's really the seeds you want.
Milk thistle has prominent white venation on the leaves. If you're finding wild thistles with white variegated leaves, you'll want to make sure what you've found is Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum), not Italian Thistle. On Italian Thistle the venation is lighter. Milk Thistle flowers are bigger (2-6cm vs 1-2cm), and the stems on Italian Thistle have spines, but Milk Thistle does not. Italian Thistle seeds are not medicinal.

Since Viv's question was about the thistle she found growing wild, I'd suggest collecting the seeds (careful for those barbs!), by cutting the dieing, but not dead, flowers with a foot or so of stalk. Put them upside down in a paper bag, then let them dry. Many of the seeds will fall out to the bottom of the bag. This will save you some time (and some fingers!). After that you can pull out the rest of the seeds from the flower head by hand. Then just grind the seeds up, and sprinkle them on your food like pepper! What an easy way to get your medicine ;)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Medicine Show

Heya! How's everyone doing?! I must admit, I could make time to post more frequently. But to be honest, I'm having too much fun doing other things! California quite suits me :D

Our big term project at school (this was months ago!) was an herbal medicine show. All of us students set up booths to show off our beautiful medicines. The event was publicized to the community, and people showed up from all over the bay area. We even had a few people from Berkeley and Marin Co. (not a short drive!) It was a fabulous evening, and I like to think this was a good trial run and good proof that farmers markets will be my thing :)

Monday, June 28, 2010


Whew, I'm half way through CSHS! I can't believe how fast it's going. Last week we had "finals" (as much as hippie herbalists do finals). One of our projects was to press/sketch/photograph 10 flowering plants, and write about them. I won't bore you with what I wrote, but the plants themselves sure are beautiful.

White Sage

Spanish Lavendar

Rose Campion

Milk Thistle



Clary Sage



Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Camping Trip

Hello wonderful people! I am sans internet at my apt now, so sorry for the slow posting here.

Last month (it doesn't seem that long ago...), we (the herbies) went on a week camping trip to Los Padres National Forrest. We were supposed to go to a specific spot call "The Indians", but it was raining so much that we couldn't use the roads to get there. So we settled at a different local, and set up in the rain!

This was the view on one side of the campsite.
Harlequin Lupine

We did a lot of plant identification, and talked about medicinal properties. We made mugwort and black sage infused olive oil for a salve. We made mugwort vinegar. We made yerba santa tincture. Ask me for some if you come visit!

Western Peony
We spent one afternoon talking about flower essences. A flower essence is used for the emotional health, for soul rather than body. The flower is infused into water by the sun, and depending on the plant, will help with depression, sadness, anger, ...

We went hiking one day, and it was beautiful. Much of the trail was still muddy from the rains, so we took of our shoes and hiked barefoot. The rains had brought out so many lovely plants, including this field of lupine.

This picture is for Sterling, who correctly predicted I would become a "black foot"
*any offense taken may be directed at him ;)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Herb o' the Week: Dandelion

Did you know dandelion was good for you? I bet you didn't! I bet you douse them in herbicide and furtively pull them out of your grass, in the hope that their nasty yellow tops, and white seed heads, will finally go away. Ok, maybe you don't do that. But I sure grew up in a neighborhood that felt that way about dandelion! And if you do react to dandelion that way, I'm here to ease your soul, to tell you, let them live! You no longer need to feel guilty about the dandelions invading your lawn and sidewalk cracks. Instead, stop throwing on the weed killer, and eat 'em up!

Dandelion's latin name is Taraxacum officinale. (Side note, when you see a plant's latin name, if it says Something officinale, that means it used to be an "official" medicinal, in the doctor's offices of old). The common name comes from a French phrase, dent de lion, meaning "lion's tooth", I'm sure you can imagine why.
  • Dandelion leaves are a diuretic and good for your kidney (ie, they make you pee.) But they're loaded up with potassium, which makes dandelion one of the better diuretics. Usually one looses important amounts of potassium when working with diuretics.
  • Dandelion root is good for your liver (ie, it will make ya poop.)
  • Roasted dandelion root can be used as a coffee substitute, and would be of particular use in that area if you are wanting to wean yourself off of coffee.
  • Though untested by me, the milky sap will help remove warts.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Plant Walk: Bodega Bay

My friend Claire came up from Berkeley on Friday to spend the weekend. We drove out to the beach (the beach is only an hour away, sweet!), and hiked around Bodega Bay. Beautiful, beautiful day.

Where The Birds was filmed!

This baby elephant seal came out from the water to warm up.
Wild calla lilies.

Scarlet pimpernel (not really very scarlet).

Cow parsnip (note the fly infestation)

Ice plant

Yes, there was even an egg slap. No, I've no idea what that means.

Other plants ID-ed:
Fiddle neck
Douglas Iris
Lots and lots of lupine (including yellow!)
Wild Radish
Nemophila menziesii ssp atomaria