Category Archives: Ethnobotany

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Hunting Mycelium in the Wildwood

By | Bioregional Herbalism, Ethnobotany, Herbalism, Wildcrafting | 10 Comments

There is a forager in town who lives a two minute walk from my house. We kept running into each other because small towns are small which led to conversations over local beer about medicinal mushrooms, wild harvesting, and beekeeping which led to me purchasing super fresh chaga and turkey tail mushrooms from him, which then led to me hiring him to help me make and ship products for the shop. As an extra bonus, he was raised by a Wiccan mom so nothing I do or make is weird to him, yay. Everyone give a warm hello to Alex! He could very well be the one who bottled and labelled your elixir or packaged your order to mail out.

Witches' butter

Witches’ butter – jelly fungi

Foragers are always looking for more places to forage, so when I told Alex about my parents’ 83 acre farm, half of which is wild forest, he was intrigued and wanted to see if the land would be good for harvesting wild mushrooms. Last Tuesday we drove out of town to Lawless Lane Farm and off into the woods we went, him with an axe in his pocket and me with my foraging basket, antler knife and shears. The first thing we found were spruce tips covered in sticky, sugary resin which just screamed to be infused into good whiskey with maple syrup.

It was very cold out, but just brushing aside fallen leaves on the forest floor revealed endless amounts of fuzzy white networks of mycelium. It is a very good sign of a healthy forest with a balanced ecosystem. The farm will most definitely be a mushroom foraging hot spot next spring! We did find some mushrooms, but none were good enough to harvest due to the cold; witches’ butter (Tremella mesenterica), ancient turkey tails (Trametes versicolor), birch polypore, and some small, clustered brown ones we couldn’t identify growing on a dead fir log.

Turkey tail mushroom

wild fungi

The highlight of the hunt was finding some chaga growing on a very tall and still living yellow birch tree. Alex’s favourite word of the day was sclerotia, which is a mass of mycelium growing like a keloid or scar tissue over wounds in trees. Chaga is the sclerotia growing on birch trees and can be found across the Northern Hemisphere, though it is best known for growing in Russia, parts of Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Boreal Forest of Canada where it has been prized as a medicinal mushroom for boosting the immune system. Humans have been using it medicinally for thousands of years so I figure our ancestors were on to something. It has an earthy chocolaty flavour which makes it great to mix into hot chocolate, coffee, and chai recipes. I’ve made chocolate ice cream with it and have found it added to raw brownie and bliss ball recipes– raw because any temperature over 125°F supposedly kills its medicinal properties. I know it doesn’t seem as if a tumour-like growth on a tree would be very tasty, but it can be!

Chaga on a yellow birch treeForest feast

We took a break to sit on a fallen log and share some sausage and cheese roughly cut up on the spot with my knife. My mother’s border collie (who looks like a black bear) happily ate some, convincing me it was totally cool for her to accept offerings on behalf of the forest spirits. When the food was gone she ran off back into the woods, she’s mostly wild and has free reign on the farm.

Hiking through the bush once more we harvested spruce tips, grand fir, and Eastern hemlock to make conifer herbal goods for the shop. I snip some tiny-needled hemlock branches with my shears and then remove some dead fallen branches and large clusters of dead leaves from its boughs as a thank you offering. Alex helps me and then feels free to talk to the trees without feeling silly about it.

Wandering onward I found some beautiful, large club mosses. The Ground Pine (Lycopodium obscurum) looked almost like heather instead of moss and the Running Ground Pine aka Stag’s-Horn looks like the fuzzy stag antlers it is named for. The latin name for both club mosses translates to mean wolf paw. This pleases me greatly. Can you believe that millions of years ago they were as tall as trees?! The ground pine is made into a medicinal tea by Natives and carried as a talisman to ward off disease and likely evil spirits too. Medicinally the Running Ground Pine seems to be used for everything under the sun. The coolest fact I found out about it is that if you gather a high enough concentration of the spores they become explosive, creating you own wild harvested flash powder for magical effects.

Club MossesGround Pine Club Moss – Running  Ground Pine Club Moss

Forest cows

At the pond in the forest we ran into the cows my Irish-Scots-Canadian father has kind of stolen from his neighbour after they broke into his hayfields on a weekly basis. He simply fenced them in on his property, informed his neighbour, and then proceeded to name them all. My father used to raise an Irish heritage breed of cows called Dexters. I think he’s really missing his days of raising cattle… enough to take in a whole herd like they were stray cats. The cows were friendly and curious, if a bit shy, and tried to make off with my foraging basket. I’ve always loved cows. They are like the fattest, stubby-legged deer you could imagine. You just know I’m going to go nab all that manure for my compost.

Happy with our chaga and conifer haul, we returned to my house and set about processing the chaga while it was still fresh. If you let it dry it becomes very hard to break up and process, I know because I have three pounds of dried chaga I am not looking forward to chopping and grinding! Alex broke the large hunks into smaller pieces with his axe and I chopped them into even smaller pieces with my garden shears. Then I ground it all up in my nut and spice grinder until it resembled coffee grounds. Once ground, it becomes a nice even chocolate brown colour. It sounds like it all went smoothly, but the reality was that Alex almost sliced off a couple fingers with the axe and went home with a couple bandaids, I cut myself with the shears, and there was chaga flying all over the kitchen counters and floor. Next time I need to build a wood box to do the cutting in to prevent chunks from flying everywhere.

Processed Chaga

We decided to use the fresh chaga to make a tincture. Chaga tincture takes a long time to make and requires a lot of plant material compared to other recipes. If you do make it, make a big batch. I filled up a 2 litre jar with the ground chaga mushroom and added 1 cup of freshly ground cocoa nibs, leaving 2 inches at the top of the jar. Then we topped it up with half and half brandy and vodka. An alcohol that is 40% is acceptable, but higher is always better. It will be left to infuse for 2-3 months and then it will be strained and the leftover chaga will be made into a decoction which is then mixed in with the infused alcohol. Here is a link to recipes for chaga tea and tincture. Really this ends up being more of a liqueur! Mmm chocolate chaga liqueur… sounds like it would be pretty good in coffee or just mixed with cream and drunk as is. And now we wait.

I have good hopes for more collaborations in the future. Alex is teaching me all about the local mushrooms, and words like sclerotia, and I taught him to identify trees and small plants. This coming week we’ll be making a lot of herbal goodies for the local christmas farmers’ market and also for this month’s CSW collection. I’m excited to make things after two weeks straight of shipping!

Wishing you wintery blessings from the woods.

Fir coats

incense

Guide to Pacific Northwest Incense

By | Bioregional Herbalism, Ethnobotany, Folk Magic, Herbalism, Recipes, Wildcrafting | 19 Comments

Burning smudgeBurning botanicals for pleasure, ceremony, and medicine is something we humans have performed for millennia. We just really like to light things on fire and the act never fails to bring us a child-like awe and some kind of primal pleasure. Imagine our pyromaniac ancestor’s excited delight in discovering that certain plants smell amazing when lit on fire and the smoke inhaled.  I burn incense on an almost daily basis. I started blending my own loose incenses and making my own smudge wands eight years ago and my passion for knowledge on native plants quickly drove me to research which aromatic botanicals from the Pacific Northwest would be best for incense and smudge. This guide is the result of almost a decade worth of research and hands-on experience.

This short guide is designed for use by those with some wild harvesting knowledge and experience. Please practice ethical harvesting of any of the botanicals mentioned only taking 10% of a plant or colony of plants and 20% of the aerial parts of a plant (leaves, flowers, seeds). Special care should be taken not to harm trees when harvesting resin which should not be confused with tree sap. Resin flows from wounds and is needed by the tree to heal itself – only take the excess drippings around a wound. Many trees can produce resins, but the ones listed in this guide are the ones that can be easily found for wild harvesting or for purchasing.

QUICK SUBSTITUTION GUIDE

  • Benzoin – Bee Propolis Resin
  • Copal & Frankincense – Douglas Fir or Lodgepole Pine Resins
  • Myrrh – Poplar Buds
  • Palo Santo – Western Hemlock Needles/Resin or Western Red Cedar Wood
  • Red Sandalwood – Fresh or Decayed Western Red Cedar Wood
  • White Sandalwood –  Willow Bark
  • White Sage – Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)

Western Hemlock Harvesting Hemlock for incense Pacific Northwest Incense

AROMATICS FOR INCENSE MAKING

To learn more about each botanical I recommend a good local field guide to learn how to identify it, where you you can find it in your area, and the best time to harvest it.

Flowers: elderflowers (Sambucus cerulea and racemosa), rose petals (Rosa nutkana, Rosa gymnocarpa), wild violet flowers and roots, Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Conifers: Alaskan Cypress (Cupressus nootkatensis), Juniper leaves and berries (Juniperus communis and scopulorum), Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta), Mountain Hemlock, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar

Resins: Bee propolis resin (naturally created by bees from tree resins and beeswax), Bitter Cherry (Prunus emarginata), Black Cottonwood balsam (poplar bud resin), Douglas Fir resin, Lodgepole Pine resin

Herbs: Field Mint (Mentha arvensis), Mountain Sagewort (artemisia artica), Northern Wormwood (Artemisia campestris pacifica),  Suksdorf’s Mugwort (Artemisia suksdorfii), Western Mugwort (Artemisia ludoviciana), Silver Burweed (Ambrosia chamissonis), Sweet Flag root (Acorus calamus americanus), Sweet Gale seed and leaf (Myrica gale), Sweet Grass (Hierochloe odorata), Vanilla Leaf (Achlys triphylla), Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii).

Wild Sagebrush

SMUDGING BOTANICALS

When crafting smudge wands, it is best to always do so using fresh botanicals and to make the smudge wands the same day or the day after you harvest the materials. All you need is a pair of garden shears, scissors, and a vegetable fibre string such as cotton, hemp, or flax.

Smudge Wands

There is no right or wrong way to craft smudge wands. Get a nice thick bundle of fresh herbs and tie them at one end with string. Wind the string tightly and evenly around the bundle, tucking in any loose bits as you go. Tie off the string again at the opposite end. Trim any sticky-outy bits with scissors and then allow to dry in a paper bag in a warm, dry place for a few weeks before use. You can light smudge sticks with a lighter, a small blow torch, a burning charcoal, a gas flame, a fire, or even a car cigarette lighter. To extinguish, snuff out in dry sand or dirt until no part is glowing orange or smoking – do not get wet.

Blend red cedar, juniper, western hemlock, or douglas fir tips with white sage leaves or branches of wild sagebrush for a unique spin on the traditional sage smudge wand. Create herbal smudge wands by adding clippings of any of the flowers or herbs listed above under the aromatics section to a bundle of sage or conifer tips. Try wild mint or yerba buena with wild roses, mugwort, and sagebrush. Western hemlock, northern wormwood, and sagebrush would be excellent for attracting benevolent spirits.  Western mugwort, red cedar, juniper, and sagebrush would be good for protection, and yarrow, mugwort, wormwood, and sagebrush would serve you well when burned during divinatory rites.

Rocky Mountain Juniper Smudge Wand

Sweetgrass Braid

If you can get your hands on fresh sweetgrass, gather pieces of the same length, tie at one end and then divide into three bundles. Carefully braid until you run out of even ends. Tie again and then allow to dry for a few weeks before use.

Witch’s Whisk

A traditional smudge wand from the British Isles. Harvest the tips of fresh blackberry vines, snipping off the leaves and shaving off the thorns with a knife. You can alternately keep the thorns on if you wear heavy leather gloves. Bundle many of the vines together until it is one or more inches in diametre and bind it very tightly with string. Allow to dry thoroughly for a month before use. Remove the string, cut the long bundle of vines into smaller ones and tightly bind only one end of each to create the whisk.  Optional – soak in warmed beeswax for 10 minutes and allow to cool. This will cause the witch’s whisk to burn better. Burn to clear a space of evil spirits. Burn to cleanse a person, place, or thing of a witch’s curse. Burn before rituals indoors or outdoors. Burn in and around your home for protection.

Witch's Whisk

HOW TO CRAFT YOUR OWN INCENSE

There are many different types of incense, but in this guide I will only describe how to craft ambers, compound incenses, and loose incense. I don’t make cone or stick incense myself as I prefer my incense to be more pure and without fillers.

Amber Resin

Amber resin is not referring to the ancient fossilized tree resin we use as beads for jewelry, but to amber incense which is usually crafted from beeswax mixed with solid and liquid benzoin resin and sometimes styrax resin blended with vanilla. All of these ingredients, minus the beeswax, are very exotic (and don’t usually have the most ethical harvesting practices) so I created my own amber resin recipe using plants native to my area. Bee propolis resin is the substitute for benzoin and already contains beeswax so it seemed a natural and delectable choice.

3 parts bee propolis resin, cleaned, dried, and finely powdered
1 part sweet grass, cut, dried, and finely powdered
1/2 part vanilla leaf, dried and finely powdered
local honey

Place the resin in a mixing bowl, put the sweetgrass and vanilla leaf through a seive before adding to it. Blend well. Add a few spoon fulls of local unpasteurized honey. If the mixture sticks together, but is still a bit crumbly, it is ready. If it’s still too powdery and dusty, add more honey.

Line a square or rectangular container with waxed paper and firmly press the amber resin mixture into it. Loosely place another piece of wax paper on top of it and put it somewhere dark, warm, and dry for 1-2 weeks. Remove from mould and wax paper and cut with a serrated knife into smaller burnable chunks.

Propolis Amber Resin

Compound Incense

This type of incense uses plants, tree resins, honey, and liquid mixed together and pressed into shapes or crumbled. It is only semi-dry and thus not powdery like loose incense. One example of a compound incense is an Egyptian kyphi – an ancient recipe method we can use today substituting our favourite aromatics.

Wet Base:

  • Dried berries or fruit that form a sticky paste when ground. currants, gooseberries, elderberries, hawthorn berries, juniper berries, mountain ash berries, and rosehips all work well.
  • Local unpasteurized honey such as clover, dandelion, or fireweed.
  • A fragrant liquid that will evaporate when the incense is cured – local wine or mead, rosewater, and hydrosols are best.

Measuring is done by eye based on how much plant matter you have to work with. To your ground fruit, add a few spoon fulls of honey and glugs of liquid and blend with a metal spoon or your hands until it forms a thick, wet, and sticky paste. Place in an air tight container and alllow to rest for one week

Dry Base:

  • 1 part tree resin(s)
  • 1 part aromatic herb(s)

The dry base is a half and half blend of resins and herbs that can be dried, ground, and powdered. You can use one resin or a blend of many. The herbs can be roots, flowers, leaves, or even aromatic seeds. Powder, blend, and place in an air tight container separate from the wet base and allow to rest for one week to infuse the scents.

After a week is up blend the two bases together adding more honey or liquid if needed. Place back into an airtight container and allow to rest one more week. After this time, remove and form into shapes, or press the entirety of the mixture into a wax paper lined baking sheet. Place another sheet of was paper loosely on top and allow to cure (air dry) for 2-3 weeks. Now you can put your incense into a sealed container and burn it a little bit at a time at your pleasure.

Loose Incense

Loose incense is the easiest method for making incense, easier even than smudge. Simply grind and powder your ingredients until they are all roughly the same size, blend well, and then burn a pinch at a time on charcoal. You can craft loose incense using only resins, only smudging herbs, or a blend of both. The possibilities are endless and up to you. Below are some recipes to play with.

Pine, Poplar, and Propolis resin blend

RECIPES

Ritual Incense

1 part conifer resin
1 part poplar buds

Dry ingredients and grind with a mortar and pestle or a coffee/spice grinder. This is a substitute for the traditional blend of frankincense and myrrh. Burn a pinch to cleanse a space for any ritual or spellwork, or to call, feed, or banish spirits and deities.

Temple Incense

1 part bee propolis resin
1 part conifer resin
1 part poplar buds

Burn for tranquility, for prayer and meditation, or rituals. A substitute for the traditional blend of frankincense, myrrh, and benzoin used in churches.

Purification Incense

1 part sagebrush leaves
1 part red cedar leaves
1 part conifer resin

Burn for cleansing people, places, and objects. Excellent for house cleansing or for purifying people before performing a ceremony or interacting with spirits

Ancestor Incense

1 part conifer resin
1 part poplar buds
1 part white willow bark
1 part northern wormwood
pinch of pacific yew needles
pinch of graveyard dirt

Burn to summon the spirits of the dead. Best used on or near the dark moon.

Good Spirits Incense

1 part western hemlock needles, dried
1 part red cedar leaves, dried
1 part conifer resin

Grind and burn to attract benevolent spirits to your magical rites.

Spirit Food Incense I

1 part bee propolis resin
2 parts red cedar wood, powdered (fresh for animal/plant spirits, decayed for the dead)
2 parts western hemlock needles, dried

Burn to give offering and energy to the spirits of the dead or familiar spirits during rites. Make sure the spirits are the ones you intended to call and work with before feeding them.

Spirit Food Incense II (Kyphi)

Wet Ingredients:

1/2 part yew berries, de-seeded and dried
2 parts mountain ash berries, dried
Local wine or mead
Local unpasteurized honey

Dry Ingredients:

1/2 part fly agaric (amanita muscaria), dried (caps/skin only)*
1 part decayed or fresh red cedar wood
1 part conifer resin
1 part poplar buds
1 part bee propolis resin

Grind berries and mix in wine and honey until it becomes a thick paste. Place in an air tight container and let rest for 3-7 days. Grind dry ingredients and blend, place in an air tight container and let rest for the same 3-7 days. After waiting, blend the wet and dry ingredients together, place into a container again and allow to rest for 1-2 weeks. Form into small balls or bricks and air dry for 1 week or place in a dehydrator.

*fly agaric is psychoactive – be careful when burning indoors.

Spirit Banishing Incense

1 part conifer resin
2 parts wild rose petals, bark, leaves, and thorns
2 parts red cedar leaves
1 part juniper leaves and/or berries

Burn to say a gentle farewell to familiar ancestral or other spirits with kind words or to forcefully send dangerous or uncooperative spirits back to their realm with a sharp tongue and help from your spirits or deities. Removes attachments of spirits to people and the middle realm.

Divination Incense

1 parts conifer resin
1 part bistort (polygonum bistortoides / viviparum)
1 part northern wormwood
1 part western mugwort (or substitute mountain sagewort)

Burn to enhance psychic gifts before divining with your chosen method.

Curse Reversal Incense

1 part fern leaves
1 part tobacco

Burn to remove curses and crossed conditions.

Journeying Incense

2 parts conifer resin
1 part juniper berries*
1 part northern wormwood*
1 part western mugwort (or substitute mountain sagewort)*
1 part yarrow flowers

Grind ingredients to an even consistency and blend. Burn on charcoal or a fire and inhale the smoke. Good for trance work, spirit work, crossing the hedge, seership and divination. *ingredients are mildly psychoactive, use caution.

Sweet Love Incense

1 part bee propolis resin
1/2 part bitter cherry resin
2 parts wild rose petals
2 parts sweetgrass

Burn to sweeten your home and the people in it. Burn to promote happiness and love.

Insect Repellent Loose Smudge

2 parts red cedar leaf
2 part western mugwort
1 part yarrow flowers
1 part sweet gale
1 part vanilla leaf

Burn to keep away unwanted insects (especially mosquitoes and flies). Great for outdoor rituals – throw on the bonfire.

burning

HOW TO BURN INCENSE

It may seem like a simple thing to some, but many do not know how to burn resins or loose incense. We are so used to stick or cone incense or white sage leaves which burn so easily and steadily. Don’t worry, there is no need for fancy or expensive supplies. The simplest way to burn resins, kyphi incense, amber incense, or loose incense (powdered) is on charcoal.

To make your own incense censer at home all you need is a small plate and an empty and clean cat food/tuna etc can placed on the plate upside down. You can also use any fireproof container and fill it with sand. A large coffee can, a clay flower pot, an iron cauldron or a small brass or copper planter or bowl with feet all work. Thrift stores often have such useful containers for a dollar or two. You can get sand from a dollar store, garden store, a beach, or your kid’s sandbox.

Now you need charcoal. If you have a fire place or a fire pit you can make your own and take a piece of wood charcoal out of a burning fire with tongs and place it in your homemade censer. The most common practice is to use incense or hooka charcoal, also known as self-lighting charcoal. You can buy a roll of the black charcoal disks for a dollar or four at most Middle Eastern shops. The shop two blocks from my house sells three different kinds. Sometimes you can also find them in Chinatown – especially at shops that sell ancestor worship supplies. Failing that, you can buy them on-line from most large herbal retailers like Mountain Rose.

Light the charcoal round with a lighter or match while holding it (if you’re afraid to hold it, use small metal tongs). Wait for it to spark and for a wave of orange-red sparks to start moving through the charcoal. Place in your censer and wait 5 minutes until the entire charcoal disk is glowing red and hot. If it doesn’t light, try again and hold it for a bit longer before placing it in the censer. If your charcoal is crumbly and won’t light it may have been exposed to moisture. Toss it and use a new package.

Once it is happily glowing, add a pinch of pure resin or a loose incense blend. If it burns too fast, place aluminum foil on top of the charcoal and your incense on top of the foil – this works especially well with amber resins and kyphi incense which should be burned slowly. Need charcoal ready to go for a long ritual? Light one, and once it’s completely glowing orange, place one to two more charcoal disks underneath it. The heat from the first one will slowly light the others. You can do this before, or in the middle of the ritual when your first charcoal is half burned out. Dust off ashes and residue with tongs or a metal spoon each time you are going to put more incense on the charcoal.

Other incense burning options include purchasing an electric incense burner or simply placing a piece of aluminum foil on top of your lit cast iron wood stove and placing a piece of resin or a pinch of loose incense on top of the foil (I wish I had a cast iron stove so I could do this). If you are performing a ritual or a healing somewhere with a fireplace or outdoor fire pit, you can throw a large handful of smudging herbs on the fire once or many times as needed.


Article and photos © 2014 Sarah Anne Lawless.

I hereby release this article’s text (but not the photos) under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivs License. Meaning, you can share this article on your blog, tumblr, or website as long as I am properly attributed (with my name as author and a link back to the original article on my website) and you do not alter the article or try to make money from it in any way.

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First Forest

By | Ethnobotany, Herbalism, Pacific Northwest Folklore, Wildcrafting | 13 Comments

A beautiful forestWe packed a lunch, we packed the baby’s things, and we packed the baby into his stroller on a hot summer’s day. Off we went to show our little man his first forest. Until now we had only been able to take him to the city park and, though beautiful and full of trees, it is no wild wood. I told him he would love it. I knew he would from how he can endlessly gaze at the leaves of one tree without getting bored. It was so hot and humid, but the shady vibrant green forest was cool and breezy. A couple minutes down the dirt path and the baby grinned. The further we went and the taller the trees and denser the greenmantle became, the bigger and bigger his toothless grin became until he was laughing too.

Wild mushrooms Baby toesWe three stopped to picnic off the path under a western hemlock tree next to a the massive hollowed out stump of an ancient cedar tree with a fairy tunnel just big enough for the baby to crawl through. I twirled him around under the canopy of evergreen trees and he giggled with glee. I brought him down close to the earth and stood him up with his little feet in the soft moss. He wiggled his toes happily.

The Poisoner and I don’t have plans to teach him religion, but we want to teach him a love and respect for nature as well as pass on our knowledge of the local wilds to him. It is through our children that our attitude towards nature will change, but only if we teach them to love it. Below is a photo my mother sent me with a handwritten letter of me trying to catch up with my dad in the forests of Northern Vancouver Island. My parents tried to bring my sister and I into wild nature as much as they could. We went to provincial parks every weekend and during the week if possible and every summer we went camping in every corner of British Columbia. It is thanks to my parents that I love my province as much as I do and I also owe them my deep love of nature and my animistic beliefs.
Me as a toddler in the PNWThere were red huckleberry bushes everywhere decorated with early, bright vermillion berries. They are my favourite wild berry – I prefer them to the black and blue huckleberries that people rave about. I picked handful after handful, filling my mouth with their tart juice tasting of sour blueberries and lemon. The Poisoner patiently waited for me along the path as I picked them, pointing out the best bushes to me and eating the odd handful himself.
Early HuckleberriesWe plan to return in a week with containers to pick some to take home. Why not turn them into a liqueur, a beer, a mead? There are a few craft breweries in the Pacific Northwest who make huckleberry beer and it is a tasty summer treat. I’ve made mead with huckleberry and devil’s club before and it was divine! A wild mead I used for ritual offerings.

Huckleberries are full of magic and medicine. They are an excellent plant for dream walkers and dream diviners. Supposedly if you ask a question and place huckleberry wood or leaves under your mattress or pillow – you will dream your answer. To make a wish come true, burn the leaves in your room before you go to bed. In rootwork, the leaves are carried for luck and they are also put into sachets or burned to break curses. They would also work in a curse-breaking bath or as a curse-breaking tea. In local mythology huckleberries belong to Basket Woman, or Asin, an ogress who eats people and some Native tribes used to avoid them believing they would get lost in the woods and eaten by her. In folk medicine the leaves are believed to even out blood sugar levels and are used by those with hypoglycemia and diabetes.
To devourWe saw beautiful tiger swallowtail butterflies with their yellow wings circle in the sunlight of forest clearings. We saw massive black and white dragonflies and the tiniest metallic blue dragonflies. We saw the tiniest, fuzziest baby ducklings huddled together in the sunlight. We saw wild baby geese the size of fat chickens follow their parents into the muddy waters in the forest to feast on greens growing next to cattails and calamus. We saw many a crow peering down at us from the branches of fir trees. We saw towering douglas fir trees dripping with fragrant resin, shining brightly in the sunlight.
Douglas fir resin Foamflower growing on a stump with a fairy knotA scrawny little female chickadee landed on my hand and was none to pleased to see it empty of seeds. This tells me people who visit this forest have been a little too naughty in their feeding of the wildlife. We had a squirrel army surround us when we sat on a bench for a snack before heading home. It was more than a bit creepy. Apparently we’d sat at a bench where someone regularly fed them peanuts judging from all the empty shells. We didn’t share our food and the Poisoner said he’d have nightmares that night of squirrels coming after him.

Don’t feed the wildlife folks and don’t teach your kids to do it — no matter how cute it is to see them take it from your hands. Most of the food people try to give wildlife isn’t in their normal diet and usually isn’t good for them and can often be harmful. You’re taming them and teaching them to depend on people instead of their own foraging skills. Plus creepy squirrel army is creepy.

Nomad Tarot - Priestess and Two of FireI hope you get a chance to enjoy your own forest wanderings soon. May the coolness of the green shade soothe your soul on the hot summer days to come. May the season be full of magic and enough boldness to go on the adventures that call you!

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Forest Spirit Fest

By | Animism, Cooking, Ethnobotany, Events, Festivals & Sabbats, Herbalism | 44 Comments

The Shaman, the Poisoner, and I arrived at Raven’s Nest when the sun was at its height in the blue sky. As we set up our tents and the axe throwing targets, we quickly discovered how the camp site got its name; ravens circled with loud croaks and the flapping of their great black wings. The Poisoner croaked back, having a conversation with a particularly large grandfather raven. It was a pleasant discovery for all in attendance at the festival as Tynehead Park is in the middle of a booming, ever-expanding city.  Unlike crows, ravens do not like cities or people, preferring wild places. The park is likely one of the last hideouts for all the wild creatures that once spilled out over the land where rows of suburban houses and box stores now rule. We also learned many of the park’s serpent names are not coincidence either – there are plenty of snakes to be found! Tynehead is most well known for its Serpentine River full of salmon. The salmon have attracted black bears, coyotes, ravens, eagles, and all manner of smaller creatures creating a wonderful biodiversity which the city folk don’t seem to appreciate as they keep trying to remove the bears.

Caution Bears

Forest Spirit Fest kicked off with a tree walk through the park hosted by The Shaman (aka Grant) with me helping where I could. We were introduced to Alder, Hawthorn, Big Leaf Maple, Vine Maple, Western Red Cedar, Western Hemlock, Willow, Oak, Birch, Crab Apple, Bitter Cherry, Western Beaked Hazel, Black Cottonwood, and more. There were great old cedar stumps so big around it would’ve taken the group of us to hug them, logged long ago, but still intact and many were hollow so we could go inside. They would make excellent forts or fairy houses. The tops of the stumps were covered in opportunistic Western Hemlock and Red Huckleberry saplings as decaying Red Cedar is one of the best natural fertilizers in the forest.

Serpent's Hollow

As much as I am in love with all of the trees, there is a great English Oak hidden away in Tynehead Park and I’m glad we visited it on the tree walk. It is the biggest oak I’ve seen in my province as they don’t do well here. The ground is bare underneath its heavy branches which touch the ground, making it perfect for ritual and its perimetre is surrounded by its much smaller children creating a ring of oaks, a mini grove. The red-berried Hawthorn trees and the Oak are not native to the Pacific Northwest. Once upon a time, a century or more ago, Tynehead was the site of vast farmer’s fields. The farmer must’ve been from the UK or Europe as he brought Blackthorn and Hawthorn trees with him to use as traditional hedges between the fields instead of fencing. The great Oak must’ve been close to a house once upon a time, though it is long since gone. The forest was so cool and shady, it was a shock to come back to the hot and sunny open meadow of the camp site after the walk.

The Great English Oak

After the walk my wonderful friend and festival co-host Dianne hosted a discussion on making herbal elixirs and had quite the rapt audience, enjoying the shade and the forest. I wish I could’ve listened in, but I had to set up the site for the big event of the evening. There were a few surprises at Forest Spirit Fest that only close family and friends knew about. Before the feast that night, The Poisoner and I were to be handfasted surrounded by family and friends in a beautiful forest ceremony performed by my good friend Nikiah (many of you know her as the bee priestess, but she is also a professional wedding officiant at Red Moon Ceremonies). My family had flown in from Ontario and we had friends come from as far away as Vancouver Island, Washington, the Okanagan, and the Kootenays. The Poisoner and I’s hearts could have burst from being surrounded by such a large crowd of people who had only love for us.

My father gave me away with a big grin on his face and the ceremony started. Heads wreathed in hawthorn, the Poisoner and I first left an offering of whiskey, bread, and cheese in the trees for the outdwellers who were not welcome inside the circle. Then we left a similar offering inside the circle for the Ancestors. A skein of red wool was passed person to person and then wound around the altar to bind the circle and us inside it. The Poisoner and I walk around the inside of the circle to our elders and gave them hugs while they bestowed blessings upon us – some with humour and some with tears. The beautiful ceremony Nikiah had written then began.

She bound our hands with the handfasting cord and revealed our second surprise to the crowd: three cords spun together – one for me, one for him, and one for our baby – a pleasant but intentional surprise we discovered after we’d planned our handfasting. If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been quiet, not crafting as much, and seemingly ill, it’s because I’ve mostly been hiding in bed with not-so-fun morning sickness for the past few months. Surprise! Most people in attendance were!

Handfasting Collage

While our hands were bound Nikiah splashed us with fresh sprigs of wild sage dipped in water. She smudged us with a bird wing.  She had us light our egg-shaped hearth candle with a beeswax taper. She fed us blackberries dipped in honey and de-alcoholized mead from a traditional Scots Quaich. She spoke beautiful blessings to us both. Suddenly we heard the loud flapping of wings, and the huge grandfather raven flew low, right over The Poisoner and I, letting out a loud pleased croaked. We laughed in delight and thanked him for his blessing, a blessing from the ancestors. And then we jumped the broom (which we had forgotten, but luckily a friend had gifted us a beautiful one by chance that day). They say we jump the broom to sweep away the old and make way for the new, but really it’s a phallic symbol and in old European folklore, if a woman crossed over a broom, it was believed she’d get pregnant — too late!

Still bound, The Poisoner and I walk around the circle with an offering of chocolate heart cookies and delicious mead from a bull’s horn to all our guests. “May you never hunger, may you never thirst!” Many gave us their blessings and all gave us big smiles. And then it was done. “Time to feast!” I shouted to everyone’s glee. And feast we did – what a potluck! And what cakes! Both Nikiah and another very good friend of ours had made us cakes – four in total! It was a lucky thing though as we ended up needing them all to feed the crowd. Chocolate beet, spiced carrot, vanilla, and sponge cake.

The Handfasting Cakes

The tables were covered in green cloths and decorated with lanterns, canning jars full of wild flowers, and pots of every herb imaginable which my Auntie had brought. More lanterns hung from the picnic shelter, creating a soft glow at sunset. Jan lit the bonfire and we all celebrated by its warmth with food and drink and excellent company.

The next morning Nikiah hosted her honey bee workshop in a great bell tent decorated with red blankets and saris and goodies from her beehive.  The tent was packed to the gills with people who wanted to learn about the unfortunate plight of the modern honey bee as well as their importance, their sacredness, and their long history of coexistence with humans. It was a wonderful workshop, full of excellent lore, a delicious honey tasting, and a simple meditation.

After lunch Dianne, Seb, and I hosted a Pacific Northwest native plant walk also covering wild herbalism 101. We had quite the turnout! It wasn’t a short walk, but they were all troopers and we had them identifying plants on their own by the end. It was sad to see that many areas of the park had been allowed to be overrun by invasives like Himalayan blackberry and jewelweed, but it could’ve been worse. Even though it had been a very dry season and most flowers and fruits were now gone, we lucked out finding bolete mushrooms, nettles, herb robert, false lily of the valley, false solomon’s seal, skunk cabbage, some seriously prolific wild comfrey, as well as covering tree medicine and many edibles. Dianne’s forté is wild medicines, Seb is a pro when it comes to edibles, and I know a lot about traditional magico-religious uses of native plants. Between the three of us, we managed to fill in the gaps in each other’s knowledge resulting in well-rounded teachings.

When we returned from our plant walk we received another surprise. Catamara, the host of the Esoteric Book Conference had come to visit with a good friend of hers as she just happened to be in town that weekend DJing. It was lovely to meet more fellow occultists and we had some lively discussions before they had to run off to the gig. If you’re a bibliophile within driving distance to Seattle I highly recommend the conference. It’s affordable and entrance to the esoteric art show and book fair is free.

In the afternoon there was a discussion on home brewing, and distilling to make essential oils and hydrosols. At the same time was an informal fire-starting workshop. Jan taught the adults how to start a fire with a bow and drill and the Shaman taught the kids how to start a fire with flint and steel. No matter what age you are, I don’t think one ever tires of lighting things on fire.

Forager's Feat Appetizers

Fire Roasted Quails in Blackcurrant Sauce

That evening we had a truly impressive forager’s feast – a potluck of wild and local foods everyone had brought. There were moose burgers, venison and herb sausages on buns with mustard, fire roasted quails in black currant sauce, elk and juniper salami, wild boar salami, duck proscuitto, and a local cheese platter. There were homemade wild jams and pickles, salal berry muffins, piles of tiny wild plums, Seb’s amazing from scratch blackberry jello, homemade wild fruit syrups we made sodas with, and so much more. We ate until we were so full of meat we resembled a pack of wolves with fat bellies after having gorged on a deer. We socialized, drummed, and danced around the fire that night, the children cooking us marshmallows and delicious smores for desert.

In the morning, we woke up, ate bacon, and then began the take down and clean up of the site. It went faster than we could’ve hoped with all the campers pitching in. Seb and I took the wildflowers from my handfasting, a bottle of mead, and a pile of wild seed biscuits to a hidden, mossy and old Hawthorn grove Dianne had discovered and left them there as an offering of thanks to the genius loci of the forest for letting us share their land for the weekend. We all hugged and made our farewells and hit the road home. I was very sad to leave the forest and all the wonderful people at the festival, old friends and new. We had such a good time and received such good feedback that Dianne and I will host another Forest Spirit Fest next year, either in the same form, or at a bigger site with cabins and showers. The big difference will be that next year the Poisoner and I will be coming with a tiny new baby.

Tree Spirit in Tynehead Park

uncivilization

Pilgrimage to Uncivilization

By | Bones & Blood, Ecological Consciousness, Ethnobotany, Folk Magic, Folk Medicine, Herbalism, Pacific Northwest Folklore, Storytelling | 18 Comments

The road to the warmth of a friend's home

Me and Little Red met Jan and Seb at The Gathering this spring and were lucky enough to hang out with them again at Freyfest in August. Much mischief and mead was involved (they seem to follow in my wake…).  Since then Little Red (aka the hot Asian schoolteacher in our local pagan community) got married to her love and Jan and Seb got engaged. Jan is a survival-skill/outdoors type with James Dean’s hair and looks, dressing all in black, and quick with a joke. Seb is part woodsy shaman and part sexy punk, shy but full of mischief. They both work for a wilderness school in Washington and invited us down for the thanksgiving weekend to visit and to hike to the Goldmyer Hot Springs with them.  Of course we said yes and drove across the border last Friday, excited for adventure with a sunny forecast ahead of us. The GPS tried to kill us by leading us into a stone quarry instead of Jan and Seb’s home, but eventually we found it outside a small town in a beautiful cedar and fir forest behind farming country.

Little Red and I were a bit early and so we explored the yard with its ancient blackthorn and apple trees, grove of hazels with a fire pit in the centre, fearless grazing deer, and vines ripe with juicy blackberries. We went for a walk down the road into the woods admiring the green of the tall trees and moss and ferns. We stumbled upon an old Dodge truck moss-covered and rotting, being swallowed by the forest. It was post-apocalyptic — like we’d stumbled upon the end of civilization and the forest had eaten all we knew.

Black-tailed deer

An old Dodge rotting in the forest

When walking back to the house I heard a whistle unlike any bird’s, repeated it back, and heard it again. It was Jan and Seb walking out of the woods from the other direction. We said our hellos and Seb showed us a freshly dead small snowshoe hare she’d just found in the forest. She will keep the eyes, the skull, and its soft fur.

A dead wild hare found in the forest

Horseshoe over the cabin door

Into their little cabin we went, with its stained glass windows and stacks of firewood lining the front. The walls are wood and covered with art, the kitchen cozy and inviting, the living room and its little iron stove filled with books and bones and hidden shrines of skulls and feathers. The kitchen pantry is cleverly fitted with shelves under the stairs full of homemade canned goods, tinctures, blackberry vodka, and herbal vinegars. Seb is an amazing artist and showed us her studio full of paintings, illustrations, found object art, block prints, and stone and wood carvings.

Herbal vinegars infuse in the pantry

Fellow bone collectors, I was treated to seeing their collection of skulls and bones, neatly cleaned and well-loved. After a delicious dinner we circled in the living room while Jan lit a fire in the stove and we talked of bones, spirits, magic, mysticism, shamanism, witchcraft, dreams, and ghosts while drinking delicious local mead and Seb’s rich blackberry vodka.

The skull collection

Tea with crows

As we talked, the sun set and the moon rose behind the tall fir trees.  We stood on the porch and the smoke of Seb’s organic tobacco curled up into the night sky like an offering to the stars. Coyotes howled and yipped in the  distance answered angrily by territorial farm dogs. A male barred owl nearby asked us “who cooks for you”? We stayed up late into the night philosophising, telling stories, and laughing – soothed to sleep by the warmth of the fire.

The trail to the uncivilized world

In the morning there was bacon and tea and packing the car. Jan drove the four of us out to the mountains, up a winding dirt road full of pot holes, and deep into a perfect Pacific Northwest rainforest for an hour and a half into a valley. Then we parked, loaded our gear upon our backs, and set off to hike the six-mile trail to the hot springs. We walked past rivers, waterfalls, giant trees, medicinal, magical, and poisonous plants in an untouched old growth forest. The only sign of civilization along the way was the dirt and stone road beneath our feet. Six miles is a long way by foot carrying camping gear. Our packs were heavy but our spirits were light.

As we walked, Seb and I told us all stories of native spirits who haunt the woods of the Pacific Northwest coast, of sasquatch-like creatures who protect teens and teach them lessons, of Monster Woman of the Woods who eats children, and of Old Man who tricks people into eating salmon that turns into rotting cedar in order to steal souls.

Bristly pholiota grew from rotting logs and mossy trees

Almost there...

The old growth forest of green, light and shadow

Devil's Club

We finally made it to the crossroad where the trail narrowed, full of tree roots, and took us uphill to a little wood cabin nestled deep in the forest to check-in. We were greeted by a cheerful young woman who had us sign in for our reservation and told us about the hot springs and the non-profit’s dedication to a zero footprint mentality to protect the forest. We followed the trail down a bit further and set up our camp – so very happy to put our packs down for a good long while. At sunset we climbed up a steep trail armed with towels and flashlights and arrived at the hot springs in the dark. We were delighted to find the hot spring was actually a natural cave set into the wall of a rock face on the mountain – the water trickling down into two slightly cooler pools formed out of raw stones with a cold pool nearby. We all stripped off our clothes and climbed into the cave – both hot spring and sauna at the same time – lit only with two small candles.

(Pictures of the hot springs: photo one, photo two, photo three)

Our camp site in the forest

It was otherworldly to float in that dark cave, misty with steam, smooth walls glowing from the candles and the water clearer than clear.  At the very back was a wood bench to escape the hot waters. We gathered in the end of the cave and sang the Freddie Krueger song as softly and creepily as we could, hoping to scare the other bathers outside. When we became too hot, we moved outside the cave into one of the smaller pools and bathed in it, listening to the river below and admiring the stars above, surrounded by the black shadows of trees. We talked of life and love and ritual soaking up water and starlight until our skin shrivelled like raisins and we could take no more heat. Our sore backs, shoulders and legs wonderfully soothed, we headed back to our camp, ate fruit and meat and chocolate while sipping my cherry-cinnamon-vanilla brandy, and fell asleep to the sound of the river.

Mountains in the setting sun

In the morning Little Red went back to the hot springs, Jan nursed his sore feet, and Seb and I went exploring by the river – her the rocky riverbed for quartz and pyrite and I the old growth forest behind it. I found ancient giants covered in mosses and fungi with thick roots like fingers digging into the earth. I saw devil’s club, fireweed, and pearly everlasting everywhere – still at peak harvest time despite it being October.

The great roots of a Douglas Fir

Coltsfoot growing among rocks by the river

I found wild coltsfoot growing among the rocks by the river. Its leaves are smoked to heal the lungs or to see spirits and visions (it also makes an excellent cough syrup for winter colds). There was vanilla leaf everywhere (aka deer’s foot or sweet after death), especially lining the paths, making the forest smell sweet as well as keeping away insects. It smells the most when dried and campers often hang the leaves in their tents to fend off mosquitoes. Vanilla leaf can be hung in your closet or stuffed into sachets in your clothing drawers to keep away moths  and is also excellent for sweetening incense and smoking blends. Use it in folk magic for love or as an aphrodisiac.

Vanilla Leaf (aka Deer's Foot)

By our camp site was star-flowered false Solomon’s Seal – a small plant in the lily family whose roots were used by the local medicine men mixed with sweet flag roots to create plant spirit fetiches for their spells. The roots can be used medicinally like true Solomon’s Seal for colds and coughs, indigestion, arthritis, rheumatism, allergies, and insect bites. The berries are yellow and striped with red, usually three stripes, but the ones by our tents had six. They are edible, but not eaten, and make beautiful beads which are only temporary as the stripes fade with drying.

Striped berries of false solomon's seal

We packed up camp and headed back out at noon for the six-mile hike back to the car. Our sore muscles and heavy packs not deterring us one bit from laughing at each other’s stories and taking in the gorgeous scenery around us. Halfway back Seb discovered a whole dried American toad along the path. It had been squished by a mountain biker in a hurry — a symbol of our destruction of nature in our simultaneous attempt to grasp its untouched beauty.

We arrived back at the car with more glee than you can imagine at putting those heavy packs down once and for all. We rested, drank water, and then made the long drive back to Jan and Seb’s warm home for one more night of mead and blackberry vodka cozied up by the wood stove and falling asleep to coyote songs.

Dried toad on the trail

After more bacon and tea for brunch the next day, Little Red and I were sent home with lovely gifts of homemade raspberry-huckleberry jam, blackthorn sloe and blackberry jam, hand carved bone needles, and pieces of ebony and purple heart wood for me to carve. Jan gave me a lovely green hardback copy of Grimm’s fairy tales as he had two and knew how I love my stories. We said goodbye and headed North back to Canada Monday afternoon, reluctant to leave our wonderful new friends and their lovely cabin in the forest full of books and bones and herbs. Here I sit now in my own home with tea, surrounded by books and bones, smiling at the warm memories of mischief and mead with kin.