January 27, 2017

Have you ever gone to take your shoes off after a walk in the park to notice that the soles are covered with orange sticky buds? Those are cottonwood buds, and they a medicinal favorite. Incidentally, those are also the trees that release a ridiculous amount of fluff in the spring that accumulates in the gutters to look like snow. The season for harvesting those wonderfully sticky buds is here yet again, and I am currently brimming with enthusiasm for the indispensable medicine they offer.

Finding and Identifying:

Scan the skyline and look for incredibly tall, naked, white barked trees. The bark will have black scars on it. Also, inspect the ground to see if there are large, waxy heart shaped leaves. Finally, the branches should have fat buds. The buds should smell very aromatic. If you pull a bud from the tip of a branch, there should be orange resin inside (note that not ALL buds contain resin, only the leaf buds do).

Cottonwood is a common name which refers to some members of the ...

December 6, 2016

Douglas Fir Bitters: Recipe

1 cup 40% (80 proof) vodka

½ cup finely chopped Douglas fir needles (new growth)

1 tsp-1 Tbsp gentian, ground (depending on how bitter you like it)

1 Tbsp bitter orange peel

1 crumbled bay leaf

3-6 lavender heads

1 piece star anise (crushed)

1 Tbsp vegetable glycerine or honey (for a little sweetness)

Put all ingredients in a pint (16 oz) mason jar and let sit for 1-2 weeks. Strain using a piece of muslin or cheesecloth. Dispense into a 1 oz bottle and use in cocktails, or before meals.


I am obsessed with the taste of pine trees. (You may have noticed my post all about pine tree medicine.) I had originally intended to use blue spruce needles for this recipe, but couldn't find them. That's when I decided on the ubiquitous Douglas fir, and I am not disappointed with the outcome. Douglas fir has a fantastic sweet citrus aroma that's less turpentiney than other pines. It's a favorite of mine for infused brandies, cordials and honeys. You could most certainly use a fir...

November 14, 2016

Washington is proudly known as the "evergreen state", which means that we have an awesome diversity of pines here. They offer versatile medicines all year long, including pine needles, pine sap and pine pollen. Botanically, many of these trees are in the Pine family (Pinaceae), and are further divided into several genuses (subcategories), which we'll get into later.

The Medicine:

Pine Sap: 

Pine sap leaks out of the tree in response to bark trauma (beetles, bullets, axes, knives etc). It's very sticky, and is usually in varying states of hardness. It's best to harvest it into a glass jar, or into wax paper, since it'll stick to anything else.

I love to infuse pine sap into oil (by heating it gently in the oil on the stove) to make salves, which have a heavenly smell. You can combine it with other plants or keep it alone.

Pine sap is very antimicrobial, so it's great for wounds and cuts that are ready for salve (serious wounds need some care first). I like to put the salve on cystic acne. It...

November 4, 2016

Ryan Potvin is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist in Seattle with whom I've shard many a multiple hour nerdy discussion about the finer points of traditional diagnosis and herbal applications. I like this post of his so much that I asked him if I could post it here. He's available for appointments at The Rainbow Natural Health Clinic in Capitol Hill.

Autumn is a season marked by transformation and change. As we transition out of summer into shorter days the transformation can be felt in the crisp and cooling air and seen in the changing color of the leaves. The autumn season correlates to the Lung organ system in Chinese medicine. Our lungs are certainly affected by the change in climate as the season settles in. We begin seeing shorter days, colder temperatures, and an increase in wind and rain. This is a vulnerable time of the year for the lungs and is a season when many of us become susceptible to respiratory infections. All of a sudden we are raiding our cabinets for immune supp...

September 12, 2016

Sedative herbs are fantastic. Why do you think cannabis is so popular? It allows you temporary relief from a world that’s designed to make you move at 100 mph and to never be satisfied.  My first post on anxiety detailed some great herbs to help you relax, but there’s another half of the story.

Any post I’ve written, or class I’ve taught on anxiety is far and away the most popular, over any other subject. Why is that?

We live in a world with constant stimulation, constant pressure to perform and produce, and very little positive feedback for it. So much so that the “Fear Of Missing Out” now has an acronym (FOMO, in case you unplugged enough not to have heard the newest buzzword). 

If that isn’t enough, there’s a constant barrage of depressing news and predictions about how and when the world will end (will is be solar flares, nuclear war, climate change?). The millennial generation has grown up hearing the world is falling apart, that there’s nothing they can really do about it, but that...

August 23, 2016

I cannot sing enough praise about Oregon grape, and I count us as incredibly lucky to have it abundantly here in Washington. I teach about it in almost every class, because it's almost always present in whatever environment I'm teaching in. There a lot of uses for it, and I personally use it very frequently and have gotten a lot of success with it. It's a strong and straightforward plant.

There are two different species that we have in the Pacific Northwest: low Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa), and tall Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium). The pictures above are all of tall Oregon grape, which grows in fields, bank landscapes, parking lots, and other areas that aren't the middle of the forest. It's a large plant, and it's my preference to harvest, because you can just saw off a super long branch at the bottom, and the bark comes off fairly easily. Low Oregon grape is a smaller plant found in the forest understory.

Harvesting the Yellow Bark:

I harvest this plant all year round, though usuall...

August 5, 2016

The primary function of the kidneys is to filter unneeded or toxic substances from the blood, and then excrete it through urine. Urine is stored in the bladder. Many problems can occur in this system, from urinary tract infections to chronic kidney failure. As with anything, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so start caring for your equipment now rather than later. Herbs that can be used for the kidneys and bladder are so numerous that you can get a headache while researching. I've curated a few of my favorites for you here. Many of them are locally available in the wild, or can be easily grown in your garden.

If you do have major kidney issues, be sure to consult a doctor, a naturopath or an herbalist before you dose yourself up with herbs. Kidneys are sensitive creatures, and taking the wrong herb can make them angry. Herbs do have powerful physiological effects, which are not always the effects you're looking for. When in doubt, start with a small dose and observe the...

August 5, 2016

We call herbs that work with the nervous system "nervines." Though some of these herbs are stimulating, we usually use the word to apply to herbs that sedate or calm the nervous system. Naturally, you use these herbs for anxiety and sleep (and other weird things like itching!). I'm going to detail some of my favorites here for you, so check them out!

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

This easy to grow mint-family herb is my favorite gentle nervine for anxiety. In fact, if i were to pick a single herb for everyone in our over-anxious society to take, this would be it. It's usually the first thing I recommend to people with mild anxiety issues, and can also be used for milk insomnia. It's a commonly used herb for children as well, and is usually used as a delicious glycerite (an alcohol-free liquid extract with a sweet taste). For adults, I like to use it as a tincture (liquid extract), but you can also make a tea from the dried herb (available at herb stores and some health food stores.)...

August 1, 2016

Ever since we discovered agriculture, human dental health has been a sketchy affair. Apparently our teeth don't like croissants and potato chips as much as we do. There are many long and convoluted stories about it all, but I wanted to share a few straightforward tips for using herbs for dental health that I've found to be helpful.


The easiest thing you can do to prevent cavities and gum is keep those teeth clean. There are alot of  "natural" mouthwashes on the market, and it's my humble opinion that they all suck. They all contain either alcohol or glycerin, both of which have been found to have negative effects on your gums or tooth enamel. Yuck! The problem with shelf stable mouthwashes is that they all contain a preservative, which is usually the evil part.

The solution is perishable mouthwash. I like to make a strong tea, and store it in a jar in the fridge. I'll take a sip, put it back in the fridge, swish it around for a few minutes, and then spit it out. The t...

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Adiantum School Blog

A blog about herbal medicine, wildcrafting and natural health.