Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Susun Weed and Skullcap; indirectly ~ my adventures ~

And thanks be to my wonderful friend who introduced me to Susun, indirectly through some of her work such as this excerpt. If you are whimsically inclined you will for sure enjoy her writing. If you are more traditional thinking, you may come away with some criticisms. This is my journal entry. It is not a critical analysis.
With much gratitude, Alli


Herbal Adventures with Susun S Weed

by Susun S. Weed

I promised to meet you deep in the woods during a summer thunderstorm. That's my favorite time to pick one of my favorite mints: mad dog weed, also known as skullcap. I always keep a bottle in my firstaid kit, just in case. Here, you take the basket and scissors, I have the vodka; let's make some skullcap tincture.

If you're going to come with me to hunt for skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), may I suggest you take off your shoes. Skullcap grows in wet places and the mud feels nice between your toes. No sense in searching for her until the nights are warm. I usually harvest skullcap in August here in the Catskills, when she is at the peak of her growth and flowering.

I'm blessed to have skullcap in my wet woods. She is somewhat rare, and difficult to find. She's very shy. And likes to hide. Most people who look for skullcap come away empty-handed. But if you don't find her, you will very likely find Lycopus, wolf mint, sometimes called mountain mint.

Where skullcap is sprawling and lanky, hardly trying to stand up, wolf mint is erect and short. Skullcap has blue-purple flowers, while wolf mint has little ruffs (whorls) of white flowers around the stem. Despite these differences, Lycopus is considered an excellent substitute for skullcap.

These mints need to be tinctured fresh. Drying skullcap or wolf mint evaporates most of the delicate components that make these plants so gently effective. So I use only the very freshest plant material. That's why we're taking the vodka to the skullcap. We're going to make our tincture in the woods. Even a short delay between harvesting and tincturing weakens the final product.

If you can't find skullcap, you may want to try growing her. She is fussy, and very demanding. Unlike most mints, she likes rich earth, but not too rich. She wants wet soil, but not too wet. And she likes dappled sunlight but not too shady, and not too sunny either, please.

Let's sing as we walk to the skullcap "swamp." Singing is my favorite form of prayer. And I want skullcap to hear us coming and welcome us. Aha! Here we are--feel the squishy warm mud underfoot?

See if you can find the skullcap among the life root (Senecio aureus) and forget-me-nots. Look not only for her blue-violet flowers but also for her strangely shaped seed pods. They are said to look like skulls, but you will have to use your imagination to see the resemblance. Perhaps she got her name from her ability to relieve headaches. Or because, if you take enough skullcap, your head droops like her flowers and you sleep.

Because there is so little skullcap, even where there seems to be a lot of it, and because drying it makes it nearly worthless as a medicinal plant in my estimation, I don't make tea or infusion with it. Remember that even if we harvested a pound of fresh skullcap, it would dry down to a mere four ounces. Instead, I preserve and maximize skullcap's properties by tincturing her. And since I use skullcap primarily for pain relief, it's great to have a fast-acting tincture.

I find a small dose (3-5 drops of fresh skullcap tincture) takes the edge off a simple tension headache in a few minutes. A larger dose (10-15 drops), taken three or four times at the beginning of a major headache, can often stop it from coming on or moderate its pain and length. A really large dose (a dropperful or 15-25 drops) will make you very sleepy. So, be very cautious.

But you don't need to take skullcap tincture by the handful to get to sleep. As little as ten drops in a cup of warm milk (or hot chocolate) is quite effective. Lighting a candle, cuddle up in bed, drink your skullcap nightcap, and get ready for pleasant dreams.

People addicted to sleeping pills (and other addictive substances) find skullcap tincture an ally when they are ready to get off drugs. Make sure there's a glass of water with another dose of skullcap already in it next to your bed, in case you need it. Then blow out the candle, say your prayers, and good night.

Skullcap tincture relieves almost any pain, especially when the nerves are involved. Try skullcap when bothered by sciatica pain, neuralgia, toothache, eye twitches, or ringing in the ears.

Skullcap was a powerful ally for me when I sprained my wrist far from home on a camping trip. The pain was so intense I thought I wouldn't be able to sleep. But a dropperful of skullcap put me out. Every time the pain woke me--probably a dozen times that first night--I took another dropperful and went back to sleep almost instantly.

Skullcap works well with St. Joan's wort (discussed in a previous SageWoman). These friends, taken together, ease migraines, relax stiff muscles, and relieve pain throughout the body.

If I'm in a stressful situation, I take 1-2 drops of skullcap in the morning, right after I get up. It seems to strengthen my nervous system, and doesn't make me at all sleepy.

If you buy skullcap tincture, and it is made from dried plants, multiply my doses by ten to get the same effects.

Listen to that thunder roll across the mountains. They say it's Rip Van Winkle playing at nine pins with the wee folk. Time to head back to the house, where we can pull out the last two remedies in my first-aid kit. And we'd better move fast or more than our feet will be wet.

Question and Answer:

Dear Susun,
Thank you for your wonderful article on comfrey leaf in SageWoman. I ordered a pound of comfrey leaf from Frontier, assuming it would be the cultivated kind. But it was labeled Symphytum officinale. I spoke to someone there, but she didn't seem to understand my question, and said that even if it was the cultivated type they would still stand behind their warning of "external use only."

This spring I will plant comfrey so I won't have to rely on Frontier, but in the meantime, I would like to begin the infusion. Should I trust the label and assume it is the wild variety, or should I just go for it and hope that it has no toxins? By the way, your website is awesome.

Dear Nicole;
I think the Frontier comfrey leaf is mislabeled. I think everybody's comfrey leaf is mislabeled. Symphytum officinale--a small plant with yellow flowers--is rarely grown in North America, and never sold, so far as I can determine. So, despite the label, what you have bought is most likely an S. uplandica cross.

I'm not surprised there's so much confusion. I was taught the comfrey in my garden was Symphytum officinale, and passed on that misinformation for many years. That's what all the books say. But when I got involved with the Henry Doubleday Research Foundation in England, I learned that I was wrong. And when I finally saw wild comfrey growing (in Germany), it was obviously different from the big pink-purple flowered plant in my garden--and every garden I've been in.

I did once see wild comfrey in a garden. I was called in to help them get rid of it; unfortunately, an impossible task.

So I sincerely believe that the comfrey leaf you bought from Frontier is uplandica, whether they know it or not. I buy the very some organic comfrey leaf from them. That's what I use during the summer when the apprentices, students, and I go through 3-5 gallons of infusion a day. During the winter, when I'm alone, I use my home-grown comfrey.

To maximize alantoin content, I harvest the flowering stalks of my comfrey: that's the stalk, leaves, and flowers. I store the dried herb whole, but take the time to cut it up as small as I have patience for when I brew it into nourishing herbal infusion.
If you want to play it safe, or if you sense that you shouldn't use the comfrey you bought, then you could add it to your compost (the worms love it). Instead of comfrey, you could use mullein infusions and linden infusions.

There are so many green blessings.

Mollie Kellogg


  1. Herbs and plants are such a wonderful way to stay in touch with Mother Earth.

  2. I was introduced to Missy Skullcap this summer and was amazed at how I bonded with her. I know that everyone has their own needs, and that we all need different kinds of help from mother nature. I also know that we are a society pretty much separated from our mother earth and her bounty that way. I have only got to go out into the forest once this year and it was wonderful. I am in a wooded neighborhood on the edge of town by a big corridor that keeps me in the thick of it. I have a wonderful clover patch next door and I love clover tea. So, I am happy with that factor. I also have a little zucchini and have had fried zucchini blossoms this year. First time in years and for that I am Much Grateful.


Banana This; Recycle Old Peels~ fertilizer or silver polish

There are things you can do with that old peel.

1. Do you have a green thumb? House hold plants and outside gardens require fertilization. A great way to give your plants nutrients is with a banana peel. The banana peel is very rich in potassium and phosphorus, which give that added boost to your plants soil, especially so with roses. Here is how to use a banana peel to fertilizer your soil for your plants. Remove the peel from the banana. Place the banana peel on a cookie sheet to let it air dry. Grab a paper bag or envelope. Crumble the dried banana peel and place it in the bag. Let the banana sit at room temperature for about two days. When your caring for your plant, give it a potassium treat of crumbled banana peel. Mix well in the soil to ensure the roots are fed evenly.
2. Have you been thinking about pulling out that old silver? Well there is no time like the present. Bananas peel can also be used to polish silver. Yes, polish silver. Take the old peels and place them in a blender. You want the peels to become smooth and creamy. Once they have, grab a cloth and small amounts of the creamed banana peel and begin polishing your silver. The shine will be breath taking.


Wild yeasts exist in the air around you and to some extent on the wheat berries. There are wild yeasts on grapes (unsulphured) and apples and other fruits. It is those wild yeasts which are 'captured' to make a sourdough starter. The process takes from 3 to 5 days. I wish I had specific amounts for you, but you could start with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour and mix in enough warm (not hot) water to make a thin paste. DO NOT make it too soupy. That, in fact, is the trick to a good starter, according to the French bread makers, and I think they should know. And after you've fooled around with the flour and water thing, you might wish to branch out into adding those unsulphured grapes, apples, sour milk, etc as a catalyst in order to capture other strains of yeast. Each of these strains has a slightly different taste. In fact if you move to another area, you might end up with a starter that produces an entirely different flavor. For instance, San Francisco sourdough bread is well known and has a distinct taste due to the wild strains in the air there. On day one you mix the flour and water (and add any catalysts to encourage fermentation) and place in a warm spot. After 3 days, the dough should be moist, inflated, and slightly sour. More flour and water is added (mixed in) and left to sit in a warm spot. After 2 days the process is repeated. Then the next day it is done again. Note the order: 3 days, 2 days, 1 day. At this point you should be able to make a loaf of bread using part of the starter and adding back what you took out in the form of more flour and water. Rule of thumb: Use about 10% starter to size of loaf. In the case of a 2 lb loaf this is a bit over 3 oz of starter (3.2 to be exact). For a 1 lb loaf 1.5 oz would be used. A book that describes this process in great detail is The Village Baker by Joe Ortiz, copyright 1993, published by Ten Speed Press, Berkley CA. If it's not still in print, try the used books stores, that's where I got mine. Or try your local library. If they don't have it, they might be able to get it for you. ©2008 by Ernestina Parziale

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