I grew up in the Midwest attached to my Grandmother’s side, making herbal medicine. I would tag along behind her singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider until she gave me the look. I knew the look meant I better keep quiet or I’m going to be standing in the infamous kitchen corner. We had our ritual walk out to the garden every evening after dinner dishes for my entire childhood. We prepared herbs almost every summer night until I was “too old” to do such things.
One fantastic summer, my west coast older cousin came to visit for the summer. It was the best summer of my kid life. Then one day, her whole teenage world crashed. She was wrapped up in blankets with pain relievers and terrible menstrual cramping. My Grandmother, being her natural herb savvy self, held my hand and we went into the garden to whip up some medicine for my cousin.
We grew an abundance of herbs in Grandma’s garden. Some of the herbs I didn’t even recognize as herbs because I thought they were just food, or weeds. I didn’t dare say the word weed to my Grandmother. I would have had a quick flick to the temple and still have received the look.
Red raspberry leaf grew along the fence line of my Grandmother’s garden. She picked about two handfuls and place them in her basket. Red raspberry leaf makes an amazing tea and is known as a uterine tonic and balances hormones. I loved red raspberry leaf tea. My Grandmother often put the dried leaves in her sun tea. She said it was good for women. When I asked her if it was good for men, she said, “What is good for women, is always good for men.”
Walking over to the weedy part of the garden, that my Grandfather grumbled about spraying to eradicate, Grandma picked some milk thistle buds with her fingers. I tried, but they poked me. Grandma was an expert and they never poked her. Milk thistle is known for hormone balance and helping to eliminate toxins.
Next to the milk thistle in an old, falling apart whiskey barrel was my favorite childhood herb, lemon balm. I often munched on lemon balm. Every evening, I’d grab a leaf or two just to smell it’s delightful scent. Lemon balm is best used in tea and tincture for anxiety and it makes a great muscle relaxer. I knew just how much to pick for a day’s worth of tea.
In a beautiful row, Grandma grew red clover that framed one side of her garden. We each plucked a few of the red clover blossoms that the rabbits loved to munch on, to add to my cousin’s remedy. Red clover is a great remedy for hot flashes, breast tenderness, and PMS.
In the field next to my Grandmother’s one acre garden was a field of oats that year. Every two years it was planted to something different to preserve the minerals in the soil. I thought she was crazy when she took out her herb knife and cut a handful of oats and placed them in her basket. Now I know that oatstraw regulates hormone production and blood sugar!
I thought we had all of our remedies, when Grandma stopped at her flower bed and started picking flowers. She was picking my favorite! I loved the scent of evening primrose. I used to suck on the flowers and carry them in my pockets as a kid. I still carry them in my pockets. Evening primrose flowers balance hormones and contribute to a healthy reproductive system and nervous system.
Thinking we were ready to make some medicine when we were back in the kitchen, I started washing the herbs and patting them dry. I knew the drill. Grandma asked me to come with her downstairs to the basement after I finished with the oats. I didn’t much care for Grandma’s basement. It was dark and creepy. However, her dried herb cabinet full of jars upon jars of dried herbs that smelled like heaven. I loved smelling the dried lavender in her cabinet, which was my only reward for the descent on those stairs.
Grandma grabbed two jars, one of vitex, some know it as chaste tree; and the other jar was of ashwagandha. Vitex is the most common herb used for women’s health because it balances estrogen and progesterone simultaneously. Ashwagandha was new to me that day. I had never heard of it and had no idea what a treasure it was until I was much older.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that reduces cortisol and balances hormones. It is an Ayurvedic herb that my Grandmother learned about from my aunt who was always sending her new remedies and books as they were published. We didn’t have access to a bookstore in our little town, nor did our library carry titles on anything we read together. If it hadn’t been for my aunt’s dedication in finding Grandma new material in Seattle bookstores, I may not have become the herbalist I am today.
After letting me smell the dried lavender, we prepared my cousin’s tea. It was within an hour before she was up and out of bed. We didn’t ride horses that day or run through the creek beds of my childhood homestead, but we did sit on the porch, sip some herbal tea, and took another stroll through the garden.
Author: Wendy Rae
Author Bio: Wendy Rae is a folk herbalist and author who teaches herbal medicine making. To follow Wendy’s blog and learn more about her books and courses, visit www.PlantsAreMyMedicine.com
Link to social media or website: Facebook @plantsaremymedicine