That title statement may not mean much to you unless you’re into herbs or foraging, but Cleavers are a common herbal remedy in much of North America and the UK. For the past two years, I have been operating under the exciting assumption that cleavers had graced me with their presence in my back yard and gardens. I encouraged its growth in my gardens and made a deal with the plant that I wouldn’t weed it out as long as it let me pick some to work with it as medicine and food. I was so excited to know that such a great medicinal plant had decided to call my place home!
I was wrong.
After crying internally and smacking myself repeatedly for my mistake, I am now in a forgiving mood. You see, there are over 600 species of Galium in the world, at least 60 of which are native or naturalized in the United States. I was positive what is in my yard was a galium, and after a little sleuthing and help from some people in a Facebook plant identification group, I have concluded that what I have in my yard is Galium Mollugo, a naturalized but not native variety that likely traveled over from Europe with other immigrants such as Dandelion and Plantain.
Galium Mollugo, a.k.a. “Hedge bedstraw,” is what has popped up all over my yard and farm. It’s so named because it smells really nice when dried, so was added to the old style beds that were basically mattresses stuffed with straw. Much nicer to sleep on something that smells more pleasant than the cow barn! It is an edible weed that I frequently add to stir-fry’s and omelets, and makes a lovely tea when used fresh. I usually tincture it fresh as well, for use as a lymphatic cleansing agent and nervine.
Fortunately for me, it seems that most galium species can be used interchangeably in a medicinal fashion. The only one to be slightly wary of is Sweet Woodruff, but I also have that planted in the yard on purpose because of its wonderful scent, so I’m much more positive about that identification. Sweet Woodruff is not meant to be ingested in large amounts due to the compound that makes it smell so nice, Coumarin. You can still use it in a tea or whatever, just not frequently or a lot of it.
I prefer to work with regular cleavers anyhow, and save my sweet woodruff for incense making purposes. Well… with my galium mollugo anyway…. which I’ve been working with thinking it was cleavers for like 3 years now…
At any rate, I wanted to share this post because while I pride myself on my ever-growing foraging skills, I’m definitely not infallible. Hopefully with the photos included here you can understand why I made the mistaken identification, and thankfully the entire species is a safe herb to work with. Don’t forget that it’s very important to double and even triple-check your identification of any wild plant before you eat it!
You should know based on my farm website that we raise chickens and ducks on our small farm. We have two geese, but they’re more like pets so I can’t really say we “raise geese,” but goose needs are basically the same as ducks so you can probably take my advice on their account as well.
I’m writing this post because we got another batch of ducklings last weekend and want to brag about them while they’re still cute.
Disclaimer: I don’t hatch my own ducks. I have tried and failed a couple of times, so I need to get better at using the small incubator we have. These ducks we bought from a local feed store, because I keep getting requests for duck eggs and just can’t keep up when most of the flock stops laying in winter. Pekins lay through the winter, so while I’m not a fan of white ducks, that’s what I got this year.
Ducklings are ADORABLE. And the sound they make is exactly the same sound you hear when you squeeze a rubber duckie. THAT SOUND IS REAL. And it’s second only to the sound of their little webbed feet slapping across the kitchen floor.
Rule number one: do not think that just because you’ve had chickens before means you can handle having ducks. Ducks are ten times as messy as chickens/chicks. We have to clean the ducklings’ box out every day when they are tiny, and every other day the bigger they get (when they end up in the basement pen we have set up, between being babies and teenagers.)
Rule Two: Unless you plan on spending every waking moment with that duck, DO NOT just get one duck. They need friends to socialize with. Chickens are not good duck friends, but they can get along well enough if that’s all you have.
Rule Three: Ducks, at every stage of life (this goes for geese too) NEED a water bowl. Those red and white plastic water jug things may work for chicks, but ducklings have to submerge their bill/face into the water to properly clear their nostrils for breathing, several times a day. They really do need a bowl. They will also swim in or bathe in this bowl, which is also necessary for getting their oil gland working properly for when they have feathers. If you can’t handle this mess, don’t get waterfowl.
Those are my biggest concerns with most people. I raise ducks for eggs and meat, but we treat our birds very well and keep them clean and well-fed. Ducks have slightly different nutritional needs than chickens, so I like to give them a duck feed while they are young to help make sure they get the right nutrients. Once they are grown, they have no problem sharing the chicken food, and they do a great job hunting for bugs around the yard to supplement what I feed them.
Some crazy people even have a pet house duck that they put diapers and a leash on and treat like a dog. I’m not at that point yet… saving that for my crazy old lady years. But it can be done! Anyway, don’t get ducks if you can’t handle a mess or don’t have enough space for them. They are excellent at helping keep your yard insect-free (especially from Japanese Beetles!) and are all around a real joy to have. The slap of duckling feet running across my kitchen floor is literally my favorite sound in the whole world. And duck butts are adorable, no matter what age they are!
You can find all kinds of guides and books online about how to raise ducks. I wanted to give this short PSA since Easter is coming up and I’d rather not have to rescue more ducks that people dump after not realizing the care involved in raising them.
Before herbs, before drugs/pharmaceutical medicine, before therapy, what is there in this world that you put into your body EVERY SINGLE DAY to run you, heal you, activate you, motivate you, energize you, or even just to survive on? FOOD.
It is really difficult to get this message through to people for some reason. I actually might present a class on it, if I can muster enough resources.
The food that you eat every day is almost entirely what determines your energy levels, ailments, health, mental state, happiness, desire, life. It makes sense to me that since the health and well-being of my entire body is so dependent upon what I put into it, I should pay attention to the quality of that fuel.
I’m not shaming you for drinking booze occasionally, or eating some chips or cookies once in awhile. We all have weaknesses, and eating or drinking something we know is bad for us once in awhile is a human right. Many of us regret doing so later (diarrhea, nausea, hangover) but it was fun while it lasted. But the things you ingest regularly matter more than you can imagine. Cookies and cocoa puffs are not meant to be everyday fare.
You’ve probably heard about your microbiome, that symbiotic colony of bacteria inside your body that is more than partially running your organ systems, like tiny little engineers. This is related to the Gut-Brain connection, which basically means the bacteria in your gut affect your mood and behavior. Remember that episode of Futurama where Fry eats a gas station sandwich and suddenly his body is colonized by generations of tape worms that clean out his organs, increase his intelligence, and make him healthier? That’s not how it actually works with parasites (much the opposite,) but your gut’s natural microbiota DO have a similar effect on your system.
Which is a healthier food choice: a salad or a box of Oreos? “Duh!” you say. “I’m not an idiot!” But which one do you eat more frequently? Which one, honestly, would you rather have?
I don’t eat Oreos anymore. I refuse to support Nabisco because their demand for palm oil has decimated the only forests in the world that are the last remaining natural habitat for orangutans. But I digress. Cheap processed food is made to trigger the happy centers of your brain. But it doesn’t run your body the same way a salad or a baked potato would.
Every human body has different needs; this post isn’t meant to be taken as a knock on you or your dietary restrictions, specific condition, or income level. I’ve certainly been in a spot in life (See: How to Eat When You’re Poor) where I couldn’t afford to eat great quality food, especially not organic vegetables. BUT I DID know that vegetables and fruits were the best thing I could put into my body, and I did my grocery shopping with that in mind. Are organic potatoes and collard greens better for you than conventionally-grown? Abso-freaking lutely. But are the regular cheap veggies still better than eating Top Ramen and Cheetos for dinner? DUH. You can go shopping at Aldi and CHOOSE to buy a bunch of veggies, meat, and cheese instead of shopping in the chips aisle. It should be well-known by this point that I agree with the theory that Processed Foods Are Bad.
When you (hopefully) reach a point in your life where you can do some of your weekly shopping at the local farmer’s market instead of the grocery store, you should be excited as hell because THOSE veggies are going to be fresher than anything you could possibly get at the local store.
Maybe you can even grow a little garden yourself? Even if you think a garden is too hard, ANYONE can grow a tomato plant in a pot on their front step. If you can’t grow a tomato plant, I pity whatever gods gave you the blackest thumbs in humanity. Nothing tastes better than a tomato you grew and picked yourself!
As far as protein goes, you know damned well I want you to eat eggs. Which eggs you buy and eat DOES make a difference, which you can see just from cracking some open. While I will say again that buying the cheap 80 cents a dozen eggs from Wal-Mart is still healthier for you than eating a can of Chef Boyardee for dinner, if you are at a point where you can choose where to buy your eggs, please, PLEASE buy from a local farm or at least buy Free-range eggs. Quick note: “Vegetarian Fed” chickens are probably freaking miserable. Chickens naturally eat bugs and sometimes even eat mice and small snakes. They are omnivores; anyone who forces them to only eat vegetable sources is cruel.
Buying your meat from sources LOCAL TO YOU is incredibly good for the environment, and it helps the farmers in/near your community rather than some asshat who clear cut half the Brazilian rainforest for his crappy beef cows. We raise meat birds on a very small scale here, mostly for our own consumption. But there’s always a meat vendor at the farmer’s market selling great quality meats. I like to know that I can go pat the cow on the head and see it happily eating grass a few weeks before I eat some of it.
I’m going to stop ranting now, but I want to make it clear to anyone struggling to eat healthfully, lose weight, or stop feeling so crappy in your tummy: EAT REAL FOOD. If it was grown as a plant of some sort or produced by an animal somehow, it’s better for you than Tasty Cakes and Doritos. If you have specific questions or a different situation and would like help figuring out the best dietary changes or herbal additions for YOU, please remember that I do Consultations, in-person and online.
I don’t know if this post will teach you anything, unless your personality is similar to mine. I am busy ALL. THE. TIME. If I’m not busy doing something that has some sort of worth to me, I feel guilty, as if I am being lazy somehow. I’m sure there is a Flower Essence that would help me deal with this, but for the moment I am just sitting around listlessly trying to decide what is the most worthwhile use of my time.
All my sewing projects are caught up. Most of the things I like to craft, little things to sell at fairs and online, haven’t been selling well lately so I don’t want to bother making more. I can crochet like crazy when I have a specific project I’m working on, but no one buys gloves much anymore and all I have is a scrap blanket left to make. I haven’t felt the drive to paint anything since last year. If I am not actively doing SOMETHING that could either improve my skills somehow or eventually lead to me living a more comfortable life (making money usually, which is why I make things to sell) then my time is being wasted. Of course I do read and I watch TV/Movies, but anytime between the hours of 7am and 5pm, I feel the need to be doing something worthwhile.
Everyone’s definition of “worthwhile” is different, I know. In spring/summer/fall, strolling through the woods and communing with, listening to, and just feeling nature counts as worthwhile to me. But February in Connecticut is not the time to be running barefoot through the trees and trying to talk to flowers. The trees are still asleep, the flowers and herbs hiding underground waiting for warmer days to emerge. Even my favorite oak tree out back barely gives me a sleepy welcome when I touch her, as if I was trying to have a chat with a Snorlax.
Heck, there’s still snow on the ground!
This time of year is unpleasant for me, because even if I start some seeds indoors or clean the chicken coop, these tasks take such a short time that I feel something wanting. It’s as if my mind is suffering from stagnation, as if I had a terrible condition of the heart I need to address that can only be healed by the earth herself. I have been reading farming and foraging books, which improve my knowledge but make me yearn for warmer days, even if that means 50 degrees (Fahrenheit) instead of 30.
There aren’t any plants I can forage with this much snow and Ice still on the ground. I don’t like trimming more branches than I need to use, and right now I have plenty of birch oil and pine tincture to last at least another year. No point in harvesting more than I need.
This is supposed to be a time for inner reflection and improvement. I’ve been writing, which is helpful. But I can only push out a couple of pages a day. I feel restless, I feel the need to DO something. I might start cleaning curtains soon, I’m getting that desperate. Netflix doesn’t help much–the choices are so many that more often than not, I give up and toss in a DVD from my cupboard rather than spend an hour trying to find something new to watch.
I think that the moment the snow has melted, I must go outside and stand barefoot in the mud, if for no other reason than to feel the vibration of the earth humming beneath my toes. That is, if I can find a spot not covered in goose poop…
I believe I will go home today and try to create an incense blend that reminds me of spring. Goldenrod smells absolutely lovely and floral, even when burning. I can grind the last bits of white sage I have left over, and a bit of mugwort to help ground me since I can’t actually touch the ground. Perhaps some Eastern Red Cedar to give me the woodsy scent, and a little white bitch to help it burn more quickly.
I think Cabbage (the goose) is going to start laying for the season soon. Once I see some remnants of grass in the lawn and hold a giant goose egg in my hand, my mood should improve. Once it’s warm enough to say hello to my plants and actually feel them answering back, all things will be right again. Once I hear the birds singing endlessly with their mating calls, I will feel happier than I do in these dark days of confusion, when I can’t decide which of so many directions to go.
I want to say hello to a tree and feel its welcome hug in return. I want to see chicks walking the yard and seedlings sprouting their heads through the soil.
I want to dance around an open fire on a moonlit night to the sound of drums, cool grass beneath my feet and fireflies in the air.
Hopefully you’ve figured out by now that I’m into incense… it’s a pretty big deal for me. I’m not an aromatherapist; I just know how certain scents can make me feel and I want to share that joy with the world around me.
I used to buy stick incense at head shops, and burn them so my house would smell nice. I admit many of the scents were a bit sharp smelling and often caused me to sneeze. I learned recently that it’s because MANY of the commercial stick incenses you can buy are made with chemical scents and oils rather than the actual herb they are supposed to be imitating. I find that burning my own incense made from ACTUAL herbs and not a bunch of fillers or chemical scents is a completely different experience that often brings out emotions I didn’t expect, or makes me feel more grounded and connected to the earth.
I started delving into making my own incense blends a few years ago, but I really got serious about it when I took a course through the Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. I highly recommend Evan’s courses! While I went into the courses knowing the power of many herbs, those classes helped me dive into a deeper understanding of the herbs I already loved, and discover many more. I also learned some good tricks to boost my crafting skills, and I feel like the herbs themselves are still teaching me every time I work with them.
A loose incense blend, or burning a single plant by itself, is the most intimate form of incense burning one can experience. After lighting a chunk of charcoal and allowing it to burn enough to have formed a thin layer of ash on top, you can begin sprinkling your loose incense on it and inhale the intoxicating aroma of real dried herbs. You have to pay attention to it more closely because the charcoal burns through the herbs fairly quickly, requiring you to sprinkle more onto it to continue creating smoke. This isn’t a bad thing, however, as it makes your mind and senses more aware of the subtleties in the blend. Perhaps a bit more mugwort in this pinch, or that pinch had an abundance of sage. Every scent is different and can evoke a different feeling in your consciousness.
Whenever possible, I work with materials that I have either grown or foraged myself. There are some things that I do have to buy in, such as sandalwood or makko powder, cloves, cinnamon, and my binding powder. But I forage/grow and dry my own sage, white sage, patchouli, mugwort, white pine, cedar, juniper, and many other aromatic plant materials. I often experiment with different scents; more often than not, even the most alluring aromatic plant smells very different when it is slowly burning into ash!
Cone incense and stick incense require the herbs to be ground much more finely in order to stick together properly. A binding agent is added, and then water, and the blend is mixed until it forms a dough.
While I am mixing and kneading this into dough, I project my feelings and intentions into the herbs, asking them as they blend to create those same feelings for the person that ends up burning them. Often, I will have music playing that evokes a certain feeling in me personally, such as relaxation, being soothed, happiness, or excitement. My hope is that the same emotions I am feeling so strongly while I knead get incorporated into the dough, to be expelled later into the person who burns it. For this reason I do not make incense when I’m angry or highly distracted. That means most of my crafting happens when the kids aren’t around.
From here, depending on how much time I have, I will either mould this into cones or sticks, or set it back in the bowl and into the refrigerator to allow the herbs to get to know each other a little better for a day or so before I shape them. I have only recently started making dhoop incense, which is basically stick incense without a bamboo skewer inside. Please bear with me if you see me selling incense stick that are less than perfectly straight– I’m an artisan, not an engineer!
If you are interested in seeing more of my process and the things I create, I suggest you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, as I frequently post photos of whatever I am working on.
What kinds of plants do YOU like to burn? Have you ever made incense before?