Crofting: Summer Herb Days

Wild Yarrow -achillea

It is a real Maritimes summer day. Bright sun, lots of brisk breezes, a garden overrun with dandelions, wild yarrow and timothy grass volunteers. I will harvest some of the dandelion for medicinal use – dry some leaves for a mild, mineral-rich diuretic tea, dig some roots to keep for a stronger tea or a bitter tonic. The yarrow is excellent for colds and flu, and for bleeding. For menstrual bleeding, if it is heavy or prolonged, yarrow tea works pretty quickly, with no side effects. I dry the leaves thoroughly and powder them to use as a styptic if the animals get cut, or if I nick sheep while shearing. It is called achillea because Achilles used it to heal battle wounds.

I made a salve this week for my still-healing skin. I had made a wound salve for the goats that had tea tree oil in it, but that is a bit harsh on my aggravated, post-eczemic skin. I infused olive oil with rose petals and a couple of grains of frankincense, heating it over water just off the boil. This took a couple of hours, and the frankincense didn’t dissolve very much. but the oil smelled strongly of roses when done. Normally, I just stuff a small jar full of rose petals and pour olive oil over them and let it sit for a couple of weeks, but I wanted the salve sooner. It’s about a cup of oil to two small pieces of frankincense and four full roses, with the stamens removed. I melted a lump of pure beeswax, about the size of my thumb, in the still warm oil, and added ten drops of lavender essential oil. This will be my nightly moisturizer and daily soothing salve. Frankincense is boswellia, which is anti-inflammatory.

I see that the St. John’s wort is finally in bloom. I need to get out and down the trail with a basket and snips to gather some wild herbs. I don’t bother with the St. John’s wort if it hasn’t developed the red oil that is its chief medicinal component. I squeeze a flower head or roll it between my palms to see if it leaves a red smear. If the early summer is too cool and damp, the oil doesn’t develop, and the St. John’s wort has little virtue. I cold infuse the flower heads in olive or safflower oil until it turns red, then strain. (To keep oils from turning rancid, add the contents of a vitamin E capsule, or float a couple of tablespoons of vodka on top to seal out the air.) St. John’s oil is good for bruises, strained muscles, and as a topical pain reliever.

red clover

This has been an amazing year for clover. The goats are yes, in clover! They love it, but I try to vary their diet by picketing them in different places so they get a good variety of fodder. They are also fond of evening primrose, and that has an amino acid in it – a precursor of protein – that is both nourishing and medicinal.  They are still very fond of raspberry foliage, apple leaves, and roses. I have had to drag them out of the rose bushes. They will eat a certain amount of ground ivy, but not a lot. They seem to know how much is enough. I don’t dry clover as I did in the past. It is quite susceptible to mould while it is drying, or if it is packed before it is completely dry. Red clover especially makes a nice tea, but it can be blood thinning, so people on anti-clotting meds or approaching surgery shouldn’t use it, and pregnant women shouldn’t use it in the last month of gestation. I cut clover hay out of the animals’ diets when they are near term. It may have some factors that inhibit ovulation, so if I want the does or ewes to conceive early in the season, I get them off clover. I like them to have twins, and I watch their diet a bit when fall rolls around. Twinning requires good protein feed to release two ova, so they get richer grain and seed-head hay.


I’d really like to find some tansy to dry and hang in the barn. It repels insects and flies. Some people take tansy medicinally, but it has some uncertain volatile principles that can be harmful in some cases.

I see there is some good mullein growing on the old dirt piles beside the gravel pit. Mullein is used for coughs and colds, and right now, I could use some. Traditionally the little yellow flowers are gathered individually, and dried in a dark place. They also have to be kept out of sunlight once dried, or they turn black. The whole plant, though, has the same medicinal properties, so I will make a tincture of it. The tincture or anything made of  mullein to ingest has to be strained well, through a paper filter, because the plant is covered with fine hairs that can be irritating.

common mullein, photo via bhg


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