My Wildcrafting Course: Working with Hawthorn

Wildcrafting with Hawthorn - did you know this herb is useful for strengthening the heart, and relieving anxiety and depression?

Collecting Wild Hawthorn for Food & Medicine

In the last few years, I’ve become more and more interested in identifying native plants and foraging. In the last year, I’ve also grown to fall in love with wildcrafting. In case you’re unfamiliar, wildcrafting is collecting plants or herbs from the wild and using them for food and/or medicinal purposes. While there are many online resources and books that can teach you about this, in my opinion, it’s wise to learn from a knowledgeable instructor who can help you safely identify native plants in your area – particularly if you are planning to consume them!

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This is Suzanne Jordan, founder and owner of Cedar Mountain Herb School in Mount Vernon. She is one such knowledgeable instructor you can feel good about learning from! Suzanne has over 25 years of experience as an herbalist and instructor. She is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, the American Herb Association, and practicum supervisor and adjunct faculty at Bastyr University. If it’s any indication, this is the 3rd class I’ve taken from Suzanne (if you’re curious, go back and check out my posts about the dandelion intensive and medicinal plant walkabout at Discovery Park). The 2-hour drive from my house is well worth it!

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Today’s class was all about the hawthorn. This beautiful plant is a member of the rose family (as is the apple!). In fact, in fall the berries actually resemble tiny apples – check it out:

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In spring, the plant is loaded with gorgeous blossoms. Here’s a picture of one I took in the spring up at Discovery Park in Seattle:

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I think it would make a lovely landscaping plant! And, in fact, many people use the hawthorn for just that. But this beautiful plant is packed full of medicine, too.

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The hawthorn, it turns out, is particularly good for heart health. As someone that’s struggled with heart issues off and on, this is a huge reason for my interest in this plant. It’s good for a range of things from strengthening the heartbeat, helping to clear the arteries, lowering blood pressure, and more. It’s also used to help alleviate depression and anxiety.

Suzanne calls it, “the everything’s going to be OK” herb and she loves using it during times of grieving or transition (such as a new job, loss of a loved one, moving, etc.).

What is Wildcrafting? (Plus, my Medicinal Plant Walkabout at Discovery Park!)

What is wildcrafting? Understanding how to safely & smartly harvest wild plants for food and medicine.

You might have heard the term foraging before, but have you heard of the term wildcrafting? Wildcrafting is the harvesting of wild plants (uncultivated) for food or medicine. Learning how to do so in a sustainable and ethical way can be a very frugal and natural way to support your health. (Not to mention, it’s entirely enjoyable just to be out in nature, especially here in the Pacific Northwest!)

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Of course, there are some considerations when it comes to wildcrafting that differ from gardening:

1) Proper plant identification. Are you confident you have the right plant? Have you located it in a habitat that it typically grows? Have you observed the plant in multiple seasons?

2) Ethical harvesting. Are you harvesting from a protected area, such as a park or private land? Are you harvesting from a large, healthy stand of plants? Can you harvest just what you need without causing damage or noticeable effect to the plant? Are you harvesting with a purpose in mind?

3) Edibility/medicinal purpose. Are you preparing the part of the plant that’s edible/medicinal? Are you harvesting the plant in the correct season? Are you aware of dosages? Risks?

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While this topic has become more and more interesting to me, I also knew I wanted the sound advice of an expert. So last weekend, my son and I decided to take a Medicinal Plant Walkabout offered through Cedar Mountain Herb School (the same place I took the dandelion intensive on a couple months back). I completely recommend that you learn how to identify and use wild plants from an expert, such as Suzanne from Cedar Mountain Herb School! She has over 25 years of experience as an herbalist and instructor and is well acquainted with many wild plants from our area.

I wanted to share just a few things we learned from our 4-hour  plant walkabout in Discovery Park last weekend.

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This was one of my favorite plants we talked about – Miner’s Lettuce! It often grows along trails and….

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It’s totally edible! It tasted like a light and refreshing lettuce and my son enjoyed it very much. (In fact, he was asking for some again yesterday!)

How to Make Dandelion Root Tea

How to make Dandelion Root Tea - it's so good for you, and it couldn't be easier!

I recently shared how I foraged for dandelion roots and greens and turned them into food and medicine (make sure to check it out if you haven’t!). One of the ways I’ve used the roots is to turn it into a healthful tea. I wanted to share this with you today as dandelions are in abundance and this tea couldn’t be easier to make.

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Before I dive into making the tea, I want to speak a moment on where to get your dandelions! Of course, your yard may be a great source if you have not used chemicals (such as fertilizer or weed killer) in the last three years. Also take care to not forage food from protected or private lands. I stumbled on this most helpful post about rules for foraging in the Pacific Northwest that may be of help!

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As I described in the dandelion foraging post, dandelions have a long taproot – so take care when pulling them up to get as much of that goodness as possible! Use a shovel, or even better, a garden fork to gently loosen up from the soil.

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Make sure to properly clean your roots! At the dandelion intensive course I took over the weekend at Cedar Mountain Herb School, we soaked the roots in water, agitated, drained, and repeated a couple times. Then we laid the roots out on shallow trays and blasted with a hose.

How to Use Dandelions for Food & Herbal Remedies

Dandelions: Did you know that you can eat them? Use them medicinally to support your entire digestive system?

Dandelion. Probably one of those invasive “weeds” that gives you grief to see in your yard. But did you know that dandelions are actually an amazing source of nutrition and even medicine?

It’s true! All parts of the dandelion are edible, and are jam packed with vitamins and minerals including Vitamin C, iron, calcium and potassium. Dandelion is useful in supporting the entire digestion system, and particularly liver health! It’s also fabulous for your immune system and kidneys.

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Foraging for native plants, or wildcrafting, is a topic that I’m surprised I don’t see written more about on frugal living blogs. Gardening is great – I write tons about it here – but if you want to get super local, super frugal, super sustainable – you should be talking about foraging more. The truth is, we have an abundance of FREE food and medicine living all around us, if we can take the time to learn how to properly identify and use it.

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I decided to take a dandelion intensive workshop over the weekend at Cedar Mountain Herb School in Mount Vernon. While some of this information can readily be learned through books and websites, I think it’s important to learn directly from an expert. Suzanne (the owner of Cedar Mountain) is one such expert! She has over 20 years teaching herbal medicine a member of the American Herbalists Guild, the American Herb Association, and practicum supervisor for herbal science students at Bastyr University. She has taught workshops and courses to countless groups including herbal fairs, food co-ops, Girl Scouts, and more.

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Our goal for the workshop was to harvest both dandelion roots and greens. You can definitely use the buds (for salves or wine!), but the dandelions we harvested were not in bloom. Suzanne pointed out that if you’re harvesting for the roots, it may be best to do so before you see the blooms. The reason is simple: all the energy of the plant is in the root at that point – it hasn’t yet transferred into the flower. This is why spring is an ideal time for digging up those roots!