herbal medicine

Autumn has come to the mountain just as spring did – one ay it was perfectly clear, close to 80º and comfortably into the mid-60s at night, the next it was barely up to 60º at mid-day and into the high 30s at night. Not only are we seriously behind in the necessary wood supply for heat, I’ve been having to scramble to bring in the remaining peppers and last of the tomatoes. Poplar leaves are already yellow and dogwoods are getting a ret tint on their leave to complement their quickly ripening bright red berries, and the crisp air fills with leaves whenever the breeze blows.

Luckily autumn is my favorite of all seasons. In three weeks from now the lush greens of summer will have turned into impossible corals and day-glo oranges and deep reds and yellows bright enough to light up the night. The smell of leaf-fall is heavenly even though it means endless raking in November, a necessary task to ensure resistance to spring fires. And of course the usual foot-deep winter covering once I’ve cleaned out the garden terraces and tossed the remains of their summer bounty on the compost pile. But it’s raining right now, so I’m shivering inside not daring to use any of the scant locust we have left from last year’s wood supply before nightfall, when it’ll really be needed.

In my last post I talked about a new centralized organizational outfit for connecting CSAs [Community Supported Agriculture farms] and ass orated organic suppliers with customer bases in their area via the internet, for promoting healthy, local food and food products and changing the way we eat. In my wanderings about the web, I discovered another kind of CSA that sounds like something right up my alley.

It’s called Goldthread, and it’s a CSA they say should properly be called a “CSM” because it offers community-supported medicinal herb shares. The Goldthread farm is located in western Massachusetts, and its herbal preparations are made in small batches at the farm in Conway and an apothecary in Florence. A share basket may include a combination of carefully dried bulk herbs, small bottles of tinctures, essential oils, herbal honeys and compounds, often accompanied by fresh culinary herbs and garlic.

“Grassroots medicine” sounds like a good idea at this current point in history, as my ‘customer’ base has only been increasing over the past few years as western medicine’s allopathic treatments have become far too expensive for most people to use, joblessness has stripped what little insurance coverage people once did have, and the state slashes Medicaid to the bone so that no one new gets on the roll until someone dies. Last year my elderberry tincture (for colds and flu) saved nearly a dozen people – one of them an ER nurse – from work and time loss due to viral respiratory infections. My ginseng tincture hasn’t been made yet, but three new ‘customers’ have requested some, asap. If I had money to invest in some cute little dropper bottles and labels, I could probably make a little income on the side just with those. Then there’s the black cohosh, the Japanese honeysuckle, the goldenseal, the dogwood and spiceberry tonic, and MUST get started on the autumn end of my skin lesion salve that takes a year to produce…

Problem is, I use those little quotes around the word ‘customer’ because I’ve just never charged anybody real money for my simples and remedies. People have long said I could, but all of my herbalist ancestors believed – and taught – that doing it for money was antithetical to the effort at healing. That was so ingrained in me that it’s been difficult to even begin thinking about charging money. But now that my grandson has put so much energy and effort into learning from me, and helping me greatly in managing the medicinal crops, I see that earning a little money on those efforts isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Now that grandson is in ‘business’ with me as apprentice-in-training, making a bit of money for his college tuition is where I’m aiming my thoughts for the next year. Both in producing the concoctions and in planning for more medicinals next growing season. We’ve already transplanted what will be an entire grove of elderberry that was threatened by a road-widening project, and nettle so we’d have our own on-property supply. We’ve transferred the ginseng to new, deeper beds much better protected from deer and tromping disc golfers than where they were before.

We probably won’t be a CSA like this farm in Massachusetts is, as there are plenty of needful folks just here in our area who tend to trouts the old herb-lady more than they trust whatever allopathic doctor’s on duty today at the urgent care center for $400 a pop just to walk in the door.

So wish us luck, and I’ll be sure to report back on whether or not this change of heart on the healing plane works out. Stay tuned!