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Heartsong Farm Healing Herbs: Village Herbalist Nancy Phillips and Apple Grower Michael Phillips

Herbal Verve

Hawthorn Radiance

The pink pollen stamens in these native hawthorn blossoms indicate optimal medicinal potency.
The pink pollen stamens in these native hawthorn blossoms indicate optimal medicinal potency.

The quality of our hawthorn flower and leaf has been acclaimed by more than a few herbalists. It's kind of fitting that our resident apple grower finds herbal joy in a fruiting tree at blossom time in the spring. Medicinal potency in hawthorn as this stage of its growth cycle is defined by pink pollen stamens: we have approximately 3 to 5 days to pick the just opening flower clusters with tender green foliage at the base before constituent levels start to change. Talk about thorny picking and bleeding for one's living! This herb dries well in the solar tunnel in about 36 hours time, with green vibrancy and white flower petals intact. We never garble hawthorn in order to preserve its goodness that much more.

The healing calls answered by hawthorn blossom clusters are not much different from the red berries of this giving tree in the fall. An array of bioflavanoids (quercitin, rutin, hyperoside, and vitexin) are noted for relaxing and dilating the arteries, strengthening the capillaries, and improving heartbeat rate. The procyanidans in hawthorn flower and leaf have a long medicinal history of helping with the early stages of congestive heart failure and minor arrhythmias. This heart herb can be tinctured or used as part of a tonic tea blend.

Ahh, Valerian

The sedative effect of fresh valerian root (actually its stolons) is attributed to isovaleric acid, which is also responsible for the characteristic smell of this herb. Valerian stolons die back each winter, leaving a base root with high concentrations of essential oils and valepotriates. These compounds are said to have a more balancing, depressant effect on the autonomous nervous system (according to German doctor Rudolf Weiss in his classic Herbal Medicine text). Interestingly, drying roots increases valepotriate concentrations as well. We have not noted differing subtleties with our valerian tinctures . . . but then we tend to prefer using fresh root. Valerian grows a spring flush of leaves as it reestablishes its stolons, and so is best dug as a second year plant just prior to the emergence of the flower stalk.

Valerian is one of the healing herbs grown at Heartsong Farm. (photo by Michael Phillips)
Check with us each spring about availability of fresh valerian root for shipment in June and July.
St. John's Wort has a satisfying happiness about it no matter how we take its medicine! (photo by Michael Phillips)
St. John's Wort has a satisfying happiness about it no matter how we take its medicine!

That Good Red Oil

The infused oil of St. John's Wort takes on an incredible red hue from the hypericin found in the flower buds of this healing plant. The deeper the red, the stronger the medicine. We rub St. John's Wort Liniment directly on the skin to stimulate tissue repair in a strained joint or aching muscle. Practicing herbalists purchase our pure St. John's Wort oil to make burn salves and neuralgia remedies for their clients whenever Nancy has some to spare.


Got Lovage?

Hispanic-Americans describe lovage as the "osha of the garden," and when we heard that, we knew we could help alleviate demand for at least one plant on the UPS At-Risk List. Lovage (Levisticum officinale) root is an aromatic stimulant, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, and diuretic. The Chinese name for lovage translates to "European dong quai" as many of the female toning qualities of Angelica sinensis are found with lovage as well. Native peoples of the mountain West use osha (Ligusticum porterii) for similar purpose. Which of these plant species grows readily in northern New Hampshire? Which medicine can we promote bioregionally as herb farmers? Which herb does Michael really enjoy as a plant spirit friend? Yep, you're right . . . We got lovage.

The internal use of spilanthes stimulates an increased production of antiviral interferon.
The internal use of spilanthes stimulates an increased production of antiviral interferon.

Never Doubt Spilanthes

The first tincture we reach for on the medicine shelf whenever we encounter a viral condition is spilanthes. Every year seems to bring forth a new virus that strikes community wide that we mediate with this proven viral antagonist This alkylamide-rich plant can also be used as an "echinacea synergist" when treating infections, according to Richo Cech at Horizon Herbs, to boost the immune-enhancing effects of that herb. We use spilanthes in our Herbal Mouthwash Concentrate as a gum tonic and to help fight dental decay. And when a toothache overwhelms? Try a few drops of spilanthes tincture directly on the infected area to quell the swelling and thus the pain.


Visions of Sweet Leaf

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is described extensively by Matthew Wood in The Book of Herbal Wisdom as widely used by American Indian healers. The true name of this all-purpose herb is deemed to be "sweet leaf" for this reveals the essential nature of this healing ally. The taste, smell, and properties of Sweet Leaf vary greatly, according to the location and season. Matthew goes on to describe how this herb can be used to draw fire from the skin as well as internal organs, helps with yeast infections, and calms and tones the nerves. We sit with this plant in the garden to breathe deeply of its aromatic depths and give thanks for its perpetual guidance. More people should discover the power of this ancient one.


The Small Farm Difference

We're often asked what's the difference between milky oats and oatstraw as sold in most health food stores? The green heads of Avena sativa have a certain growth stage where a "healthy milk" can be squeezed from the developing grain. Now is when the alkaloids, flavanoids, sililic acid, proteins, B vitamins and calcium levels in the oat grain head are particularly high. A large herb farm proceeds to harvest the entire plant with a combine -- grass, stalk, and all. This becomes "oatstraw" once the green hay is chopped into tiny bits. Our "milky oats" on the other hand are the hand-harvested grain head alone, resulting in a far higher percentage of desirable constituents per ounce of nervine tea.

Milky oats for the healer's call - photo: Michael Phillips
Milky oats for the healer's call
"I opened my first bag of milky oats today and was bowled over, overwhelmed with the elemental energy that emerged from the bag. Wow! Really, I was so touched that I sat and wept for a good ten minutes while the elementals poured out of the bag, danced around me, and basically doused me with joy, love of the earth, and the spirit of your place. Thank you for growing herbs with so much consciousness and dedication."

We're not going to say all our customers are this pleased, but golly. Thanks!

Elderberry: the countryman's apothecary

Antiviral Mystique of Elderberry

The medicinal benefits of dark-colored berries are being celebrated more and more these days. Elderberry was likely the first, going back to Roman times, and with the entire plant deservedly coming to be known as the countryman's apothecary. The leaves, flowers, berries, and even the bark of the roots of Sambucus canadensis and nigra are gifts to our health and welfare.


The constituents in the berry act to neutralize the activity of the hemagglutinin spikes found on the surface of several viruses by disarming the neuraminidase enzyme. Thus viruses can no longer pierce cell walls and replicate . . . which is why elderberry can help prevent the spread of an infectious disease in the first place and shorten its duration if you indeed come down with the flu or a cold. Anthocyanins such as cyanidin 3-glucoside and cyanidin 3-sambuboside may be the key constituents at work here, which Nature indicates to all "fruitavores" through the dark pigments of the berry.

One way the goodness of elder can be preserved for wintertime use is by making a honey syrup from the fresh berries. Typical recipes call for using two parts sweetener to one part juice for seemingly unlimited shelf life. Nancy reverses that ratio to up the medicinal ante, knowing actual need will see each bottle used sooner rather than later. Serving this tasty remedy in a glass of warm water adds a touch of deep purple elegance that is uplifting in its own right.

Elderberry Syrup
Elderberry Syrup is
beautiful and delicious!

More Things Herbal


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