By Janelle Eklund
Tangle Lakes. It rained all night and early morning. Four of us gals lingered at breakfast in the cozy lodge, waiting for the rain to stop - hah! Around 10:00am we bit the bullet and donned our rain gear, pulled on our rubber boots, filled our day packs with empty yogurt containers, and optimistically stepped onto the tundra and into blueberry heaven. Our optimism paid off - the rain stopped even though the clouds persisted. Instead of the rain pouring down our heads it laced us with its wetness from the bushes and mossy covered ground. The hill was somewhat steep, which made for good picking. It was nice to change position - lay, sit, kneel, stand, and bending over. Needless to say my buttocks and upper leg muscles were pleasantly sore the next day.
The bushes were thick with berries, some large, some medium, some small. When there is that many to choose from I get picky and seek out the bushes that are thick with the larger version. Of course they don't all go in the bucket. It is important to give a taste test now and then - mouthfuls give you a better evaluation than just one or two! This is also important because it keeps the hunger pains at bay.
Some people like the blueberry pickers, a handheld device that rakes them into a holding area. Even though picking is much faster with one of these devises, I prefer to handpick. I like to touch the berries and if some aren't quite ripe I can be selective.
When one is picking blueberries all sense of time is lost. As you are picking, if you are not conversing with friends picking near you, your thoughts wander to.....blueberry picking! It's nice because you forget about all those day to day things at home screaming at you to do. Once in awhile you look up to see what's going on around you - ducks flying over, caribou moving about, locating picking friends. Sheets of rain clouds threatened to rain on our blueberry parade but the powers that be were with us and they skirted the hill we were picking on.
Because your tummy is keeping the hunger pains away the watch ticks away and before you know it, it's...3:00pm! We obviously didn't eat quite enough berries and our tummies longed for other things so we took a quick break and downed a little late lunch. Refreshing our packs with more empty containers we headed back up the hill and walked to the end of the ridge. As we walked we passed by many a bush thick with large berries. It was all we could do to not bend over and pluck them into our buckets. But our leader kept us going, assuring us that there were many more at the end of the ridge. Well, it wasn't too bad. There was a lot there but it seemed the best is what we passed. We were still able to fill our buckets pretty fast.
As we picked our way back a small antlered caribou ran across the flat and up to the top of the ridge, slowly making its way toward us. Its presence was invigorating. We all stood contemplating each other until the rain finally washed us apart.
About 5:30pm a sheet of rain danced our way and graced us with its downpour of wetness so we headed for shelter and quit for the day, satisfied and thankful for our bounty and the rain-free day.
Blueberries are not only good, they are good for you. Their antioxidants help keep you healthy. When I got home I spread the wet berries on paper towels laid on cookie sheets to dry. I then put them in quart freezer zip-lock bags and set them in the freezer. Most of mine are consumed on cereal throughout the year. They are great in muffins, pies, and make nice jam, syrup, and blueberry juice. Blueberry leaf tea, taken in moderation, can be healing.
Blueberries are healing in more ways than one, picking puts you in soothing places and clears the mind. Happy blueberry season!
From my light to yours-
By Janelle Eklund
Foraging for wormwood can be a challenge at times. There is plenty of it around but it can be hard finding a good patch away from roads, not on someone's property, or in a hard to get to place. Looking on the brighter side it gives you the chance to get out and enjoy the weather and the scenery. Another alternative is to ask permission if you see a good patch on private property. And offer to give them some of whatever you are brewing up with it. Who knows, maybe you will make a new friend on top of it. When foraging look for it in disturbed areas. As I mentioned in the first article it likes to grow on those steep bluff slopes of rivers. You may get lucky and find one of those that has some close to the bottom where it's easy to reach.
This herb is very safe when used externally. Its pleasant aromatic scent is great for a sauna switch, absorbing it into the blood stream. Not only does it smell good, it is healing for aches and pains.
In Janice Schofield's book she notes that a surgeon's wife was scheduled for a skin cancer operation. A native friend had told her to apply the herb on the cancerous area for fifteen minutes each day and kept reminding her to do this. After a week the symptoms disappeared and the doctor cancelled the operation.
The leaves, when used as a poultice, can help toothaches, earaches, sore eyes and snow blindness, mosquito repellent, arthritis (as mentioned before), swollen over-worked hands, etc. To make a poultice chew the leaves and then put it on the affected area. If chewing it grosses you out bruise the fresh leaves by crushing them with your hands, wetting them with their own juice. Then place in layers and do this repeatedly to be effective.
You can also take your decoction or diluted tincture, soak in a clean flannel cloth from an old sheet, and put on sprains and bruises.
Wormwood is great in the garden. You can transplant it by digging up the roots in the spring or fall, or plant from the seed. It's nice to have your own stash for all the wonderful uses described here. And an added bonus - it can repel pests in the garden. Chop up leaves and put around plants that might get an infestation, like cabbage.
If you are like me and don't like using chemical repellents try making your own repellent or rub the wormwood leaves over your body to ward them off. To make your own repellent make an oil as described in the first article using a variety of plants of your choice such as wormwood leaves/flowers, soapberry (the berries), elder leaves, chives, pineapple weed (chamomile), and plantain. Also, add garlic. Cover the jar with a cotton cloth or paper towel and secure with a ring or rubber band to let any moisture escape. After you have strained the oil add a few drops of essential oil of your choice such as citronella, pennyroyal, or rosemary. You can use as an oil or add the beeswax to make a salve. Store in an amber colored bottle in a cool dark place.
The sage scent of wormwood makes it a natural deodorizer. I never was one to use chemical laced deodorants and this is a great alternative. Deodorize the air with its soothing leaves hung in a closet or room of your choice.
Enjoy Artemisia’s aroma, its medicine, and its stately body.
From my light to yours-
Information for this article was gleaned from Janice Schofield's book, Discovering Wild Plants and Rosemary Gladstar's book, Family Herbal. I highly recommend these books. They are wonderful references.
By Janelle Eklund
It was one of those beautiful hot summer days in July. The plane landed on Tazlina Lake and taxied to the shore. As we made camp the salmon rolled in the current of the outlet of the lake. We took an evening walk along the shore, the warm 'tropical' breeze enveloping us in an uncanny way. Tropical breeze? It seemed surreal coming off this glacial lake from the direction of the glacier. I was delighted to see some Artemisia tilesii growing along the bank. The mosquitoes were quite fearsome so I picked a stem of it and used it as a switch to ward them off. My body drank in its sweet sage intoxicating aroma. There were those amongst us that thought I was a bit crazy but I didn't care. I was luxuriating in the moment and enjoyed keeping the bugs at bay as I switched it over and around my shoulders and legs.
Where the river cuts through layers of clay and the wind blows the fine particles away, disturbing the vertical drop, Artemisia clings in a lush crop. It looks so healthy and full of life and I drool, wanting to pick some for my medicine chest. But the river runs fast and we float on by.
It likes to grow in disturbed areas. Some of the roadsides are full of it but too many car fumes and dust prohibit picking.
Artemisia is top on my plant pharmacopeia list. I like to make an Artemisia message oil to ease the tendinitis and carpel tunnel in my arms and hands. These hands and arms have done a life time of hard work and they are getting wore out. Especially at night, along with the brain going to sleep, my hands have decided - hmm that sounds like a good idea - I think I will too. This is disconcerting because it wakes up the brain, and trying to find the right position makes it hard to go back to sleep. Rubbing Artemisia oil on twice a day - once in the morning and once at night helps keep the hands from sleeping too.
To make the oil, strip the leaves and flowers off the stem of the Artemisia tilesii plant. You can mix other herbs with this that have similar medicinal qualities such as yarrow and Artemisia frigida. Finely chop them with a knife or use your handy dandy cuisinart. Put them in the food dryer at about 125° until they are dry. Pack a glass quart jar half full of the herb. Fill the jar with organic extra virgin first cold pressed olive oil. Pick a chunk of spruce gum (sap) and drop in the jar. Cover with a lid. Put the jar in a warm place (about 90°-100°) for two weeks. In the summer I put it in the hot greenhouse. In winter or if it's not sunny I'll put it in a crockpot with warm water - or without warm water - set on low. Most crockpots are too warm even on low so my husband made me a rheostat so the temperature is just right. The rheostat has a place to plug in a night light so you know its working. After two weeks, strain the oil using a coffee press or cheese cloth. If you don't have a coffee press, get one, as it is so much easier and less messy than using a piece of heavy cheese cloth or muslin. Once strained you can add a few drops of wintergreen essential oil. Put in amber colored bottles, label, and store in a cool dark area.
This oil is also great for other aches and pains including arthritis. If you have animals with sore spots it works great for them too.
From my light to yours-
By Janelle Eklund
It was late in the day at Silver Lake and I scouted around to see what plants to take photos of. It was another one of those warm days but big black thunder heads were rolling in.
Before the rain hit I was able to capture a few plants in my camera's eye, including Artemisia tilesii.
The common name, wormwood, stuck when people used it for getting rid of roundworms and pinworms. The treatment is drinking two cups of tea a day, using the dry herb - one tsp per cup, for one or two weeks. For treating animals powder the flowers and put in their feed.
It is important that when taking Artemisia tilesii internally it be used in small amounts as a spice or cold tea. It contains absinthol, and taken in large doses repeatedly, can cause coma and convulsions. Taken in small amounts it is fine.
Wormwood tea is also helpful for easing cramps during menstruation and a good remedy for colds. Janice Schofield recommends pouring two cups boiling water over one-fourth cup leaves and flowers and steep for five minutes. Just sip mouthfuls of this throughout the day to ward off a cold. Another suggestion for colds is making a tincture with it and take a dropper full, or dilute it in a cup of water.
To make a tincture use 1 oz. chopped dried wormwood to five fluid ounces of alcohol as the menstruum - I use 80 proof brandy. If you don't want to use alcohol you can use glycerin or apple cider vinegar. Put the herb/menstruum mixture in a glass jar, cover, and sit on the counter for two weeks. Shake the jar twice a day to mingle the herb with the menstruum. After two weeks strain with your handy dandy coffee press, put in an amber bottle with a dropper, label, and store in a cool dark place.
This herb may have a pleasing aroma, but don't be surprised when you subject it to your taste buds, as it is pretty bitter. The bitterness stimulates gastric secretions so if you have an upset stomach or heartburn taking a few sips of wormwood tea can be helpful. The Dena'ina use the tea as a wash for skin rashes, blood poisoned areas, athletes foot and all kinds of infections. Fresh leaves can also be put in the shoes to cure athletes foot or ease fatigue.
To ease a sore throat gargle with a decoction of the herb or chew a few of the leaves. To make a decoction put a handful of the dry herb in a quart of cold water in a sauce pan and cover. Let it sit over night or for at least one hour so the herbs soak up a lot of the water. Then slowly bring the water to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and use hot or cold.
The macerated leaves of wormwood are also helpful for a stuffy nose - just put inside nostrils, or use like a head steam - boil in a pan of water and inhale the steam, being careful not to burn yourself.
I've run out of room so stayed tuned once again next week for more on this wonderful medicinal plant.
From my light to yours-
Information for this article was gleaned from Janice Schofield's book, Discovering Wild Plants
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.