During early Spring, as the plants were just beginning to poke out of the ground, I had the privilege of once again working with the students of Washington College. The workshop this time was all about making medicine in the woods so we took it offsite and explored the flora (and fauna!) of the beautiful land owned by the school on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
This workshop allowed us to examine medicinal herbs in their natural habitat. We discussed the plants from both an ethnobotanical and chemical perspective. Thanks to permaculturist Shane Brill, identification was quick and easy. After we identified the plants, we discussed their historical use by various world cultures and the main chemical compounds that are responsible for their therapeutic actions.
The students were able to touch, smell, and in some cases, taste, the materials we were discussing. Most students had some prior knowledge of some of the plants, making for a few hours of interesting and educational conversation while we explored the woods.
While I am normally all about ratios, measurements, and precise chemistry, it isn’t always practical in real life scenarios. I can’t imagine that most people have weight scales, liquid measuring cups, and the like with them when they have first aid emergencies in the woods. For the “medicine making” portion of this trip, we made medicine the way our ancestors did. As the village medicine woman in this scenario (that’s really fun to say!), I passed down my knowledge of the plants as everyone was gathered in a circle. The students harvested plants and combined them in jars to make their medicine. We used Apple Cider Vinegar to extract the fat-soluble constituents and all those vitamins and minerals that come out best in acetic acid. The students also made a simple infusion that they could take him and try.