Curly-cup Gumweed ~A Scruffy Plant worth Finding

My passion for medicinal plants has taken an interesting twist this month. Quite by coincidence, I have been harvesting a local high prairie native, Grindelia squarrosa, for its exceptional ability to address the mucous congestion of coughs and bronchitis. At the same time, a tangential interest in the botanical findings of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806), is providing a rich historical perspective into this valuable plant as medicine.

Augustpics 179On August 17, 1804, according to their notes, in the prairie habitat outside an Omaha Indian village in Dakota County, Nebraska, specimens of Grindelia squarrosa, also known as Curly-Cup Gumweed were collected as part of the expedition’s botanical findings during their three-year exploration of the American West. History is not one of my better suits, but looking through a botanical lens, my passion for plants finds this compelling. For all the times the question “What makes a plant native?” has been asked, we touch upon a perspective that gives us an answer. This plant was in common use by North America’s native Peoples prior to Anglo exploration.

Merriweather Lewis, an extraordinary naturalist, was chosen by then president Thomas Jefferson, to lead the expedition west across the northern tier of the Great Plains and beyond, with cartographer William Clark. They encountered village after village of Crow, Blackfeet, Cree, Cheyenne, Dakota, Flathead, Gros Ventres and Shoshone all using boiled decoctions of Grindelia as tea internally for coughs, pneumonia, digestive colic and urinary tract maladies. Topically the plant was commonly made into poultices for skin sores, swellings and poison-ivy-like blistering rashes.

Today, the genus Grindelia ranges widely in the US, Canada and south into the Chihuahuan region of Mexico, mostly west of the Mississippi River and into the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. It presents as kind of a weedy, unkept plant, offering good medicine, but not particularly adding beauty to the landscape or a “proper” garden. Most mature plants are 2-3 feet in height, appear shrub-like, and grow in sandy, rocky and poor soils, along roadsides, building sites and open grasslands. July, 2013 083Most sources agree that Gumweed is a biennial or short-lived perennial, surviving on nothing more than the mercy of seasonal moisture. Grindelia squarrosa is host to the Blister Beetle (Zonitis sayi, Family: Meloidae), shown here.

Curly-cup Gumweed is a member of the Sunflower or Asteraceae family. Its oval, linear leaves clasp alternately to its sturdy erect stems. Leaf margins are broadly toothed; with leaf surfaces relatively smooth except for numerous resinous glands found throughout. Grindelia flowers are a bright golden yellow with flat disc surfaces up to 2cm in diameter. Flowering begins by mid-July, their discs initially covered by a sticky, milky sap. Some species of Grindelia are rayless (without petals), while others have short ray florets appearing after the milky stage. Each flower head is held in a cup-like structure called an involucre, covered with sticky curled bracts. It is at the milky stage that the flowers and leaves are gathered for medicine.

Augustpics 182Many types of remedies can be prepared from Grindelia. Fresh, the flowers can be made into a tincture, the resinous sap being extracted only by a high percentage grain alcohol. The leaves and flowers can be dried and later used as a tea. Both tea and tincture are useful for a dry, spasmotic cough, bronchitis, or for asthmatic breathing. Its medicine helps to break up sticky, dry phlegm so that a cough becomes productive. Grindelia has an affinity for the lungs, helps open the chest, promotes expectoration, and relaxes breathing.

Grindelia flowers can also be infused into a high quality olive oil for topical use at a later time. As a medicinal oil, soothing salve, a poultice, or in tincture form, Gumweed has a wide range of topical applications for poison ivy/oak reactions, insect bites, burns, eczema, bed sores, herpes lesions and stubborn wounds that resist healing. It promotes tissue repair, reduces inflammation, stops itching, and moistens and benefits the skin. NOTE: From personal experience, the alcohol tincture works best on poison ivy rashes because of the drying effect of the alcohol.

TSA_products 011This harvest season, I’ll be making an alcohol (organic) tincture and an oil infusion of this healing plant. Its pleasant, balsamic aroma is unmistakable and its medicine powerful. The kitchen will be a sticky mess before I’m finished, but the end result will be a great medicine for coughs, combined with with thyme, osha root, and hyssop. For an all-purpose healing salve (pictured right), I will combine grindelia, calendula, comfrey, and plantain. It is quite satisfying to create relationship with a plant prized so long ago, knowing that it is still appreciated and used for its healing gifts.


PLEASE NOTE: Posts on Yarrow’s Garden Blog and Three Sisters Medicine are for educational and inspirational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. Herbs are Medicine! Proceed with care. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment of serious medical conditions is inappropriate and unwise. If you have or suspect a medical condition, it is your responsibility to consult a medical practitioner for appropriate treatment.

THREE SISTERS APOTHECARY offers a variety of dry tea blends and tinctured formulations.Formulas are custom blended for your specific health and healing needs. Contact me at or phone: 719.783.0465 to schedule an appointment.


Walking through the knee-high grasses alongside the riffling waters of Grape Creek, I become aware of a familiar sweet-spicy aroma wafting around me. My boots flush through the dew-laden vegetation, now soaked with wet grass stains. Peering between the blades, I notice spikes of sturdy green stems bearing clusters of delicate lavender flowers. Mid-summer 096I feel the wetness as it soaks through my socks and the knees of my jeans.

To confirm my suspicions, I look for other clues to its identity. Squeezing the small notched leaf between my fingers, I inhale again, and am immediately taken by the rich, menthol, delicious scent as I bring it to my nose. Instantly my brain feels clear and focused, my body feels alive, my consciousness alert. I twirl the slender stem in my fingers and note its ridges; the stems are square.

Taking a moment, I begin noticing more detail. The opposite leaves grow smaller as they progress up the delicate stem from ground level to tip. The flowers cluster in whorls at the leaf axils, creating  a distinct pattern of segments along the stems. At this point I feel comfortable in saying that I have found Poleo Mint (Mentha arvensis), Colorado’s native field mint. Chokecherry Day 018I draw its strong pungent aroma into my lungs and once again feel my cells come alive with its cool, clarifying vapors.

Scanning the grasses, I notice several patches of the plant, enough to consider harvesting some, since flowering is the perfect time. As I cut, I am reminded that Poleo mint is the strongest of the true mints; stronger in both flavor and action than its European cousins, peppermint and spearmint. All members of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, the mints are best known for their ability to act kindly upon the digestive system, relieving indigestion, gas pains and bloating, intestinal cramping and nausea. Most commonly found in the kitchen, herbs such as oregano, lemon balm, thyme, rosemary and sage are all in this family and useful in cooking for flavoring and for digestive enhancement. The flavor of Poleo is pungent, slightly biting and sweet, with a camphorous taste due to the presence of its volitile, aromatic oils. Both warming and cooling, stimulating and relaxing, it potently promotes bile flow, reduces liver congestion, and settles the stomach.

Mentha arvensis can be found growing throughout the northern latitudes of the United States from the Great Lakes and Central Plains to west of the Rocky Mountains. Early tribes of the Upper Missouri River valued Poleo tea for its carminative, gas-relieving digestive properties. The Cheyenne and Blackfeet believed it strengthed the heart and vital organs. The Lakota and other tribes used the mint beverage to treat headaches, colds, coughs and fevers.

Popularized in the mid-18th century, European peppermint (Mentha piperita) was cultivated on plantations in England, France, Italy, Greece and Germany mainly for distilling its valuable oil. Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is pungent and sweet, energetically neutral–not as warming or cooling– and has a more gentle digestive effect.

Chokecherry Day 012In contemporary herbal pharmacology, the value of Poleo and its related mints goes beyond its known digestive properties. Used interchangeably for colds and flu (Poleo being the strongest), they can promote sweating, reduce a fever, promote productive expectorating and open the sinuses. A sinus steam using peppermint essential oil will clear the nasal passages and promote fuller, deeper breathing in conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and laryngitis. As a warming stimulant, Mentha increases internal warmth through circulatory stimulation and can encourage the onset of a sluggish or delayed menstrual flow. Massaging peppermint oil infused into a carrier (such as sweet almond or olive oil) on the abdominal area has proved effective for that condition. Other topical uses of peppermint oil include treatment of inflammation from burns, scalds, acne, hives and poison ivy, primarily through its drying effect. In a spray with other essential oils such as lavender, rosemary or sage, peppermint is a very effective natural insect repellant.

In flower essence form, peppermint promotes mental clarity, quickens thinking, and heightens and uplifts the spirits. It enhances mindfulness and conscious alertness, fostering a deepened sense of aliveness and well being.

The cultivated varieties of peppermint and spearmint are easy to propagate……perhaps too easy. In moderately amended organic soil with a fair amount of watering, the perennial mints are notorious for spreading vigorously by creeping root stock, and difficult to control in most garden settings. If peppermint is something you would like to grow in your own garden, my suggestion is to plant it in a container. It will grow happily there without invading other areas of your garden where you will eventually lose your liking for the plant. Harvesting of the aerial parts of the herb is best when it is in bloom.

As I move through the grasses, I find several more patches of this good medicine. Feeling blessed with plenty, I cut what I need, offer my gratitude and return home, to prepare, dry and store my bountiful harvest for winter- long enjoyment. I most appreciate the clarity and mindfulness that Poleo tea brings, especially at times when I am in need of creative inspiration.


PLEASE NOTE: Posts on Yarrow’s Garden Blog and Three Sisters Medicine are for educational and inspirational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. Herbs are Medicine! Proceed with care. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment of serious medical conditions is inappropriate and unwise. If you have or suspect a medical condition, it is your responsibility to consult a medical practitioner for appropriate treatment.

THREE SISTERS APOTHECARY offers a variety of dry tea blends and tinctured formulations.Formulas are custom blended for your specific health and healing needs. Contact me at or phone: 719.783.0465 to schedule an appointment.


Whidbey2012 027From very early in botanical history, poets, romantics, mystics and gardeners have sung the praises of the Rose.  First cultivated by the ancient Persians, then by the Arabs, Greeks and Romans, the rose has become glorified as one of the most beloved flowering perennials of all time.

Although most of today’s rapture with the rose is based upon cultivated varieties, I will be focusing on our Colorado native Wild Rose (Rosa woodsii) and then comment on the uses of the rose around the world.

If you have walked the mountain trails here in the Wet Mountain Valley during June or early July, you have certainly come upon the wild rose in bloom. This sensually fragrant, showy, pink, five-petaled beauty is common along trails, roadsides, open meadows and slopes, along forest edges and shady creekside areas, in the full sun or part shade habitats of the foothills and montane zones. They establish themselves easily in most soil types, prefer consistently moist soil and can develop extensive root systems forming dense thickets. Plants in the rose family are typically upright woody shrubs, often with thorns (although shrubs like Mountain Mahogany—Cercocarpus montanus, Choke Cherry, Padus virginiana, and various Cinquefoils—Potentilla sp, are without thorns). All will have an edible fruit of some kind. The familiar rose hip, sour, sweet and astringing, is rich in vitamin C and flavonoids; a favorite food for deer, elk, birds, and bears. It makes an excellent cooling, tension-taming tea.

The widespread popularity of the cultivated rose began near the tenth century in Northern Persia, spreading to China, India, Morocco and throughout Europe. Then, as now, roses were grown for their beauty, fragrance, and for their healing properties, culinary uses, and skin care. One of the first preparations from rose was the floral water. Known for its antiseptic and astringent properties, rosewater used topically, was applied to burns and inflammations.Today, rosewater is still in use for firming the skin, found especially soothing for dry and aging skin conditions. A prized extract of rose is the distilled essential oil or attar. Considered one of the most precious and sought-after fragrances of all flowers, rose oil is used today to lift the spirit from depression, to decrease anxiety, and applied to the abdomen, known to decrease pelvic congestion and menstrual pain. To date, perfume chemists have been unable to replicate this sweet, woody fragrance, explaining why rose essential oil currently retails for about $208 for 5ml (30 ml equals one ounce).

In traditional Chinese medicine, rose flowers are used in herbal formulations to promote circulation, disperse blood stagnation, regulate menstrual bleeding, and to restore harmonious digestion. In various Native American herbal traditions, all parts of the rose have been used. Tea of rose petals, leaves and roots were relied upon to reduce high fevers in children, as a wash for eye inflammations, and to ease emotional tension. Old World European traditions use rose petals and hips for acute inflammatory lung conditions including sore throat, to promote nasal flow and relieve bronchial congestion. In chronic cases, rose petal waters and baths were used for treating the excessive heat of certain arthritic conditions. Since the flower and hips are edible, many culinary uses have been created for rose, including wines, cordials and liqueurs as well as jams, jellies, teas, honeys and syrups. French cuisine makes use of rose petals to embellish even the most ordinary of presentations.

Today, the flower essence of the wild rose is often used to address the more soulful issues of depression, apathy and despair, fatigue, alienation, or lack of compassion. Rose is said to balance the love forces of the heart so that the soul can find enthusiasm in earthly life, worldly tasks and human relationships. As a universal expression of unconditional love, passion, nurturance, compassion, giving and caring, the rose is revered worldwide, respected and appreciated as a healer and remedy with broad application. The native Wild Rose, hardy and relatively easy to grow, has a soft, light, and uplifting energy and would make a great addition to any high altitude garden. The joy of stepping outside your door and experiencing this calming and enlivening energy leaves no excuse for the blues.


PLEASE NOTE: Posts on Yarrow’s Garden Blog andThree Sisters Medicine are for educational and inspirational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. Herbs are Medicine! Proceed with care. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment of serious medical conditions is inappropriate and unwise. If you have or suspect a medical condition, it is your responsibility to consult a medical practitioner for appropriate treatment.

THREE SISTERS APOTHECARY offers a variety of dry tea blends and tinctured formulations.Formulas are custom blended for your specific health and healing needs. Contact me at or phone: 719.783.0465 to schedule an appointment.

20. June 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Plant Medicines, Wellness

Hi Everyone~

This is National Pollinator Week. As our climate heaves and blows, our pollinators are greatly impacted. What are you doing to support them on your piece of heaven? Want more vegetables–grow more flowers– and watch the pollinators find your veggie blossoms. Without these precious friends, we would not be able to survive. Grow plants that are early and late pollen and nectar sources, have fresh water available, and landscape with pollinator magnet plants for a thriving garden and colorful environment.

The air is fresh with a hint of dampness. I can feel my lungs relax as I inhale the earthy richness of the wet soil. Rock outcroppings apron the open path. Occasional giant ponderosas offer shade, buffering, and the space for quiet solitude as I walk. Creekside sounds—the honking of geese, the chattering of mallards, and the flowing riffle of the creek itself, provide a soothing backdrop to my outing this morning. Around the bend and beneath a granite overhang, I begin my search for one of my favorite of spring tonic plants, Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica,, U. gracilis  or U. urens).

Nettles-Grape Creek 016Protected by the rocks and fed by their seeping rivulets of moisture, my search drops me to my knees for a closer look. Nestled within thick root structures of adjacent grasses and hugged by a carpet of moss, new nettle shoots emerge, beginning their upward journey to leaf, flower and fruit. In this radiantly cool shaded wetness, and among other thorny neighbors—shrubs of wild raspberry and gooseberry, the patches of nettles will soon offer their mineral rich wild selves as both food and medicine. Absorbed and contained within is their bountiful alchemy of earth and water, grounding and cooling. Within a matter of weeks these sprouts will form prickly spikes from three to six feet in height. The stems of nettles are square with opposite, lance-shaped leaves displaying broadly serrated edges. Stiff hairs appearing on the stems and paler undersides of the leaves create a formidable defense. When inadvertently touched, the hairs will eject a droplet of formic acid (ouch!), producing their painful sting and irritating skin reaction. While harvesting, wearing gloves is essential. Once the leaves have wilted the hairs lose their potency and plants can be handled without worry. To insure their optimal quality as food or medicine, plants are best harvested before flowering takes place. The flowers of the nettle plant are greenish in color and inconspicuous. Emerging from the leaf axils are gracefully flowing cascades of tiny blooms. The plants are dioiecious and wind pollinated, with separate plants having male and female flowers.

CBWF-2012 114Stinging nettles, a favorite old world springtime tonic, has received a lot of press and public attention lately. By some, it is considered an annoying weed; by others a valuable remedy for clearing body toxins and, most notably, for nourishing and restoring strength and vitality. By reputation, it’s a kind of “Geritol” of the plant kingdom. In today’s terms, it might be labeled a “superfood”. Recent media attention by Nicole Spiridakis of NPR (National Public Radio Archives, NETTLES BRING SPRING TO THE KITCHEN, April 17, 2013) featured a segment praising the benefits of this wild food and medicine as holding nature’s hidden secret of vitality.

As a wild food, nettle leaves are protein-rich (claims as high as 24%), containing iron, magnesium, potassium and many other trace minerals. Vitamin B, C, beta-carotene, chlorophyll, histamine and quercitin make it one of the most nutrient rich wild food herbs. The fresh wilted leaves can be steamed and eaten as a vegetable similar to spinach or added to soups and stews. Reports indicate that nettle leaves have more protein content than spinach. Nettles pesto is quite the treat!

As medicine, all parts of the stinging nettle plant, including the roots and seeds, have value. Dried, the leaves make a springtime infusion (tea) loaded with nourishment, with a pleasant, slightly sweet, slightly salty taste. I like to combine nettle leaf, red clover buds, alfalfa leaf and oatstraw in a springtime infusion, to awaken my system after the long months of winter hibernation, to strengthen and tone all body tissues and processes that require the presence of minerals for optimum functioning. The blood enriching nature of nettles is well known.

Energetically, stinging nettles is astringent, slightly diuretic, drying, cooling and somewhat stimulating. Its properties specialize in moving congestion and supporting the body in expelling damp and stagnant metabolic waste products; the functions of letting go and releasing. It is helpful in reducing inflammation and cleansing the system of unhealthy toxins that might show up as arthritis, gout or skin conditions such as eczema. The presence of histamine makes nettles a valuable ally for treating hay fever and other seasonal allergies. Nettles improves the body’s resistance to pollens, molds, and environmental pollutants. In traditional European bath houses, the intense practice of rubbing or slapping fresh nettle plants on painful arthritic joints [urtication] is not uncommon, and used to awaken circulation and the movement of energy by opening  blocked circulatory pathways.

CBWF-2012 115Seeds of stinging nettle can be harvested in mid-summer and are highly energizing and stimulating to the adrenals. Although considered an endocrine tonic, a note of caution is suggested to anyone who is already plagued with adrenal fatigue–nettle seeds are stimulating and thus could cause further adrenal depletion. The roots, harvested in the fall, are well known used in combination with Saw Palmetto berries in the treatment of benign prostatic hypertrophy (BHP). Again, this is not a condition where self-medication is advised; but instead working with a capable and experienced herbalist or natural practitioner.

Europeans know of the benefits of the fibers found in the mature stalks of nettle. Many times stronger than cotton, nettle fiber was once used in a textile industry for making durable and luxuriously soft fabric;  also used traditionally in making cordage, fish netting and other durable fiber products. [Photo to the immediate upper left shows mature stinging nettle in bloom].

Reflecting on the habitat where nettle thrives, it is easily possible to see the connection with its usefulness in the human body. Its relationship with water is clear by the plant’s affinity to moist soil and flowing water. Its medicinal affinity for the kidneys, urinary bladder, lymphatics and other organs of detoxification and elimination is corollary; the cool, emotionally flowing, and watery spirit of the planet Venus. In the balance is its strong, sharp, upright and boundary-protective qualities, expressing the intense masculine qualities of the planet Mars. Nettles teaches the balance of power through love. Through its sting, it teaches us awareness through presence, and the importance of paying attention to our personal space and surroundings. It expresses a wildness, a character of flow and grace, the balance of mind and heart.

I will be returning to my favorite patch of nettles in another week or two to determine whether the time is right to ask nettles for its medicinal gifts for harvest. This kind of respect is certainly appropriate protocol for sharing in the benefits of this honorable healer.

PLEASE NOTE: Posts on Yarrow’s Garden Blog andThree Sisters Medicine are for inspirational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. Herbs are Medicine! Proceed with care. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment of serious medical conditions is inappropriate and unwise. If you have or suspect a medical condition, it is your responsibility to consult a medical practitioner for appropriate treatment.

THREE SISTERS APOTHECARY offers a variety of dry tea blends and tinctured formulations.Formulas are custom blended for your specific health and healing needs. Contact me at or phone: 719.783.0465 to schedule an appointment.

salicaceae 034Ambling down the open, grassy, two-track toward the pond, my attention is drawn to the three resident Canada geese circling overhead, honking our arrival. At creekside, we are greeted by a wind break of scruffy, red-shafted shrubs. Seen against the backdrop of the greening Wet Mountain Valley and its snow-covered peaks, the overwhelming beauty of the surrounding marshland allows the tense discomfort of my body from the ever-increasing wind to slowly recede from my awareness. We are here to greet the willows and indeed they greet us, ready to share their wisdom and bounty. This moon cycle being called the “Willow Moon” by the Ancients has called me to their home under the guise of learning to weave a basket.

Considered sacred in the folklore of the earliest Americans, we indeed felt like we were on sacred ground. Willow is a member of the family Salicaceae (Willow), shared with the Aspen (Populus tremuloides) and the Cottonwood (Populus sp).  Ranging in elevation from 4,000-9,500 ft and up into the tundra, typically growing in belts of shrubby thickets, this species, the Coyote/Sandbar Willow (Salix exigua), was most revered for its usefulness in basketry as well as for its medicine. For our purposes, the best time to gather willows for weaving is now, before signs of new Spring growth become evident. IMG_4425Willows are deciduous and before long, at our elevation, will bud with long, slender leaves and flowering parts called catkins. As with other members of this family, willows have separate male and female plants, each with their characteristic flowering sexual morphology. Plants are either wind pollinated or depend upon the services of local pollinators.

As my fingers begin to interweave and shape the slender twigs I have selected, I drift between my present reality with teacher and companions into a place between time and space. I see myself, bone knife in hand, skinning the bark off the fresh willow stems, drying it, and simmering the plant material in an earthen vessel over an open fire, creating a strong tea brew. Early native peoples relied on willow for reducing fevers from all types of infections and sedating pain of various origins. A tea of the leaves is strongly emetic and was used as purification in preparation for certain sacred ceremonies.

Being cool, bitter, and slightly drying (astringing) in nature, the active constituents in Salicaceae bark are two prominent glycosides, namely salicin and populin, the earliest predecessors of present day aspirin. Contemporary herbal uses of willow bark include the treatment of inflamed joints, membranes, and irritated tissues, and for any condition with heavy or watery excretions of pus or mucous discharges. As a back country first aid, willow is an excellent choice, used topically as an antiseptic poultice for infected wounds, ulcerations, burns, swellings, and eczema, and accompanying pain, while promoting tissue repair. Native to North America is Black Willow (Salix nigra), while the more well known White Willow (Salix alba) is a European cousin. Colorado is host to many native willow species, all having more or less the same chemical constituents and properties. Willow seems to have an affinity for the uro-genital system and has been reportedly used successfully in the treatment of urinary tract infections, benign prostatic hypertrophy and bleeding uterine fibroids. As a tonic, willow bark tea can benefit digestion by stimulating digestive secretions and increasing the appetite. By sedating nervous irritability, willow is calming and can promote a restful sleep. For those on anti-coagulant therapy or sensitive to aspirin, willow bark medicine is contra-indicated.

Willow basket 001Replicating the famous work of Edward Bach, noted English physician, healing practitioners today have found the flower essence of Willow to be particularly useful for the stiff, dry and contracted personality type; one who is often resentful, inflexible, blaming and frequently bitter at one’s life situation. Willow brings to us the watery qualities of its growth habitat and surroundings, fostering acceptance and forgiveness, bringing a sense of gracious flow, resilience and inward mobility to the one in need of softening and yielding. Willow medicine helps humans flow in and out of life’s situations more effortlessly, interweaving ourselves within the community of other flowing and resilient beings.

Basket now completed, willow medicine resides within. May we all embrace with fluidity and resilience the healing wisdom of willow as we walk the sacred Path of Life.

Christina MacLeod, Westcliffe, Colorado,, April 14, 2013

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PLEASE NOTE: Posts on Yarrow’s Garden Blog andThree Sisters Medicine are for inspirational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. Herbs are Medicine! Proceed with care. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment of serious medical conditions is inappropriate and unwise. If you have or suspect a medical condition, it is your responsibility to consult a medical practitioner for appropriate treatment.

THREE SISTERS APOTHECARY offers a variety of dry tea blends and tinctured formulations.Formulas are custom blended for your specific health and healing needs. Contact me at or phone: 719.783.0465 to schedule an appointment.



Lightly brush the leathery leaves of Rosemary and then bring your fingertips to your nose. At once, a rush of expansive “scent-sations” will flood your consciousness with your own presence. In this moment, your senses are awakened, your mind made clear. You are aware of your body, mind and Spirit, the whole package, interwoven as one being–YOU. This is the unforgettable experience of Rosemary.

Rosmarinus_officinalisRosemary is powerful medicine. Familiar to all of us as a well known culinary herb, Rosemary can take us far beyond taste to experience its essential nature. Its spicy, resinous flavor wakes up the circulation. Close your eyes and its aftertaste will transport you to the blazing heat of the sunny, dry Mediterranean coast. Go ahead, taste a fresh leaf!

Rosemary is a woody shrub of Mediterranean origin in the family Lamiaceae (mint), with square stems and bi-labiate lavender to blue flowers. The family itself contains many of the familiar aromatic herbs we use in the kitchen, as their volatile oils promote digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Early Roman, Arabic and Renaissance European physicians valued the medicines in the leaves and oil of Rosemary as some of the most potent and versatile in their plant pharmacopoeia.

In traditional western herbal medicine, Rosemary is a valued circulatory stimulant and restorative tonic, not only aiding the digestion of fats and starches, but also dispelling wind and cold, promoting bile flow, restoring the nervous and glandular systems, and reducing infection in order to promote tissue repair. Rosemary is well known as an anti-oxidant, promoting a healthy immune system and stimulating sharper brain functioning and memory.

In our high elevation Rocky Mountain habitat, Rosemary is considered a tender perennial. If you can adapt your growing zone enough to create a Mediterranean micro-climate, you might possibly get Rosemary to over-winter outdoors. Without a greenhouse, most of us here in Colorado will grow Rosemary in the potted protection of the warm indoors for winter’s duration. Given a sunny location and maintaining soil moisture, it may even bloom indoors. My preference is to let my Rosemary live permanently in a container, porting it outdoors in the summer, allowing its roots to remain undisturbed, and returning it indoors once again during the winter months.

Through its ability to promote movement and heat, Rosemary taken internally as a simple infusion (tea) or a more concentrated tincture, works as a heart, nervous system and lung restorative, to alleviate symptoms of fatigue, mental depression and low self esteem. In any circumstance that would benefit from increased blood flow, Rosemary can help. As a foot or full body bath Rosemary can relieve sore or tired muscles; used topically in a salve or linament it can rejuvenate skin elasticity and promote tissue repair. A Rosemary vinegar makes a lovely medicinal food atop a fresh green salad, or can be used as a hair or clarifying body rinse. The infused oil makes a warming massage preparation to increase circulation, promote detoxification, and moisten dry skin. A steam preparation of Rosemary using the essential oil opens the sinuses by breaking up the mucous congestion that interferes with clear breathing.

In both folklore and esoteric (Spirit) medicine, Rosemary symbolically holds the energies of remembrance, loyalty and friendship. Using fresh sprigs of Rosemary, today’s traditional Mayan healers work with the plant to clear the energy of the healer’s hut, and to prepare participants for entering the sacred ceremonial space of the Primicia. Fresh leaves are often placed on the patient during prayers for spiritual healing. The flower essence of Rosemary is strongly awakening, offering an invitation for the Spirit to seat more deeply within the physical body, and for one’s conscious awareness to become more clearly attuned with the present moment. The Light essence energy of Rosemary brings its uplifting qualities and cosmic warmth to those who need to experience a deeper and more radiant sense of Self. One of my closest Soul friends, Rosemary keeps me mindful, always reminding me to embrace ALL of who I am.

♣ Photo credits: Courtesy of THOR and Wikimedia Commons

Christina MacLeod, Westcliffe, Colorado, April 1, 2013

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PLEASE NOTE: Posts on Three Sisters Medicine are for informational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. Herbs are Medicine! Proceed with care. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment of serious medical conditions is inappropriate and unwise. If you have or suspect a medical condition, it is your responsibility to consult a medical practitioner for appropriate treatment.

THREE SISTERS APOTHECARY offers a variety of dry tea blends and tinctured formulations.Formulas are custom blended for your specific health and healing needs. Contact me at or phone: 719.783.0465 to schedule an appointment.

Comfrey: Strength and Resilience~

As we swiftly move into the throws of Spring, I find my visitations to the medicine garden happening almost daily now. I admit, I am anxious to see the first sprouts emerge from the seeds I recently planted in my cold frames. But my curiousity has taken over as I get down on my hands and knees to search for even the tiniest speck of green emerging from my perennial friends. This morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see the return of the nettles, yarrow, motherwort, valerian, and comfrey; plants so hardy that even the deep winter nights of 28 degrees below zero could not dampen their determined life force.

Home-Texas Creek 004My introduction to comfrey and its powerful medicine came when I bought my first comfrey plant in Denver in about 1994. Deciding that the safest option for growing it, outside of a fenced-in garden, the comfrey was initially contained in a clay pot, while my herb garden was under construction. Soon after its arrival, I found the broken clay pot tipped upside down in the yard and my best friend’s dog happily chewing on the plant–right in front of my eyes! Jumping to its rescue, I was fortunate to find a small portion of leaf and root floating on the dog’s tongue, still intact! Gingerly, I removed the orphaned plant, and repotted it until I could permanently introduce it into its new medicine garden home later that summer. With the newly amended garden soil, moderate watering, mixed sun, protection from playful canines, and almost-daily visitations with words of encouragement and love, the comfrey grew to an amazing almost six feet in height by summer’s end! Now that’s life force–strength, resilience, and determination to thrive! Quite impressive.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a native to the cold climates of Europe and Asia. Along with its North American cousin, Hound’s Tongue (Cynoglossum officinale), often considered a noxious weed, these characteristically large, rough and hairy-leafed plants are members of the Boraginaceae (Borage) family. Comfrey is easy to grow in Colorado, best propagated through digging and dividing its roots by hand, and replanting. The plants prefer a rich loamy soil, mixed sun and part shade, and moderate water, but grow freely because of their strong vital energetics. Their tender leaves can be steamed and eaten as a green; both the leaves and roots having highly valuable medicinal properties. In a tea, the leaves are considered nutritive, rich in minerals, with emollient, nourishing, and astringent qualities. The bell-shaped magenta flowers, also edible, are characteristic of some of the plants in this family.

As far back as the Middle Ages, Comfrey was used as a healing herb to treat wounds and fractures by the armies of Alexander the Great. Particularly beneficial for muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bone, its main active ingredient, allantoin, works on a cellular level stimulating the repair and regeneration of torn, damaged or traumatized tissues.  Other plant constituents are B12, iron, potassium, calcium, amino acids, tannin, sterols and inulin. Taken internally as an infusion (tea) or topically as an ointment, salve or poultice, the leaves aid in reducing swelling and inflammation, staunching bleeding, and lessening the pain that comes with traumatic injuries; even burns. Its taste is sweet, cool, and moist. As a bath herb, a concentrated infusion may be made and added to the bath, to soothe and moisten the skin, bringing healing to eczema and burns, and reducing the pain of arthritis.

As a word of caution, Comfrey taken internally is best used for short periods of time (two- four weeks) only. The root especially is known to have slight levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are thought to create toxicity in the liver.  Also known as “knitbone”, Comfrey applied topically in either leaf or root form is totally safe and remarkably reliable in healing bone fractures, wounds and ulcers, traumatic contusions, burns, cuts, boils or abcesses; any skin damage that will benefit from healthy cellular proliferation. Digestive inflammations such as colitis and other types of ulceration may benefit from simple infusions of Comfrey tea taken several times per day.

Three Sisters Medicine makes a number of different salves for topical wound healing~~Seven Sisters Healing Salve, The Bees Knees, and Oh Be Joyful Healing Salve. They all contain substantial amounts of Comfrey leaf infused oil and beeswax provided by our resident beehives.

As a flower essence, Comfrey is both remedy and enhancer. It serves to bring life force energy to the nervous system that has been damaged by injury or weakened by stress. It also promotes the permanent healing of present life situations that have underlying roots and scars brought forward through ancestral inheritance or another lifetime.

Comfrey is truly an amazing healer and would be well suited to home use or first aid on the trail. Acquaint yourself with this Old World plant, that continues to offer its healing self through the centuries to the present time.

Christina MacLeod, Westcliffe, Colorado, March 21, 2013

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THREE SISTERS APOTHECARY offers a variety of dry tea blends and tinctured formulations for your Spring cleansing and detox program. Formulas can also be custom blended for your specific health needs. Contact me at or phone: 719.783.0465 to schedule an appointment.

PLEASE NOTE: ~Herbs are Medicine!~ Proceed with caution. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment of serious medical conditions is inappropriate and unwise. If you have or suspect a medical condition, it is your responsibility to consult a medical practitioner for appropriate treatment.

AN ANCIENT Chinese principle of health and longevity states that we humans have been given everything needed within our own local living area to be healthy and to thrive.DSCF0018

MANY of our early spring weeds, living just outside our back door, include the tender leaves of mustard, dock, wild lettuce, lambsquarters, and the ubiquitous dandelion~Taraxacum officinale. The young leaves are easy to pluck, rinse and throw into a salad bowl (provided your pet has not fertilized them or a neighbor hasn’t sprayed them).  Add some fresh herbs, your favorite raw vegetables, a little olive oil, lemon juice and voila! These early greens, all rich in micro-nutrients including vitamins A, B complex, and C, beta-carotene, calcium, potassium, copper, zinc and iron. Grown in a cold frame or greenhouse, dandelion greens can be available all year round.

IT is common knowledge that the dandelion, is both celebrated and despised. Being the plant lover that I am, I have grown to embrace the philosophy that “ [certain] weeds are my friends”. European immigrants considered the dandelion a most valuable plant and brought it to America from their homeland so that they could continue to benefit from its many gifts. A tea or tincture from its leaf and root is a balanced and nourishing spring tonic for the liver, kidney and bladder, helping to lighten our step into the coming warmer weather after several months of heavier winter eating and inactivity.

AS with many medicinal plants, all parts of dandelion are useful medicinal food. Energetically, the plant is considered bitter, sweet, salty and cold, with cleansing properties that support detoxification and reduction in many of the chronic inflammatory processes of the body. Prepared as a tea or tincture, dandelion leaf is known to be a natural diuretic in addition to its mineral richness. It is of renown in that its leaves replace both the potassium and sodium lost through fluids during urination or disease processes that cause dehydration, such as Crohn’s or IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Other properties of dandelion leaf include blood cleansing, digestive juice stimulation, mucous decongestion, anti-inflammatory, blood pressure regulating, anti-oxidant, laxative, and uric acid reducing effects. Use of the leaf is often suggested for anemia, fatigue, hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis, and indigestion. For a more potent detox effect, juicing fresh dandelion plants can be quite an effective and concentrated liver medicine–proceed with caution!

DANDELION root is better suited for its ability to stimulate the liver and gallbladder in their many digestive and filtration processes. Stagnation is common after a winter of dietary over-indulgences, or indiscretionate use of alcohol or recreational drugs. The deeper tissues of the body can become overheated, tissue fluids thicken, becoming more viscous, and physiology generally slows down. A decoction or tincture of dandelion root will get things moving again, cooling the deeper aspects of the body, slowly cleansing built up congestion in the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas, and promoting the production and availability of bile to aid digestion. An excellent nutritional vinegar can be made with freshly chopped dandelion roots in apple cider vinegar. Fill a jar about 3/4 full of chopped roots and add enough apple cider vinegar to cover the plant material. Steep for at least 4 weeks. The vinegar (acetic acid) will pull out most of the minerals found in the fresh plant roots. A great blend with olive oil on salads or sprinkled on mixed sauteed or steamed greens. The deeper actions of dandelion root tea have been used to address allergies, osteo-arthritis, constipation, depression, fatigue, gallstones, high cholesterol, skin rashes, sinusitis, eczema, hypoglycemia, and generalized constitutional sluggishness.

ONE of the first signs of seasonal nectar flow and one of the honey bee’s first and most nutritious food sources of protein and carbohydrate after a long winter of inactivity are the nectar and pollen from the dandelion flower. Horses, too, love to nibble on dandelion flowers as they digestively transition from winter hay to summer grass feeding.

THE flower essence of dandelion addresses many of the emotional and spiritual tensions that accompany the  stresses of a challenging time in ones life. Dandelion speaks to times when we intensely over-strive or feel the need to push through a difficult situation; especially one that creates a tense jaw and tight musculature in the neck and shoulders (where we tend to carry emotional burdens). Dandelion teaches us how to slow down and reflect, soften our inner listening into a greater ease and balance, allowing warm and sunny energies to flow with more fluidity throughout the body. The resulting flow is followed by more available energy, a heightened sense of well being, greater mental clarity, and an ease and grace that tempers the earlier rigidity. ” Relax and release” is the mantra of dandelion. The liver truly welcomes this energy and attitude shift.

IT feels a bit silly to write about cultivating dandelions when they seem to be everywhere, but a bed of early French dandelions is fun and simple to grow, offering easy access to an organic, highly nutritive and delicious supply of greens. [Check out Horizon Herbs to order your own organic Dandelion seeds.] Picking a handful of the delightful flowers will control plants from going to seed and offers edible flowers for your salad, Sunday morning pancakes, or home made cookies (see recipe below). Dandelions are hearty, don’t need a lot of soil or moisture pampering, and will return year after year to grace your life with nourishment and good health. And don’t forget dandelion wine, easy to make and delicously nourishing–although can be quite high in alcohol content. And finally, all parts of the dandelion–except the seeds–contribute beneficial nourishment to any compost pile, enriching the nutrient content of the new soil being created.

SO, it’s time to lighten up. Spring is on its way. Bring it on! Open yourself to the gifts and many uses of this early spring weed. A daily dose of dandelion leaf and root tea, for the next week or two, will bring pep to your step and brighten your path into the Summer months ahead. And enjoy the recipe!


½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup honey (or ¼ cup each honey and maple syrup)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup dry oatmeal
½ cup fresh dandelion flowers

Blend oil, honey, eggs and vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients and add flowers. Spoon batter on lightly oiled cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes. ♣

Christina MacLeod, Westcliffe, Colorado, March 4, 2013

THREE SISTERS APOTHECARY offers a variety of dry plant blends and tinctured formulations for your Spring cleansing and detox program. Formulas can also be custom blended for your specific health needs. Contact me at or phone: 719.783.0465 to schedule an appointment.

PLEASE NOTE: ~Herbs are Medicine!~ Proceed with caution. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment of serious medical conditions is inappropriate and unwise. If you have or suspect a medical condition, it is your responsibility to consult a medical practitioner for appropriate treatment.

No one will deny that we’re living in challenging times in a difficult World.  And how do we hopefully find opportunity for self nurturance, personal quiet time, and creativity, while negotiating the changes that are coming with a new world order? Old ways are no longer reliable, old beliefs and habit patterns no longer predict outcomes or provide answers. At the end of a busy and fast-paced day, can we sit down, raise our feet and check in with ourselves?  Through creating spaciousness and perspective, we are able to find meaning, so needed in order to move gracefully forward.

A plant worth pondering is the most familiar oats, Avena sativa. Of European ancestry, oats is not only a breakfast porridge. Its milky seeds and straw have been relied upon for their healing and nourishing properties since olden times, especially for nervous exhaustion in its many forms. Accounts dating back to the Egyptians tell of their cultivating oats for both food and medicine.

In an overstimulated world. how do we nourish, nurture, and rejuvenate ourselves to not only survive but to thrive? A simple key for me is finding nourishment in the gifts of the plants. Preparing teas from these green healers allows us to stop and sit with a cup, infused with calm, presence, softness, spaciousness; creating moments of silence, increasing distance between thoughts, and offering new possibilities for inspiration, conscious awareness, and poise. In challenging times, or even coming out of a long, cold winter with a tired immune system, a tea or tincture will offer an opportunity to nourish the body, slow the mind, and allow our Spirit to claim its presence in our consciousness.  I usually mix oat straw with a few of my other favorites–red clover flowers, lavender buds, nettle leaf, alfalfa, rose petals and perhaps a pinch of chamomile. Within a few minutes of sipping, the fog begins to lift and I am able to reclaim my relationship with myself. My nervous system feels fed. The sweet, slightly viscous tea soothes my heightened emotions and reminds me to flow with life’s currents, rather than willfully pushing to reach a destination through engaged efforting.

So, what’s the difference between oat seed and oat straw? They both come from Avena sativa, but are harvested from different parts of the plant and at a specific time during the growing season. Avena is an introduced grain to the United States and non-native. In the Rocky Mountain west, Avena is an annual. It is easy to establish and requires full sun, good soil, and moderate moisture. For their medicine, the seeds are harvested fresh and early, in their juicy (“milky”) stage. The straw is cut and dried also at that time.

Avena can easily find itself in a home pharmacy as a tea beverage, a traditional alcohol tincture, a vinegar, in an ointment or salve, a body wash, compress or medicinal food. Oats are a whole body tonic, offering health and vitality to the nervous system, the skin and hair, and bones. For myself the tonic quality comes through my experience of deep calm, deep nourishment and the ability to embrace the more peaceful dimension of now. Nothing feels as important as taking in this moment, soothing Heart and Soul, with the gentle reminder that my value is in being, not in doing.

On a more esoteric note, the early 1900′s gave us an amazing British homeopath, Dr. Edward Bach, who studied the healing powers of 38 plants, prepared their medicines using a simple homeopathic method. He called these medicines flower remedies. Bach made personal observations of the personality type and behavior patterns matching each remedy. Of Wild Oat, Dr. Bach spoke of it as offering the essence of clarity and self-realization, restoring an inner sense of order, decisiveness, and direction with greater sense of meaning and purpose in life. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Wild Oat flower essence can be found in most health food stores as an ever-popular “Bach Flower Remedy”.

Christina MacLeod, Westcliffe, Colorado, February 21, 2013