When I read this herbal by Linda Ours Rago I felt like I was reading about my own little piece of the world. The achingly beautiful descriptions of the land and the plants she examines make me feel homesick and anxious to step outside my door, where I know I will find the very same plant communities, the very same smells, the very same colors.
In Blackberry Cove Herbal: Healing with Common Herbs in the Appalachian Wise Woman Tradition, Rago details the seasons and plants common to the region around the Blue Ridge Mountains, specifically at her Blackberry Cove Appalachian mountain farm in West Virginia.
The herbal is organized by season and gives lots of specific information about which plants are available for wild crafting in this region during every month of the year, and also lots of ideas for what to do with them. She includes many recipes for time honored herbal remedies of the Appalachian wise woman tradition, and also weaves in the lore and magick of the culture as they relate to the plants.
I live on the other side of the Blue Ridge, in Virginia, so my ecosystem is pretty similar to hers. I have found all the plants she covers growing at pretty much the same times she describes. This herbal would make a wonderful beginners guide for a year long study of common local plants if you happen to live in this bio-region.
And even if you don’t live around here, many of the plants described are quite common in a variety of regions and much useful information can be gleaned. The book is also beautifully written and beautifully illustrated, and is an enjoyable read, regardless.
Here is an excerpt from “December”:
…[O]ne hearty cup of pink sassafras root tea every spring will charge up your metabolism and thin your winter-sluggish blood.
The oldest Appalachian grandmothers say we should find a spot plentiful with sassafras seedlings. Then after a hard frost in December, near the dark of the moon, tell the whole grove that you appreciate their strength and beauty and need their good medicine. Pull up one entire small seedling, cut off the whole top, and save the roots. Wash them well in running water, cut in three-inch lengths, dry slowly in a warm oven, and store away until spring.
In early spring place five pieces of root in a pot with a quart of cold springwater. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for fifteen minutes. The water will turn a rosy color. Sweeten with sugar or honey. Take no more than a cup a day for several days.
Save the roots, dry them again, and resuse them over and over until the decoction no longer turns pink or has that distinctive sassafras aroma.
And speaking of digging Sassafras roots, I promise that post on root medicine is coming soon! I had forgotten how busy this week would be… no time for root diggin’ yet! Today will be nice, so I think I will get out there later this afternoon. Sassafras is on my list of roots to gather, along with Poke, Blackberry, Mullien…