A Sweet Little Herbal You May Not Have Seen Before

Blackberry Cove Herbal

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…


12 Responses to “A Sweet Little Herbal You May Not Have Seen Before”

  1. ICQB on 28 Dec 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks for posting this – I grew up in Maryland and was often in the Appalachians hiking and camping. I’ll be sure to get ahold of a copy of this book. And sassafrass tea! I often made it from sapling roots I would gather in my backyard ‘forest’.

    Looking forward to your ‘root’ postings!

  2. Barbara on 28 Dec 2008 at 2:43 pm

    I have enjoyed the article on Sassafras. Somehow, maybe it’s just my personal need today, it read so delicately…..so inviting and nourishing.
    I would just like to know if the Pink sassafras has different qualities then just the typical sass..one might buy in a health food store “bulk” jar. I would hate to miss out on the best!
    Barbara in Washington State.

  3. tammy on 28 Dec 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Hi Barbara! I think the “pink” that Rago mentions refers to the color of the tea and not the sassafras plant itself. The latin name for the sassafras found in Eastern U.S. is *Sassafras albidum* so as long as the bulk in your store has that latin name, it should be the same thing. Enjoy!

    We’re practically neighbors, ICQB! :-)

  4. greencat on 29 Dec 2008 at 11:21 am

    Thanks for posting this. Thanks for your entire blog. Up until 6 months months
    ago I lived in very suburban Maryland. Most of my herbs came from the store. Now I’ve got my own 6 acres here in Virginia. Frequently, when I’m thinking of doing some wildcrafting or some other project such as an herbal infused oil,etc. you have already done it or are about to.

    I’ve been looking at the book on Amazon.com and always ended up ordering something else. Now Blackberry Cove Herbal will definitely be the next book I order.

    Tammy, you have been the next best thing to having a herb mentor living next door!

  5. tammy on 29 Dec 2008 at 8:07 pm

    I’m so happy you’re finding this blog useful, Greencat. It’s one of the most enjoyable things I get to do, and it truly is a labor of love for me. And how wonderful that you’ve got your 6 acres! A whole world of herbal possibilities await. We’ve been on our little 3.5 acre plot for exactly three years now, and I can’t believe how much I’ve learned from just having the freedom and space to explore and experiment. It’s truly a wonderful blessing.

  6. Mon on 30 Dec 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. I have it on my Amazon list but was never sure. I like what seems to be included – regardless that I’m on the other side of the world!

  7. Sarah Head on 06 Jan 2009 at 9:57 am

    I wish someone would write an English UK Herbal using a local wise woman approach! I may have to do it myself! Thanks for the info, Tammy, I have ordered it from Amazon.co.uk for the princely sum of £0.23 which at the current exchange rate is less than 50c plus £2.75 postage and packing. You can’t pass up something as cheap as that!

  8. tammy on 06 Jan 2009 at 2:20 pm

    wow, you got a deal! I got mine used, but not that inexpensive. Love bargains!

  9. greencat on 10 Jan 2009 at 10:34 pm

    FYI- Amazon no longer sells this book. There are vendors on Amazon that are selling used copies. But, I googled Linda Rago, found her website and emailed her. I am waiting for my new copy from her-only $10.00 plus $3.00 s/h.

  10. Sarah Head on 12 Jan 2009 at 6:58 am

    Mine was a new copy which arrived 2 days after I ordered it. It might be worth asking what the shipping costs to the US might be if you want a new copy and can’t find it elsewhere.

  11. plantain on 21 Mar 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Hi tammy~

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I just received it through inter-library loan. I look forward to reading it this evening.

    Hope you are well.

  12. tammy on 22 Mar 2009 at 8:47 pm

    Plantain! I’ve missed you!!! I hope you enjoy the book :-)

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