Val Elkhorn is an herbalist that, in her lovely words, “uses practical magic to heal land and body by cultivating the forest and crafting bitters.” She is the owner of of Woodspell Apothecary and captures her Michigan woods life in a beautiful series of photos that she posts to her instagram. Val is also a creator of magic and herbal goods, (make sure you follow along to get updates about her product launch and shop restock on July 29th!!) as well as curator and writer for her free monthly publication, the Forest medicine Journal. I’m so excited that Val was willing to share what she keeps in her bag to feel powerful and connected to herself and the land around her. Enjoy.
My name is Val Elkhorn and I am an herbalist living in the middle of the Michigan northwoods. I craft specialty bitters that incorporate the magic and flavors of the forest as well as other well-loved herbs. Aside from growing and producing this medicine, my main focus is to explore and share various sustainable agriculture practices as the world and climate change. Forest farming and biodynamics are what call to me the most. I believe all the medicine, food, shelter, and magic we need can be found in the forest, and by working with the rhythms of the earth we can produce the largest harvests while also connecting to our roots.
When I’m not working in the garden, I spend most of my days with my dog Odin, traversing the thousands of acres of woods that surround my house. From the carpets of wintergreen to the mighty white pine, medicine is offered in every nook and cranny. Because our ancestor’s stories are no longer passed down from generation to generation, I try to seek out those who remember. The crimson cardinal flower and wise elderberry are two of my favorite allies. Even the lakes and streams of this water state have taught me more than I can ever repay.
Bag: This bag is amazing. It’s a stylish cross-body bag that is durable and has pockets on the inside for my various tools. I take it with me when I’m going on a short walk in the woods or travelling to town.
Trees of Michigan: I love tree medicine. Not only do they offer their bark, roots, sap, and leaves, but many branches can be used for crafts, tools, and building supplies. This little guide is small enough to tote around with me and is very helpful in identifying trees in the winter when most trees have dropped their leaves. I also like to have this on hand when travelling to other parts of the state with trees I am not as familiar with.
Pruners: My most important companion. I have multiple pairs of these in my bag, car, home, etc. just in case. I love the simplicity and durability of this brand and I’ve found them to last longer than any other pair I’ve owned. If you ever only buy one pair of pruners make sure they’re Felco brand.
Plant Alchemy Solar Eclipse Zinc Sun Shield: Although a good portion of the year is cold and snowy in Michigan, I need to have this with me during the summer months. It’s smooth coverage and natural ingredients make it a no-brainer for me.
Forest Salve: I make a big batch of this forest salve every winter when most things are hidden under the snow. I forage pine resin, wintergreen, juniper, and black spruce and infuse in hemp oil to make this healing salve. When you live in the woods, there are constant scrapes, bruises, burns, and other wounds that benefit from the use of a salve and I use this on almost everything.
Bitters: As a person with a sensitive stomach and unpredictable digestive system, I have to have bitters on me whenever I go out to dinner with friends or spend the weekend with family. These are delicious and help to keep everything running smoothly. I also use them as an alcohol alternative when I want to take part in social festivities without drinking and being prey to the dreaded hangover.
Foraging knife: This knife is perfect for stripping bark and harvesting mushrooms. Handmade out of damascus steel, it has a nice hefty weight, but is small enough to carry into the woods for long periods of time. It also comes with a nice leather holster with a loop for your belt as well.
Sketchbook: I am a writer and an artist at heart and love to have a journal with me when I wander into the woods or travel. One of the best ways I have found to get to know a new plant is to sit and sketch it. You begin to notice the fine curvature of the petals and formation of the leaves, and soon the plant takes on a life of its own. I found this journal on Etsy and am obsessed. The UK based shop makes these sketchbooks and journals out of recycled materials and I love the rustic simplicity of it.
Wisteria oil: Wisteria has been a favorite plant of mine since I was a child. Its dreamy mysterious vines have always filled me with wonder. This oil smells heavenly and is used in magickal practices to bring illumination and elevate consciousness. I use a few anointing drops when meditating in the woods and can find complete serenity.