It's that blessed time of summer when all the berries are gracing us with their presence here in northern Montana. Hands and mouths remain a deep shade of huckleberry purple as the hot, dry days drip though our fingers like pebbles. Each balmy day landing with a heavy thud as we crash into bed after long hours of work or hiking through the hills. There is a slow, quiet quality of living in Montana. One that my east coast mind is still trying to adjust to. Breaks are expected, berries are harvested with care and consumed by the handful, coffee is drunk hot, even on the warmest days - and there are plenty of warm days here.
I haven't experienced a summer this dry since my days in California. In the woods, the dirt beneath me seems to crack and cry out for water as we approach another week without rain. Respiratory issues appear to be at an all time high in the valley due to this dry heat and the not too distant wild fires. However, mullein, an herb with an affinity for the lungs, is delightfully abundant this far north, which I find both ironic and comforting. Mullein was one of the first plants I became friends with as when I began my herbal studies back home on Nantucket Island about 8 years ago. I was enchanted by mullein's soft, fuzzy leaves and its delicate butter yellow flowers. I had never seen such a whimsical plant before; to me it was as if it had been peeled off a page in a Dr. Suess book and placed in our world for the betterment of mankind. Mullein's affinity for the respiratory system has been utilized and cherished for generations. A native to North Africa, Asia and Europe, mullein is considered an invasive plant species in North America, however its medicinal values are praised in the herbal world. The leaves can be steeped as a tea or infused with alcohol to make a tincture. While it may seem counterintuitive, mullein (Verbascum thapsus) can be dried and used in smoke blends to soothe the throat and lungs.** Moon Minded Medicine makes a lovely blend called, Montaña, that consists of mullein and other lung happy herbs. Find it here
Keep in mind that grief and sorrow are often stored in the lungs. We can keep years of grief in our lungs which can possibly contribute to all sorts of respiratory issues. Plants like mullein or yerba santa help to break up emotional stagnation along the lung meridian (chest, throat, lungs, stomach etc) and encourage the movement of grief out of the body.
The flowers at the top of the mullein stalk, can be carefully plucked and infused into an oil (olive, coconut, sunflower etc) and used as a remedy for earaches which is safe on both children and adults. A flower essence of the mullein flower, encourages the nurturing of self, releasing of fears and self acceptance.
TO MAKE A FLOWER ESSENCE:
Harvest a small handful of fresh mullein flowers
Fill a crystal/glass bowl or jar with filtered water
Gently place flowers on the surface of the water
Place bowl or jar next to mullein plant, preferably in a sun filled spot
Infuse for a full day or night before removing flowers with twigs or leaves (try to avoid touching the water with your fingers)
I like to leave the flowers with the mullein plant once I remove them from the water. I'll also leave a small offering of the infused water at the base of a plant. This is my way of saying thank you to the mullein for sharing its medicine.
Transfer infused water to a clean bottle or jar and add an equal amount of brandy to preserve. This bottle is your "mother essence". This is the most concentrated stock of the flower essence.
Next, add 10 drops of the mother essence to a 20 ml bottle filled with a 50:50 mix of brandy and water. This is your stock bottle and can be used to make lots of dosage bottles.
Do make a dosage bottle, add 4-5 drops of the stock essence to a 1/2 ml bottle filled with a 50:50 mix of water and brandy. The standard dose of a flower essence is about 4 drops in water or under the tongue 3x daily.
The following syrup can be used as a medicinal remedy, taken by the spoonful on its own. Or add an ounce to seltzer water, mocktails or cocktails. It pairs well with vodka or gin. The syrup can also be used to top pancakes, yogurt, ice cream or oatmeal!
I suggest the use of cherries because they are at their peak this time of year. The Flathead Cherries in particular are exquisite right now, but these are of course, not as readily available as Washington cherries or even ones from your own neighborhood! Huckleberries are a Montana staple, hence my reason for including them in this recipe. They can easily be substituted with blueberries, which are very similar in taste -huckleberries are just a tad bit more bitter than blueberries. Use fresh or dry mullein.
**The herbs and remedies described in this post are meant to inspire. They are not intended to cure or prevent ailments or disease. Please consult a qualified herbalist or other practitioner before beginning a new herbal regimen.
1 cup tightly packed mullein leaves
1 1/2 cups pitted cherries
1 cup huckleberries
3 cups water
1 cup raw honey or sugar
Rinse cherries and remove the pits. I'm a medium sauce pan, add water berries, cherries and mullein. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover pan and simmer for 20-30 minutes. While syrup is simmering, add honey or sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and strain into a clean bowl through cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer. Let cool before bottling and store in fridge. Will keep for up to 2 months in a securely capped jar or bottle.
Too keep your syrup shelf stable and longer lasting, add 1/4 cup brandy to liquid once it has cooled off and been strained. Will keep up to 5 months in fridge or cupboard. Always keep syrups out of direct sunlight and heat.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups of syrup