It can be easy to assume that Winter is just a time where everything is in hibernation. The sap has sunk into the deep roots of the trees – nothing looks as if it is growing, and nothing seems to be alive out in the woods with the barren trees and the brown landscape. This is somewhat true, and it affords us a beautiful opportunity to tuck in, to hibernate a bit ourselves. It also gives us time to process our dried medicine we gathered from the year past, and contemplate our next year ahead. However, don’t forget that Nature is still alive and thriving in the Winter. One warm day, or a string of nice weather mixed with rains can bring out small and delicious surprises in a Winter nature walk.
One of my herbal teachers once said that the highest aspiration of a plant is to be medicine for another, and I think of this when I see my shelves lined with all the collections of harvested medicinals that have built up from the year past. I used a cold Winter night recently to process much of my dried medicinal mushrooms, soon to be made into teas and tinctures so as not to deprive the herbs of their possible aspirations! Pounds of beautiful Reishi, Ganoderma lucidum (and its close native relatives) and also Ancient Reishi, Ganoderma applanatum, have been sitting on my shelf, eagerly awaiting their chance to make a difference in the world as medicine. Keeping them company were also, Amadou, the Tinder Conk, Fomes fomentarius, and Chaga, Inonotus obliquus – all of these are potent medicinals that help with a variety of ailments and support our overall health. If your curious about these medicinals, come take my next class on Medicinal Mushrooms (02/25/17) to learn more about how these mushrooms can help us with everything from immunity, cancer, high cholesterol and blood pressure, sexual vitality, and so much more.
Processing these dried herbs and mushrooms is always something I look forward to. When we know the herbs we are working with, when we know their attributes and where they came from, it deepens our relationship to the Natural world, and it helps us take more control of our health. Harvesting these herbs ourselves, and taking them all the way from raw herb to medicinal product is a deep and ancient process that our ancestors have been doing for millennia. We get to become part of this ancient process, and at best it can be a meditation, even a form prayer if you like. I procured a very useful dried herb grinder recently, so my process on this Winter night was to break these dried mushrooms up in to chunks, either by hand, saw, or even a handy rachet-style pipe cutter I use for my hardest herbs. Plopping these chunks into the grinder and turning it on renders these hardest of herbs into a soft and fluffy powder in a matter of 30 seconds or so. This is useful because it increases the surface area of the herb, and the more surface area our herbs have the more efficiently our tea water or tincture alcohol can extract from them.
So I was left afterwards with pounds of high quality, wildcrafted mushroom powders harvested from practically my back yard. Feeling accomplished and satisfied with my Winters work, I decided to go on a hike with a friend the next day. Taking in the visuals, the crisp Winter air and the dulled Winter sunlight, I let my thoughts ruminate on Winter, hibernation, the coming Spring. Just as I was considering the fruits of the land to be, the harvest that was not yet even here, Nature reminded me that there is yet bounty in Winter too. A beautiful, fat little cluster of Oyster mushrooms graced the top of a log, highlighted from the landscape by a ray of sunlight filtering through the barren trees. What a beautiful delicacy, and a potent medicinal in its own right for cholesterol, blood pressure, relaxing the tendons, and much more. Perhaps my favorite thing about Winter Oyster mushrooms? Its too cold for any bugs to already be feasting on them! They were in perfect condition, a rare thing for Oysters. I took some home to eat, some to culture for growing projects, and made sure to leave some in tact on the log so it could continue to grow spread its spores, continuing its life cycle.
I hope that this Winter has afforded you a deep rest, hibernation, and revitalization. This, after all, is much the function of Winter. The point is to let our ‘sap’ sink deeply into our own roots, to remember what is most essential about our lives, and to begin to conceive and hatch the plan of our lives for the coming Spring. I hope your coming year is filled with goodness, and many amazing herbs to harvest and share with others. Perhaps we can even be a little more like the plants, and have our highest aspiration to be medicine for others.
A joyful and supportive 2017 to all of you.