Weed Wanderings Herbal eZine with Susun Weed
April 2004
Volume 4 Number 4

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What's Inside Weed Wanderings this Month...


Empower Yourself...

Dirty Roots (Burdock and Dandelion)
by A.J. Ahlberg-Venezia


“Kraut is picked, Wurzel dug out…”

“Dip your wings in mead, and your
feathers in melted honey
bring mead on your wing
and bear honey on your cape
to be ointment for the sick
to pour on the injuries”
(The Kalevala)

The Kalevala (considered to be the national epic poem of Finland) contains several references to mead and magical ointments. In the above “Resurrection” rune song, Lemminkäinen’s mother rakes up her son’s innards and assorted body parts from the bottom of the River of Tuonela. By the side of the river, she knits, weaves, and sews his entrails and sinews together, making her son physically whole--but not yet alive. It is her ritual chanting and the application of mead-enriched magical ointments to her son’s body which restore the divine spark of life to Lemminkäinen.

This beautiful rune song describes a mother’s love for her child and healing in wholeness, compassion, and simple ceremony—the Wise Woman tradition. This essay invites you to think about herbs as food, rather than medicine. It provides a recipe for an alcoholic herbal beverage which uses an easily gathered herb (Kraut) growing just outside your door. By request, a recipe for burdock root (Wurzel) is also included.

Taraxacum officinale is a member of the Dandelion Subfamily of the Asteraceae (Aster Family). The name Dandelion is widely accepted to be a derivative of the Latin Dens leonis or dent de lion (lion’s tooth), referring to the jagged, toothy leaves. The word officinale refers to her historical use as a medical remedy, especially as a bitter tonic.

Her deep root (which can reach three feet in length) draws minerals up within reach of shallow-rooting plants, so dandelion is very helpful to her green sisters. To us, she offers vitamins A, B, and E and more. Just two fresh-picked leaves give a day’s supply of C (which Weed calls the “bend over” vitamin--bend over, pick, and munch two fresh leaves for your daily C). She is also rich in phosphorus and magnesium. Dandelion, like burdock, is one of the most esteemed herbs in healing.

Dandelion is reviled by lawn manicurists since eradication is impossible; any fragment of remaining root will send up a new plant. Therefore, an alliance with dandelion might be a realistic alternative to constant warfare. Not that any of you wild readers would engage in dandelion warfare; but you may wish to suggest this to your neighbors or relatives engaged in search-and-destroy dandelion missions.

Most of the dandelion’s family members are somewhat diuretic and dandelion markedly so. Unlike pill diuretics which leach potassium from your body, dandelion supplies potassium while acting as a diuretic. She also gives the gift of iron, so for monthly water retention, try a cup or two of dandelion leaf tea daily prior to onset of bleeding. As a cholagogue and hepatic, she increases bile secretions in the gall bladder and liver.

Her leaves can be chopped and cooked like any greens or added to soups and salads. The “dandelion” leaves sold in whole foods stores are often leaves of her sister Chichorium intybus (chicory), but no matter. Chicory leaves, in the words of the Heroic Galen, are also a “friend to the liver”. However, wild dandelion leaves are closer to you than the market, so harvesting is usually no problem. The Pennsylvania Dutch customarily served dandelion greens on Maundy Thursday. Regular consumption of dandelion leaves will reportedly improve tooth enamel (likely due to dandelion’s high calcium content).

Dandelion blossoms add a hot, sunny flavor to salads. If you’re reluctant to eat the blossoms, try the following Dandelion Cordial recipe. Silverman suggests serving this on ice with a slice of lemon, or mixed with hot water and honey to soothe coughs.

To make Dandelion Cordial, harvest 2 to 3 cups dandelion blossoms, 2/3 cup sugar, rind of ½ organic lemon, 1 quart vodka. Cut off green bottoms of unwashed blossoms. Mix all ingredients and put in a jar, capping and storing in a dark place. Shake daily to dissolve sugar. After two weeks, strain through filter paper and store in a bottle with a tight fitting cap.

For a nourishing soup, mince a few garlic cloves and chop an onion along with raw (not parboiled) burdock, carrots, potatoes, and parsnips (about 6 cups total). Add about a cup of chopped dandelion leaf and dried kelp (seaweed expands, so cut into small pieces). Cover with several inches of water in stock pot and bring to a boil, then simmer till vegetables are tender, adding more water as needed. Add salt and pepper if you like. I add nettle infusion to the serving bowl for a really rich soup.

Nettles are high in protein, so her infusion only keeps about two days. Store the cold infusion separately and add to the soup being served. See Healing Wise for this and other soup recipes. Breast Cancer? Breast Health also contains delicious immune boosting soup recipes that are often part of lunch served at the Wise Woman Center. Once you’ve tasted them, you’ll want to make them yourself.

Arctium Lappa (burdock) also belongs to the Asteraceae but is classed with the Artichoke Tribe by Elpel. My green ally has always been stinging nettle. After securing my alliance, I strayed with burdock (feeling somewhat guilty, I might add) and began drinking the hot infusion in place of my morning coffee (the alkaloid caffeine is a monkey on my back).

Bring dried root (three teaspoons per cup of water or more to your taste) and water to boil in a covered pan; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for at least twenty minutes. You can strain the roots and use them a second time.

As I got to know burdock, I discovered that like stinging nettle, burdock has a long association with Donar (Thorr), the Thunder God. Donnerbesom, donnerdistel, and donnerflug are just three names found in Grimm. This is quite fitting, for burdock is a large, handsome, and robust plant, easily recognized by her bristled purple flower heads and broad, ruffled leaves.

Burdock is called Gledda Wortzel by the Pennsylvania Dutch—a corruption of the German Klette Wurzel. Classical writers referred to burdock as Prosopium (masked), as her leaves served as face masks in Greek drama. Burdock also appears as “Lappa root” in later texts. Arctium is believed to be a corruption of the Greek arctos (bear), and lappa (to sieze). Lappa may also be a derivative of the Celtic llap (hand). Grieve notes that the English folkname Herrif may be a corruption the Anglo-Saxon words hœg (hedge) and reafian (to sieze). These words all refer to the grasping action of the burrs.

Continental farm women wrapped butter in burdock leaves when bringing their ware to market, hence the folk-name beurre-dock or butter-dock (dock, in general, simply refers to a broad leaf). The Romans brought burdock across the Continent in their travels. American colonists, bringing the herb and lore to the New World, tied burdock leaves over the womb to prevent miscarriage or a prolapsed uterus.

Burdock leaves were also tied (with their points facing out) around the wrists and ankles of feverish folk, in accordance with the belief that the fever would be drawn to the extremities and out through the leaf points. Burdock is known as a womb ally by American Indians and midwives, for the deep-rooted, steady support that this herb gives. Burdock is one of the herbs in the anti-cancer (and much bastardized) Essiac formula. The Essiac formula has been so adulterated that a friend of mine was told that one of the main ingredients of Essiac is a Chinese herb! Consult Breast Cancer? Breast Health! for Wessiac—the Wise Woman version of Essiac—instead.

Most of us know burdock from picking burrs off our clothes and animals; in fact, burdock was the inspiration for Velcro. Burdock prefers nitrogen-rich soils and is easily found along roadsides and in meadows. Burdock is often referred to as an alterative or blood cleanser; she strengthens the kidneys and liver. She also is known as a "cooler", of both inflammatory conditions (i.e., conditions ending in –itis, such as bursitis and arthritis as well as chronic allergies and herpes outbreaks) and pugnacious personalities (see Healing Wise for an extensive discussion of burdock).

Topically, the grated fresh root can be applied externally to arthritic joints while the infusion is drunk freely. Anglo-Saxon leechers used burdock leaves for this purpose. Note that a leecher in the context of the Anglo-Saxons meant a healer, not the Heroic application of leeches.

The Anglo-Saxon word leac meant to heal; and leechers certainly influenced Continental Europe. In the words of Towler, "Saxons, Angles and Jutes brought with them a system of medical practice based on their wide knowledge of herbs and superstitious beliefs in incantations and charms". Migrations of people, of course, always result in the introduction of new plants, by accident or design.

If you plan to wildcraft, use only the first year root (she’s a biennial) and harvest in the Fall when the ground is very cold. If burdock is flowering, she is a second year plant, and her root will be inedible and unsuitable for medicine. Alcohol extracts medicine from plants but destroys the vitamins and minerals. Since burdock is a nourishing tonic and good for your gut, consumption of both root and infusion is preferable to tincture for treating chronic conditions.

By supporting the liver (often described as the seat of primitive emotions), burdock heals all skin blemishes; dandruff, eczema and psoriasis. Those conditions are signs that the liver is stressed. When I mentioned this point to a friend, she remarked that when her husband got (and stayed) sober, his severe dandruff gradually went away, although she did not connect the two events at the time.

In my experience, emotions held in the body are released with an alliance with burdock together with body work such as deep tissue massage. This is particularly true if you are someone who supports others emotionally or financially or tend to hold emotions inside. Deep tissue work can often release deep memory or emotion held in the body. Let burdock support you!

Fresh burdock root is called Gobo in Asian markets; use as a root vegetable but do parboil first. Burdock’s large, thick taproot is sehr Thorian, and my husband has noticed that I fondle the roots too much while making my selection at the local whole foods market, as I ponder anew why this herb must have been dedicated to big-hammer swinging Thor. My heavy-lidded Thorian reverie is always interrupted when my husband whispers into my ear, “Don’t play with your food, dear…people are looking”.

At any rate, here is my recipe adapted from “Summer Flush Supper”, one of the recipes found in Healing Wise. Goat cheese is luscious and fitting for this dish, but a mild grated cow cheese like jack can suffice. This is not difficult to prepare, but it requires a few separate steps. You can parboil and refrigerate burdock the day before serving in order to save time. The amounts given are approximate, as are the steps.

Seed oils (including flaxseed oil, sometimes referred to as “cancer in a can”) contribute to a chronic inflammatory condition, which is a stressor for the immune system, so fruit oils are healthier. It’s best to cook with imported Italian olive oil packed in large metal containers, as oil sold in glass bottles is rancid. Avocado oil is also a fruit oil but is cost prohibitive for cooking. To learn more—much more—about inflammatory conditions and their effect on the immune system and relation to cancer, come to the Cancer Prevention workshop on October 24. You will learn invaluable and empowering (and the very latest) information about cancer prevention and the supporting cast of herbs.

Amy’s Thorian Casserole (modified Summer Flush Supper)

3-4 burdock roots (depending on size)
1 lb. fresh mushrooms
2 cups wild rice
1 cup goat cheese
medium onion
minced garlic to taste
olive oil and sherry

Prepare burdock: scrub, don’t peel, under running water and cut into matchstick sized pieces. Soak in cold water with a splash of vinegar (to retain burdock’s color while cooking) for about 15 minutes.
Drain and boil the root in water for about 20 minutes and strain. You can save the cooking water which leaches vitamins and minerals from the root. I add two handfuls of bitchy nettles to the strained cooking water, cover the pot, and steep overnight for a very rich cold infusion (drink within two days)
Boil the burdock for another 15 minutes in fresh water, and drain again.
Cook rice in separate pan, adding bullion if you like, and set aside (wild rice takes three parts water to one part grain and needs about fifty minutes cooking time).
Saute the garlic over very low heat in a small pan and set aside if you tend to burn it; or add later to onions and mushrooms.
In a larger skillet, sauté mushrooms and onion, adding oil in small amounts as needed. Add a splash of sherry. Tilt the pan as the mushrooms cook, checking for and removing excess fluid. Mushrooms should be moist but not soggy.
Add garlic, burdock and rice to the pan, folding gently and adding salt and pepper if you like.
When contents are warmed, spoon into a casserole dish, and top with cheese. Cover and heat in a low-medium oven until cheese is melted.
This can also be made the day before in its entirety and refrigerated.

Remember that our ancestors got their root down and regularly used the common weeds as potherbs, often depending on them entirely for sustenance. Our local newspaper carried a series on the Irish Potato Famine and noted that in parts of Ireland, folks survived by eating nothing but cooked nettles! If you hesitate to try new things, try eating weeds in small amounts at first: tiny bits of seaweed in tuna salad; violet leaves in tossed salads, and parboiled burdock in a stir fry.

Or ask a friend to prepare these dishes for you. In this way, you will begin to think of herbs as a part of the main dish rather than just the seasoning for it. May the words and recipes in this essay move you to try, in the words of Weed, the “deep down dirty roots.” Guten Appetit!

Book Hoard
~ Angier, B. (1974). Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. Harrisburg: Stackpole Books.
~ Bosley, K. (1989). The Kalevala. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
~ de Bairacli Levy, J. (1997). Common Herbs for Natural Health. New York: Ash Tree Publishing.
~ Elpel, T. (1996). Botany in a Day, 4th Ed. Pony: Hops Press.
~ Grieve, M. (1971). A Modern Herbal. Vol. I. New York: Dover Publications.
~ Griggs. B. (1994). Green Witch Herbal. Rochester: Healing Arts Press.
~ Hoffmann, D. (1990). New Holistic Herbal. Shaftsbury: Element Books Limited.
~ Leavitt, J. (1986). Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America 1750-1950. New York: Oxford University Press.
~ Schultes, R. (1983). Medicines from the Earth. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
~ Silverman, M. (1977). A City Herbal. New York: Ash Tree Publishing.
~ Soule, D. (1996). Roots of Healing: A Woman’s Book of Herbs. New York: Carol Publishing Group.
~ Tatum, B. (1976). Wild Foods Cookbook & Field Guide. New York: Workman Publishing Company.
~ Towler, J. & Bramall, D. (1986). Midwives in History and Society. Dover: Croom Helm.
~ Weed, S. (1989). Healing Wise. New York: Ash Tree Publishing.
~ Wertz, D. & Wertz, R. (1989). Lying-In: A History of Childbirth in America. New Haven: Yale University Press.
~ Wheelwright, E. (1974). Medicinal Plants and Their History. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Press Release – Bleeding Goddess


Politics of Women’s Reproduction is Questioned, While Menstruation is Celebrated

As a result of extensive research and personal exploration, Amy Ahlberg-Venezia, M.A., has been able to encourage women to question the politics of women’s reproduction and honor their menstruation with ritual. She uses the Wise Woman Tradition as a model to follow, as was taught to her by Susun Weed, founder of the Wise Woman Center.

Amy asks the questions, “How do you feel about menstruation? How do you collect your flow? Are tampons safe?” Then invites class participants to help create a safe space, choosing and sharing plants to work with as allies, and telling their stories.

Her upcoming workshop “Bleeding Goddess,” will study the politics of women's reproduction and its connection to "mental illness." From early twentieth century sexual surgery as a medical "cure" to the current debate about PMDD, Sarafem and uterine scarring via laser to eliminate menstruation entirely, she will compare Heroic and Scientific views on menstruation to Wise Woman ways. As well, Amy will talk about Blood Mysteries, blood magic, First Blood rituals for our daughters, and sea sponges, cloth pads, and Earth bleeding.

Amy Ahlberg-Venezia, M.A. is a völva passionately spinning spirit into academentia. Her quantitative research on Blood Mysteries among pan-Pagan women has been presented at the Eastern Psychological Association and other conferences. Amy is a live-out apprentice of Susun Weed and studies lay midwifery with Jeannine Parvati Baker. A gentle intactivist and spiritual counselor, Amy works to support women declining into the dark side of in/fertility through ritual. Amy is a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research and has inspired bleeding in sensual beauty among women of all ages as a result of her many talks. Her articles on Germanic socioethnobotany have appeared in Idunna: A Journal of Northern Tradition.


Moon Days edited by Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D.bookcoverMoon Days...
Creative Writings About Menstration

edited by Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D
a great collection of women's writings on menstruation, edited by Cassie Preemo Steele, twenty-six writers explore the "silent" parts of women's lives; reawakening menstruation memories of embarrassment and shame and transforming them to wonder, excitement, and laughter. 176 pages, illustrations. .
available through Ash Tree Publishing

Price: $13.95
Order MOON DAYS in our Bookshop

Click here to learn more about Moon Days

Read an Excerpt: Amazons in Appalachia
Read an Excerpt: The Woman's Dinner


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