“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 (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
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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!
~ Angier, B. (1974). Field Guide to Edible
Wild Plants. Harrisburg: Stackpole Books.
~ Bosley, K. (1989). The Kalevala. Oxford: Oxford University
~ 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
~ Griggs. B. (1994). Green Witch Herbal. Rochester: Healing
~ Hoffmann, D. (1990). New Holistic Herbal. Shaftsbury: Element
~ 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
~ 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 –
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
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
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.
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.
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
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an Excerpt: Amazons in Appalachia
an Excerpt: The Woman's Dinner