Herbology, Lifestyle

Coming Home to Plants

Yuliya Rae Seattle PNW Portrait Outdoor Photographer Herbalist

I was an unruly and wild child. My days were spent outdoors, long after the last of the sun rays have hidden behind the horizon. I couldn’t get enough: of earth, air, trees, animals. There was so much to explore and I didn’t want to waste a minute of my time indoors, shut away in a perceived cage of the brick walls around me.

My best friend Marina and I spent most of our times either in trees, gathering and eating berries, or somewhere secluded and cozy where we would build shelters for the stray kittens, puppies and occasionally even pigeons that we would find in our daily wanderings.

Yuliya Rae Seattle PNW Portrait Outdoor Photographer Herbalist

In the spring we would hide in our favorite mulberry tree, eating our way from branch to branch, our hands dark purple and sticky from the sweet juices running down our chins. In the summer we would run around our apartment building’s courtyard, chasing each other with water guns, squealing, giggling, savoring the cool feel of water on our hot skin. In the fall we would find piles of leaves gathered by our local groundskeeper, climb the nearest tree or a high spot and jump, screaming, into the pile. Rolling, tumbling down as the leaves settled around us in a slow dance down.

During all these outdoor expeditions we would, of course, get dirty, scratched and scraped. We sprained ankles and split open our foreheads. We fell off our bikes and rollerblades just as much as we always managed to come back home with ten new bruises on our bodies.

But we were proud. These were our battle wounds, our evidence of a day well lived.

Besides, scratches, burns and bruises didn’t scare us because we always felt there was a plant nearby that could come to our aid.

My first plant ally was plantain. Not the banana kind, but a common weed that is tenacious and determined to grow everywhere and share its healing powers with the world. Despite parts of our courtyard being covered with asphalt, plantain still broke through the cracks and found a way to be there, always available should we need it.

Plantain of plantago family. Source: Herbal Academy

In Russian plantain is called podorozhnik, meaning that which grows by the side of the road. That’s exactly where we would find it, as well as in any patch of dirt with other plants growing by.

I remember that anytime I would split my skin open be it from a scratch or a fall, I’d find plantain nearby, crush the leaf lightly in my fingers and apply it directly to my wound. Plantain is rich in calcium, vitamins A, K and C and has magical healing properties, helping heal open wounds and abate bleeding. The beautiful little plantain is antimicrobal which is why it’s safe to put on even dirties of wounds. With plantain on our side, Marina and I had nothing to fear.

This common weed which is truly a powerhouse of nutrients and medicinal properties helped us through bites, stings and burns (it helps draw things out so it’s wonderful for blisters and boils). It was there when we needed it most and I am forever grateful to it for its healing qualities that allowed us to resume our play and enjoy the outdoors to the fullest.

Thinking back to my childhood I remember other herbs that we commonly used. Nettles for toning the immune system, chamomile in tea for relaxation, dog rose petals that we gathered in our yard and brewed into delicious tea. The knowledge of plants was there, ever present, providing a gentle guiding hand in times both good and bad.

Yuliya Rae Seattle PNW Portrait Outdoor Photographer Herbalist
In November of last year I felt a strong pull to plants. It was as though they felt neglected by me all these years, remembering fondly our times together in my childhood, and finally decided to call me back.

I checked out a lot of herbology books at the library and dug in. I started learning about different ways of extracting medicine from plants, how to know which plant to use for which ailment. But most importantly I discovered a spiritual element to being with plants and the rituals, ceremonies and tributes that herbalists all around the world payed to these beautiful green living creatures. I was hooked. This world of healing plants and their gifts, being closer to nature and learning about sustainable wildcrafting all while creating natural, full of goodness herbal medicine for myself and my loved ones was the world I wanted to be a part of.

So I started researching herbal schools in the area and am so happy to be starting my herbal apprenticeship in March. I have so much to learn and the plants have so much to teach me. I am thrilled to be able to get to know so many of them intimately and invite them into my life.

I hope you will join me on this herbal journey, be it to learn alongside me, learn from my mistakes or simply follow along.

In the meantime, enjoy this simple chickweed infusion recipe that I made yesterday to drink to address a few health concerns. Chickweed, or stellaria media, is truly a star of a plant.

Considered to be a weed by many, chickweed is wonderful for infections and dissolving unwanted bacteria, lumps, cysts, benign tumors, mucus in the respiratory system and even fat cells. Its full of saponins, a component helping our cell membranes increase their ability to take in nutrients. It has so many incredible properties and you’d do well to get acquainted  with it well. Susun Weed wrote a lovely ode to chickweed in her article here, feel free to read this beautiful piece.

Yuliya Rae Seattle PNW Portrait Outdoor Photographer Herbalist

Chickweed infusion:

  • 4-6 tablespoons of dried chickweed (I purchased mine from Frontline Co-op)
  • 1 quart glass jar with lid
  • Water

Place chickweed in a quart size jar. Give thanks for the healing properties you’re about to receive. Fill the jar with boiling water, cap and let sit for at least four hours. Strain and drink 2-3 times a day, or as needed. 

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