DEER ISLE — The practice of foraging plants for medicine predates the written word.
“It’s a very, very ancient tradition,” said herbalist Deb Soule who gave a daylong workshop at the Deer Isle Hostel earlier this month.
The founder of Avena Botanticals in Rockport has studied plant medicine for the past 40 years. She founded Avena, which includes gardens and an apothecary, in 1985.
People, Places and Plants magazine named Soule one of the 50 most influential gardeners in the Northeast in 2005.
Using fresh, organic and biodynamic herbs, Avena makes herbal remedies such as extracts, teas, oils, salves, elixirs and creams, which are available across the United States.
“There are so many herbs that help us on a daily basis,” said the Rockport herbalist, who is the author of “The Woman’s Handbook of Healing Herbs” and “How to Move Like a Gardener.”
Anneli Carter-Sundqvist, who owns the hostel with her husband, Dennis Carter, has long sought to host Soule at the Deer Isle farm. Providing a place for education and retreat is one of the couple’s aims with their farm.
On June 11, Soule led a group of 12 gardeners and herbalists through a study of hawthorn and linden trees along with lemon balm, rose and schisandra.
Soule grows all of these plants at Avena Botanicals in certified-biodynamic gardens.
Biodynamic agriculture is a system of organic and ecological practices based on the teachings of Dr. Rudolf Steiner. Biodynamics connects the ecology of a farm to the cosmos.
As such, Soule relies on Stella Natura, a biodynamic planting calendar, which works with the moon, sun, stars and planets. Those are available online or at the Maine seed and garden supply company, Fedco.
“It’s a wonderful guide to planting,” Soule said. “We’re affected by the movement of the planets all the time.” The calendar helps growers know when to sow plants grown for roots or when to plant those grown for leaves such as arugula as well as for fruits and for flowers.
In fact, Avena Botanicals in 2017 will start a biodynamic training group, which will meet four times a year for four-day workshops.
The focus of the hostel workshop was herbs for healing heart and mind.
“Everybody should be planting a hawthorn tree and a linden tree,” said Soule.
Hawthorn (Craetagus) is from the rose family and can help ease people who are grieving or under great stress, Soule said.
Hawthorn berry is the herbalist’s favorite cardiovascular tonic. The flowers, leaves and berries can all be used. She says to think about hawthorn as a tonic, meaning use the herb regularly over time, not once or twice.
“Anybody who has had any kind of loss in their life —hawthorn can be part of the remedy. It actually helps improve the tone of the heart muscle. It can help ease high blood pressure as well as erratic heart beat or heart palpitations. Everybody over 40 could do really well to take in a little bit of hawthorn.”
The Lincolnville resident makes Hawthorn tea in the winter with the berries, which turn red in October. She adds a little grated ginger to the tea. The berries also can be cooked into a syrup, dried or made into a tincture when fresh.
The tree also is useful for your property.
“Plant a hedgerow of hawthorn for a natural fence,” Soule said.
At Avena Botanicals, Soule has planted a row of hawthorns, which have now grown tall enough for her to plant an understory of sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata.)
Sweet cicely relieves indigestion and tastes like licorice. The herb, which should be used fresh, makes a good sun tea. It also adapts well nearly wherever it’s planted.
“Plants that are adaptable in where they grow may also offer us help to be more adaptable,” the herbalist said.
Back to hawthorn trees. Be careful where you plant them.
“In the old European fairytales, they say if you cut down a hawthorn tree, you will be in extreme disfavor of the fairies,” Soule said. “So if you plant a hawthorn tree, be sure to plant it where you want it to be.”
Soule uses hawthorn with lemon balm (Melissa officinalis from the Lamiaceae family) which can help the mind with anxiety and depression.
Soule likes to make a sun tea with lemon balm, sometimes adding a rose to the brew.
The time to harvest lemon balm is in the morning on a sunny day when the sun is drawing out the herb’s oils. “You can smell lemon balm when it’s ready to harvest,” Soule said.
In ancient Greece, students are said to have worn sprigs of lemon balm, back then known as Melissa, in their hair while studying to help concentration.
On to Linden, which Soule described as “an unappreciated herb.”
A Linden tree’s leaves are edible and taste nutty. Like lemon balm, linden is gentle to the spirit and cooling for an itchy, inflamed skin condition.
Rosa Rugosa (Rosacea) is for opening the heart and mind.
“There are so many different celebrations of love for giving roses,” she said. “Rose for love, for grief, for loss, for celebration, for joy.”
Roses are astringent too, which is why they’re good for the skin.
One of the participants, an Orono woman, said she infuses rose petals in a witch hazel base to put on her skin.
In late March or early April, Soule recommends cutting your rosa rugosa down by half. The bush also loves to be mulched with seaweed.
Yet another plant for healing hearts is schisandra (Magnoliaceae). While the shrub is from China, Maine is a perfect place for the hardy vine to grow. The vine sends runners out, known in China as “five flavors fruit.”
Soule calls schisandra “resilient.” To that end, the herb helps her build up strength and stamina. Schisandra is best used as a tincture. Soule puts a couple of drops in a water bottle when she’s doing farm work. The vine produces red berries, which can be frozen and put in a smoothie.
To grow, you need male and female schisandra plants and an arbor or a fence for the shrub to grow along. You can order schisandra from Fedco.
During the six-hour workshop, Soule spoke briefly about the need for Western medicine to integrate plant medicine in treating patients.
In one example, an oncology department at a Midcoast hospital uses Avena Botanical’s Heal-All Salve to help treat patients suffering from radiation burns.
Soule also touched on issues with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Herbal medicine has become a massive industry,” Soule said. “I want those of us who make medicine to be able to do that and share it with their neighbors without being harassed. We need to keep plant wisdom alive.”
* Gather medicinal flowers in the early morning. It doesn’t matter if there’s a little bit of dew on the flowers.
* Deb Soule collects delicate flowers by laying them on a piece of thin cotton muslin in a basket. That way she can put the blooms right on drying racks without disturbing them.
* If you’re digging roots for medicine, you want to dig them in early spring. “The energy is going to be much more concentrated in the early spring as it’s just started growing.”
* If you’re creating a new tincture or elixir, write down your recipe and keep playing until you have it the way you like it.
Deb Soule, founder of Avena Botanicals in Rockport, will give a talk called “Herbal Tonics for Enhancing Immunity” on July 11 at 7 p.m. at the GoodLifeCenter in Brooksville.
Soule also will lead Herb Walks in the Avena Botanicals Garden Wednesdays from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on June 29, July 6, July 20, Aug. 3 and Aug. 17. Walks costs $5. No advance registration required. Visit Avena’s gardens, which are open to the public year round, noon-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
On Saturday, June 25, from 9 to 11 a.m., herbalist Brighid Doherty will host “Herbal Spa Delights,” a hands-on workshop, at which participants will learn how to make spa beauty products to help heal, clear and brighten your face, hands and feet. They also will make exfoliants, a steam, mask, soaks and toner using lavender, rose, mint, chamomile, clay, honey, oats and citrus. The cost is $25 per person. To sign up, call 348-2308 and visit https://deerislehostel.wordpress.com/.
Off the shelf
Deb Soule recommends the following journals.
* Journal of Medicinal Plant Conservation, produced by the United Plant Savers association.
* Wild Seed, a journal published by the Blue Hill-based Wild Seed Project
“Rosa Rugosa” or “Rosa Gallica” books written by Suzanne Verrier, a rosarian who operates North Creek Farm in Phippsburg.