Archive for June, 2011

and the winner is…

June 29, 2011

Congratulations to Roxanne Reese Brown for correctly guessing the green ally! Your To-Go Ware utensil set is on its way to your door.

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), also sometimes known as Cronewort, St. John’s Girdle, Wild Wormwood, is the green ally of June.

Like I mentioned in my clues, mugwort commonly grows in disturbed soils and cracks in the sidewalk. One of the ways you know you’ve ID’ed her correctly is the white underside of her pinnate leaves. Young, spring leaves tend to be more tender and a brighter green. As she ages and grows taller, her leaves darken and her stem becomes drier and woodier. Mugwort flowers emerge in late summer and are tiny little buggers growing in racemes. Her scent is unique, some say sage-like or camphor-like. I say it’s a spicy-sweet scent all its own. Crush a leaf and give it a sniff.

Some benefits of mugwort:

• bitter tonic (once used in beer making in lieu of hops)

• brings on a delayed period (not recommended for use during pregnancy, unless under the guidance of an experienced herbalist)

• eases sore muscles – especially effective if you make a strong infusion by steeping mugwort leaves in boiled water for an hour or more, strain, then add the infusion liquid to the bath (then go straight to bed!)

• used as moxibustion in acupuncture to increase the flow of qi

• helps one remember dreams; put a sprig under your pillow or what I’ve done is make a dream pillow including mugwort, lavender, hops, and damiana

• slightly changes one’s perception, allowing one to “vision” (though not in a hallucinogenic way); master herbalist Robin Rose Bennett likes to take a piece of fresh mugwort leaf and use it as a bindi (the dot at the third eye point)

• protects against insects – makes a good moth repellent

This is just a sampling of the known benefits of mugwort. Another great thing about Artemisia vulgaris is that she grows abundantly, especially in the Northeast. I like to think that her presence is a message to us busy city folk to slow down and take the time to see what’s growing around us. At least that’s what she does to me.

You can find Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) in the Vivid Visions Smoke Blend, available in my Etsy shop.


Disclaimer: The information given is for educational purposes and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your intuition and, preferably, with an experienced herbal practitioner before endeavoring down a path of self treatment with herbs.

contest: who is this green ally?

June 22, 2011

DEADLINE EXTENDED! See below for details…

I’m starting a new monthly feature where you’ll get to learn a little something about commonly found green allies (ie, medicinal plants) and have the chance to be rewarded for your ID skills.


This month’s prize is a To-Go Ware Utensil Set (retail value $12.95), perfect for taking to potlucks, summer picnics in the park, camping, or the office.


And here are the clues…

• Oh, she’s a real wild one – commonly seen hanging out in vacant lots, swaying over sidewalks, waving on the side of highways

• Though her skin is green, her leaves have a white underbelly

• She flowers in late summer with the most tiny little blossoms

• Her scent is uniquely earthy, woodsy & spicy, and could be described as camphoraceous

• She helps us with dreams & visioning work and has an association with the moon & a certain goddess

• Traditionally, she was picked on Midsummer’s Eve and worn to ward off evil & illness

• You’ll find her in one of my best-selling products

Okay, I think I’ve pretty much given it away. I figure I’ll make it easy on you for the first go-round. 😉

So here are the rules:

1. Once you’ve got the answer, email both the common and botanical name, plus your name & address to liz at raganella dot com

2. All responses must be received by 11:59PM on Tuesday, June 28, 2011.

3. Winners will be chosen at random and announced on Wednesday, June 29, 2011 by 12:00PM (noon).

PS – I extended the deadline a day because I’ll be out of town on an herb-gathering mission.

Good luck to you!

grilled cheese & pickle party, plus…

June 15, 2011

This coming Monday, come get your fill of grilled cheese, pickles & beer accompanied by the sounds of a live bluegrass band. I’ll be there selling my Raganella’s Botanical Solutions goods, including my new summer soothers & savers line of sunscreen, bug spray & salves.

Full details:

Grilled Cheese & Pickle Party!

(the first event in the emerging Homemade Fair series)

Jimmy’s No. 43 Restaurant
43 E 7th St NY, NY 10003
Monday, June 20

Guest Chefs: Corey Cova (Earl’s Beer and Cheese), Morris Grilled Cheese

Pickles: Sour Puss Pickles, The Pickle Guys, Divine Brine, Millport Dairy

Cheese: Coach Farms, Saxelby Cheesemongers, Millport Dairy, Ardith Mae

Bread: Hot Bread Kitchen, Bread Alone, Buon Pane

Featured Beer: Barrier Brewing Selection – Barrier Slightly Sour Ale and Barrier Belgian Ale

Live Bluegrass Music: The 2nd Avenue Mountain Boys

Featured vendor: Raganella’s Botanical Solutions (that’s me!)

a weed is a plant out of place

June 15, 2011

Jewelweed, ally against poison ivy.

I love city life. I can step out of my apartment building door and arrive at just about any place I please in as little as 5 minutes, without getting in a car and even without mass transit. For example, there’s a good bodega on my corner with some decent organic products. There’s a delicious ice cream shop about 5o paces away that sells ice cream made from dairy that comes from pasture-raised cows. Up the hill is a museum, and the botanic gardens. And just 2 blocks away is my urban refuge – Prospect Park. I spend much of my time there foraging, wildcrafting tenacious “exotic invasives” (aka, weeds), or just staring at the open sky. But despite all of these spoils, I still long for more. More green, more wilds, more open space.

There’s nothing as restorative as a visit to the country. Just a few miles north of the city there’s this place most city folk call “Upstate” (there’s also the westward land, like rural New Jersey where I’m from). Though real upstate probably doesn’t start technically until you reach the Catskills. And that’s where I found myself last week, and just south of there the weekend before.

wild weed plant ID field trip with Peeka Trenkle

At the end of winter I completed an herbal medicine course with Peeka Trenkle. At that time, very little was growing to ID, so we had to wait for the plants to emerge to have a worthwhile field trip. So Saturday before last, we went traipsing through the woods and fields of Stone Mountain Farm in New Paltz. I’ve been on several plant ID walks, all inspiring and fruitful, and this was no exception. Of the plants I could readily identify there was: plantain (Plantago major & Plantago lanceolata), sassafras, wild geranium/cranesbill (Geranium maculatum), Jack-in-the-pulpit, cleavers (Gallium aparine), jewelweed (Impatiens), burdock (Arctium lappa), violet, Japanese knotweed, mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris – one of my favorites), curly/yellow dock, wild cherry, wild raspberry (Rubus idaeus), viburnum, goldenrod (Solidago sp), red clover (Trifolium pratense), juniper, oak, white pine, wild rose, buttercup, boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), and willow. I was grateful to meet some other plant allies which I hadn’t seen growing in person: wild angelica (Angelica atropurpurea), potentilla, greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), monarda, chicory, yellow sweet clover, milkweed, motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) elder (Sambucus nigra), horsetail (Equisetum arvense), and lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea).

Some of the allies we encountered, plus some of their benefits…

Lesser stitchwort, so named for its ability to relieve a “stitch” or cramp in one’s side.

Elder, before blossoming. Elder protects us from viruses like cold and flu. I’ve heard her berries also make a good wine.

Motherwort, ally during times of anxiety.

Horsetail, the great re-mineralizer, ally for strengthening bones and teeth.


farm stay at Newton Farm Cooperative

In the tiny hamlet of West Kill lies a beautifully diverse place called Newton Farm Cooperative. I’m lucky enough to have a friend who’s part of this cooperative, farming the land part time. During the short time we spent there, we created long days full of small adventures. Weeding, sowing, watering, weeding. (What is a weed but a plant out of place?) I arose earlier than usual with the sun shining in the large window next to my bed, the dewy meadow calling me to explore. Barefoot, I wandered, inspecting weeds that I’d later craft into medicines, transfixed by tiny insects, distracted by red wing blackbird calls and the whooshing wing beats of barn swallows. The two resident roosters and mess of hens completed the symphony of bucolic sounds.

My morning view.

Weedin’ and hoein’.

Barn swallow nest.

Dewy daisy.


We ate well, harvesting a little bit of radish and lettuce from the farm beds, adding in some weeds – wild thyme and wood sorrel – as seasoning. Dinner was al fresco, by fireside (Meg is a skilled firestarter). Once it truly got dark – something that doesn’t happen in the city, unless there’s a blackout – we could see the stars. I saw a meteor fall (a shooting star) and we watched satellites blink across the sky. And then the fireflies came out, fervently flashing to find their mates.

We harvested gallons of spring water from a roadside spot in Hunter (Justin did the heavy lifting), and went strawberry picking at Greig Farm in Red Hook (Meg picked the reddest berries, and not surprisingly harvested the quickest). On the way back to the farm we dropped into the Mountain Brook Inn for a drink and chat with Lyndon, resident of the area for 28 years. He was full of useful tips for enjoying the area.

Just a few strawberries and a couple of drops of mountain fresh spring water.

Red clover. I harvested some and left much for the bees.

Lovely lettuce.

Flower of Plantago lanceolata.

Something for the bees to build on.

Before we reluctantly left for home, Ron stopped by with his delicious dark chocolate-covered frozen fruit Trop Pops for us to sample. Then Sarah and I walked down to the creek to dip our feet in. Next time, we declared, we’ll come here to sun on the rocks, maybe bring some inner tubes and float around.

In contrast to the plentiful spaciousness around us, the four of us crowded into my jam-packed Prius (which I affectionately call “Turtleboat rollerskate”) full with our bounty of fresh eggs, buckets of strawberries, gallons of Catskill mountain spring water, plus all we brought with us. It was as if we were trying to take back to the city all we could of this country retreat. Taking our time, we savored as much of the countryside as possible before returning to urban life. First, a stop at Grandmere Yvonne’s for her homemade paté, rillette, jams, mustards, and vinegars to take home. I especially enjoyed hearing how the venison paté I was buying was made with a deer that was struck by a car right in front of Yvonne’s home. The cop on the scene butchered the fallen creature, taking half for himself and giving half to Yvonne. Next we scored $1 clothing items at the Tibetan thrift shop in Kingston (the checkout lady says, “this is a dollar, is that alright?”). The last detour was to New Paltz for a picnic lunch of tasty leftovers, afterwards picking up chocolates from The Cheese Plate (where I’d been doing the same thing just the week before after the plant ID trip).

Though our stay was only two and a half days, I returned feeling restored in some deep way. Resting my eyes on the open, living & verdant world versus the cluttered, hard & constructed one in which I live cleared my mind and gave my heart a space to open into. Having just read Stephen Harrod Buhner’s The Secret Teachings of Plants gave me a newfound perspective and helped keep me present to the pulse of life around me. I plan on returning to Newton Farm soon.