Spring 2013 Flower Dreams

Taking  inspiration from the springtime plants that I see these chilly days, bravely pushing up out of the ground, their leaves unraveling and reaching towards the light, I am waking up from my winter’s hibernation and opening my heart to another season of growing and gathering herbs on the north Oregon coast.

Calendula officinalis: remembering summer's bounty

Calendula officinalis: remembering summer’s bounty

The shapes and colors of  summer’s herbs and flowers lick at my senses; I’m imagining the glory of   calendula and arnica,  friends that capture the drama of the sun.  And then there is valerian with its  creamy pink/white flowers, balancing precariously on their tall stalks, the air full of their sweet fragrance.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!  Yes,  soon…

The first flowering Arnica

The first flower of  Arnica chamissonis
June 2012


Valeriana officinalis

This year I’m spending more time with other local herbalists, sharing our experiences of the nourishing herbs that we wild harvest and cultivate in our coastal habitats.   If you’d like to join us for conversation, garden visits, plant walks and medicine making, let me know.

Enjoy the spring, plant for the summer!

Collecting wakame on a low tide morning

Collecting wakame on a low tide morning

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What’s Up in the Woods?

What’s Up In the Woods?

On a recent outing to pick nettles, I ran into many old friends, shouting out their springtime songs in the woods:

Common Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) Just a few, poking up right next to the creek! ImageTheir timing was right on with Janet’s childhood experience of the horsetail being up for spring vacation in the valley.  For a few weeks in the spring I try to drink a cup of  horsetail tea each day.  There is much silica and calcium in this plant,  good for the bones and the kidney, but not for long term use..  It’s the sterile, green, hollow shoot that we want, after the green branches open and are still pointing up. Image This is an ancient plant, said to be the first vascular plant to send up its green shoots after the 1980 eruption of Mt St Helens. (Pojar and Mackinnon: Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast )

Western coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus) . These star balls were everywhere, bright and open. Both the leaves and the flowers, on their separate stalks, have been pushing up since Lammas or maybe a few weeks after, one of the first signs of spring. Why is it that some years the flower stalks appear first, and some years it’s  the leaf, or am I imagining that?.

At our March herbal skill share gathering, Julianne told us that the dried herb, smoked solo or in a blend with mullein, brought relief to winter chest constriction.  We sampled a light tea of this herb, another way coltsfoot is used to sooth the chest.  Michael Moore (Medicinal Plants of the West)  notes that  young leaves of Western Coltsfoot can contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can be liver damaging.  He recommends harvesting the leaves when they are mature, when these alkaloids are only a minor factor, from mid-June through August. .

 Round-leaved yellow violets (Viola orbiculata)?  Is that the right name for these?  Whatever their true variety, they are tasty, both the leaf and the flower.  I went back yesterday to look more closely, and they were more abundantly in flower, a sweet yellow counterpoint to all the bright green on the forest floor.  .Image

Of course we saw the new nettles (that’s what we were out to harvest) and the first blooms of the salmonberry.  And also now the cleavers, western lily of the valley,  cow parsnip, bleeding heart and Scouler’s corydalis. .  It’s a visual feast out there–I look forward to your reports from the woods!

That’s all for now.  I was going to add a few more photos, but now I seem to be on another page format and I’ve lost my blogging way…Happy springtime,


March 24, 2013

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Oregon Grape


Mahonia nervosa

Mahonia nervosa

Botanical NamesMahonia (Berberis) aquifolia, M. nervosa, M. repens,

Family: Berberidaceae or Barberry

Common Names:  Oregon Grape, dull Oregon grape, Mountain Holly

Habitat  Dry to fairly moist open to closed forests at low to middle elevations.  From California north to southern British Columbia and occasionally east into Idaho.  David Douglas sent seeds back to England in the early 1800’s and as a result Oregon grape is grown as an ornamental all over the world.

Description  Evergreen perennial shrub with waxy, prickly, holly like compound leaves. The leaves are alternate, with 9-19 leaflets and yellow flowers that bloom in the spring, in erect or drooping clusters, followed by edible but very tart blue/purple berries.  The plants spread by rhizomes and often what appears as a large group of separate plants may actually be a web of connected plants: The sharp tipped rhizomes can  radiate 10-20 feet outward and back from their original Grandmother plant forming a loose multilayered web with individual stems  are possibly 150 years old. (Ryan Drum, Waldon Island, Washington).

            Mahonia aquifolia is the Oregon state flower and the variety listed as medicine in the National Formulary (until 1935).  Locally we see this leafy bush, 2-6 feet tall, mostly as a horticultural variety (outside the Manzanita Library, and Manzanita News and Espresso).  M. aquifolia  tolerates more sun than M. nervosa. Mahonia nervosa is a shorter broader shrub usually 2 to 3 feet tall, the variety most often seen in our coastal woods, usually a few miles away from the ocean, but also on the slopes of Neahkahnie Mountain.  Both of these varieties are shade lovers, even more natively plentiful in the Willamette Valley and the Cascades than on the coast, with M. nervosa growing at higher elevations than M. aquifolia.  Another variety, Mahonia repens is a one foot tall shrub, found in more open, drier habitats on the east side of the Cascades.


Cultivation:  Herbalist Howie Brounstein  reports good success replanting the tops including some rhizome while harvesting.  Ryan Drum recommends vertically burying a 4-6 inch long stem tip with buds, an inch showing above the soil, tamped in well, with care to keep moist before and after planting.  One gallon Mahonia spp. plants are available from local nurseries.


Parts Used: The thin bark and yellow-orange inner wood of the horizontal stem ( rhizome).  Herbalist Michael Moore has a recipe for making an oil from the leaves.

Harvesting: Rhizomes are harvested from late autumn to early spring, when plant energy is most concentrated there. See Ryan Drums website for an excellent article with detailed information on respectful harvesting. http://www.ryandrum.com/devilsclub.htm

Dosage: Decoction: 1 teaspoon bark/cup of water.  Or 4-6 oz of cut root and stem pieces in 3-4 pints of water.  The medicine in Oregon grape decoctions becomes progressively stronger from prolonged steeping (24-72 hours) and repeated short daily reboiling (1-2 minutes)

Tincture: 1:5 root bark liquid extract: 10-60 drops 1-4 times per day. (Tilgner)  Because berberine is better extracted by water than alcohol, tincture should be made with some water.



Bitter and astringent.  From a Chinese perspective, Oregon grape clears heat and dries dampness.

Constituents: Oregon grape contains the alkaloid berberine, also found in other plants in the berberaceae family, for instance goldenseal. It also contains numerous additional isoquinoline alkaloids with good medicinal effects, berberine is the one to remember.  See Michael Moore if you want to know them all.


Therapeutic Uses: This is a nice summary from Sharol Tilgner’s book: “Oregon grape root is used to astringe, stimulate and act as an antimicrobial in the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract and urinary tract.  It is used for infectious conditions of the stomach, intestines, respiratory and urinary tract.  It is also useful in liver congestion, chronic cholecystitis (gallbladder inflammation), skin conditions like psoriasis, dry eczema, acne and in some cases of rheumatism.”   Judy Bluehorse teaches that Oregon grape has a particular affinity for the mouth and is specific for tooth and gum infections.


Cautions/Contraindications: Oregon grape is contraindicated during pregnancy due to the uterine stimulants contained in the plant, including berberine. (Sharol Tilgner) Use during pregnancy only under the care of a qualified midwife or other medical professional.

Also note that Oregon grape is on the United Plant Savers “to watch” list due to diminished habitats and the potential for overharvesting (http://www.unitedplantsavers.org/content.php/121-species-at-risk).  Still, with respectful harvesting, it is a good substitute for its cousin goldenseal, which is much closer to being endangered, and on the “at risk” list.  See Howie Brownstein’s article:  (http://home.teleport.com/~howieb/treats/berberis.html


Rosemary Gladstar, editor: Planting the Future (Oregon grape chapter by Ryan Drum)


Michael Moore: Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West

Dr. Sharol Tilgner: Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth

Thomas Avery Garran: Western Herbs According to Traditional Chinese Medicine

Pojar and Mackinnon: Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast

Howie Brounstein: http://home.teleport.com/~howieb/treats/berberis.html

Ed Smith: Therapeutic Herb Manual (Herb Pharm)

2/5/2013  Vivi Tallman

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2011: Flowers in Mid-June

The first flowering Arnica.

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Tallwoman Tonics at the Farmer’s Market!

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Harvesting Thyme – June 5th

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June 4th: Planting Tulsi at Kale Kreek

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