The Magical World of Mushrooms for Nutrition, Delicious Food and Medicine. 7-25-21

It’s the time here in NE Georgia for mushrooms. All over the hills and mountains we’ve had plenty of rain and the right conditions for many edible and medicinal ‘shrooms’. In the farmers markets and with my forager friends we have chanterelles, various large ‘polypores’ like black staining polypores and Berkeley polypores (all delicious), Chicken of the woods, Hen of the woods, and many others. The foragers are finding abundance.

There is a whole culture of mushroom foragers and mycologists (myco=fungus and mushrooms) in this area all along the Appalachian mountains and Piedmont foothills. The diversity of them, like the bio-diversity of the plant life here, is amazing. So people who walk the mountains and foot hills bring their gathering baskets, their mushroom knives with the little brush on one end to clean them of soil and debris. In the back pocket often you will find a field guide or two for identification.

But mushrooms aren’t limited to our area though we are known for the wonderful diversity of what grows here. When my husband was a teenager, he and his friends would go up in the hills by Sioux City Iowa, and pick grocery bags full of morel mushrooms – known for their incredible flavor – and cook them up for feasting. They would eat them for hours. Now a days, the amount they collected would go for many hundreds of dollars for chef’s gourmet fare in high end restaurants.

My mother came from a pioneer family in California and when we lived in Indiana, she recognized the mushrooms growing up in our lawn there. In season, she would pick a big bowl of these and fry them up in butter. I will never forget those dinners which were basically pigging out on ‘shrooms’. Commercial mushrooms never tasted that good.

Don’t assume anything about mushrooms though. Make sure you positively identify exactly before ever trying to eat them. Make friends with a mushroom forager and learn fully before then, and check with them before eating or using for medicine. Just respect that there is knowledge before doing.

That being said, mushrooms can be a delicious and nutritious source of food or a tremendously effective and beneficial source of medicine. Often a species is both edible and medicinal depending on how it’s used. A couple of kinds that come to mind are Lion’s Mane (great for the brain) and Hen of the Woods (aka Maitake for the immune system) which are considered delicacies by aficionados of mushroom cuisine and admiring foragers alike. But the list is very long of these amazing fruit bodies of fungi.

Fungus is a micro-organism of the soil. It breaks down organic matter like wood and other plant matter, transports nutrients from plant to plant, and acts like the internet of the planet. Information and nutrients are sent along the slender white threads of fungi called mycelium which span thousands of miles. (See the picture below *)There are single individual species of fungi that cover hundreds of square miles and produce a large ring of fruiting bodies around the outside extent of its being which have been food sources for native peoples and animals for hundreds of years.

There’s one in the NE United States that covers the whole top of a large soft mountain. In terms of volume of life form fungus is the largest one of all the denizens of the soil. And there are literally tens of thousands of kinds that span from the top soil to deep within the earth’s crust. The mushroom is the fruiting body which spreads the spores for reproduction but the real organism is composed of the mycelium, the thin white filaments of the fungi.

Fungi are not plants. They are their own thing. They don’t act like plants, don’t reproduce like plants, and aren’t animal either. Yet to the herbalist, the greatly medicinal chemical composites of it are called ‘plant medicine’ or phytochemicals (meaning plant chemicals). And the wise herbalist includes mushrooms with herbs for healing, nutrition, and the immune system. I myself make a blend of several mushrooms (See ** below) and a tree bark herb in my own immune system boosting formula which has kept me healthy even though I’ve been exposed to many virus and bacterial infections as well as several illnesses which didn’t kill me. Even my husband avoided a root canal on an infected tooth that was slated for the dentist’s attention because it’s such a powerful immune booster. (see below for those mushrooms I use in the medicinal section)

There are powerful sugars and other chemicals in mushrooms that protect the liver, the kidneys, the skin, the immune system, the intestines and other major body parts that exist in all mushrooms in varying percentages. Even the button mushroom, crimini, Portobello, enoki, shitake, and other traditional edible mushrooms contain these substances. We’re told that we should eat one serving of mushrooms a day. This list of varities mushrooms can be found in many good grocery stores, Asian food or Health Food stores.

Check out this article which contains the vitamins, minerals, beneficial natural chemicals, and the conditions they handle on the body by mushrooms:

Here is an excellent article about the types of mushrooms explained with pictures

You can do a search on every kind of mushroom that you ID and wish to use.

The ones found in the wild which foragers search for are powerfully medicinal organisms and are full of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and phyto chemicals for health. But most people are afraid of eating wild mushrooms because some can be very toxic. This is wise until you really can verify the identification of them. But once you really are confident of your ability to sort the beneficial from their toxic look-alikes or just other ones not good for use, the abundance of what you can find and use is amazing.

If you want to find mushrooms that you can be sure are safe and you don’t want to grow your own or forage for them, try your local grocery store, Asian market, gourmet grocer, or Farmers Market.

Sourcing Mushrooms – Look in your Farmers Markets locally for mushrooms produced or foraged by local people. Get to know someone who forages and maybe they can take you with them on their forages, or provide you with fresh produce. Often as mushrooms become abundant in the forests, or as people grow them on logs or from their resources, such as Shitake or Oyster – two common varieties, they are available fresh. If you wish to look further abroad, Foragers Marketplace on FB is an outlet of people in a larger area who offer such mushrooms as Chaga, only growing in colder and higher elevation areas than NE Ga., and many others. They will mail you either fresh when available, or dried whole or powdered. I use this resource when I’m making my tinctures and extracts when nobody local has them. This also helps their local economy. But you can also go to bulk supplement or bulk herb companies online as well. Here are two sources I use regularly for mushrooms*

Pinterest has some good resources for this subject. Here’s an excellent one with great pictures and how to use the mushrooms mentioned:

Right now as of July, 2021, we are seeing blooms (the appearance of) several really great mushrooms in the wild: Chanterelles, those beautiful orange/yellow ones found on the floor of the woods, Black Staining Polypore, Berkeley Polypore ( which look similar – large often several pounds in weight growing in a colony of large ‘leafs’ around a central point), and in some areas morels (harder to find because they blend in so well on the forest floor but valued so greatly for their deliciousness), Chicken of the Woods (a bright orange very large shelfed colony usually found near the base of oak trees or growing off their roots), Hen of the Woods (aka Maitake, of a more subdued coloring of gray/tan but similarly configured), Boletes (usually tan in color and have the mushroom cap on a thick stem), Lion’s Mane (white in color growing on the trunk of a tree looking like a thick head of strand hair-like hanging down tendrils) to name a few. These are what the forager looks for – these rarely have toxic look alikes except Chanterelle which has a yellow similar-twin called Jack O Lantern. If you follow a mushroom club they will usually tell their members what are being found in their area seasonally.

Video for someone new to mushrooming

If you wish to try your hand at foraging, start with this video:

This can be a wonderful hobby, a fun way to spend time with the family, a great way to get some exercise in the fresh air outdoors, or in the event of food shortages, maybe even the difference between eating well and struggling. And they can be delicious. See below for recipes.

There are some wonderful clubs in this area which go out on forages together, many who are very knowledgeable, looking at what is growing, and sharing their information.

If you want to try your hand at growing mushrooms. This can be really fun, especially if you have kids. Plus growing them is a source of on-going mushrooms for your own use. With these two resources you can grow your own mushrooms from kits or obtain the plugs or spore to infuse into logs for Shitake and other wood growing mushrooms, and not leave your own home or homestead.

There are two famous people who have made mushrooms known and who have done amazing research on this subject. They both can be contacted for information and are wonderful resources. There are other reputable mushroom companies and groups but I am personally familiar with both of them.

You can go to Mushroom Mountain – Tradd Cotter – in the nearby mountains for classes and resources. They also sell kits so you can grow your own mushrooms at home.

Or check out Fungi Perfecti – Paul Stametz – a famous mushroom guru, is a bit further away but on their site you can find great videos, mushroom growing kits, books and many other mushroom related products and information. –

Or you can learn how to forage by taking classes available from knowledgeable mycologists (myco-mushroom, ologist – the study of) experts. One in our local area is Anne-Marie Bilella of Bellavista Farms who is one of the instructors at Mushroom Mountain but also on her farm in Monroe, Ga, an herbalist and mushroom expert and a dear friend. However, depending on where you live, classes are often available thru local mushroom or foraging clubs. Do a little Google search and see what you can find.

Here at Hillside Gardens, in Auburn, Ga., my 100 bed, 40 tree orchard, where I grow over 150 different medicinal herbs, I often find  mushrooms just growing. Recently my intern Grace found a huge Black Staining Polypore – about 5 lbs. – growing under a tree. We harvested it, cleaned it up and cut it up – put it in the dehydrator, and powdered it for several uses. It’s quite tasty, and a lovely addition in soups, sauces, or other recipes that add depth to the flavor and help to thicken. I also found Turkey Tail growing on stumps in the garden. We also did this to a bunch of Chanterelles she found when foraging with her kids in a local forested area. The abundance of these things can be amazing, and way too much to eat fresh. They can also be frozen to preserve them.

Eating mushrooms for their benefits and delicious flavors has been a source of inspiration to cooks in the area for some time. Anne-Marie Bilella recently published a book on the cuisine of wild foraged foods, including mushrooms called “Wild Eating With Forager Chicks”  in which you will find some recipes for foraged mushrooms and other wild edibles.

There are many great recipe collections online too:

Try Japanese mushroom cuisine:

Chinese mushroom cuisine:

Native American recipes:

For real gourmet deliciousness check out this blog with many recipes from Bon Appétit magazine: Besides, mushrooms are wonderful tasting food and can be cooked in gourmet recipes. Check out this article with lots of great recipes: 

Mushrooms are also a superfood. I collect, clean, dehydrate, powder, and utilize them when I’m not cooking them or making medicine with them. They can be so delicious as a powder when put in coffee, as a thickening or flavor enhancing ingredient in soups, stews, sauces or dressings. You can even purchase them as powder. Here is an article by Dr. Axe on mushroom powders: Superfoods are so packed with nutrients that even a small amount of the powders can really boost your productivity and strength if you know which ones to use.

In our rather volatile times, when anything could happen, it is a good thing to know how to survive off the land. Eating foraged foods including mushrooms can provide necessary vitamins and minerals as well as sources of protein other than animal life if that becomes scarce. Mushrooms are a terrific source of protein among many nutrients. Here is an interesting blog article about foraging in NE Ga. with great pictures and nutritional information:

Another good thing about mushrooms is their high protein content which for vegans and vegetarians can replace meat for protein.

NOTE: Always COOK wild crafted mushrooms. Don’t eat them raw.

If you are relying on mushrooms for your nutrition, or just wish to utilize the benefits of them, good to know what they contain and how beneficial they are besides being delicious:

Just as an example, the Chanterelle mushroom is loaded with nutrients: 



The medicinal benefits of mushrooms are very wide and deep. Healers, Alternative health providers, herbalists and native medicine people have used mushrooms in this area of the world for untold hundreds or even thousands of years. But all over the world mushrooms have been used for healing, health, handling specific problems or immune boosting.

Fungi gets its nutrients by breaking down organic matter. By doing the decomposition of them they absorb all the nutrients from those organisms and they concentrate them in their fruiting bodies (mushrooms) to provide the spores with the nutrition they need to further the species. So, we benefit from that concentration of beneficial substances.

Dr. Axe is a well known Naturopathic doctor and internet educator. He gives a comprehensive but easy to understand tutorial on specific mushrooms and their benefits and the conditions they handle in a very thorough presentation. Take your time on this site because it’s an education in itself. I personally use mushroom medicine to handle brain fog (lion’s mane), onset of almost any bacterial or viral infection (my mushroom blend above which enhances the immune system tremendously), and a host of other things, even serious conditions.

He discusses individual mushrooms and their medicinal benefits in this series of articles with pictures:

He has a number of excellent articles if you go to his website:

Without going into details about the medicinal properties of all these mushrooms because I don’t want anyone to mistake me for a doctor or anyone trying to be one, I just know for myself that these mushrooms have a tradition in healing in our culture that goes way back. And when you learn about them, you can benefit using your own common sense.

** I make a blend of extracts of mushrooms. I have either collected these mushrooms or relied on foraging friends, or found them on my property, or purchased them from reliable sources. These are Turkey Tail, Rheishi, Chaga, Shitake, Maitake, Lion’s Mane, and a non-mushroom Amazonian tree bark – PauD’Arco. I make the extracts in large volume in 80 to 100 proof vodka, letting them soak for up to 6 months, but usually 3 or 4 months. Then to make a double extract I strain out the solids and simmer them in water for about an hour on a slow heat just enough to let them bubble now and then. Then that gets strained and the liquid mixed with the alcohol tincture. I make up large amounts of this and mix the various extracts together to make my formula. (The formula is proprietary but you can do a simple mixture of equal parts). I don’t sell this but use it for myself and my family. However you can make it yourself by gathering the various ingredients and doing so yourself if you want to try out something that may help your immune system and general health.

Just becoming familiar with the various kinds of mushrooms that are useful, beyond the usual crimini, button, portabello, enoki, shitake, and straw mushrooms you may have seen in the stores or eaten in restaurants, there are many others which are equally delicious and available. This article shows the many kinds of mushrooms and the actual body of the fungi – the mycelium.* with some great pictures.

In Summary

Mushrooms are growing everywhere. Some of them are real treasures and by knowing which ones, by purchasing them, growing them, trading for them, or finding them by a walk thru the woods, you have entered into a magical world of healing and health, great nutrition, and flavors and dishes that delight the palate and fill the tummy for energy and well being. I hope you enjoy this journey as much as I have over the years.

Diann Dirks – Herbalist, researcher, organic gardener, Certified Permaculture Designer, educator and caterer.

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Starting Seeds and Growing a Garden With Them 7-20-21

We live in an age of dwindling varieties of food producing food. So, to increase the available kinds of food plants (called bio-diversity) saving and germinating our own seeds, and trading seeds, and collecting kinds of seeds leads to better survival long range. That tomato plant that did great last year when it was a semi drought might not do well this year with heavy rains, but that other variety that loves wet feet will. So we save the seeds, plant them in abundance, and see what makes it in a given year. That way if we plant 5 kinds, we’ll get 3 or maybe 4 that produce this year. But the other one, saving and keeping their seeds, gives us hope in another set of conditions later.

I grow about 20 varieties of tomatoes every year, and maybe 100 varieties of various species of annual vegetables for that very reason. But I have a big garden. There are some I especially love and plant them every year. But I try to introduce new varieties and save the seeds of the successful ones every year too.

Growing from seeds gives us also endless varieties of textures, flavors, nutritional abundance, and delight instead of picking the few available varieties at the local nursery.

Starting seeds requires a special growing medium, not really soil. Garden soil from the bag or regular garden soil is too dense and unless well amended makes it hard for the tender rootlets from an infant plant to reach in and grow. So we give them some help.

See starting medium is light weight and fluffy so the seedling roots can move in them.

1 part vermiculite or perlite

1 part finely sifted compost

1 part vermiculite or perlite all mixed well together. Moisten just before planting.

Put your seeds in 1 to 11/2 inches of this in plastic trays with holes in the bottom (available usually at nurseries that have had 9 pack seed cells with seedling plants for sale in them). These work great. But you can use almost any rather shallow container with holes in the bottom. I use the blue plastic mushroom containers from the grocery store too. But don’t bother using egg cartons. They don’t have enough volume.

Plant your seeds in this mix according to the information on the back of the packets. Notice the depth the seeds require because too deep and they can’t germinate, too shallow and they dry out. Tiny seeds often only need a sprinkling of soil over them. Or they need to just sit on top because they need sunlight to germinate. Each one has instructions easily followed. Also notice how close or far apart to plant each one. This information is on the back of most seed packets.

Keep them misted and moist but not wet. Keep the medium from drying out as this will kill delicate seedlings. Don’t put them in direct sunlight unless the packet says they need sunlight to germinate. And often you will need to gently moisten them several times a day to keep from drying out. This takes some attention at first.

I like to put the seedling trays on something that holds the moisture from all escaping out the bottom. You need drainage but they dry out quickly when just starting. I like to save the lids of big plastic storage containers like Rubbermaid to place under these flats.

You can place flats or containers for starting seeds in sunny windowsills any season. Often people do this in a kitchen window so they don’t forget to water them. I do so many at a time I put the flats on pallets up at waist height sitting on cinder blocks in a semi shady area of my garden and when I know it will be a hard rain, I put some taller bottles here and there, then cover with a tarp to keep the rain from drowning my babies.

When the seeds germinate and are an inch tall or so, make up a diluted mixture of fish fertilizer (read the back for dilution ratios) so the babies have some food. I have used Miracle Grow sometimes for heavy feeders like corn and tomatoes, but prefer to use the more natural fertilizers as they are more gentle.

When seedlings get about 2″ tall, gently lift up the seedling matt if growing in a flat, separate the individual plants, and put them in seed cells handling them by the leaf very gently, not the stem. I like using planter mix soil in the seed cells – the kind that is already fertilized. Save your nursery seedling cells for future use. These come in 4, 6, 9 or more little pockets or cells together holding seedlings. I keep using these recycled seed cells till they literally fall apart. Waste not want not.

If ready to directly plant into the garden, carefully transplant them into well prepared garden soil in the final garden beds. This soil is best well amended with well composted manure, compost, some sand and fireplace ash (50:50) just sprinkled on the soil, and work in all these things about 3″ into the soil. Don’t till it, just work it in, then plant. Keep moist but not wet. Make sure you water deeply when first planting seedlings as often the soil where their roots will be is drier than it looks and they will die in dry soil. I usually water first deeply, plant, then water again to settle the soil around the little roots.

For the plants in seed cells, once your garden beds are prepared, again following the instructions on the back of the seed packets, appropriately distance each plant in rows, or in a grid pattern so you utilize the garden space more fully. To have the most efficient garden bed it’s best done in a bed that you never step into – best size is 4’ wide, 8 or 10’ long –  so you can reach to the center from both sides, never stepping in it (which compresses the soil making it harder for the roots to develop, and easily walk around the bed so no temptation to step in the bed to get around it.

I like to make my grids like this:

0    0     0     0    0

   0     0    0    0     In a zig zag

0    0     0     0    0


0      0      0      0      0     0  In more of a square grid                         

0      0     0      0      0     0

0      0     0      0      0     0 

The distances between plants depends on their ultimately mature size. Give enough space for roots and the width of the fully grown plant. You want to be able to harvest the fruit of the plant but not waste space between them.

A Grid pattern up the space and gets more intensive use of your precious garden bed space, not wasting it on pathways.

Some plants require supports like tomatoes or pole beans. When planning space in a bed make sure to leave room for the supports being place correctly.

When the plants are about 3 or 4″ carefully mulch around but not touching the stems of the plants, with something like broken up autumn leaves, or grass clippings (not sprayed lawn), or other light mulch. This holds in the moisture and gives the beneficial worms food so they can continue to open the soil to air and moisture.

Once the plants start growing well, keep the mulch fresh as it disappears (worms eat it, and it decomposes).

About every two weeks or so, you may have to give more feed to some of the plants. I notice the condition of the leaves. If they start to yellow or have other lack of thriving conditions, give them some food. Nitrogen,  like manure, helps green up the plants. Phosphorous (as in rock phosphate) helps the roots develop. Potassium (banana skins or other potassium sources) help the plant flower and produce fruit. Above ground plants like lettuce, Swiss Chard, collards, or other plants eaten for their leaves like a lot of nitrogen. But fruiting varieties like tomatoes, peppers, etc. only need nitrogen at first. Once the plant is growing nicely, choose food less high in nitrogen food unless the leaves get spindly or aren’t green enough. Generally you need the potassium sources for the flowers and fruit. Root crops especially benefit from phosphorous sources.

Some vegetables need more food than others – called ‘high feeders’ or ‘heavy feeders’. Tomatoes and corn are especially hungry. You may need to use your home grown fertilizer every 2 or 3 weeks in that case. But generally I like to use a top mulch of chicken manure with bedding (never mix it into the soil, it’s too high in nitrogen and will burn the roots, just on the top) for heavy feeders mixed with compost and rock phosphate. This is more of a balanced source. And every time it rains or is watered, this mulch technique acts like a time release supplement.

I stay away from most commercial fertilizers as they produce good looking plants and fruit but this doesn’t provide the real health promoting nutrients coming from compost, manure, and high trace mineral sources of more traditional fertility sources like compost or manure tea. Organic gardening can be a bit slower, but the food produced is much higher in actual nutrition and tastes amazing.

Weed Tea. As I weed my beds I collect them, especially if they have gone to seed, and put them in rainwater buckets or barrels and let the plant matter rot down. If the weeds have seeds in them and they go to the compost without rotting the seeds, later when added to the beds, they will then germinate and weeding becomes an endless task. I remove the liquid and use that as a base for my manure/compost tea because it’s loaded with trace minerals and nutrients. The remaining rotted plant matter goes on the compost pile.

If the weeds are seed free they go directly into the compost pile. Once they have decomposed they are loaded with beneficial micro-organisms and nutrients which then are used back in the beds to feed the plants. Compost makes use of the nutrients generated in the garden, wasting nothing.

At the end of the season and you collect the drying seeds on your plants, it will be time to pull out the spent plants. Some of them will still have seeds. Those go into the weed tea barrel not the compost unless you want some surprises using that compost, like a hundred cabbage plants suddenly springing up in your soil.

There are some plants that help build soil.

Comfrey is a deeply rooted amazing plant that draws nutrients from deep within the soil up into the leaves. When the plant gets about 3’ tall, cutting the leaves about a foot up from the soil (called chop and drop) and used in compost tea or broken up and lain around the base of plants adds to the soil’s  mineral content for the plants.

Yarrow helps compost piles break down faster – a couple of handfuls of the leaves sprinkled around on top as you add more organic matter, breaks it down easier. Yarrow tends to spread out (it’s a lovely ground covering flowering plant) and needs trimming now and then. This goes right on the compost too. Dig it around in the other plant material for best results in helping the decomposition action.

I don’t compost animal products like bones or fat, or avocado skin, unless cut up well, as it doesn’t break down well. And animal parts attract vermin. But egg shells crushed up are great for adding calcium. Feed your compost pile with kitchen waste, grass clippings (if no weed seeds and no sprayed lawn clippings), tree leaves and finely chipped prunings.  Animal manure like horse, goat, pig, cow, chicken, alpaca, llama, and rabbit can either go in the regular compost pile or separately composted. Goat, alpaca, llama, sheep, and rabbit don’t need to be composted as they isn’t as high in nitrogen but they can benefit from the heat of a compost pile to eliminate any seeds from the food the animal has ingested.  The other manures are too ‘hot’ (high in nitrogen) unless broken down and decomposed.  I don’t use pet feces for gardening food waste as they contain parasites that don’t die in the compost pile. I will use it for perennial ornamental bushes and flowers as a top dressing. I like to mix them into the soil a bit because of the odor.

This isn’t rocket science but there is technology to anything you do for best results.

If you are new at gardening, you are going to have wins and failures. Learn from every mistake and note what you did right on the wins. It takes a lot to grow food. Don’t give up because your first plants don’t make it, or only some. Usually people under or over water their plants or forget to feed them.

The best way to learn is to go out every day into your garden and look at the plants. Do they look dry? They probably need some water. Do they look bug eaten? Probably look for what is eating them and pick the bugs off by hand. Do they look happy? Rejoice. But don’t forget to check for moisture in the soil, and do some fertilization every few weeks and add some mulch where it grows thin.

This is my routine. I go out every day or every other day to survey my garden carrying a basket, my hand pruner, and anything I think I will need that day. I harvest a few things or note what will be ripe soon, pull a few weeds, note where there is a bit of room for succession planting where I have harvested and left space, note any bug damage, yellowing leaves or eaten leaves (rabbits, deer), or powdery white on leaves (a kind of fungus to be treated), listen to the birds singing, maybe sing to the plants myself, and enjoy the tranquility of the space. Besides the wonderful food or herbs, the spiritual calm is one of my favorite yields in a garden, joy. This doesn’t have to take much time if I don’t have a project slated for that day. But it keeps me in touch with what is out there, and I make notes of things needing handling. This way you keep on top of any problems, don’t waste food by not harvesting things in their prime, and if something is in trouble, you can get to it immediately. Think of your garden as a toddler – they need attention.

Each season I make a list of the seeds I want to plant for the next one. Here in NE Georgia, we plant for all 4 seasons. Starting in February we start our spring and summer seeds. In August we start fall and winter plants. In late summer we start saving the summer plant seeds as the plants make their end of season seeds, in early summer (or late spring) we start saving the winter plant seeds which are drying and ready by then. And for those wished for things that I don’t have home saved seeds, I start looking over seed catalogues** in mid winter and mid summer for the next season. Also I attend seed swap events in my community and trade seeds with friends, sharing the excessive seeds of the last season.

I only plant ‘heirloom’, ‘heritage’, or open pollinated varieties which breed true year after year. Hybrid seeds (it will say hybrid on the seed packages) are a combining of original varieties but when combined do not breed true and are a waste of time to save, as the next season they breed unnaturally and often very unsatisfactorily. GMO seeds are not available to the home gardener as they are agricultural and require a contract with the seed company.

We need to protect and preserve our food diversity. In the last 100 years we have lost 90% of our edible varieties of plants so the ones we have left are precious. And to do that we need to make sure they grow in a lot of places so sharing is important. Also supporting the ethical seed companies that protect our heirloom varieties are important. The large agriculture corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill have been buying up the small family seed companies and they have been disappearing. Or they have folded them into their big corporate frame and have unethically cut out the bio-diverse offerings and substituted hybrids for profit. Choosing seed companies is as important as choosing heirloom seeds.

Growing food is a wonderful hobby or a lifetime pursuit. I got the ‘bug’ when I was a little kid when my mother gave me a little 3’ x 3’ plot of my very own garden when I was 4 years old, and helped me start my first seeds. I was hooked as I watched the little seeds turn into flowers and vegetables. But there is a lot to learn to be ever more successful, growing big healthy productive plants and knowing what to do. So, keep learning. When you have time, read some books* or go online and watch some gardening videos on YouTube and keep learning. You’ll reap the rewards by eating delicious cucumbers or fruit or tomatoes. Good luck.

I hope this helps.


*Recommended books and videos on gardening and Permaculture:

Gaia’s Garden, Lasagna Gardening, Square Foot Gardening (good one for beginners), Carrots Love Tomatoes (for companion gardening because plants have favorite friends and some enemies), and The Backyard Homestead. I recommend you actually purchase hard books, not kindle. If we loose the electronic grid, your resources are gone. Paper books don’t depend on electricity. 

Videos on Permaculture by Geoff Lawton:

** Seed companies I recommend:

Bakers Creek Heirloom Seed Company

Medicinal Herb Seed Company

Kitazawa Seed Company (Oriental varieties)

Seed Savers Exchange

Johnny’s Select Seeds

Seeds of Change

Guerney’s Seeds

Burpee’s Seeds and Plants

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Botanical Interests Seed Co.

Richter’s Herbs (and Seeds)

Burgess Seeds

None of these are Monsanto clone seed companies and are reliable

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Copies of “A Georgia Food Forest” by Cynthia R Dill now available


I have had a number of requests for A Georgia Food Forest  by Cynthia R. Dill, a book which I had posted in my WordPress Store for a couple of years. Recently I removed this from my blog because I couldn’t get copies of it. Cynthia Dill has become unreachable and noone knew where to find her or get books from her. But miracle of miracles and the generosity of a friend, I now have 7 copies of this book to sell.

Book “A Georgia Food Forest” 180 Perennial Edible Plants and a Design Guide for the Zone 8 Home Grower”– a wonderful Food Forest book for not just Georgia but any Zone 8 growing area. This is the quintessential reference for the gardener who wishes to become self-reliant and self-sufficient. It’s 128 pages of wisdom from a woman who had a farm in South Central Georgia and who worked out how to grow a food forest in an otherwise challenging environment.

Please email me at for a copy. The price is $22 plus $7 s/h. Pay by Paypal friends and family thru this email address, or send a check to Diann Dirks, 922 Wexford Way, Auburn, Ga. 30011


Posted in Emergency Preparedness, Food Forest, food forest management, Forest Agriculture, Gardening, Herb gardening, organic gardening, Permaculture, Permaculture design precept applications, Planetary management using Permaculture, Self-Sustainability, The beginning Gardener information, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book “A Georgia Food Forest” by Cynthia Dill

Several people have asked me to send them a copy of this book and I couldn’t get copies of it. However I did find it is available on Amazon. It’s a good book. I hope you get the copy. It’s one copy at a Goodwill. Meanwhile I’m trying to find her and maybe get some copies to put on my little blog store so the information can get out there. I can’t reprint it without the blessing (and contract) with Cynthia and wouldn’t anyway. I just don’t have a way to get more copies unless a contact of mine can find her. Meanwhile, keep looking. It’s a valuable tool.


Diann Dirks Thegardenladyofga

Used – Acceptable

$3.99 delivery: June 14 – 17 Fastest delivery: June 11 – 16 Add to Cart

Condition The dust jacket shows normal wear and tear. The dust jacket has minor damage or small tear. The cover h… More Ships from Goodwill of North Georgia Sold by Goodwill of North Georgia (4504 ratings)
96% positive over last 12 months

Used – Acceptable

$3.99 delivery: June 14 – 17 Fastest delivery: June 11 – 16 Add to Cart

Condition The dust jacket shows normal wear and tear. The dust jacket has minor damage or small tear. The cover h… More Ships from Goodwill of North Georgia Sold by Goodwill of North Georgia (4504 ratings)
96% positive over last 12 months

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Starting your Food Forest from scratch 6-2-21

Someone asked if anyone had a food forest and could recommend how to get started building one. It’s a Permaculture Design kind of self-sustaining and endless producing way of growing.

I have a rather good sized food forest that is my converted front yard and all around my house on a .7 acre subdivision property. I started it in 2006 when we moved from Southern California. It’s very steep property with about 1/3 of it in untouched forest – in Permaculture parlay – zone 5 – for wild things. We started with hard Georgia clay which is a lot like concrete. Now it’s a bee and butterfly haven, with 100 beds, with about 3/4 of the former yard converted to food and herb production.

A Food forest is comprised of the 7 vertical layers: Roots, ground cover, herbaceous, vines, small bushes, dwarf trees, canopy trees,. This makes use of the space most efficiently as it includes the vertical as well as the horizontal space. It’s organized around ‘anchor’ larger elements like large bushes, dwarf trees or canopy trees. This is the starting point then you add to it what supports that element.

Building a food forest works if you plant companion cross-helpful elements in it which contribute to the community you are making called a ‘guild’. That way you save yourself a lot of work because the plants provide all the things needed by all the members like: fertility, pollination, pest protection, attraction of helpful other life forms and the repelling of unwanted ones. So you choose your guild members by both vertical types and contributing guild activity. The idea is to create what nature creates by itself so it needs basically little if any maintenance by a human, but provides survivability without a great deal of work once established. Human ‘work’ will be harvesting, overseeing to ensure best use and protection (like if you need to keep out deer or over curious neighbors), but once going it pretty much takes care of itself.

So when you are choosing your guild members, try to have all 7 layers of the plants for each ‘anchor’ tree/bush. As stated above these are roots, ground covers, herbaceous sized plants, small bushes and shrubs, dwarf sized trees, canopy tall trees, vines. This uses up the vertical as well as the horizontal space, very efficient use of space, just like a jungle or forest does, thus the term food forest. When planned well, each element not only helps the other elements in the food forest, but feeds and provides for humans (and animals if you let your critters forage in a large enough space). You could have grapes crawling up a dwarf tree. You could have ground cover keeping the moisture in the soil as well as providing some kind of greens or berries. I like my wild strawberries for this. This is like a giant jigsaw puzzle with elements of the puzzle fitting together harmoniously.

There will always be a bit of experiment going on. Some of the plants won’t work or will work too well and act invasively, so you as the human in charge have to keep an eye out on how they work together, and be willing to move unsuccessful elements to a more harmonious area, but that comes with working it out. It won’t happen in a week.

I was new to Permaculture when I started my food forest, and as my knowledge grew, so has my whole demonstration garden. But it was always interesting and joyful. I made a lot of mistakes because I didn’t check out each new element. For example I thought peppermint would be a good companion to my blackberry vines and it turns out they took over my garden. Likewise I planted ground ivy as I was interested in it as an edible as well as a medicinal plant. That too took over. So, do your research before adding an element.

What I did was started with a fruit tree, created a bed around it about 7 or 8 feet out from the plant, surrounded that area with rocks to create a boundry, then put wood chips in the pathways around it over cardboard layers. First I created the soil by building layers of organic and inorganic (sand) matter. Then I started building the guild.

It turns out that I could recycle the wood chip pathways because after about 2 or 3 years, the wood chips would decompost creating the most marvelous black rich loam. So, my husband made me a sifter with 2x4s frame, hardware cloth wire mesh, that fits perfectly over our wheelbarrow, and me and my interns dig up the pathways, sift out the good soil, leaving undecomposed wood chips which go back on the path. Then we add 4″ of new wood chips to the pathways. The loam gets mixed in with organic matter each spring and fall as we recondition the annual beds, or it goes around the food forest beds to increase fertility and soil quality. Nothing goes to waste.

When planning my beds, I always include something that feeds bees, butterflies, hummingbirds or other pollinators. That usually means lots of flowers or flowering herbs, or flowering bushes. Throughout the beds there is almost always something blooming for the bees especially. Just keep creating these little ‘islands’ for each of your anchor trees/bushes. That way you have your guilds which inter-connect the plants. That’s my method for a smallish space.

For a larger acreage, use Geoff Lawton’s method of running hogs, goats, or sheep on the land to eat up the weeds and loosen the soil. Then start covering the ground with organic matter, and plant things like daicon radishes which loosen the soil and break up hard clay if you don’t have good topsoil. Watch his videos: and another one: He was an early Bill Mollison co-worker and his knowledge is excellent.

It takes a lot of research to really build a successful food forest, but start small and as you learn, continue to add areas. Start with the concept of what you want it to produce and how you plan on using the products of it. Then the key is using the ‘guild’ i.e. companion planting system so you get the most yield from your efforts.

My main interests were fruit/herb plants and bushes, and medicinal herbs, as well as creating a pollinator haven. So many plants are natives, medicinal herbs, and trees that produce food or medicine. However I balance cultivated varieties and species freely. Examples are: White Rose of Sharon, Witch Hazel, pear trees, wild cherry and bush cherry, pecan, blueberries, elderberries, service berries, comfrey (medicinal and source of fertilizing), butterfly bush, sweet tea holly, grapes (muskadine and scuppernong), raspberry, blackberry, wild strawberry, several kinds of bulb and hyzome flowers like iris, echinacea (cone flower), and perennial herbs such as echinacea, mugwort, thyme, oregano, wormwood, evening primrose, lavender, and some annuals such as ashwagandha, etc. But you will know what you want with your research.

I grow about 150 different medicinal herbs, many of them natives, about 40 fruit and herb trees and bushes, and I have annual areas which are fenced off from the deer where I grow up to 300 kinds of annual vegetables and fruits. it has taken me 15 years to create this. But I got products the first year. I determined that raised beds were best for growing annual vegetables as the Georgia clay was so dense it takes years to bring it up to be able to grow successfully. However the food forest I started in-ground instead. The annual more conventional growing areas are separated from the food forest, and the largest one is surrounded by a deer fence. However the whole garden of annuals and perennial food forest areas are harmoniously designed.

A piece of advice. Look at the natural environment growing around you. Here in Appalachia we have a treasure trove of native medicinal plants, lush forest, and naturally occurring guilds all around. Many of the plants I ‘cultivate’ here are actually plants I’ve brought in which were native but which have terrific medicinal properties. I also identified as many of the native plants growing here as possible and over time have ID’ed over 500 species. But still finding new ones.

Wherever you live, do your research, take classes or do herb or plant walks or foraging classes wherever you can find people to teach you. In Permaculture one of the biggest lessons is look, see, study your environment. Learn what is there, how things interact, what does well, what you don’t see (due to zone of growing, soil, climate, etc. and would be unsuccessful). Observe. Bill Mollison, the founder of Permaculture Design says he never starts a design until he’s studied the land for a year. All 4 seasons, all tell things.

As a designer/consultant, I am familiar with my zone and the area so I can quickly assess a piece of land, but someone coming newly into an area has to take some time to learn the nature around you. Or get some very good advice from people who know stuff. And start small – another advice from Permaculture design. Make your mistakes early and small, and save a lot of grief. It’s a learning process. We aren’t used to doing things nature’s way, so it might go against what you are used to if you have been a conventional gardener or farmer. For example I never use chemicals.

And for yourself, contemplate what you want the land to do for you. Don’t plant a bunch of stuff you won’t use and don’t like. And don’t try to plant citrus in areas that freeze for 6 months. Be realistic. Also realize your limits in terms of resources such as water availablity, wind patterns, etc. I.e. study your land. You can build soil, create water resources, and bring in plants so many of the challenges can be overcome with good planning and design.

That being said, if you can, either watch videos or visit other people’s food forest creations to be inspired, ask a lot of questions, and get excited. It’s really fun.

If you are interested, check out the archives in this blog, and follow us for latest entry posts. Good luck to you.

Diann Dirks, Certified Permaculture Designer, organic gardener, Korean Natural Farming, herbalist, artist, and devoted plant lover. 

Posted in Animal forage, Bee haven gardens, compost/manure/herb teas for fertilizing, Emergency Preparedness, Flowering herbs, Flowering plants', Food Forest, food forest management, Food protection, Forest Agriculture, Gardening, Herb gardening, organic gardening, Permaculture, Permaculture design precept applications, pest management, Self-Sustainability, Soil fertility and yield, The beginning Gardener information, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Handling Summer Heat and DIY Gatorade (my recipe) 5-30-21

It’s now summer – sure got hot fast! So, going from relatively cool weather suddenly into the high 80s or into the 90s can be a strain on the body’s electrolyte balance.

Getting over-heated and sweating a lot can lead to heat prostration, dehydration, or even heat stroke.

Watch for panting, dizziness, loss of balance, strong thirst (or worse, no sweating and no thirst after being very hot – can mean heat stroke), and feeling weak or nauseous. Don’t blow it off. Act fast.

Cool off with a wet towel to the back of the neck and face, wet your limbs, get out of the sun, sit down and rest. Take some potassium gluconate if you have been eating a lot of salty food or drink. If you aren’t feeling a lot better within 15 minutes, call 911.

Especially watch older people, young children, or pets (who can’t tell you their symptoms – also keep them in shade and don’t walk them on hot pavement).

To prevent or treat this I make this all summer, my own kind of Gatorade but without the chemicals and the vast amount of sugars in commercial drinks.

Here’s my recipe:

16 oz. water (or coconut water or water kefir or not hot tea),

1 Tbs. honey, maple syrup or stevia (a lesser amt.), 1/8 tsp (up to half a tsp) Himalayan salt or Redmond salt,

The juice of 1 lemon or lime or orange or grapefruit juice,

2 or 3 springs of perilla (aka Shiso), mint, basil, lemon grass, lemon or lyme balm, thyme, oregano, winter savory or other fresh herb (aeromatic herbs all taste good in this). I particularly like the combination of basil and perilla or mint and lemon balm rubbed between the hands.

You can also crush fruit for it.

Leave on counter for an hour to develop the flavor. You can add some ginger for a little zing.

Make a lot at a time with the same ratios. You can also taste the salt as the hotter and more you sweat, the more the salt tastes good with a little bit more.

I don’t put it over ice. I just keep it in the frig. Too cold on a hot body stomach can cause cramps or do weird things to the metab.

Drink as much as you like. Water kefir particularly can be drunk just by itself 2 liters a day – an excellent probiotic and deliciously bubbly.

Enjoy. Diann Dirks.

Posted in Gardening, heat protection, making medicine, Permaculture, Self-Sustainability, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Growing strategy for hard or rocky soil 5-25-21

Growing on rocky soil with plastic planters

Someone posted on a FB group asking how they can utilize rocky soil areas to grow herbs or other plants. This is my suggestion and idea.

On a rocky soil area, you can take large black plastic planters like they grow trees in, cut the bottoms out in a star pattern out from the center hole, so the pointy parts splay out, so they can be nailed or landscape stapled into the ground, then fill them with soil. I suggest mixing compost with planters mix and some crushed sand all purpose sand (about 10%) for the worms. Plant then mulch about an inch or so over the soil level once planted. You can get heavy black plastic planters free from some tree nurseries, the ones they would otherwise throw out. They don’t have to be perfect. Use these for your plants. If the black plastic is too hot for them, then use terracotta colored spray paint on the outsides. Kids love to do this.

Use a drip system to water them. Or make a collection facility for rain, and a solar run pump from it.

Surround the pots with about 6″ of either straw, wood chips, or pine straw to hold in the water in the pathways, and plant them. They come in various sizes. Make them far enough apart so you can walk between them as rows or quads. You can do this with just about any plants.

Eventually the larger plants will work their way down into the rocky soil somewhat. This is my own personal idea. I’ve grown lots of plants in these kinds of containers, but they still have their bottoms in place. However I always considered being able to move them. But when planting in a permanent location, taking the bottoms out enables the roots to grow down into even rocky soil.

If you are interested in more information – go to my archives in this blogsite:

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Dye Making Plants, another yield in a Permaculture Garden – sources of books and information 5-24-21

It’s spring and my garden is coming so alive now. All the trees in the forest area behind our house are leafed out. Flowers are blooming all around. So as I prepare my garden beds for all my usual crops, I’m actively continuing research on all of the things and all of their uses for an account of the potential yields from all this growing stuff.

Among my many interests are fiber arts. I have taken classes in making dye from plants and using plants to make fibers. I belong to a FB group called Natural Dye Education, a wonderful group of very knowledgeable dyers and fiber artists. They have a discussion constantly about what they know about dye and how they use things, mistakes made, solutions etc. Here is the most recent discussion which I wanted to share with you.

My entry: Thank you all for this amazing bunch of informational sources. I’m a Permaculture Designer in Georgia. One of the precepts in Permaculture design is that every element in the garden design (like every plant but any other elements) must have more than one use or activity as nature is that diverse. When people design a garden they often forget that plant dye is a yield along with fiber plants like nettle and flax for linen, cotton, hemp, and various things for making cord and rope. Also plants for making baskets (a kind of fiber art), along with the usual food plants, medicinal and culinary herbs, and bee haven pollinator attractors. I love how you bring life to the yield of dye.

I grow about 150 medicinal herbs in my garden, but also being a fiber artist, I’m learning how many of the things I’m already growing can be used for dye. It’s amazing the gifts of nature if you just study and learn what’s around you.

Here is the discussion: (I have deleted many of the poster’s names)

Does anyone own both “A dyer’s garden’ and “A weaver’s garden’ by Rita Buchanan? I have the Dyer’s garden and wonder if there is additional useful information for me in the Weaver’s garden. I could see that the Weaver’s garden may have info on growing flax etc. Please let me know your thoughts.

I recently bought a copy of The Art and Science of natural dyes. I had hoped for lot of recipes for wool, but really there isn’t too much. I”m not sure it is going to be very helpful, I have a science background and I”m not finding too much new information that will be useful for my wool dyeing. If I was to move into cellulose dyeing I think it would be different. As I own sheep, it is unlikely!

Sara Ashford

Helen Griffiths Weaver’s Garden expands on the theme of a dye garden and goes into details beyond gardening. “A Garden to Dye for” is a newer book that I checked out from the library. It’s worth looking into.

William Bailey

Just read a review and the person mentioned that there were recipes to use black beans and cabbage as dyes. Not sure this is the book for me. Thanks for the suggestion.

Helen Griffiths Now I remember why I didn’t buy a copy. Actually.

The best books for recipes are the ones from the era when natural dyes were all there was. I like the best for downloading books. The bibliography in J. N. Liles’ book “The Art and Craft of Natural Dyes” is a good place to find old books.

ARCHIVE.ORG Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free & Borrowable Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine

Helen Griffiths the Weaver ‘s Garden is more about plant based spinning fibres. Look at resources like Nature’s Rainbow for growing dye plants. Or Jill Goodwin, A Dyer’s Manual.

Mamie’s Schoolhouse

I highly recommend J N Liles book for actual recipes, and lots of them!

Brynhildur Bergthorsdottir

I have both books by Rita Buchanan. As I remember they contain very similar info. If you are interested in the science I highly recommend books by Dominque Cardon, but for recipes Jenny Dean.

Kate Kasimor

I really enjoyed what I could understand (quite a bit of chemistry) in “Handbook of Natural Colorants”. I really want the book but it’s very expensive and a new edition is coming out this year. I’ve checked it out from a college library. https://www.wi…/Handbook+of+Natural+Colorants-p…

Handbook of Natural Colorants

WILEY.COM Handbook of Natural Colorants Handbook of Natural Colorants

Kate Kasimor Yes, it’s definitely the most comprehensive natural dye chemistry book. I love it, but agree, the price is ridiculous.

• Jo Nash

I have a flock of sheep and grow all my own dye plants. I now stick to the ancient 3 used in Europe for thousands of years because with practice you can get every colour of the rainbow! The ancient 3 are woad, weld and madder. I do grow a bit of chamomile for the bees and nice plants for the garden and a different yellow. For ideas (and seeds) for the garden look Natures Rainbow they grow loads in the UK too. (I assume you are UK based). Equally they limit the plants a bit because many give yellow and there is only so much yellow you can take.

• Carolyn Griffiths

I agree with Jo, if you want to dye wool, the three historical ones give the best colour. However if you are in North East America golden rod which grows wild gives a really good yellow. You can also grow persicaria as an annual and madder in tubs to contain the roots. Tickweed, coreopsis tinctoria also grows profusely as an annual, these are all great on wool and Jenny Dean’s books have plenty of recipes. Liles has more historical dyes, so rather depends on what you are trying to achieve. Last time I was in New Hampshire I did some dyeing with jewelweed and big blue grass too.

• Natures Rainbow

The Weavers Garden is a lovely book with lots of interesting info. It does not have the portfolio of dye plants. But, do not buy the reprint, the print quality is very poor and colour plates are missing, the black and white illustrations of plants are very poorly printed. Try and get an original print or don’t bother.

From William Bailey –


Thank you all for your wisdom and experience.

Of course these posts are just one discussion, but I thought if this was of interest as a subject to you, I think the books and sites mentioned above may be a good place to start.

In our garden I’ve been gathering plants for dye which many of them are also good for making ink (such as poke berry) as well. But just because a plant makes ink doesn’t mean it holds onto the color on fabric. Some of them are very short lived. I found that out when trying to make a purple mauve color using poke berry. At first the dye is brilliant then in about 3 hours it’s reduced to a dull kind of gray. Disappointing. Some of the references above include what works and what doesn’t, as well as the science behind all of this. But I thought I’d share it if you wanted to go down the rabbit hole, or in case you grow sheep or alpaca for fiber for protein based fibers, or cotton, hemp or other cellulose based fibers. Gosh it’s a fascinating subject.

Happy coloring,

Diann Dirks aka Georgia Dirks, HIllside Gardens, Auburn, Ga

Posted in Art and creativity, Basket making and fiber arts, Fabric dye and ink information, Food Forest, Gardening, Herb gardening, Permaculture design precept applications, Seasonal gardening plants, Self-Sustainability, Uncategorized, Wild crafting and wild plants, Yarn, hand spinning, yarn processing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Making Plant Medicine – Stages 4-24-21






Delivery System


When there is a need for healing, handling a deficiency, curing anything in the body, according to many herbal philosophies and practices, it is considered obvious that there is a plant or a combination of plants and their constituents which will help bodies mend or improve, or reverse unwanted conditions. Herbalism is an art, a working principle, and a practice that spans the entire history of mankind on planet earth. If we hadn’t had the benefits of plants and the knowledge of their uses we would probably not have people on earth. We would have died off long ago. But nature is an interworking system that has been worked out over millions of years by life force acting on the raw materials of the physical universe, and life with material stuff have come to come pretty good agreements.

The matter, energy, space and time of the physical have made a game place for life forms to develop and thrive. Life acts on the physical and the physical helps life. It’s symbiosis at its best, or at least it has worked for us here. Every living organism and form on this planet is spirit first, then the interaction of spirit and physical, and there is a harmony to it, which we call ‘nature’. It’s a very old system and the interactions and benefits are very thorough and many layered. When one layer fails, another comes in and takes its place. So we must respect each aspect and pay attention because it all acts here to give life force/spirit a place to play the game of living. Every living form has its place. Even harmful bacteria and micro-organisms act as counter balance to keep the beneficial ones strong and weeds out the weak.

Into this picture we have plants and fungi which provide nutrition, stimulant, balance, and harmony to our human and animal life forms. It’s a dance of balance. The healer, the plant lover and grower, the scholar all play a part in providing the knowledge of how to use those plants and fungi to support, provide, and heal.

For myself it is a passion to understand how we fit into the life force and forms on the planet which help and benefit the system I love. To me it’s a wonder and joyful to know how each piece fits into place. How the bird song opens the pores in the underside of the leaf so the atmosphere with its vital nutrients for the plant can be attracted and absorbed by the plant. How the micro-organism in the soil provides just the right mineral for the tree and how the fungi threads called mycelium brings the mineral into the root that supports the leaf above that falls and deteriorates into soil that feeds the micro-organisms and the other plant life.

So as an herbalist and healer, knowing how nature works, and what it provides, then recognizing the beauty of it, and the interrelationships that are there to bring to bodies, human and animal, into harmony, isn’t just science. It’s art, it’s spiritual. We are all part of nature, and using it kindly can bring life into focus so it can in a round about way, then benefit the whole system, plants, animals, air, rock, insects, flowers, weather, water, energy, even the frequencies of music and bird song.

We live on a little rock in a very big universe. The thin layer on this rock is only a few miles thick, and it’s fragile. Nature is a powerful system, but it will break down if abused long enough and hard enough. So, everything we do must be kind to it. When I harvest a wild plant, I am careful to only take a little bit, only what I need, never for profit, but always to benefit. When I grow herbs or other plants in my garden, I use no chemicals that can harm other plants, insects, wild life, or micro organisms in the soil. It isn’t always convenient, but it honors the system so in another thousand years we will still have that little green leaf our great grand children’s great grand children will have it to heal them. Nature has lasted as long as it has because it’s a system that works. Who am I to challenge that system with harsh chemicals or land defying practices?

That being said, plant medicine when used knowledgeably, from pure sources untouched by hidden chemicals or substances, which through nature are available to fit together the broken pieces of a cell or a bone or a tear in the skin, or a rupture in a brain, does so in a science so precise we can’t match it in even the highest tech laboratory in the world. We can’t recreate a seed. We can’t actually create DNA and RNA, we can only change what is there. And if the pieces of nature are broken, it also has the remedies to repair them.


There are literally millions of kinds of plants and fungi on this planet. The diversity is staggering. We are faced with such an overwhelming number of life forms here, one will never know all of them. We as a scientific community will probably never identify every micro-organism or fungi for example because life keeps finding new ways to manifest when seeking to solve the ever changing conditions on the planet. However, through the thousands of years people have been working with plants and fungi, we have identified ones that are especially beneficial for certain or myriad conditions.

In football they call it ‘deep bench’ i.e. if the star quarterback is injured, another player on the bench can come in and keep the game going. The same goes for herbal medicinal plants. When it is summer and the spring antibiotic rich plants are past their medicinal prime, over there on the other bed or in the woods is another plant which has similar properties but is in its prime in the heat. Knowing the richness and many properties of these powerfully healing plants can make it possible to keep moving from one plant to the next when the need is there.

We all as healers have our favorite herbs and fungi, which we have had success with to bring about the right changes and healings for people or animals. But just as there are many kinds of plants, so are there many kinds of people and animals, from one to the next. We all don’t respond the same to the substances in those plants and fungi. So, again, we need that ‘deep bench’ of knowledge and herbs.

The Cherokee people and their healers were master herbalists. In Appalachia – mountains and foothills – they identified and used over 1500 medicinal plants at least, but no idea how many mushrooms and fungi they used as well as those have not particularly been chronicled. Other ancient medicinal practices such as in India – Ayerveda, or China – Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) likewise use thousands of plants in their vast herbal knowledge bases.

But to be an effective healer, one doesn’t need to know all of this. It would be impossible anyway. And what we have as resources for those ‘medicants’ (medicinal substances) are as limited as the region we live in, what we can grow ourselves or forage, or the connections we have with others who can provide what we can’t directly.

That being said, knowing what is available around where we live can be eye-openingly astounding. When I first came to NE Georgia from being a gardener in California, I was busily pulling up what I thought were weeds from my newly created planting beds. Then I took a couple of classes from a local very knowledgeable herbalist, including an herbal walk up in the mountains, and found out that all those supposed ‘weeds’ I was pulling were 90% medicinal plants. So, I realized how ignorant I was and started learning what was in my little .7 acre subdivision lot on a very steep hill, 1/3 of which was dense undeveloped forest. When I got to 500 identifications, I quit counting. I didn’t stop learning, I just ran out of index cards. Not really, but I figured whatever I didn’t know and couldn’t identify probably had some kind of medicinal value, and stopped just pulling up everything in sight except the neat seed catalog cultivated plants I was familiar with, and got busy finding out what they were.

In the process of learning all this I also discovered those plants also could be used to make dye, ink, beer, perfume, and a host of other things I kept finding out. Like how many of them were antibiotics, anti-virals, could heal wounds, stop bleeding, help women’s and men’s issues, lessen pain and inflammation, attract and support bees and butterflies, feed hummingbirds and those valuable song birds with their lovely singing, and improve the flavor and strength of the cultivated plants I also grow.

I started gathering a library of books, and have continued to keep very careful research notes on those plants and mushrooms, their healing powers, their constituents, how they are used, what they do for the body exactly, what warnings or counter-indications for their use, what they blend well with to increase their healing powers, how to grow them, what to look for when foraging, and what look-alikes are either beneficial or harmful. I use the internet extensively, and often go down the rabbit hole in my research reading everything I can on a given plant. I also follow up on formuli for various conditions from other herbalists and healers, look up scientific abstracts, look up a ton of words (because there is a whole vocabulary in studying this field), and make sure I really understand everything I’m reading.

I have favorite herbalists I follow, and websites I trust as resources for accuracy.

So, after 15 years here in Georgia, I have a library full of books on herbalism and a host of related subjects like wild crafting, Native American folklore and information, gardening, recipes, wild crafting things like ink and dye, baskets, etc. My mind is always filling up with fascinating stuff. But I also keep very good notes because one mind has trouble holding all of it in. At least mine does. After 4 to 6 hours of research a day for 10 years or so, the cup runneth over. However, I also keep very good computer notes and research sites.

So, in the process of identification I always recommend starting slowly, with a few plants, finding out everything I can about them, and try a few of the recipes online. Dandelion, brought over from Europe in the early days of white colonization on this continent as healing plant and edible, is a good place to start since every part of the plant is either edible or medicinal. The flower when harvested and packed into a jar with olive oil, kept in a cupboard for a month or so, strained, the greenish yellow oil saved in a cool dark place, is a wonderful sore muscle rub. The leaves are loaded with minerals for nutrition, are excellent in salads or soup, and being a bit bitter, also have medicinal value for the glands in the body. The roots can be roasted and make an excellent coffee substitute as used in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War by the troops when they couldn’t get coffee bean. But the root is also used to help treat cancer and other conditions. The while ‘milk’ substance in the stems can be applied to warts a few times a day to remove them. The fluffy attached to the seed can be collected over time and used to stuff in clothing as insulation. Just that one little humble plant that the lawn maintenance people attack with chemicals that pollute our ground water, imagine!

With a little search on the internet you can find a number of excellent ‘field guides’ for hunting down and identifying ‘weeds’ that grow all around us. Some of them are super foods, like purslane which grows into large succulent leafed plants so nutritious you could almost live off of it. Like stinging nettle, a member of the mint family, which has an acid in its tiny needles that sting like crazy, but which when made into a tea is a terrifically nutritious infusion as well as an allergy calming drink loaded with anti-histamines. The plant often found nearby, any member of the ‘dock’ family, the leaf rubbed on the stung place from the nettle, almost instantly, takes the pain away.

Just start out where you are and learn.

If you are a gardener and like to grow culinary herbs, you will be surprised at the benefits of such herbs as basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, sage, mint, and others. They are all medicinal! Powerfully so even. Parsley is even a super food.

If you have fire ants that plague you make sure you grow some plantain herb (not the banana, this is a green herb growing everywhere almost) because at the first sting, if you chew up a leaf from the plantain and rub it on the sting, it instantly takes away the pain and the stung area will not inflame, or infect, no more little pustules and no scars either. I teach all the kids in the neighborhood this trick because we have those ants everywhere. This trick also works well though a bit slower, with bee stings, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets and spider bites. With a hornet or yellow jacket, you may have to apply it a couple of times because those venoms are nasty, but in an hour or so it will also heal up.

If you have a particular problem you want some plant help from, using the internet and searching for ‘herbs for xyz condition’, you will find something that grows around you or something you can get at a health food store to help you. I have found sometimes the number of herbs or mushrooms that help any condition are huge, so narrowing it down to a couple of ones available is a good way to start applying the knowledge.

As you become familiar with what is medicinal and what that plant is commonly used for, your mental ‘apothecary’ (collection of herbs and their uses) will grow sufficiently you can think with this as medicine for use. Most of the ones that grow around me have been used by country people in this area as home remedies for generations, so it has been helpful to talk to the old ‘grannies’ when I can find them, and ask a lot of questions, keeping careful notes. But even those lovely knowledgeable people don’t know it all. But if you know another herbalist in the area, learn from them. Take classes from them if offered, and read up on the internet.

Just as a caution, never use an herb you aren’t 100% certain of its identification, its warnings, its counter-indications (for example using when someone or yourself are taking pharmaceutical drugs, as some will either counter-act the drug, or make it too strong and be harmful), and care of the dosages. Some should not be used by pregnant or nursing moms or babies. Some should not be used if someone is taking heart medication or insulin as you could lower the blood sugar too far, or make the blood too non-coagulating.

I recommend starting with topical applications, like making simple salves and ointments as you learn other applications. A simple salve using plantain, yarrow, and chickweed, olive oil, some bees wax to stiffen it, and some lavender oil to lengthen the shelf life is a great healing and soothing ointment for most skin irritations and small injuries.

As you start to recognize the plants and their applications around you, and you find they carry some properties you would like to try making some medicine with, do a little homework to make sure your identification is exactly right, and take care not to use endangered or rare plants (mushrooms aren’t the actual plant, they are the fruiting bodies and there really isn’t any reason to limit their harvest, just be very very careful your identification is exact because mushrooms can be harmful if you aren’t absolutely sure of their ID).

I also limit the taking of plants in a wild forage to no more than 20% of aerial parts, 10% of a full plant with roots (and then if the roots are split-able, I replant some of the root), and NEVER all of them. We have lost whole plant species from greedy and unethical harvesting of some of our most valuable plants. The Cherokee people stopped sharing their knowledge to others because of this greed and wanton destruction, loosing some of their most valuable plant medicines.

Before harvesting, make sure you are harvesting only the parts that you need. If you can do with only the flower, don’t take the stems and leaves for example. And then, remember flowers are the precursors of the seeds which the plants need to continue their existence, so always obey that 20% stricture.

Some plants loose their potency if not preserved quickly. So, do your home work. Old mushrooms don’t provide much of the ingredients you want, but note their location and come back at a more favorable time. Mushrooms being fruiting bodies can be harvested heavily, but remember they too are the source of reproduction so don’t take it all or everywhere. And if they are rare, don’t share their location unless to very trustworthy others. Be ethical.

I take a basket, a knife, a little brush, and a secateurs (hand pruner) when I go foraging or harvesting in my garden. Some plants look alike so in order to keep them straight I often take plastic zip lock baggies and a sharpie pen to mark their ID.


Now that we’ve talked about the process of learning your herbs, their properties, their caveats on harvesting, and researching, a word about what comes next.

I have a dehydrator which is always on because it is constantly being replenished. You can get a small inexpensive dehydrator from Wal-Mart, or go online and spend a lot more money getting a professional one. But start small in all things until you know how extensive you’ll need the tools of an herbalist. Some of my herbalist friends just air dry their herbs on a paper towel, or a screen frame held with strings in a cool shady area. In any case, dehydration is an excellent preservation method.

Some herbs are best utilized preserved in alcohol, oil, vinegar, glycerin, or dehydrated. When taking an herb for use, find out first which preservation method works to get the constituents out of the herb for use. If I have a glut of herbs in a specific season I know I won’t be able to use right away, I usually dehydrate them. I have some used window screen panels from friends in construction, and lay my herbs on the shady porch till they are crispy dry. Then later the dried herb can be made into a tea, infusion, oil, alcohol tincture and so forth. But once dry, preserve your herbs in tight lidded plastic or glass containers. For liquid preservation I always use glass as sometimes when exposed to liquid, plastic will outgas or otherwise impart toxic material into the herbal medicine making it un-useable. For example, ground ivy, a member of the mint family, in spring is so prevalent in my garden I could take it away in bushel baskets, but I dehydrate it, powder it, and later either place it in capsules or make tincture or tea with it. But once dry it is preserved for at least a year.

Once you have harvested, processed, and collected your herbs, the next action is getting the medicine in the plant somehow to be absorbed into the body. This means some method of extraction.

Usually culinary herbs which are also medicinal like sage, rosemary, mint, thyme, oregano etc. give their medicinal values into the food. We don’t usually notice that eating that spaghetti sauce with the oregano, thyme, and garlic (also highly medicinal) is improving our immune system and helping us fight a cold. Or the sage in the turkey dressing is improving our health. Yet most of the culinary herbs over the centuries used by various cultures are used for their health giving properties, even if the cook doesn’t know they are doing that. So, the extraction method used in cooking is the heat, the liquid in the broth, the soaking in the sauce, etc. However, when specifically making medicine, the extraction method is important.

Extraction methods

Removing the active components of plants leaving behind the cellulose and other non-medicinal plant chemicals means condensing those valuable substances so one can not only save from chewing up a bunch of plants without the benefit of a ruminant stomach system (like a cow), which is often the majority of the weight of the plant, to get out what you want out of it, but also have it in controllable and dosable amounts.

Often plants have many valuable medicinal plant chemicals which do various things for the body. They are dissolvable by various solvents called ‘mentsrums’. Depending on what is desired to get out of that plant will determine which of the solvents one uses. They are: water, oil, alcohol, vinegar, glycerin, and honey. The volatile oils can be distilled using steam and a distiller which then becomes what are called ‘Essential Oils’. Making EOs requires a very large amount of plant material because the percentage of the plant that is oil is often in the single digit percentages or lower. Several tons of plant material may be needed for just a couple of ounces of EO. Usually an herbalist will purchase these essential oils rather than try to distill them directly. However lesser condensed versions can be made by an herbalist using steam or infused oil where the oil in the plant is dissolved into a ‘carrier oil’ such as olive oil, or almond or other nutrient rich oil. In that case the carrier oil is the menstrum.

Water is probably the oldest method. Making a ‘tea’ (called when making a tea out of herbs rather than the specific plant  Camellia sinensis, a tisane) is the usual method. Any other plant than camellia sinensis is officially a tisane. Water dissolves water soluble plant chemicals and also absorbs volatile oils. When making a tisane from an aromatic plant, it’s best to keep the tisane covered once the boiling water is poured over the herb so as not to loose those substances. This usually entails boiling some water, providing an herb or herb, whether fresh or dried, pouring it over the herb, and letting it ‘steep’ or ‘macerate’ (the herbal word for steeping or soaking) for 5 to 20 minutes, the herb removed then drinking.

Typically the next stronger extraction method with water is called an ‘infusion’ meaning water and herb are brought together, boiling water is poured over it, it is left to steep or infuse for a few minutes up to a few hours. Soft plant parts such as leaves, flowers, small soft stems, fine roots, or tender vines (non-woody) are so infused. The plant matter is strained out and either the infusion is immediately drunk, or it is kept refrigerated until needed.   

A more intense method of using water, usually reserved for larger amounts of herb-to-water, particularly for a nutrient rich nutritional infusion, is in quart sized volumes, to fill a quart jar half or full of herb, covering it with boiling water to the top of the jar, screwing on a tight lid, and letting it sit for 4 to 8 hours, or overnight. Then one drinks it through the day for liquid food and to provide valuable vitamins and minerals as well as the medicinal values in the herbs. It isn’t preserved so the un-drunk liquid is kept in the frig for up to two days. It’s best drunk within the first two days however. See Susun Weed herbalist.

A more intense way to use water for extraction is called a ‘decoction’ usually used in harder to extract substances such as roots, woody herbs, bark, resins, or tough stems or woody mushrooms. In this case the plant matter is cut up as finely as possible so the water can impinge into the tougher matter, the water brought to a boil, lowered to a simmer, and then simmered for several hours. This can be in a double boiler, a pan on the stove, or a slow cooker with a lid on. One watches the water level so it doesn’t evaporate out too much, and one replaces water to keep the same amount of liquid in the pot. The plant matter is strained out, and the decocted extraction is kept in a glass container with a tight lid, refrigerated. It is not preserved so best to drink it within a couple of days.

Water is not a preservation method like some of the other extraction methods, so caution should be made to use it up quickly.

Alcohol Tinctures are an excellent to not only extract the medicinal properties but also preserve the medicine from the plants and fungi. However, some of the medicinal substances in an herb are only dissolved in water. Thus usually the alcohol will also dissolve the water based medicine along with the alcohol dissolved material, because most of the alcohol used is mixed with water. When using spirits such as vodka, hard liquor, wine, beer, or other alcoholic liquids, the percentage of alcohol to water is listed on the label. It’s rare to use or even find 100% alcohol, but Ever Clear, or Moonshine are very high percentages alcohol – in the 90 percentages, the rest water. Usually I use 80 proof vodka which is 40% alcohol, or 100 proof vodka – 50% alcohol by volume. Wine and beer can be used, even mead made from fermented honey, are in the 12% alcohol levels. Check the labels. Then both the alcohol and water dissolvable substances are dissolved together.

Sometimes when making an extract of an herb, we use a double extraction method to get out all the possible medicine from the herbs.  First we extract with alcohol, using the cold method, macerating the herb in the alcohol for 4 to 6 weeks, straining out the solids (called the ‘marc’), then placing the solids separately in a pot with water and simmering it for 40 minutes to a couple of hours, keeping the liquid level sufficient to cover the marc, and not burning it, and straining it finally. Then the alcohol tincture and the decoction are mixed together. Since the alcohol tincture is a preservation method, this does not need refrigeration, and will last a long time, some say indefinitely, but certainly up to 12 years.

If one is in a hurry a hot method for tincturing it can be used, though extreme caution must be made in using heat around alcohol because if an open jar of alcohol is near a heat source, it can explode or burst into fire. Therefore, making a hot method tincture is always done with a covered jar. We use a quart mason jar set over a towel in the bottom of a pot, sufficiently large to bring the water level at least half way up the quart jar. The herb is measured according to the recipe into the jar, covered with the chosen alcohol, up to the shoulder of the quart jar, tightly lidded, lowered into cold water, then the heat is turned up high till the water boils, then lowering it immediately to a slow simmer. It simmers for an hour up to most of the day, then carefully removed with the lid still on. Use a jar lifter, set the hot jar aside, and allow it to return to room temperature before removing the lid. Then if one is double extracting the herb, strain out the alcohol, and proceed to making the decoction from the marc. This is called a double extraction or DX.

I recommend always doing only one herb in a tincture or double extraction. Then later if one wishes to make a blend of herbs, take the individual extractions and blend them. That way if you don’t use all of the individual extract you can use it in other blends or alone.

Tinctures are condensed extractions, usually only used a few drops or a dropper load at a time. Keep the final products in colored glass in a cool dark location to preserve the medicinal properties. They do not need to be refrigerated.

Straining the marc with water or alcohol preparations are best strained thru a cloth bag so the solids can be squeezed hard to get the last bit of the liquid out. We make them using muslin fabric and a double ‘French’ seam (i.e. sewn on one side, turned inside out, and sewn again over the first margins, this makes for a very tough seam which won’t break when squeezing with a lot of pressure).

Oil is another fine menstrum. We use a ’carrier oil’ to dissolve the plant medicines out of the herb. Popular carrier oils are extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, sunflower oil, argan oil, avocado oil, black cumin seed oil, coconut oil, grape seed oil, hemp carrier oil, jojoba oil, shae butter or other hard oil. An excellent full explanation of carrier oils can be founding this website:

Oil infusions are usually used to make topical (on the surface of the skin, not inside the body) medicines, but sometimes an herbal oil can be given a few drops at a time internally. The herb (one at a time per batch) is either cold infused (like a tincture above) for 4 to 6 weeks, usually in a warm location such as a sunny window, or hot method. In this case a double boiler or bane marie (a metal or glass bowl sitting on a pot with water boiling below it) is used to heat up the oil. It isn’t recommended to heat oil directly on a heat source because it too can burn and hurt you.

When using a hot method, never boil the oil, and allow it to gently simmer for 40 minutes up to 3 or 4 hours, then strained once cooled off. Keep unpreserved oils in the refrigerator. The hot method when making a salve or ointment can break the rules about single herbs, and a recipe of various herbs can be heated together for making a batch. Always allow the oils to cool before trying to strain. We usually use a muslin bag as a filter so it can be squeezed to get the last few drops out of the used herbs.

When making an infused oil from a fresh herb it is recommended to let it dry out – wilt – for a day on a paper towel in a well ventilated place to drive most of the water out. If the herb is wet, the liquid in it will drop to the bottom of the jar and can later ruin your batch as the water supports bacteria which can contaminate your final product. You can also use dried herbs.

If you wish to make a lotion which includes water based substances and oils, you will then need to use some kind of emulsifier to enable both oil and water to stay suspended together in a single substance. The medicinal oil in this case should start out water free as water with the oil can contain bacteria. Usually we use carnauba wax or other emulsifying agent to allow them to exist in the same product. But when making a medicinal oil infusion, you don’t want any water left in with the oil.

Infused oils are not preserved so they need to be kept in the refrigerator once made unless you then make a salve or ointment out of them at which case they will contain a preservative such as Vitamin E oil, lavender essential oil or other anti-bacterial essential oil or ingredient. Coconut oil, Shae butter or other harder oil solidifies and can be kept un-refrigerated as long as two or three weeks, but liquid oil should be refrigerated.

Vinegar being very acidic makes another kind of ‘tincture’ for those who can’t intake alcohol (such as babies, alcoholics, those with religious reservations, or other reasons) yet vinegar in itself has medicinal properties which are beneficial. So, using the same techniques as the above talk about tinctures can be used. Vinegar dissolves pretty much the same plant chemicals as alcohol, and being a water based ingredient, of water as well.

Glycerin, another tincture making solvent, is often used in the place of alcohol or vinegar, and is often used for formulas for babies and small children. It is treated the same as water and tincture above and is called when completed a ‘glycerite’ rather than a tincture or infusion. It is thicker in texture than water or alcohol. It is also a sugar based ingredient so it should be kept refrigerated when not in use.

Honey, being a slower solvent, is often used to make syrups and cough medicine because it can coat the mucus membranes of the mouth and throat. It usually is not heated as honey’s medicinal benefits which are themselves powerful, are destroyed with too much heat. Heat only to soften the texture but never boil or even simmer. Best method to making a honey infusion is to chop up the herbs, place in a jar, pour over with honey and using a chop stick or knife, work out the air bubbles releasing them from the plant material, tightly cover the jar, and leave in a warm spot for a month or so, then either use a strainer or leave the herb in the jar and start using it. Sometimes the action of making a honey infusion will release water from the herb and make it more liquid and make it easier to strain.

Delivery systems

Now that the herbs and their constituents are drawn out of the plants or fungi, getting those plant chemicals into the body in the intended way are a consideration of the herbalist. We use a number of ways to do that.

A tea or tisane is obvious, you drink a cup of it as needed. Or you can gargle it in the case of a sore throat, use it as a wash topically on a wound, or add it to your bath water. Hot water opens the pores to allow the medicine to go into the skin directly.

Nutritional infusions can either be taken directly in a glass, added to sparkling water for a beverage, or made into a syrup by adding a sweetener if it is bitter or the flavor isn’t palatable. Same with a decoction. Depending on the taste, which can be bitter or flavorful, depending on one’s taste considerations, and the dosage recommended for the herbs in question, they can be mixed with other herbal concoctions in blends, or added to hot water to make a blended tisane.

Water based infusions are the beginnings of syrups which are used in a number of ways for delivery. When an herb is too bitter or unpleasant as an infusion to drink directly, by adding a sweetener it can become deliverable. For someone who refused to take pills, is fussy such as a sick child, or an older person who refused to take medicine, a syrup can be given in spoon doses, or added to juice or sparkling water as a pleasant beverage. Syrups also can be a concentrated form of tea and by adding hot water, makes another pleasant beverage. One doesn’t even know they are taking medicine, which is sometimes a good thing.

Tinctures are usually delivered in dropper amounts, added to juice or water, into a smoothie, or added to other blends depending on the intended use.

Herbal infused oils are used as massage oils delivering the medicinal properties via the skin. They are often combined with the more powerful and concentrated essential oils for pain or inflammation, or rubbed into scar tissue, or healing areas (not open wounds) to improve healing time.

Salves, ointments, balms, lotions, body butters, or unguents, being of various thicknesses and textures, are all oil or fat based, and deliver the medicinal properties along with the moisturizing properties of the carrier oils, through the skin. They can pinpoint an area of inflammation, pain or injury, and work the healing plant chemicals where they are most needed. Lotions being more light can be used all over the skin for moistening, healing, soothing, and in the case of baby rashes or irritations such as diaper rash, they can do so gently bringing comfort. They can even be used to deliver antibiotic herbal remedies to infected areas which penetrate the skin and act directly. Or in the case of comfrey herb, help to heal and knit bone injury. In the case of upper respiratory congestion or infection, a salve with aromatic essential oils can help clear the congestion. An oil with antibiotic and loosening qualities can be dropped in the ear to relieve an ear infection or wax build up. An oil with a sedative herb or essential oil used as a massage oil can help relax traumatized or injured people, or added to a bath, can relax muscles and give relief. Rubbed on the bottom of feet, it can help people relax enough to sleep.

Infusions can be used on the hair and scalp to handle scalp issues, improve the texture and shininess of hair, used as a toner for skin, help relieve acne, and improve skin texture. Specific herbs can be infused to make eye drops or deliver medicine under the tongue. Oils can bring relief to eczema, psoriasis, itchy skin, dry skin, rashes, and other irritations. Tinctures can be taken in morning coffee or tea to handle specific body conditions without discomfort.


Preservation of herbs has been covered above through refrigeration, the use of alcohol in an herbal preparation, the addition of vitamin E oil or lavender essential oil in oil preparations, alcohol itself as a tincture, or vinegar in an infusion themselves are preservatives. Often dehydration of the fresh herb, and kept in tight glass jars is itself an excellent preservation method and can extend the useful life of an herb up to 5 years depending on the properties of the herb.

If you have an herb garden, and you harvest herbs at their peak of excellence, determine if the herb is best used in water, alcohol, oil, vinegar, glycerin or honey, and before the herb’s properties dissipate through time, or the aromatic properties are released, act quickly to keep the good effect of the herb.


Some good resources for understanding herbs are Rosemary Gladstar’s book on herbal medicine for the beginner, Patricia Kyritsi Howell’s book on Medicinal Herbs of the Appalachian Mountains, Susun Weed’s many great videos on YouTube, John Christopher’s many good websites on the internet and his book, Herbalist David Crow, Herbalist Ronda Reno, Herbalist and Naturopath Doc Shillington, Herbalist Jim Buckenmyer ,and Herbalist and educator Anne-Marie Bilella and just Google herbalists. There is so much good information available for the beginner all the way up to an expert available.


Herbal medicine is a vast subject and the number of medicinal herbs and their uses and properties could fill an encyclopedia. In this article I have put down some general information on the subject, some references which can lead into making plant medicine and home remedies, and a general look at what it does and can do.

Diann Dirks, Herbalist, Permaculture designer, Organic gardener, Auburn, Ga.

Some General References

Carrier oils:

More Books on herbs:


Published by the Great Smoky Mountain Association 

 Tommie Bass

Darryl Patton “Mountain Medicine” book

Posted in Emergency Preparedness, Gardening, Herb gardening, Joint pain, Life's Lessons, making medicine, Making Medicine DIY, organic gardening, Permaculture, Self-Sustainability, The future, Uncategorized, Wild crafting and wild plants | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strategies to feed your family in times of food shortages, Container Gardening 4-19-21

With all the changes happening in our culture currently, and I’m sure I do not have to reiterate what those are, some are predicting such economic difficulties as to cause famine, starvation, all the bad news.

I am not that much in agreement, nor am I pessimist, however when people are already afraid because of the much touted danger of disease, another layer of fear isn’t helpful. But I see all the indicators of a food crisis being created. It’s a wise person who confronts and predicts, then acts on those insights. But, just remember, there is always something you can do about it!

During the great Depression of the 1920 and 30s, people made out and kept from starving because most of them were only one generation from living an agrarian life – able to farm, garden, and grow food, hunt, and be more self-sufficient. They weren’t as used to a luxurious lifestyle where so much is convenient as our lifestyle has become. And they more easily withstood hardships. They also had the attitude “I can do this myself”. Welfare and nanny state mentality was abhorred; people were proud and didn’t like accepting charity because it also made one beholden to others, which put their life control in other’s hands. We need to be more like that because attitude can mean all the difference between freedom and slavery. People back then knew that.

That being said, having food, being able to grow it, and having a way to grow at least part of their food needs can likewise make all the difference in one’s attitude, and one’s ability to hold off being the effect of unwise administration or outright suppression.

During WWII, in Poland, the history books tell us, the Polish people who were mostly an agrarian society, grew their own grain to make their own bread. They ground their grain, mostly wheat and rye, in little hand held grinders much like a coffee grinder today, with a little crank. These made a distinctive noise. The Nazi thugs came around and confiscated all the grinders (mills) house to house. They demanded to control all the bread and grain making capabilities because they didn’t want people feeding the resistance forces, and they wanted to steal the food for their own demands. Part of this was to instill fear and keep people poor and hungry so they couldn’t fight back. However, wise people back then gave their old grinders to the thugs, and kept the new ones hidden away. At night, they would sneak off into the woods where the noise of grinding the grain couldn’t be heard. Then they would make their flour, share it with the resistance people, and were very careful to store away and hide the amount of grain they actually grew. I hope it never comes to that here, but just as a word, to overcome suppression, be wise, and don’t trust the authorities to have your best interest in mind. Surviving suppression is not a sin, it’s a vital part of our culture and has been for hundreds of years.

In our time and place, we don’t all have enough open space to grow a garden or enough soil space to grow enough to feed our family. If you live in an apartment or townhouse with no land of your own, where can you grow food? And even if you do have space, it takes quite a bit of time, materials, and work to convert Georgia red clay into soil that will support food growing. It takes some planning and techniques.

I tell my students, interns, and friends to grow in containers. The best option I know of is to use 5 or 6 gal. buckets like what you can get at Home Depot of Harbor Freight for a few bucks a piece. The lid is usually separate but buy that too, as it makes a nice ‘saucer’ under the bucket to hold in some of the moisture while allowing excess water to seep out thru the holes you will put in the bottom of the bucket.

An added benefit is that these bucket/containers can be moved if you have to vacate your space, and bring your garden with you, complete with a nice handle for moving them. And they will grow quite a bit of food if you know how to use them.

Another benefit is that once you have the knack of it, you can keep adding more containers as they are definitely modular. Given a container and soil, you just find another spot to put it, or line them up in rows. I like double rows as they are easier to manage. Some people even set up drip systems to make watering easier.

Before filling your containers with potting soil, and about 10% or so of ground granite sand (Quikrete all purpose sand is ground up granite, lovely source of minerals for your plant), and if you have it, about 5% of wood ash for more minerals mixed in. You can add some native clay soil mixed in too as this will hold on to moisture – maybe 10 at most as it will make your soil more dense.

Make sure you drill ¼” holes in the bottom of the bucket to let out extra moisture so you don’t get rotten roots. I like to put about 10 in each bucket, more in larger containers. You want to ensure you don’t make your container too wet, it must be able to drain.

Then fill with your potting mix with additions, up to about 1” from the top. It will settle and leave a little room for some top mulch to keep the moisture from evaporating.

Either start your plants from seeds or purchase them already started. But in a survival situation, have a supply of heirloom, heritage or open pollinated seeds on hand, and when the end of the growing season comes, save the seeds as these verities of seeds will breed true next year and forever if you take care of them. Don’t bother with hybrid seeds, and most GMO seeds are only sold in large quantities to agricultural businesses, so don’t worry much about that. In a crisis seeds can become a tradable item too, so take the time to gather and process what you can.

I have a few favorite seed companies that only sell heirloom seeds. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company is the best: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (417)924-8917 Another is: Sow True Seed company open pollinating and heirloom varieties but there are many good ones, check out this site:

I like to find a nice sunny spot someplace, even a drive way, roof, or patio works just fine, as long as there is someway to get water in there for your plants. It takes a lot of work to walk up stairs or a ladder carrying a bucket of water which is heavy. Much easier to use a hose if you have access to water under pressure, or have a rain barrel set up to gather rain.

You can grow year round in containers. In winter, you can use heavy plastic sheeting – clear or white (3.5 mil works best) or old clear shower curtains, or even sheets over night to protect against very cold weather. Most fall, winter, and spring verities of plants can handle frost and freezing for short periods of time. Elevate the sheeting above the plants so they aren’t crushed. Posts stuck into the soil or other way to hold the plastic up is needed so they don’t get broken off or injured.

Other options for growing are to use larger containers like cut off barrels or other larger vessels – one of my favorites is to cut a 55 gal. plastic food grade barrel about 2 1/2 feet deep, but if they are too big they loose the mobility factor. However, containers save a lot of time waiting and working in-ground soil, and in big containers, you can dump the soil into buckets if you need to transport your growing medium. The most valuable part of this is the soil. Containers can be put almost anywhere where there is just a little space, like along a house or garage in a row, or a corner of the patio, or on top of a garage.

Look on seed catalog descriptions when starting your seed library for plants that do well in planters or are dwarf or bush verities. You can however use trailing plants if you create some kind of a trellis that sticks into the soil, so something can climb up, like cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, beans, some squashes, etc.

You can make planters from black plastic nursery pots used for bushes and trees, though they aren’t as nice looking as a bucket. I collect them by the side of the road or where there is a big landscape project going on and the containers are being discarded. They have multiple uses. No handle, like a bucket, but they work great. I saw one of my students take a very large plastic tree planter for a container bed, and gave her kids spray bottles of terracotta colored spray paint to decorate them. They looked very nice. She grew zucchini and other plants in the ones in her garden.

Another easy to obtain container types are storage containers like Rubbermaid available in various sizes at Walmart or other outlets. Just put the holes in the bottom too. And use the lid as a ‘saucer’.

I stay away from un-glazed terracotta pots though as they tend to wick out the moisture and dry out your plants.

If you have never grown in a container garden, start with just a few to start out. Take easy to grow plants like a patio tomato, some garlic, marigolds for color, some lettuce or greens, Swiss chard, bush beans, and keep them from over watering or getting too dried out. You can even grow potatoes in a container. Do a little Google research and make it fun. See below for some good websites on what grows well in containers.

Some people set up drip systems for their containers. This saves a lot of time, and even that can be rolled up and brought with you if you have to move everything in relocating. You can purchase solar powered pumps, and set up rain barrels as well to make this easier.

When I first got to Georgia from my 23 year old in-ground organic garden from California to our red clay here, and didn’t have a space prepared I started with containers. It’s a very steep piece of property and later I terraced it to 100 beds, growing a multitude of plants and trees. But back then I only had a back deck overlooking, down a very steep back yard, where I could start. I purchased 10 trough sized plastic containers, and had a very nice and productive vegetable and herb garden in a few weeks. Later those containers were moved to the front along the front walk to the house entrance, filled with flowers and herbs once I had beds in-ground for the rest. Yet I still have about 25 containers around various areas of the garden which continue to be productive.

If we have a danger of famine, and you have already set up your family with containers, you will be able to grow at least some of the food you need. If you learn some wild-crafting to forage edibles (there are loads that grow here in NE Georgia, and usually just about anywhere you can find edible ‘weeds’ which will put calories and nutrition into your stomachs) you can keep body and soul together, and even help your neighbors do the same.

My first friend as neighbor when we moved to Georgia, across the street, had never grown anything in her life. I took her to the nursery and we bought a couple of plastic large size planters and some potting soil, and I gave her some tomato baby plants. From that first introduction she got the confidence to start a raised bed and now she is quite the gardener. Just start small, read up on it, and don’t worry if at first you kill a few plants. You will get the hang of it, and have fun picking those few beginning tomatoes, or green beans, or pulling up some plump radishes.

Children can get into the game of this too, and it’s a great way to share the survival and knowledge. If they have their own containers or a few of them to plant what they want to grow, it can be a lot of fun for them and they can participate.

Remember, there is always something you can do about it. And with the help of the internet, you can learn which plants you can forage, and which ones you can grow in a container setting. You can also camouflage containers with flowers growing in them, and maybe some burlap around the outside of the buckets to make them look decorative.

Good Luck,

Diann Dirks, Certified Permaculture Designer, Organic Gardener, herbalist, writer and researcher

Hillside Gardens, Auburn, Ga.

The Garden Lady of Georgia


Here are just a few good sites for more information on container gardening and tips.

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