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Hey everyone, welcome. My name is Dayna Schmidt-Johnson. I'm the community manager of ritual society, as well as the house astrologer. Today we are going to be talking about herbalism. Plants, herbs, how to incorporate them into your practice, and most importantly, how not to kill them because I need that information personally. Since I am a plant's worst nightmare, we have brought in certified herbalist, Molly McClellan to share her secrets. Welcome, Molly, thank you so much for being with us today.
Hi, Dayna, thank you so much for having me.
Tell us a little bit more about who you are what you do.
Sure. So, obviously, my name is Molly McClellan. And I am a Certified Herbalist. I'm also an energy worker and a witch. And I'm also currently working towards a certification to become a Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, which is super exciting. And plant and herbalism adjacent. I teach classes, I make products, I offer consultations through my business, vermillion herbals, and I do so many other things. But those are kind of like really what I do in regards to herbalism and plants.
Amazing. You're really all over the board when it comes to plant work. Awesome. How did you get started in all of this? And how long have you been doing it your whole life? Essentially, we're all born with plants around us. Right?
Right, right? Well, so plants in nature have always really been a big part of who I am. And even if in some points of my life, I wasn't super connected to it, or wasn't really kind of like in my sphere really kind of in my knowing. I was always that kid who was like staying out late in the woods, mixing of magical potions with whatever I found and like trash can lids, because I'm classy like that, you know, you could find me just laying out in the middle of a meadow or in a forest. So I've always really felt most at home out in nature. I grew up camping with a lot of nature experiences. So that could also have something to do with it.
Um, but, you know, what really kind of sparked this for me is I had just a friend say, hey, you know, I think that you would really be interested in herbalism. And I kind of thought about it because I was like, well, you know, I like nature. And I like herbs, but you know, kind of as like recovering GenX goth. You know, I hate to, I loathe to be like, 'I really want to help people.' But I really do. And so it really kind of was like, well, this is a different way for me to connect with nature in a different way. You know, I was always very experiential, but I didn't kind of learn what anything was I just kind of hung out with it.
And so basically, I took some community classes that really started the spark. Then I of course, like went and went into full education and became certified. And then it just kind of has snowballed into that I really love crafting blends for people, coming up with protocols for people. And so I took some classes and the rest is history. And that was, I mean, I've been in nature my whole life, but I started really officially becoming dedicated in about 2012. And the rest is history. Here we are.
Wow. And you've been doing it ever since that's really amazing. Yeah, you know, there's so much to know about plants and herbs. And so having been studying it your whole life is very helpful in all of that. But you know, as a person who has trouble even keeping them alive, what what suggestions do you kind of have for not just caring for plants but connecting better to them?
Sure, well, Dayna. So, an interesting thing you'll find out about a lot of herbalist is just because we know what to do with the herbs doesn't necessarily mean we know how to keep them alive.
I'm glad I'm not the only one.
So, um, herbalist sometimes gets mistaken or like people think gardener and herbalist are synonymous but that's not the case. We're really good at working with them when they're dead. Because like a lot of times, there'll be dried and tinker. You know, obviously there's lots of fresh plant preparations. I'm not knocking that.
But what I do is I actually have an app called Planta. And it's a free app and it tells you what you can do where you like where you put your plants, when to water them. It like to takes in account for your weather. So that's mostly how I've turned my black thumb into a green thumb or more of a like brown green thumb. Because traditionally, I kill my plants because I love them too much with water. So that is kind of how I've personally kept my indoor plants alive. You know, just kind of really looking at them kind of seeing how they react and kind of just kind of keeping an eye on them like children.
Outdoor plants, it's kinda like Thunderdome out there. So like, whatever thrives out there is thriving. Right now, the mugwort is living its best life as well as my stinging nettle. So but I typically will pick plants that I know that can survive me that are a little bit hardy, that aren't super finicky that need misting, or anything like that.
So definitely start with like heartier your plans that gives, you know, like, we all know, our personal tendencies, like, do we have time every single day? Do we want something that only needs to be watered once a week? And so really kind of going with that, and then taking it from there, but planta has saved my bacon many times. But yeah, I accidentally like to drown my plants with too much water love.
Um, as far as connecting with them a really easy way and is really accessible for just about anyone is what is referred to as a plant sit. And it's exactly what it sounds like you are taking that taking a moment to sit down with a plant and be with it. And I don't want to say commune with it, but be you know, in connection with it.
Sometimes people call this like plant meditation, but plants, you know, like we we think of plants kind of as a monolith. Like, we have the nettles and we have the pines and we have this, but if you think about it, just like humans, they're individual beings, right. And so what connection you might have with one specific plant you might not have with the other of the same genus and species because it's its own plant, right, it's got its own root system, its own leaves, different flowers. And so I like to sit with an individual plant, and just sit there and you know, whether you're more of a verbal, talker, you know, talk to the plant, or just sit there and kind of be in the plants presence, and really just have a conversation with it asked and see what it has to say.
I really firmly believe that like, you know, a lot of times we don't really know where we got some of this knowledge pre you know, scientific method times, right? How did native peoples know what these plants would do? Obviously, there's definitely some trial and error, but there was a bigger connection with the world and the we call it the more than human world are nature's spirits. And I think a lot of us because people took the time to sit down and really converse with them to ask them what they were for, and how they can help and how they wanted to be of service or not. Because some of them are sassy, like anything, and some people are sassy.
Another thing I do that might also help with the the black thumb turning into a little green, is I talk to my plants, I think to my plants, sometimes I'm feeling sassy around the house, I dance to my plants. So I really create like, a bond with them. Instead of just being like, 'This is my plant, I need to keep it alive' kind of thing. I do like a a couple prong approach of like trying to really make sure its needs are met with like, watering properly in sunlight proper. And then like, you know, talk to it like it's my friend.
So you're really getting intimate then with your plants in that way. Yeah, we're not I think most people think of plants, you put your plant on the shelf, and you're, you tend to it, but being able to have almost like a two way conversation then with your plant and allow it to tell you what it needs to. Yeah, and how it's going to help you.
Because like you said, you work mostly with dead plants. So then you're drying them, you're you're taking them from, you know, the growth stage to the usefulness for humans stage right. That is very different.
I mean, yeah, each each plan of course has its like, you know, and then you go down the rabbit hole of like, herbalism like, which one's better fresh versus which one's better, you know, dried and that sort of thing. But yeah, I mean, I try to be in community versus commodity, um, which is hard, you know, in in a society that's very much a commodity society. And even when the plants are dry, they still have a spirit like, you know, like, there's still that vital energy in there because they have these constituents and they have all of these benefits. You know, it's just different. Yeah, it's just, you know, it is a living being, you know, and how do we take care of other living beings? How do we take care of our dogs, our birds, our human children? You know? And like you said, tend. Like, if you think about the definition of tend, it's not just like water, like, it could be a wide variety of things.
Yeah, and, you know, part of that is the the cyclicalness of the world that we live in. Right? These plants can be very dependent on seasons. Are there certain herbs that we should work with at certain times of the year because of that?
Well, I'm going to give you an answer that I have known that I've come to know and love called a permaculture answer. So I also am into permaculture, and training in some permaculture. And so their answer is always 'It depends.'
And so what I mean by that is, so it depends on your location, what's growing near you getting really kind of into what your bio region has, and your seasons, for example, like my seasons in Colorado, and the plants that live here are going to be wildly different than, say, Florida, where they everything's green all year round, and so you have access to everything all year round.
So a good place to start is kind of really looking for things that are more like bio regional, as far as like what plants are in your area, and then getting to know the season of the plant, right, you have the different seasons where they are rooting up and sprouting, then they'll get flowers, some of them will get their version of fruit, you know, and then you know, like, are the roots, something that you want to look at? Are you trying to harvest the leaves and kind of like, so less about six cycles of what we think of as a traditional, you know, summer, spring, winter fall, which can correspond to, of course, different plants, but I look at it as this in the cycle of the plant.
Because not everything is blooming at the same time, not everything is growing at the same time. In Colorado, like in the wintertime, we've got evergreens and snow and brown things and so things that aren't necessarily going to, you know, I don't want to say be useful, but like, just not a lot, you know, um, you know, the other thing is you so for example, like kind of circling back to that bio region, Michael Moore, not the filmmaker, but he's a, he was, excuse me, a herbalist, and teacher, and he wrote a bunch of books based by different regions. So I have one here called medicinal plants at the Mountain West. And so he has a whole different region, different regions by book to book of kind of like what's in your area, what they are, what they do, what they look like, kind of when to harvest them some pictures. And so it's really nice, because then you can know kind of based about what's around you kind of what the cycle is from a certain plant, and then kind of shift it that way.
You always want to kind of harvest and work with plants kind of when they're in their prime, right, because we're looking for that vitality, especially for using it for medicine makings. So you know, obviously, if you're looking for the leaves and the flowers, that's going to be harvested at a different time versus vary. So like generally in spring, that's when that happens. Berries can be anywhere between summer and fall depending on where you're living and then route sometimes between fall and winter, energy goes back into the ground and the roots are then more powerful that way.
You know, you can really go down a rabbit hole and go into bio dynamics and that's kind of like when the moon phases are versus like Full Moon versus New Moon and kind of like what energetics are in plants that way. Um, you know, always indigenous sources are always the best if you can find them written in a book. They can be tricky to find because of course, that's the older knowledge of, you know, kind of the people that were here, at least, you know, in the States before us. And so there's a lot of wisdom in that.
And then of course, when you go out there, you really want to make sure that if you're not, of course growing it yourself that you know what you're actually harvesting. Because and this is like my standard answer anybody asked me if this mushroom is edible, my response is, everything's edible at least once. It's cheeky, but it's true. Like you can eat it one time whether or not you'll be able to eat it again. But you know, like knowing your area, if it's sprayed, if it's not sprayed what's in especially like, if you're, you know, if you're on certain forest, like, sometimes it's illegal to gather stuff. So there's just, it just depends on where you're at kind of where you're getting your herbs from.
Botany in a Day, is a really nice book. This is called an Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families of North America. So this is North American specific, but it goes into detail on how to it's what's referred to in herbalism, as key out plans. And so based on kind of like how many leaves that has, and what shape they are, and so on and so forth, you can kind of figure out what plants are there. So that one's a cool one to have.
And then also just being mindful, especially if you're out in the nature, and you're not in your backyard, really make sure especially like if you're going through things like berries in the fall, make sure you leave enough. I mean, there's, there's all sorts of foraging rules and that sort of thing. But you want to always make sure that, you know, other than, of course, plant I'd make sure that you're leaving enough not taking a ton of it just a little bit of what you need. And make that especially like when it comes to like berries and that sort of thing that you're leaving enough for the creatures that are living on that land, so they don't starve in the wintertime. So just kind of some ethics around that. But that's kind of my long winding answer.
As far as kind of like working with seasons, I think of it more of the season of the individual plant versus the season as a whole because everybody comes from different bio regions. And so, you know, kind of leaning towards the plant to tell you a little bit more about it versus you know, this is winter, this is fall, this is spring.
Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. You know, living in Chicago very much on the seasons, right. So that's, it's very dependent on that. But like you said, somewhere further south is not going to have that. Yeah, they can go foraging year round. So it's very different.
So then once we get into the the world of the herbs, the tinctures, the mixes and those kinds of things, which I personally have never made one. Um, and I would guess a lot of people haven't either, but I will go to a store and buy them. How do we know what when we're looking at these different mixtures and things, tinctures. And, you know, blends? How can we tell if something is going to be right for us?
Great question. And I'm sorry, you're gonna get another permaculture answer, but it depends. So, you know, you kind of look on exit, like, what are you trying to accomplish? Is there a root cause for what you're trying to deal with? Or is it just a symptom of a deeper issue? Are you looking to kind of like, you know, you like, for example, a headache, right? You know, you want the pain to go away. But why do you have that pain? Are you just going to treat the pain? Are you going to treat the cause as to why the pain is there?
So it really depends on kind of like, what your end goal is, are you treating the root cause we as herbalist, we always go for the root cause that way you you get, you know, relief across the board. But you know, other things. Are you allergic to any of the herbs? Are you on any medications, a lot of herbs actually contra indicate with medications, and there's a lot of people on medications these days, you know, medications are great, they're, you know, like, I'm a firm believer that, you know, you know, there are some things that herbs are really appropriate for and then there's other things that more modern medicine are more equipped to deal with. You know, but a lot of herbs interact with medications. So that's something to make sure that if you're on any medications, that that herb, is it going to mess with your medications.
You know, a lot of people don't think about that, because they're like, well, herbs are natural. It's fine. I see you shaking your head. Yeah, a lot of a lot of modern medicines. The root of those are herbal therapies. And so they've taken them and done what they will with them but like, you know, some herbs can block the intake of medications into the system. Some of them can power up the medication so you're either getting not enough of your dosage or it's potentiating it to where you're getting way more milligrams than you think you are. Um, you know, so you always want to kind of research them before you try them.
I really love this book here, the Herbal Vade Mecum, this is by what is his name? Gazmend Skenderi, I am butchering that, I assure you, but um, so basically, this is something that tells you like the common name of the herb, kind of what parts you use what it's used for, if it's used internally or externally, you know, any issues that it may have, like if you should use it in pregnancy or not using pregnancy. So it's a nice, really accessible book to kind of research, especially if you're interested in herbs or making stuff.
You know, as a general rule, teas are really great for people who want something that's more what we refer to as tonic or nourishing for this system. Something that is kind of I think of it as like crock pot, you know, like, it's a low and slow, very nurturing, something that's not really acute or something that you need in the immediate moment, like, you know, like a splitting headache, I would go for something more of a tincture, something that's faster acting in the blood system, it's more concentrated, you use teas for longer periods of time for support. You use tinctures, for more acute and immediate situations.
You know, if you're unsure, the best course, of course, is to not take it. You know, trust your intuition on that. You know, if you need help, you can always or you're looking for protocols, you can always reach out to a local herbalist and they can kind of help help you navigate as well and come up with a protocol.
Um, you know, it's, you can do a lot of research yourself. And you can do a lot of, you know, like advocating for yourself, especially with herbs. But you do just want to make sure that you're being intelligent about it, making sure that you know, the places that you're getting the herbs from are quality, that they have best practices that they are not overharvesting, endangered plants, just just because you can doesn't mean you should kind of thing. But yeah, just kind of making sure that you're going with reputable companies as well. Does that help answer that? Do you have any further questions on that?
No, it absolutely does. I think, you know, speaking to an herbalist who would be able to maybe help you connect some dots in whatever it is that you're like you said you're trying to heal or, you know, alleviate makes a lot of sense. And I think, you know, I personally have really only gone down the road of nice to haves, like you said, like a tea is like more of a, you know, something that helps kind of on a day to day basis. But, you know, I'm not; I haven't had like one symptom that I'm trying to, even, like you said, going further into that, and not just getting rid of the symptom, but the cause of it. That's so so important.
Yeah, yeah. And I think that's where a lot of modern medicine fails is, is modern medicine is designed to really treat the immediate thing in front, and not really dive deeper into why you're experiencing it. So I like that's one of the things that I really like about herbalism is there's kind of like this looseness to it, of why you're experiencing this and you know, going into like full health history and like just really kind of seeing what the, you know, the trigger is.
Yeah, the deeper the deeper cause it's, it's almost, I mean, saying Plant Therapy in this situation really kind of makes a lot of sense to me. Yeah. So, let's say that, you know, someone wants to maybe dry their own flowers or herbs and really wants to kind of get started in this world. Do you have any good tips for someone just just kind of tinkering around?
Yeah, I actually, this interview should be called I have a book for that. I have a book for that. Um, this is hands down my favorite book for all of that. So this is called The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook, A Home Manual, by James Green, an herbalist. He also actually, which is really lovely. He has a book. And he has many books. But this is going to be great because it has tips for harvesting drying, garbling, which is a term that you use to get berries off of things. It talks about all the different types of medicine making that you can do with herbs, from tinctures, to teas, to oils, to salves. And it's it's got almost every single herbal preparation I can think of, and it's written in a very easy to understand way and it's not like sometimes you'll get like herbalist books that are like real heady and very, like, gets kind of tripped up in the jargon.
But so, yeah, it's it's really great. It's an affordable book. And I mean, I've had that thing for forever. And, you know, even though I have training in that, I still go back to that book. He also talks about sample herbs, you can use kind of the cup have little couple of recipes you can play with depending on what you're looking for. So it's really really nice.
Um, you know, there's a lot of community herbalist out there that teach classes, so you can take like a quick class on making a salve or making a tea. And usually they'll what they'll do is they'll kind of tell you about a couple of different herbs and what they do and why you would put them in a tea for example, and how to blend them. And then if the if they're really lovely, then they'll let you like make your own blend. So you can like have that experience as well that DIY as far as like harvesting and drying, of course, kind of circling back to kind of knowing the plant knowing what you're looking for that plant for.
So, for example, Mullen is so you'll see it I don't know if y'all have it in Chicago, but in Colorado, they're they're considered an invasive weed. And we all know weed is just a displaced Earth, and it's wrong house. But you'll see it's got these fuzzy fuzzy leaves in a rosette and then it has this huge stock, and then it has yellow flowers on it. A lot of times people will get us the dry ones and make witches torches out of them will they'll dip them and wax and then you can light them and then make witches torches out of them. And so, for example, every single part of this plant is used in herbalism. But each part is used for different body systems. So the roots are used for urinary the leafs are good for the lungs, and the flowers are good for your oil. So like obviously, like depending on what part of it you want, you know, like the route you're gonna want to look for in the fall time when all the energy is dropped down the leaves, of course, when they're beautiful and vibrant, and then the flowers, you kind of want to catch it fast because those flowers like bloom, and then they're gone. So um, you know, you know, so you know really determining what part of the plant you want and then determining when you want to harvest it.
And then I like to use drying rocks. An easy thing that you can do is take like an old picture frame that you get from the thrift store and get some like what does that called screen like we do screen doors and stuff, and like staple it to it. And then you can just lay out your herbs and dry them there. So the the air is getting the top and the bottom, because you'll see like I've got like herbs bundle back there. If you're in, like I'm in a really arid climate, like there's little to no humidity here. So drying stuff like that isn't a problem for us. But if you're in someplace that has more humidity, which I think you are you know Florida less like in Florida. If you keep your herbs stuck together in a bundle, like you see in like, you know, like Practical Magic and all of that they will mold because they're all touching together. And then they're all going to like decomp and it's just going to be slimy and gross. So you want to kind of lay that out.
And then you're going to want to store it in an airtight container, you know, away from light and heat. You know, the biggest mistake anybody makes is putting their spice rack above the stove because it kills them all. You know, because spices are herbs too.
So but yeah, again, making sure that you know where you're getting them from, you know that they're not sprayed, you know, the dog has not peed on them on a walk. That sort of thing. You know, again, that you know, getting one of those in one of those books that will help you identify kind of what it is and what you want. We'll help you kind of then determine when you want to harvest it.
Um, but yeah, I really really love that medicine making your book local herbalists are great for community classes and just really knowing what you want to dry and then dry it or you could, you know, take it from the verse be like, Oh, I have this in my garden, what does it do? Let me look it up, let me see when I should harvest it and go from there too. So you can take it from either angle of like, what do I have on hand? Or you know what what I like to grow or go out and get.
Amazing this that's just like so much knowledge right there of even just like the idea of like, Hey, I would need to spread my my herbs out to dry whereas you could do them in a bundle. It makes so much sense because the the worst thing you could do then is consumed something with mold on it, right?
Like you're like, here I'm here. I'm doing this nice respiratory but also No.
So tragic. In the end, I feel like that's, that's a rookie mistake I would make So yeah, that's that's just a really good basic tip right there for drying things. Absolutely. So I've got to ask, What's your favorite plant? And then what's your favorite plant to work with if it's not the same?
Well, so this is like asking a parent like what their favorite child is like which one they love. Um, so, I can say currently, I've been working a lot with stinging nettle. Again, a lot of herbal lists use things that people would consider weeds. But they're really like they're resilient for a reason dandelions, you can use every part of that plant stinging nettles amazing. You want to dry it, and you want to harvest it with gloves. Because it will bite you the stinging is for real. But it's super well rounded because it's one of the best nutritional plants out there that you can make a tea out of. So it's high in vitamins and minerals. It's got protein in there, like it's amazing. Like it's almost like nature's multivitamin a little bit. It's I mean, depending on how long you brew it, it can be acquired taste it has like when you brew it, it does taste only has a little smell of seaweed, but it doesn't necessarily taste it tastes very green.
And so when you dry that a lot of times when you dry herbs, what happens is the herbal constituents are what is kind of like the chemical compounds in there that kind of make the herb, the urban what they do, when you dry the herbs it and this is one of the reasons why we use dry herbs more often than not is it will take and concentrate those within the plant. And so when you make a tea out of it, it releases all of that into the water. And you're getting this beautiful, very nutritious, very nutritious, delicious tea. So it's really great you can it's a daily drinker that you can do you know if you're looking for another way to kind of get some vitamins and minerals in there.
I'm also right now because I'm doing all of that coursework for Nature and Forest Therapy guide training and I'm in the forest a lot. Pine needles and pine needle tea is also really delicious high in vitamin C, it's got this little citrusy taste to it. So that's been a new one that I've been playing with and super fun.
And then a plant that I have have had like a consistent loving relationship with is a plant called lady's mantle. And it's got this umbrella little umbrella like leaf and it's so soft and so fuzzy. And there's like a lot of like alchemy lore with this plant like in the morning if you have any humidity at all, like there'll be a little drop of dew inside of it. And people used to say like if you would take the dew and put it on your skin and you would be blessed with beauty. Um, I just like I don't I just really love this plant. It's delicious. It's great for a lot of people who have uteruses it can be helpful for a lot of people those type of complaints depending on what you're looking at. But it's just so sweet and I love it so much and I grow it and I don't harvest it. I just grow it to grow it and have it in my garden and we have a little discussion and I pet the leafs and I say hi to it and yeah so. So a couple plants those of those plants at the moment especially don't have the day.
Right? Right. How do you choose? There are so many and you're out in nature all the time probably like, taking on one more thing and learning oh, here's a new thing to learn about, right? Because I'm sure the knowledge just continues to expand.
It's an addiction. Yeah, you're like, the invention of plant identifying apps is so good. So like, I'll be like, what's this? What's it like? Yeah, my partner doesn't come with me on walks anymore. Because he can't with my stopping every three seconds and being like taking my phone out and trying to idea and then like, I'll take it, and then I'll go back to like, my botany book to make sure like, I know what it is. Because, you know, like, the apps are great, but sometimes they may or may not be accurate, you know? But like, I'm just like, oh, who are you? Who are you? What's your name? Who are you?
And then spend that time in the forest has to be really invigorating on that level.
Wow. Oh, well, we thank you so much for being here today. We're thrilled to have you as our September teacher in the ritual society. Hooray, hooray. So we're gonna do more than all of this go on a little bit of a deep dive with plants. And in the meantime, where can people find you?
Yeah, so on the Instagrams, I, you can find me under Vermillion Herbals. That's V E R M I L L I O N, so there's a double L and vermilion herbals or Molly McClellan Magic. And then I also have my website, which is vermilionherbals.com. That's pretty much where I'm at these days. I don't have a tick tock for herbs yet. I just like every time I think about I'm like, oh, I should do that. And then..
It's just one one more thing, right?
Busy romping out in the forest to like, be like, oh, I shouldn't be.
Oh, yeah, you'll get there. You'll get there. I'm sure of it. Or not? Or not. Oh, awesome. Well, thank you again for being here. We can't wait to see more in September in the Writual society. And in the meantime, take a look at all of Molly's Instagrams and website and everything like that. And then we will see you again in September.
Sounds good. I'm super excited to teach and give you more herbal goodness about vinegars.
Can't wait. Thank you so much. We'll we'll see you soon.
Sounds good. Thanks so much. Thank you for having me. Of course.
Have a good night. You too. Bye.
About Molly McClellan
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