mulleinI love it when things turn around just when you’ve given up all hope.

I’d noticed some unusual swelling in my left leg and ankle. Luckily it turned out to be a minor circulation issue, but still, one that needed some attention to avoid getting worse.

I was wearing compression socks as the doctor had recommended, but what I really needed was some fresh mullein leaves. Hey, don’t laugh. A mullein poultice would reduce the swelling, and more importantly, strengthen the veins to reduce or eliminate the problem.

It was late in the season, and sure enough, as I hiked around looking for mullein, every plant I saw was thin, dry, and lifeless. I was worried about my leg, and starting to feel pretty depressed. Was this the official start of my becoming an old person with all the health problems to prove it?

I scolded myself for having neglected to gather a good supply of this herb in early summer.


A Lighter Approach

old-mulleinWhen I noticed myself having all these critical, unhappy thoughts, I remembered my goal of approaching challenges by raising my energy and being open to a new solution.

I took some deep breaths, relaxed my shoulders, and imagined my awareness moving up and settling near my eyes. A few moments later I felt peaceful. I started to imagine myself using some dandelion and cleavers to reduce the swelling.


Darkness Returns

Well that’s just great, I thought, with growing anger and resentment, those would in no way be as effective as mullein! My face became a scowl.

I was told I should keep my feet up; maybe I should just lie on the couch all day and watch TV!

Oh no! Now I’m getting crotchety.


Going With The Flow

That afternoon I had some errands to run. As I drove down the driveway I noticed the brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows in the fall landscape. I found myself turning right instead of left to take the back roads into town.

young-mulleinAs I drove past a neighbor’s farm I saw a tall, withered mullein stalk like all the others I’d seen. But low in the grass surrounding this one was a circle of fresh new plants.

My foot hit the brakes as my eyebrows shot up and I jolted to attention. AM I REALLY SEEING FRESH MULLEIN? YES!!!

Together the plants looked like a mom having a picnic with her twelve children. Her summer flowers had matured and dropped, and thanks to our unusually warm fall weather, the seedlings had come up and kept growing long enough to produce their first leaves.

Feeling a thrill rushing through me, I grabbed my bags and clippers from the back seat, and went trudging through tall grass and up the steep hillside to claim my reward. I was so gleeful I hardly noticed the needle-sharp briars scraping against my legs. The mullein plants were farther up than they’d looked from the car. Did I care? I scrambled up that hill and kept going, even though my sandals slipped again and again on the loose, dry soil, leaving layers of dirt from my knees on down.

Back home, after rinsing off the dirt, I got out my dehydrator to dry some of the leaves to make tea and poultices throughout the winter. I was happy that my intention to see things from a higher perspective had nudged me to drive in a different direction and find what I’d thought was not to be found. How fun is that!

Poetic Fall
Poetic Fall

Finally we’re having a cool fall day, dry and sunny. I’m loving the breezes wafting through the open windows. They make me feel alive again, a part of the natural world even while sitting at my desk. As much as I’m grateful for air conditioning on a hot, muggy day, fall weather is a long-awaited and invigorating taste of freedom.


I always feel nostalgic in the fall. Without warning I’m a child again walking home from school in my red wool sweater. Dry leaves crunch underfoot and swirl down the sidewalk in a gust of wind. Wednesdays we have Junior Choir practice. We’re getting ready for the Thanksgiving program and sing Come Ye Thankful People Come over and over until my throat aches. Pumpkins and candy corn and what shall we be for Halloween this year? It’s dark by suppertime and the air holds magic; life is new with a mystery you can’t quite understand but can feel in every cell.


Actually, today it’s still seventy-five degrees, but it won’t be long ‘til the magic returns. Although I’ll be switching out the candy corn for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.


In the mean time, I’m gathering the last of the summer kitchen herbs – basil, oregano, and chives. The first frost is a ways off, but plants get to be a bit lifeless and dreary at a certain point, so I’m getting them now while they’re still fragrant and usable. They dry well in the dehydrator for use all winter (see my latest article on drying herbs.) I tie the stems that aren’t fresh enough for using in a recipe in little bunches, and hang them from my old wooden rack in the kitchen. They’re purely decorative, reminiscent of days gone by, a fitting ambiance for the fall season. When they eventually collect enough noticeable dust, I’ll toss them into the compost bin.

It is Fall yet?
It is Fall yet?

It’s also time to start gathering root herbs. These are best dug up when the energy in the upper part of the plant has withdrawn back into the roots, making them more medicinally potent. But you don’t want to wait until the plants are completely dry and wilted before you go looking for them. Many will lose their unique features, making it hard to tell what’s what. I‘ll be making a dry run to the field down the road in a week or two to be sure I can find some burdock root, which goes in my liver tonic, and poke root, for my immune tonic.


I do love the cycles of nature. They mark the seasons throughout the year, and connect me with life beyond myself. I come to know nature’s calendar by being mindful. Every March I gather Star Chickweed, marveling at the perfect shape of the tiny star-like flowers. I say a prayer of gratitude as I add it to my salad. In May, I feel a familiar rush when I happen upon the first stalk of cleavers, knowing it will be a part of the spring detox tea my clients and I always enjoy. June twenty-fourth is St. John’s Day on the church calendar, and the very day St. John’s Wort is ready to pick. Coincidence? Hmm, I wonder…

Golden Gingko
Golden Gingko

I see this as something to get excited about! Ginkgo is an herbal star when it comes to rejuvenating your body – heart, vision, memory – you name it. It promotes a long and healthy life.

If you need help locating a Ginkgo tree, check with your local plant nursery or Ag. Extension office. When you find one, if the leaves are still bright green come back later. If they’re a beautiful, light golden color and lying in piles on the ground, go ahead and start scooping them up. Yes, the leaves may seem somewhat dry and crunchy, but that’s what you want – this is no ordinary tree! Ginkgo is called a living fossil because it’s been around for about 270 million years, give or take a few.

In China, India, and Japan, people have used ginkgo for thousands of years to promote longevity. If you have any of over one hundred illnesses, you will benefit from using ginkgo. It increases circulation including blood flow to the brain, which improves memory, concentration, and dementia.

When you’ve gathered up a nice collection of golden leaves, take them home and try the following easy tea recipe. To store leaves for later use, see my article on drying herbs.


Ginkgo Tea

  1. Cut or tear golden ginkgo leaves into one-inch or smaller pieces. Pack down and measure about one quarter cup.
  2. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a covered pan.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the ginkgo leaves. Stir until leaves are saturated.
  4. Cover and let steep for 15 minutes.
  5. Add honey or stevia if you like, and enjoy one or two cups per day, preferably when you wake up and at bedtime.


Ginkgo has no adverse side effects, but it does thin the blood, so don’t use it with blood thinners prescribed by your doctor. Also, stop using any of these at least one week before having surgery.