Letting the Plants Direct the Harvest

This Spring, driving home from a visit with a friend, I felt the strangest compulsion to go home and dig up some Blackberry roots for tincture. I didn’t quite know why, but I  dug in the wet, sticky Oregon clay for roots, soaking the knees of my pants and breaking in to a sweat with the effort. I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed the roots to get all the mud off . . . it clung with a tenacity I couldn’t help but admire. I chopped them up and all that work yielded a mere half pint of chopped herbs for tincture! Fierce little things, they seemed to growl at me from their jar, darkening the alcohol with each passing day.

A fine spiderweb among the Blackberries

Days passed before I was able to take a peak in my books and see that a Blackberry helps the body heal from Diarrhea. I worried about what was coming, that I was given such a strong intuitive kick to make a tincture.

6 weeks later–just as the tincture was finished–The Mad Scientist (my stepson) came down with a hideous case of diarrhea. He was at  his mother’s when it happened. She took him to the doctor, who gave him a pain killer for the excruciating cramps and sent him home, recommending lots of fluids. The Mad Scientist came home to us on the second day, exhausted and pale. We gave him doses of the Blackberry tincture, and he improved quickly. By the morning after his homecoming he was in less pain, and was no longer running for the bathroom every few minutes.

Every time I pass the brambles I say thank you.

Before this experience with the Blackberries, I worried a lot about knowing what to harvest when. Since this experience, I have come to realize that I can trust my intuition, I can trust the guidance of spirit, of my healing guides, of the plants themselves, to harvest the right things at the right time.

This is a beautiful gift of herbalism. We can learn from books–and I love my herb books, I refer to them often, and I learn so much from them–but we can also learn from spirit, and the lessons spirit teaches us stay with us for the rest of our lives, easily and joyfully. The plants are the best teachers, once we learn to listen to them.

We’ve moved through the seasons and now the blackberries are ripe and ready to fall off the vines. I can’t believe how sweet they are this year, sweeter than I ever remember. I’ve eaten more than I’ve saved, straight from the vine, thanking the plant for reaching out to me time and again with medicine and nourishment and joy. In the past I would have worried, should I gather more, less, none, all? This year I savor the sweetness of each berry, drink the sweetness in to my heart to keep for darker days.

If you have an abundance of Blackberries, you might try making cordial. Here’s my basic method; there are many ways to do it, and some of them might be superior to mine. This is a very amateur take on the concept! But it tastes delicious.

Pick ripe Blackberries on a sunny day. Bring them home and put them in a heavy bottomed saucepan or stockpot that will hold them all. Heat them over medium to high heat, stirring frequently, until they are boiling gently and completely mushy–you should basically have liquid with a bunch of seeds floating in it. Be carefuly while you’re heating not to scorch the bottom, burned berries are yucky. Remove from heat and (carefully!) remove seeds (a food mill is the best method, but in a pinch you can press the liquid through a fine mesh strainer). Clean out your saucepan or stockpot so there are no seeds in it, and return it to the stove. Measure your strained berry liquid and put it in the pan, putting the heat on medium just until it’s warm enough to dissolve honey. Add about 1 to 1 1/2 cup of honey for every 3 cups of liquid (this will be REALLY SWEET at first. Don’t worry, the alcohol will help). Add nutmeg and cloves to taste (roughly 1 tsp of each to every 3 cups of berry juice, but feel free to play around with the ratios). Stir until honey is dissoved, then add brandy to taste–I don’t like my alcohol too strong, so I usually only add about 3/4 cup of brandy for every 3 cups of berry juice. Put in bottles with corks, or jars with tight fitting lids. If you don’t use very much alcohol, I’d recommend storing your cordial in the fridge. I always do just to be sure.

Enjoy the harvest, everyone, and don’t forget to say thank you.


4 thoughts on “Letting the Plants Direct the Harvest

  1. Thanks for sharing! I never really knew what a cordial was but I had an idea that it was something delicious and magical and perhaps medicinal… I’ve remembered all these many years that Mary Poppins served a spoonful to one of the Darling Children! : ) Lime, I think.

  2. Thank you for a beautiful post, Michelle – it rang many bells with me. I often stop and wonder why I feel the need to harvest certain plants, but there is always a reason – if only to teach me how to process it so I can show others when they ask.

    Interesting that you made a tincture from your bramble roots. This is the first year I’ve made bramble vinegar after hearing so much about it from US Herbwives. I haven’t used it a lot, but at the beginning of September, I was experiencing a familiar episode of “my bowels don’t love me any more!” just before setting off for a 2 hour car journey to teach a bereavement workshop. I took some of the vinegar in water very quickly and everything calmed down and I felt fine by the time I had to teach.

    I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find any blackberries this late in the season as I’ve been away in the US for 3 weeks, but I want to try making a blackberry syrup/cordial to use over the winter. Thanks for your recipe!

  3. What a wonderful post about my most favorite of berries! I used to gather them by the buckets, making jam and jelly and cordials, and crisps, and pies, and tarts, and,and,and…. :0) thanks for the memories!

  4. “The plants are the best teachers, once we learn to listen to them” — this is so so true and I loved this story.
    thanks for the reminder!

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