Just over a week ago a group of herbal folk descended on a farm in Courtenay, B.C. to immerse themselves in the herbal world during the Herb Gathering.
What a time it was! There was soap making, herbal mocktails, real marshmallows from marshmallow root to sample, herbal tinctures, medicinal mushrooms, learning how essential oils are distilled, the benefits of bitters, making chocolate and thalassotherapy – using seaweed for better health.
The Herb Gathering is a place to celebrate people and plants at Innisfree Farm with participants from across North America – parts of B.C, Calgary, Alberta, Portland, Oregon and many others.
Participants could choose from hearing presenters speak on various medicinal aspects of herbs, attend herbal demonstrations or herb walks on the grounds.
One interesting demonstration showed participants how to make marshmallow from marshmallow roots.
After soaking the roots in water, the herb produces a sticky viscous substance which is a thick mucilage. The high mucilaginous content of marshmallow root is where it’s healing properties are, which may make it a useful remedy for treating coughs and colds.
This mucilage was combined with coconut milk and sugar to make a delicious concoction. This demonstration was done by Glen Nagel, a naturopathic doctor from Portland, Oregon.
Making Essential Oils
Another interesting demonstration showed how essential oils were made from two different types of distilleries – one was a traditional copper while the other one was a more modern glass distillery.
“Essential oil comes from the word essence, they’re very light, very small fragrant oils” said Colleen Emery, Clinical Herbalist and aromatherapist, one of the presenters along with Patrick Kooyman, a practicing herbalist and ethnobotanist.
“We need to be mindful of the ways essential oils are used, we don’t need much,” explained Emery. “But when we do, they ae fantastic. They can move and shift health concerns.”
Essential oils have different functions, such as being soothing, stimulating, fighting infections or acting as a sedative.
In the class on Thalassotherapy given by Clinical Herbalist AngelaWillard, those attending learned about the history and traditional use of topical seaweed bath along with applications for using seaweed during health and cleansing routines such as skin care.
A class on herbal bitters by Dr. Glen Nagel showed participants just how important bitters are for good digestion. Bitters include herbs like spearmint, artichoke and willow.
“Anybody with heartburn or bloating, a trial of bitter is very indicative,” said Dr. Nagel. “Always think of bitters before anything else, before enzymes, apple cider vinegar.”
He said taking bitters after a meal can prevent high blood sugar. Bitters can also decrease the body’s ability to crave alcohol.
After bitters, one of the final classes and demonstrations was on chocolate making, a class given by Malcolm Saunders, who has been teaching chocolate making for 15 years and runs the Light Cellar in Calgary, Alberta.
He describes chocolate as a fermented food and says cacao butter should be in 3 places in the home – the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.
“Chocolate is the food most associated with love,” said Saunders. “You can’t have chocolate without cacao beans.
Cacao nibs are simply a bean broken into bits. They have a bitter, chocolatey flavour and are part of the chocolate making process. The first step is to melt cacao butter.
“The melting of cacao butter is your first opportunity to infuse herbs,” says Malcolm.
This can include vanilla, cinnamon, ginger or mint. From there a sweetener can be added such as cane sugar, honey or maple syrup. Then coconut butter can be melted and added for a smooth chocolate.
Saunders said chocolate is an anti-oxidant and a natural anti-depressant. What’s not to like about chocolate?
Along with classes and demonstration, there was morning yoga sessions, herb walks and a bat walk which gave those attending a unique insight in bats. Dancers and live music with a latin dance band on Saturday night rounded out the 3-day event.
The Herb Gathering is held every two years on Vancouver Island. Learn more by visiting HerbConference.