Three Herbal Articles for Spring 2016

Table of Contents

Anyone want some Arnica flowers?

Organic Farmers, would you like to sell your weeds?

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) as an understory crop in an apple orchard.


Anyone want some Arnica flowers?
 
Heart-leaved Arnica, I love ya. Arnica cordifolia’s range spans a lot of the Inland Northwest’s forests.  It is one of the most common ground covers in much of its range.  It blooms prolifically after a forest fire or prescribed burn.  It’s healing properties for humans are to help people recover from traumas.  It is an excellent pain killer topically.  Perhaps it fills a similar role in helping ecosystems recover from forest fire trauma. 
 
On May 22nd this year I went looking for arnica flowers in an area that was part of Washington State’s biggest forest fire on record (2014 Carlton Complex Fire). At one point I could see thousands of acres of burned mountainsides that were yellow with arnica blossoms.  From that one point I could see thousands of pounds of arnica flowers.  When I got on the ground I found that most of them were just past the point of prime picking.  But still, the north slopes were at the perfect stage, so it was no problem to fill my year’s orders. 
 
It made me wish I had orders for hundreds of pounds of arnica, or thousands of pounds.  It was like I could fill the entire world demand from this one point on the globe.  Of course I would have needed a big team to do it, but that might be in the works too.  My friend Terrance Meyer is starting a wildcrafter’s cooperative called the Woodland Co-op. In 2017 we could field a whole crew of arnica flower pickers. 
 
God knows the world needs some better sources of arnica flowers.  Read Michael Moore’s chapter on Arnica in his classic (Medicinal Plants of the Pacific Northwest, in it he compares the dry, brown arnica flowers that dominate the US marketplace to mattress stuffing that has had all the life sucked out of them. My dried arnica flowers have a vibrant yellow, green and white color.  I recall a conversation I had with the owner of one of the biggest herb tincture companies in the US.  He said that a large % of the arnica products made in the US were made from the plant Mexican Arnica (Heterotheces inula), which is not even a true Arnica nor does it have anywhere near the healing powers. 
 
Arnica cordifolia will have another huge bloom year in 2017. Would anyone out there in the US marketplace like to buy some of the highest quality arnica flowers from me next year?  I can ship fresh flowers or freshly dried flowers. Some of the best arnica available on the world market. 
 
I have picked millions of arnica flowers in my career so far.  I know what the perfect arnica flower looks like. Arnica flowers are composite flowers. When perfect, the yellow petals are standing stiffly at alert.  It has a compressed white pappus of flower buds not quite open in the center but the first flowerets opening on its edges.  The flower is not yet pollinated.  In flowers that are fully pollinated, the petals are starting to droop.  In the perfect stands, there are mostly flowers at the perfect stage, some unopened buds showing yellow but the ray flowers have not expanded yet, and some flowers that have been pollinated and are on the old side.  In these stands I concentrate on the perfect flowers but I also pick some of the older flowers and I pick some of the unopened buds, just to keep the mix young.  Ideally you hit a patch when almost any open flower is perfect, and very few are too old and there are still lots of unopened buds. 
 
While out there picking I reflected on the possibility that our great Arnica cordifolia could replace much of the brown, poor quality arnica on the market and replace the Mexican arnica (fake arnica) in the marketplace.  I want arnica to do its healing work in the world.  I want the world to have high quality arnica products. 
 
Let me know if you’d like some of this high quality arnica in 2017.  The 2106 harvest will be over sometime in June.
 
Arnically yours,
 
Michael Pilarski
 

Organic Farmers, would you like to sell your weeds?
 
Especially looking for sheep sorrel at the moment.
[Article by Michael Pilarski]
 
I have been harvesting weeds from farmer’s fields for 20 years and selling them to the herbal trade.
 
Depending on the situation I usually pay the farmer 10 cents on the dollar for the gross sales I make.  This is a bit high, but I like to be on good terms with the farmers.  The going rate is five cents on the dollar for wildcrafters operating on timberland such as in the “brush” ornamental foliage industry for things like sword fern, salal, red huckleberry, and Oregon-grape. Of course a huge amount of wildcrafters don’t ask permission and don’t pay any royalties. 
 
This spring I harvested 75 # of dandelion root, 45 # of dandelion leaf and 20 # of cleavers at Finn River Farm (Chimacum, Washington) for a total value of $1,222 and I will pay Finn River Farm $122.20.  I harvested 8 # of chickweed at Colinwood Farm in Port Townsend for a small order and they will get $8.
 
I once harvested a crop of horsetail weeds from a vegetable farmer’s field and I suspect the value of the horsetail would have exceeded the value of the vegetables if they harvested all the horsetail.  They were busting their butt trying to get rid of the horsetail and it was a crop that was doing great without any work. 
 
I did an analysis of the dandelion crop at Finn River Farm and the root crop was worth at least $10,000 and the leaf crop almost as much.  The flowers and crowns also have specialty markets.  Perhaps $25,000 in all IF it was all harvested and sold. The labor cost would eat up a lot of that amount but it is providing right livelihoods.  See the following link to read the whole Finn River Dandelion Report.  [CHRYS ADD LINK]
 
Of course most farmers don’t have the time and expertise to harvest and market their medicinal weeds. That is where wildcrafters like me and wildcrafter co-operatives like Woodland Harvest come into play.  We can do the harvesting, processing, marketing and shipping. You help provide us with some right livelihoods and we do some weed reduction on your place.
 
Here is a list of some of the weeds on the marketplace. 
 
Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella). The root is the prime product but the tops can be sold in some markets.  Also seed.  The roots are tiny, but the price is high.  It pays to harvest where the stands are dense and at least one year old.  Two is preferable.  I have customers who are currently out of stock and there isn’t any available on the market, so we are looking for some good stands of sheep sorrel. 
 
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus). The root is the product.  Unfortunately most of the yellow dock on the west side of the Cascades is a washed-out, light yellow color.  The more orange the colorm the better the quality. On the east side of the Cascades on dryer sites the color can get bright orange. 
 
Burdock (Artium lappa and A. minor) Grow it on a deep heavy soil as a crop and sell it as Gobo.  I remember Glen Johnson of Mother Flight Farm on the Skagit River Delta carefully and slowly easing a two-foot gobo root out of the ground with his bare hands in the wet of winter.  Burdock roots are dug during the late fall of their first year or the early spring of the 2nd year once the leaves have appeared.  It isn’t worth digging smallish roots. 
 
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale and related species). The whole plant is medicinal and edible.  A huge array of uses and products. It isn’t worth harvesting small or medium size dandelions.  I only harvest large dandelion plants (for root or leaf).  For flower it doesn’t matter the size of the plants.  The crowns make an outstanding kimchee, but definitely the most fiddley of the parts.  It would be difficult to make it pay for dry dandelion root wholesale but worth it as a value-added product sold directly to the consumer, such as roasted dandelion root for tea. 
 
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense).  The young aerial portion is used, fresh or dried. 
 
Teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris) Teasel roots are dug during the late fall of their first year or the early spring of the 2nd year once the leaves have appeared.  It isn’t worth digging smallish roots.  It is the most famous herb for treating Lyme disease, which unfortunately is affecting more and more people over a widening area.  The Atlantic Coast and north Mississippi valley in particular. 
 
Puncture Vine, Goat Weed (Tribulus terrestris).  I hope you never get this weed but if you do, there is a market for it. 
 
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum).  More prevalent east of the Cascades than west of the Cascades.  A much-used medicinal, Harvest in early bloom. 
 
Wormwood (Artemisia absynthium).  The absinthe market is only so big but it is a big worming medicine.
 
Nettles (Urtica dioica). More of a wild edible than a farm weed, it is found on many farms in the wild areas.  I sell young shoots as food, older shoots before flowering for medicine, nettle seed and nettle root also as medicine. 
 
Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris). A small market as a medicinal.
 
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense).  While not generally regarded as a weed, it is common wild on many farms.  Red clover blossoms, properly dried, always have a ready market. 
 
White Bryony (Bryonia alba).  Rare weed found sometimes east of the cascades.  Small market.
 
Catnip (Nepeta cataria). A familiar plant to us all.  Sometimes weedy.
 
Gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa). A native weedy species in some fields in the Inland Northwest. 
 
Cleavers (Galium aparine). One of our best lymph medicines. 
 
Chickweed (Stellaria media). Widely used in salves.  Harvested when in robust health and white bloom. 
 
European Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). While certainly not a field weed, the European hawthorn is a non-native plant that has naturalized widely west of the Cascades.  The flowers and fruit have a ready market.
 
Periwinkle  (Vinca minor and V. major).  Sometimes escaped wild in sizable patches. 
 
Centaury (Centaurium erythraea). A Gentian family medicinal.
 
 Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum). Major source of the heart medicine Resveritrol. 
 
If you have substantial presence of these weeds on your farm and are interested in someone wildcrafting them, let me know. Currently wildcrafting across the northern half of Washington State.
 

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)
as an understory crop in an apple orchard.
 
Report by Michael Pilarski, April 2, 2016
 
I recently dug some dandelion root at Finn River Farm’s young, organic apple orchard outside of Chimacum, Washington on the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula.  The orchard is about 2 acres? There are 29 rows of trellised apples,  I would guess one block 3 years old and one block 5 years old..  In other words, quite a bit of light is still getting to the understory. 
 
They had planted the trees in tilled ground and generously mulched down the row with sawdust.  As a result most weeds (and grass) were suppressed, but many dandelion came through the mulch and had a perfect environment. As a result it was the best stand and largest dandelion roots I have ever encountered. The average large root was a half pound. I and a helper dug 80 pounds of roots in a combined 4 hours of digging It took another 6 combined hours to clip off the tops, prep and ship the roots. A lucrative haul. I charge $10 a pound for fresh dandelion root which is high for the trade.  You’d get a lot less money from most buyers. 
 
To do this we dug roots out of 4 rows (of the 29).  I estimate we took 20 of the root biomass in those rows since we selectively only harvested roots in the middle of the inter-tree space, so as not too cut many tree roots.  The aeration I imagine would compensate for the bit of root loss.  We are careful when digging to do the undercutting on the side of the root furthest from the tree.  I do much more extensive root digging in my agroforestry plantings with no apparent harm to the trees.  We don’t leave any holes when we dig and carefully smooth the surface.  The plants were in early bloom when we dug them.  Ideally we would have dug them just before bloom, same with leaf harvest. There is an optimum timing on this and we were a bit late, but acceptable. Bear in mind, that the severed roots will promptly send up new shoots and in 2 years time another large harvest can be made.  Dandelions can be treated as perennials even though the root is dug.  Sorta like comfrey or horseradish. 
 
If 80 # was 20% of the root in the 4 rows, that would be 400 pounds in the 4 rows or an average of 100# per row.  Mind you those were some of the best rows.  But if we conservatively say there was 60 pounds of root per row x 29 rows that = 1,740 pounds of roots out there.  If  someone had an order for 1000 pounds of fresh roots that would be a financial bonanza from a “weed” growing naturally  on the site.  No extra work involved to grow it. 
 
What are the other economic opportunities represented by this standing dandelion crop?  There were 3 # of tops for every 1 pound of root.  This week I will go and harvest a small order of fresh dandelion leaf.  I get $10 a pound for fresh green leaf.  Just the nice leaves, no flower heads or flower stems.  There are probably 1,000 pounds of nice leaves on the site.  If you had a market. There are markets for leaves both for edible and herbal uses.
 
Another little-known crop consists of the crowns which make an incredible kimchi.  Tasty and super nutritious. It is fiddly to process the crowns down to the edible cores, but the prices of value-added, dandelion kimchi would be very high.
 
The flowers make an excellent wine and the value added value of the dandelion wine you could make off that stand would be in the tns of thousands of dollars.  Perhaps the most lucrative value added amount of all the possibilities.  The flowers are also used for salads.  The flowers could also yield large amounts of honey if a bee-yard was there to take advantage of it. 
 
There is a lot better payback for fresh product then for dry product in herbs in general.  But particularly so for dandelion.  Dry down rates for both dandelion leaf and root are high. I am going to guess 8:1 and 5:1 ratio for the leaf and root dry-down rate respectively.  The root is fiddly to clean up and it would be hard to mechanize.  I would not want to g into the bulk dry dandelion root business.  Perhaps some dry leaf would give a reasonable return.
 
This is just one example of an understory crop in an orchard situation. The crop possibilities are virtually endless. Some that come to mind are red clover (for blossoms), asparagus, mints, butterbur (Petasites), comfrey (root and leaf), yarrow and many others.  I will make a list at some point. The ideal crop would not have to have any roots dug. Be a top crop only.  Be very resilient to needed management (picking and pruning). Be productive in part shade. Not get too tall so as to interfere with picking or lower apples getting light, kinda cuts out asparagus (but they do well in an older orchard where tree limbs are 4 feet off the ground.  Pick crops that have beneficial interactions with the trees, especially root exudates for feeding, nitrogen-fixation and which have a beneficial pest/predator relationship.
 
 Pick crops that make mot of their growth before tree leaf out. The dandelion re a good example as they have done almost all their work before the trees even leaf out, so are getting close to full sun.
 
 In the case of Finn River Orchard, they are tilling between the rows to keep weeds down.  This has resulted in a somewhat compacted inter-row area.  Dandelions are tilled frequently and there are very few, large dandelions there.  All the good dandelions are in the untilled area in the tree row.  Managing of understory crops in the tractor path would be much more constrained, and Finn River does have weed pressure they wish to curtail, so that is the topic of another conversation. 
 

Time will tell if Finn River Farm has the time and staff to take on making any of their dandelion crop into an income stream but the possibility is there. And it serves as an example to other orchard growers. Particularly new plantings.

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MICHAEL “SKEETER” PILARSKI is a life-long student of plants and earth repair. His farming career started in 2nd grade and his organic farming career began in 1972 at age 25. Michael founded Friends of the Trees Society in 1978 and took his first permaculture design course in 1982. Since 1988 he has taught 36 permaculture design courses in the US and abroad. His specialties include earth repair, agriculture, seed collecting, nursery sales, tree planting, fruit picking, permaculture, agroforestry, forestry, ethnobotany, medicinal herb growing, hoeing and wildcrafting. He has hands-on experience with over 1000 species of plants. He is a prolific gathering organizer and likes group singing.