Category Archives: Faoi na Fuinseoige

Desperately Seeking Work Trade Apprentice

Part of growing wiser is knowing when you are in over your head, right?

I have too much going on because I am trying to do all. the. things.  I have the clients, and the writing, and the teaching, and the garden.

Oh my gourd,  the garden.

As you can see, things are kind of out-of-control.

I have have been trying to get caught up around here, but I can’t quite manage.  I’ve tried to make some connections with local growers about growing more medicinal herbs, but its just not happening. So, instead of being able to cut back, I am going to have to move more in that direction myself and be my own supplier.

So  I need help in the form of a work-trade apprentice.  This would be a perfect for someone who wants to learn about herbs, but can’t afford classes.  This will be a hands on learning situation. We will be working with the plants daily and probably getting dirty and full of burrs.  You will learn identification, gardening, ethical harvesting, permaculture techniques, making preparations for clients and all the paperwork that requires. Yes, paperwork.

I also would like to find  an office assistant who is willing to barter some work on my book project and social media,  but that will  until fall.

I am not sure that you have to be local, we can probably figure something out for the right person who wants to trade more time for room-and-board.  You don’t have to know how to do any gardening, but it would be cool if you were handy with power tools and you have to be physically able.


Besides the free educational experience, you ill have access to many medicinal herbs I have growing and be able to harvest some for your own use. I will probably have some garden produce for you, too.

You will have access to my still room and equipment.

On occasion I travel for work and I can offer you  free tickets to some of the conferences I teach at in exchange for traveling with me and helping out with driving.

If everything works out over the summer, we can continue in the fall and I will enroll you in my practitioner’s intensive for work-trade.

If you have time to commit to the pursuit, let me know.

Herbal Self-Care Basics: Sourcing Herbs

Where to find quality herbs?
Ideally, we could all go out and gather our food and medicine from pristine woods and green meadows.  I’ve visited a lot of places where you can do that.  I am missing having spent some of February in the mountains, dreadfully, this year.

Map of Glyphosate Usage in the US.  It isn't pretty for Iowans.

Glyphosate Usage in the US. It isn’t pretty for Iowans.

Unfortunately, the reality of wild crafting here in Iowa is that you have to be quite careful about gathering herbs.  We have very little public land in Iowa.  The small managed recreational areas we do have have often spray herbicides or pesticides. Road side ditches are often reservoirs for agricultural run-off.  Generally speaking native Iowans don’t get how difficult ethical wild-crafting is here, until they do it somewhere else.

My personal solution to this problem is to grow my own.  Growing your own wellness garden is a fulfilling project. As a Johnson County Master Gardener, I have been helping people learn about gardening for years. Of course you can’t grow everything, but you can trade your abundance with friends from afar.

I studied ecological design at Goddard because I feel that gardens based on ecological design create pockets of wellness in the ecosystem and promote mutually beneficial relationships with other species, healing the rift between humans and nature.   For me, this is an integral part of making connections.

My garden became part of that work although it was started almost immediately after I moved here.   This is a collage of just a few of the plants I grow here on my .12 acre urban-ish lot I affectionately call Faoi.   I am going to post my final inventory,  as was published in my thesis last June,  on its own page here on the blog.  Hopefully, I will remember to update it.  I am still in the process of adding more plants and moving the ones I have into better guilds.

Faoi na Fuinseoige,  Iowa City, IA

Faoi na Fuinseoige

If you are not inclined toward gardening, check with local herbalists and farmers when looking for supplies. Eventually though, most of us need to visit the herb shop at a local health food store, or order something online.

What do Good Herbs Look Like?

This is when you need to apply good old-fashioned organoleptics. Organoleptic evaluation of herbs refers to the evaluation of a plant sample by color, odor, size, shape, taste and special features including texture.  Knowing some of that involves enough botanical training to recognize the plants, without labels.   Thankfully, for the most part, we have labels to guide us in stores, but don’t forget your critical thinking cap.  The coop had celery root labeled as rutabaga last Thanksgiving.  (No, I am never going to forgive them for that.)

Good quality herbs aren’t too hard to pick out. They are pleasant colors, crisp greens, and dark greens- not brown. Flowers should retain a color close their original blossom.  Fresh herbs also have distinctive odors; not all of which are pleasant. You will learn their smells.

They have specific tastes. In many traditional healing systems, the action an herb has in your body is classified by its taste. So if you have read about the astringency of an herb, you should notice that your mouth feels dry or tight, after you chew it. Herbs, which are classified as “sour” and don’t make you pucker might have lost their potency.

As you lexperience each new herb, you slowly become trained in organoleptic evaluation. Eventually you will be able to identify  the family a new plant belongs to just by chewing on the leaf. I am a big fan of breaking off leaves of plants and handing them to students to chew on.

Putting aside simple organoleptics, another simple question to ask is “Does this herb have an effect?” I think that this should go without saying but if you are drinking a nourishing infusion for weeks, you should notice a change in your body. Sometimes it isn’t always a good change. Not all herbs are suited for all people. For example, nettles have a very drying effect on me. But I can at least tell if they are still potent by recognizing that effect on my body.

There are optional questions you may want to ask if these issues are important to you.  What sort of business practices does your supplier use? Are the herbs ethically sourced?  Are they organic?  If they are wild-crafted in a different country, are they fair trade certified?   If you buy herbal preparations, you should know this stuff, too.   There are a lot of suppliers out there. I am not endorsing one over another, here.

I got the herbs on the left at New Pi.  The second pile came straight from Frontier.

Knowing the supplier is not sufficient. A lot depends on how the herbs are treated after they arrive at the retail outlet.  This oatstraw came from the same supplier but the first pile had clearly been sitting around the coop, too long. The second pile came straight from Frontier.

While everything I just talked about is important, none of it matters if your retailer doesn’t store their herbs properly.  Regretfully,  I tend to feel that you will get better quality herbs when cutting out the middleman.

Herbs should be stored in dark glass and out-of-the light as much as possible.    Most herbs in markets are stored in clear glass in the light. They have a really short shelf-life.  I keep mine in a completely dark closet and I won’t use flowers or leaves if they are more than 6-9 months old regardless of what the bag says when I get it.

Finally, please keep in mind that when I am speaking of dried herbs on this blog, I am never, ever speaking of something you buy in a bottle of capsules. Those are capsules full of fillers which may or may not contain the herb on the label.  I recently read a study in which a red canister of culinary garlic powder contained more allicin than the top nine garlic supplements on the market.

Faoi na Fuinseoige

10151087364956860(This is the story of how Faoi got its name.  To read more about Faoi visit the page above. )

I am always in a thoughtful state of mind this time of year.  Probably because the time to hibernate is coming on quickly.  I am sincerely playing with the idea of the first fire in the hearth of the season, some night this week.

Tomorrow, I will share something practical. I have some amazing raw honey extractions I have concocted. Today, I don’t feel very practical or focused because I am little sad about my garden and I just want to ramble.
Gardening was disappointing this year.   What little warm weather vegetable harvest I have had is late, due to the plants stalling out during the worst of the heat and the dry this summer.

Still, my fall crops that I planted in mid-August are hanging in there and the hops vine seems to have survived the transplant.  The drought is decimating my garden, still.  When Steve and I cleared the back yard, it was disheartening to see how straggly and beat down a lot of my friends look.  I think my plans of applying as a UPS sanctuary are set back years.  I lost my goldenseal and my stoneroot. My raspberry patch looks terrible. I am hesitant to plant anything new, right now.

The plants in the front of the house are doing a little better, living under the shade of our giant ash tree.  Although I do think he may be using up more than his fair share of what little precipitation we are getting.  Thankfully things that did make it this far, seem to have entered propagation mode and I am having good seed harvests.  I will be able to start new plants next spring, bring in compost and mulch and maybe try to fit more water into the budget.

I am alternately fiercely devoted to and incredibly frustrated by my little patch of wild land here among the neatly clipped grass yards.

I know I should bloom where I am planted, but a part of me is often wishing I were someplace else, with more space and more sunny spots. When we first moved here I thought we should name our place.   I never could come up with a name that I thought fit.

I was walking home with friends the other night, telling them the story about losing our other ash tree to the drunk driver.  I put my hand on the remaining ash to show where the truck left its mark.  I thought of how the fireman and the policeman joked that the trees must have leaned in to keep the car from going through the front of our house.  I thought of the plants the ash protected from the worst of the sun this summer and a good name for our tiny urban homestead occurred to me.

Faoi na Fuinseoige

I didn’t occur to me in Gaelic, I am not nearly that cool.   I had to look some of it up.  I knew ash tree; I wasn’t sure of the rest.   The literal translation of the phrase is “under the ash”, but I found it translated as “under the protection of the ash” enough that I am comfortable giving it that meaning.   It is pronounced:  Fwee nuh FWIN-shoy-geh.   I tend to call shorten it to Faoi.

I think it is pretty fitting, don’t you?