FLOWER POWER – Get to know the Yukon’s summer floras

Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary

Wildflowers are good medicine for the soul. When summer solstice arrives in the Yukon, the vast boreal landscape is bursting with a variety of blossoms. Some are bold, bright, and showy, while others are tiny, low to the ground, and almost go unnoticed. Read on to find out about some of the flowers in our northern environment. And don’t forget that paying attention to the phenomenal beauty the earth possesses is when one truly receives the gift of nature.

RIVER BEAUTY is a close relative of fireweed. The flowers are the same bright pink colour as fireweed, but larger in size. Its stems lay on the ground and petals reach toward the sun. This plant generally grows on gravel bars and stream banks and reaches alpine elevations on scree slopes. The antioxidant flowers and leaves can be eaten fresh on a salad or made into a tea. Both contain steroid compounds that act as gastrointestinal astringents to soothe the digestive tract. The flowers and leaves also contain various flavonoids, including quercetin, a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory.

BLUEBELL FLOWERS are commonly known as lungwort because the leaf and flower tea is stimulating to the respiratory system, so it is beneficial for treating a cough. The flowers grow in drooping clusters. Its petals, which are fused into funnel-shaped tubes, bud pink and turn a rich blue when in bloom. The plant’s dark-green leaves are broad at the base, taper to a long point, and are covered with rough hairs.

TWINFLOWER is a pink, funnel-shaped flower that nods in pairs from a stalk. The blooms are small and very sweetly scented. It is considered a dwarf shrub because the stems are trailing, rooting at nodes with little oval leaves. Twinflower grows throughout the circumpolar north in open woods or on mossy and turfy openings in thickets. Twinflower must be carefully gathered. I use scissors to cut them from the base of the stem in order to avoid pulling up the root system, which allows it to continue flourishing. Use the leaves and flowers together to make a delicately flavoured sweet tea that is good for coughs and helps increase breast milk for lactating women.

BEARBERRY FLOWERS are bellshaped, pink, fairy-like blooms that can be gathered in early summer and made into a tea. The flowers and leaves can also be made into a tincture that is an antimicrobial astringent, which is well-known as a urinary antiseptic and an effective treatment for bronchitis, helping thin out excessive, sticky mucus.

ARNICA FLOWER is bright yellow and used topically to stimulate and dilate the blood vessels near the surface of the skin to improve circulation to an injured area. It also promotes the healing of bruises, sprains, strains, muscular inflammation, aches, pains, rheumatic joint pain, and swelling due to fractures. It can be used topically as a poultice, oil, cream, or salve.

Arnica flowers do not dry well and essentially turn to seed fluff. The flowers are best used for infused oil. Let the blossoms wilt for a few hours so the water from the petals can start to evaporate. Use one part flowers to two parts sunflower oil. (I like to use sunflower oil because you can buy Canadian-grown options. Plus, this oil is in the same plant family as arnica.) Put the flowers and oil in a jar and cover with cheesecloth so excess moisture escapes. Steep in oil for a few weeks, stirring daily, then strain the mixture into a bottle, label it, and use.

LABRADOR TEA has white, aromatic flowers. The underside of its dark-green leaves is covered with woolly, white hairs that turn rust-coloured with age. This plant grows in peaty soils, bogs, muskegs, moist conifer forests, and meadows in early summer. The flowers are easy to spot on the forest floor. Labrador tea has analgesic properties that reduce pain when applied externally as a poultice, infused in an oil or ointment, or ingested as a tea. It is said to be mildly cleansing to the blood and considered a tonic herb that strengthens and tones the whole body. To create Labrador-tea oil, combine a cup of flowers with one-and-a-half cups of jojoba oil (or another oil you have available) in a jar and allow it to infuse for up to four weeks, shaking it daily.

WILD ROSE is a fragrant flower that is usually solitary on the stem with pink petals, many with yellow stamens. They are easily found all over the circumpolar north, frequently along riverbanks, woodland clearings, or burns. The petals are emollient and can moisture the skin when infused in oil. It is important to keep rose petals out of direct sunlight when you’re drying them, otherwise they will fade and lose much of their valuable essential oils. Rose petals are perfect for making a floral water or hydrosol.

FORAGING FOR FIRST AID REMEDIES- Medicinal plants found in the boreal forest

Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary

Elements in nature can be beautiful, serene, and enlightening, but during our summer sojourns we can encounter many minor first-aid situations. The boreal forest is filled with plants that can be used for both food and medicine, but foraging for wild plants takes planning and preparation.

The weather changes rapidly in the North, so dress in layers. Wear appropriate footwear and bring water, snacks, a small first-aid kit, matches or a lighter, and bear deterrent. Depending on where you’re going, you may also want to pack a map, compass, or GPS device.

You’ll also need basic foraging supplies and equipment. I generally use paper bags, a bucket, or a basket, depending on what I’m gathering. I find paper bags are the most convenient because they fold up and initially occupy less room. Take a sharp knife, garden clippers, or hand pruners, as well as a shovel or hand spade for digging roots. Gloves are a good idea if you’ll be handling stems with thorns, and an accurate field guide that identifies northern plants is very helpful.

Before you start gathering plants, it’s important to make some keen observations. Begin by assessing the area where you intend to gather plants: is it clean and free of pollutants? Busy roadways and industrial areas often provide easy access to many medicinal and food plants, but the soil and plants in these spaces can be saturated with toxins and chemicals that do more harm than good.

When out on herb walks with curious harvesters, I’m often asked, “How do you know an animal hasn’t peed on the plants?” The answer is, “They don’t taste like salt!” It’s good to sample the plants you’re gathering to make sure they’re clean. When you’re ready to test,observe the plant. Be positive of its identification so you don’t confuse it with a toxic plant that may look similar. If in doubt, pick a sample and bring it to an expert in your community, such as an Elder, botanist, plant biologist, or herbalist.

It’s important when foraging to walk softly on the earth and gather plants with respect. Observe the plant community you’re planning to pick from: is it healthy and vibrant, or are there only one or a few plants growing? Don’t over-harvest; allow for future growth. Leave enough behind that the plant community can continue with vitality.

Herb is a term that refers to the whole plant, including leaves, flowers, stems, seeds, and sometimes roots. The entire herb can be harvested while the plant is in flower. If the flower is not going to be used, then the herb can be gathered before the flowers emerge, but after the leaves have appeared. (This is when the plant will be most potent.)

The aerial parts of plants (leaves, stems, and flowers) grow above ground. Flowers and leaves are generally high in volatile oils that can be captured if the plant is picked at the optimal time. The best time to gather the aerial parts of plants is in the morning, after the plants have rested and before the heat of the day evaporates their volatile oils. The midday sun temporarily wilts the plant’s energy, yet it also draws oils and resins into aerial parts. Because of this some herbalists suggest evening harvesting. As you become familiar with plants, you’ll better understand the best time to gather them. The optimum time to gather leaves is when they’re fresh, young, tender, and full of energy, oils, and juices.

Flowers are gathered just before, or as they are, fully expanded and in the pubescent stage, when their colour, aroma, and volatile oils are most potent. If you miss this stage, pick when they’re wide open and at their peak.

The best time to gather conifer tips is when they emerge as fresh, juicy, new-sprout greens—do this quickly because this stage does not last long. Tree buds, such as those of the balsam poplar, emerge in late autumn and can be gathered anytime, but I’ve observed they have the highest resin content in the early spring.

Roots can be gathered in the spring before leaves start developing and before the plant goes into flower or in the autumn after flowering is finished. Be sure to leave plenty of rootstock so plants will continue flourishing.

Fruits and berries should be gathered when they’re ripe. Cranberries, rosehips, and crowberries are better picked after the first light frost—this makes them sweeter. Seeds can be gathered when they’re fully ripened. Dry seeds in a basket as they require very little drying.

Bark can be gathered in the spring or late autumn. In most cases, it’s the inner bark that’s used. If you’re using the outer bark, you can harvest this at anytime. Never strip around a tree as this will kill it. It’s best to prune a branch instead of cutting into the trunk.

Pitch can be harvested anytime. I like gathering spruce pitch in the winter when it’s frozen because it isn’t so sticky and it’s a bit easier to work with. If your fingers get sticky from pitch or plant resins, use a bit of vegetable oil or butter to rub it off. Sap is harvested in the spring when it’s flowing freely through the tree.

THE KITCHEN PANTRY APOTHECARY Convenient source for home remedies

At this time while the world is still mostly on lockdown because of Covid-19 we may need to turn to a quick home remedy but don’t have an assortment of herbs on hand? Your kitchen is a great source for common staples that have many known uses to help maintain health and aid minor illnesses or injuries. As Hippocrates said: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”


Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary

Have a sore throat? Gargle with sea salt in warm water. Have a sty? Apply a warm black-tea bag compress over your eye. Have a cough? Take a teaspoon of honey. Potatoes are good for clearing up warts. Cabbage can be used as a leaf compress for headaches and is promoted by midwives as an effective way to draw out infection and reduce clogged ducts from a nursing mother’s breast. Your morning oatmeal is always a great remedy to help dry, itchy skin and can also relieve the intense itchiness, and prevent infection, from chickenpox.

Here’s a guide to how many items in your kitchen pantry can be essential for health and wellness needs.


Sea salt is an antiseptic that contains many essential trace nutrients, including vital minerals like sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, bromide, chloride, iron, copper fluoride, and zinc.

A pinch of sea salt in a cup of warm water can heal mouth and throat infections and protect teeth from acid damage, cavities, mouth sores, and bleeding gums. Use saltwater as a gargle at the first sign of a sore throat.

A bath or foot soak with sea salt is beneficial because the many minerals in sea salt relax sore, tired feet and muscles and can also soothe infected or itchy, flaky skin conditions like psoriasis. Use one cup of sea salt for a full bath and
1/4 cup in hot water for a foot soak.

Sea salt is effective for skin care as it is a natural exfoliator and helps remove dead skin particles, tone skin tissue, and promote peripheral blood circulation when scrubbed lightly on the skin. Its sulphur compounds make it great for use in a facial steam to unclog pores and clear unwanted bacteria that causes acne. A sea-salt steam

is also beneficial for infected or stuffed-up sinuses and sore throats.

It is traditional in the Ayurvedic system of healing in India to treat sinus infections using a special clay pot with a spout, known as a neti pot. Add a pinch of sea salt to a cup of warm water to irrigate clogged sinuses due to allergies or a cold.

Replenish electrolytes after intense sweating by adding a pinch of sea salt to your water. The minerals in the salt can help with electrolyte balance in the body, which is necessary for maintaining ideal blood composition, circulation, and muscular strength.


Baking soda is good for oral hygiene, whether on its own or mixed with sea salt. It can act as an excellent natural antibacterial toothpaste that reduces plaque and whitens teeth.

Blend five parts baking soda to one-part sea salt. Store in a jar. Gently brush your teeth and gums; spit out excess and let the rest stay in your mouth for 10 minutes, then rinse. Baking soda has abrasive qualities, so over time it may wear
away tooth enamel. Brushing with this mixture a few times a week is sufficient.

Drinking water with a teaspoon of baking soda can neutralize stomach acid and relieve symptoms of ulcer pain and indigestion, as well as assist in restoring the body’s pH balance. This can also help at the first sign of a cold or flu.

If you have a splinter, soak the affected area in one tablespoon of baking soda and one cup of water a couple times a day. This concoction will help the splinter work its way out and prevent infection.

Add a cup of baking soda to a warm bath to soothe sunburns, insect
bites, and rashes. Or make a paste
by mixing baking soda with water, then directly apply it to the affected area or make a cool compress.

Baking soda also works as a deodorant. Mix a pinch of it with a dash of water to make a paste and then apply it to your armpits. Its antibacterial properties will help you stay fresh throughout the day.

For stinky, tired feet, put a half a cup of baking soda and warm water in a basin for a refreshing foot soak. You can also sprinkle baking soda inside your footwear, hockey skates, or ski boots to prevent odour.

To create a cleansing paste that is gentle enough to use daily, mix three parts baking soda with one part water. Use this mixture to exfoliate the face or body.


Made with fermented apples, this magical brew has a history of being used for common ailments and imbalances. When applied topically, it can take
the sting out of sunburns and reduce inflammation in pimples, or it can be added to a bath to aid dry skin and provide relaxation. Add a teaspoon to a cup of water and take either first thing
in the morning or in the evening before bed to alleviate bloating and indigestion.



Honey is rich in nutrients, including vitamins, trace enzymes, amino acids, and minerals like calcium, iron, sodium chlorine, magnesium, phosphate, and potassium. It is also rich with antioxidants, and its natural sugars feed the brain to aid with concentration.

Honey has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Researchers say the antibacterial properties can help treat wounds, sores, burns, and other skin infections.

It also can help speed the growth of new tissue to heal a cut or burn.

Local honey works well to build up a tolerance to regional plant pollens and prevent seasonal allergies. A spoonful of honey on its own can stop a cough. For an extra kick,
add a chopped clove of garlic.

Honey can also transform into a lovely facemask. Smear a dollop of it on your face and leave on for about 15 minutes for a deep-cleansing, moisturizing, and exfoliating treatment.



Olive oil is extracted from olives and rich in vitamins and minerals. It has exceptional disinfecting and wound-healing properties. Taken consistently, olive

oil can help prevent heart disease, high cholesterol, constipation, fatigue, hypertension, and rheumatism. It
can be used topically to soothe dry, irritated skin and ease joint pain.




Garlic is proven to
be antimicrobial, anti- bacterial, antifungal, anti-parasitic, antiviral, antihypertensive, and anti-inflammatory. It has a positive effect on the immune system. Garlic is effectively used raw or cooked for infections, colds, or flus and is excellent at keeping the heart healthy.


Ask most chefs what they keep in the kitchen for cuts and most likely their answer will be cayenne pepper. It is
a natural styptic and will work quickly to stop bleeding and start the healing process.


Ginger has been clinically shown to prevent and relieve nausea and vomiting. A fast and effective digestive aid, ginger-root tea helps with indigestion, lack of appetite, and flatulence. The tea is also effective as an expectorant to aid with congestion from bronchitis or common colds and flus.


Onions have many active compounds that are beneficial for a variety of health conditions. Half a raw onion a day keeps the illness away! Onions can regulate cholesterol

levels by promoting the production of good cholesterol, which in turn keeps you healthier and your heart happier.

A blend of onion juice and honey can be used to treat a common cold or flu. This mixture contains vitamin C and phytochemicals, which have antibacterial properties to boost the immune system. If juicing isn’t your thing, simply chop up a raw onion, cover it with honey, and leave it for a few hours to make a cough syrup that will soothe a sore throat.

When applied topically, onions can take away the sting from an insect bite. To relieve a head- ache, apply crushed onion to your forehead and temples. Its antibacterial effects can also treat a toothache; chew a small piece of raw onion with the effected tooth for a few minutes.

Onions also help clear up lung congestion. Create an onion fomentation by boiling a chopped onion in water then dipping a cloth in the cooled liquid and placing it over your chest.


Love is in the Air


Article first published in Alive Magazine 

Aromatherapy’s benefits include bringing awareness to the heart centre. Experience the bliss of essential oils in the bath, a massage, or in a diffuser.

Valentine’s Day celebrates romantic love between two people, with roses and chocolate traditionally given as gifts. Dark chocolate is known for its aphrodisiac and mood-enhancing qualities and the red rose symbolizes love. This Valentine’s Day, try something new—yet timeless—and introduce your lover to the wonders of aromatherapy.

Aphrodite, the goddess of love, is said to have used the aromatic petals of rose because she knew they were uplifting and helped to restore a woman’s connection to her femininity. Rose is ruled by the planet Venus, which represents love and all things beautiful. Rose essential oil can help open the intimate connection to the heart centre.

Open the heart centre

According to ancient Indian tradition, the heart centre or heart chakra is the middle (fourth) chakra in an energetic system of seven chakras or energy centres in our body. The heart chakra is related to love and is the integrator of opposites in the psyche: mind and body, male and female, persona and shadow, ego and unity. A healthy heart chakra allows us to love deeply, feel compassion for ourselves and others, and have a deep sense of peace and centredness.

Genuine and authentic essential oils can be used to bring awareness to the heart centre. The simple act of lighting a candle, intentionally making a massage oil or taking time for to create a romantic, aromatic bath can create an opening to the heart that can be a powerful aphrodisiac for the spirit.

Essential oils

Rose (Rosa damascene)
This oil has a very earthy, rich aroma that is highly concentrated and best used with a carrier oil such as jojoba. It blends well with sandalwood. Rose oil is especially beneficial for women; it can help to balance hormones, has a tonic effect on the reproductive organs, and can enhance sexuality.

Sandalwood (Santalum album)
The deep, rich, woodsy scent of sandalwood induces a state of calmness and serenity and relieves nervous tension. It is considered a sexual restorative for both women and men and is wonderful on its own or paired with other essential oils such as lavender.

Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin)
Associated with peace and love, this ancient fragrance has a rich, primal, earthy scent. The earthy aroma helps to ground our energy, helping us to feel present and connected to our roots.

Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum)
This oil has an exotic, fruity, floral fragrance that can help relieve nervous tension. Jasmine oil has mild euphoric properties and is said to restore sexual confidence. If you plan to use it as a perfume, it is best diluted in a carrier oil, such as jojoba, because the aroma can be a bit overwhelming. More is not always better in this case.

These essential oils can be used in diffusers or to scent massage oil or bath salts. For a memorable and sensual Valentine’s experience, try these fragrant aromatherapy recipes.


Give the gift of massage to your valentine. Combine the therapeutic value of touch with the healing qualities of the oils to soothe stress in your loved one’s hands, feet, legs, arms, and abdomen.

Rose-Chocolate Massage Oil

1 Tbsp (15 mL) cocoa butter, melted
1/4 cup (60 mL) almond oil
8 drops orange oil (Citrus sinensis)
4 drops rose oil (Rosa damascene)
6 drops sandalwood oil (Santalum album)

In a bain-marie (or double boiler), melt cocoa butter; stir in almond oil until melted together. Stir in essential oils. This oil is best used warm. If you are not going to use it right away, pour it into a bottle to store. Before you use it, heat the bottle in a cup of hot water.


Baths are an easy—and relaxing—way to use essential oils, combining the benefits of inhalation with the powers of absorption through the skin.

Be Love Blessing Bath

4 drops jasmine absolute oil (Jasminum grandiflorum)
4 drops lavender oil (Lavandula angustifolia)
1 Tbsp (15 mL) sunflower oil
1/2 cup (125 mL) sea salt

Mix essential oils with sunflower oil, and stir into sea salt. If you are not going to use it immediately, store in an airtight jar.

Heavenly scents

The essential oil diffuser is a common way of using and enjoying oils. The essential oils are heated in water so that they are vapourized (diffused) into the air.

Heart Chakra Diffuser Blend

5 drops orange oil (Citrus sinensis)
4 drops lavender oil (Lavandula angustifolia)
3 drops rose oil (Rosa damascene)

Boil 2 cups (500 mL) water. Pour into bowl and add essential oils.

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE Herbal Remedies for the Home

Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary

Matthew Watson General Store, in Carcross, is a destination for tourists and locals alike. As one of the oldest stores in the territory, there are lots of curios. Stepping through the door and onto the old wooden floor is like going back in time.

I like to go not only for their yummy ice cream in their homemade waffle cones, but also to look at all the antique medicine bottles lining the shelves behind the wooden counter—bottles that would generally be found in an old-time apothecary. The collection is impressive—from Gin Pills for the Kidneys, Jayne’s Liquid Vermifuge to rid the body of worms, styptic powder to stop bleeding, and Dr. A.W. Chase’s Catarrh Powder to help with excess mucous in the respiratory system.

Each fading label, tin box, or coloured bottle is as interesting as the next. These elixirs, tinctures, and dusting powders are tangible reminders of when simple un-proprietary botanical ingredients were the norm, home remedies were the first line of action, and people frequented the local apothecary for simple remedies that could cure what ailed them.

One remedy that really intrigued me was the Gin Pills, manufactured in the early 1900s. These pills are made from ground up juniper berries, which is said to rid the kidneys of excess wastes, like uric acid, which causes gout.

JUNIPER (Juniperus communis)

Juniper is warming, spicy, and antiseptic. It’s also well known for helping heal urinary-tract problems such as cystitis, urethritis, and prostatitis. Juniper berry is a diuretic and promotes increased urine flow, which in turn helps clear the bladder, prostate, gallbladder, and kidneys of excess wastes. Its anti-inflammatory properties ease the pain of rheumatic conditions, painful joints, arthritis, sore muscles, and nerve pain caused by sciatica. In the latter case, the berries can be used as a tea, but for prolonged use it’s best applied topically as a poultice, in a cream, salve, or bath.

Juniper berries aid digestion, expel gas, ease stomach cramps and indigestion, and stimulate appetite. In laboratory testing, juniper has been shown to lower blood-sugar levels. It also strengthens the immune system and is good for preventing colds and flus. If you have a cold, the berry tea can be a healing ally for the lungs. Its expectorant properties help clear excess phlegm, aiding with conditions like bronchitis and sinusitis. It is also a good sore-throat gargle.

Juniper berry is considered a purifier of the blood and an overall system cleanser. By removing acid and toxic wastes from the body, it helps reduce overall susceptibility to disease.

Northern First Nations have used juniper as a survival food and know it is “good medicine” with powerful healing properties for cleansing the body and the spirit. They use juniper to keep away infection, as well as to treat arthritis and stomach aches.

That said, juniper berries can also irritate the kidneys when used excessively and should be avoided by those with kidney disease or problems, and the berries shouldn’t be used during pregnancy.

YARROW (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow is a powerful topical wound healer that can stop bleeding immediately. Its analgesic properties help with pain relief, and its antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties keep wounds free of infection. It can also be used topically for eruptive conditions like measles, chickenpox, or insect bites.

Yarrow can be used fresh and dried. Powdered yarrow in your herbal firstaid kit or pantry is a good idea for accidental cuts.

Yarrow styptic powder helps stop bleeding from cuts and wounds, so it’s good to have in your herbal apothecary collection or first-aid kit. You can apply the powder directly on a wound, put it in a poultice or wash, or make it into an ointment.

o Yarrow Stop-the-Bleeding Styptic Powder

1) Powder dried yarrow in a blender.

2) Strain powder through a sieve to remove any lumps.

3) Pour into a dark glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Label and store in a cool area.

Yarrow also makes a wonderful tincture. Tinctures are very concentrated and last a long time, so you won’t have to make them every year. Tinctures don’t take up much room, so they’re convenient to take travelling and good to include in an herbal first-aid kit.

Tinctures are different from teas in that water is not used to extract the properties of the plant. Alcohol—like vodka or apple-cider vinegar—is used as a solvent in tinctures to remove a plant’s medicinal properties. The process of extracting the constituents from the plant is called “maceration.” Tinctures are applied internally under the tonguefor quick absorption. However, some people find the taste too strong and prefer to add tinctures to juice, water, or tea. I also like adding tinctures to food preparations such as soups, sauces, dips, and to my morning smoothie. People who prefer not to ingest alcohol can add the tincture to a steaming hot cup of water or herbal tea—the hot liquid will cause most of the alcohol to evaporate.

Yarrow tincture or tea aids a fever. It also eliminates toxins and promotes perspiration, thereby helping break up a cold or flu. Yarrow is an immune stimulant and acts as a mild expectorant helping get rid of excess phlegm. Ingest yarrow tea or tincture the minute you feel a cold coming on—it may help to stop the cold from taking hold. If you have cold extremities, yarrow tea promotes warmth and circulation throughout the body and will warm up your hands and feet.

o Homemade Tincture-Make your own tincture from local botanicals.

1) Break up herbs into a jar.

2) Pour vodka or apple-cider vinegar over the herbs until they’re fully covered with liquid.

3) Cover the jar with a lid. When using vinegar, use a lid made of plastic, as metal will rust when it comes into contact with acid. If you don’t have a plastic lid, place a plastic or wax paper barrier between the lid and the jar.

4) Label your preparation.

5) Place out of direct sunlight and let steep for several weeks.

6) When your preparation is ready, strain through a piece of cheesecloth, wringing out the cloth to get every last precious drop. Compost the spent botanicals.

Making your own herbal remedies will bring you back in time to when life was simpler. Dedicate a shelf in your pantry to a selection of your favourite Yukon botanical preparations. These will help prevent and heal minor health ailments that you may face during the long, cold winter.



Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary

An abundance of wild, healthy super foods or natural medicines can be found in the northern boreal forest. In the Yukon, they’re often growing right outside your front door. Boreal berries are antioxidant-rich foods with medicinal qualities that are beneficial for our overall health, keeping us vibrant during the long northern winters.

BEARBERRY Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

It is the deep, green, leathery leaves of bearberry that have effective medicinal qualities. A tea made from the leaves makes an excellent mouthwash for gum infections or to clear up diarrhea. The tea can thin out excessive, sticky mucus brought on by bronchitis.

Bearberry leaves possess anti-microbial actions that kill bacteria in urine. A tea or tincture can help prevent the formation of (and assist in the removal of) stones from the urinary system and work as an antiseptic for urinary-tract and bladder infections. It’s also helpful in alleviating pain associated with menstruation and is a powerful tonic for the bladder’s sphincter muscle (said to aid with bladdercontrol and bedwetting problems).

CAUTIONS: Large doses should be avoided during pregnancy. Do not take for longer than two weeks at a time. Raw berries can be toxic if eaten in large quantities.

BLUEBERRY Vaccinium ovalifolium

Harvested in late summer, wild blueberries are delicious and prevent oxidative stress in the body that leads to chronic inflammation.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Consuming blueberries can enhance brain power. They can also prevent eye fatigue and slow down or even reverse eye disorders, such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Blueberries can also prevent the bacteria responsible for urinary-tract infections from attaching to the bladder wall.

Blueberry leaves (gathered before the plant goes into berry) can be used to treat gastrointestinal ailments, such as diarrhea and upset stomachs. All parts, including leaf and stem, may be useful for lowering blood sugar.

Topically, an infusion of blueberries can be used to prevent skin infections.

CLOUDBERRY Rubus chamaemorus

Cloudberries are high in water-soluble vitamin C and rich in antioxidants that prevent free-radical damage in the body and fight disease caused by oxidative stress. They can be eaten, used in tea or juice, or made into medicinal syrup.

The leaves are high in minerals and act as an astringent. They can be infused in boiling water as a tea for menstrual cramping and diarrhea. Topically, the leaves can be used as a compress or poultice for weeping wounds.

CRANBERRY Vaccinium macrocarpon

Highly antioxidant, wild cranberries contain high concentrations of flavonoids, such as quercitin, which can help lower blood-sugar levels and reduce symptoms of allergies, like hay fever. These chemicals are also found in grapes and red wine, both famous for being high in antioxidants.

Wild cranberry juice is touted for its ability to prevent bacteria such as E. coli from binding to the wall of the bladder and creating an inhospitable environment for bladder and urinarytract infections. The juice also helps prevent kidney stones from developing.

Eating cranberries can support heart and immune-system health. For heartburn or indigestion, try eating a handful of cranberries before your meal or include them as part of your meal.

Cranberries can be topically used in a poultice to soothe and heal cuts, scrapes, or abrasions. The berries are best gathered after the first frost. Use in moderation if you are prone to calcium-oxalate kidney stones.


As the name crampbark suggests, the inner bark can be decocted as a tea or tinctured to make an antispasmodic remedy, which can relieve cramping of the uterus, bladder, and stomach. It also helps heal spasmodic coughing and bronchial irritations, and can be used a gargle for sore throats and a rinse for gingivitis and loose teeth. When used in oil or topical preparations, such as salves and liniments, it aids sore-muscle pain, cramping, and spasms. Its mild diuretic properties help cleanse the kidneys, as well.

The aromatic and musty-smelling highbush cranberry is tasty and high in vitamin C, great for making juice, medicinal syrup, and jelly.

CURRANTS Ribes species

Eating currants or drinking the diluted juice helps treat yeast infections. Currants also have beneficial antioxidants that inhibit inflammation and help heal and keep the body healthy and free from rheumatic pain and gout.

Warm black-currant (Ribes hudsonianum) juice is beneficial at the beginning of a cold or flu and can be blended with yarrow to support the immune system.

Red-currant (Ribes triste) juice or tea can reduce fever and induce sweating. A tea infusion made from dried red-currant leaves is said to ease the symptoms of gout and rheumatism and can be used as a gargle for mouth infections.

JUNIPER Juniperus communis

The warm and aromatic qualities of juniper berries aid digestion, expel gas, ease stomach cramps and indigestion, and stimulate the appetite. When brewed as a tea, the berries’ antiseptic attributes can treat urinary-tract problems like cystitis, urethritis, prostatitis, and vaginitis. They are also diuretic in nature, which promotes increased urine flow to clear the bladder, prostate, gallbladder, and kidneys of excess wastes like uric acid, which causes gout.

Its anti-inflammatory properties can ease pain of rheumatic conditions, painful joints, arthritis, sore muscles, and gout, as well as nerve pain caused by sciatica. In the latter case, the berries can be used as a tea, but for prolonged use it’s best applied topically as a poultice in a cream, salve, or bath.

Juniper berry is strengthening to the immune system and good for preventing colds and flus. If you do get a cold, the berry tea can be healing for the lungs. Its expectorant properties help clear excess phlegm, aiding with conditions like bronchitis and sinusitis. It’s also a good sore-throat gargle.

CAUTIONS: Berries can be irritating to the kidneys and should be avoided by those who have kidney issues. Do not consume during pregnancy. Use in moderation.

MOSSBERRY Empetrum nigrum

A mossberry-bark infusion can be brewed for colds and flus, diarrhea, and stomach problems. Decoctions of he root and bark have also been used for treating sore eyes and cataracts.

The berry was traditionally used by First Nations people to combat tuberculosis. University of British Columbia researcher Dr. Allison McCutcheon and her colleagues studied the effect of the mossberry and found that when ingested it inhibits the growth of mycobacterium tuberculosis. They also found the branches exhibited strong anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.

Mossberries act as a powerful antihistamine and can relieve allergy symptoms, inflammation, aches and pains, and symptoms of arthritis. They can also combat fatigue and anxiety.

RASPBERRY Rubus idaeus

Raspberries are tasty, and the good news is ingesting the berries acts as a blood tonic. The berries are antioxidant, anti-mutagen, and anticarcinogenic, which actively helps treat cancers of the breast, esophagus, skin, colon, prostate, and pancreas.

The dried leaves are famous for use as a women’s tonic for all stages of reproduction, from the first menstrual cycle to the last and beyond. A tea of the leaves helps tone and strengthen the muscles of the pelvic region, including the uterus, and can also regulate the menstrual cycle (relieving cramps, excessive bleeding, and preparing the uterus for conception).

Raspberry leaf is known for its relaxant and pain-relief properties and ability to speed the recovery process after childbirth. Due to its high vitamin and mineral content, raspberry-leaf tea is a beneficial breastfeeding tonic that aids in production of nourishing milk.

A leaf infusion is an effective mouthwash for inflammations such as ulcers, cankers, and bleeding gums. It can also be used as a gargle for sore throats or to treat diarrhea.

ROSEHIP Rosa acicularis

Rosehips are high in vitamin C and bioflavonoids, so the berries are an excellent heart tonic. It is believed that rosehips stimulate production of red blood cells and can help prevent anemia because the hips are mineral rich with trace amounts of iron and B vitamins. Rosehip tea or syrup is a good remedy for hemorrhoids and varicose veins and may help regulate blood circulation.

The berries are best harvested after the first frost.

SOAPBERRY Shepherdia canadensis

Soapberries are abundant in the Yukon. Modern herbalism provides few methods, but Aboriginal people in the North have used this plant extensively as both food and medicine.

The berries have a layered flavour that is at first sweet and then bitter. They appear to improve digestion and can be helpful with constipation or to stop diarrhea. Drinking a small amount of the juice can treat digestive disorders. The berries can be eaten to treat high blood pressure. The berries and juice can also be applied externally to treat acne and boils.

Soapberry roots are anti-hemorrhagic and cathartic. Reportedly an infusion of the roots has been used in the treatment of tuberculosis. A decoction of the stems or inner bark can be used as a stomach tonic and also to treat constipation and high blood pressure.

A decoction of the berries, stems, and roots can be used externally as a wash and rub for sore, aching limbs, as well as arthritic joints and skin sores.

STRAWBERRY Fragaria virginiana

Wild strawberries are packed with phytonutrients that are beneficial to our overall heath and wellness. The berries also have antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties.

Because they are high in vitamin C, strawberry leaves can keep colds at bay. In a tea infusion, the dried leaves help regulate menstruation, calm morning sickness, and promote abundant breast-milk production, as well as acting as a mild nerve tonic.

As a mouthwash, the leaves and berries can alleviate toothaches and heal ulcers of the gums. A poultice made from fresh leaves can be used on open wounds, eczema, and psoriasis to accelerate healing. Iron-rich leaves can be added to teas, tinctures, tonics, or elixirs to help prevent anemia.

Boreal Mead Making

Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary

In the late summer, I was swamped with an abundance of berries. They seemed to come in at once: wild blueberries, cranberries, and rosehips. As I was drying most of these for our Aroma Borealis herbal teas, I realized I could do something else with the berries. I could make mead or honey wine.

Mead is the oldest alcoholic drink and created by fermenting honey with water and fruits, spices, grains, or hops. It was in fashion long before beer or wine, and its alcoholic content varies between 7–20 percent.

Despite the fact it’s an alcoholic beverage, mead has many healthy qualities. The naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria convert the sugars during the fermentation process into a high-energy, probiotic, and nutrient-rich elixir filled with anti- oxidant goodness.

Mead is often referred to as “Nectar of the Gods” or “Drink of Love.” The intoxicating concoction is believed to be an accidental discovery by hunter-gatherers who stumbled on a beehive filled with rainwater during the Stone Age. The beverage is said to have aphrodisiac qualities. Some theorize that during ancient times in Europe mead was given to newlyweds

for a full cycle of the moon to enhance fertility, which is where the word honey- moon comes from.

I taught a few courses at an herb gathering in Alberta earlier this summer and took a Mead Making 101 workshop with a local herbalist. As we taste-tested cherry mead the instructor had made, I thought how well boreal herbs and berries would work in the concoction.

I’ve never liked sweet wines and thought mead might be too sugary for my palate, but it’s actually dry, delicious, and not overly sweet at all. When I returned to the Yukon, I gathered all the necessary equipment and ingredients and started on this fun kitchen-alchemy project.

I was a bit intimidated by mead making, thinking I would have to make large batches and buy all sorts of fancy equipment. However, I learned that’s not the case. This past August, I spoke with local Yukon mead makers at Mount Lorne’s Ingestible Festival, which celebrates local foods and food creations. They confirmed small mead batches work best, plus they are simple and easy to make.

After chatting with Yukon organic grower and homesteader Shiela Alexandrovich, of Wheaton River Garden, I felt I was on the right track for making good, old-fashioned, homemade mead. Alexandrovich has created mead for many years and prefers making small four-litre batches.

“Traditional mead is basically honey and water that is fermented. The big thing for people is to not be intimidated or afraid of the process and to just go for it,” Alexandrovich explains. “Most things already know how to ferment if you give it half a chance, and using good quality, unpas- teurized honey is important.”

She has made mead from locally grown chokecherries and frozen rhubarb she had put away for the winter.

“A couple years ago I found some jugs of mead in the root cellar that I made 12 years ago, and it was delicious!” Alexandrovich says. “When you make your own alcohols from wild fruits and plants, the pleasure you get from looking at the colours and enjoying the taste is far greater than any- thing you can buy in the store.”

Use the following recipes and instructions to try your hand at making homemade mead. As Shiela says, “Just go for it.”


There are many boreal plants that can be used for mead. Choose your favourite boreal tea for your decoction tea base or experiment and have fun with other wild herbs and berries. *See instructions that follow for preparation.

Wild Cranberry
Winter Mead
 – A nourishing fermented honey
wine that is rich and full bodied.

4 cups (1 L) wild cranberries

2 tbsp. (30 ml) ginger
root, freshly grated

16 cups (4 L) water

2 cups (500 ml) unpasteurized honey

1 tsp. (5 ml) wine yeast

Blueberry Juniper Mead-Dark and rich and full of flavour.

4 cups (1 L) wild blueberries

2 tbsp. (30 ml) juniper berries

16 cups (4 L) water

2 cups (500 ml) unpasteurized honey

1 tsp. (5 ml) wine yeast

Rosehip Mead
- Just how you would imagine—
smells divine and tastes even better.

4 cups (1 L) wild rosehips

2 tbsp. (30 ml) wild-rose petals

16 cups (4 L) water

2 cups (500 ml) unpasteurized honey

1 tsp. (5 ml) wine yeast

Fireweed Flower Honey Mead
- A light, floral bouquet.

1/2 cup (125 ml) fireweed flowers (dried or fresh)

2 cups (500 ml) fireweed honey

16 cups (4 L) water

1 tsp. (5 ml) wine yeast

NOTE: Make sure all equipment and utensils you use are sterilized. *See recipes above for specific ingredients to create different types of mead.


Place berries and herbs in a stainless-steel pot and cover with 16 cups (4 L) of water. (If your tap water is treated, you may want to use spring water instead.) Heat slowly and simmer with the lid on for 5–30 minutes. The longer you simmer, the stronger your brew will be. Ideally, you want to warm the liquid enough that it will be reduced to 14 cups of tea decoction without boiling the plant material.

B Strain warm herbal berry decoction tea through cheesecloth and return strained liquid to pot. C Stir unpasteurized honey into the warm herbal berry decoction tea and let sit until it has reached room temperature. D Stir in wine yeast. E Pour into 4-litre jug.
F Cork with an airlock (purchased at any winemaking supply shop). Watch your brew bubble. There should be plenty of
action and bubbling happening in your airlock. NOTE: You can let your mead ferment for two weeks to a month.

 Take a hose (available at winemaking supply shops) and place it in your mead to siphon off the liquid from the top. Put this liquid into another 4-litre jug. Continue until there is only sediment left on the bottom of the original jug. This sediment is highly nutritious and can be used to make salad dressing. If your brew is still fermenting, you can continue letting it age by putting the airlock on the new jug. If you want mead that is delicate and clear, clarify the liquid again in a couple of weeks.

You can find great bottles at your local recycling centre or buy them from your local wine shop. The secret is making sure the bottles are made to withstand pressure. Mead is a living ferment and will continue creating pressure, so ensure the bottles and lids can handle it. Otherwise, the tops may pop off while you’re storing them, which may lead you to lose your mead.

 These instructions yield one 4-litre jug of mead. 


Irish Cures Tradition


Irish Herbals.   (click on this link for easy reading)

North of Ordinary Irish Herbals.01._Page_1.jpgNorth of Ordinary Irish Herbals.01._Page_2.jpg

Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary


The traditional healing practices of Ireland

On March 17, people throughout the world turn their collective gaze to Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. In Eire (Ireland) it is a holiday, when many go to morning mass, then attend costumed parades with music from fife-and-drum bands.

I noticed while celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Dingle (on the southwest coast of Ireland) that most people wore fresh cut clusters of shamrocks on their coat lapels to show love and loyalty to their country and honour the teachings of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

It is said that Ireland has over 40 shades of green that weave through the rolling mountains, hillsides, and patchwork pastures of the north- western European country. The warm temperatures and amount of rain that falls throughout the year creates a perfect growing environment for all things green.

As an herbalist, I get excited when the land is green. While roaming the misty countryside of Ireland and shorelines of the North Atlantic, I found so many great land and sea plants for food and medicine. I gathered wild blackberries for jams and cordials, made dried nettle leaf into tea, used tinctured nettle seed to treat gout, and gathered hawthorn berries and numerous seaweeds to eat as a snack.

Wherever I’m travelling, my lens is always focused on the plants, as well as the culture behind them and the people who use them.

In Ireland, it is common to find disturbed soil plants that also grow in the Yukon, like fireweed, yarrow, dandelion, mint, rose, horsetail, and sorrel. European herbals like wild garlic, heather, St. John’s wort, vervain, and mullein are also very visible and easy to find.

The Burren, a region in North County Clare, is renowned for its limestone and diverse plant life (from rare orchids to Mediterranean, alpine, and arctic plants) that grow in rock crevices. Roseroot, or

rhodiola rosea, also grows in the Burren and happens to be one of my favourite medicinal plants.

Achill Island, in County Mayo, boasts a flora as varied as its topography. Rare arctic alpine species, such as juniper, are found on the peaks of Slievemore and Croaghaun.

There are trees throughout Ireland—many not at all like the Yukon’s boreal forests. However, there are plenty of trees we are familiar with, like pine, birch, willow, alder, and aspen. There are also beautiful replanted groves of indigenous Irish trees, like oak, hawthorn, rowan, ash, elm, and the blackthorn.

A strong Irish indigenous culture still exists and is widely expressed through Gaelic games, traditional music, and, of course, the Irish language (one of two official languages in the country). However, “Irish cures” are still a large part of the culture’s undercurrent. My curiosity was piqued at a local pub one evening when I was asked what I did in Canada. “I am an herbalist,” I said, and the fellow working behind the counter replied, “Oh, you work with the cures do ya girl?”

He went on to tell me a story about his family’s herbal cure for drawing out toxins from the body. He sketched out a picture on a napkin of a very familiar leaf that they use as a poultice to help pull out infection. He said there was a time when most families held a cure for a certain ailment.

That got my interest, so I started talking to people and asking questions about traditional cures. It became clear many use the same plant: plantain. One woman told me of her family’s cure for skin rash and boils. She said they make a poultice or an ointment from the plant to heal the ailment and stop itching. Another person reported their family held the cure for a cough by making a tea or cough syrup from the plant.


Everywhere one goes in Ireland, wild medicinal plants are growing and accessible. I’ve often thought the country had enough nettles to feed the world. And while many people may curse the stinging nettle, the plant’s healing powers are well-known. Nettle soup is a nourishing, traditional Irish cure used to flush toxins from the system. Nettles are rich in iron and also used as a traditional arthritis remedy.

I spoke with Rosari Kingston, a medical herbalist, researcher, and chair of the Irish Institute of Medical Herbalists. We talked about the cures and traditional herbal medicine of the ancient people of Ireland. While researching, Rosari came across an Irish manuscript of names and medicinal uses for plants written in 1415.

“This is still living knowledge. There is more to indigenous Irish medicine—there is the story and the worldview. Indigenous medicine occurs within indigenous knowledge, so what was the worldview of the people of Ireland?” Rosari said. “This is what brought me back to the idea of the sacred holy wells, the patron days, the sense of seasonality.”

She works and lives by the ancient Celtic calendar, a pre-Christian Celtic system of timekeeping for each of the four seasons. Rosari honours the change of season with different plants. She also observes the importance of her surroundings.

“The land influences me because I am very conscious of sacred space. Some places are very potent, [such as] the faerie forts, which would not be touched even today,” she said. “The old stone circles, the wells, the holy mountains—these are all very sacred to our people.”

In Ireland, faerie mounds and forts are revered and are not to be messed with. There are many stories and legends about faeries, and expensive road detours have even been made throughout the country in order to avoid disturbing a faerie mound.

For Rosari, it is important to understand ancient Irish knowledge and how it integrates with modern medicine. “I think that traditional medicine worldview can never stay static. It always evolves.”

The ancient Celts, like the Aboriginal people of North America, believed that all things in nature were interconnected. Trees were venerated as sacred beings and identified as ancestors of human beings. Different trees had different traits and magical energies, including the power to heal.

Celtic priests, or Druids, utilized the ogham, a medieval alphabet used to primarily write an early Irish language. Each letter is named for a tree or shrub and is associated with a certain month of the Celtic calendar.

Celtic shamans believed that certain herbs held healing powers and used the ogham in their preparations. While concocting their remedies, healers drew letters from the ogham in the air over the mixture.

The old traditional ways are alive and continue to evolve in Ire- land thanks to family practices, modern-day herbalists, and the sha- mans of that ancient land. There are well over a hundred medicinal manuscripts writ