Using plants as dyes

By Beverley Gray

Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary

Berry-stained fingers and knees are a colourful side effect of gathering wild, plump boreal fruits. Other than inadvertent stains on my skin, clothing, and well-used cheesecloth after straining berries, I haven’t really explored natural plant dyes.

My curiosity and love of boreal food and medicinal plants has taken me on exciting adventures in foraging, making medicines, and experimenting with different recipes. Now, I’m learning about using these wild plants to dye fabrics.

This past summer, I presented at the Alaskan Plants as Food and Medicine Symposium, hosted by the Alaskan Native Tribal Health Consortium, in Anchorage, Alaska. There I met Jackie Schoppert, a Tlingit Elder from Southeast Alaska, who caught my attention as she spoke about using wild plants to dye silks, cottons, and wools. I was intrigued and wanted to know more.

Jackie and I shared plant teachings, went out gathering plants like two curious girls in the woods, and became fast friends. We gathered spruce pitch from an old tree that hung over the ocean and made ointment with it. We picked the last of the rose petals in a makeshift basket crafted from conference programs and made skin cream with them. We also gathered clay from the seashore and made facial masks.

“From a young age, I was drawn in and had a natural curiosity about using plants for food, medicine, and dying cloth,” Jackie says. Her in-depth knowledge of plant medicines came out of childhood teachings from her grandmother, Annie Jimmie.

Jackie was born in Juneau, Alaska, and grew up in the village of Douglas, in Southeast Alaska. That’s where she received a compre- hensive education on how to deeply respect the natural world, includ- ing using local plants as medicine.


“Grandma didn’t lecture us; she was about going out and expe- riencing it all.” Jackie says. “My grandmother encouraged me to respectfully gather the wild plants. I was right by her side, the way my grandchildren are with me. Grandma was a remarkable woman; she had so much strength, wisdom, and a deep knowledge of the land.”

Jackie says you can read all the books you like and talk to experts, but her early teachings showed her first-hand experience is the best way to learn. And that is how she learned how to use plants as dyes.

“They started us berry picking very young, and I noticed my hands would turn blue from the blueberries,” she says. “I had a lot of curiosity, and that’s when I started to experiment, staining some of grandma’s natural yarns and fabrics. I figured if my hands were blue the fabric could turn blue.”

Jackie made plant-dye test strips to show me how simple it was and how timing, temperature, and patience can be your biggest allies when trying to achieve specific colours from wild plants.

One of the cotton fabric strips she showed me was dyed with high- bush cranberries. It looked so beautiful, with the most vivid hues of red that I’ve ever seen. I wondered how the fabric could hold such a magnificent colour.

Jackie says mordants (like sodium chloride, aluminum, and iodine) can be used to set the colours. Each type of mordant can also influ- ence or change the colour, but Jackie’s goal is making the hue as natural as possible.

“When Grandma taught us in the traditional way, we used urine from babies, as the acid helped to set the colour,” she says. As time went on, Jackie says they had access to other things commonly found in the kitchen and started using items like cream of tartar to set the dye, a substance she still uses today.

“If you want a rich colour, use lots of plant material, purified water, and simmer,” Jackie explains. “Then when the berries start to pop, add the mordant-soaked fabric and that will preserve the colour.”

As we look at the highbush-cranberry-stained cloth, we notice stria- tions forming while the colours begin to separate as they dry. Jackie says it’s important not to put plant-dyed fabrics in direct sunlight because it will cause the hues to fade.

When I returned home to Whitehorse from the symposium, I stopped for a visit with local fibre artist Katy Delau. She’s been busy experimenting with natural dyes, and earlier this summer we harvested

tansy flowers to use on fabrics. I was impressed with the most amazing, buttery-soft yellow dye she developed from the bright yellow flowers.

“There are quite a few plants around us that yield a variety of yellow colours,” Katy says. “The hillsides around my house have a lot of trem- bling aspen, and when the leaves turned yellow in the autumn I decided to try and dye with them. I put the leaves in my dye pot, and what happened was this light yellow colour.”

Of all the yellow dyes Katy experimented with, my favourite was the yarrow flowers—they provide such a rich, spicy, turmeric-like colour. “I gathered the yarrow flowers when they were fresh, full of life-force energy,” she says of the plant. “The sky is the limit. Wild roots, mosses, lichens, mushrooms, leaves, flowers, berries, and bark—I want to try them all!”

Jackie and Katy really enjoy the journey of experimenting with wild plant dyes, and they’ve encouraged me to seek my own results.

“Honestly, the colours have their own stories,” Katy says. “It is satis- fying to experiment. You can go by what everyone tells you, but part of the fun is exploring and being surprised at what colour comes out.”

Wild Boreal Berry Dyes

Many northern folks have wild berries stored in their freezer, so why not pull out a cup and experiment with dyeing small pieces of fabric like silk, cotton, or even natural wool. Blueberries create a purple hue, and cranberries create a deeper red tint.

1- Mash berries; slowly bring to a boil; then reduce heat to a light simmer for an hour. 2- While the berries are cooking, warm up some water in a stainless-steel pot and add your mordant of choice. (See more on mordants below.) 3- Add the fabric of your choice to the mordant water and then bring it to a boil. Let it simmer for about an hour, then remove the fabric. 4 -Add fabric to the warm berries and let simmer for another hour. Let the fibre sit in the dye until cool. Lightly rinse, blot dry with a towel, and hang fabric to dry out of direct sunlight.

FABRIC: Clean natural silk, cotton, or wool.

MORDANT: There are numerous mordant sources that can be found in your kitchen cupboards or around the house, such
as lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar, baking soda, copper (pennies), iron (rusty nails), and alum. When artist Katy Delau experimented with wild blueberries and cranberries, she used alum as her mordant. To determine how much mordant to use, calculate approximately 15 percent of the weight of the dry fabric. For example, if the fibre weighs 100 g, you would
use 15 g of mordant.

TOP 10 BOREAL PLANTS FOR REMEDIES- Essentials for Your Herbal Apothecary

Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary

Ancient civilizations believed that for every ailment there is an herbal cure. Cultures throughout the ages have used plants as medicines for healing and maintaining physical, spiritual, and mental health. When the snow starts melting in the Yukon, I plan my seasonal harvest and determine what I need for my personal apothecary. Once I gather what I need, I create tinctures with alcohol or vinegar, make syrups or elixirs, and dry plants for tea. Here are 10 fundamental boreal-plant remedies along with basic recipes for their preparation.

1-HORSETAIL TINCTURE (Hair, Skin, Nails)

Horsetail is high in useable minerals, and the high silica content helps bodies form collagen, an important protein found in connective tissue, skin, bones, cartilage, and ligaments. Use topically in a foot soak, as a hair rinse or herbal shampoo, or as a tea or tincture. I prefer making a horsetail tincture with vinegar because there are more useable vitamins and minerals than when using alcohol.

It’s best to gather horsetail in the early summer. The plant is prime for picking for medicinal use when its branches are pointing up. Do not gather when the branches are pointing downward; this is an indication it has developed oxalate crystals that can be harmful to the kidneys when consumed.


Inner willow bark is best known for its analgesic properties to aid with pain and inflammation. The medicine is strongest in the inner bark and milder in the leaves. I like to prepare willow bark as an alcohol tincture in the spring. It’s easy and convenient to use, whether added to a bath or as a topical compress. The tincture can be used for headaches, back pain, sciatic nerve pain, osteoarthritis, tendonitis, bursitis, gout, muscle aches, sprains, strains, and menstrual cramping.

The bark is best harvested in the early spring before the leaves come out. Cut a few small branches and then take a knife and slice through the bark from top to bottom. Peel back the bark, pull it off the branch, and then cut away the inner layer.

3- BEARBERRY TEA (Urinary Tract)

The antimicrobial actions found in bearberry leaves can kill bacteria in the urine. The leaves can be made into a tea or tincture predominantly used as a urinary antiseptic for urinary-tract infections (including cystitis, urethritis, and prostatitis) and to prevent the formation of, and assist in the removal of, stones from the urinary system. Bearberry tea also works as an excellent mouthwash to aid mouth infections.

4- BEDSTRAW TINCTURE (Lymphatic Drainage)

Gather bedstraw leaves and flowers in the summer for a tincture to use as a lymphatic tonic. Lymph nodes are small glands that filter lymph, the clear fluid that circulates through the lymphatic system. Lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, groin, or ankles can become swollen in response to infection in the body. A bedstraw tincture also acts as a diuretic, blood cleanser, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, astringent, and laxative.


Spruce pitch, sap, resin, or gum can be harvested anytime. I prefer gathering it in early spring when the days are warm and the sap runs freely, but the nights are cold enough for it to freeze and snap off the bark easily. This keeps your fingers from getting sticky while harvesting and makes the sap easier to work with.

In the late 1800s, my great-greatgrandfather made a remedy called Mitchell’s Genuine Balsam. I’ve carried on the family tradition with the contemporary twist of using a spray bottle instead of a tincture medicine bottle.

Spruce remedies are great for common day-to-day ailments and can be used internally and externally for pain-relief, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiseptic, and disinfectant purposes. The alcohol dissipates as the spray dries and the resin forms a smooth, protective bandage over the wound, which helps bring down swelling, stops bleeding, and clears up or prevents infection. Use the spray internally for sore throats and gum abscesses.

6- WILD MINT TEA (Indigestion)

Drinking mint tea helps with indigestion, gas, heartburn, and pain associated with ulcers. Considered an herb with bitter qualities, mint also acts as a blood cleanser and diaphoretic that helps eliminate toxins by promoting perspiration.

Wild mint tea is a good morning brew as it’s stimulating and helps clear a tired mind, alleviate excess morning mucous and nausea, and deflect an oncoming headache. Aromatic mint leaf tea is full of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, including calcium and magnesium. Wild mint grows in moist meadows and is easy to transplant into your own garden.

7- CHAGA TEA (Immune System)

This medicinal mushroom has risen in popularity over the years for its use in cleaning the blood, as well as shrinking and healing tumours in the body. Indigenous people throughout North America have traditionally used chaga tea to treat many types of cancer. The tea or a tincture has antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-tumour, immune-stimulating, and liver-supporting qualities.

Chaga is a parasitic birch fungus commonly found on living birch trees. It has a black, burnt-looking exterior and rust-red interior. It can be difficult to harvest, as it generally grows high in the tree. Herbalists throughout North America are aware of its rise in popularity and are trying to raise awareness about sustainable harvesting. Chaga should be used only as needed and not taken on a daily basis.

8- USNEA TINCTURE (Sore Throat)

Usnea (commonly called old man’s beard) is the greenish, hair-like lichen that grows on spruce trees. It’s a very valuable medicine containing usnic acid, which has been used as a mild antibiotic for hundreds of years. Usnic acid is reported to have antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial actions and used to kill streptococcus and staphylococcus bacteria. It can be applied topically as infused oil for skin infections and as an alcohol tincture for colds, lung infections, and sore throats.

Take caution because some people are seriously allergic to usnic acid, so touching usnea can cause a rash and swallowing could be harmful. Lichen can also irritate the kidneys if ingested over a long period of time.


Coltsfoot leaves are best harvested in the summer. Coltsfoot-leaf tea is anti-catarrhal, antispasmodic, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, and emollient, as well as an expectorant. The tea contains mucilage, which coats and soothes the throat. This helps relieve pain in the intercostal muscles (between the ribs) due to coughing. It also treats symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, dry cough, laryngitis, hoarseness, lung cancer, wheezing, and mouth and throat irritations. Coltsfoot also stimulates the lungs to expel phlegm.


The optimal time to gather wild chamomile is as soon as the tiny fragrant heads appear. Use the dried flower heads for tea or fresh flower heads for an alcohol tincture. I like to make a tincture because I find it more potent and fragrant than the dried flower heads. The tincture helps relieve gas, heartburn, mild gastrointestinal upset, and menstrual cramping. Drink wild chamomile tea or take 20 drops of chamomile tincture in water before bed to soothe the nervous system and help you get a good night’s sleep.


Pour boiling water over dried plant matter. For fresh herbs, use 1 tablespoon (15 ml) fresh herb to 1 cup (250 ml) boiling water. For dried herbs, use 1 teaspoon (5 ml) dried herb to 1 cup (250 ml) boiling water. Steep herbal tea for 15–20 minutes. Cooled tea can also be used as a wash or soak.

NOTE: Wicker baskets are great for drying small amounts of botanicals. In the summer, I always have plants drying in baskets around the house. I prop the basket on top of a cup or mug to create airflow. Be sure to turn the herbs daily and keep out of direct sunlight. When the plants are dry, place them in an airtight jar, label, and store out of direct sunlight.

SPRING CLEANING – From the inside out

Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary

When the light returns in spring, I feel extra energized and the cleaning bug takes hold of me. But I don’t stop with the house and the yard; I also cleanse my body through gentle herbal detoxification.

For many, spring represents a time of new growth and possibilities and renewal of the body, mind, and spirit. I start my spring rituals when my body tells me it’s time to cleanse after a winter of consuming rich, heavy foods and accumulating excess toxins. The body naturally detoxifies itself, but subtle changes can aid the process.

Our ancestors knew that gathering the new growth of dandelion leaves and roots would help slough off excess mucus from the body and support and mildly detoxify the blood, liver, and kidneys. Common medicinal and nutritive herbs, pure water, exercise, and a clean green diet can support the body and give a much-needed energy boost. Fresh greens can be gathered right out of the earth in late spring. One way I increase my intake is by enjoying a green smoothie packed full of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and antioxidants.

Green plants and leaves have been consumed since the beginning of time and transform energy from the sun into food using photosynthesis. Leaves produce chlorophyll, which is essentially green sunshine. A diet rich in non-starchy, chlorophyll-rich greens supports a healthy heart, cleanses the liver of heavy metals and toxins, and improves the health of the intestines and lungs. A bonus is that greens also improve body odour, are a natural breath freshener, and help regulate the acid-alkaline balance in the body.

Boreal herbs not only cleanse the body, but can also be used to rid negative energy from your home or workplace. Wild spiritual cleansing plants (like juniper, fir, mugwort, and sweetgrass) clear unwanted energies and restore balance to a space through smudging, a long held Indigenous tradition of burning sacred herbs in a bowl or a bundle.

Here’s a useful list of boreal herbs and how to utilize them for your own spring-cleaning needs this season:

NETTLES Nettle-leaf tea is an effective spring tonic and cleansing herb because it acts as a blood purifier. It aids the efficiency of the kidney and liver and is a mild laxative and diuretic. Chlorophyll-rich nettle strengthens and supports the whole body, specifically the digestive, respiratory, urinary, and glandular system.

MINT Mint can make a good morning brew for spring detoxification because it is stimulating, clears a tired mind, and alleviates excess morning mucus. As an analgesic, it can also deflect an oncoming headache. As a digestive, it can alleviate nausea. (Both headaches and nausea can be symptoms of the detoxification process.)

Aromatic mint-leaf tea is full of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, including calcium and magnesium. Drinking mint tea aids the digestion system and eases indigestion, gas, heartburn, and ulcers. It also acts as a blood cleanser and diaphoretic that eliminate toxins by promoting perspiration.

JUNIPER Juniper needles have long been used in traditional saunas because of their antimicrobial healing actions, helping prevent colds from taking hold. Juniper berry is considered a purifier of the blood and an overall system cleanser. By removing excess acid and toxic wastes from the body, it reduces overall susceptibility to disease.

SWEETGRASS The medicinal properties of sweetgrass are in its spiritual-healing qualities. The telltale pinkish sheaths of sweetgrass distinguish it from other grasses. Giving it a little rub will release the sweet fragrance.

Sweetgrass grows along the shores of Bennett Lake and the Porcupine and Yukon rivers.

If you’re visiting Hootalinqua (a historical hunting and trading site along the Yukon River), note the rising smell from the sweetgrass as you pull ashore. It’s a very pleasant and welcoming scent, almost as if you’re being cleansed before entering the site.

Sweetgrass is an astringent herb. When ingested or used topically, it can reduce excess mucus secretions. It also contains tannins that cleanse the body and assist in detoxifying by discharging excessive stagnant matter and helping achieve firmness of tissue.

A sweetgrass infusion can be gargled or drunk to aid a sore throat. When applied topically in a cream, sweetgrass can relieve chapped skin caused by harsh, dry temperatures and wind.

First Nations across Canada use sweetgrass for smudging, which is a sacred cleansing with the smoke from sacred herbs. Dry herbs can be placed in a bowl and set alight. The flame is then put out and the herb starts to smolder and smoke. I was taught by the Elders to smudge every day. I keep a smudge bowl in front of my woodstove.

The tradition of braiding sweetgrass has deep and significant First Nations teachings attached to it as well. Each piece of grass used has meaning, as does each section of the braided strands.

Spice Up Winter Festivities

By Beverley Gray

Article first published in Alive Magazine

Winter holidays can be fun and relaxing getting together with friends and family to eat, drink, and make merry. Aromatic botanicals are traditionally a significant part of winter celebrations, from aromatic mulled wine to spicy gingerbread cookies.

Scents of Tradition

Mouth-watering spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger are yummy in holiday baking. Essential oils of these spices can be used to scent a room or added to a bath or carrier oil for massage.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) essential oil gives a room a spicy, fresh-wood scent which helps arouse the physical senses and creativity. It is warming and stimulating and is useful in strengthening and toning the respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems. The essential oil of cinnamon is very powerful and should not be used directly on your skin without a carrier oil. When blending cinnamon essential oil, remember it is a base note which holds the blend together but does not overpower.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is a wonderful spice. It has a pleasing camphoraceous scent that is sweet and spicy. The essential oil is comforting, refreshing, and uplifting. Cardamom oil is an aphrodisiac and relieves cramps and flatulence. It can be added to the bath with a carrier oil such as sunflower oil. Or add a couple of drops to your aromatherapy diffuser to make a room smell like holiday baking is in the oven.

Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) essential oil smells almost identical to fresh ginger root. Ginger targets the digestive and immune systems and is probably best known for relieving indigestion and flatulence. It is also helpful for arthritis, rheumatism, muscular pain, cold and moist conditions, and poor circulation.

Oils for Spirit, Strength, and Courage

When the Christ child was born, it is said that three wise kings knelt down beside Him and offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Frankincense is known as the oil of spiritual calm, while myrrh amplifies strength and courage.

Frankincense (Boswellia carteri)
Known as the oil of meditation, frankincense’s aroma helps produce a heightened awareness of spiritual calm and can assist in fortifying and quieting a busy mind, while encouraging deep breathing. In the face of adversity or hardship, frankincense helps to reduce tension and give strength. It can also be used in a diffuser for symptoms of colds and flu such as coughing and congestion. Added to carrier oil such as sunflower or olive oil, frankincense can be used topically to help alleviate flatulence. Simply massage over the lower abdomen.

Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
Myrrh resin has a spicy-balsamic scent. It is purifying and restorative, amplifies strength and courage, awakens the spirit, and calms fears. In ancient times it was commonly used as a perfume, incense, and medicine. Myrrh is an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic, which makes it great for treating skin conditions and infections. It is also helpful for treating respiratory infections, catarrh (nasal discharge), chronic bronchitis, colds, and sore throats. Topically, myrrh oil can act as a digestive tonic to help with diarrhea, flatulence, hemorrhoids, and loss 
of appetite.

Enliven your home and family with these scents of the season.

An Ancient Tradition

Traditionally, Christmas trees were considered a symbol of new life and hope. Their greenery was seen as a sign of life when all other plants lay dormant for the winter. The first Christmas tree in Canada was recorded in 1781 in the home of German settlers. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the Christmas tree became a popular family tradition in this country.

Today many families choose to use an artificial Christmas tree. Essential oils of spruce, pine, or fir can be sprinkled onto the tree or into an aromatherapy diffuser to make the whole house smell like a Christmas forest.

Oh, Christmas Tree!

4 drops spruce (Picea mariana)
4 drops fir (Abies balsamea)
4 drops pine (Pinus sylvestris)

Add essential oils to your aromatherapy diffuser and enjoy the Christmas tree aroma in every room of your house.

Holiday Spice Room Spritzer Blend

Spray this blend of essential oils around your home to liven up your holiday season.

20 drops orange (Citrus sinensis)
10 drops clove (Eugenia caryophyllata)
8 drops cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
1 tsp (5 mL) vodka
1/2 cup (125 ml) distilled water

Add vodka to empty spray bottle, add essential oils, and then add distilled water. Shake well before use. Avoid contact with eyes.

Stock a Natural Medicine Chest

Easy everyday health solutions

Article first published in Alive Magazine

Salves? Essential oils? Herbs? Learn which natural remedies you should have on hand in your medicine cabinet.

A natural medicine chest can consist of an assortment of remedies such as herbal teas, essential oils, homeopathic remedies, salves, and supplements. They’re handy to have on hand in case of illness or injury, or for prevention of sickness.

Arnica (Arnica montana)

The active constituents of arnica stimulate and dilate the blood vessels near the surface of the skin. This in turn improves circulation to an injured area and promotes the healing of bruises, sprains, strains, muscular inflammation, aches, pains, rheumatic joint pain, inflammation from insect bites, and swelling due to fractures. Arnica can be used topically as a poultice, or in a cream or salve.

Note: arnica should not be taken internally except as a homeopathic preparation to help minimize bruising, pain, and trauma.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Calendula cream, ointment, or salve is an effective topical treatment for wound healing and helping relieve skin inflammations and irritations such as rashes, cuts, itchy skin, abrasions, and insect bites.

Camomile (Matricaria chamomilla)

Camomile can be enjoyed in a fresh, mild tea or in a tincture. Because of its carminative properties, camomile relieves gas, heartburn, diarrhea, and/or mild gastrointestinal upset. Drinking the tea before bed will help you get a restful night’s sleep as it soothes the nervous system. Camomile is also used as a remedy for menstrual cramping. Topically, camomile can be used in a poultice, wash, oil, salve, or cream to help alleviate the inflammation of a wound or for achy, sore muscles.

Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)

Ask most chefs what they keep in the kitchen for cuts and most likely their answer will be cayenne pepper. Cayenne powder is a natural styptic and will work quickly to staunch the bleeding of a wound and start the healing process immediately. In ointment or cream form, cayenne offers relief for joint, muscle, nerve, and low back pain.

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)

If you feel a cold coming on, a popular herb used in traditional herbal medicine is echinacea. It can be used as a tincture or a tea to help combat infections, relieve cold symptoms, and support the respiratory system during a bout with the common cold. Research shows echinacea may slightly shorten the duration of a cold.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Ginger root is something that many people have on hand in the kitchen. It 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 (gas). The tea is also effective as an expectorant to help with congestion from bronchitis, the common cold, and the flu.

Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Chlorophyll-rich nettle leaf is a tonic herb that strengthens and supports the whole body, specifically the digestive, respiratory, urinary, and glandular systems. Its antihistamine properties make it effective for symptoms of eczema and allergies such as sneezing and itchy, watery eyes. Nettle can relieve the inflammation of arthritis and gout, and soothe kidney irritations. It helps the kidneys and liver operate efficiently and is a mild laxative and diuretic. It can also be made into a nourishing tea infusion to treat anemia.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Traditionally used as a herbal tea, it helps relieve nausea and vomiting. Enteric coated peppermint oil capsules that dissolve in the intestine may relieve abdominal pain, gas, and bloating associated with irritable bowel syndrome. Inhaling the essential oil of peppermint can help deflect an oncoming headache.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Turmeric is an ancient culinary herb that is used in the kitchen for its flavour and for its multiple health benefits. Antioxidant-rich turmeric in capsule form may help cleanse and protect the liver, aid the digestive system, and relieve gas. Studies show turmeric helps with pain and inflammation when used orally or topically for wounds, cuts, burns, and skin irritations. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used to help with pain associated with menstruation.

Willow (Salix alba)

Willow is nature’s pain reliever! White willow bark tincture or tea will help relieve headache or fever associated with the common cold. Its analgesic properties provide short-term relief of lower back pain when used topically as a poultice, oil, or cream; or it can be taken internally as a tea or tincture. Its anti-inflammatory properties also ease joint pain due to osteoarthritis.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow tea or tincture is an immune stimulant for fever, cold, flu, excess phlegm, sore throat, inflamed gums, or mouth infections. Although it tastes bitter, it aids digestion, lowers blood pressure, increases circulation, and stops topical bleeding immediately. This pain reliever is antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and clears wounds of infection. Yarrow helps reduce heavy menstrual flow, relieves pelvic congestion, reduces cramps, and cleanses the liver so hormones such as progesterone and estrogen are processed efficiently in the body.

Essential oils

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

First aid in a bottle! Tea tree oil disinfects with its powerful antiseptic and immune-stimulating properties. It can be placed directly on cuts and scrapes to clean, disinfect, and reduce pain. Tea tree oil can be used for blisters, athlete’s foot, burns, cold sores, infected wounds, insect bites, rashes, and warts. It may be used directly on skin or with a carrier oil. Generally nontoxic and non-irritating, tea tree oil may cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

Oil of oregano is taken orally to treat a variety of disorders, such as coughs, bronchitis, colds, flu, asthma, allergies, and intestinal parasites. As a topical oil, it can be used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including dandruff, acne, athlete’s foot, and psoriasis.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Lavender essential oil is an exceptional remedy to use on burns, cuts, and stings. Its healing and antiseptic properties stop pain and speed up the skin’s healing process. Its analgesic properties help soothe tired, sore muscles and relieve the inflammation of insect bites. Relaxing and balancing for both mind and body, this essential oil aids sleep and benefits the immune system. Avoid using it during the first trimester of pregnancy. Do not take orally.



Probiotics help support intestinal and gastrointestinal health by rebalancing the flora found in the gut. Generally, probiotics are recommended after a round of antibiotics to help bring back the good bacteria that help the digestive system operate at its optimum. Research has explored the benefits of probiotics for treatment of diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal infections, obesity, anxiety, depression, and brain functioning. Probiotics can be used to prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections, colds and flu, and eczema in children.


A well-rounded multivitamin/mineral supplement is good to have on hand if you feel you aren’t getting the nutrients you need from your food. A multivitamin will ensure you are getting your daily recommended nutrients to keep yourself nutritionally balanced.

Vitamin D

Living in Canada, we need to supplement our vitamin D in the winter months, as the sun is not strong enough for us to produce vitamin D naturally in our bodies. Vitamin D3 helps in the development and maintenance of strong teeth and bones and helps with the absorption of calcium from our diet to help prevent osteoporosis. Several studies have found that adequate amounts of vitamin D may be associated with a lower risk of cancer, particularly breast and colorectal cancers.

Vitamin C

An antioxidant, vitamin C is essential for the maintenance of good overall health. Vitamin C helps the body metabolize fats and proteins and is helpful in maintaining healthy bones, teeth, gums, and cartilage. If you have a wound that is healing slowly, try taking a vitamin C supplement to help speed up the natural healing process.

Before taking herbal or other supplements, always check with your health care practitioner, especially if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medication or other types of supplements.

Natural first aid kit

When on the go this summer, whether camping or travelling, it’s a good idea to have a few essential remedies on hand. Stock your natural first aid kit with

  • homeopathic arnica
  • herbal healing ointment
  • tea tree and lavender essential oils
  • ginger tea or tincture
  • camomile tea or tincture
  • vitamin C lozenges
  • heat-stable probiotics

Don’t forget to add some witch hazel for cleaning a wound and some bandages!

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.