5.30.2018

Herb Fairies: Chickweed

Shelbyville-Bedford County Public Library and LearningHerbs
Herbalism is one of many hobbies that I'm passionate about. I've always preferred the outdoors, but as I've gotten older, my imagination that used to conjure fairies and gnomes (and sometimes still does) has learned that personifying plants may not be too far-fetched. I love to watch documentaries, and after checking out titles such as David Attenborough's The Private Life of Plants and Nature: What Plants Talk About from my local library, I became enchanted by the life around us that is often overlooked. With increasing concerns over the food we put in our bodies and the growing rate of poverty, I decided to begin harvesting my own food and medicines (within reason). 

In addition to this program, I have also developed a Seed Library to encourage a more sustainable community. So far, the response has been positive and I have received an increasing number of participants in the exchange. 

Herb Fairies came about during some research I was doing. The family-owned company is called LearningHerbs and they developed this amazing learning system with Herbalists Kristine Brown and Rosalee de la Foret for kids to learn about safely foraging plants they likely come across every day. There is a book series that pairs with the curriculum to make the lessons entertaining and are delivered to you in various formats, including audiobook, ebook, and print (when offered). Materials include, crafts, recipes (food and medicinal), materia medica, songs, activities, journals, calendars, and more. The information is so rich, I can only hope to skim the surface in one hour. 

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, I focus on four of the five senses. How may kids learn about this plant through touch, smell, taste, and sight? It is through our senses we create memories, and through this method I have had several parents tell me how excited their children get when they start identifying the plants in their yards. 

It is important to note that teaching herbalism is NOT giving medical advice. It is not to encourage families to avoid seeking medical attention when needed. There is a note that comes in the kit that should be distributed to parents about the safety of proper identification and consumption of plants. You may want to produce a contract for parents to sign. Before every class I make every child raise their right hand and promise they will not eat any plants without asking an adult first. 

One last thing: before distributing materials, please be sure to give credit where credit is due. I always tell parents how they can go more in depth by purchasing the system for themselves, and be sure to follow copyright laws when handing out resources. Libraries are permitted to circulate the Herbal Roots Zine as part of the collection, and we have subscribed to the zine for easy access and expansion beyond the 13 original plants presented in the books. To aid in memorizing plants and their uses even further, I created flash cards (all artwork is property of LearningHerbs) that I hand out for each plant.


Each book takes less than 30 minutes to read and will help children understand how each plant may be applicable in real-life situations. Per LearningHerbs.com


"Each of the 13 Herb Fairies books has a story of its own, but they’re all connected to tell the much bigger story of a time when the plant magic was fading from the world. When four young friends discover an herb fairy at the park, they are drawn into a healing adventure beyond their wildest dreams. 
The Old Man of the Forest has cast a terrible spell, locking up much of the plant magic and draining the magic from the world. The Herb Fairies turn to the children for help, and they all discover that only by working together and healing the magic keepers from all of the different magical races can the magic be fully restored."

A key element in the storyline is the discovery of a creature's name through riddles that surface each time an ailment is healed. The name discovered in the first book is Trust. I like talking about the names and why they are important. It's a simple way of adding a short lesson on character.

USING YOUR SENSES


I was about 2 weeks too late, so very few chickweed had flowers blooming. However, the flowers were not what we needed (other than for aesthetic), so we made do. For tasting, I had plates with the plant in front of my kids, and allowed them to taste different parts. Without going too far into detail, we observed some of the "energetics" of chickweed: was it sweet, sour, or bitter? Did it cause their mouths to pucker, salivate, or dry out?

We also smelled the plant to see if it had any kind of aromatics. Some plants are more obvious than others (mint, lavender, chamomile, etc.) and at times you can use the sense of smell to determine if you're dealing with a look-alike or not.

Next, with the help of the Herbal Roots Zine: Volume 1 Issue 2 we worked through how to identify the Stellaria Media species of chickweed. The Zines have worksheets and puzzles that I print off for plant identification and exercises. Going through the sheets takes a bit of time, so the more you can allow kids to connect what the paper says to the actual plant, the better. However, you may not always be able to get the fresh herb and that is perfectly okay.


CRAFT - Chickweed Bookmark

Taken from Herbal Roots Zine: Volume 1 Issue 2


Materials:
Markers or pen
Card stock
Mod Podge
Contact paper
Chickweed
Yarn

I had the bookmarks pre-cut and hole punched to save time. On the back I had them write information about the herb and the date. Then we put mod podge on the other side and gently placed the plant on top (it's fragile since it's been wilting for a few hours!) and then covered it up with contact paper. We cut the contact paper to size and added the yarn through the hole on top. The families really enjoyed this craft!


MEDICINE - Chickweed Extract

Taken from Herbal Roots Zine: Volume 1 Issue 2



Materials:
Fresh Chickweed (aerial parts)
Apple Cider Vinegar
Water
Small funnel
Apothecary Bottle
Labels 
Marker or pen

Our medicine was a fresh chickweed extract made with apple cider. I didn't want to use alcohol since I was working with kids and that's just not a risk I care to take. With some herbs you can replace the alcohol with vegetable glycerin as well, just pay attention to how water soluble your herb is and that can help you decide.

Ideally, you want to chop up the herb with a knife. However, to avoid yet another liability, I simply asked the kids to tear their herb into little pieces and put the pieces in their bottles. Then with help, we used the little funnels to fill half the bottle with apple cider vinegar, and half with water. We then put the lids on and shook them. 

It's always important to label your creations, so on our labels we wrote whether the chickweed was fresh or dry, the ratio of apple cider vinegar to water (1:1), and the date. For the next 4 weeks while the herb extracted into the mixture, they had to shake the bottle once a day every day. After that, they could strain the herbs and compost them (if available), and use it!

I discovered this extract is GREAT for mosquito bites. That wasn't on my list of uses, but I was desperate one day and tried it. My bites disappeared within an hour and now I never go outside without it!

RECEPTION: For the first Herb Fairies class I thought it went very well. I was amazed at how many families were interested in learning about herbs and I still have kids come in with their bookmarks. If you decide to do this program, be prepared for adults to express interest in an adult version. I have since incorporated adult herbal classes which do allow me to expand much further. If you have any questions about the program, don't hesitate to contact me. I'm more than happy to help you get started!