Successful wildcrafting mission of valuable medicine
We arrived in Florida a few days ago for our short work vacation, and tomorrow we are starting the return trip back northward. The main ‘work’ part of my trip was to wildcraft night-blooming cereus (Selenicereus grandiflorus) cactus medicine for our apothecary at Clearpath Herbals and for other discerning herbalists who know of and want/need its remarkable medicinal properties for their practices. I love wildcrafting. For me it is one of the most gratifying parts of being an herbalist, and it is almost always a lot of fun and often an adventure as well. As, for example, a whirlwind road trip with Kellianna Girouard – my sweetie — and our dog Spike, visiting another part of the country, hanging out with family, and exploring the beautiful flora and ecosystems along Florida’s Gulf Coast.
I saved the wildcrafting until yesterday – our last full day staying with Kellianna’s parents — in order to maximize its freshness for the journey back. Cactus has a strong life force and, being a succulent, it knows how to retain water, which means it can survive for quite a long time removed from the ground, to which it is hardly attached at all; and it can re-root and continue to grow weeks, even months, later if given the right conditions. It means that I can safely travel with it in our car for a few days with no risk of the plant rotting or diminishing in its medicinal virtues.
I already knew of places where I could find it along Florida’s southern Gulf coast, not far from where we are staying in the Fort Myers area. When it comes to night-blooming cereus cactus, finding a place removed from human tampering – herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, trafficked roadsides, etc – is the trickier part. Florida is highly developed, especially along the coast. Finding a spot that fits the bill takes a bit of scouting and trial and error. Fortunately, I already knew of places from previous expeditions and from conversations with the locals. I would be even more specific about its location if not for the fact that it is so common in Florida that you are likely to find pickable places anywhere. This happens to be where we are.
As far as wildcrafting goes, cactus is a fun herb to pick. It is fairly easy to spot once you know where to look, it is not a messy job, and it adds up pretty quickly. Where to look is on the trunks of trees or on large rocks or fallen tree trunks, or even just creeping along the ground. Not a messy job in that it does not require digging or tromping through mangrove swamps to find and gather it. Adding up quickly because the medicine is the entire cactus, not just one part of it, and it is a large plant, relatively speaking. Finally, from a conscientious wildcrafting point of view, night-blooming cereus is very accommodating. It grows like a fast-growing weed. Even if I had returned to the same exact cactus-entangled tree or rock from a few years after – which I did not — it would be as if I had never been there at all. All I need is a knife and a few bags.
Our expedition yielded cactus plant in excess of twenty pounds! That is a good haul for me and Clearpath Herbals, plus extra for other herbalists who may want or need this valuable medicine for their practice. Now that I have it, the next step is to garble it and turn it into actual extract medicine. Garbling is the process of cleaning the plant, removing debris, insects and other plants that may have tagged along, and discarding any cactus that looks sub-par, such as rot spots or old, dried-out portions. When I return home, my lab crew and I will convert it into an alcohol-based maceration, using alcohol made from organically raised, non-GMO sugar. More on that later.
For now, I am happy. I got what I came here for. And as a bonus, I found another powerful medicinal plant growing all over the land where Kellie’s parents live: Bidens pilosa – aka Spanish needles. It is in flower right now, so very easy to spot, and it grows like, well, a weed. Ray and Cathy do not poison their ‘back forty’ with chemicals of any kind, so it is safe to wildcraft. I will gather this as we are heading out the door, and store it in a cooler with ice packs for our journey home. It will be a new addition to the Clearpath Herbals’ apothecary, and I cannot wait to include it in antimicrobial formulas to help my clients and community challenged by bacterial infections such as Lyme Disease.
If you want to know about night-blooming cereus medicine, revisit my previous blog entry that covered that material. Also, I will have extra cactus in its raw form after I am done making the medicine I require. I did this on purpose in order to have some on supply for other herbalists if they are running low or curious about adding this superior medicine to their repertoire.
If interested in some of this excellent medicine, be in touch as soon as possible. For a rough estimate, you can figure that 1-2 pounds of plant will yield a quart of tincture.