‘Tis the season in many of our climates for the Digging of the Teasels. Grab your FORKS, folks and let’s get OUT there. This will be easier than you might think, as our friend Teasel, a first class ally for folks struggling with Lyme disease, is considered ABSOLUTELY NOXIOUS in 5 states: Missouri, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico and right here in OREGON. So you go find a field being swallowed up by it and do that owner a FAVOR. If anyone stops you, you’re doing noxious/invasive weed control. (do ASK first if you’re going on private property)
What you’ll need. GLOVES!!!! These creatures are prickly stuff! I vastly prefer a spading FORK to any kind of shovel. The point is to loosen the soil to where the tap root can be pulled out. The motion is to WIGGLE the fork into the ground and to wiggle and bounce the handle WHILE grasping the rosette with your gloved hand. This way, if it is a many-rooted root, you can keep loosening where it’s still tethered and avoid breaking the roots.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. First we must CHOOSE the rosettes we are going to dig. I will tell you from YEARS of experience, big, skinny, floozy ones have disappointingly small roots.
What we’re looking for are very FLAT rosettes that are dense in the middle.
These are holding good roots. MUST they be frosted before digging? Not that I can see, at least not here inWestern Oregon. Lush and Glorious is what you’re looking for.
Another TIP: do NOT cut off the leaves in the field. Put all the roots that you’re digging into something like a Tupperware bin with the roots down and leaves on top to shade the roots if it’s sunny.
Also, by never cutting the leaves off until you get home and start carefully processing, you don’t run the risk of missing something that’s NOTTA TEASEL. Teasels are a friendly bunch. They hang out with hawkweeds, dandelions, yellow docks, thistles and cow parsnips, all of which could masquerade as a teasel root.
Do NOT store the roots in a bucket of water. They’ll get water-logged and the skins will split.
You may be tempted to dig a truckload of roots, but keep in mind, you have a LOT of work ahead of you. And if ANY of you are pawing at the door to get out there and dig SOLELY for the purpose of making money, let me ASSURE you, you will be making low-quality stuff. If an army of Teasel diggers gets out there with the intent of HELPING the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of neighbors suffering from Lyme, we’ll be doing something remarkable.
So you head to the field. You’ll no doubt see the elders, the tall, brown stalks with seed heads aloft. At their feet are the younger rosettes. In a year when I was scuffling to grab every useful root as the demand for my tincture perpetually outweighed my ability to make enough, I was SHOWN over and over that you DO NOT DIG the one rosette closest to the mother’s feet. You’ll know which one. You’ll see a group of them and you’ll know. It’s THAT one.
THAT is the chosen child. LEAVE IT. If you TRY to get greedy and dig them all, you’ll find one with no taproot at all, or your fork will just not go in, SOMEthing will tell you.
So, you’ve chosen the rosettes to dig. Using your foot, send the fork in 6-12” from the crown and get wiggling. You’re loosening the soil while you’re tugging on the plant.
If you do both things at once, you’ll FEEL when the rosette is ready to come out easily. If you do this motion for enough years, you might wind up in physical therapy like I am working on a frozen left shoulder. What fun.
Once you have your haul, THANK them. Those roots you have there will now never bloom, never make seeds. They’re giving it up to become medicine. So THANK them. I’m serious.
Home we go. NOW you can sit somewhere and inspect the rosettes to be sure that every one IS a teasel and nothing else. I cut the leaves off with my very sharp bypass pruning shears and compost the leaves. The roots with the crowns go into a wash basin.
Depending how wet and clay-like your soil is, you might want to spray them down with a strong spray from a hose outdoors as step one. That gets a lot of the dirt off, but not NEARLY enough. If your soil is sandy and/or dry, the roots may not need the hose-off.
First wash is done in standing water with a scrub brush. Hope your back can handle all the standing and scrubbing, you’re gonna BE here awhile. I use a long-handled dish brush to get into all the nooks and crannies. Scrub them in standing water and then put them aside. Again, don’t LEAVE them sitting in water.
Now we trim the hair roots. (at least I do) It’s bloody tedious, but why clutter up your tincture with STUFF that hath no medicine in it? I clip them off, again, with very sharp bypass pruners and then we’re ready for the FINAL scrubbing. This I do under RUNNING water.
Here is where you break multi roots apart if you need to to get to all the dirt. These really clean ones are the roots I slice, also with my trusty pruners from the tips up. As you’re slicing, you’ll see the point at which you begin to lose the creamy-beige color to the roots and get into the browner part, or if it becomes pithy. STOP there. Good roots from non-blooming plants have the texture of a potato.
You only want the beige parts. I slice them into a bowl and then put the slices into a very clean jar and fill the jar with 100 proof vodka. I poke out air bubbles with a wooden chopstick and make sure the roots are BENEATH the liquid and that the liquid comes ALL the way up to the very top of the jar. Teasel oxidizes easily and quickly and an air space at the top of the jar will have your tincture turning black from the top of the jar down. It doesn’t destroy the tincture, but it lowers the quality. To keep that from happening, fill the jar to the very top and for the first week or so, check it every so often to see if it needs topping off.
I find that my tincture goes from beige and colorless to a lovely amber color as the 6 weeks goes on.
I’ve always done mine for a minimum of 6 weeks with no complaints, but many other sources leave theirs for 8 weeks minimum.
When your steeping time is up (and hey. DO label the jars with today’s date and the date that it will be done. No. You’re NOT going to remember, trust me.) you need to squeeze the liquid out of the roots and you’re on your own as to how you choose to do that. A potato ricer is just fine for small batches. Squeeze the liquid out into a glass pitcher and then filter it all through a funnel with an organic cotton ball at the bottom to either put it right into a brown storage bottle or put it directly into dropperbottles.
It’s not so very difficult. I honestly think that all of you who dive in and make your own, small, hand-made batches WILL produce the best Help Your Neighbors medicine that local, grassroots herbalism has to offer. I think we need a LOT of this. If you dig from someone else’s property, offer them a bottle or two of finished tincture. If you’re part of a Lyme support group, bring it to a meeting.
Is Teasel all by itself EVERYone’s cure for Lyme? Not a chance. Ally. It’s an ally and a very important one. But there’s a whole lot more going on here. Help Your Neighbors Herbalism is medicine at its absolute BEST. We’re being pushed in that direction from every side. Just remember that teasels that are blooming or THINKING about blooming have no root medicine to offer. Teasels that have taken the invite TO bloom but been mowed, may LOOK like a decent rosette unless you look VERY carefully and see a flower stalk or an attempt to bloom at mere inches tall.
Now. Get out there and start digging (and tell all the teasels LadyB says hi)
See www.ladybarbara.net for more info on using Teasel for Lyme.