But the other day I was on my way back from visiting a friend near Knobs, WV and I took a wrong turn and got myself thoroughly lost. I drove and drove and drove and finally had to pull over to look at a map. On a high dry bank right across from my pull-off was this big patch of melilot (Melilotus officinalis). I was so glad to see it! In all my years of living in Vermont, I’ve hardly come across it at all (probably because it doesn’t like acid soil). It’s a plant I’ve been missing, and one I want to get to know better. I remember it most as a poultice herb, for swelling and pain, and as a plant I used to love to smell and chew on when I was little.
So I picked some of the lovely scented flowering tops and when I got back to my sister’s house, with the help of my niece, I made an amazing emerald green tincture that smells strongly of the plantâ€”like new-mown hay. (Never underestimate the tincture-making power of the traveling herbalist. Yes, I travel with a bottle of grain alcohol for tincture emergencies. I’m an herb geek. Turns out my niece likes making tinctures. We shall have fun this summer!)
Some herbalists prefer to dry melilot before they tincture it, as drying concentrates the amazing scent. But since I’m traveling right now I’m not set up for drying, and melilot needs to be handled carefully as it’s driedâ€”harmless coumarins in the herb can become dangerous dicoumarins if the plant is allowed to ferment.
I’m really looking forward to playing with this tincture. I’ll use it to clear stagnation and to encourage circulation of blood and lymph. Finley Ellingwood wrote in 1919: “Melilotus is a stimulant to the local circulation, and is adapted to those cases where debility or a feeble vital power . . . is associated with congestion” (Ellingwood). Melilot also has a great reputation for soothing “neuralgic” painâ€”especially headaches and menstrual cramps, and for calming muscle spasms and spasmodic coughs. One specific indication for melilot that’s mentioned in several sources is “coldness of the extremities” (King).
I’ll post an update after a few months of working with the tincture. I also plan to make an infused oil with the fresh flowering tops, which I’ll use for pain and swelling, to strengthen veins, and to encourage lymphatic circulation.
*All-heal is one of those incredibly useful underfoot weeds that modern Western herbalism tends to ignore in favor of fancy exotics. I’ll definitely have to write about it here before the summer is over.