A budding greeting to each of you in these early Spring days,
My attention has been with the trees the past two weeks. Not yet in the season of leaves unfurling,  but we are in the time of the buds swelling on the branch. The red maple buds, exuberant in the sun, look like glittering candies against the clear blue skies. The apple buds have a tinge of bright pink, just a hint of the flowers that are to come. And as always, there is a jar in the apothecary full of cottonwood buds and olive oil that I have been adding to for the past few months when I am lucky to find some wind-fallen branches by the river after a storm. 
A few years ago I started researching a medicine making practice called gemmotherapy - which specifically uses only the buds of a plant to make an extract. "Gemma" in latin means precious stone and also bud, and when you begin to collect the buds you do feel the resonance of this part of the plant being equated to a precious stone. To see a lilac with hundreds of buds wrapped up tightly on each branch; you get a glimpse into the future riches of this plant: cascading fragrant flowers perfuming the air. The coming treasure is held secure in each bud. 
When the sap rises in the trees in Spring, the buds are brimming with new growth and medicine. We harvest the buds before they have begun to leaf out, just at the beginning of their opening. The buds are the most nutrient dense part of the plant that contain all of the plant's growth material. The developing embryonic tissue of the entire tree is here; there is so much energy, potential and medicine in these buds. If you tasted a bud, you would recognize them as medicine. It is currently Birch month in Herbal Mystery School so I have been spending a lot of time with the black birch that grows around my home. When bite into a bud, I instantly taste the wintergreen volitive oils which speaks to the immune boosting & antioxidant properties of this tree. 
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walking home with young birch branches and buds
Although harvesting tree buds for medicine is a very old form of folk medicine and practice, using a specifically-made, diluted extract of one tree bud at a time was popularized in the 1950's by Pol Henry and remains an ever-growing and well-loved form of herbal medicine in Europe. You harvest the buds when they are just beginning to open. You don't want the bud to be leafing out, nor do you want it to be closed up tight. This might take a few seasons of close observation to find when this perfect moment for harvest is! I make sure to only pick one bud off of each branch (since this is the next year's growth for the tree), unless I have harvested a bunch of young branches for a bark harvest as well (pictured above with the black birch). As for the actual process of maceration (extracting the plant material into a solvent), I follow the classical method of preparing the gemmotherapy extract which is as follows:
  • The fresh buds are macerated in a blend of alcohol and glycerine in a 1/20th dilution of the equivalent dry weight of the buds.
  • After 21 days of maceration, you strain and dilute this tincture by 1/10th in a blend of glycerin, spring water and alcohol.
In pre-Christian Poland, there was a holiday called Flowering Sunday or Willow Sunday (now observed as Palm Sunday), which refers to the Slavic custom of bringing in young, budding and just-beginning-to-leaf branches inside. The branches were tied with bright ribbons and hung all over the home. They were said to infuse the home with the blessings of the growing trees; awakening the space, stimulating the rooms, cleansing the house. Synchronistically, this time of year is when the Slavic house spirit who is also the personification of the ancestors, the Domovoj wakes up from their hibernal slumber. The house is now activated, both in spirit and physical form. 
There are many Polish spring rituals that involve the young, budding and flowering branch of willows and birches. These trees unfurl first, so of course they carry the animating magic of Spring. There is a tradition of curling the birches, where young women would visit the birch groves in the woods to decorate the budding trees, dance underneath the branches and literally shape the branches into circles, an infinity symbol, calling life forward. The more I spend time with these trees, observing life emerging through these young buds at this time of year; my own resonance with the vital force of the season sharpens. 
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collecting apple buds
As someone who is brought to my knees by the miracle of the unfurling of the trees in Spring, the energetic medicines of gemmotherapy feel very potent to me. If the bud contains the entire growth potential of the plant (the essence), working with this medicine becomes a beautiful and poetic way to ingest  the flourishing, vital and dynamic force that each bud contains. They certainly feel spirited and regenerative in my body. Of course, we don't need to spend time making a specific gemmotherapy extract for this medicine, we can visit the birch grove and feel it for ourselves. 
I'm happy to share two gemmotherapy extracts this year: Apple and Black Birch. I only have 6 of each on offer as I make a very small batch each year. But since I wrote this whole newsletter about bud medicine and magic, maybe you want to try it? They are a little more expensive than my normal 1 oz formulas because of the time and precision these medicines take to make. These extracts will ship the first week of May, as they are currently in their 21 day maceration stage. You can find them here. 
I will be back later in April with another newsletter, once the nettles have grown a bit taller. There is one spot left in Treasure Chest: Heart-Centered Herbal Resilience and Reverence- we start Wednesday! Do you want to join us? I just shipped out medicine parcels to the cohort; it includes a fresh rose petal oxymel that I delighted in as I was bottling it (amongst many other goodies), which felt like such good, bright medicine on a grey day. I hope to fill the class as it is such a lovely offering of herbal medicine for the energetic heart, full of wonderful plant exploration and magic ritual. 
Wishing you buds of sweetness as I watch the forsythia expand in the sun this morning. I'm heading out soon to collect some branches for waking up my home. 
xx Liz 
p.s. If you want to read more about gemmotherapy I recommend:
Gemmotherapy, A Clinical Guide - T├ętau, M.
Gemmotherapy and Oligotherapy Regenerators of Dying Intoxicated Cells - Greaves, M.
Manuale pratico di gemmoterapia, II edizione. - Campanini E.
Gemmotherapy and Oligotherapy for Natural Health Practitioners - Speroni, A