Fiery Cider

We are so excited to offer a brand new seasonal item: Our handcrafted Fiery Cider!

Our recipe is based upon a traditional folk medicine remedy, that has been used for centuries as an autumn tonic. It’s made with pungent and spicy herbs and ingredients that are at their peak in the fall, and steeped in raw apple cider vinegar for several weeks. The herbs are then pressed out, and a touch of raw honey is added.

There are all kinds of different recipes and formulations for this spicy apple cider vinegar tonic, each delicious and unique in its own way. My recipe is based on a formula passed down by one of my herbal teachers, Cascade Anderson Gellar – who credits her herbal friends Rosemary Gladstar, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, and Jane Bothwell for helping develop the recipe. I made my first batch in class with Cascade a few years ago, and the little bottle I brought home was one of my most prized possessions in the kitchen. I made several more batches the following spring with my herb group, and we tried a variety of different ingredients with more of a focus on spring greens.

Some of the herbal vinegar varieties made in my herb group, the Cascade Herb Society

Some of the fire cider experiments made in my herb group, the Cascade Herb Society, at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine

This fall, I decided to experiment with my own formulation.

The first step was to source the highest quality, freshest ingredients I could find at the Farmers Market. Lucky for me, we have a booth at one of the best markets in town every Saturday – the PSU Portland Farmers Market. I also have developed relationships with several different farms at the market, so was able to trade honey and honey tonics for Fiery Cider ingredients!

Some of the gorgeous, inspiring fresh ingredients at the PSU Farmers Market

Some of the gorgeous, inspiring fresh ingredients at the PSU Farmers Market

Gorgeous local Ginger from our friends at Groundworks Organics!

Gorgeous local Ginger from our friends at Groundworks Organics!

I wanted to purchase my ingredients at the market because often they were harvested that very morning, or the evening before. This means that they are at their absolute peak freshness, and I know they haven’t been sitting on the shelf for several days or even weeks. Also, it’s nice to buy things directly from small producers, which keeps my dollars circulating as locally as possible. I purchased our ingredients from the following local producers:

Gathering Together Farm

Groundworks Organics

Westwind Gardens

Fiddlehead Farm

Blessed By Grace Urban Farm

The next step was to thoroughly wash all of the produce in our certified kitchen, with lots of clean water. I also used a solution of white vinegar and lemon juice to kill any bacteria that might be lurking, along with a vegetable brush.

IMG_1519IMG_4536 (2)After all of our produce was squeaky clean, the fun part begins – lots of peeling, chopping, grating, and garbling. All of the onions and peppers make it a very spicy and pungent experience!

Chopping this many peppers requires protection!

Chopping this many peppers requires protection!

After all the ingredients are chopped and assembled, raw apple cider vinegar is poured over them. They steep for a period of several weeks, and then we use our tincture press to press out the spicy vinegar, and discard the produce. We add a touch of our raw Pacific Northwest wildflower honey and bottle it up. It is so delicious!

Mickelberry Gardens Fiery Cider is currently available at Alberta Cooperative Grocery in Portland, Gresham Community Acupuncture, from our booth at the PSU Farmers Market, and from our online store. Get some while it lasts, or else you’ll have to wait until next fall!

I like to take shots of fiery cider to keep myself healthy as the season turns, along with a spoonful of Elderberry Honey Tonic. I also love to cook with it – I’ll make a big pot of cooked greens with nothing but a little drizzle of Fiery Cider, and they are really fantastic. Any time I’m sauteeing vegetables or cooking beans, I add a generous splash. You’ll be amazed at how fast a bottle disappears!!


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Herbal Studies and a Monograph for Skullcap

Over the course of our herbal studies, we have built a solid library of herbals and books about plant medicine. This gives us the ability to familiarize ourselves with a range of what has been written about a particular plant. As an herbalist this is a useful tool for ongoing research about plants.

To organize your studies, you can synthesize your research into a Botanical Reference Library about useful plants, to deepen your knowledge about them. This reference file can also be accompanied with different samples of the plant, and even a pressing of the plant to create a full herbarium. At Mickelberry Gardens, we are working towards putting together monographs and herbariums for each of our favorite herbs.

I also grow as many plants as possible that I use for Mickelberry Gardens in our garden, and talk with their growers. Visiting plants out in the world is another great way to learn about them – noticing them, identifying them in a variety of habitats, and occasionally carefully harvesting them with permission.

Completing graduate school and a Masters Thesis was a rigorous training in conducting research, which has taught me ways to organize research in a useful way. But it’s really not all that complicated – you just want to keep track of who said what and your sources when you are taking notes. Understanding your sources is important too, because who is saying it influences what is said. And to really understand something, you have to see it, experience it, and engage with it. It’s hard to fully comprehend something just from books.

Here is a short monograph for Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora). We also grow skullcap in our garden.

Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Family Lamiaceae/Labiatae/Mint

Habitat and Growing Conditions:

Skullcap is a transcontinental species (Moore 305). It grows in rich woods and thickets, near streams and meadows in the mountains, and bottomlands in the United States and Canada (Moore 305, Youngken 665). Skullcap is a “shy member of the mint family” (Gladstar p18). It grows by creeping roots, and can establish large stands (Moore 305).


Skullcap’s habitat. Thanks to 7song for the photo.

Botanical Identification:

Skullcap has pairs of pink to blue flowers and distinctive seed capsules which, when dry, look like skullcaps. It is a perennial growing to 2ft, with an erect, many-branched stem. (Chevallier 134).


Thanks to 7song for the photo.

There are about 100 species of Scutellaria. European skullcap (S. galericulata) and lesser skullcap (S. minor) were used in a similar way to S. lateriflora, but today are considered to have less therapeutic action. Baical skullcap (S. baicalensis) is also closely related, and is used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine (Chevallier 134).

scutellaria lateriflora monograph


Flowers grow only on one side of the stem, hence it’s botanical name S. lateriflora (Ody 118).

Parts used, Harvest Info:

The leaves, stems, and flowers are used. These aerial parts are harvested in summer (July-September, late in the flowering period (Chevallier 134, Hoffman 227, Youngken 666).


Thanks to Native Remedies for the photo.


Skullcap has a deep action on the nervous system. (Chevallier 134) It is considered to be a Nerve Tonic for it’s ability to feed, tone, rehabilitate and strengthen the nervous system (Gladstar 17).

Mild Bitter Tonic (Youngken 667, Chevallier 134): The bitter properties may assist in promoting healthy digestion. As a tonic on many levels, it is safe for using over longer periods of time to build up and nourish the nervous system.

Nerve Sedative: relaxes the nervous system and helps reduce pain, tension, and aids with sleeping. (Gladstar 17).

Antispasmodic (Chevallier 134, Youngken 667): prevents and eases spasms and cramps in the body.

Skullcap relaxes states of nervous tension while renewing and revivifying the central nervous system. It may be used in all exhausted or depressed conditions. It can also be used safely in easing pre-menstrual tension (Hoffman 227).

Good for oversensitivity of the peripheral nerves, such as sciatica, shingles, facial pain, acupuncture/bodywork sensitivity; also for insomnia from sensory irritability (Moore, 305).

Good for headaches, nerve tremors, stress, menstrual tension, insomnia, nervous exhaustion (Gladstar 18).

Mixes well with other sedative herbs to relieve menstrual pain and treat insomnia (Chevallier 134),


Thanks to 7song for the photo.


Contain the bitter flavonoid glycoside scuttellarin and scutellarein, volatile oils, bitter iridoids (catalpol), tannins, minerals. (Gladstar, Chevallier 134, Ody 118).

Preparation/Dosage Recommendations:

The dried plant loses a lot of strength, and according to Michael Moore, a 1:2 fresh plant tincture is the only proper form to use (305).

There is no danger of overdose or build-up if used over a long period of time – in fact it is recommended to use skullcap over an extended period and in adequate doses (Gladstar).

Skullcap is excellent in infusion/tea preparations (Gladstar).

Dosage Recommendations:

Infusion/Tea: 3x daily (Chevallier 134), tincture, 3ml with water twice a day (Chevallier 134).

Contraindications/Safety Info:

Skullcap is commonly adulterated with the American species Teucrium Canadensis, which can cause hepatotoxicity, and this adulteration is probably the reason for any hepatotoxic reports concerning Scutellaria lateriflora (Brinker 188).


1. Chevallier, Andrew. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants: A practical guide to more than 550 key medicinal plants and their uses. London, 1996.

2. Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West. USA, 1993.

3. Hoffman, David. The Holistic Herbal. Dorset, 1983.

4. Gladstar, Rosemary. The Science and Art of Herbology, Lesson One.

5. Youngken, Heber. A textbook of pharmacognosy. Philadelphia, 1936.

6. Brinker, Francis. The toxicology of botanical medicines. Sandy, Oregon 2000.

7. Ody, Penelope. Natural health complete guide to medicinal herbs.


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Cordella Magazine Interview with Madelyn

cordella madelyn on steps    cordella hives

Enjoy Cordella Magazine’s lovely interview with Madelyn, telling the Mickelberry Gardens story, accompanied by beautiful photographs taken by Anna Caitlin Harris.

cordella honey bee on lavender

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Mickelberry Gardens visits biodynamic herb farm!

Randy, co-founder of Oregon's Wild Harvest, with Matt and Madelyn, in a field of calendula.

Randy, co-founder of Oregon’s Wild Harvest, with Matt and Madelyn, in a field of calendula.

Last Saturday, we had the wonderful opportunity to drive out to Sandy, Oregon and take a tour of one of the medicinal herb farms operated by Oregon’s Wild Harvest. This company is one of our main suppliers for bulk medicinal herbs, many of which they grow themselves on their biodynamic farm, which is USDA certified organic and also certified biodynamic by the Demeter Association.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and after some delicious iced herbal tea in the shade, owner Randy took us on a tour of the operation. We met many plants and he talked to us about his experience running the business over the past 25 years, working with the land, and his knowledge of the plants. It was incredibly informative and fascinating. We also got to learn more about biodynamic agriculture, and hope to incorporate many of these techniques into our own garden.

We look forward to our continued partnership with Oregon’s Wild Harvest, and feel even more appreciative of the wonderful herbs we use in our products after seeing this operation up close. Many thanks to Randy and Ruta for organizing the tour!


Randy shows us his Hops trellises and tells us about Hops’ muscle relaxant properties.


Randy breaks off a branch from a White Willow, strips it into pieces, we chew on the strips and learn White Willow's use as a pain reliever.

Randy breaks off a branch from a White Willow, strips it into pieces, we chew on the strips and learn White Willow’s use as a pain reliever.


Madelyn, Matt, and Randy check out some Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium.


We tasted the flowers of Echinacea purpurea, found in our Elderberry Honey Tonic, Throat & Lung Honey Tonic, and Honey Propolis Throat Spray. It was a moistening, numbing, sweet bite.


Stately Mullein against beautiful blue sky.


Shade covered, Juniper staked Goldenseal crops.


In the shade of the Goldenseal rows


Goldenseal Berry, Hydrastis canadensis


Goldenseal root, Hydrastis canadensis. The yellow roots contain berberine and hydrastine, among many other components.


A field of happy, sun-loving, anti-microbial Calendula.


Matt and Randy by the Calendula.


Young Passionflower vines growing on Oregon’s Wild Harvest farm.

The happy team: Madelyn, Matt, Kerstin, and Kevin

The happy team: Madelyn, Matt, Kerstin, and Kevin

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Visitors to our Apiary!

We have been hosting lots of visitors out to our kitchen and apiary this summer! July has been a perfect time to introduce people to the bees, since the nectar is flowing and the bees are fat, happy, and busy.

Some of our biggest retailers, New Seasons and Whole Foods Markets, have both sent groups of staff out for team-building experiences. The groups checked out our kitchen operation and took a tour of our facility, did a honey tasting with our collection of different types of honey, and got questions answered about honeybees and beekeeping. From the kitchen, we carpooled out to our apiary in Troutdale, Oregon and the teams got the opportunity to don a beesuit, and get a look at a honeybee hive up close. Everyone had a great time!
Here’s some photos of the fabulous New Seasons Wellness staff:

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary group shot

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary painted hive smoker

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary group shot w:matt in front

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary matt opening

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary 2 looking

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary group shot close hive

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary group sky

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary holding 4

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary holding4

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary holding3

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary holding2

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary holding

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary gathered around hive

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary painted hive

New Seasons at Mickelberry Gardens apiary standing3

And here’s some great shots of the fun and enthusiastic Whole Foods Tanasbourne Whole Body Team:

Tanasbourne Whole Foods Mickelberry Gardens group shot

Tanasbourne Whole Foods Mickelberry Gardens 2 in front

Tanasbourne Whole Foods Mickelberry Gardens bee action

Tanasbourne Whole Foods Mickelberry Gardens close up of

Tanasbourne Whole Foods Mickelberry Gardens gathered around

Tanasbourne Whole Foods Mickelberry Gardens investigatory

Tanasbourne Whole Foods Mickelberry Gardens matt shows

Tanasbourne Whole Foods Mickelberry Gardens portrait

Tanasbourne Whole Foods Mickelberry Gardens holding up

Tanasbourne Whole Foods Mickelberry Gardens painted hive

Tanasbourne Whole Foods Mickelberry Gardens group afterIt has been so much fun to share what we do with these groups, teach them about honeybees and beekeeping, and give them a hands-on experience with bees.

We look forward to a few more tours coming up this summer!

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All About Beeswax

I am working on rendering beeswax today, and so am inspired to write about why our beeswax is special.

How do the bees make beeswax?

Beeswax is a central element of the beehive. It is the structure and home of the bee colony. The queen lays her eggs in cells made of beeswax, and the larvae are raised to adulthood inside a cell. The bees also store all of their honey and pollen within the wax cells. All of the female worker bees have specialized glands on their abdomens that secrete very thin sheets of wax, which is used as building material. Rudolf Steiner makes the argument that this beeswax secretion is natural and good for the bees.

photo 2

Wax in our hives

We use foundationless frames in our hives, so that the bees build all of the wax themselves. Using plastic or wax foundation is common in the beekeeping industry, and gives the bees a bit of a “head start” when it comes to drawing out frames. But we prefer to follow Steiner’s advice and let them build everything from scratch. This gives the bees power to determine the shape they want to build, and the size they want to make each cell. Wax foundation is generally an amalgamation of wax from industrial beekeeping, and can be contaminated with disease.

Frame with wax foundation

Frame with wax foundation

Foundationless frame

Foundationless frame

photo credit:

Why is our wax special?

We raise our bees without the use of hive treatments such as antibiotics or miticides, whose use is common practice in United States apiculture. We also keep our bees on organic farmland. Chemicals and pesticides tend to accumulate in wax, so using the cleanest methods we can helps keep our beeswax pure. We also source beeswax from other local beekeepers we trust, who keep their bees on pristine lands and without the use of toxic hive inputs. We never purchase wax from distributors, instead opting to process it all in house, by hand, ourselves. That way, we can be assured of the quality.

We get our wax right after the honey harvest. We use what is cut from the honeycombs when harvesting the honey. It goes through a process of melting, water baths, and filtration to remove honey and impurities. When it’s finished, we pour it into molds. At this point it has an indefinite shelf life, and is ready for use in our skin care products.

Beeswax and herbal medicine

Beeswax has been trusted for centuries for use in herbal formulations for the skin. When combined with oil, it achieves a wonderful consistency that is firm at room temperature, and absorbs seamlessly into the skin. Beeswax is a magical substance, and works in harmony with herbs and high quality oils to provide it’s soothing, protective elements to the skin.

We use our wonderful beeswax in our lip balm, salves, and soap. It smells amazing, and is so fun to work with. It’s a labor of love! And we love the bees for helping us make it available to more and more people.




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Top 6 Ways to Avoid the Flu

It’s that time of year when everyone seems to be getting sick. Here’s a list of my favorite go-to remedies for staying well during cold and flu season.

1. Fire Cider
You can make this yourself, or get some from your favorite local herbalist’s most recent batch. Fire Cider is made by steeping various pungent and spicy ingredients in raw apple cider vinegar, and then straining after several weeks. Cayenne peppers, ginger, garlic, onions, horseradish, and cress are all excellent fire cider ingredients. You can take a dose of fire cider on it’s own daily, mix it with a little honey, or add it to your salad dressings and soups. It is healthy and delicious.

2. Acupuncture
Going to see your acupuncturist regularly is a great way to prevent stagnation in your system, cycling out toxins and helping you sidestep the crud you feel may be lurking about.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

3. Elderberries
Elderberries are antiviral, blood purifying, and immune-stimulating, so are especially useful in keeping your body’s protective shield activated. Our favorite way to consume elderberries is a spoonful of Mickelberry Gardens Elderberry Honey Tonic, of course!


4. Reishi
A daily dropperful of reishi tincture during cold and flu season helps to support and nourish your body’s deep immunity. We get our reishi tincture from The Mushroomery in Lebanon, Oregon.



5. Whole Foods
Eating lots of nourishing whole foods and avoiding refined white flour and white sugar will help keep you healthy.

6. Rest and Renew
Make sure you allow yourself adequate sleep and time for relaxation. Your body does all sorts of repairing while you are sleeping. Likewise, making space for activities you find rejuvenating such as yoga, meditation, taking a walk in the woods or any other enjoyable exercise. Hot baths, self care, and spending time with people who don’t stress you out are all great strategies to keep yourself healthy and relaxed.

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Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

We use organic, raw apple cider vinegar in the majority of our Honey Tonic formulas. Our apple cider vinegar is made domestically in Northern California, from Oregon, Washington, and Northern California-grown apples. I love using apple cider vinegar as a solvent in herbal tincture making, for a lot of different reasons. It allows you to create an alcohol-free tincture, and has many virtuous health benefits in itself.

Why is Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) a good solvent?

Acetic acid is the chief ingredient in vinegar that makes it both a preservative and a solvent, which is produced through the fermentation and subsequent oxidation of ethanol. Winemaker August Sebastiani observed that “God is trying to make vinegar”, probably because all wine can become vinegar without careful storage. Vinegar is created from a fermentation process of undistilled alcohol, which will occur in the presence of oxygen. Once an undistilled alcohol becomes vinegar, it is in a stable state and does not change much and can last for years. Vinegar is acidic, so it slows the growth of harmful bacteria. Vinegar’s acidic nature works to dissolve minerals, which is not as effectively achieved using solvents such as water or alcohol.

Herbal vinegars are a bit more delicate than an alcohol-based tincture, but vinegar can extract many beneficial properties from plants. Vitamins, minerals, essential oils, alkaloid salts, sugars, tannins, glycosides, saponins, and bitter compounds can all be extracted, although they may not be as strongly concentrated as they would be in alcohol. Vinegar is wonderful for making tonic formulas, ideal for building up and supporting the body over time.

How is apple cider vinegar made?

The roots of the word vinegar come from the french Vin (wine) and Aigre (sour). Vinegars are made from the fermentation of an undistilled alcohol, such as wine in wine vinegars, or hard cider, in the case of apple cider vinegar.

The process of making vinegar begins with fermentation of the juice of various fruits, berries, honey, molasses, or even cereal grains in malt vinegars. In the case of apple cider vinegar, the starting material is juice from apples. Fermentation depends on yeast, which transforms sugars in the starting material into alcohol and carbonic gas. The gas then evaporates, leaving only the alcohol and the flavors (or esters).

Homemade hard cider undergoing the fermentation process. Image source

Homemade hard cider undergoing the fermentation process. Each jug is sealed with an airlock, to allow the gas produced by the yeast to escape. Image source

In the final phase oxidation occurs – oxygen in the air combines with the alcohol. This is why vinegar forms only when a bottle of wine is uncorked and exposed to air. This fermentation process involves a combination of alcohol, oxygen, and microscopic organisms called acetobacters and aerobic yeasts. These microscopic organisms form a gelatinous mass known as mother of vinegar. The mother of vinegar is edible and nutritious, and nothing to be afraid of.

Mother of vinegar - image source

Mother of vinegar – image source

To make vinegar you need some type of ethyl alcohol that is less than 18% alcohol; vinegar bacteria; a temperature of 59 deg. F to 86 deg. F; and a non-reactive container (glass, wood, ceramic, plastic, or enamel-coated metal – never aluminum).  The time it takes wine to turn into vinegar depends on temperature, air circulation, and alcohol content.

Why does vinegar make a good menstruum for herbal tinctures?

Vinegar extracts are gentler than alcohol extracts. Vinegar extracts are suitable for children. Vinegar also has health benefits that alcohol lacks – it retains all the nutritional goodness of the apples from which it was made, and it is rich with potassium and enzymes produced during fermentation.

Raw apple cider vinegar is excellent for tonic tinctures – those taken every day to maintain overall health and build up the system. Vinegar draws out many plant constituents, especially alkaloids, vitamins, and minerals. Since it is acidic, it is not a good extractor of plant acids. Vinegar also extracts flavors and phytochemicals.

Vinegar based tinctures have a shorter shelf life than alcohol tinctures, 1-2 years is generally recommended instead of 5 years. However some vinegar tinctures stored properly (in a cool dark place with proper acidity) may last up to 5 years.

Here is a list of my favorite plants to use in making apple-cider vinegar based tinctures:

Nettles: For it’s high vitamin and mineral content.

Sage: For its incredible flavor and aroma, antiseptic and antimicrobial properties

Echinacea tops: for extracting Echinacea’s gentle tonic, immune-boosting properties

Lemon balm: for it’s incredible flavor and aroma, and it’s gentle nervine properties

Skullcap: for it’s gentle relaxing, nervine properties

Chamomile: for it’s relaxing properties

You can also make delicious culinary vinegars with a wide range of herbs. These work great as a base for salad dressings, in stir fries, dips, soups, or sauces. Some of my favorite culinary vinegars to make are with chive flowers, tarragon, garlic, onions, and horseradish.

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How Do Bees Make Honey?

So, how do bees make honey? I’m glad you asked. It’s really quite fascinating.

Honey is made of the sweet nectar from flowers. Nectar is a sugar-rich liquid made by flowering plants, which is produced in glands called nectaries. Nectar is designed to attract pollinating animals such as honeybees. It is a beautiful example of mutualism, in which two different species cooperate for mutual benefit – an abundant phenomenon in nature. The flower’s nectar encourages animals such as bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and bats to visit them, and flowers are often designed to attract specific types of pollinators. As these animals visit different flowers of the same species, they spread pollen from flower to flower, ensuring that pollination will occur and the plant will be able to reproduce. In Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire, he calls bees the “flying penises” of plants. If this is the case, nectar is the perfume and invitation from the flower. Flowers are the sexual organs of plants, which is perhaps why they are so typically associated with courting and romance.

When a particularly delicious or abundant source of nectar is located by a foraging honeybee, she communicates this to her sisters in a dance. The dance is complete with directions to the nectar source, using the sun for navigation. The bee with the most provocative dance will gain the most followers – Matt likes to compare the dance to a break-dancing competition, and the bee with the best “pop lock and drop” gets the sister bees to get on board and follow the dancer to the nectar source. Scientists call this behavior “The Waggle Dance.”

The foraging honeybee collects nectar by flying from blossom to blossom and sipping nectar into her honey stomach, using her long proboscis. She drinks nectar until her stomach is filled to the brim, and then travels back to the hive with her heavy load.

Upon arriving back at her hive, the foraging bee is greeted by “house” bees, whose work is restricted to inside the hive. The nectar is exchanged from the foraging bee to the house bee via proboscis, in a “nectar kiss”. House bees will first taste and analyze her nectar, and eventually the entire contents of the honey stomach will be exchanged to house bees, and often exchanged from house bee to house bee. The foraging bee, now with an empty stomach, will take flight again to locate more nectar.

The house bee will now begin the process of drying the nectar. She mixes in a drop of her saliva, and begins blowing tiny nectar bubbles with her mandibles and her proboscis. This exposes the drop to the dry, warm air in the colony, and some of the moisture dehydrates. After holding the drop for a few minutes, she will add another nectar drop and continue this process. Eventually the dehydrated nectar is deposited into cells, and moved from cell to cell to facilitate drying. When enough nectar has been collected to fill multiple cells, the bees band together and fan their wings to create the final evaporation and complete the process of nectar becoming honey. Honey may be placed in empty cells, cells with eggs, or even with larvae. Cells near to the brood nest or nursery will be filled first, where the honey is also combined with pollen to feed the young. When these cells are filled, honey is kept in the surplus honey storage area, and when the drying process is complete a wax cap is applied to the cell, similar to putting a lid on a jar.

Chemically, the process of honey creation is a conversion of pure sucrose, a sugar, into other sugars, fructose and glucose. Sucrose cannot be used in its whole form by honey bees. So in order to convert this sucrose into a more usable form, honey bees transform it. This is accomplished by enzymes in the bees’ saliva, which contains invertase and glucose oxidase. Glucose is less sweet than sucrose, and fructose is sweeter. Fructose is the most stable, so honeys that have a high fructose content will not crystallize. When a honey does crystallize, it’s the glucose that you see forming crystals, and the remaining liquid is fructose.

Although the basic building blocks of honey are sugar molecules, honey also contains the essences of the plants from which the bees gathered nectar, as well as minerals from the soils where those flowers grew. Honey is a complex and unique blend of aromas, enzymes, vitamins, proteins, minerals, salts, acids, lipids, pigments and flavor compounds. It also contains fragments of all of the different pollens the bees have gathered. Honey’s hydrogen peroxide content is often attributed to it’s strong antimicrobial properties.

Honey is the food of all the adult bees, and it is also mixed with pollen and propolis to create “bee bread”, a fermented product that the bees feed to their larvae. Honeybees depend on honey, and a strong colony will store as much honey as they have the space for. A judicious beekeeper can take advantage of this hoarding instinct of the hive, and enjoy and share the excess of the bee’s painstaking labor.

Sources consulted for this blog:

Sacred and Healing Herbal Beers by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

The Backyard Beekeeper’s Honey Handbook by Kim Flottum.

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Western Red Cedar

Western Red Cedar Oil is one of my favorite plants to work with. Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) smells amazing, and is abundant throughout the Pacific Northwest. It was called the “tree of life” by coastal Pacific Northwest Native American tribes, renowned for it’s strength, healing, and spiritual power. Tribes in this region used cedar to build homes, make rain hats, and construct a wide variety of useful things. Cedar is considered to be very cleansing, and boughs can be used as body brushes, or in the bath. You can bundle cedar in your bathroom, and inhale the wonderful vapors that are created when cedar is combined with steam. Cedar is both anti-fungal and antiseptic.

cedar close-up

Cedars grow all around my home, and in large stands along the creek. Western Red Cedar likes the rainy temperate climate of Cascadia, the wet soil conditions of a wetland, and company- trees often grow in groups with other cedars. We have a stand of 9 Western Red Cedar trees in our garden that we planted about 6 years ago. We have regularly and generously amended the soil around them with chipped wood and leaves, which has improved the soil tremendously by increasing fungal mychorrhizae and overall biological activity. Our trees are very healthy, and have grown many feet since we planted.

When harvesting cedar, I first approach the tree, stand near it, and breathe deeply, taking the aroma of the trees. Burning something, like a sage smudge or a little bit of homegrown tobacco is useful, as smoke is useful in communicating with plants on a spirit level. With smoke in the air, I let cedar know my intentions to harvest medicine for myself and to share with others. I offer gratitude for its gifts, and an intention to do everything I can to help Cedar continue thriving in my garden.

Western Red Cedar

Western Red Cedar

Now, time to harvest. Cedar tips can be harvested any time of year, but I especially like to harvest in the springtime, because this is when bright green new growth begins. I have a feeling that the energy in this new growth makes the best medicine.

When harvesting, I select the tips carefully. I don’t take an excessive amount from any one tree, I don’t take entire branches, and I do not select the primary growth tips of the cedar’s branches. It’s a partnership between cedar and I, and by watching it over the years I can be sure that my efforts are not creating a negative impact. Even though it’s abundant, this mindful and careful harvesting is a meditation.

cedar harvesting

After harvest, the fresh cedar leaves are dried. They can dry loosely in a paper bag, or be more rapidly and evenly dried on screens out of direct sunlight with ventilation. A food dehydrator is the perfect place.

cedar drying

Fresh cedar spread across screens to dry

I use Cedar as one powerful ingredient in Mickelberry Gardens Soothing Salve. This salve is handcrafted with intention, and is healing for a wide range of skin ailments.

Mickelberry Gardens Soothing Salve


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