Wild plants for medicinal properties
By Andrea Arnold
When McBride resident Joy Flemke chose the name Boreal Emporium for her herbal medicine, she did it knowing that the Robson Valley is not identified as part of the boreal forest. The word also means relating to, or located in northern regions. The plant life in the Robson Valley is quite similar to that of the boreal forest due to the proximity of the forest boundary along the BC/Alberta border.
“I decided to include Emporium so that it opened up the ‘shop’ for more types of products,” said Flemke.
She has been gathering plants and mixing elements to create things since she was very small.
“I remember making mud pies, and mixing teas with juniper or mountain ash berries,” she said.
Flemke graduated from mudpies and moved on to study botany in post secondary school. Then, during the isolation of covid she decided to also take a nine month Herbalism course from Pacific Rim College. These experiences plus years of self study have brought her to where she is today.
Flemke creates tinctures, salves, lotions and teas. She just completed processing a batch of devil’s club tincture.
“A tincture uses an alcohol base,” said Flemke. “The alcohol extracts a higher concentration of the herbal properties.”
She also creates a glycerine tincture for her lemon balm. It is strong, but kid-friendly, or good for people who avoid all uses of alcohol.
She has three types of pain relieving salves available right now. The first, the Balm of Gilead, she refers to as nature’s polysporin. It has the same smell as a walk through a forest in early spring. The Comfrey Salve is a pain relieving skin conditioner. Flemke says that it has a historic background as ‘knit bone,” as it has properties that help bones heal. Her personal favorite for overall pain relief is the Devil’s Club Salve. She finds it to be the most effective and she receives the most positive feedback from customers who use this product.
She also creates a Wildrose Face & Body Cream. Flemke says she uses it regularly and finds that no matter the skin ailment, dryness or acne, the cream balances out the issue.
All of the ingredients she uses to make her products are natural. She uses no essential oils.
“My favourite part of the process is the gathering,” she said. “I love getting out into the forest and harvesting. If I can do that and make a little money too, that’s great.”
She said that gathering becomes a social event with members of the plant community. Her five-year-old daughter has been gathering alongside her since she was born. When they go out on walks with small friends, Flemke often hears “Don’t eat that unless Joy says you can.”
Flemke makes a point of harvesting sustainably. For example, when she is picking rose petals for her lotion, she only takes a few from each flower, leaving bee food intact. Even devil’s club, which seems to grow wild and rampant, has a source root that many of the shoots we see in the forest all originate from.
“I have many locations that I harvest from to mitigate damage to the devil’s club patch,” she said.
She is cautious about where she picks though, making sure there have not been any pesticides used close to where she is working.
She is extremely concerned about the use of pesticides both commercially as well as privately.
Flemke finds that no matter where she goes, she can find usable things growing, even as close as her backyard. Plantain, chickweed, dandelions and nettles are examples of plants commonly found in yards across the valley. Many common place plants can be chewed up, mixed with saliva and used as a poultice for relief and healing. Flemke says she uses a plantain poultice for insect stings and bites.
One of the things that Flemke enjoys the most about working with a natural product is that she never stops learning.
“If I see a plant I don’t know yet, I have to find out if it is medicinal and what I can do with it,” she said. “It drives me crazy until I figure it out.”
She knows she wants to explore the antibacterial properties of the oregon grape and would like to make her yarrow tincture into a bug spray.
As Flemke explores options for the emporium she has started the process of making garlic honey and is trying her hand at blacksmith skills.
“I like traditional methods and skills,” she said. “I want to see them keep going.”
With her daughter Fin in school, Flemke is finding she has more time to dive into more complicated creations and looks forward to seeing the results. Right now she is in the middle of her creating season. Spring, summer and fall are the seasons for gathering.
Flemke has been selling her products through local farmers markets, Christmas markets and at Mountain View Boutique in McBride. She plans to attend the Dunster Christmas market on Dec. 3rd. She also has some customers that she ships to in Alberta. She has not created an online presence for the Boreal Emporium as she is a small-scale home business.
“The gathering and processing takes a long time,” she said. “I am just one person, and I can’t sustainably gather enough and I don’t have enough time to process large quantities.”
Some plants that go through the infusion process have to soak for a minimum of six weeks before they are ready for the next step.
Flemke can be reached either by phone 250-569-7637 or by email [email protected]. She enjoys the process of troubleshooting with a customer, and trying to create something that helps their ailment.
“I really love doing that,” she said. “Every medicine resonates differently with each individual.”