In Redcrest, California, the view of the sky is wide open in nearly all directions; a hard sight to find in the Emerald Triangle. As one of the flatter areas of Humboldt County, this distinctive microclimate is ideal for farmland in a county known for its mountainous roads and sloping hills. On a late August day, the sun gently rose above Chrystal Ortiz’s farm as she prepared for an afternoon of medicine making.
Chrystal placed all the tools and ingredients she needed on a covered picnic table: a slow cooker, a digital stove top, glass jars and bottles, coconut oil, and extracts of all kinds. Guests would soon arrive, eager for tours and knowledge.
I rolled past the tall, decorative wooden fence and into the farm as the truck’s tires crackled against the newly paved driveway. Vegetables, flowers and small fruit trees lined my view before I glimpsed the quiet rows of cannabis growing just beyond a garden fence. From a distance, the variety of cultivars taking root there was apparent; their shapes, sizes and colors shifted from row-to-row.
Chrystal has been a farmer for decades and has worked with medicinal cannabis for many years. She’s gained a wide breadth of knowledge regarding herbs through her own research and experimentation, and by directly learning through authentic sources of traditional herbal practices.
Humans have used herbs to heal themselves for millennia and only in recent generations has that changed, she said.
Even though U.S. Highway 101 isn’t too far, the countryside was quiet aside from the cheerful chatter and preparation of the farm’s small team. Cannabis is so often kept in modified environments that the hum of lights and the whirring of fans seemed refreshingly absent.
After the sun started to bear down its afternoon heat, cannabis medicinal consultant, Dr. Pepper Hernandez, brought a small group of women who gathered closely together under a red umbrella as Chrystal started. They leaned in for a look as she showed them the infused (MCT) coconut oil put into the slow cooker that morning. The oil was infused with her homemade RSO (Rick Simpson Oil) so that she can control the dosage precisely.
“If you were at home and you didn’t have that (RSO), you would have been soaking your dried cannabis in here at about an ounce per cup, or half an ounce per cup,” she said. “You would have been soaking this on low for at least 45 to 50 minutes. Once we get to 50 to 55 minutes, it’s infused. The oil is warm enough and everything is good. Then you would have strained it out, and you would have just had cannabis infused oil” Chrystal added.
“Has everybody here made it before?” A few nodded enthusiastically but a couple in the small crowd had not. “Try coconut oil, you’ll be super stoked. It’s really useful. Just strain it, pour it back in the jar and put it in the cabinet [or] put it in the fridge. It’s amazing.”
After the group decided the kinds of medicine they wanted to make that afternoon (pain soother salve, elderberry syrup, spritzers and chocolate lip balm), Chrystal began the walking tour. She started with the kitchen garden. She identified calendula flowers, which were perky and yellow. They dominated an entire corner due to their wide range of uses, like relieving cuts and rashes.
Arnica, wormwood, mugwood, borage and other flowers with ancient medicinal roots were in bloom as we walked along the rows on either side of the fence. Chrystal pointed out strings of puffy purple flowers growing in abundance across the untended field. Wild pennyroyal, she said.
“It’s growing all over the whole farm. I mow it and [smells] it’s amazing,” Chrystal said. Pennyroyal is in the mint family and the strong spearmint-like aroma is released when crushed or cut. “Not good for medicine, in a light tea it’s ok, but it’s really strong.”
The walking tour wound its way to the cannabis garden. Chrystal noted that her plants were smaller than usual because they went into the ground late. The developing buds, however, didn’t seem bothered much by the delayed transition. Vibrant hairs grew around the young flower buds, and a thick layer of crystals sparkled along their inner leaves.
The high quality of the soil in Redcrest is excellent for agriculture, and the cannabis plants are thriving as they dig their roots into it, she said.
“In the giant scheme of things, we are in the Eel River Valley, and the whole community washed away in the 1964 flood on Christmas Day,” Chrystal said. Her guests all recalled the astonishingly tall “High Water Level” marker that is visible on Highway 101 and is about 40 feet above the road. That is how high the flood waters got that year, she said.
“What it does to the soil is amazing. This is all sediment soils. It’s full of nutrients from the bottom of the river,” Chrystal explained. “You can just grow almost anything with it. The water table is really high, so historically throughout millennia, the river would meander through this whole valley and dump the silt and the sediment, making it a [great] place for agriculture.”
As the walking tour made it’s way back to the medicine making table and out of the direct sun, Chrystal started on the elderberry syrup. She said it’s an excellent preventative cough syrup and not very hard to make. “It’s actually a daily syrup. On the onset of flus or colds, you can take it every two-to-three hours.” it’s really potent, she noted.
The elderberry syrup needed to reduce, so after a quick exercise with making the medicated spritzers, Chrystal invited the group inside to watch her make a salve. Combining beeswax, shea butter, cocoa butter, cannabis-infused coconut oil and drops of essential oils over a stovetop, Chrystal shared her tips for making the perfect salve. She gave each woman a small pat of just cocoa butter so they could rub the rich texture on their skin as they waited for the salve to finish.
Chrystal and Pepper shared their knowledge of cannabis and other medicinal remedies throughout the afternoon, and the group filled their binders with notes and recipes. Chrystal demonstrated the handmade remedies she had practiced a thousand times before, and in doing so, she continued another tradition: passing along the knowledge of herbal medicine as it has been done for centuries.
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