Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mullein magic

You have probably noticed the tall, single-spired stalks dotted with yellow blossoms, rising from softly colored greyish green leaves. They are easily identified by their height, along roadsides, maybe in your yard borders or garden. This is our common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), and it is in prime season right now. Which is why it is our next herb to get to know and harvest.

Mullein is currently taking the lead in my collecting. With cold and flu season creeping up, I want a good supply of this herb. Mullein oil is used to soothe earache pain - if you have punks, you'll want some on hand. Mullein leaves provide important lung-support. We'll get into that part next time.
For this post, I want to encourage you to find some mullein, and harvest enough flowers to fill a glass jar - any size, depending on your supply of mullein. Then fill the jar with olive oil, to cover the flowers. Put a label on that jar: Mullein in olive oil, date. Let them infuse for at least two weeks in a warm place.

(While you're at it, do the same with Calendula flowers, and St. John's wort flowers, if you are sure of your identification - we'll be collecting these flowers this week, also, so don't panic. They will play a part in an up-coming earache oil...)

If you have enough Mullein flowers, also start a jar of tincture. Fill a second jar, with at least 2 cups of flowers, and cover with 2 cups of 100 proof vodka. 80 proof is OK, if that's all you can find. The 100 proof is 50% alcohol, the 80 proof is 40% alcohol. More on the tincture to come.

This oil and tincture are the start of your arsenal against fall and winter ear and lung afflictions.

Check back tomorrow for more on Mullein.

Your homework: locate some Mullein. Don't forget to ask permission if it's on private property...most people consider mullein a weed and will be astonished to hear you actually want it! You will want to return several times to the plant(s), to harvest more flowers since they don't all come on at the same time.

Go forth and FIND MULLEIN!!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Take a break...

An herbal tea break, that is. Here are some popular plants for herbal teas:

Angelica Anise Basil Bergamot Borage Calendula Catnip Chamomile Dandelion Fennel Lavender Lemon balm Marjoram Mint Oregano Parsley Raspberry leaf Rose Rosemary Sage Scented geranium Sweet Cicely Thyme Wintergreen

Other plants for herbal teas:

Anise hyssop Ginseng Hibiscus Hops Horehound Lemon grass Lemon verbena Lime (linden) flowers Red clover Sweet woodruff Valerian

Almost every herb and flower has a symboic meaning. Theoretically, you can concoct your herbal blend to make a statement with the herbs. The combinations may be sweet, witty, evocative - definately personal. Here are some traditional qualities of the following herbs:

Angelica - inspiration

Anise - change

Bergamot - virtue

Borage - bluntness

Calendula - hopelessness, grief

Chamomile - wisdom, patience

Clover - think of me

Dandelion -prophecy, foretelling

Lavender - devotion

Lemon balm - sympathy, regeneration

Marjoram - joy

Mint - warm feelings

Parsley - merriment, festivity

Raspberry - remorse

Rose - love, passion, purity

Rosemary - remembrance

Sage - esteem, wisdom, goodness

Scented geranium - happiness
Sweet woodruff - humble spirit

Thyme - daring, courage

Brewing the perfect cup calls for some specific attention. First, regarding the water. If your tap water doesn't taste good, neither will your tea. Or ice cubes, for that matter. Any doubts - use bottled or filtered water. If using your tap water: Use COLD water - and let it run a minute or so, you don't want the water that has been sitting in the pipes - it's lost it's oxygen, and may also have picked up odd flavor from the pipes. Ditto the hot water, it's been sitting in the tank for who knows how long, and you really won't save any time heating.

After your kettle of water is on the stove, preheat your teapot with warm water. When it's time to brew, just dump the water out of the pot, add your herbs - in a teaball, or loose, or teabags (you can make your own), and pour in the very hot (just to a boil, but not boiled - drives out oxygen, which means flat flavor). Cover the pot, to keep in the volatile oils released from the herbs, and let the saturated herbs gently steep or a certain amount of time. The rule of thumb is about 5 minutes. But some herbs, such as lavender, may only need 2-3 minutes. Others, like chamomile, may need 10-15 minutes

NOTE: a tea cozy is a wonderful investment. Keeps that pot warm.

Then remove the herbs, and fill your cup. You can swirl a little hot water in your cup to warm it, and empty it out before pouring your tea. Relax, take in the scented steam from your cup, savor the delicate flavors, and enjoy your herbal respite.

The language of flowers. It's not what you say - it's how you serve it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Commonly known as CHAMOMILE

Chamomile is a common name for a number of daisy-like plants. The word derives in part from the Greek "apple", indicating their applelike scent.

Plants known as "chamomile" include, among others:

Matricaria recutita (syn. M. chamomilla), German or blue chamomile, commonly used in tea.

Anthemis nobilis (syn. Chamaemelum nobile), Roman chamomile, the "lawn" chamomile.

Anthemis cotula, stinking chamomile or dog-fennel, which really DOES stink - used mostly for medicinals.

Matricaria discoidea, wild chamomile or pineapple weed - a sweet mildly pineapple scented and flavored tea herb. It has many of the attributes of German/Roman chamomiles. It is usually the chamomile thought of as "wild chamomile".

Two types of chamomile are commonly planted in herb gardens: German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), a hearty annual that grows to about 2 feet tall and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), a low-growing perennial. When growing chamomile for tea, use German Chamomile which produces an abundance of apple scented, daisy-like flowers.

Once you plant chamomile, you have it forever! Which is a blessing - honest. You just need to keep it harvested out of the areas you prefer it weren't in, and establish beds of it in roomy spaces for easy harvesting. The plant can be "weeded" (pulled) out of paths, etc., and the blossoms harvested immediately. Or keep the chamomile "patch" sheared, for bounteous harvests to dry.

Chamomile usually begins to bloom in mid-summer, on into fall. Pinch off the blossoms the day they open. The younger flowers not only have the best flavor, by removing them the plant is encouraged the to bloom more. When you have a good harvest patch, make it part of your morning routine to check for new blooms once a day and harvest them right away. Two cups of fresh blooms will dry down to about ¼ cup, so if you like chamomile tea, be prepared to harvest a LOT!

Immediately after cutting, bring the blossoms indoors and spread them out in a single layer on craft paper or screening. Dry the blossoms indoors, where it is warm and out of direct sunlight.

Be sure the chamomile dry completely - they should crumble easily when rubbed between your fingers. When dry, place them in a lidded glass jar or in a brown paper bag. Don't forget to label!! Chamomile will keep in a dark, cool spot for up to one year.

Pineapple weed, a very short bushy little "christmas tree" about 6" tall is found in waste places such as driveways, along pasture lanes, paths, cracks in sidewalks - in other words, almost everywhere! It is easy to identify when it starts to bloom, by the pencil-eraser sized green flowers. They look like little domed buttons, with no petals.

It can be harvested and dried as for regular chamomile. It makes a delicious light tea, hot or iced. About 2 T. dried flower per 2 cups of hot water.

Pineapple weed ("wild chamomile") can be bruised then rubbed on your skin providing an effective insect repellent. You'll smell good! And you won't be poisoned by DEET...
Pineapple weed, like German chamomile, is a soothing nervine. It helps to calm the nerves, which may assist with insomnia. Chamomile tea has long been promoted as a sleep aid - it may not make you sleepy, but it will certainly calm your nerves.
Here's one to try: Make a footbath of strong chamomile/pineapple weed tea, and soak your feet after a busy day in the garden. Have a tall glass of iced chamomile/pineapple weed tea on hand, and your summer reading book. Invite a couple friends, with their basins, and have a chamo soak while catching up. Pure bliss!
We all need to take a chamo break, our lives are too too busy...and our little herbal friend is ready to bring us a softly scented reprise.

Friday, July 24, 2009

P.S. - red clover treat

Chef J has been patiently waiting for the Red Clover Fritter experiment. So today we picked more red clover flowers...
... whipped up an easy batter, and fried these pretty fritters. We used White clover, too. Tore off the flowerets, mixed them in the batter with some whole Red clover heads, and quickly had some crunchy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside tasty flower fritters.

We also just dipped some of the Red clover flowers in the plain batter, and dropped them in the fry pan. These things take less than a minute to cook. The trick was keeping the oil at the right temp - hot enough to fry quickly and not soak into the fritter, but not so hot that it burned the delicate batter -coated flowers.
We had two big plates of the fritters, so everyone got to participate in the taste test. Only one of the punks said he didn't care for them - he's our picky eater, anyway, so we just let him think the fritters weren't very tasty - while we gobbled them down! Jolene had stopped by just in time to join us - she is a good sport about trying the "weed eating" I keep playing with.

Chef J enjoyed our experiment, he pronounced them, "Delicious!"

Our batter was a simple mix of Bisquick, milk, a pinch of sugar and a dash of nutmeg.
This would work for any flower fritter - dandelion, clover, elderflower - wherever your adventurous taste buds lead you! Just be sure the flower is edible, and not sprayed.
Bon appetite!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wild crisps

I sometimes chuckle to myself when I see an ad or an article about "living green". It's become the catch-phrase, the politicially-correct poster child, of the decade. The reason I smile is that I have a rather different spin on the phrase, and hopefully by now you are catching on.

I adapted this recipe from one provided by Melissa at Food Under Foot. You won't believe how good these are! Neighbor Tom, notoriously a meat-and-potatoes guy who doesn't experiment much, commented after munching a crispy leaf, "not too bad" - which according to his wife is high praise.

First gather some greens. You need 4-6 cups of clean, dry green leaves. Plantain is great. The sturdy leaf carries the sauce well. Dandelions are good, too, even large leaves aren't bitter after the baking. If you have some greens in your garden, try bok choi and beet leaves. Lettuce is a bit too fragile and shatters when dried - but the "lettuce dust" makes good seasoning for other things, if you want to try some.

These tasty crisps are what potato chips aspire to, and will never achieve because they just don't have what it takes - nutrition!

Make the sauce in a blender:

1/2 c. raw cashew butter (you could use peanut butter if necessary, or better still, tahini - which is made from sesame seeds)

2 T. lemon juice

1 tsp. sea salt

1 clove garlic

2-3 T. chopped chives

2 T. nutritional yeast (this is NOT bread yeast)

1 tsp. chili powder

2 T. tamari (or low sodium soy sauce)

Barely cover with water, then blend smooth. It will be thick, but should be pourable. Add a bit more water if needed.

Pour into a bowl. Immerse each leaf, covering both sides with sauce. "Squeegee" some off with your fingers, then place on a cookie sheet lined with parchement.

Bake at 250 degrees, about an hour or so. Don't let them brown or burn. The leaves should just get dry and crisp. They look weird, with a sort of tan coating in patches from the sauce. Looks deceive.

These are a knockout, fresh from the oven. They are good cooled, too. Better than potato chips - seriously! They do not store well, so eat hearty!

Share some with friends and neighbors...

especially the ones who have been raising an eyebrow over your weed harvesting.

Dandelion Apple cookies

First you find a dandelion.

Actually, you need many dandelions, about 3/4 of a lawn will do. You are going to pick approximately a cup of dandelion flowers. Enlist a 5-year-old to help pick them - his mother will love you for the rest of the day... Then you rip the little petals off the green part. Thereby hopefully ending up with 1/2 c. of petals.
Round up a couple of apples. Core them, but leave the skin on.
Dig out your jar of raisins. If they are a little dried up, it's OK. The raisin police aren't on duty today.
Got nuts? Look in your freezer. That's where I told you to keep them, remember?
Negotiate with your local bee union for a couple tablespoons of honey. Rummage through the spice shelf and find that pumpkin pie spice left from last November. If you can't find it, never mind, cinnamon will do. And if you don't have cinnamon, shame on you.

OK. Now you are ready.

Dust off your food processor and throw in:
3 cups apple chunks
1/2 c. nuts
1 T. honey (and a bit more if your apples are pruney and raisins are dry)
1/4 c. raisins
1 T. pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon)
Now pulse to chop and mix. Not too fine, this isn't soup, but not too coarse either. This is mama bear chop.
Dump into a bowl, and stir in:
1/2 c. dandelion petals
This will be a loose, rather wet mix. Now you are going to make cookies. Yes, you are.

If you have a food dehydrator, shape mounds of the mix, a heaping tablespoon at a time, on the mesh trays. I know, it's gooshey. Do it anyway. Dry for at least 8 hours. If your dehydator has a thermostat, you want it to be at 105 degrees. Otherwise, just go for it.
If they aren't dry enough, continue drying until you think they resemble cookies.

If you DON'T have a dehydrator, an oven works just dandy. And quicker. Line a cookie sheet with baking parchement. Form the mounds of mixture. Bake at 275 for about 25-35 minutes, maybe longer - until the cookies are firmed up and sort of dry. Yeah, doncha just love these "sort of" recipes...

They actually do hold together. Have faith.

It is SO a cookie. Have I ever led you astray? Just because it doesn't have flour, sugar, eggs, butter or milk, doesn't mean it can't be a cookie. Some cookies just lead a cleaner life than others...

You'll like them, I promise.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dandelions in the kitchen

As mentioned, I like my dandelions right off the plant, nothing fancy about nipping a leaf and stuffing it in my mouth. If I want to take a few extra minutes, I can grab a container of hummus out of the fridge and use it as a dip for the dandy leaves with strong midribs - a tasty combination. Or just spread the hummus on a leaf, roll it up, and pop it in!

Here are some links to a couple of my favorite herbal info sites. You will find some good dandelion recipes, some intriguing recipes, and some "you gotta be kidding" recipes.


To get you started, here is a simple, familiar-sounding recipe - it just uses dandelion instead of lettuce:

Warm Dandelion Greens Salad

3/4 pound dandelion leaves

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt freshly ground pepper to taste

4 ounces smoked bacon

1 slice French or Italian bread, cubed

2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 hard boiled egg, crumbled.

1.Wash the greens and tear into small pieces. Put into a warmed salad bowl with the oil and vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss lightly.

2. Fry bacon until half cooked. Add bread cubes and fry until cubes are golden and the bacon is completely cooked. Tip contents of the pan (fat and all if you want to be completely French about it) onto the greens. Toss quickly.

3. Put the vinegar into the pan and heat rapidly. When it is bubbling fiercely, pour onto the greens and toss. Serve immediately with a sprinkling of the crumbled egg on top. Serves two.

Have you made any dandelion flower fritters yet? Chef J and I will be making some tomorrow afternoon. We'll return and report.
In the meantime, how about making some dandelion vinegar? You will use it for making salad dressings, mustards, and other foods, as well as using it for a tonic.
Dandelion Vinegar:
Fill a quart jar with chopped dandelion leaves ( I use my handy food processor); you don't need to pound them in, but tap the jar on the counter a few times to settle the leaves, and add more to come up to the shoulder of the jar. Pour apple cider vinegar over the dandelions, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace. Cover the jar with a piece of waxed paper, then put on a lid and ring. Label that jar!
Let steep for about 6 weeks. Strain out the leaves and put the vinegar into a labeled jar or bottle. LABEL!!

How are you doing with the Dandelion Challenge? Don't forget, you can keep tender new young leaves coming up by cutting the older leaves off and watering the dandelion.

Bet you never thought you'd be encouraging dandelions to grow, did you??

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dandelion doodles

Did you know, that each petal of the dandelion flower is a compete flower in itself? I didn't.

Did you know, that the beautiful blue-flowered chicory (my favorite blue) is a dandelion cousin ? I didn't. Both are in the Taraxacum genus.

Unlike some other wild ones, there are no poisonous look-alikes for dandelions. There are the tall, branched yellow-flowered wild lettuces, that many mistake for dandelions. They aren't. But they won't kill you, either. They just are really really bitter. It's the latex stuff in the milky sap. Don't eat them.

So when you see those tall multi-branched "dandelions" - they aren't real dandelions. That has been a long-standing argument among some folks. Now you are among the enlightened!

A cute little story from Wildman Steve Brill:

"Most gardeners detest them, but the more you try to weed them up, the faster they grow.
The taproot is deep, twisted, and brittle.
Unless you remove it completely, it will regenerate. If you break off more pieces than you unearth, the dandelion wins.
'What's a dandelion digger for?' a dandelion asked.
'It’s a human invention to help us reproduce,' another dandelion replied.

Some folks make dandelion wine. I can't even begin to imagine what that would taste like. I don't think I want to. I'll take my dandelion straight up. I eat the leaves raw. And the flower petals.

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's a DANDY!

It's a well-known fact: Americans are a sweet/salty oriented society. With attendant health issues. Europeans have long celebrated bitters, with their digestion-enhancing properties.

One plant alone can change the American dynamic: The common dandelion. There are several species of dandelion in the U.S., all are edible.
The meaning of the Latin name for this very familiar plant attests to its nutritional value. Taraxacum offinale means "offical remedy for disorders", referring to the effects of its high vitamin A, calcium and iron content.

Historically, it was used as a spring tonic, much appreciated after a long winter without fresh vegetables. As a spring tonic, it's right up there with nettles, for mineral content and a healthy kick-in-the-blood.
Dandelion root has been used by European herbalists for centuries to treat diabetes and liver diseases, and as a diuretic and laxative.
The leaves are, to our American taste, bitter. That is due to the tannins. And our corrupted taste buds. The young leaves are tasty in salads, and even steamed as a green. Dried, the leaves (and whole plant, for that matter), make a nutritious and medicinal tea.
The flower heads, harvested in the spring and early summer, make a superb batter-fried fritter.

Dandelions are alien to America; they did not originate in this country and are now considered weeds. One scenario has the European settlers bringing them along to provide a longer-lasting source of flowers for their bee colonies, for which dandelions are still valuable today. They are so prevalent and bloom so long that they help sustain honeybees between bloomings of the more coveted but less prolific flowers, such as apple trees.

We could save ourselves a lot of money, and improve our health in the process, by training ourselves to take advantage of the unfamiliar but valuable green pharmacy that surrounds us.

So here's the challenge: eat 3 raw dandelion leaves every day, for 30 days. NOTE: be sure they have NOT BEEN SPRAYED. Start with small ones if the bitterness is distasteful. You may soon be surprised to find yourself craving more, and graduate to the larger leaves. Your tastebuds will develop a tolerance for the bitter, your tummy will sing your praises, and your view of weeding may take a dramatic change. Think of the money saved on poisonous sprays and the attendant evils...

We'll be exploring dandelion's virtues, along with some medicinal and kitchen recipes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Red clover, red clover, come on over...

Even if you are new to wildcrafting (harvesting wild edibles), or lack a knowlegable person to take a walk with you, you can feel pretty confident identifying and using Red clover (Trifolium pratense). It is common in fields, waysides, and probably your lawn. The reddish rounded flower head has long been a source of many a childhood "honey feast". Remember nipping off the ends of each floweret and letting the tiny drop of nectar enchant your tongue?

The groups of three leaves, with the lighter v-shaped 'chevron' on each leaf, is distinct. The smaller white clover has the same pattern, but the white-tinged-with-pink flower color is totally different. Often found growing together, the red clover towers over it's sweet little neighbor.

The open flower heads are easily harvested. Just pop them off the stem, discarding the first leaves under the sepal if you want only the flower. Use only the freshly opened flowers, the brown heads have lost their good stuff.

It takes a little time to fill a bowl, but oh, what bliss to be outdoors on a sunny day, walking slowly from flower to flower, drinking in the fragrant air!

Harvesting red clover blossoms is a perfect opportunity to include a child on your walk. Easy to identify and fun to pluck, the clover welcomes them to the world of wildcrafting.

Be prepared for some interesting conversation...bees, butterflies and GRASSHOPPERS are always found in clover patches!

Wildcrafting is a joyous, calming connection with nature.

When your container is full, there are several ways to use and preserve this sweet kiss.

Drying the flower heads can be as simple as spreading them on a sheet and air drying in an undisturbed place. I like to use the dehydrator, mostly for speed of processing. It's a busy time, with daily harvesting of many different plants.

Red clover can be made into a tincture, with many medicinal qualities. The blossoms, fresh or dried, may be made into tea or an infusion. Red clover oinment is skin soothing.

Red clover fritters are on my "try it" list. The blossoms and small leaves are often used in wild salads.

This is prime red clover time - it blooms from late June through September, depending on your climate. When the red-purple blossoms show up in the hay field after the hay is harvested, I start picking and drying. Red clover has so many medical benefits (cough season is waiting in the wings), I don't want to be without it.

Here is a link for some details on Red Clover - apologies for the advertising, but the information is very complete - worth a read:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Housekeeping notes

Have you ever attended a workshop or conference? There are usually "housekeeping" announcements - where the bathrooms are, etc. Things to make the proceedings more comfortable and running smoothly.

I realized there are a few things I keep thinking, "Oh, I should mention that..." - so here are a few passing thoughts:

BEESWAX: I put a link in for a well-recommended company that supplies beeswax, among other useful ingredients. But I realized, the place I have usually picked up my beeswax are the local FARMER'S MARKETS.
Another source is our local beekeeping lady, she has honey and wax at the Farmer's Market, but lives nearby and also sells out of her home. Find a local beekeeper, probably the best price. A good way to track one down is to contact your County Extension office.

BOOKSHELF: You may find the books in your library, check them out to see if they are useful for you. If you want your own copies, shop at my favorite book source: http://www.half.ebay.com/ .

YOUNG LEAVES: A number of the herbs are best for eating using the tender newer leaves. You can encourage them by mowing (if the plants are in your lawn!) then watering. Dandelions and plantain especially do well with this method. Since both become bitter with growth and age, you can keep a good supply of "food underfoot" using this method.

DRYING: If you have some small amounts to dry, try using the micro wave. Layer the herb leaves between paper towels - you can do several layers at a time. Put a cup with water in the microwave along with the paper towel package. Microwave in one minute bursts, checking each time for dryness. Towards the end, you may be down to using 15 second bursts. Let the leaves cool completely, then check for dryness. They should have NO feeling of dampness, be crisp but not brown/burned.

Some places the weather and climate are cooperative enough to dry bundles of herbs, or leaves on screens, outdoors. Just be sure they are not in direct sun, and provide a cheesecloth cover if on screens - keeps the bugs at bay. A garage or outbuilding can work, also. Hanging bundles can be bagged from the bottom with papersacks, protecting from dust and catching any leaves that drop off as they dry.

Another method is to put the herbs in paper bags, and refrigerate them. It will take about 3-7 days depending on the herb, just keep checking. This worked really well with dill.
If your fridge is crammed, obviously this isn't your method of choice!

WILDCRAFTING: this means you probably don't have all your desired herbs growing in the garden, and must look farther. Be sure to get permission if the object of your desire is on private property. Parks MAY be a resource, check for permission and spraying policy. Find some local organic farmers (Extension Office, Farmer's Market are good places to start) and see if they need help controlling "weeds" - some may be the very ones you are looking for! A wildlife refuge may be a resource, also. Again, talk to the head honcho, for permission and spraying policies.

DO NOT harvest along roadsides - it's tempting, to see the chamomile, chickory, lilies, etc. just going to waste in the ditches and along the shoulders of the roads. But they will be contaminated with gas fumes, dust, and more than likely the passing bird or dog!

Look for deserted fields, lanes along tree farms and between farmer's fields and even your neighbor's unkempt back yard.

They are out there - just waiting to be put to the use they were meant for!

As you come across resources and ideas, please share them with us - email me or leave a comment. Adventures are more fun, shared with friends!

Plantain on the menu

Ok, we've learned a bit about Plantain's medicinal value, maybe put it to use as a fairy bandaid, or even put it in a jar of oil for future use in a healing salve. (Incidentally, that quart of plantain oil is worth $126 on one site I checked out!)

It always surprises people that this lowly "weed" is so helpful and healing. They are even more surprised to find out they can eat it as a veggie!

The best odds of enjoying Plantain as an edible is to harvest young tender leaves. In the spring that's not too difficult. But as summer moves along, the plant matures, and the larger leaves become rather tough, and somewhat bitter in taste. So just use the younger leaves, emerging from the center.

These leaves can be cooked, or used raw in salads. Heat does destroy some of the antibacterial properties of the plant, but many nutrients remain active. Plantain is very high in beta carotene (A) and calcium. It also provides ascorbic acid (C), and vitamin K.

I usually recommend a first encounter with eating herbs be as a tea. You can make it weak or strong, sweeten or not, mix with another tea you already enjoy - just play with it.

Leaf infusion: Place 2-4 tbsp of fresh plantain leaf, half if dried, in a warmed glass container. Bring 2 1/2 c of fresh, non-chlorinated water to the boiling point, add it to the herbs. Cover. Steep five to seven minutes. Drink warm or cold throughout the day, up to three cups per day. The prepared tea will store for about two days in the refrigerator in a sealed jar.

If you are feeling braver, try fresh tender leaves in a salad. Here's a suggestion:

Pretty Plantain salad

Toss about 5 cups of washed young plantain leaves (rough chopped) with one sliced tomato and one large cubed avocado. If you like basil, throw in a couple leaves chiffonade. Make a simple vinegrette of 4 T. red wine vinegar, 2 T. oil (avocado oil is nice!), 1 tsp. honey. Pour over salad, dust with a couple grinds of fresh black pepper.

Pretty tasty, eh? Now you are ready for a simple side dish:

Cheddar Cheese Plantain

Boil about 5 cups of young plantain leaves (if using older leaves, may have to be boiled through several changes of water) Test for tenderness and flavor as they cook, they shouldn't be bitter. Young leaves should only need one change of water.
Make a cheese sauce: In small saucepan, melt 1 T. butter. Whisk in 1 T. flour, over low heat, until smooth. Still whisking, stir in 1 c. chicken broth, turning the heat to medium high. When the mixture is smooth and bubbling, stir in 1 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (you can use less cheese if you use a good sharp cheddar... )
Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked plantain leaves, dust with fresh ground pepper.

Plantain can be used in place of spinach, in most recipes. Just make sure the leaves are young!

This lowly but powerful plant should have a few square feet of it's own in every yard or garden. It has been speculated that it could be the first "weed" to come under cultivation in a survival situation.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Making Plantain Oil - and salve

Did you find your Plantain? If need be, give the leaves a rinse, then pat dry. I'm lucky to have it abundantly in the yard and lane to the back 40, where it is totally uncontaminated.
I don't know how much to tell you to gather, it depends on your jar size.
To make your own plantain oil: chop the leaves coarsely, fill your jar (don't tamp it down, just dump it in), and cover with olive oil, leaving about 1/2" headspace. Cover with a piece of paper towel and jar ring.

PUT A LABEL ON THAT JAR: plant, type of oil, date made, and date due to be strained.

Let it steep for about 6 weeks. I like to leave it out on the counter, because it needs to be stirred - a bamboo skewer works great - daily for about 10 days to release any air bubbles that form. It will begin to smell like pepperoni - honest. It's not spoiling, it's OK. Leave it lidded with paper toweling until the odor dissipates. Then it can be lidded with a regular solid lid.

At the end of about 6 weeks, you can strain the oil through several layers of cheesecloth, then store the completed plantain oil in a lidded jar. Make sure the jar is labeled!

This healing oil can be used plain on rashes, scrapes, bug bites and stings. It is safe for animals and children.

It can be made into a salve by itself, or combined with other healing oils and beeswax, to make a truly wonderful healing salve.

One cup of warmed oil (total: plain or mixed with other herb oils), one ounce melted beeswax in a glass cup (ie measuring cup) - that's a little less than 2 tablespoons. Keep the container warm in a pot of hot water while stirring in the beeswax, it's easier. Then stir in one teaspoon therapeutic grade lavender oil. Immediately pour into waiting containers. How simple is that?!

(A NOTE ON BEESWAX: Find a lidded jar that holds about a cup. If you melt your beeswax in that jar (in a pot of hot water on the stove - never over direct heat, it is flammable), you can measure out what you need, then leave the rest to cool and re-harden in the jar, put the lid on to keep dust out, and just keep using the same jar. Trust me, it's easier than trying to clean hard beeswax out of a measuring cup every time you melt some!)

Best of all: THIS STUFF WORKS!! I keep a small tin in my tote bag, and in my medicine bag. There's also a jar by the bandaids, for the punks to grab when they need to do repairs.

More on other ways to use plantain coming.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Medicine leaf...

My gardening neighbor is a good example of how learning the positive use of a wild child can be life-changing. I had already harvested a bunch of Plantain from her yard and field, and she had actually helped pick it, shaking her head the whole time. So when a nettle I was harvesting flopped over and gave me a little sting on the arm I said "Now I need a Plantain!" Jolene knew what to grab, and quickly found one (they are always near nettles - see how that works?!).I chewed a piece of leaf for a moment then put the wad on the nettle sting, and went on cutting. I didn't say anything, and neither did she.Then a few days ago, she told me, "Say, that Plantain really works! I put it on a bee sting when we were out loading hay, and it stopped hurting immediately!" So now she has some plantain soaking in a jar with olive oil, to use on owies and skin rashes - works on animals, too!

Here is a link to some detailed information on Plantain - some history, it's action, what it can be used for medicinally, and a couple of recipes for medicinal use - a tea, and a salve. It's more useful for you to read the information firsthand than to have me try to paraphrase it. A lot of information, but a quick read. You might even want to save it in a file to refer to as needed.

Plantain tea is more medicinal than casual. Don't let that keep you from trying it. It has a mild "green" flavor:
For colds and flu use 1 tbls. dry or fresh whole Plantain (seed, root, and leaves) to 1 cup boiling water, steep 10 min. strain, sweeten. Drink through the day.

After browsing the above website, it's plain to see how Plantain earned the moniker of "Medicine Leaf"!

Next: making Plantain oil. You'll need that olive oil, and a jar with a lid, and of course, some Plantain.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why forage?

Here's a list of reasons, in no particular order, to head out with our scissors and gathering basket:

*free food

*connect with nature seasonally


*local consumer

*natural, chemical free

*it's in our blood

*connect with friends - develop new relationships

*self-sufficient, satisfying

*the plants are nutrient-dense


*saves water

*reduce use of fossil fuel

*reduce invasive plants

*retain native species


*utilitarian uses (clothing, tools, shelter)

*encourage organic farmers (harvest their "weeds" for them)

Each is a point to ponder. Rather than spell them out, I'd like you to take a few minutes to let them percolate through your mind - and share your thoughts with us if you want.

I'm betting there are more reasons out there. My number one?


Pondering PLANTAIN

Our first plant to get acquainted with is PLANTAIN. Not the banana. The one that Montasano would like you to use their products on. First we'll find out how to recognize it. Then we'll look at it's medicinal uses and why it works, and then on to edible goodies and some recipes.

Usually overlooked, stepped over, maligned as a "weed" and often eradicated, PLANTAIN is a wild child everyone should get to know. A fellow plant-person just told me her grandmother called plantain "medicine leaf" - and so it is!

Recognize this? Common plantain ( Plantago major; also known as Broad Leaf, or Round Leaf Plantain) with a rounded leaf, and "English" plantain (Plantago lanceolata; also known as Lance-leaf Plantain, or Rib-wort), with a long narrow leaf, both have thickish smooth-topped leaves with prominant veins. The "strings" from larger leaves were reportedly used for suturing way back when on the frontier...
It is neighborly with dandelions, they do well in the same lawns. Which is frowned upon by the Lawn Police. Plantain also shows up as one of the first plants in disturbed soil, and where there are sidewalks or other concrete with cracks there will usually be some plantain. It's most often referred to as "that weed"...

Common plantain has seed stalks that are tall and slender, covered with tiny seeds that darken as they ripen. Lance-leaf plantain has a tall slender stalk that has only about an inch of seeds right at the tip. Looks like a lion's tail. The seeds can be harvested and used, more on them in the cooking section.

Here's your homework: go find some plantain. So you can come play with me!

Getting started: in the beginning

There are a few basic supplies for our herbal adventures. You may just enjoy being able to take a walk and recognize what you see, maybe take some pictures. Or, you may get so excited about this bountiful green world that you actually want to be partners with it. I hope so! Here's the check-list:

Useful things to have if you are going out foraging with me:
*gloves, ie gardening gloves
*grocery bags - both paper and plastic
*bowls, boxes, or baskets - about 12" diameter is good, easy to carry
*identification book is a good idea - commonly referred to as a "field book", being smaller and easy to slip into your pocket or tote; check your library, for books specific to your area; I'll be adding some titles in THE BOOKSHELF sidebar as we go along.
If you are a little hesitant about your ID skills, and have a friend who is knowledgable of herb/plant ID, invite them for a walk - they'll love the opportunity to get out and about, and can help you learn.

NOTE: SAFETY FIRST! Do not harvest or use a plant unless you are 100% sure of it's identification. PERIOD.

Once you return to the house, it is useful, but not a deal breaker, to have a dehydrator. Saves a lot of time. Otherwise, ovens and microwaves can work, also air drying if your climate isn't too humid. Ours generally is, during the summer.
You also will use a good sharp knife for chopping, with a cutting board.
My food processor, with the cutting blade, is my right hand when prepping herbs for steeping.

Round up a few glass pint or quart canning-type jars (mayo jars are fine, we won't be heating them up) with lids and rings. Used jelly, spaghetti sauce, pickle jars, etc., with their lids, are dandy. I am a strong advocate of recyle and repurpose!
Then go check your pantry for some olive oil. I buy it by the gallon, at Sam's. While you're in the pantry, do you have about a gallon of plain apple cider vinegar? Good, we'll be using that, too.

These are all pretty basic kitchen items. So you should be all set to head outdoors now!

Note: Containers for your finished herbal products can range from small lidded tins and jars, lip balm tubes, canning jars of all sizes, and other creative options. Good lids are a must. There are resources we can discuss later when you get that far.

Fairy Bandaids

What's a "fairy bandaid"? , you ask.

Here's a quick "show-and-tell":

The plantain harvesters ran into a few obstacles. Mosquitos bite. Stinging nettles earn their name.


Chew a bit of leaf... then put the wad on the bite. Or sting, as the case may be.

That little chewed-up wad of plantain leaf is called a "fairy bandaid".
It's almost worth letting a skeeter bite you, just to see how fast and efficiently this plant does it's job!

Your new mission: Teach every child (of every age) how to recognize plantain, and how to make a "fairy bandaid" for stings, bug bites, and other small owies!
Not sure just what plantain looks like? Or where to find it? Check in tomorrow, for more plantain!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


This is Mullein. Isn't she beautiful?!! And tall - topping out at 6-8 feet, she could be a model, doncha know!!
I've been so happy to find many of the wild ones I knew in Washington and Oregon thriving here on the farm. Like greeting old friends!

This is Mother Wort. More on her later...

All the wild sisters are so willing and ready to help us live in health and joy. We just need to learn about them, which isn't difficult - just stick to the basics, start with only one or two. It's best if they are near you, that you "live" with them. Of course, if you are a city dweller, you'll have to forage a bit more afield - and be even more diligent about avoiding sprayed plants.

Rather than write a book here, if your interest is piqued, I'm encouraging you to go to the website below and sign in for their free email newsletter. Melissa and Jason have put together information and photos of five "basic" plants in a very readable, not-too-long format, along with uses and recipes. You may recognize some of them, I've been posting at Wisconsin Snapshots on a few recipes I've played with.

We are going to keep our green adventures close to home, with plants that most of us will find in our yard and garden. Since I don't want you to be overwhelmed with information, each plant we explore will be covered in a number of different posts.
Starting with plantain, we'll learn how to recognize, harvest, and use each plant. Some of these wild ones are used for food, some medicinally, and frequently one will be a "super herb" and take on several jobs.
I hope you will enjoy visiting EarthHeart, there is lots more to come!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hand in hand

Living close to our natural world is important to me. Indeed, one could say, it keeps me sane.

Yep. It keeps me sane. That's a relative statement, by the way.

I'm very very blessed to live in two distinct habitats: the Northwest, Oregon coast specifically, where I was born and raised, lived most of my married life, and happily get to visit now and again; and Wisconsin, where I am a recent immigrant and very happy farm dweller now.

The two areas have similar latitude - very different climate. So the variety of plant friends in my folder has expanded considerably. I have been able to continue my interest, hobby, avocation, whatever you want to call it, of learning about and using the wild herbs and plants I live with. In the process I am gleaning so many blessings along the way.

This blog is my forum to share my love of herbs, to hopefully educate you, and possibly even to help you learn to use the wild ones for your own health and joy!

Our Heavenly Father has blessed us with a green world for some very specific reasons - and we need to learn what He had in mind. I will be posting frequently on specific plants, what I do with them, and how they bless my life.

In between some of the posts I'm sure the grandpunks will show up from time to time - they are my best "finders" and "seekers" when looking for our plant friends on the farm and in the woods

So let's go exploring and do some foraging...join me on this grand adventure of health, happiness, and pure joy!

PS The flower in the header photo is a wild Spirea. I know someone is going to ask....