Tuesday, July 28, 2009
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
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
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.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Chef J has been patiently waiting for the Red Clover Fritter experiment. So today we picked more red clover flowers...
Chef J enjoyed our experiment, he pronounced them, "Delicious!"
Thursday, July 23, 2009
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.
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
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
Bet you never thought you'd be encouraging dandelions to grow, did you??
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
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.
A cute little story from Wildman Steve Brill:
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.
'It’s a human invention to help us reproduce,' another dandelion replied.
Monday, July 20, 2009
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
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?
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.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
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.
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!
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
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
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
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!
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.
Here's a quick "show-and-tell":
The plantain harvesters ran into a few obstacles. Mosquitos bite. Stinging nettles earn their name.
PLANTAIN TO THE RESCUE!!
Chew a bit of leaf... then put the wad on the bite. Or sting, as the case may be.
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!
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
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!
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.
Monday, July 13, 2009
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....