Litha

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Today is Litha, also called Alban Hefin in the Druid tradition, the day when the sun is at it’s most powerful, riding right through the center of the sky and combing its golden fingers through the trees.

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Everything has reached its peak; the flowers are fully bloomed, the grass is growing tall, and the baby birds of spring have fledged their nests. It’s hard to believe that from this point onward, the days will begin to shorten and we will begin our long journey into the dark part of the year.

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Even if you’re not planning to go full-Druid and put on a white robe and dance around a fire doing complex rituals to celebrate the crowning of the Sun King by the Goddess, take a moment to bask in the glow of summer. (I would totally do the white robe thing if I had one! Or if I knew what I was doing…)

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The solstices are a time to pause and reflect on where we are in the circle of the year, to reconnect with the earth and with ourselves and feel gratitude for what we have. Drink some iced tea on your porch, harvest your herbs, cook a beautiful summer meal. Look around at all the green, drink it in, let your heart expand in the long light of the sun, and enjoy being alive!

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Nettle Spanakopita

Here in the Northeast, it’s been raining a LOT. We’ve had only a few clear days in the past couple of months. The forests are cloaked in an ever-present fog, the trees half-shrouded and bowing under the weight of the clinging mist.

The ferns are especially happy in the rain.

It’s been like a long, intensive training session for people who are thinking of moving to a rain forest.

A native elderberry, sambucus canadensis, soaking up the mist.

After a brief spell of frustration and sadness at not seeing the sun EVER, I decided to just embrace the rain and be outside anyway. The cool, wet forest has is it’s own kind of charm after a while. The leaves shine with water droplets and the whole landscape takes on an ancient, dreamlike quality. It’s easier to melt into the green world. You can feel it humming and drinking and growing, its gratitude for rain.

Water droplets on a jewelweed leaf.

That said, I was really excited when the sun came out one afternoon a couple of weeks ago. Margaret was visiting and we decided to take advantage of the brief moment of clear skies and go out to harvest nettle.

Some clouds still lingering…

The birds and tree frogs were taking advantage of the break in the weather too – everything was singing.

This Grey Tree Frog was singing in a Honeysuckle bush.

The nettles had grown really fast from all the rain – we easily filled up my backpack with the fresh greens.

Luna was so happy to be out in the sun!

We had no plans for dinner that night, so we decided to try making nettle spanakopita. Spanakopita is is essentially leafy greens, cheese, and seasoning wrapped up and baked into phyllo dough triangles. They’re really easy to make and a great way to get in a serving or two of greens. Nettle is especially high in vitamins and minerals – eating them can give you a major energy boost. Plus, they’re really tasty!

I’d seen a few recipes for Spanakopita that used nettle before and we had a pretty good idea of how to make them, so we sort of came up with our own version – they turned out really well, so I decided to share our recipe!

Nettle Spanakopita

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked nettle greens (this is about 6 cups uncooked)

2 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil

12 oz feta cheese

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 can sliced olives (we used black, but I think either green or kalamata would be delicious too!)

1 roll phyllo pastry, thawed

1 tbsp lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F.

After washing the nettle, give it a rough chop. Add it to a pan of boiling water and cook until very tender, about 5 minutes. Strain, and add the nettle to a bowl. Let it cool a bit.

Meanwhile, mince the garlic and saute over medium-high heat in 1 tsp of olive oil until fragrant and slightly browned, about 2 minutes.

Add the garlic, feta, olive oil, lemon juice, olives, salt and pepper to the nettle and mix well.

On a clean surface, lay out a single sheet of phyllo dough, brush lightly with olive oil, and add another sheet on top. Slice the dough into three long rectangles.

Next, add about 1/4 cup of the nettle mixture to a lower corner of the pastry. Fold in repeating triangles all the way to the top of the dough, then seal with a little more oil. Repeat until all the filling is used up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Place triangles on a lined baking sheet and cook for 15-20 minutes until the phyllo is golden brown.

Let cool slightly and serve. Enjoy!

 

Wild Spring Edibles

The other day, as Ian and I were driving over to the next town, we saw a man wading through the weeds on the side of the road. He stood with his hands on his hips and looked down absently at the greenery around his feet. His clothes were a little dirty, his hair longish and curly. His truck was parked crookedly on the other side of the road. He seemed a bit mental.

“Probably a herbalist. Or a forager,” I said. Because that’s sort of the only two types of people who will abruptly pull over on the side of the road to investigate a plant they thought they saw while speeding past.

Foragers, herbalists and birders are extremely dangerous to drive behind. We’re not really ever looking at the road and we might get excited and make bad decisions.  Spring is the most high-risk, because the plants and birds are just starting to return and everything is so shiny and new.

So be careful out there.

In all seriousness though, I think a lot of people are fascinated by foraging and want to try it, but aren’t sure what to start with. So, I’ve put together a short list of my favorite spring plants. All of these are tasty, nourishing, and easy to find and identify. They’re a great way to try your hand at harvesting your food from the wild.

Who knows, maybe someday it will be you staring at weeds on the side of the road like a psycho.

Before we get started, here’s a quick note about ethical harvesting and not getting poisoned and stuff:

So rule one of foraging is to be sure you have a really really really positive ID on a plant before you even think of eating it. Always take a field guide with you, and if you’re not 100% sure what the plant is, get an expert to confirm it for you. Most plants are pretty friendly, and the ones I’ve put in the list below are safe and easy to identify, but there are a few out there, (like this one and this one), that will kill you in 15 minutes flat. This sounds scary, but please don’t let it stop you. Before you start foraging, just make sure you can identify dangerous plants so you can safely avoid them.

Also, be sure you’re only harvesting from areas where a plant is growing plentifully. The plants in my list are very common and not under threat, but there are several plants that are losing ground (no pun intended, damnit), and need to be left alone. A good rule of thumb is to make sure there are at least five successful plants nearby. Personally, I prefer to make sure there are at least ten, and I only take what I need and know I’m going to use.

So anyway…

Nettle

Stinging Nettle

I feel like I talk about nettle a lot, both in this blog and in real life. But I think it deserves the attention. Urtica dioica a is a perennial that grows everywhere in North America. They like moist areas near water and grow in big, spreading families. They have a beautiful bright green color and opposite, toothed compound leaves. The whole plant is covered in tiny hairs that contain formic acid (if you’re not sure what you’re looking at is stinging nettle, just touch it…).

When I first started foraging nettle, I always wore gloves to avoid getting stung, but over time I’ve found that if you ask them nicely and handle them carefully, they won’t sting you. But hey, there’s no shame in wearing gloves while harvesting them if you want to avoid a sting here and there. Thankfully, the formic acid dies away shorty after they’re cut.

Nettles are really high in vitamins, minerals, and even protein. They are much more nourishing than anything you’ll find in the grocery store and taste just as good (if not better). They’re an excellent source of energy.

Nettles are also pretty easy to prep and eat. I find them the most delicious when blanched and sauteed in a little olive oil and sea salt. I’ve also made them into a pesto and dried them to use as a nourishing tea.

Dandelion

A weed, yes, but also a powerful medicine…

People often cast aspersions on Taraxacum oficinale. Some consider it a blight, a stubborn weed they try to eradicate from their lawns. This is really sad, because they are destroying a delicious treasure. This one plant offers a lot, both as a food source and a medicine.

All parts of this widespread perennial are edible. The main flower grows on a smooth stem that shoots up from a basal rosette of toothed leaves (dan de lion comes from the French for tooth of the lion). The roots can be cooked like a vegetable or dried and roasted to be used as a coffee substitute or medicinal decoction. The leaves are delicious in a salad or lightly sauteed in butter. The flower heads can be plucked and added to salads, made into a vinegar, or even brewed in mead or wine.

Medicinally, dandelions are great for the digestion. They can help cleanse the blood and provide support to the liver. They’re a really nice thing to eat in spring to help cleanse after a long winter of heavy foods!

Garlic Mustard

So I’ve done a post before about garlic mustard. It’s considered an invasive, spreading like wildfire wherever it takes hold. But thankfully, it’s a super nutritious plant. I keep it under control in my yard by eating the heck out of it.

Alliaria petiolata is actually a member of the brassicaceae, or cabbage, family. It’s a perennial that grows up into a tall stalk with toothed, alternating leaves. You could think of it as a wild lettuce, really. The leaves have a peppery, slightly bitter taste, and the roots are similar to horseradish. It can be sauteed, tossed in a salad, turned into pesto, used as a pizza topping, thrown into a soup…anything really!

It grows so abundantly and is so tasty and nutritious that you really can’t go wrong. Just snip the green tops, or if you want something a bit more spicy, dig up the whole plant and use the roots, too!

Wild Garlic 

Allium vineale are the chives of the forest…imo, anyway. These guys are the first thing I see (and eat!) in the spring. They poke up through the leaves as soon as it’s warm, dotting the drab surroundings with little sprays of hollow, dark green shoots.

When you pull them up from the ground, they look like mini onions. I trim the green tops and add them to rice, biscuits, salads, dips, or really anything where chives or scallions would be used.

Also, I haven’t tried it, but the bulbs can be pickled and eaten as a nice appetizer.

Wild Violet

Viola papilionacea pop up in little clusters of dark, spade-shaped leaves in spring. By the first week of May (up here in the northeast, anyway) the delicate purple flowers have bloomed.

Both the leaves and flowers are edible and make a great addition to salads. The leaves have a really nice taste, are very cooling and soothing, and are packed with vitamin A. Like dandelion, they make a great blood cleanser.

The leaves can also be dried and then drunk as a tea when you need something demulcent for a sore throat or dry cough.

I’ve used the leaves in my summer salve, too, as they’re great for calming and cooling the skin.

Dead Nettle, Ground Ivy, and Henbit

Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum). Notice the square stem – an identifying characteristic of the mint family.

I’m grouping all of these guys together because I tend to use them in very similar ways. As they are all part of the lamiacea, or mint, family, they’re very aromatic and, well, minty. Not really like a peppermint, exactly, but…well, taste one and you’ll see what I mean!

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
MORE ground ivy!

They can all be added to salads, used as a garnish, or dried and drunk as a refreshing tea. Like pretty much everyone else in the mint family, they’re cooling and clearing – great for congestion and respiratory issues.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Ground ivy, especially, seems to like people, and can usually be found growing in yards and around houses. The others are a bit more wild in my experience, but can also be found even in very suburban places.

SO!

I hope you’ll go out, look for these plants, and enjoy them. Gathering your own food and tasty herbs from the wild is really fun, honestly. Anything you find growing wild will undoubtedly have more nutrients, potency, and life force than produce from the grocery store.

Taking the time to learn even a few plants, taste them, and take them home with you is a great way to connect with the earth and remember all the wonderful gifts she offers us.

Happy spring, and happy foraging!

Nettle Pesto Pasta with Goat Cheese…and Wild Garlic Biscuits!

In one of my past lives, I was a wise old Italian lady who grew herbs and had a lot of rosemary around her house and a mysterious garden and lots of olive trees and everything. I think that’s where my extreme love of pesto, olives, lemons, and rosemary comes from. So…here is another post about pesto (remember the Garlic Mustard Pesto post from liiiike a year ago? No? That’s ok. Here it is).

One of the best things about pesto is you can make it out of almost any fresh, tasty green plant. So, when I saw the first tiiiny little nettle babies coming up last week, I thought OMG, I SHALL PUT YOU IN A PESTO! A wonderful pesto full of nourishing vitamins, minerals, and protein.

Pro-tip: nettles like to have wet feet. Look for them around lakes and marshy areas.

– Me

Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica)

The initial plan was to make the pesto on Easter Sunday and serve it on crackers or crostini as an appetizer. But like many of the plans I make, this did not actually happen. We were cooking so many other things that day that the nettles fell by the wayside and were forgotten…

Until a few days later when I was trying to come up with something for dinner. It was one of those lazy days where I didn’t feel like cooking anything elaborate, so I was like, What is the least amount of effort I can put in here? I decided to make the pesto and just toss it with some pasta. I also threw in some goat cheese I happened to have on hand.

Now, feeling a little more motivated, I decided some biscuits would be really great on the side. I have a ton of wild garlic growing in my front yard, so I decided to go trim some of the green tops and throw them into the mix. They have a taste very similar to chives, so they were a perfect addition to the biscuits!

Wild garlic (Allium vineale), is super tasty. They can be used in place of chives or green onions.

In the end it was a really delicious meal that took minimal effort – perfect for those spring nights when you want to spend more time outside and less time in the kitchen!

Nettle Pesto:

Ingredients:

2 cups roughly chopped nettle

2 cloves of garlic

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup of shredded parmesan cheese

1/2 cup toasted walnuts (or pine nuts)

Salt and pepper to taste.

To make the pesto:

First, blanch the nettles. Add them to boiling water and cook for about a minute and a half, then scoop them out into a bowl of cold water. Drain.

This is not a normal pesto-making step, but nettles contain a lot of formic acid than can get you if you touch one of the prickly hairs on the leaf or stem. Usually, the acid dies away after they’ve been picked, but if you keep them super fresh in the refrigerator, they might still have a little sting. A quick hot water bath takes care of that.

Next, add the nettles to a food processor with the toasted walnuts, garlic, and grated cheese. Pulse to combine. Add the cheese and pulse again.

With the food processor running on low, slowly drizzle in the oil until everything is combined.

Ta-da! Pesto done.

Now just cook the pasta according to instructions and toss with the pesto and about 4 oz of soft goat cheese. Simple and sooo tasty!

Wild Garlic Biscuits:

Ingredients: 

2 cups whole wheat flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/4 cup chopped wild garlic greens

6 tbsp butter*

3/4 cup buttermilk**

To Make the biscuits:

Heat over to 425. Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes and work it into the flour mixture, using your hands or a pastry cutter, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the wild garlic greens.

Next, make a well in the center of the mixture and add the buttermilk. Mix everything together until you have a sticky dough, then drop by large spoonfuls onto a foil lined baking sheet and drizzle with a little melted butter. Bake in oven for about ten minutes, or until tops are golden. Serve warm with butter.

*A butter substitute like earth balance works in place of real butter.

**To make a dairy free buttermilk, simply combine plain almond or soy milk with lemon juice (1 tbsp juice to 1 cup milk) and let sit for ten minutes before using.

Root Medicine – Barberry

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Barberry (berberis vulgaris) roots.

Why hello.

I haven’t posted in a long time. Things have been busy. It was an election year. The holidays. Etc.

But now I’m back and (mostly) recovered, so let’s talk about BARBERRY! Specifically, the Japanese Barberry which is taking over our lands here in north America, and especially on the east coast. Like garlic mustard, it’s kind of a bully plant; it pushes natives out and generally creates a hostile work environment for them with it’s imposing personality, prickly branches, and tendency to add cinnamon to the office coffee pot even though certain people have complained about this many times.

A barberry bush in fall.
A barberry bush in fall.
A barberry berry. Lots of vitamin C, but I think the taste is kind of meh.
A barberry berry. Lots of vitamin C, but I think the taste is kind of meh. I do like the leaves though, they have a nice citrusy flavor. One time I was in the woods for like 8 hours, barefoot, with no water and super thirsty, so I ate some barberry leaves and they really made me feel way better. Sometimes my life is weird.

Like many oft-maligned invasives, barberry has something valuable to offer when we look more deeply at it.

If you peel back the outer layer of it’s bark, you’ll see the bright yellow-gold insides of barberry. The vivid color comes from an alkaloid called berberine. 

If berberine were captured in a Martha Stewart paint color I bet it would be called Sun Gold. Oooh I would buy that!
If berberine were captured in a Martha Stewart paint color I bet it would be called Sun Gold. Oooh I would buy that!

So what’s the deal with berberine? (Aside from being an excellent dye. Seriously my hands were yellow for days.)

Well my darlings, I’ll tell you. It may provide an answer to the growing problem of antibiotic resistant infections, such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus). Without getting too technical, berberine may be able to force MRSA to respond to antibiotics. So, it’s very possible it could be used in concurrence with antibiotics on infections that just aren’t responding to treatment. To which I say OH THANK GOD!

Berberine is also found in oregon grape root, goldenseal and goldenthread. These plants are often referred to as “natural antibiotics”. To a certain extent this is true, but it’s a little bit of an oversimplification. While they do have significant antimicrobial properties and are used to treat infection, thinking of them as just straight antibiotics might mean you miss the bigger picture of what these plants can do.

So let’s talk a bit more about barberry as a whole plant. The root, the part used most often to make medicine, is cooling, drying, astringent and bitter. According to Matthew Wood, people with damp, warm, stagnant conditions may respond best to barberry.

Overall I would say that it is clearing and purifying. It gets the juices flowing, if you will. It increases bile production, clears the liver, cleanses the blood, and aids in digestion. I’ve also read that it can be effective in clearing up minor infections in the bladder, kidneys, and urinary tract. In my own personal experience, the tincture helped me with a troublesome, intense stomach ache. It also made me really hungry. I think it really kickstarted my digestion after literally weeks of stuffing my face with sugary, carby, super fatty Christmas foods.

Thankfully, I haven’t had the chance to test it on any infections.

Ok, so how do we make medicine with this plant?

You could do a bark decoction and drink it, and that’d work great, I’m sure. But barberry is seriously bitter, so I decided to go straight to a tincture (which is still really bitter, but you don’t have to take as much at once. You can take it straight if you’re a badass like me, or you can be lame and mask the taste with a nice fruit juice if you want).

I have a few barberry plants in my yard, including a big family of them down near the end of my driveway. The best time to harvest barberry (or any root) is late in the fall, when the plant goes to sleep for the winter and all it’s energy and medicine return to the roots. So I waited. And Stalked. And waited. And then when they were asleep…I asked them nicely if I could use some of their roots to make medicine.

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Just cut…

I dug a big piece of root and part of a lower branch, took them to the house and rinsed the dirt off of them. Note: use super cold water for this – berberine is water soluble and warm water will leech away some of the medicine faster.

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And after a nice washing!

Next, I carefully shaved the roots into little slices and filled a mason jar with them. I covered them with a mixture of 50% 80 proof vodka and 50% Everclear to really make sure I got everything I could out of the bark.

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Success! Already turning a nice golden color.
Success! Already turning a nice golden color.

After six weeks, strain, bottle and label.

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I think you only need a few drops at a time (I take small doses of about 5 drops), but up to 30 should be fine. Of course, this really depends on the condition being addressed, as well as your constitution, tolerance, etc.

Barberry is a really wonderful and incredibly valuable plant. And the best part is, unlike oregon grape, goldenthread, and especially goldenseal, barberry is readily available and in no danger of dying out from high-demand and irresponsible harvesting. So we should use it instead whenever we can!

In conclusion, that prickly asshole of a bush that snags your pants and rips your jacket when you’re walking through the woods or trying to clean up your yard is actually a pretty nice gift from nature and an great plant ally to have.

Note: I’m not a doctor! I’m really just sharing what I know, and I’m still learning. Definitely ask a doctor and do your own research if you have concerns about trying out any herbal remedies!

References and further reading:

The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants by Matthew Wood

The Way of Herbs by Michael Tierra

Oregon Grape Herb by Rosalee de la Foret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mabon Blessings

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Mabon, or Alban Elfed in the Druid tradition, is a time of balance. The equinox, when day equals night. Tomorrow begins the earth’s slow transition into the darkness of winter.

Today is a day for thankfulness; the harvest is in, and as we prepare for the days to grow longer and colder we reflect on the fruitfulness and abundance of summer.

Blessings to you on this day of balance and gratitude. Take time to reflect on the good things you have received, and to look forward to a new season.

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A small offering of herbs – gratitude for a successful season of foraging and medicine making!

 

 

 

Goldenrod

 

goldenrod

 

A couple of weeks ago, I was having sort of a rough time. It was one of those weeks where things aren’t going right and the future seems uncertain, where you just question your path and every decision you ever made, you know? Ok, that’s really dramatic, but you get it.

So, I forced myself to get outside and headed to my favorite place to forage, a beautiful open space of mixed wetlands and meadow.

About halfway down the path that circles the meadow, I looked up to my right, and as far as the eye could see there were giant, sunny, bobbing heads of goldenrod swaying happily in the breeze. They were at the absolute peak of blooming. The sight of them snapped me right out of my negative thoughts, and filled me with gratitude for being alive. All the concerns I’d been ruminating over seemed suddenly irrelevant and distant.

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There are around 100 different species of goldenrod! This one is Solidago canadensis.

I harvested as many of the sweet-scented plants as I could fit in my backpack and finished my hike feeling a milllion times better about life.

Luna was chillin amidst the mugwort while I got the goldenrod.
Luna was chillin amidst the mugwort and enjoying all the sunlight.

By now you might be thinking, wtf, doesn’t goldenrod cause terrible allergies? Shouldn’t you stay away from it? It’s the plant that makes your eyes water and itch and you’re just sneezing everywhere and coughing and stuff, right?

That...is a LIE. (If you don't get this reference...I can't help you.)
Goldenrod is bad and you will sneeze? That…is a LIE. (If you don’t get this reference…I can’t help you.)

It’s not true I tell you!

The plant that causes many hayfever/fall allergies is RAGWEED (which like, don’t hate ragweed, it’s a pretty cool plant, but another time for that…).

Ragweed has really potent pollen that is easily carried on the breeze… and straight up your tiny, defenseless nostrils.

Goldenrod, on the other hand, is pollinated by insects – its pollen is too sticky to be carried on the breeze, so the likelihood of it causing a reaction is probably slim. It just gets blamed because it usually happens to grow right near allergy-inducing plants. So at some point, somebody was probably standing around in a field and started sneezing and saw the goldenrod and said IT’S THAT ONE, IT’S THAT PLANT THERE!

Goldenrod, thou hast been greatly slandered. But this beetle still like you though.
Goldenrod, thou hast been greatly slandered. But this beetle still likes you though.

And so, sadly, people have been casting aspersions on goldenrod ever since.

The truth is, goldenrod is used as a natural antidote to seasonal allergies. Funny, right? (This is typical in the plant world; you can usually find the antidote to a plant within 20 feet of it. Nature might be a harsh, scary mistress who will often try to kill you by throwing you down mountains and shit, but sometimes she also has your back.)

Matthew Wood says that goldenrod is effective against cat allergies in particular. I would really like to test this theory! Someone pass me a kitten!

What, no one has a kitten on hand? Well why the hell not? This is unacceptable.

Sigh.

This is what Gerard, acclaimed medieval herbalist/bff to VIP Lords and Ladies, had to say about goldenrod:

It is extolled above all other herbes for the stopping of bloud in bleeding wounds; and hath in times past beene had in greater estimation and regard than in these daies: for in my rememberance I have known the dry herbe which came from beyond the sea sold in Bucklerbury in London for half a crowne an ounce.

-Gerard’s Herball (1597)

Indeed, Gerard, indeed. Along with yarrow, goldenrod was an extremely valuable herb on the battlefield during the middle ages. Matthew Wood says that the Saracens were so fond of it that it was once called Consolidae saraciniae (Saracen healer, roughly translated). My guess is that they used it to clean and poultice wounds, and maybe even ground up the dried plants as a styptic powder.

Goldenrod is also a great ally for the kidneys, improving their function, keeping them healthy and clearing up many different ailments and minor infections/inflammation. For example, it has antiseptic, astringent properties that are helpful in clearing up urinary tract infections. It’s also sometimes used in the treatment of kidney stones.

Goldenrod oil is also said to be excellent for stiff and sore/injured muscles. I’ll have to test this out when my oil is finished brewing…

What else? Goldenrod has so many virtues…digestive aid, cold and flu soother, antifungal…in other words, just good to have around. I can confirm that a cup of goldenrod tea (especially if it’s fresh!) really seems to help with a bad mood. Some herbalists use it to fend off winter sadness, which makes sense to me – such a sunny plant is bound to cheer you up in the dark of winter. Plus, it’s really high in antioxidants!

Fresh goldenrod tea - so sweet you don't even need honey.
Fresh goldenrod tea – so sweet you don’t even need honey, imo.

Anyway, when I got home from foraging I used that magic goldenrod to mix up all sorts of things; honey, vinegar, elixir, tincture, teas.

Goldenrod tincture, honey, vinegar, elixir, and tea!
Goldenrod tincture, honey, vinegar, elixir, and tea!

I’ve covered how to make a basic tincture here. Making herbal honey (great for sore throats!), vinegar (salad dressing!) or oil is the same concept; just fill the jar around 3/4 full of fresh herb (1/2 full dry), cover with honey, vinegar (raw apple cider vinegar is the best) or oil, and let sit at least six weeks (maybe even longer for honey…mmm…), flipping the jar occasionally.

As for elixir, I made it two ways. For one, I mixed honey and brandy (about 1/4 honey and 3/4 brandy, but you can play with ratios).

For the other, I mixed vodka and vegetable glycerine (veggie glycerine extracts herbal properties, much like honey, alcohol and oil…I thought it might take the edge off a vodka tincture and I’m curious how it will taste! I used a ratio of about 1/4 glycerine to 3/4 vodka).

For tea, well…all you do there is hang the herb to dry, then chop up and store in brown paper bags.

Drying goldenrod.
Drying goldenrod.

I hope everyone will give goldenrod a try! It’s a delicious, uplifting remedy that grows all around us. img_20160902_130927

References:

The Book of Herbal Wisdom; Using Plants as Medicine by Matthew Wood

Leaves from Gerard’s Herbal by Michael Woodward

White Pine Vinegar

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Hey peeps.

So a few days ago, during an evening walk, I came across a stand of beautiful white pine trees. Ian watched in semi-horror as I pulled a few needles off the tree and began to chew them.

What?? They taste really good! Go try it right now. RIGHT NOW.

See? They’re good.

Super astringent (they’ll make your mouth pucker and dry out like crazy), but they are packed with vitamin C. Ian eventually tried it and sort of I think liked them a little bit maybe. Whatever, I think they’re great.

But guess what’s EVEN BETTER than eating raw pine needles? Making a vinegar from them!! ‘Tis simple to do, and the finished product tastes quite a lot like balsamic vinegar (except more fresh and piney and exciting…like a balsamic that grew up in the mountains and had lots of adventures and a pet eagle and that kind of stuff).

Here are the super complicated instructions for making it:

1. FIND A WHITE PINE.

Behold what I have gathered.
Behold what I have gathered.

2. Stuff a jar full of the needles

So stabby and fragrant.
So stabby and fragrant.

3. Fill the jar with a good organic apple cider vinegar (be sure to cover the needles)

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4. Cap. Use a plastic lid, as the vinegar will erode metal. If you don’t have a fancy plastic mason jar lid, just put a sheet of wax paper under the lid/around the rim and cap.

Pro tip: holding up your jar triumphantly will make the vinegar taste better.
Pro tip: holding up your jar triumphantly will make the vinegar taste better.

5. Label the jar and tuck it lovingly into a cool, dark place. Check it once in a while – just give it a quick shake and make sure all the needles are still covered.

6. After six weeks, strain out the needles and bottle the vinegar. I save old salad dressing bottles and put my home made vinegars in them, ’cause I’m classy like that.

7. ENJOY!! The vinegar makes an awesome, simple dressing for salads, especially when mixed with olive oil. Mmmm.

 

The Parable of the Man on the Train

Recently, I met a mean person (actually, I had to spend the day with her…but that’s another story for another time).This person was lashing out at the drop of a hat and using hurtful and unnecessary language to hurt people’s feelings. Her actions cast a wide net of bad energy over everyone and everything that happened that day. She even made someone cry. Admittedly, this was an extreme case – most people are not that prone to anger over minor things. Or to act on it, either.

But the whole experience got me thinking more about compassion and the way we treat other humans. Most especially, it got me thinking about a story I heard a long time ago.

Oddly enough, this tale was told to me by the HR manager at one of my old jobs. It was during one of those boring conferences about workplace ethics. We were all bored, shooting each other sidelong looks to convey how much we wanted the session to end so we could get back to our desks/eat lunch/gossip in the kitchen. But when the manager began to tell this story, we started to pay attention. It really, really stuck out and got people listening and thinking. It’s been with me ever since, and always makes me think twice about how I approach a person who is upsetting me. And how I interact with people in general.

So, I thought I’d pass it along.

The Parable of the Man on the Train

One evening on the train, there was a father with three unruly young children. They were running up and down, yelling and laughing, and generally creating the distracting, annoying spectacle that little children are apt to make. Their father didn’t seem to care or notice that they were causing a disturbance, and did nothing to stop them.

An older woman near the back of the train was clearly simmering with annoyance that this stupid, inconsiderate person was letting his children run wild. How could he be so thoughtless? Didn’t she deserve a relaxing ride home after work? These kids were ruining her quiet time! Finally, she stood up, put her hands on her hips, and marched straight over to the man, her face flushed with anger. 

“What the hell is wrong with you?!” she yelled loudly, “Can’t you control your children? Don’t you care that they’re acting like animals and annoying everyone on this car? What kind of a father are you? Your children are going to grow up to be undisciplined brats!”

The man’s shoulders slumped and he began to cry, and then weep, into his hands. Finally he looked up. His eyes were empty and sad. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. Their mother died this morning. I still haven’t told them. I don’t know how.”

Ashamed at how she had lashed out, the woman didn’t know what to say.

Damn, right?

Think about what you say to people and how you treat them. We’re all human. We all have baggage and shit going on and insecurities and dreams and fears. You never know what another person has been through, or is going through, or why they are acting the way they are.

Before letting your anger loose on someone, stop and think about whether or not it’s really warranted. Should you really be angry, or is this a minor thing you can address calmly, or even just let go of? Will it really cost you more to be kind than it will to be harsh and mean?

Will yelling help the situation, or will it make everyone involved feel even more upset? Could you instead confront the situation with a compassionate mind and heart?

For example, the woman on the train could have approached that man calmly and let him know the disturbance his children were causing. She also might have noticed from his body language that he was upset and asked him if he was all right, but she was too busy thinking about herself and how offended she was. Instead of breaking him down into tears, she could have been the kind voice he needed to hear.

So all I’m saying is: the world can be a tough place, full of sadness and disappointment and fear. Let’s make it better by not being shitty to each other.

buddha

 

 

Summer Salve

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‘Tis the season. The season of running recklessly through the woods and lounging around outside on your porch.

These are fun things.

It is also the season of poison ivy and bug bites and bee stings.

These are not fun things.

Recently, Margaret had a serious case of poison ivy. It was all up her legs and arms – the worst. Her eyes were twitching from insanity. Nothing would make the itching stop. She tried baking soda, apple cider vinegar, commercially available super creams. And yet, the torment continued. I had gotten a small patch of PI myself, and although it was nothing compared to what M was dealing with, it was driving me nuts.

Thankfully, mother earth has given us some wonderful remedies for the ills of summer; jewelweed, plantain, violet, and mint. All of these are soothing, healing plants that can really take out the itch, or sting, that’s driving us crazy.

So I decided to pick all these nice wild plants (including some of my little domesticated catnip) and make a healing salve from them. And…it worked! Within a few minutes of putting it on, I didn’t want to rip my eyes out anymore from the itching! And M didn’t look like she was going to snap and murder the next person who spoke to her!

And thus was born the Summer Salve!!

AND THERE WAS MUCH REJOICING!!

Side note: I would still suggest cleansing the poison ivy rash with witch hazel (or apple cider vinegar) about once a day (or more if you feel inclined), as the astringent will keep the area clean and help to stop drainage.

Although I haven’t had occasion to use it for a sting yet, I think the salve should work pretty well – jewelweed should help with itchy bug bites, and plantain is an excellent remedy for bee stings.

Making salve is really easy if you have the right stuff – all you need for a basic salve is a carrier oil (olive, sunflower, grapeseed, sweet almond, jojoba…etc.), herbs, and beeswax. The ratio of beeswax to oil is typically about 1 oz wax to 1 cup oil, but you can play around with these proportions to get different consistencies. You can also mix different oils depending on what you like.

So anyway, here’s how I made the Summer Salve:

Ingredients (makes around 6oz…double this if you think you’ll need more!):

1/4 cup chopped jewelweed

1/8 cup chopped plantain

1/8 cup chopped mixed herbs (catnip, mint, violet leaf)

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup beeswax

Method

All of the plants in the salve are really abundant up here in the northeast – you can probably walk out your door and find all of them. If you really can’t find any mint or violet, don’t worry too much about it; the main actors in this salve are jewelweed (which has an anti-itch effect) and plantain (which has a cooling, drawing effect). So just sub in more jewelweed and plantain if you can’t find the others!

Jewelweed, or Touch-Me-Nots.
Jewelweed, also called Touch-Me-Nots, can really take the itch out. It can have yellow or orange flowers.
Plantain has a drawing, cooling effect.
Plantain has a drawing, cooling effect. Particularly great for drawing the venom out of bee stings and stopping the pain.
Violet leaves are soothing and cooling.
Violet leaves are soothing and cooling.
Peppermint; nice cooling menthol!
Peppermint; nice cooling menthol!
Catnip to make this itch CHILL OUT. Catnip is a bit redundant if adding mint, but I feel like it has a more calming effect in some ways, so I put it in.
Catnip to make the itch CHILL OUT. Catnip is a probably just a bit redundant if adding mint, but I feel like it has a more calming effect in some ways, so I put it in.
Chopping the jewelweed!
Chopping the jewelweed!

Next, pour the olive oil over the herbs.

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If you have a bunch of time to wait for the oil to be ready, check out my post on sun brewed oils. If you need the salve LIKE RIGHT NOW TODAY, just set the jar into a pot of shallow water (or use a double boiler if you have one) and turn on the heat to LOW. Let the herbs infuse in the oil over very low heat for a few hours – I left mine for about 12, but I really think 6-8 is enough.

After the oil has steeped, line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth and strain out the herbs.

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You should be left with a nice, green oil now.

Next, melt the beeswax (use a double boiler, or the ghetto jar-in-water thing that I do).

Not melted....
Not melted….
Super melted!
Super melted!

Add the oils. The beeswax will cool again and turn all weird for a second, so let it melt back down.

Weird.
Weird.

Once everything is all melted again, pour the salve into jars.

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Ta-da! Now you have an awesome, itch and sting fighting Summer Salve!

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