Friday, September 26, 2008

Eating Weeds: How to Keep from Starving

From How to Live on Nothing by Joan Ranson Shortney

I got my copy of this nifty book from a used book seller working with Amazon. I think I paid .08 cents for the book and 4 bucks for shipping. It’s more than worth it! Full of tips and great ideas on living on less, lots less! The copyright is 1968, so a few things are dated, and I wouldn’t use the addresses as sources printed in the book--they’re probably way out of date by now. The first chapter is called “How to Keep from Starving,” and what’s below is excerpted from that. The text is from the book; the links I've supplied, mostly from Wildman Steve Brill's foraging pages and Prodigal Gardens, but other neat foraging pages as well. There’s many webpages for further study if you’re interested in wild edibles, and you should be if you want to eat well!

As the world crashes around us, know that there are foods we can eat for free. Winter will be the hard time, with not that many plants available--but there are always pine needles for vitamin C tea, chickweed can still be found even under the snow, and so on. But for winter you’ll need to store food. That’s what fall is for, so now is the time to be foraging and preparing these wild foods to have them for winter’s cold. Spring brings in a wonderful richness of awakening plant life, packed with all the vitamins and minerals we’ll need then.

(P. 18-22)
How to Eat the Weeds

Below is a list of additional vitamin- and mineral-rich wildings that are free for your picking. Varying only with the region you live in, you can help yourself to a handful from anyone’s garden. People will be glad to get rid of these weeds. Be sure you know what you’re picking. Most plants are safe to eat, but there are a few poisonous plants that resemble edible plants and there are poisonous parts to even old edible familiars, as, for instance, the leaves of rhubarb. You can get books in your library to help you identify the weeds. Don’t rely on the unsupported opinion of a gardener. One’s man’s meat is another man’s poison in this field. I have not included plants that need lengthy treatment to be edible, such as the jack-in-the-pulpit root, which the Indians dried for months before cooking and grinding to flour. It is poisonous when eaten raw. Nor have I included like skunk cabbage, which literally stink and need many vitamin-wasting changes of water to be pleasant. If you wish to eat it on a camping trip, Professor Oliver Perry Medsger in Edible Wild Plants (Macmillan, 1943) will tell you about its preparation. If you find several to your taste in the following list (and sometimes one must cultivate a taste for wildings), by all means explore the field further and broaden your menus. There are many more edible plants that the few I cite. First cook even those I suggest as salad plants. Digestions vary, and even among cultivated vegetables there are plants that some people can eat only cooked and other people can eat only raw. There are also vegetables--both wild and cultivated--which must always be cooked, as in the raw state there are indigestible or toxic ingredients.

GREEN AMARANTH or Pigweed is a weedy relative of red-plumed cockscomb except that pigweed’s plume is green. Eat leaves in spring as salad, later cooked as potherb.

BURDOCK has mature leaves that look like rhubarb’s except that they have a dull finish. (As children, we made baskets of its stickers topped with purple fuzzy flowers.) Burdock is cultivated in Japan for its edible roots. Stems and roots and young flowers stalks can be peeled and steamed. Peeled young stems can be eaten raw in salads. (NB: Use only first year roots, as the second year roots get very woody.)

CRESS, as potherbs or salad greens, including bitter cress, scurvy grass, and the well-known, tremendously vitamin-rich water cress, which should always be eaten raw. (NB: last spring we ate lots of winter cress or creasy greens. Slightly bitter but delicious!)

CHICORY. We’ve told you of the root use of this versatile plant. The basal leaves can be used as salad greens or potherbs. The blanched, second-growth leaves from the root are sold as endive.

CHICKWEED. Use leaves raw for salads or briefly steamed. (See Prodigal Gardens section for more information.)

CATTAIL. Both narrow and broad-leafed varieties are edible. These perennial swamp herbs have ten-foot blunt brown spikes. For spring salad, cut young stems 10 to 12 inches from root and peel off outer skin. Or cook roots, as did the pioneers, or use the starchy root as a meal, ground and dried. It can be added as a root vegetable to stew or boiled with other greens.

CARAWAY. You know the seeds and may have grown the plant in your herb garden. Caraway also grows wild. Young roots, shoots, and tender leaves in late spring can be used to flavor salads. Or use root boiled as vegetable, leaves in spring.

DAYFLOWER. A pretty weed, having three-petaled small blue flowers. Steam leaves in a little water as potherb.

EVENING PRIMROSE. Yellow nocturnally blooming flowers. This plant is cultivated in England for its edible roots, which can be used in stews and soups. In Germany cultivated under the name rampion. Leaves used as a potherb.

GREAT WILLOW HERB OR FIREWEED. Has magenta flowers, long willow-like leaves. Young shoots boiled as asparagus, leaves and young stems as potherbs.

JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE. This plant, with leathery leaves and a yellow flower like a sunflower, yields and edible root with tubers that can be boiled or baked like potatoes.

LAMBQUARTERS. This well-known weed was a favorite of the Indians. Can be eaten raw in salads or later cooked as a green. (We especially love it lightly steamed. It turns an attractive dark green. Mild and delicious, more nutritious than spinach.)

LETTUCE. Both the wild (horseweed) and the prickly are edible. Steam leaves briefly or add to soup.

MALLOW. There are many edible varieties, including cheeses (whose seed pods resemble their name and are edible), high mallow, and whorled or curled mallow. Use leaves and stems as potherbs and young shoots in early spring for salads. Hollyhock is a member of the mallow family and its leaves can be cooked and eaten.

MARSH MARIGOLD, called cowslip. Has heart-shaped leaves and glossy yellow flowers resembling buttercups. Potherbs only, not safe to eat raw. Steam leaves and serve with butter or cream sauce.

MILKWEED. When shoots of common milkweed are a few inches high they can be steamed. Discard first water to remove bitter milky juice. Serve like asparagus. Buds and flowers used by Indians for thickening and flavoring stews and soups. (The link here is to Sam Thayer’s interesting article on milkweed. You can eat lots of different parts of the milkweed, as well as make cordage, and use the milkweed fluff as insulation. Very useful plant.)

MUSTARD. This includes a big family. In addition to wild mustard, there are shepard’s purse, peppergrass, penny cress, and horseradish. Use early leaves for salads or cooked as potherbs. Horseradish root, grated and mixed with vinegar, is a meat accompaniment.

PLANTAIN. I once saw a child picking this most common weed in a city lot. Thinking she was starved for greenery, I was sorry that she had to stoop to plantain for her bouquet. Now, knowing more, I think she may have been told by her mother to collect the dinner vegetable. Steam the leaves briefly or until tender. In China this weed is popular as spring greens.

PURSLANE or Wild Portulaca. Here’s another weed that can be found for sale in Eurpoe and Mexico but that is too often ignored here. This succlent little plant has light-yellow flowers that open briefly on sunny days. Vitamin-rich, the leaves can be used raw in salads or cooked with the fleshy stems as a vegetable or in soup.

SASSAFRAS. This is a tree. Used dried leaves crushed as in Creole cookery for thickening and flavoring soups, fresh young leaves in soups, dried bark of root for a fragrant tea.

SORREL. Mountain or alpine, sheep and wood sorrel may all be used in salads or as potherbs.

THISTLE. Cook tops of Russian and sow thistles when very young; cook roots of elk and Indian thistles. The stinging or great nettle is also edible. Steam the young tops or use them in soups.

End of book excerpt. Well, that's enough food for thought and belly for today. I sincerely hope this information helps you and yours stay alive in tough times.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lambquarters, Plantain and other miscelleanny

"There’s been an almost complete loss of cultural information from generation to generation in a lot of poverty communities. A lot of strategies of their parents and grandparents, the younger generation simply isn’t aware of. Just one example is lamb’s quarters. It grows pretty prolifically in every poor neighborhood on the street and very few people pick them and eat them. And they’re very tasty — I call them Oklahoma spinach. They’re very tasty and a good source of vitamin C and other things that you get in green vegetables, but people just don’t recognize that as food, they think of it as a weed, and so they don’t take advantage of the fact that they can get it for free, basically, just by picking it."

This is a quote from Bob Waldrop, a food activist in Oklahoma City. He works with the Catholic Workers to help feed, house, clothe people. Hen and Harvest has a very interesting interview with him on how food prices and availability are affecting poor people.

Lambsquarters is currently doing its seed thing. As I mentioned in a previous blog, you can harvest the seed, and this week I plan to do just that. The plant produces a large amount of seed--the trick is to use a paper bag to collect the seed, then separate seed and chaff at home by rolling the seed heads gently in your hands. The seed can be cooked into a breakfast cereal or ground into meal and added to other flour. The seeds are highly nutritious and said to be quite tasty. The picture above is what lambquarters looks like about now--check out that seed head!

As Waldrop noted, lambsquarter is prolific and nearly everywhere. But people do not recognize it as food. And they should, and I hope they will, for steamed lambsquarter is absolutely delicious. I've always been a spinach fan, and lambsquarters is better than spinach! It taste is mild, but add some butter and seasoning or pepper sauce or vinegar and you'll have one of the best greens I've ever eaten.

OK, enough preaching about the glories of this plant. If y'all don't want to eat weeds, it leaves more for me and mine!

When we were visiting our Amish friends this Saturday, their youngest son, about a year and a half, grabbed a hornet and found out the hard way why people should not grab hornets. His little hand started swelling right up and he was screaming with the pain. I immediately went out in the barnyard for plantain and picked a bunch of leaves. While Lydia held Chris, Emma, the eldest girl, got some vinegar and wiped his hand with it. I chewed up the plantain and started putting it on his hand. A light cloth was tied around the sting, and gradually Chris settled down. This all took place in about 10 mintues. After then plantain poultice had been on Chris's hand for about 15 minutes, the sting, the pain, and most of the swelling was gone.

When a hornet stung Michael earlier this year, I didn't think of the plantain quickly enough, and his foot stung like hell and swelled up--it stayed swollen for about two weeks! Plantain is a wonder herb for stings, rashes, bug bites, small wounds. Look around you--if you have enough, use some to make an oil or salve for the winter. You'll be glad you did.

Hmmmm. I just read in Just Weeds by Pamela Jones that the Indians gathered plantain leaves for use in the winter, greased them, and wrapped them in bundles. Then, when a leaf was wanted, it was pulled from the bundled and either put on the wound, or wiped off and used in a tea.

An infusion of plantain leaves was used in England as a treatment for ameobic and bacillary dysentery. Take 3 - 4 ounces of the root and leaves, bring to a boil in a pint of water, boil for 5 minutes, then take off heat and allow it to infuse for 10 more minutes. Drink as much of this tea as often as desired. Given that water will have to be carefully filtered in our near future, and no doubt mistakes will be made and dysentery will occur due to bad water or food, knowing about plantain for this common but devastating problem is a real benefit.

My hair has had a difficult summer with lots of hot sun in the garden, and general neglience. Yesterday I decided to condition it. I used the raw shea butter I mentioned earlier. Got my hair wet, and applied the butter directly to my hair, working it into the roots and out to the ends. I was afraid it wouldn't wash out when I was done, but it did, and I couldn't be happier with the conditioning job it did. My hair is soft and shiny and looking good today. I'm glad I found another use for the raw shea butter. The more multi-uses I can find for something, the better.

Another tip, but for ladies only: The best facial mask I've ever used is cream and baking cocoa. Both are very rich in butterfats, and your skin will drink them up. I used this yesterday as I hadn't done any "girl stuff" for ages. I used an egg yolk, heavy cream, and the cocoa. Mix together in a little bowl, then apply to clean skin for about a half-hour. It is great for the skin--the next day it feels as smooth as a baby's bottom, which is saying something for my sun-browned, cranky old skin.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Spicebush: Tasty Tea, Helpful for Colds, Fever

Lindera Benzoin, the Common Spicebush

(Note: Picture to the left copied from the Wikipedia page on Spicebush)

This lovely bush grows throughout the eastern US, from north to south, except for the most northern states. It likes streams, creeks, shaded woods and good soil. The leaves are glossy and green, elliptical with a pointy, stalked end. The leaves, twigs, bark and berries all smell of spice, a sort of lemony-spicy fragrance. The berries taste a bit like allspice, and were used by pioneers as a substitute for the spice.

We have a bunch of these bushes growing back in the marshy woods on a road leading to a small pond. They grow right by the roadside, and it was easy to see the bright berries. I immediately started harvesting berries, twigs and a bagful of the leaves.

The berries I froze: washed the berries, put them on a cookie sheet and put that in the freezer overnight. When I want to use some for a spice or for a tea, I can just take out however much I'll need. The berries have a hard seed in them--you can either chop the berries and remove the seed, or chop the seed up with the berries. When added to recipes, the berries make a nice additional flavor, like a less-strong allspice.

The twigs can be dried and saved for use in tea, or used in an extract. I'll probably use the twigs and some of the leaves and make an extract in case of fever or colds this winter. The rest of the twigs and leaves I'll save for tea. Apparently the leaves lose their flavor when dried, according to Wildman Steve Brill, so these will get used for tea as long as they're still flavorful.

Another common name for spicebush is feverbush. The twigs, leaves and bark when decocted (simmered for 15-30 minutes) make a tea that increases perspiration. If you're feeling sick, sweating is a good way to rid your body of toxins. When I feel ill, I will resort to hot baths (while drinking cold water) or hot diaphoretic teas and usually I'll feel better by the next day. While you can't "sweat out" a fever, anything that helps your body rid itself of toxins is very helpful.

The following is a quote from an article from Grit magazine. The magazine has many interesting articles--so check it out if you're a homesteader or like the rural life. This article by Cindy Murphy is an excellent example of Grit's usual fare.

"During the Civil War, spicebush tea often substituted for coffee when rations ran short. Dried leaves were often used for this purpose, but young branches were also steeped to make a tonic. This spicy beverage had medicinal qualities as well. It was used to reduce fever, to relieve colds and dysentery, and to destroy intestinal parasites. Lindera benzoin is considered a warming herb that improves circulation and increases perspiration rate."

Many critters like the spicebush, from swallowtail butterflies to birds and squirrels, but deer don't care for it. If you are interested in edible landscaping and have room for some spicebushes, you now are aware of some of its uses for humans.

Spicebush is not an edible, but if you find some in the wild, you'll have something very important when you are only eating stored foods such as beans, rice, wheat: a flavorful homegrown spice. Most spices such as cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice etc. come from the far east and may or may not be available come SHTF. So keep it in mind, and take a look around you to see if you have spicebushes in your area.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Raw, Unrefined Shea Butter

Awhile back I was reading one of our favorite magazines, The Backwoodsman, The Magazine for the twenty-first century frontiersman. This is a DYI magazine, lots of articles are written by the readers. There's always an article on woodlore, some simple recipe (once a recipe for Grandaddy's gunpowder), how-to articles on lots of very useful items--anyway, a great magazine. In the July/August 2007 issue was an article on raw shea butter which said that the raw shea butter still had its medicinal and curative properties, unlike refined shea butter. I was intriqued, and wrote to the source given for purchasing the stuff. I bought a pound of this raw nut butter and I've been really pleased with it ever since.

This stuff is great for dry skin, for hands that have been working in a garden all day. It will take away the sting and itch of bug bites (almost as good as plantain salve), it is a good conditioner for hair as well. It can be used for diaper rash, scars, stretch marks, sunburn, small wounds, athletes' foot, treatments of the symptoms of psoriasis and eczema, and so on.

The raw butter is a sort of clay color, taupe or brownish yellowish tan. It smells a bit nutty, and it's texture is like a salve. It is solid, but will liquify on contact with your skin. If the shea butter you have is white or smells floral, then it is refined shea butter and not the natural product.

I really like the stuff. I have used refined shea butter, but I've been reading that cosmetics and fragrances are an area that the FDA doesn't watch carefully if at all. Not that I trust the FDA, but while cosmetics are regulated, fragrances are not--and that means any damn chemical, carcinogenic or otherwise, can be used to create those lovely smells. In an attempt to avoid all that crap--human bodies are NOT made to absorb all these nasty chemicals and we are better off without them--I wanted to try the raw butter.

Here's some good information from an article on raw vs. refined shea butter:

More commonly found in retail outlets, refined shea butter goes through an entirely different production cycle than its natural counterpart. In an effort to speed up the extraction process, increase profits and alter the smell and texture of shea butter, most manufacturers have adopted a refining method which destroys much of the natural integrity of the shea nut. In this process, the seed oil is extracted from the kernels using a highly flammable, gasoline-like chemical known as Hexane, which usually remains in the product in trace amounts.

Side effects from exposure to hexane include dizziness, drowsiness, headache, nausea, weakness, unconsciousness, and abdominal pain. Production by-products containing trace amounts of hexane are commonly sold as animal feed, and excessive amounts of hexane are thought to cause anemia in livestock – transferring to the meat consumers’ purchase. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Hexane compounds are carcinogens and are classed as a hazardous substance. Hexane also poses a serious environmental threat – implicated as a polluter and producer of harmful ozone build-up and air pollution when vented into the atmosphere during the flash-off (burning) cycle of manufacturing.

The side effects and environmental concerns surrounding the use of hexane are serious problems of refined shea butter production, yet other aspects of this refining process are equally as damaging to consumers. To remove the characteristic nutty smell of shea, the extracted oil is exposed to 450 degree heat and sodium hydroxide and carbonate chemicals are added. To change the texture and appearance of the product, it moves through an acid-treated filter and is bleached. Known carcinogens (BHT & BHA) are added to refined shea butter to enhance the shelf-life of the finished product.

“Refining shea butter removes natural essential fatty acids, valuable proteins and important minerals, leaving consumers with a questionable, ineffective and potentially dangerous product. In no way similar to refined shea butter, raw shea butter is significantly richer in vitamins, phyto-nutrients and UV absorbing factors. Raw shea is more difficult to find [than refined shea butter], but is well worth the effort,” states Killey.

(Hmmmm. That's probably more quote than is allowed under fair use...)

I purchased my raw butter from Body by Shea. These folks have an email, but no webpage. Contact them at Alternatively, you can google raw shea butter and find lots of other places to buy it. I bought a pound of the unrefined butter for $12--and that's a lot of wonderful skin cream for not a lot of money!

A neighbor of ours, Fred, has had a persistent problem with a rash on his forehead. Just couldn't get rid of it. He had tried purslane cream, hydrogen peroxide, other skin creams, ointments, etc. I gave him some of the raw shea butter and it cleared the rash up right away.

OK, I grant you skin cream is not your most important prep item. But I guarantee that women will want to have something like this, no matter if the world is falling apart. Wall Street crashes and zombies are rampaging.... It will probably be an excellent barter item as well. Raw shea butter has the added goodness of its medicinal/curative properties, and can be helpful in a host of situations. You might want to check it out.

BTW, I won't do many posts like this--commercial stuff to purchase. But this is a good product and kind of hard to find, and I thought readers might be interested in knowing about it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Beans: A roof over your stomach

I was reading Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck yesterday. It's about a rather lovable group of paisanos, bums, out in Monterey California. The paisanos had decided to help out a widow lady with eight kids, so they went to work thiev...ur...gathering food for her and her family. You see, usually the lady and her kids would go out and glean the bean fields, winnowing the chaff of bean plants and pods that had already been harvested by the farmer. They usually got hundreds of pounds of beans this way, and this was the family's food. However, this year the bean harvest was ruined by rain and the lady's family was facing starvation... so the boys took up food for them.

In the midst of all this, is a wonderful paragraph:

“When you have four hundred pounds of beans in the house, you need have no fear of starvation. Other things, delicacies such as sugar, tomatoes, peppers, coffee, fish or meat may come sometimes miraculously, through the intercession of the Virgin, sometimes through industry or cleverness; but your beans are there, and you are safe. Beans are a roof over your stomach. Beans are a warm cloak against economic cold.”

I love it--beans are a roof over your stomach. Isn't that a great line, a perfect description? That's when you know you are in the presence of a great writer, when you read a line like that one. How many times have we heard, "at least they have a roof over their heads..." and that is a cliche. But to twist a cliche to make it true, make it real, is an art and only fine artists can do it.

Tortilla Flat is a fine book, btw. It's a book about a group of "bums," yes, but they are also the knights of the round table, and the book weighs the philosophical questions of materialism vs. spirituality, and how little material goods you need to lead a good life.

It was a nice break from worrying about SHTF and all of that doom and gloom.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Plantain Salve for Bug Bites, Skin Problems

Back in August I had a post about plantain oil, with which I would be making salve. Last summer I had poison ivy--this summer the plague has been bug bites. I have yet to see the bugs that bit me--the bites look like mosquito bites, but I haven't caught the buggers at it yet. Anyway, these are annoying bites. Nowhere near fatal or even serious, but I can and do wake up in the middle of the night itching like crazy.

A spit-poultice of plantain leaf (grab a leaf or two, chew it up, apply the moistened leaf to the bite) is wonderful for a bug bite--takes the sting and itch away, not quite immediately, but pretty damn fast. Plantain poultice also works for nettle stings, which I get no matter how careful I am when harvesting nettles. Since plantain works so well, I wanted a salve I could use when I didn't have an actualy plantain plants around.

The first thing you do is harvest your plant, in this case, plantain. Common plantain is truly ubiquitous, available everywhere. If you have a lawn, you'll find some there. Just look around and you'll find it--on the edges of driveways, in the cracks of sidewalks, lawns, etc. There is also a narrow leaf plantain, which can also be used to make poultices and salves.

I harvested a grocery plastic bag full of plantain leaves. Then I rinsed off the leaves, cut them finely and stuffed them into a sterilized mason quart jar. I poured extra virgin olive oil into the jar to cover the plant material. And that's it. The first step. I set the jar in a cool, dark place for 6 weeks, and tried to remember to shake the jar occasionally or daily. The oil will absorb the plant's color and its active properties.

After the six weeks are through, the oil will have become a lovely green color. It was really beautiful. And there was no mold--I had thought there might be because someone on the net who I was reading warned against rinsing the plantain before adding the oil, saying that mold might form due to the moisture. It didn't get moldy in this batch, and the oil smelled fresh, very nice.

Second step is to set up a double boiler. I put the oil into the top of the double boiler, and gradually warmed it up. I grated a bunch of beeswax from a 16 oz. block of beeswax I purchased from Hunter's Honey Farm. You can probably find a honey/beeswax producer close to you, but these folks are the ones I used. I added the beeswax slowly to the oil, stirring it with a wooden spoon to mix it up with the oil. I used about an ounce, maybe an ounce and a half. The measurement is usually one oz. beeswax to one pint oil. To check the texture of the salve, dip in a teaspoon and put it in the freezer. You'll be able to check the salve's consistency on the spoon in a minute or so. I also added two capsules of Vit. E oil to preserve the salve. Plantain salve is a nice green color, with a good scent to it. I suppose you could add a drop or two of essential oil to scent it further if you wanted too.

Pour the salve into small jars, and label and date them. I now have 3 jars of plantain salve: one to give away, one for home use, and one for our medicine/first aid kit.

Does it work? I find it is not quite as effective as a spit-poultice plantain leaf. But it is good stuff and it works fine. It will cut the sting and itch of any bug bite, and smooth rough or dry skin. It's said to be good for diaper rash and baby skin as well. I use it on my hands when they feel dry and tissue off the excess. It absorbs quickly into the skin. I like this stuff and am glad I have it available.

Another method of making salve, one used by our ancestors, was to use animal fat. Animals fats are easily absorbed by human skin. Lard is recommended, or tallow. Heat the fat gently on the stove and add your chopped plant material. Gently infuse it over low heat for 45 mintues to an hour. Strain it carefully, and pour into jars. I will try this method and let you know how it works.

Making herbal medicines, syrups, extracts, salves, oils, decoctions, infusions, poultices, etc. is fairly easy to do, once you have the plants harvested. And it is a good skill to have, both the herb/wild edible plant knowledge and the know-how of making the simple but effective medicines. Working with plants requires attention to detail, as much knowledge of what you're doing as you can gather ahead of time, and patience as the medicines develop, in case of the 6 week wait. But it is all worth it. You'll enjoy the doing of it, and the products you'll have when you're done. A fine feeling of accomplishment!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Lacto-fermented fizzy drinks

A while back I wrote about lacto-fermentation. Let's just call it fermentation, OK? Even I'm a little put off by the lacto in there. Don't know why--it just sounds funky. The products of this process however are excellent, so do try your hand at this.

Extra nutrition, probiotics, interesting, lively and alive food and drinks? What more could you want?

This is something I'm going to try this morning, and will let you know how it works in a few days. I'm going to use elderberries, but I've read of folks using blueberries, herbs, mint, etc. Sounds like a great way to get better nutrition and a lot of taste.

I posted on how to make your own whey in Lacto-Fermentation and Other Projects (I think that's what it was called).

This is from The Medicine Woman's Roots, and BearMedicinals. Read this page if you are interested in herbs, wild plants, making your own medicinal products, and a host of wisdom on using plants. It is a terrific resource!

Elderberry Sparkle: A Beginner’s Guide to Lacto-Fermented Herbal Brews
Published by Kiva Rose at 5:39 pm under From the Hearth, Medicine Making

I do a lot of brewing here. This is in part to compensate for the lack of refrigeration at the center but also just because I love the process of fermentation. I make homemade wines and ales of all kinds, but want to start here with a basic primer for Lacto-Fermented Herbal Brews because they’re easy, quick and you and your children can drink them to your heart’s content. The herbal sparkles are fizzy and tongue-tingly, and depending on the culture you use, they can also have a bit of a sour bite to them. Very yummy, and a great alternative to most commercial beverages out there.

Make a quart of herbal infusion. Yarrow, Elderberry or Chamomile are all good starting points. Let it infuse for several hours then strain.
Add a couple tablespoons of sugar or honey.
Pour about 1/2-1 cup of whey into the bottom of a clean quart jar.
Add infusion to jar until close to the neck of the jar.
Add two or three slices of fresh ginger (optional, but helps with the fermenting process)
Cover loosely (you can use a canning lid, just don’t screw it on all the way).
Let sit for two-three days (depending on warm the spot was and what you’re fermenting).
Drink up.
Store remainder in a cool dark place, in an airtight jar once you’re sure the fermentation process is done (you can put a balloon around the jar mouth overnight, and if it inflates it’s still fermenting.

It really couldn’t be simpler or tastier. You can get your whey from plain yogurt (by separating the solids from the liquid, the liquid is your whey) although I prefer the whey from piima. In a couple days, your brew will be sparkly, fizzy and delicious. With yogurt whey based brews, they’ll easily last for more than a month with refrigeration, but will get progressively sourer. I’m not sure what happens with piima because I drink it too fast to find out. I like these brews as a quick ferment for instant gratification. If I want longer lasting brews, I make wine or ale.
In general the more sugar you add, the fizzier the drink and the longer it takes to ferment. With lacto-fermented brews I find you really don’t need that much to make a tasty, sparkly drink. There is some alcohol content happening here, but it’s very low

What herbal infusion you choose depends on your tast. Yarrow is bitter and pungent, providing a slightly mind altering edge while Elderberry is blood nourishing, tart and a beautiful shade of purple. You get all the benefits of a normal herbal infusion plus the extra benefits of fermentation and friendly bacteria for your belly. Who can complain?

As with most traditional foods, there’s lots of room for improvisation with these brews. Endless combinations of herbs, sweeteners and ways of fermenting await you. Be creative, and don’t forget to have fun.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What the World Eats (Food for Thought)

This is off topic, but I think a good subject to bring up. Did anyone see that fascinating photo essay called What the World Eats? It was getting some attention a few months ago. Basically what it is is a series of photos of families around the world, a picture with the family and with all the food they eat or buy in one week.

Most everyone worldwide eats way too much junk food (in my not very sweet or humble opinion).

Check it out.

I found this fascinating. The Mexican family eats well--lots of fruits and veggies with some meats and fish. Very little junk food.

Looks like the North Carolina family eats 90 percent junk food with maybe a couple of grapes. They also spend a ton of money. Ditto most of the families--there are some that eat plenty of "real" food, God made food (fruits, vegetables, meat, grain), but there are more of the Pepsi generation who eat man-made processed foods.

I really appreciate the picture of the African family--bags of staples (rice, wheat, whatever) with a few condiment/spices it looks like. Maybe a bit of mutton for a soup.

Come TS and HTF time, we'll all be eating more like the African family. And guess what?

I seriously doubt we'd have all the major chronic diseases we have now. Heart disease. Cancer. All the crap diseases come because we eat processed crap. Well, in my opinion that is. We'd have a lot more starvation/malnutrition probably, but that will wear down as we learn to live simply again. (Gads--a rosy-glasses survivalist. I can't fit into a stereotype no matter how hard I try.)

If we can eat like the Mexican family (first pix) AND the African family (second pix) with maybe a little meat/dairy thrown in by the hunter/goat-herder of the group, we'll be doing excellently in terms of maximum nutrition for foods eaten.

I'm sorry this isn't the complete series of photos--this has only a small sample of a much larger photo essay. But it is enough to start...

Just food for thought here. :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More on Elderberries

It occurs to me that I should write more about why elderberries are so good for you come flu/cold season. Some of the links in the following article, Elderberries Galore, will lead you to good information on this. I could write it all down here, but they've already done it better and I've other things to do. I am NOT an expert in anything--I just go and do what I think needs to be done for my family. So I research and read and study the books and then go and do. So you should do also, time and life permitting. This is the place for pointers to good info, at least that's my hope.

Anyway, Elderberries. Here's a mention of an Israeli study on the effectiveness of elderberries on flu:

There has been one small study in Israel (1992), testing the use of Elderberry syrup in people with the flu. These patients were showing the first symptoms of influenza. Half of the group was given elderberry syrup and the other half received a placebo (no medication or herb). In those receiving the elderberry, fever, cough, muscle aches were reduced in one-fifth of the patients in 24 hours. The 2nd day 75% of the patients were feeling better and by 3 days, 90% of them felt completely cured. While those on the placebo - 8% felt better in 24 hours and it was 6 days before 90% of that group was cured.

I don't know if this was a "scientific" study or not--but it did include a placebo group and the results were certainly good. And, as I've said elsewhere, I've used Sambucol for flu with good success--it cut the symptoms and severity of symptoms and got me better faster. That's all I need to know.

Both the elder flowers and the berries are very good for you. Read the pages of material on elder at and you'll have more information than you'll know what to do with. What a magnificent resource that website is. I read it for fun and in the hope that dollops of good info will enter my brain (and stay there).

In the past the leaves, stems, bark and root of the elder were also used medicinally, but it is not recommended today. The leaves, bark and root of the elder contain cyanidin glycosides and can be poisonous. Or so it is said. Steve Brill discusses this in the section on elderberry on his webpage:

Many older herb books recommend using elderberry leaves, roots, or bark medicinally, probably because Indian herbal experts used them. This doesn’t guarantee safety: Never use these parts of the elderberry. They’re poisonous. They contain a bitter alkaloid and glycoside that may change into cyanide. Children have been poisoned using elderberry twig peashooters, and adults have been poisoned using hollowed twigs to tap maple trees. However, there is a benefit to the toxicity: People use dried, crumbled elderberry leaves in their gardens as a natural insecticide.

Be that as it may, sometimes tiny doses of something poisonous can be used medicinally. I don't recommend it--but say you were terribly constipated in a wilderness survival situation--I would nibble some elder leaves as a laxative, figuring it would do the trick but not kill me. And I'd bet I'd be right--but that's me. The body I'd be taking chances with is mine--so you make up your own mind when it comes to things like that. I can only be responsible for my own idiocy, not yours.

Do find and use some elderberries if you can. After you've taken the berries from the stems, the rest is quite easy and it will be great to have the syrups and tinctures on hand. Here is just a bit more information on the medicinal properties of the berries to entice you into berry-picking.

Good hunting, and, as Michael says, stay alive.


Elderberries Galore!

Here in Southern Indiana it is elderberry harvest time. The best place I’ve found to gather them so far is on a little-traveled road on the way to the Amish farm I go to every week. The bushes are set back from the road a bit, which is perfect--they don’t get all the car exhaust fumes. The last two Saturdays I’ve stopped on our way back from Lydia’s and Joaz’s place and harvested the ripe berries. These bushes are prolific. Even so, it is always necessary to leave a goodly portion of berries on the bush. You want the bush to survive and thrive. Say thank you while you harvest--expressing your gratitude for this wonderful food and medicine is good for your soul.

Elderberries are reported to be an excellent agent to use for flu and colds. There is even talk that elderberries could be used to treat bird flu, the dreaded H5N1 virus, and tinctures containing elderberries and other immune-boosting herbs are being marketed. I know from personal use that elderberry tincture is effective in lessening the effects of the flu, for I’ve used Sambucol for years. This is not necessarily an endorsement for the stuff, by the way. If you can find elder bushes around you, then pick your own berries. It’ll save you scads of money and making the syrup and tinctures is easy, as you will see. However, sambucol has worked for me when I’ve had touches of the flu in the past, so I’ve provided the commercial link.

Picking the berries is easy, the real labor comes later. Just take your handy clipper tool with you as you clamber around the bushes and clip off the whole umbrel. (See the pix in the link in the first paragraph. The umbrella-looking cluster of berries is the umbrel.) I have filled up 4 to 5 bags of the berry clusters so far, and that’s given me a lot of berries. The honest-to-goodness work comes when you get the berries home. There are two ways of removing the stubborn little berries from their umbrels. The first is to use a comb or a fork and patiently work the berries off of the stems. This will take the rest of your life, or at least a loooong time, but it will give you nice berries without stems. This is what you want to do if you’re making something that will have the berries in it--say a sauce for ice cream or elderberry pie.

The other way is to freeze the berries overnight, and then remove the frozen berries the next day. I picked this tip from a video by HerbMentor. Watch the video--it’ll tell you what you need to know. Freezing the berries does make it less time-consuming to pick the berries off the stem, but it is not as easy as the man says. The frozen berries do not easily come off the stems, but if you are careful, you can remove them without getting too many stems in with the berries. Gently use your hand and fingers to roll the berries off their stems. I then remove whatever stems got in the mix by hand. This also gives a fairly clean bunch of berries.

Wash the berries. To make the syrup, use 1 cup berries to 3 cups water. Put them in a pot and heat gently on the stove. Don’t boil--you don’t want to kill the active antiviral stuff, just simmer gently for 45 minutes or so. Then mash the berries as much as you can to get as much juice out of them as possible. Strain the juice through a jelly bag (recommended) or do what I do, use cheesecloth and a sieve. I pour the berries and juice through the cheesecloth and then squeeze the cheesecloth full of berries with my hands. Once you have the juice, add 1 cup honey (or 1 cup sugar--I used honey) as it is back warming on the stove. Bottle it in mason jars or whatever jars or bottles you have handy. I add a bit of alcohol to help preserve the syrup, which I then label and date, and keep in the fridge.

Making an elderberry tincture is the easiest thing: just fill a sterilized mason jar with berries and pour vodka or brandy over to cover the berries. Cap the jar and put it in a cool, dark place for a month. Shake the jar daily or whenever you remember. After the month is up, strain the berries out and bottle the tincture in little amber colored glass jars with eyedroppers (if you can get your hands on some). Amber jars keep out the light, which can deteriorate the tincture over time. I’ve got 2 quarts of tincture already. I’ll make more as soon as I get more vodka.

I’ve just made another batch of syrup, but this time, I added an equal ratio of sugar to berries. Four cups berries, 4 cups sugar. This should enable me to keep the syrup without refrigeration. I also added vodka as a preservative, 4 tablespoons to the quart. This stuff is sweet--much sweeter than I like, but we’ll use it as a medicine, or give it to friends here who get flu symptoms.

For the most part, my husband and I do not get colds or flu. At the first sign of anything like a cold or flu, we immediately eat cloves of garlic and take 5 grams or so of vitamin C and a Goldenseal and Echinacea combination. And I usually make chicken broth loaded with garlic. I stop eating anything but the soup. That usually does it for either of us. In the winter, we take a clove of garlic a day each (or do when I remember). I use a garlic press for Michael, but I just chew it and swallow with water. It is certainly pungent, enough to take your breath away. The allicin in the garlic is what you want, and it is the allicin that makes the rich garlic smell and taste. Garlic is great stuff--I don’t think I could cook without onions and garlic.

Last year I noticed that lots of valley folks got the flu and had it for a long time. I always tell them to eat garlic, but a lot of times, it is all the other crap that people eat and drink that causes the problems and wreaks havoc with the immune system. (Have you ever noticed that havoc is the only thing wreaked? If you can think of anything else that gets wreaked, let me know….) Junk food, which, to me, is anything processed, soft drinks, too much sugar and white flour foods. All are bad for you and slowly destroy your health. Ah, but this is a separate topic altogether. Suffice it to say that I hope to have enough elderberry syrup and tincture to dose the whole valley come flu time. Maybe it will even work for H5N1--we’ll see. In the meantime, good luck with your elderberries!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

New post coming up...

soon. But in the meantime, I want to talk about a book that survivialists should read. It's called Follow the River by James Alexander Thom. It's about a young woman kidnapped by some Indians. They take her away from her husband and kinfolks, to a place about 600 miles away. She knows that to escape and get back to her home, she'd have to walk those 600 miles, following the river. It's been a few years, and I can't remember the name of the river. Seems to me part of it was the Ohio, but I could be wrong. Anyway, she does escape and walks the entire way back, along with a plucky old woman who chooses to escape with her. Neither of them know much about wild plants they could eat. It is early fall when they escape. For a while they had a horse that they stole, and a hatchet, but they lose the horse or it gets killed and they lose the hatchet too. They eat whatever plants they find, most of which make them very sick, puking and hallucinating and feverish. And yet they keep going. The old woman goes bonkers more or less and decides to eat the young woman if she can catch her and kill her. The young woman is smarter than that and one night, crosses the river so that the old woman is on the other side of the river. They both continue following the river. It is a long, brutal, tough story, but they stick to it, and they are found by friends who immediately take them in and care for them. A fascinating survival tale--yes, it is fiction, but fiction anchored in the history, lore and feel of those times. Thom is a master storyteller and you'll enjoy the book. Unfortunately for me, it was before I really got into foraging and finding wild edibles--now I think I would get a lot more out of it. I'll read it again one of these days.