Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Beautiful, Tasty Orpine, Live-forever

Orpine (sedum purpureum) is a wonderful, tasty wild plant that is also grown in gardens and as an ornamental plant. If you are lucky enough to find it growing wild and in abundance, you'll have found one of my favorite salad greens. At least the young and tender leaves are great in salads or raw as a trail nibble. But you can also boil the older leaves for 5 to 10 minutes, and its tubers are edible as well, cooked for 20 minutes or so.

So far, I've only found this plant in a couple of places, neither of them wild. Fred has some growing by his doorway, and another friend has one in her edge garden. So, after asking these folks for their permission, I'll take some of the leaves, but never enough to harm the plant. The leaves are mild, a bit peppery, and very pleasant. With chickweed and wild onions, they make a great salad.

I'm on the lookout to find them wild here, which is reasonable, since they're a garden escapee. But from my reading, they seem to grow profusely in mountainous areas. I'd love to find a huge batch of them so I'll check the hilly areas.

This is a distinctive plant; once you see it and recognize it, you'll know it from then on. It has pretty pink/purplish flowers in the summer. Seems it grows in a lot of places in the country, even out west. Wherever it has escaped from gardens and landscapes, I guess.

There's a host of sedums, some of them edible. Sedum telephinum for one. I don't know all the others, if they're edible or not. Check it out before you snack on 'em, and make sure you ID properly. And ask, if you see it in a garden. :) Don't give foraging a bad name by snarfing up someone's plants without their permission.

But if you find a bunch of them wild, try the tubers. Wildman Steve Brill says they're crispy and tasty raw, like water chestnuts. I'd like to try some.

You can read more about orpine here and here.

I'm going to get a cutting from Fred and see if I can get more of these growing wild. They come back each year and if I could get lots of live-forever patches going, the valley would have another delightful free food to supplement our diet. In fact, I will try to spread as many of our wild plant friends around as possible. Not that these plants need my help; most of them are incredibly hardy survivors with many ways of propagating themselves.

Weeds of the Northeast: review

(I received this book review in an email from Jim Hadix, Thanks, Jim! This review came from Pratical Primitive, a website on primitive living skills. Check out that list of books on edible wild plants. Looks like an excellent list. I have many of those books and I'd recommend them too. HM)

Weeds of the Northeast
-- Richard Uva, Joseph Neal & Joseph DiTomaso

I Love This Book.

Though not remotely why the authors would think I do! I originally discovered this book quite by accident while searching on Amazon for a field guide that was more specific to plants in New Jersey. While reading the mediocre reviews for another book we had been considering, I came across a reviewer who recommended purchasing this book instead, and when I checked it out I was hooked. One of the most unique and helpful plant books I have ever come across, Messrs. Uva, Neal & DiTomaso would probably be mystified and horrified to find out why everyone we've shown it to loves their book so much!

Written by Specialists of Weed Science, this is actually an invaluable book for all foragers in the Northeast U.S., southern Canada, and beyond. While it's true purpose is to assist horticulturists, agronomists, landscape managers and pest specialists to identify and remove/destroy all those pesky weeds that are out to ruin their crop/garden/lawn, it is, in fact, a wild plant lover's dream. So why am I giving such glowing praise to a "let's kill those blasted weeds" book? Two words: "Seedlings" and "Seeds".

For almost every plant listed in this book there is not only a photo of the full grown plant and the flower, but a photo of the seedling stage, and of the seed itself! And let me tell you, these are GREAT photos. Carefully and beautifully taken, the photos make it easy to see and discern the minute details required for proper plant identification. Additionally, the identification key does NOT rely on any flower characteristics, as is common to almost every other field guide. The authors have developed a completely structural- and vegetative-based identification key that will allow you to identify any of the multitude of edible, medicinal and utilitarian plants and grasses (yes, grasses!) outlined in the book, at any stage of their life cycle.

Meaning that you no longer have to wait until a flower appears in order to discover what that mystery plant might be. Instead, you can take this book and go out right now and identify any of the 299 common "weeds" in this book. Among the "undesirables" listed are Wild Garlic, Wild Oats, Foxtail grass, several varieties of Millet and Amaranth, Milkweed, Yarrow, Chamomile, Burdock, Chicory, Jerusalem Artichoke, Chickweed, Lambs Quarters, Velvetleaf, Woodsorrel, Pokeweed, Plantain, Purslane, Mullein, Violets and many more.

We purchased this book back in December and have been impatiently waiting until March to share it with you in the hope that you will be as excited as we are by the opportunity to head out now, at the very beginning of the spring green-up, and begin marking those tiny seedlings to remind yourself where NOT to mow as the grass begins to grow.

Personally, I rather like the idea of taking a book designed to destroy plants and increase the monocultural agri-industry, and instead using it to find, nurture and fully enjoy those wonderful, healthy, helpful and delicious "Weeds".


Man, I'd love a copy of this book. It is still early spring, and I'm having trouble identifying a lot of the little plants that don't have all the identification things I will look for later in the year. The bit about seeds and seedlings is a mighty draw for this book. Hmmmmmmm.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Beware of Drugs!

Wow. Read these two articles. I haven't done any further research as yet on the author of the articles or on the validity of the information, BUT when I clicked on these two articles I didn't expect to see such fearsome info either. Check it out.


Newer Drugs Twice as Likely to Injure

My advice is do NOT take just any old drug your doctor recommends. Do a little research yourself before you take that script to the pharmacy and get it filled. It's a terrible situation.

We tend to avoid doctors and the whole allopathic trip. And so we're pretty healthy, both of us with some health issues which we deal with by eating good foods, some herbs and dietary supplements. What those articles tell me is what I've known for many years: the FDA and Big Pharma are not your friends.

On Baking Soda

(This is an excerpt from an article in the recent issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal, March/April issue. This isn’t the whole article, just some highlights. Good ideas, though, for getting by and spending less for nasty chemical crap. HM)

Baking Soda: Dirt Cheap, simple, amazing
By Shannon Summers

Save your skin, save money, save space on the counter, save on the aggravation of all that stuff that doesn’t work and you can’t take back.

It all really started with a little brochure about baby care products. At the time I didn’t have any babies, but it got me riled up about all the dangerous chemicals in all our toiletries. It got me going, and I haven’t been able to get off of it, even to the extent that my husband’s side of the family calls me the “chemical Nazi.” Check the labels--all the stuff boggles the mind. Take just one for instance, propylene glycol. Go look it up. Then you decide. I listened to Dr. Nancy Snyderman on the Today show. Yeah, it’s bad. (Same stuff as anti-freeze in your car.)


I remembered hearing about baking soda as an alternative shampoo so I began to look into it. Basically I stopped using shampoos, cream rinse, toothpaste, deodorant, hand lotion, body lotion, body oils, soaps . . . Just about everything. I gave up hair dyes, make up . . . I used to have bottles of hand lotions of every size and price. I never wanted to be without some. The more I read about all the chemicals the more convinced I became to stop it all.

My husband’s armpits were always raw and he had dry, flakey, itchy skin on his arms and legs. He quit using the underarm sprays and it has cleared up. He uses a little baking soda or corn starch, but at least he has stopped with the butane on his arm pits. Think I’m kidding? Read the labels.


Part of the problem was I was getting a little vain about my wrinkles, and I wanted to try something, but so much of it is beyond my purchasing power. Besides, I knew from past experience it either wouldn’t work for me, burned or both. We are not poor but we are not independently wealthy either.

There is an extremely cheap alternative to all the chemicals out there and it is baking soda. I don’t need convincing, but oh how I wish I had “before” and “after” pictures. I know from what other people tell me that it did make a difference in the wrinkles. The other plus is the expense--almost nothing.

I use baking soda for everything: I shower exclusively with it, wash my face with it, brush my teeth only with it . . . I even use it for shaving my legs.

After at least a year I still find it amazing that my skin is great. If it do get a little itch or feel a little dryness I just reach for a tiny drop or two of olive oil and rub it in. A 50 cent box of soda in the shower is good for a week or longer and it keeps the soap scum reduced in the tub.

So here is a list of the things I do to get my youthful skin.

Face. Once a day in the shower, take a tablespoon or less of baking soda, and make a slurry with a little water being extra gentle--no rubbing, just pat, rinse, and pat dry. If you must have moisturizer use a very tiny drop of olive oil.

Feet, elbows, knees. You can be a little more aggressive here but not much at first. I rub my feet like a little massage, no luffas or scrubbers needed.

Teeth. Forget the chemical poisons in the tube. For about two years I was having trouble with abcesses--a $125 dentist visit, the pain and then a round of antibiotics. Now sea salt is for me. Dissolve ¼ cup sea salt in 8 oz. of pretty hot water. While it is hot, rinse vigorously (or gently if it’s very painful) and gargle too. Do’ this several times a day. If you don’t like the taste go to a health food store and get something else good. Read the labels on the moth wash and nix on that too.

Shaving. For shaving legs, just use a little dab of baking soda watered down. Try this at first--put one cup in the tub and then just use the water to shave.

Shampoo. Wet hair first, and again use a small amount (tablespoon or so), rub it mainly next to the scalp and leave it in for a few minutes. At first your hair will really cry foul. Again, be gentle. It’s okay, take a deep breath and keep going. (Coloring your hair makes it worse, but you can do it. Don’t use on your hair everday unless you really have oily hair and even then it’s not recommended for everyday use. For an added treatment at night before bed, take a small amount of olive oil, rub it into your scalp and hair, and cover with shower cap or something to protect your bedding. Do this for one week. It does wonders for your hair.


One of the best things about baking soda is it’s so cheap. Here are some other products that are great.

My husband spent $20 or so a month on sprays and powders for athlete’s foot. I hated when he sprayed it because it stunk up the place and the powder made a mess. Someone told me about vinegar, so I got him to try it. At first it’s instant relief from the itch. Sometimes there’s a little burning if you just scratched the heck out of your skin. Pour it straight out of the bottle or get a little spray bottle to keep handy in the bathroom or bedroom.

For sinus drainage, take ¼ to ½ teaspoon of baking soda in 1/3 cup of warm water. Add a very small pinch of sea salt, shake or stir, and squirt or spray up each nostril once a day for a day or two. It does basically the same thing as the stuff you buy from the store for $6.99.

In the dishwasher I quit using Jet Dry and just fill the little rinse cup with white vinegar. My dishes come out clean and spot free no matter how cheap the soap powder is.

We have a grandson with psoriasis and we were using olive oil on it. It helped a lot, but then we heard about emu oil. It’s kind of pricey but great--you can see the difference overnight.

Baking soda is worth the 50 cents for an eight ounce box, versus all the other chemical stuff.


End of article. There, how’s that for a tip for the day? Save some money and try baking soda instead of all the hugely expensive, terrible chemical crap you are now applying to your skin and on your delicate mucus membranes. These chemicals are absorbed into your skin and who knows what they are doing to you? We all need to pay more attention to the chemical pollution we live in. We can avoid using chemical pollution as our toiletries, at any rate!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Gallimaufree on Edible Flowers

I was thinking of writing about this myself, but Gallimaufree has done a wonderful job of writing up how to use and eat edible flowers, including some recipes. This is a very interesting and useful blog, so you might want to check out many of her other articles. In the first entry she tells you how to eat flowers. In the next entry she discusses edible gardens--with a lot of great ideas for blending beauty with pratical, with a list of flowers that are edible and which aren't. Check it out!

PS. You might want to read how Gallimaufree got a duck stuck in her thigh. :) It's a remarkable story!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Harvesting the Hillside: Wild Onions and Dandelions

(wild onions)

It's a lovely day and I decided to put off housework once again and head out and do some foraging. I noticed that the hillside under our balconey going down to the road is plumb full of dandelions and wild onions. I brought my digger tool and my clippers and set to work. Digging up the wild onions wasn't a problem and I got a bag of them. And I dug up loads of dandelions as well, roots and leaves. Well, as much of the root as I could get.

I foraged for about an hour. The real work starts when I got everything home. Every thing needs to be washed. The dandelions went into a 5 gallon bucket that I half filled with water. This is for their first cleaning, mainly to get all the mud off. The wild onions went into a big pot of water in the kitchen. I let everything soak for a while and got my cutting board, knives, and colander ready.

The wild onions didn't take too long to process--just wash them and cut them up, ready for use. I got about 3 cups worth. They'll be used in a lot of dishes I'll be making. I chopped them up into little bits for adding to casseroles, soups, rice dishes, whatever. I love onions and they are very good for you. You can read more about wild onions at the Wild Food Foragers site, here. If you want, you can also freeze them: just put the chopped up bits in a ziplock bag and plunk them in the freezer.

Once I was done with the onions, I next washed all the roots of the dandelions out in the bucket, scrubbing them with a little brush I have for that purpose. The cats found this a very interesting procedure and watched carefully. July kitten snatched a dandelion from the ones I was washing and took it off to investigate more thoroughly.

The next step was to separate all the parts I would be using. I cut the roots from the plants, then took off any flower buds (these are small and round, don't use the bigger ones that are beginning to elongate to become a flower). Finally I cut the leaves from the crown of the plant, putting all the leaves into a big pot to be washed again. The buds can be used as a vegetable on their own or in other recipes. The leaves can be sauted, steamed, or if they are too bitter for you, boiled in some changes of water. Unfortunately, if you do that, you will lose a lot of the vitamin content when you toss out the water. It is worthwhile to try to cultivate a taste for a slight bitterness. Nutrition scientists are finding that sour and bitter tasting plants are more protective against disease. Read more about bitter herbs at Prodigal Gardens.

Finally, the roots are chopped and put on the drying shelf on my windowsill. These will be used for tea. Or, you can roast them and use as a coffee substitute. I also make a roots extract with dandelion, yellow dock and burdock roots. I like wine, but I love my liver, so I take this extract daily. A friend with non-symptomatic hepatitis C also uses the extract with good results (he gets his liver enzymes checked regularly I guess).

The leaves are then chopped and put in a big plastic bag in the fridge for use throughout the week. I'll probably saute a bunch of them tonight with some of the wild onion and some carrot in olive oil and a bit of soy sauce.

Since I've not eaten the buds before, I'll either saute them in butter or boil them lightly in salted water.

So, foraging outside took me about an hour, maybe a little longer. The processing took about 2 hours. It is more work than you'd think, but foraging for wild foods is a great way to get more nutritious food and medicine. I love the process, myself. You just can't beat free, healthy food.

You all know how good dandelions are for you, don't you? If not, then read more about dandelions here and here. They are one of the most highly nutritious veggies on the planet. Needless to say, don't harvest them from lawns that have been sprayed with chemicals. They grow wild worldwide, nearly everywhere. God's gift, they are!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An Interesting Thought on Health Care

From Dr. Robert Jay Rowen’s Second Opinion newsletter, March 2009

(A friend passed this medical newsletter on to me to read, and there’s this interesting little article in it I want to share with you, at least part of it. It’s a good newsletter, with lots of alternative health news and research. You can get a subscription by calling 800-728-2288. It is expensive, and advocates nutritional supplements that might be as out of your financial reach as they are mine, but call if you‘re interested. This Doc knows his stuff. HM)

Why Less Health Care--Not More--Is the Solution to Our Health Care “Crisis”

Everywhere I turn, even in the midst of an economic calamity, I see calls and legislation for greater “health” coverage for everyone. Private employers are paring back health benefits to survive, but governments across the board are preparing to borrow to shell out billions that they don’t have.

According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 47% of Americans have put health care on hold in some way. Many avoid refilling a prescription or they skip a vaccination, checkup or other treatment.

But is this so foolish or dangerous? If the economy were to collapse entirely, and people were unable to get conventional medical care, I firmly believe the death rate would fall. “Huh!” you say. “Rowen, you’re nuts!”

Why? There are only four times in recorded history that the death rate actually fell. The first was in highly technologically developed Israel in 1973. During a one-month physicians’ strike, the national death-rate reached the lowest rate ever. According to the statistics by the Jerusalem Burial Society, the number of funerals dropped by about half.

The same thing happened again in 1976 in Bogota, the capital city of Columbia. There, the doctors went on strike for 52 days. The death rate fell by 35% (National Catholic Reporter and confirmed by the National Morticians Association of Columbia).

Similar events happened in California a few years later, and in the United Kingdom in 1978 (see Confessions of a Medical Heretic by Robers Mendelsohn, MD).

Let’s get back to Kaiser. People are not filling prescriptions and getting vaccines or checkups. Well, even American research has shown that prescription drugs are a leading cause of death. If you look closely at the scant research available (Pharma doesn’t like these studies), most drugs may suppress a symptom, but do nothing to lower the all-cause morbidity (injury) and mortality (death). Diabetes drugs are a great example. They can lower your blood sugar while simultaneously raising your risk of dropping dead of a heart attack.

And vaccines? There’s no proof that flu vaccines or even childhood vaccines do more good than outright harm. In fact, there’s significant evidence that flu vaccines induce Alzheimer’s and kid’s vaccines induce autism.

What about checkups? The dogma that you need a yearly checkup is just that, dogma. Research has disproven that yearly checkups save lives. In fact, they may speed up death by finding something that the doctor wants to treat with chemicals more dangerous than the disease.

What does a reasonable man conclude about the data on doctor strikes? I certainly would not go to a conventional doctor for anything but urgent/emergency care or for structural repair (which typically is required after an accident). I might end up a statistic!

Strange as it may seem, know that a loss of some of your medical coverage might actually save your life.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Early Spring Foraging

Two days ago it was a lovely day--sun shining, warm with just a hint of crispy chill in the air. I headed down to the garden to see what might be coming up. A lot of the weeds I look for grow in disturbed areas--such as our big garden plot. It needs to be plowed again to get it ready for planting in May, but right now it is covered with dead weeds and the old vines and stalks of last summer's tomatoes and corn.

I found wild onions all over the place--in the garden, on various hillsides, back in the woods; this valley is full of them. I harvested a big bag of them. This takes some digging down to loosen all the roots, then brushing off as much dirt from them as possible. I found yellow dock growing too, although it doesn't have that lovely sour citrusy flavor just yet. I dug up the complete plants and got both the leaves and the roots. I want to make more yellow dock root tincture, which is very good for the liver.

Wintercress (barbaria vulgaris) was also present. This is a member of the mustard family and it is an early spring green. Down south it is avidly harvested and eaten as "creasy greens." That's a wintercress leaf you see at the top of this blog. The leaves are a dark, glossy green. It grows in a basal rosette and later it will send up a center stalk to flower, a pretty yellow flower. When you see a field simply glowing with yellow a little later in the spring, that's probably wintercress. It's a bitter green, but this early, it isn't too bitter. I got a big bag of these as well. Free food! And very nutritious food as well. There's a good description of wintercress at Prodigal Gardens, in the Herbwalk section for March.

Here's a bit more info on wintercress from Mother Earth News:

Winter cress—a mustard—is rich in vitamins and has a slightly peppery flavor that goes well in mixed salads. The young winter leaves are also excellent shredded, flavored with chopped green onion, vinegar, salt, and sugar, and topped with minced bacon (drippings and all). Later in spring the greens take on a bitterness which can be removed by boiling in two waters. When the bloom develops, the leaves become too bitter to eat . . . but the buds can be cooked briefly—no more than 5 minutes overall—in two waters and served like the broccoli they resemble. Lemon butter and Hollandaise sauce are good additions to this wild vegetable.

I plan on harvesting more of the wintercress while it is in it's not to bitter stage. In a few weeks, it will be too bitter even for me. When I got home, I rinsed the wintercress three times in a big pot of water, then cooked it only in the water that remained on this leaves, thus steaming it more or less. I greatly enjoyed mine, but Michael didn't care for it as much. He loves lambsquarters, as do I, but not all greens are a delicious as lambsquarters. I'll eat it and use it in casseroles and slip a few raw leaves into salads.

I also harvested a few early dandelions, roots, leaves and all. Dandelions are not bitter at this stage, in early spring before they flowers. So it is a great time to get all that you can find as dandelions are very nutritious. Here's what Wildman Steve Brill has to say about dandelion leaves:

The leaves are more nutritious than anything you can buy. They're higher in beta carotene than carrots. The iron and calcium content is phenomenal, greater than spinach. You also get vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, B12, C, E, P, and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc by using a tasty, free vegetable that grows on virutally every lawn. The root contains the sugar inulin, plus many medicinal substances.

And here's what Euell Gibbons, master forager, has to say:

"Ridiculous as it sounds, we might be better off nutritionally if we threw away the crops that we so laboriously raise in our fields and gardens and ate the weeds that grow with no encouragement from us—indeed they grow despite all our strenuous efforts to eradicate them.”

“We spend millions on herbicides to kill the dandelions in our lawns, while we pay millions more for diet supplements to give ourselves the vitamins and minerals that dandelion could easily furnish.” Euell Gibbons in his essay on Just How Good Are Wild Foods?

So we ate the wintercress for dinner that night. The next day I put all the wild onions, curly dock leaves and dandelions in a big pot of water, added some dried cayenne peppers and lots of chopped garlic, and simmered it for an hour or so. This makes a wonderful spring tonic broth. Oh, I did add an organic, vegetarian boullion cube for a bit more flavor. This broth I will either use as a soup base, or I'll just drink it warm or cold. I'll give some to a couple of older folks here who could probably use some extra rich nutrition that the broth will supply.

It is still too early here for many of the plants I love, such as plantain. But it'll be coming up soon. I'm planning on harvesting as much wild food as I can--it'll help our food budget, and we'll get a nutritional boost as well. You can't beat that!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cayenne-Tumeric Salve

I got the idea for this salve from James Duke's The Green Pharmacy. In a section on arthritis, here's what Duke has to say about red pepper or cayenne:

Red Pepper (Capsicum, various species)

Red pepper causes some pain on the tongue, but ironically, it interferes with pain perception elsewhere around the body. The pain relieving chemical in red pepper, capsaicin, triggers the body to release endorphins, nature's own opiates. Red pepper also contains aspirin-like compounds known as salicylates.

You can make a red pepper tea by mixing red pepper into water, but it would be a whole lot more pleasurable to have your red pepper cooked in a variety of spicy dishes. for a quick hit, try a splash of hot pepper sauce in tomato juice.

Compounds in red papper can also help relieve arthritis when you apply the herb to the skin. Researchers have discovered that you'll get significant pain relief if you apply capsaicin cream directly to painful arthritis joints four times daily. In one study of this treatment, the capsaicin cream reduced RA pain by more than half. Osteoarthritis pain was reduced by about one-third.

Capsaicin creams are generally believed safe and effective for arthritis. Look for capsaicin in the ingredient list of over the counter pain creams such as Zostrix or Capzasin-P or ask your doctor for a prescription capsaicin product. If you use a capsaicin cream, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterward. You don't want to get it in your eyes. Also, since some people are quite sensitive to this compound, you should test it on a small area of skin to make sure that it's okay for you to use before using it on a larger area. If it seems to irritate your skin, discontinue use.

Well, I check the pharmacy prices for Capzasin-P and it was about $14 for a tube of it. That's too steep for me, so I decided to make some at home. I also decided to add tumeric to the salve, as tumeric is a terrific anti-inflammatory herb. I used lard as a base for the salve, since one of my favorite medicine women recommends it--that's Kiva Rose at Medicine Woman's Roots. You can read her blog on the Simplest Salve Ever here.

I put about 10 tablespoons of lard into my little salve-making pan and heated it to low on the stove. When the lard had liquidfied, I added 2 heaping tablespoons of powdered cayenne (I had just ground up one of my cayenne ristras earlier) and one heaping tablespoon of tumeric. I let it cook on low for about an hour, then strained it and poured it into little jars. Voila, cayenne-tumeric salve. I then gave two of the jars away to friends who also have trouble with painful joints. One of them is Fred, who suffers badly from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and the other is Kathy who has the same knobs growing on her thumbs that I do on mine. They both find the salve helpful with the pain, but it doesn't make the arthritis go away entirely. It doesn't with me either, but the salve is useful to have when the ol' thumbs get achy.

I don't know if the growing, painful knobs on my thumbs is RA or what. I will probably get it looked at some time or another by a medical doctor, see if they can tell me what it is. At any rate, the salve is easy to make and you probably have all the ingredients you need in your kitchen, so give it a try. If you do, please let me know if the salve works for you. I'm very interested in finding what works for folks.

Duke also suggestes simply adding powdered red pepper to any white hand lotion you have around, add enough to make the lotion pink or reddish and apply a little to your skin. When I apply the salve to my skin, it doesn't sting--I thought it would, but it doesn't. The tumeric and pepper make the salve a reddish-orange and the reddish-orange stains your skin a bit. But hey, it's worth it to make the pain die down a bit.

By the way, I am always looking for little jars--baby food jar size. If any of you have a bunch you wouldn't mind getting rid of, I'd gladly swap you some nice sassafrass roots or other dried herbs I have that you might want. Feel free to email me for any bartering you might want to do--my email addy is patricianeill@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill

This is one of my favorite foraging books. It is not one I carry with me while foraging, but it's one I read in all the time. It's very well-written with lots of information about how to identify wild plants, where they grow, which season is the best for harvesting for food or medicine, and how to prepare them. The book comes with a whole section on how to cook them, including some excellent recipes.

I got my copy I think from Amazon--I can no longer remember, but Amazon is likely. You can also buy it directly from Wildman's webpage, where you will find even more information and pictures of the plants.

Brill writes will humor, intelligence, and loads of practical experience. He'll tell you of the time he wanted to find wild onions and couldn't find any. So he asked a friend who told him of a big patch in a park five miles away. So off Wildman goes to find the wild onions and finds them at the park. On the way back home, he sees them everywhere, and was surprised to find them growing in his apartment building's entrance. In other words, he lets you know he was a beginning forager too and is willing to allow us into his learning experiences. This is one of the things that makes the book so valuable to beginning foragers as well as to those with a bit more experience. We all have to start somewhere. In my opinion, this book is a great place to start.

There are no photographs, but the illustrations by Evelyn Dean are excellent. It is a good idea to study a plant before you go looking for it. Using this book and its descriptions and illustrations, and then check another one or two wild food guides, the kinds with photos, and checking for pictures of the plant on the web, you can get a pretty good idea of where you'll find a plant, whether in the woods or fields or roadsides, how to be sure it has all the identification details, and how and when to harvest it.

I read in this book all winter, reading about plants I already know and ones I want to know. I find I learn something every time I pick up the book, so I make sure I do it often. Right now, we're on the very edge of foraging season for early spring. There's some dock starting to show, wild onions and garlic are ready for harvest, wintercress will be showing up soon and so will dandelions, plantains, and poke. I can't wait! Reading in Brill's wonderful guide keeps me patient. There's so much yet for me to learn, but this year, I feel more ready and able, thanks to Brill's book.

If you're interested in foraging, I highly recommend getting a copy of this book. You sure won't be wasting your money. If you want to look before you buy, Wildman has enough excerpts from the book to convince even the most skeptical. You can find them here. So don't take my word for it. Go and read, then buy. You'll be glad you did.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Food Insurance by Harmon Seaver

(This came to me in an email, and the article is terrific, so here it is for you. First, I needed a break from my computer, from the blog, from the winter blahs, from everything so I disappeared for about a month. I've probably lost all the readers who visited here, for which, I am sorry. But I'll be back posting now that foraging season is nearly upon us and spring is springing out all over. I'm refreshed and ready to deliver once more. Enjoy the article! Um, typos are in the original as posted on timebomb.

From http://www.timebomb2000.com/vb/showthread.php?t=51900&highlight=Seaver

[Practical Survival magazine Feb-Mar issue 1992]

Food Insurance by Harmon Seaver

Planting a policy against tough times
They're rioting in Africa
They're starving in Spain
There's hurricanes in Florida
and Texas needs rain.
They'r freezing in Siberia
There's strife in Iran
What nature doesn't do to us
Will be done by our fellow man.

Sound familiar? Even if you don't rememeber the Kingston Trio hit of the 60s, its message rings out endlessly on the front page of any daily newspaper.Try another headline which caught my eye recently - "El Nino is back!" Depending upon your locale, and the subsequent bane or blessing dropped in your lap by the last advent of that awesome atmospheric aberration, this declaration might be just enough to shiver your timbers. Or at least give pause to your current plans for next summers's garden.

Not only are we unable to control natural (or man-made) disasters, but we have little luck even predicting them. World-shaking phenomena like El Nino ( killing more than 1,100 pewople and causing an estimated $8.7 million in damage during its appearance) ebb and flow unhindered around the globe. Climatologists are just beginning to correlete the manifold vagaries of thsi global weather abnormality and have yet ot reallky get a handle on it. Predicatability seems unlikely.

Occuring on average four or five years, El Nino might recur in two years or not in ten. Its effect is definitely worldwide; while causing torrential rains and flooding in one area, this bizarre weather pattern concurrently brings devastating drought, famine and forest fires to another. Or opposite effects for the same period in subsequent cycles.

Airborne particulate matter -- volcanic smoke, dust and ash; smoke from industry, forset fires and slash-and-burn agriculture; dust from cleared land; exhaust from cars and aircraft -- can have a decided effect upon our weather, and consequently, our lives. Precisely what, however, is somewhat undecided. Climatologists and others debate whether these minute particles in the upper stratosphere warm our atmosphere by contributing to the "greenhouse effect" -- primarily caused by increasing CO2 levels (up more than 10% since 1850) - or cool the planet by reflecting and blocking incoming sunlight.

This latter scenario seems to hold the most water. Strong archaeological evidence suggests periods of intensified volcanic activity may have nurtured glaciers and triggered ice ages. Around the wrold, there has been a rise in volcanic activity since 1950, compared to the half century previous.

From 1850 to about 1940, particularly the Northern Hemisphere, went through a period of significant warming according to the National Ocenaographoic and Atmospheric Administration.But since 1940 there has been a distinct drop. England's annual goriwng season shrank by nien or ten days betwen 1950 and 1966. Sea ice retuned to Iceland's coasts after more than forty years virtual absence.

The only surety about weather is that it changes, and we have to change with it. When it rains we put on raincoats; when it freezes - longjohns. Likewise our gardening techniques are adapted to various weather patterns and seasons. Raised beds and plastic row covers work wonders in areas with cold wet soils, while irrigation becomes a must in sandy soil and periods of drought. Different types and varieties of crops can hold the key to success in climatic extremes.

In this age of uncertainty, prudent American families find it comforting to stock their larders with months, even years, worth of canned or freeze-dried foods. After all, agrarian societies developed from hunting and gathering tribes because agriculture is not only more energy-efficient, but provides additional security. Modern gardeners practice their art for often these very same reasons -- cost-efficiency and protection of both supply and organic quality.

Crop failures due to events beyond our control do occur however, and food supplies can become erratic or nonexistent given our current climate of social and economic uncertainty.

Even the master gardener, with the most well-developed plot of ground, cannot cope with some of the bizarre aberrations of El Nino, abnormally low temperatures from a nearby Mount St Helens, or the exigencies of war and civil unrest. In reality, most of our common food crops are relatively delicate, compared to wild plants. And if crop failure is extensive enough, those dependent upon commercial food supplies become desperate -- tremendous social upheaval results. The prudent gardener would do well to preapre now for such an eventuality by literally planting against misfortune.

Nature has provided a profusion of extremely hardy food plants. Compared to sissified garden and farm crops which needed to be pampered and coddled every step of the way, native food species (especially the perennials, trees and shrubs) are super plants. True many would cringe at the prospect of living all winter on a diet of beans from the Siberian pea shrub, Jerusalem artichoke tubers or duckweeds. But we'd live and we might even come up with some tassty recipes.

Not to suggest that everyone rush out and begin planting their hard won deep humus to shrubs, forgetting the okra, squash and melons. But most of us have some spare dirt, perhaps around the periphery of our yards. Some, like myself, have acres to root around in any way we please.

A hedge, just one form of our rainy-day crop might take, can provide privacy, windbreaks, shade, wildlife cover and feed; or even a secure, stiock-proff fence. All the while growing bigger and sturdier, ready to supply your family with emergency rations should the neeed ever come. Think of it as food insurance.

Can these trees, shrubs and hardy perennials really produce enough feedstock in small-area plantings to provide true alternative resources? Well, here's what Earle Barnhart said in Tree Crops, an article published in the Journal of The New Alchemists: "Tree crops can match row crops in both protein and carbohydrate yield per acre. Modern hybrid-grain crops such as corn, wheat, and soybeans only outproduce tree crops such as Persian Walnut, filberts, Chinese chestnuts, honey locust and black walnut if they are highly subsidized with fossil-fuel inputs such as pest protection, weed removal, nutrient enrichment and constant, adequate water."... "large fields benefit from being sheltered; the approximate 5% used for windbreaks is well-compensated by higher productivity from the remainder. Tree products such as acorns and honey-locust pods can match corn and oats pound-for-pound as winter feed supplements for livestock." Or us.

"Other woody plants do even better, such as mesquite. This small deciduous tree, native to our Southwest, is so hardy some folks claim it is related to the coyote -- indestructible.! Cows relish its seedpods, and so did the Indians. Pods, minus the seeds, contain much sycrse, about 8-12% protein and are rich in calcium, iron and phosphorus. Mesquite beans which must be ground for human consumption, contain a whopping 60% protein." In fact the whole tree was of vital importance to early natives of the Southwest. The mesquite gives shade, building material, firewood, food and its fibruous bark can be woven into fabric. The honey mesquite in particular is a favourite of honey bees, hence its name: and both it and the velvet mesquite exhibit exceedingly attractive foilage, often planted as ornamentals.

Like the eastern locust, mesquite is a nitrogen-fixing legume. And also like the locust it has many sharp spines, making it ideal for trimming into a dense man-or livestock-proof hedge. Growing to 20 feet tall, this plant provides security in more ways than one. Prowlers or potential looters can easily be disheartened by such a barrier surrounding a house. Nor would its wealth be evident to the gaze of the average brigand searching for food stocks and other valuables.

Honey and mesquite locust grow well south of northern Oklahoma, southern Colorado, Utah and central Nevada. They both tolerate a wide range of conditions: 100-150 days of frost per year, up to 30 inches of rain (or as little as 6 inches), and they grow in sand, gravel, rocks, loam or clay; with either alkaline, saline, acid or neutral soils.

Mesquites withstand full desert heat, and during drought conditions they reduce their transpiration rate and water useage. Growth declines or halts, and the trees enter a resting mode, which they may maintain without permanent ill effects for long periods. Mature mesquite is also fire-survivable - the tops may burn but dormant buds will survive underground to send up new shoots.

Of course, while the mesquite might even survive a nuclear blast in its native area, sub-zero Minnesota winter would be too much for it. So for colder climes, a better choice would be the Siberian pea shrub. Hardy to -50F degrees, it approaches the mesquite in drought resistance.

If trimmed as a hedge, the Siberian pea shrub grows into a spiny, impenetrable 24-foot-tall buffer covered with nutritious seedpods. The young green pods are eaten as a vegetable, while the mature seeds contain 36% protein and are used in recipes calling for dried beans or peas. If protected from livestock while small, pea shrubs will form an excellent cattle-and-man-proof fence, providing nourishing livestock and wildlife feed and cover - all the while awaiting to serve you with life-sustaining fare in hard times.

Another similar leguminous tree is the honey lcoust, named for the sweetness of its pods and its attractiveness to honey bees. Here again, once shaped into a dense hedge, honey locust makes a formidable fence, provides a generous bounty of tasty, nutritious pods and seeds for both animals and man, and is an attractive addition to any yard.

These three trees also are excellent candidates for the poultry yard, dropping their seedpods in late fall and eary winter to provide superb fodder you don't have to haul from the feed store. Many find the mulberry to be outstanding in this regard also. A fast-growing tree, the mature white (or Russian) mulberry can yield 400 pounds of collectible fruit, plus additional amounts taken by birds and squirrels. Dried mulberries are a staple in Afghanistan. Netting is spread on the ground under the trees, and over a 30 day period about 75% of the fruit is caught, which amounts to over five and one half tons per acre. US Dept Agriculture analyzed dried ppulp from Afghan mulberries and found it contaied 70.01% invert sugar, 1.2% sucrose,, 2.59% protein 1.6% fat and no starch.

The Afghans grind their dried berries and almonds, but the Japanese find even more edible produce on the mulberry tree. They eat the tender young shoots and leaves, cooked or raw. While their white mulberry is not native to the United States, it may grow hardy and drought-resistant all across our country. Also, there are US-native species such as the Texas mulberry for the southwestern states, and the red mulberry. These trees are also trimmed for hedges, either alone or with other species.

Many other fruit and nut trees can add significiantly to our larder, and some are very handy -- almost unfailing within their range. Because of size and formidable root systems, trees and shrubs generally have an edge over their punier garden brethren. But there are many perennial herbs, forbs and grasses which do nearly as well, bringing a quicker return on your investment. While most trees take years to become profitable, perennials can provide a substantial harvest their first year.

One of the most remarkable plants is the Jerusalem artichoke. Widely used by early American Indians, thsi native is extremely hardy throughout the country, and generally disease-and-pest-free. It spreads rapidly -- some consider this a problem -- and is marvelously productive. Yield is about 15 tons to the acre, five times more than potatoes, and once planted it is with you forever. And established plot crowds out out all competitiors (it helps to rototill the plot every year or so) and so needs no weeding.

This tall relative of the sunflower can be cut more than once as fodder, and Jerusalem artichokes have also found success as a fuel crop - fermented and distilled into alcohol. Its tubers - relatively high in protein, potassium and B vitamins, are also very high in a form of sugar called levulose. Tubers can be left in the ground for hog pasture, or just dug as needed, since freezing does them no harm. Even tiny slices of the tuber seem to sprout the follwiong spring, assuring an endles supply.

Chickory, dandelion, and winter cress are a trio which should be on everyone's "must" list for early crops, and for forcing in the basement during winter. Some might wince at the thought of actually planting "weeds" in their garden, but when you want hardiness - they don't come much tougher.

Dandelion's leaves have four to five times as much protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins as does lettuce; chickory is much the same, and both can be eaten raw or cooked. Roots can also be cooked like turnips or parsnips. Winter cress is even hardier, and sold commerically in some areas. Winter cress contains three times as much vitamin C as in equal amounts of orange juice, and as much vitamin A.

But why bother planting things which may be found wild almost everywhere? Simply because cultivation greatly enhances productivity and ease of harvest. Remember, our ancestors switched from gathering to growing for security and efficiency.

One more addition to our survival garden is comfrey. This lush green plant seems unkillable - as many have found when it spreads to where it isn't wanted. The early leaves are good pot herbs, and quite healthful. Up to 32% protein, with many vitamins, minerals, and a healing drug called allantoin is found in comfrey leaves and roots.

Allantoin is a valuable remedy for external and internal ulcers, and the only common source for the chemical is the fetal-ammoniac sac. Comfrey will grow in wet or dry climate, in the poorest soil. Its roots may reach down 20 feet or more to extract nutrients from subsoil, and comfrey can produce 60 tons per acre of green material. It is also very frost-resistant, being one of the first plants to come out in the spring, and one of the last to die in fall.

For those in dry climates, a necessary adjunct to the mesquite would be the tepary bean, long cultivated by southwestern Indian tribes. Although not a perennial, tepary is a true desert plant, often maturing after only one or two rains. The tepary bean is the most drought and heat-adapted food crop known. Far from being fit only for the palate of some grizzled desert rat, the tepary contains more protein than most commercial beans, and is mild flavoured and better tasting to boot.

Waterlogged? Enjoy the luxury of your own pond? Or even the possibility of making a shallow one? Then you can increase your organic food supply's stability and security onehundredfold. Homesteaders confined to a small city yard can still opt for a pond ala Rodale aquaculture experiments - a 12-foot plastic swimming pool. Work done by the New Alchemy Institute in this vein, with small-scale indoor aquaculture systems, is also worth investingating. Those fortunates who possess adequate land and water may well hold the key to a veritable garden of Eden.

Standard procedure for setting up a new household in some part of China involves digging a pit to mine clay needed for adobe blocks used in homebuilding. Afterwards, this pit is filled with water, and fish stocked therein. Pigs and chickens are usually penned beside or over the pond, and their manure used to fertilize the water, creating an algae bloom which feeds the herbivorous fish.

Subsequently, highly fertile water from this pond irrigates a garden which feeds the family --and the livestock -- so energy flows circularly, thus efficiently. A variant practice involves two ponds, each used alternately as fishpond-garden-fishpond. Or even with a third pond used for a rice paddy.

Whatever your aquatic possibilities or proclivities, pond culture opens a window of opportunity unparalleled in dry-land gardening. Even a shallow pond or paddy growing only cattails represents a backup food supply unequalled by any known farm crop. Here again, American Indians made wide use of this plant -- eating young cattail shoots, rootlets, flour made from its root stock, and even its pollen.

The Cattail Research Center at Syracuse University found yields of 140 tons of rhizomes per acre is possible -- with 30% starch content, this converts to 32 tons of dry flour. Rather incredible. If you do not favor the prospect of cattail flour three times a day, think how many hogs can be fed on 140 tons of starchy rhizomes.

Open your window of options a little more by deepening the pond. Wild rice, while not really a perennial, acts like one by automatically reseeding itself each year. With more protein and slightly higher fat-content than domestic rice, wild rice played a substantial role in filling dietary requirements of those American Indians blessed with it. Hardy up to northern Cnaada, freezing even to the floor of the pond will not harm it. However, yearly cultivation of the pond bottom or flowing water are necessary to control the spread of other aquatics. A strong erosional and/or depositional force of water current is nature's plow.

Rice will grow in as little as 2 inches of water or as deep as 2-3 feet, but will not tolerate large fluctuations, especially increases. Slowly decreasing water levels, all the way to the wet mud, are fine. Soil can be sand, gravel or mud. However, deep, oozy sediments of great organic content, where there is no current to stir up and oxygenate the substrata, will be too anaerobic to grow rice. Such environs suit cattails fine, however.

Deepen the hole a bit more, or at least one end of it, and fish farming becomes possible. At least 8 feet of depth is needed for overwintering in cold climates, unless there is an adequate flow of water to stop ice from forming solid all the way down. Warm-season-only fish crops require much less depth, of course, with three feet being quite efficient. Aeration is another possibility, but this adds complication, and we're talking about foolproof food here.

Another energy give-and-take can occur by "planting" duckweeds on your pond's surface. These tiny water plants are super durable, even living in the far north. Under good conditions they can double their biomass in three days to one week. Raked from a pond surface and fed to pigs and chickens - or people - duckweeds provide amazing amounts of food. And, of course, ducks forage their own. Duck potatoes, of the arrowhead family, are another aquatic edible, once a staple food, by Indian tribes and waterfowl alike.

The list could go on and on, but my point is made. The orthodox forms of agriculture we are most accustomed to are not the only ones - nor are they the most efficient or reliable. The idea of a traditional American farm as the ultimate in productivity and advanced technique holds little water in reality. Nor are customary food crops able to provide us with true nutritional security, however much we enjoy their taste.

Our agricultural system, our flagging economy - indeed, the whole entity - appears more fragile every day. We think of America as a corncopia of plenty, but how many of us realize that no city in our land has more than a three-day supply of food on hand at any given time?

El Nino is coming - El Chichon is rumbling.

Start today to plant a hedge against misfortune.