Foraging, Hawthorne, Health, Plants, Uncategorized

The May Queen in October

The Hawthorne tree is associated with the May Queen¹, the branches loaded with blossoms in the Spring. It’s also associated with the fairies and it was considered bad luck to cut one down. Now in October we see what blossomed in the Spring has come to fruit in the Fall.

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Bees, flies and other pollinators love the pretty pink and white flowers, possibly because they smell a bit like fish or meat. I love watching the buzz and hum of them in and around the trees. A tea of the Spring flowers and leaves is a healthy drink, but don’t smell it too closely.

Crataegus monogyna is the Hawthorne we commonly see planted in the Northwest with it’s red berries; it was used widely in fields to soak up excess water. There is a native Hawthorne, Crataegus Douglassii, which is not as commonly found that has black berries. They, along with many other species of Hawthorne are in the Rosaceae family of plants; a family with many, many useful edible and medicinal plants.

Hawthorn grows in acidic, alkaline, loamy, moist, sandy, well-drained, wet and clay soils. It is drought-tolerant. In other words, it’s an easy tree to grow. It does like full sun, at least 6 hours per day. They have a rounded shape and grow from 15-25 feet tall. They respond well to pruning and will become bushier with more flowers and fruit!

In keeping with the connection of Hawthorne with the emotional heart in the Spring at Beltane; in western medicine, Hawthorne is used to restore physical heart health.² Hawthorn can help improve the amount of blood pumped out of the heart during contractions, widen the blood vessels, and increase the transmission of nerve signals.

Hawthorn also seems to have blood pressure-lowering activity, according to early research. It seems to cause relaxing of the blood vessels farther from the heart. It seems that this effect is due to a component in hawthorn called proanthocyanidin.

Research suggests that hawthorn can lower cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad cholesterol”), and triglycerides (fats in the blood). It seems to lower accumulation of fats in the liver and the aorta (the largest artery in the body, located near the heart). Hawthorn fruit extract may lower cholesterol by increasing the excretion of bile, reducing the formation of cholesterol, and enhancing the receptors for LDLs. It also seems to have antioxidant activity.

In Chinese medicine, Hawthorne has historically been used for improving digestion. It’s reputed to relieve food stagnation, especially with meats and oily foods and relieve blood stagnation, although it’s not recommended for long term use by the Chinese as it can injure the flow of Qi in the Spleen over time if there is deficiency.³

Most commonly it’s used in decoction for medicinal uses, although I love to use it in elixirs and honey.

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As a food, the berries are traditionally made into tasty chutneys and ketchup in the UK. The trees are commonly planted in hedgerows, so the berries are plentifully available. Here in the Pacific NW, the trees are found in parks and fields, although sadly many of the parks are removing them as they are not a native species.

Every Spring I look forward to harvesting new leaves and flowers and every fall I look forward to harvesting the berries.

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Me enjoying the Hawthorne berries and trees

Part of the lore of Hawthorne is its’ protective quality, because of the thorns it has. (The size of these vary from species to species, and some have none) I have a pendant made from a Hawthorne thorn and berry, wire wrapped with silver that I like to wear when I feel I need a little protective energy to go out into the world with me.

¹http://www.whitedragon.org.uk/articles/hawthorn.htm

²http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-527-hawthorn.aspx?activeingredientid=527

³https://www.sacredlotus.com/go/chinese-herbs/substance/shan-zha-hawthorn-fruit

This post is meant to be used for educational purposes only and not to diagnose or treat any condition or illness. Consult your doctor if you have any questions about the information posted here.

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Dandelions, Foraging, Health, Plants, recipe, Uncategorized

Dandelions; the Sun and the Moon… and Jupiter

One of my favorite plants is Dandelion. If I could have only one plant in my garden, Dandelion would be the one. As I continue to study plants (a lifelong endeavor depending how far down the rabbit hole one wants to go……), I’m intrigued by the correlations earlier herbalists made between the plants and astrology and relating them to a person’s astrological chart as well as thinking about optimal times to use plants or harvest them.

There are herbalists today using astrology in relation to plants, such as Matthew Wood and Sajah Popham, whose course I covet taking some day. In the meantime, he has some interesting videos on You Tube, check them out .

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Looking at the Dandelion, out growing in the full sun, with it’s sunny yellow flowers, I would first say it’s ruled by the sun, but the other day it was talking to me about its relationship with the moon (white ball of seeds, almost glowing in the dark)…. It’s interesting that the plant embodies these opposite qualities, a reminder to look beyond the most obvious uses of an herb.

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It does have an affinity for the breasts¹…..if I think about its actions on the body, it’s bitter and stimulates the gall bladder and liver, and it’s alterative, more of a Jupiter action, but it also is diuretic and affects the kidneys, which is a Venus type action, and acts on damp, overly relaxed tissues…..however, it acts by stimulation, moving stagnation which is more Jupiterian, expansive….. overall, I’m feeling like it’s a Jupiter plant, which being the largest planet, is big enough to include some of the properties of all the other planets.

In general dandelion leaves are used as a tea for the diuretic action and contain potassium, offsetting the potassium loss that occurs when the body is stimulated to urinate more, the root is used in spring and summer as a nourishing building tonic and in the fall and winter for it’s alterative action. All parts of it contain minerals as it’s tap root pulls minerals up from deep in the ground. ( which is why it’s good to leave some in the garden, the roots pull the minerals up and the decomposing leaves make them available on the surface to other plants) It’s bitter taste stimulates the pathway of the Vagus nerve², stimulating the production of bile in the gall bladder and aiding digestion. I believe many of the food intolerances people have these days are due to poor digestive function because people don’t eat enough bitter and fermented foods, as our ancestors would have, which help to break down our food and make the nutrients bio-available.

It’s also a great culinary plant, whose nutrition hasn’t much been dumbed down by breeding as so many of our vegetables have been these days. The whole plant is edible. The flower buds can be pickled and used like capers. One of my favorites is flower fritters, but almost anything battered and fried is tasty! Oh, and dandelion wine from the flowers!

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Here’s a recipe:

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Dandy Veloute over Polenta

Ingredients:

Carrot Cloud:

6 large carrots, chopped into large bits

                 1 large russet potato, chopped into large bits

                  1 tbs. lemon juice

5 bay leaves

rest of can of coconut milk after dividing, see Dandy Veloute

3 tbsp. coconut oil

salt to taste

Broth:

shells from 1 lb of shrimp

1/2 cup white wine

6-7 cups of water, you want to end up with 6 cups after simmering.

or just use 6 cups of broth of choice

Dandy Veloute:

5 loosely chopped cups of dandelion leaves

1/2 onion, chopped

1/2 cup white wine

1 cup broth

1 1/4 cup coconut milk

2 tbsp. coconut oil or olive oil

Polenta:

2 cups dry polenta

5 cups broth, 1 cup water

salt and pepper to taste

 

For the carrot puree cloud: in steamer pan add water and 5 bay leaves to bottom. Steam carrots and potatoes until tender. Add them and the rest of the cloud ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Put into a holding container, try not to devour it while making the other parts of the recipe.

For the broth: simmer the shrimp shells white wine and water for about 1/2 hour. Strain out the shells.

For the Veloute: Heat the oil in a large skillet. Sautee the onions until they soften but do not brown. Add the white wine, then 1 cup of the broth and simmer for 10 minutes. Put them in the blender along with the dandelions and coconut milk. Blend until smooth and creamy. Set aside or in a pot on the stove on low until polenta is ready.

For the polenta: Put the dry polenta into a large saucepan. Add the broth and water and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer until softened and thick. Stir occassionally to prevent burning on the bottom.

I sauteed a thinly sliced tomato and about a 1/4 onion in olive oil as a flavorful garnish to put on top. (optional)

Once all parts of recipe are ready: spoon polenta into a serving bowl; put a tablespoon of butter or butter sub on top. (optional, but yummy) Spoon carrot cloud over polenta. Spoon Dandy Veloute on top. Top with garnish if using.

 

I think Dandelions are my most photographed plants, lol, I love them so…..

dandelion collecting             dandelions 10-14

¹https://www.planetherbs.com/michaels-blog/dandelion-burdock-and-cancer.html

²http://www.md-health.com/Vagus-Nerve.html

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Foraging, Natural Dyes, Plants, Uncategorized

Dyeing with Scotch Broom

A couple of months ago, when the Scotch Broom was blooming, I gathered some to experiment with. It’s considered a noxious invasive here in the NW, so there is plenty around and no one minds if you harvest it. It’s on the quarantine plant list, but I think someone forgot to tell the plants! The seeds can remain dormant and viable for over 30 years making it hard to control.¹ I’m doing my part by harvesting before seed set.

Cytisus scoparius is the local variety. Historically, it has a long history of use as a dye, for fiber; textiles and paper, of course brooms, and medicinally for the liver and as a cardiac tonic; although I’ve read that the active constituents can vary widely from plant to plant and most herbalists now use more reliable plants. I haven’t met anyone who uses it medicinally, but you can read more about the history of uses here. Care must be taken to absolutely ID it as there are similar looking plants such as Spanish Broom that are toxic.

I decided to stay with craft uses. Through a bit of research, I found that the “broom” used for dyes was actually Genista tinctoria² But I decided to give it a try anyway. For this dye experiment I pre-mordanted my fabric with alum. I gathered a bunch of flowers and simmered them for a short time, then strained them off and soaked my cloth in the yellow liquid for about two months.

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I was pretty happy with the results. The only caveat seems to be light fastness. I set the pieces of fabric on the back patio to dry and of course forgot about them till the next afternoon…. after a rainstorm during the night and bright sun the next day, much of the color in the ones that didn’t blow up against the house in the shade had faded quickly. But for decorative projects that would stay indoors, it makes quite a nice yellow.

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In theory I also wanted to make fiber from the stalks, but the video I saw on the process was actually for genestra, although I imagine the process is similar; it’s not in English, but pretty easy to follow along visually. It seems to require dancing and singing and no small amount of polluting of streams, but imagine how wonderful items that took this much attention to produce would feel. It did look very labor intensive…. so they’re sitting in a pile out back and likely not too useful for anything at this point….

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although I have read that the stems have lots of tannins, so perhaps I will make a tea with them to try tanning some salmon skin again. (My first attempt was a fail, but that’s another story)

Has anyone else used Scotch Broom? Please comment below!

 

¹http://www.nwcb.wa.gov/detail.asp?weed=44

²http://blog.ellistextiles.com/2015/05/14/a-lesson-about-dye-plants-broom/

 

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Brigid, Foraging, Imbolc, Plants, Uncategorized

Imbolc or the Beginnings of Spring

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Brigid’s cross. Yes, I made this.

Imbolc marks the first stirrings of Spring in the Northern hemisphere, either February 1st or 2nd, depending on your source for dates. Some years, Winter hangs on and lingers; but this year, at least on the West coast, Spring has Sprung!

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Chives peeking up in my garden.

Imbolc is associated with the Goddess Brigid in Ireland, and the violet is one  of Her flowers.

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Sure enough they are just getting ready to bloom.

Brigid is considered the Goddess of Water and Fire. I’ve been exploring the Red Alder, Alnus Rubra, and gathering bark and catkins as the tree is flowering at this time in late winter/ early spring. It’s not traditionally associated with Brigid or Imbolc, but I still consider it fitting as a tree of Water and Fire. Alder has an affinity for wet climates and watery places. It’s a gateway plant, meaning it’s one of the first trees to come back where humans or fires have disrupted the land. Alder fixes nitrogen into the soil and remediates the ph. As a relatively short lived tree, it grooms the soil for longer lasting trees to take over and thrive again.¹ The fire part comes in the bark. When the bark is scratched or peeled it turns red. Considering the Doctrine of Signatures, we would guess that Alder is useful to the blood, which in fact it is. It aids the lymphatic system and is anti-microbial. For an amazing in-depth monograph on Alder, read this by Kiva Rose.² Dried alder bark helps with digestive issues. The tincture turns a lovely red just like the dried bark.

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Alder bark tincture as it looked just before I got lost in the viewfinder of the camera and kicked it over. Hmph.

What signs of Spring can you find in your own yard or neighborhood? What are your experiences with alder?

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Kitty checking out the Spring garden. My artichokes came back in Nov. and so did most of the ones around town and they’ve made it through the little bit of freezing weather we had the end of Dec.

¹http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/1995-55-4-a-nitrogen-fixation-the-story-of-the-frankia-symbiosis.pdf

²http://bearmedicineherbals.com/rivermedicine.html

All information here is for educational purposes and not intended treat any medical conditions. If you have any questions please consult your doctor.

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Foraging, Health, recipe, winter

Winter Foraging and Nourishment

Now, we are in the midst of winter…. don’t tell my garden, though, in spite of several days of freezing weather, the plants are starting to grow!…. dead nettle and kale and the neighbor’s flowering quince are starting to bloom… last year the seasons started early and it looks like this year will be even earlier…. But beyond that, it is supposed to be Winter …

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“swiss chard and malva neglecta sprouting”

In Chinese medicine winter is the time of nourishing and protecting the kidneys; the taste for the kidneys is salty. Good quality salt is one way to help direct the nutrition you take in to nourishing the kidneys throughout the season. 

Although salt has been vilified in recent years, it’s an important component in good health, everyone needs some and some people actually need more than others. Your doctor can do a blood test to see where your potassium – salt balance is and advise accordingly; a few conditions that may benefit from more salt are conditions such as adrenal fatigue (kidneys) and cystic fibrosis. Most people who are getting too much salt, are getting it through processed and prepared foods, where salt is heavily added for taste and preservation. Not only is it a lot of salt, but it’s processed salt, or as I call it “processed salt food product”. This “salt” has been heated to crystallize, iodine added then bleached to make it white again, and often had dextrose (hello, diabetics) or anti-caking agents added in.¹  These added ingredients can be included up to 2%. The FDA considers them non-toxic, so it’s up to you how important that is to you, I prefer to avoid additives. Be aware that many sea-salts are also fairly processed. I use celtic sea salt that’s minimally processed, it’s kind of chunky and damp, so I dry it in the dehydrator (an oven on the lowest setting for a few hours would also work) and then grind it up in the blender or coffee grinder. If you’re adventurous you can add some herbs into the mix for a custom flavored finishing salt. Cutting the salt with up to 50% herbs or spices will also cut the amount of sodium, if you need eat less salt; without losing flavor.

If you’re adventurous and live near a coastline with a clean stretch, you can make your own salt! As many coastal communities put their waste water outflows at public beaches or other pollution sources such as offshore drilling may contaminate the quality of the water, it’s important to do a little research on the quality of your local beaches. I live on Puget Sound and it seems the water doesn’t get clean around my region until up around Camano Island. I’m judging this by the website for Washington State Dept. of Health Shellfish Safety Information, which shows areas closed for pollution…. looking at it today is a bit discouraging. This information changes often, as, well, water moves and weather changes, so check your local area just before you hope to gather some water. I would advise doing the same before foraging for seaweed or other sea life.

So, if it’s a good day, pollution-wise, and you want to give it a try, I’ll show how I’ve harvested salt from the wild.

First gather some sea water in a container. I would avoid busy beaches when there are lots of people and maybe dogs in the water for obvious reasons.

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Next I strained the water to remove any extra materials that might have come home with the water.

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After that, I simmered the seawater to evaporate the majority of the water, leaving just a little water to evaporate from a pan that I set aside in the kitchen for a few days.

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When that had evaporated, I used a spatula to scrape up the salt residue that was left.

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I transferred it to a spice bottle, and have my very own wild foraged salt! I only gathered a little bottle of water so I ended up with only a little bit of salt. Salt is only 3.5% ² of the composition of seawater, so it takes quite a bit of seawater to  get a quantity of salt from it.

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I really enjoyed going through the process of making it myself. I find I appreciate things more when I’ve made an effort to make it myself and see the process…. and I always find it rewarding to reconnect to the natural world where everything we use ultimately comes from. I don’t think I’ll be making all my own salt anytime soon, so making my own salt made me aware that I’d like to know about the companies that produce salt. In the spirit of the locavore movement there is a small artisanal salt producer locally, the San Juan Island Sea Salt company.

¹http://www.saltinstitute.org/news-articles/iodized-salt/

²http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/whysalty.html

*Nothing in this post is meant to be construed as medical advice or to be used for treatment. This article is intended to solely educational. If you have concerns or questions please visit your doctor for advise.

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