Thursday, 31 December 2015

Silk in a bowl (weekend bone broth directions for kitchen virgins)

A little bird has awoken me from hibernation with a request for help. I'm more than happy to oblige in such a good cause. Here's how I do my bone broth, using a roasted chicken.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

That's all for now ..

Now, if you check in on me in February, you might find me babbling nonsense as I wrestle with a bout of cabin fever, but right now that smattering of snow we woke up to feels just about right to me. It's time to turn inward, curl up next to the fire and dream ..

No more posting here, likely until spring. You can still write to me of course, and I'll check in periodically to see if there are any comments.

Have a great winter!

Friday, 6 November 2015

No rabbit holes, no snake oil, just garbling and getting to know the Chaga

I feel dirty.

I've just been reading the hype around Chaga (with side trips into pine pollen and deer antler velvet) by the likes of Daniel Vitalis and David (Avocado) Wolfe. I laffed until the tears streamed down my cheeks at some of it, but mostly I cringed.

Now if those two are gurus that you have some respect for, then you might want to click away and never come back to this humble wildcrafter's journal, for as far as I'm concerned they are nothing but pimps and snake oil salesmen. I'm not saying Chaga is snake oil, I'm saying they sell it like it is. Wait, actually, I am saying their versions of Chaga are snake oil, and very expensive snake oil at that. Start making claims about immortality and you are in the realm of snakes. Think I'm being harsh here? You should hear how I really feel.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Chaga ramble and the anti-Chaga rant

Chaga's kingdom. 

Rarely have I seen and read such utter malarkey as what I've come across lately while I research Chaga, the new darling of the "herbal" biz. Nearly everything I've read - the mumbo jumbo about its healing powers, the rigamarole most sites say is necessary to prep it for use - is way over the top. Just shameful.

I'm not saying it isn't a good tonic - it is a very good tonic. But I am going on record right here and now to say if you can't gather it and garble it yourself then my friends, you need to really do your research and look into your heart before deciding if you want to use it. Despite what the sellers tell you, this is not a terribly sustainable product. In my opinion, it is not suitable for commercial exploitation.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

i.d. (a couple of) useful weeds in the autumn, by request

Okay kids - as several of you know, I'm always up for a game of "name that weed", wherein you take pictures on your walks, send them to me and I try to figure out what it is we're looking at. It's a fun game - but maybe frustrating for some of you who are just starting out and don't know, really, what you're looking for. This post full of pictures might help.

This is actually a good time of year for what I like to call reconnaissance walks - getting to know the lay of the land, learning where the colonies of this or that useful plant are in your neighbourhood or yard, or park, or even the edges of the Walmart parking lot - so you know how to recognize them and what kind of conditions they prefer to grow in.

Now, I'm not suggesting you necessarily pick plants that you find in those urban areas. I'm not suggesting you don't either - that's another discussion - but these are great places to find and get to know what your target plants look like.

The most common, probably, is plantain , the ever so useful stuff I make my ointments from:

Remember, you can always click to embiggen.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Evening Primrose - growing it and using it.

Of course all the best medicinal plants are weeds ..

There I was, about to get on with a 'normal' day (whatever that means) when Paul (my husband) (the designated strawberry grower) (and all around good guy) says in a pretty darn irritated tone "what the hell are these weeds taking over my strawberry patch?!".

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Tinctures list updated and talking about power.

Up at the top bar, go have a look-see.

As I make note of on that page, the list doesn't include everything I have macerating in jars on shelves, in cupboards, on windowsills and, well, all over the house. Some aren't quite ready for prime time, I like to try things out before sharing them. Others I have quite small amounts of, perhaps enough to share with one or two, but only by special request.

Of course my goal is to put myself out of business. I want everyone making their own tinctures, oils, ointments, infusions, decoctions and all the rest from plants they grow or gather themselves.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Moldy oils, invasive sunchokes and other stories

Just so you don't think it's all fairy dust, all the time ..

As much as I love sunchokes (aka jerusalem artichokes) - for example they were very tasty indeed in last night's spicy coconut milk chicken dish, simmered for over an hour, alongside carrots and new potatoes - last week I became positively irate about how much of the garden they had taken over.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Garbling the echinacea, and why you should try your hand at it too.

I have read so many different takes on harvesting and using this plant. Use 5 yr. old plants, only. Use Purpurea only, or Augustfolia only. Yes, you can use other cultivars; no you can't. Yes you can use the leaves and flowers or even the seeds; no you can't. Use the rhizomes only; use the little roots; don't use the little roots .. damn it, if I was waiting for consensus I would never use this plant. You know what I think when I see so many opinions? Go with your gut. So here's how I garbled my echinacea plants today; how you do yours is entirely up to you.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Garbling the mullein

I love this time of year.

We're not quite in autumn weather yet, but here and there one early scarlet or golden tree stands out on the green hills. We're hearing a few geese gathering on the river below us where they chat all night long. They sound like people from a distance. The nannyberries are ripening, too. So we're getting close.

The purple ones are the ripe ones. There's not much to a nannyberry (Viburnam lentago) but they're a great little nibble. (Don't believe what you may read on the internet about slicing them or putting them in smoothies. If you meet one in person you'll see how silly a notion that is.) They're maybe the size of an egg shaped blueberry and half their volume is a nice flat stone that's fun to kinda 'worry around' in the mouth while wandering down a gravel road. The taste is oddly reminiscent of banana.

Meanwhile on the ground the herbaceous perennials and the first year biennials are putting on a rush of growth. Mullein is looking like it is getting ready for bed in its flannel pyjamas.

This first year mullein rosette is a good 2 ft across. Those ratty leaves nearby are a pathetic, slug-eaten comfrey. 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Messing about with wild grapes (with bonus mini-rant)

Down at the bottom of the yard where the land drops off abruptly to what we call the 'ravine', the wild grape vines go high up into the trees. In spring time the flowers on those vines emit the fragrance of heaven. Some years, like this year, a heavy frost wipes them out; but wild grapes are undaunted. They simply bloom again.

We feared it was but a tease, that second wave of heaven scent. The actual vineyards of the region were declaring disaster, surely the wild ones couldn't produce fruit if the coddled wine grapes couldn't, right? But when the birds started carousing in a particular tree a few days ago, Paul (my husband) (lover of all things grape) (and all around good guy) crashed that party - and he came back with favours!

Half a bucket-o-joy!

Much to our surprise, these wild grapes are not the usual tiny mouth-puckeringly sour variety that we usually find back there, but as near-as-dammit to concords as we've ever seen. A little smaller, mind you, and still somewhat puckery, but juicy, oh are they juicy!

Friday, 11 September 2015

Speaking of eyebright

We do a lot of stopping at the side of the road on our rambles.

Paul (my husband) (and photographer) (and all around good guy) has developed an interesting knack for stopping the car right next to patches of eyebright growing at the roadside. It's quite by accident, yet it just keeps happening.

Very tricky stuff to get a pic of, eyebright.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

How to use herbal tinctures

First, let's establish the why. Why a tincture instead of some other preparation? As mentioned in a previous post here the reasons do vary. In some cases the parts of the herb we want are alcohol soluble more than water soluble. In other cases, we are limiting exposure to (but not eliminating) unpleasant tastes.

In my own case, I'm afraid tinctures are often the only way I can store the medicine plants for future use. Ever more humid summers are meaning I have difficulty drying them, and so I resort more often now to tinctures, vinegars and oils. (I never use a dehydrator, I find them too hot.)

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Life on the edge

Today seems to be a woodpecker day. I could hear one really digging into a tree somewhere while I was hanging the laundry. Not the ratatat-tat of a bird declaring his territory but the purposeful chiselling/chopping sound of one that's found a good food source.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

What's in a mouthwash?

If we're talking commercial mouthwash, then sometimes, some very nasty things indeed. Bottom line, in this household if can we replace a commercial product with something home made (and home grown), that's what we do. That's the subject of today's post.

Mouthwash may or may not even be necessary to good oral health, but let's face it, a lot of people enjoy how it feels.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Making plantain balm

I usually call this plantain ointment, but the husband thinks "balm" sounds more soothing. And as this is some very soothing stuff, we'll go with that.

Plantain ointment, oops! I mean balm is good medicine for the skin, especially for those of us who work with our hands. Gardening hands, dry wood stove feeding hands, dog-walking in the cold without gloves hands. I like it for hang nails, too. It's fantastic for rough feet and of course it is so good for haemorrhoids that I'm tempted to call it "Preparation P.". But that just sounds weird, so I won't.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Medical marijuana is NOT herbal medicine

It's just not.

Cannabis derived products look like herbal medicine to some, but that is simply because of the way herbalism itself has been twisted and corrupted. Cannabis derived products are drugs - but then so are most of the supplements sold these days - and so although I have nothing (much) against pot per se, I am increasingly outraged by the mainstream hoax surrounding it.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Nettle tincture for hives - a success story.

Here's a novel use for nettle tincture, brought to us by a reader. This is good stuff, and I'm glad she's sharing. We've lost so much our traditional knowledge about the uses of these handy plants that we almost have to start from scratch (oops, no pun intended) to figure these things out on our own, and share what we learn.

Here's what Linda has learned, in her own words:

Saturday, 8 August 2015

A 2fer post - Oats galore and garbling the usnea

Just over a week ago we went for one of those evening drives, when the light is all golden on the fields and shadows play in the forests. Down our favourite back road on Calumet Island we came across a field of oats, still green, but cut down that day. The smell was indescribably beautiful, especially combined with all the wildflowers of the ditches and the dew just coming on.

As there is no gate, I ventured into the field and discovered, to my delight, that the all around the edges of the field, where weeds meet crop, the farmer had left oats standing. Score! I love oatstraw infusions, so I gathered an armload and brought them home. I had no knife - silly me - but they come up by the roots very easily.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Another Sunday, suggested reading - mullein

For some of you this may be review, but I think it's time that we bring mullein into the conversation.

I could have sworn I had a post at the other blog about mullein that I was going to transfer over here, but it seems to have disappeared. It must have been in one or the other of those blogs of mine that "come and go like mushrooms" as a friend put it.

I am nothing if not inconsistent.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Suggested Sunday reading

I'm always amazed to still be tripping over excellent herb sites, and some of them go quite far back in "time" (at least time as the internet measures these things).

I've just read this article at a site called The Herbarium ; "How to Become a Master Herbalist in Thirty Years or More" by the venerable Paul Bergner.

Friday, 24 July 2015

A headache, and the remedy

(Originally posted 6 January 2015 here )

My head's been hurting for so long that now that I feel like I'm going to float off into outer space.

I haven't slept properly for a long, long, time. I've been looking like crap, too, forced to use lipstick (and I hate lipstick) in everyday situations just so I didn't give myself a shock when I looked in the mirror.

Tea, tincture, infusion, decoction

(Originally posted here )

Oh what an education I've been getting as people share with me their adventures with mainstream, commercial herbal medicines. I lead a sheltered life in the garden and forest and meadows, and hadn't been keeping up on the latest chicanery developments. The interweb seem to have sped up the process of decay in what was once an art and is now, alas, an industry.


(Originally published here )

This plant is right up there with St.John'swort, in that together they take the top spots for the most misunderstood herbal medicines. And, to my mind, they're also the most bastardized, exploited and whored-out by Big Herb. But I digress, right in the first paragraph. Great start!

I've written and deleted and rewritten and redeleted today's post half a dozen times and there might well be a seventh as I try to find another way to write about my friend echinacea, or as I like to call her (or it, or them, which is it?), elk root. You've read all the propaganda. I have to go another way.

St John'swort, not an antidepressant. Well maybe sorta. But not how you think. And really it is SO much more.

(Originally published here

This will not be a discussion about brain chemicals, my brothers and sisters, because I'm pretty sure so narrow a worldview sets people up for depression in the first place. The idea that our responses to life can be reduced to chemical reactions and have nothing to do with us is dehumanizing. Drugs that treat so-called chemical imbalances are dehumanizing. Feeling dehumanized is depressing!

It's become a big con, of course, this whole brain chemistry racket. It's used to keep us in our places. The natural pain that is part of being mortal is medicalized into a disorder. The pain that stems from oppression is labeled mental illness. These types of pain, we're taught, are to be avoided or escaped.

Foraging is

both hunting and gathering.

Some plants throw themselves at us: "pick me, pick me!". Some fall at our feet, literally, like the aspen. Some hide really well in the wild - I'm looking at you, nettle - and some become rampant in the garden, offering far more than we can use - I'm looking at you again, nettle.

Plantain - what I know

(Originally published 26 September 2014 here )

I remember walking barefoot down gravel roads as a kid, my sneakers tied together by their laces and hanging off my shoulder.

When you walk barefoot, you learn to walk where the soft plants grow. Along the edges of gravel roads and on every foot path on the outskirts of that prairie town grew a flat leaved plant that was cool underfoot. Plantain.

The ins and outs of plant medicine

(Originally published 17 February 2015 here )

There's an awful lot about plant medicines that can't be understood by scientific study under a microscope, yet has been understood and exploited by humans until quite recently in our history. But now that we know about chemicals & such, we're obsessed with them, and can't see past them.

Explaining this to the average Westerner is really difficult. The terms I want to use - spirit, for instance - are so co-opted that what I say won't necessarily be what is heard. So bear in mind that as I write I can only indicate what I mean approximately, and that it can only be fully understood by experience with the plants themselves.

No such thing as a failed experiment

(Originally published 23 June 2014 here )

That's what my high school science teacher used to say. "You always learn something, even if it's not what you set out to learn." So it is with gardening, to be sure.

This year's experiments?

Well, there was the cold frame fiasco, wherein I gave the mice a little feast in early spring and learned that stinging nettles and dandelions hate growing under glass.

Do nettles clear toxins through the scalp?

We've all heard by now about testing strands of hair to get a bead on the levels of heavy metals in the human body, yes?

Nettle tea rant

(Originally published 29 April 2015 here )

Under the surface, your writer is ... seething.

Yes! I'm angry. It's about one of those things I should expect, I should just shrug off. I should get over myself. But dammit to hell, it's just not right. It's morally wrong and it's downright dangerous and it pisses me off.

Superficially, this is about teabags.

The prickly nature of stinging nettles

(Originally published 14 September 2014 here )

I love me some nettles. You know I do.

But there are things the books don't tell you about nettles, and then there are other things some books tell you about nettles that are downright incorrect bordering on negligent.

Let's start with the latter. Every time I see a new herb book in a store or an herby website, I turn to the nettle pages to see what they say about when to pick nettles. If they say "pick nettles as they come into bloom" I walk (or click) away. Do NOT pick nettles as they are coming into bloom. They're at their peak of prickliness then, to the point where it just can't be cooked or steeped away. You won't get a mouthful of prickles but chances are good you'll get a tummy and/or kidneys full of glass - or so it will feel. It's not actually the prickles per say, but the chemicals within. It's not good. Don't do it.

How did this error come about? How is it that so many books repeat it? I don't know. And it ticks me off.

It's better to know (nettles, horsetail and red clover)

(Originally published 9 September 2014 here )

Nettle is a plant with specific requirements for harvest. Nor is it the only one that can be problematic to use if incorrectly harvested. Some might simply be less effective if not harvested or stored properly. Others can cause actual harm. This is a very important issue of which most people are simply unaware.

Any side effects from the use of herbs are really not the fault of the plants but the people who prepare or use them. Whether the plant has been allowed to spoil, or the plant is simply inappropriate for that person at that time is something that is rarely taken into account. Yet the public dives in willy nilly then rejects herbal treatments in their entirety when they go awry!

Nettles and me, a love story

(Originally published 18 September 2014 here )

(A reader asks for a post on nettle, and only nettle, from germination to harvest and use. In keeping with my policy that I can't speak from a position of authority, only from personal experience, here's what I've come up with. Questions and requests for clarification most welcome!)

It began with a potluck supper at our cottage. Cathy arrived bearing a grocery bag. Plunking it somewhat unceremoniously on the counter she said, simply, "Nettles. Be careful".

I was awe struck. I'd read about them for years. One old herbal text had a particularly lovely coloured plate illustration of the plant and I'd stared at it many a winter's night, my imagination conjuring the taste of that emerald green beauty as I imagined it steamed and slathered in butter. With salt and pepper.

I opened the bag. It was less than half full. I remember being charmed that the stems had a pinkish tinge. They had grit on them. I reached in to pull them out and YOW! Holy crap that hurt! I had merely brushed one leaf and my hand felt as though I'd just met the business end of a wasp. I heard a chuckle come from Cathy and she came to the kitchen to rescue me. Filling a basin with water, she dumped the nettles in without touching them. The she sent me outside, directing, "find plantain, do the spit poultice thing, you'll be fine."

A few words on weeding & mulching & permaculture gardening

(Originally published 8 July 2015 here )

There are many different styles of permaculture gardening, and some of them make me cringe. The people who go in for earth-moving equipment, changing the landscape, making swales, cutting down trees for hugel-culture etc. are, to my mind, no more stewards of the land than cops in riot gear are crossing guards.

But that's just me. If you're into it, have at 'er. I suppose there are those who want to work with the land (me) and those who want the land to work for them (those guys).

Vinegar walk

(Originally published 7 June 2015 here )

High summer is coming on fast, and that means a change in the plants I'm gathering.

The first round of picking stimulates the growth of stinging nettle, but once you've done a second round, they start to need a rest. If we get rainy cool weather there will be a third round, but if not, nothing until fall. After they flower and set seed, nettles get a rush of new leaves on the old stalks, tender and delicious for those last few meals. Of course I harvest nettle seeds, too, they're such excellent medicine for exhausted adrenals. But while the plants are ragged, while they flower and before that last rush of growth, nettle leaves get too strong and they can actually damage the kidneys if picked at the wrong time.

Burdock, dandelion, Diabetes and gut bacteria - how my brain chews on a mystery

(Originally published 21 October, 2014 here )

There are two types of Diabetes;

Type 1, sometimes erroneously called Juvenile Diabetes, in which the pancreas simply stops producing insulin. Blood sugar levels, left unchecked, rise, causing kidney, circulation and heart problems. It is now thought to be auto-immune in origin, meaning the body does not recognise the difference between self and not self, and for some reason attacks and destroys the beta cells within the insulin producing islets in the pancreas.

Type 2, sometimes erroneously called Adult Onset Diabetes, where-in the pancreas produces insulin, but the body is "resistant" to this insulin and the blood sugar rises, causing kidney, circulation and heart problems. In this case, it is thought to be induced by a diet high in sugar, simple carbohydrates and fats. (Although some people are re-visiting this)

Now, I can wrap my head around auto-immunity (strangely enough) but I don't understand "insulin resistance".

The ins and outs of dandelion

(Originally published 15 February 2015 here )

Just so you know, it's some kind of agony to be writing about dandelion when there's three feet of snow out there and I won't nibble on one of dandy's tender, bitter & sweet first leaves for at least 2 months.

However, needs must and all that, this post is about due. Looking through the blog I realize I've never done a whole post for this current darling of the internet health sites . Mind you, I mentioned it in passing so often here that if you did a search for it on the blog you'd end up reading half the posts!

Spring lawn treats

(Originally published 11 May 2015 here )

If I were to go outside and walk on my lawn (once the rain stops, that is), I'd have to watch my step. For the last several days it's been covered in bees, big fuzzy Queen bumble bees. Most have yellow fuzz but if I look closely I can see slight variations in shade from sunlight to lemon to a deep gold. Some have bands of orange fuzz around their bellies, again with variations. All of them have their pollen pockets full to bursting.

Weeding? Or harvesting?

(Originally published May 8 2015, here )

It's hot here, so I'm not turning over any more soil than I have to until the weather moderates and we get some rain (please!). Crazy for so early in May, usually we're fighting frost.

Early though it may be, we're getting plenty from the garden while most Canadians are still waiting to plant. That's advantage #1 for the weed eaters right there. It's hard not to feel a teeny bit smug. It's not the heat that brings out the weeds, they'd be here anyway. But it sure gets them bigger, faster.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Garbling the dandelion

(Originally published October 14, 2014, here )

Take a gander at these beauties. Note, especially, how large the roots are compared to the amount of leaf! I used a pitch fork to get these out of the ground. You sort of have to if you want to get much, and of course you never get the whole root. Which means you get more from the same plant next year, of course!

click me to see me better!