This is a blog about the pursuits of Naturalist Alan Russo to incorporate all things Natural, especially Plants, into his daily life. Living close to Nature has always been a passion of mine and I try, with natures help, to live a Healthy lifestyle for myself and for the Earth.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nectar of the gods

It's fun to experiment, and try new things.
My Passionflower vines were all dead form the very cold mornings we have been having. They don't like frost or cold very much and even in the Spring they don't  start coming up till the weather has been warm for a while. Though the vines were dead there was still lots of fruit on them, though the fruit was starting to shrivel up and show the wear from the cold weather. I couldn't see them just shriveling up to nothing so I picked every one. There were about 50 of them! What am I going to do with 50 passion fruit? I thought about juicing them, though there was not enough "flesh" left around the seeds to make it worth taking out the juicer(and cleaning it of course),so, I wondered if I put them in the blender with some water if I would get a drink worth the effort. Since that was all I could come up with thats what I did. I added the seeds to the blender and added about twice the amount of water and put it on the lowest setting. After blending I thought it needed more water so I added about half again as much as I did before. It seemed OK so I strained out all the seeds and alot of the pulp and was ready to give it  try. It was pretty good! I like sour, but I thought it was a little much so I decided to add some Stevia to sweeten it up a little. This worked out well and the drink was really good! I poured it into jars and placed in the fridge and have been drinking it for three days now. The more I drink it, the more I like it and I think the acidic quality is mellowing a bit the longer it stays in the fridge(or I am just getting used to it).
  I would count this experiment as a success. It's fun to try new stuff, especially when it works out well.

Passionflower Nectar

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Todays Ethnobotanical Pursuit

Field Garlic Leaves
Cut, dried and ready to store.

  It was supposed to rain the next couple of days and the lawn needs to be mowed so I decide this would be a good time to collect some Field Garlic leaves to store for future use before they get mowed down. Field Garlic (many people mistakingly call it onion grass), is one of those plants that doesn't like the heat and dies back in the summer. This time of year they are plentiful in most non-toxic, non-pesticide laden lawns.
  This time of year is a good time for the amateur wild food enthusiast to collect Field Garlic as there are no toxic look-a-likes coming up like there are in the spring. In the Spring lots of bulbs with long narrow leaves are making there debut after a long Winters sleep that may be confused with Field Garlic to the uninitiated. Field Garlic has long narrow hollow tubular leaves that taper at the tip. They also have the unmistakable smell of onion when broken. If dug up, they have a small onion like bulb at the base which can also be used in cooking.
  The leaves can be used in anyway you would use chives. Use fresh or dried in soups, salads or any other dish that calls for green onions or chives. They are great with fish and on baked potatoes.
  This time I decided to dry them for future use. I thought I collected plenty but after drying I didn't have nearly as much as I thought I would (duh!), so I will have to collect more before I mow them down. To dry, all I did was cut them up into small pieces,  put them on a tray in the toaster oven on 150 degrees, the lowest setting I have, and left the door ajar to keep the temperature low and let the humidity out. They didn't take long at all. I placed them in a spice jar and stored them out of the sunlight with the rest of my spices. The next time I think I will collect some bulbs and make a field garlic soup!
 Field Garlic, being in the Genus Allium, also has the some of the same health benefits and medicinal uses as onions, leeks and garlic. I have used the crushed leaves as a poultice on an infected cut, and it worked very well, and as a gargle for a sore throat. Research how good onion and garlic are for you and you will see it is worth the time and effort to seek out Field Garlic. Besides, it will get you away from the computer and get you outside and dirty, what could be better than that!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thistle Roots

Jerusalem Artichokes

 Today was a digging day. Though it has been warm and many plants are confused about the time of year (I found three Sweet Violet flowers yesterday and Henbit is in bloom all over my garden!) the Jerusalem Artichokes are doing just what they should. They have completely died back and the tubers are ready for harvest. Jerusalem Artichokes, which by the way, have nothing to do with Jerusalem and are not Artichokes, are actually sunflowers and are often known as Sun Chokes. They bloom alot later than most other sunflowers and die off quickly after flowering. When collecting roots and tubers, a general rule is to wait till the plant dies back in the Fall or before it begins it's growth spurt in the Spring. At these times, the plant is storing all the nutrition and energy it needs to come alive and flower in the Spring and Summer, therefore you get the most nutritional and medicinal value if you harvest during these times. As I was digging the Chokes I ran into some good sized Dandelion and some Thistle that started from this years seeds so I decided to collect those also. Dandelion is such a nutritious and medicinal plant and I am lucky to have lots growing on my property and most people don't realize that the dreaded Thistle is not only good food but has medicinal value also.
 I decided to use the Chokes another time and  to make my lunch based on Dandelion and Thistle. The Dandelion were washed well and the roots were separated from the leaves which I used as salad. The thick part of the roots were cut lengthwise into four strips and placed in the toaster oven on very low heat to dry them out so I can make an infusion from them. If you want you can dry them than turn the heat up a little to roast them and make a much darker drink that many people call a coffee substitute. Besides the fact that it is dark like coffee, it has no other likeness and tastes nothing like coffee at all. It is way better for you though, as the medicinal and nutritional values of Dandelion root are many.
  I only used the roots of the Thistle this time, though the leaves, after some prep to remove the spines, are very delicious raw or cooked. I took the roots and cleaned them well, sliced them, than boiled them till they were soft. I added some butter and a pinch of salt and had a great addition to my meal. As seen in the photo above, cooked Thistle root, Dandelion leaf salad and Dandelion root infusion make a substantial very nutritious meal.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pear Bowl with Pecans

It's that time of year again!
  In the past week we have had some pretty windy weather. This has done wonders for knocking the Pecans from the trees and it has been easy pickins. We have five large Pecan Trees on our property and I always look forward to harvesting lots of Pecans every year. What you see in the bowl is about a quarter of what I collected from under just 1 and a half trees (I got tired of bending at the second tree) and there are plenty more still on the trees. Today I will collect more from the other two tree. When all was said and done I collected a total of 70 lbs from three trees!
  I decide to crack a bunch open to add to some oatmeal for breakfast. Organic oatmeal, fresh picked Pecans and some organic butter. YUM, boy was that good!
  Pecans are quite a healthy food. They are high in protein, good fats, vitamins and minerals and contain no cholesterol.  A couple of interesting articles on Pecans for more specifics and some history:   http://www.helium.com/items/1611083-pecans-and-your-health

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Pads and Fruits

Fruits Cut Open
  I have a huge Prickly Pear Cactus growing in my front yard. This time of year, the fruits, also known as Tunas, become dark red indicating they are ripe and ready to pick. It takes all summer to get to this point as the beautiful flowers come out in the spring, get fertilized and the fruits start to grow. All summer, the fruits are green, and growing larger as the days pass. When they reach their largest in the late Summer and early Fall, they slowly start to get some color and become dark red by the time of the usual first frost (around Oct. 15). We didn't get our real first frost till today,Oct. 20, this year, and most of the fruits are ready for picking.
 Of course the hardest part of eating Cactus fruits is getting past the spines.Even though the fruits look smooth with no large spines, they are covered with reddish brown bristles called Glochids. These tiny spines are even worse than the big ones. There are thousands of them on each fruit and once they get in your skin they are very hard to remove and will irritate your skin something fierce. I have tried collecting the fruits with a towel, canvas gloves and other methods but I always managed to get the little buggers in my hand. Not to mention going to use the gloves at a later date proved to be painful as the spines work their way into the glove. The best way is to use a pair of tongs. Once the fruits are collected the Glochids need to be removed. I find rubbing them with a towel while running them under running water works well. The spines get caught in the towel and the ones that just got loose get washed away in the water.
 I have read that most people remove the skin before eating the fruits, I don't, I just cut the brown flower end off and the pointy bottom end and munch away. I like to slice them and eat them as a snack as shown in the photo. One other word of caution, the seeds are very hard. Many people remove the seeds before eating, again, I don't. If you remove the skin and the seeds there won't be much left as the fruits of most of the Prickly Pear Cactus on the east coast are not huge. The ones on my plant are only about 2in. and smaller.You just need to be careful you don't break a tooth!
  The fruits can be used in many other ways, you can make a drink from them, use them in sherbet or ice cream make a hot tea and they can even be used to make a dye. There are many good sites on the web that have recipes for Tunas. The plant itself is also edible and medicinal. In the spring, when the new pads are still small, light green and before they get their large spines, I pick them, peel them and cook them in several different ways and they are delicious!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettle Patch
  The cooler weather we have had, has started the Nettles growing again. In the Spring the Nettles grow tall and lush, but once they flower and the weather gets hot, they die back to a bunch of leafless brown stalks. It's not till the Fall that they begin to "wake up" again and grow lush and green, like a second birth. At this time they are tender, and can be harvested till they die back again in the cold winter. They come at a good time of year, when most of the garden and vegetable have died back, I can always count on the Nettles to shine.
  Nettle are one of the most nutritious plants on the planet. They are high in vitamins, minerals and protein and are highly regarded as a medicinal plant. Nettles are considered a nourishing plant and are used to rebuild the stressed out undernourished system. They are said to be good for rebuilding the adrenal glands and important for the prostate.
  If you have ever had an accidental meeting with Nettles, you may wonder why anyone would even want to eat such a irritating plant! It turns out that the sting disappears upon cooking or drying. Nettles make a great potherb or are great sautéed on their own or with other vegetables. If collected and dried they make a nourishing tea or infusion to help keep you healthy in the winter or any other time of year. I have read it is important to harvest Nettles before they flower.
  Well, today I went out with my gloves and knife and gathered enough Nettles for breakfast. First I cut them up stems and all, than sautéed them till they were tender but still bright green. Another plant that has a rebirth in the Fall, as it also doesn't like the hot weather, is Field Garlic (more on this another day). I gathered a large bunch of the leaves cut them as you would scallions and added them to the sauté for flavor.  At this point I added some fresh gathered scrambled eggs and had a super nourishing breakfast. Two wild plants and home grown eggs can't beat that for cost!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dried Luffa "Sponges"
Purslane Salad / Goldenrod Tea

  My Luffa vines are starting to thin out a bit due to the shorter days and cooler temperatures. Luffa don't like cold weather, the first frost will kill the vines. Anyway, I was able to see some gourds that I couldn't see before and some of them were brown and ready to pick. I peeled the outer covering off and lo and behold there were mature Luffa "sponges" in there! Very exciting. I shook out as many seed as I could than cut them in half, as they were huge, which also helped with getting the rest of the seeds out . Than I put them in a bucket of water to soak for a while. I squeezed them out several times to wash them than did a couple of water changes to clean them well. While letting them dry in the Sun, I decided to see what would happen if I bleached a couple, just an experiment, as I have no intention of bleaching the rest. Whats the point of growing stuff Organically if your just going to put poison on them during processing? (sounds a bit like corporate America. In case you think I am just being cynical, We bought some organic fruit the other day and when we got them home I found they had been waxed! Wanna bet it was paraffin, a petroleum byproduct! )
I did want to see the difference and see why the ones you buy in the store are bleached. The bleached ones look lighter and a bit "fake" as the color is perfectly even throughout. Not for me, I like the variety of Nature, not the sameness of the toxic world. Anyway, that was just 4 of the 20 or so that are still maturing on the vines!
  Since the weather stayed warm for so long this summer, many plants that wouldn't have started growing again till next year started to grow as if it was Spring. In my garden, between the Kale plants is an abundance of Purslane. I like Purslane, that's the reason I planted one plant in my garden last year. Well that one plant turned into thousands this year! I thought the Purslane harvest and eradication control was over for this year, especially since the heat and drought did a number on the original plants, but I guess I was wrong, thousands more are growing! This might not be such a bad thing in many ways. First, I have an unexpected green to eat. Second, these plants will be killed by the first frost and since these seeds sprouted already, next year I won't have such a problem with them taking over the garden. So, I am taking advantage of Natures misstep and harvesting the Purslane for dinner.
  Purslane is a succulent plant, somewhat mucilaginous, with a bit of a tangy taste. You can eat it raw, cooked, and if you find some large plants you can pickle it too. I think it makes a great salad on its own, but I decided to take advantage of my fresh organic lettuce and use it as a bed for the Purslane. Than I decided I needed something Natural to drink with this Natural dinner of mine.
  One of the plants on my property that was not fooled by the weather is Goldenrod. It's pretty much blooming when it is supposed too, so I decided to make a tea of the flowers from a patch that is growing in my front yard. Goldenrod makes a light tasting yellow tea that is quite good hot or cold. All aerial parts are good for tea though some of the older leaves may be bitter. You can dry a bunch of the flowers and leaves for future use. I always tell people that if they have pollen allergy's to be cautious when making tea with flowers as this may cause a problem.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Passiflora incarnata

   It's been raining in my part of NC for a couple of days now so I haven't been doing much gathering etc.
The one thing I have been collecting is Passion Fruit. Everyday before I let the chickens out I collect the fruits that have fallen off the vine and collect them before the chickens tare them up to get at the seeds.
  Passionflower is not only a beautiful vine with beautiful exotic looking flowers and edible fruit, but it is also a respected medicinal plant.
  Passiflora incarnata is considered a nervine. A nervine is a plant that effects the nervous system in some way. Passionflower has the reputation as a gentle and very effective relaxing and sedative herb. It helps calm a restless nervous system and is considered an excellent herb for anxiety and insomnia. It is especially good for insomnia caused by an over active thought process, your mind just won't turn off because you are worried about something or very anxious about something. It has a very gentle effect and does not cause foggy thinking as some drugs might. Not only is it calming to the nervous system it also has anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory effects also, so it is used for muscle spasms and heart palpitations due to nervousness.
  It is considered a very safe and gentle herb and is used on children and the elderly. Because it is gentle in it's action it is used as a long term nourishing herb to the nervous system. 
  If you have been reading this blog you know how much I like the fruits. The seeds are the part that is eaten. The seeds are covered with a gelatinous substance which, if eaten at the right time, have a tangy exotic flowery taste. Always wait till the fruit falls from the vine, these are the best. The plant knows when they are ready. I have tried to pick fruits that looked ready, but they never are, so now I always patiently wait till they fall to the ground. I pick them every day because if they sit on the ground too long they start to get a funny taste that I don't like very much, they will easily last a week in the fridge.
  The vines also have a limited utilitarian use. They can be made into baskets or used to bind things together, though the vines are not that strong and break easily,  they can be used in a craft or survival situation.
  I suggest you do a lot more research on this herb as I am not an herbalist, I am a naturalist, I study the historical and modern use of plants and try to show people there is a lot more to the the plants, that people consider "weeds", than meets the eye.
Fruits on Vine

Opened Fruit

Monday, September 27, 2010

Milkweed Cordage

  One of my patches of milkweed was at the point I could harvest it for cordage. The stems of the Milkweed plant has fibers, which when extracted, make a nice fairly strong piece of rope.
 After collecting the stems, I cut off the dirty bottom end and the seed pods and look for the least damaged stems. After deciding which stems to use, I take the stem and crush it between my fingers continuing the full length of the stem. If the stem is too thick you can crush it with piece of wood. Now, rotate the stem 90 degrees and crush it again the full length. It should now be broken into 4 pieces. Open the stem so the inside of all the pieces are facing up and let about an inch hang over one finger. With your other hand press down on this part till the stem breaks over your finger. The hard brittle part of the stem will break but the strong subtle fibers should stay intact. Now peel the hard stem from the fibers. Continue this till all the fibers are extracted. If you want to make a soft, pretty looking rope, you will need to "buff" the fibers to remove the chafe. This can be done by rubbing the fibers between your hands or rubbing them on your pant leg. I didn't do this very well with this fiber because it didn't matter to me if it was soft. When the fibers are ready I start a technique called a "reverse wrap". I learned this technique in Tom Browns standard class but it is hard to explain in writing, its something someone has to show you. This piece came out kind of crude but the basic idea is there and it would be fine in a survival situation.
Milkweed with seed pods
Breaking stem into 4 pieces
Breaking over finger
Removing stem from fiber
Fiber removed
Reverse wrap
Finished cordage

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fall, Poke Juice and Luffa Omelet

Bucket - O - Berries
Over 4 Quarts Poke Juice

  Happy Autumn! The sun crosses the Equator today at 10:13 PM on its trip south towards the Tropic of Capricorn. The weather hasn't figured it out yet (in the 90s again this week) but as the angle of insolation decreases the less heat hits the Earth causing the Northern Hemisphere to cool. The days are getting noticeably shorter already and before you know it it will be getting dark by 4PM!
 I gathered a bucket full of Poke berries yesterday and squished them, mortar and pestle style, with a large branch yielding about four quarts of pure juice. I will freeze most of it and defrost as needed. I plan to test dyeing/staining a bunch of stuff to see if I can get it to hold it's color and see how it works on different woods.
  I ate some Luffa today for the first time! Most people don't realize that Luffa are edible.They think of the mature fruits that are used as "sponges" and think 'how could you eat that'! The young 'gourds', before they get their network of tough fibers are as tender as a Zucchini(and look like them too)   Many cultures around the world grow all kinds of Luffa just for food. They are members of the Cucurbits, who's familiar members are things like squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and gourds. Like squash plants the flowers are also edible and can be used in salads or fried like Zucchini flowers. I found a bunch of very small fruits that will never mature in time to become "sponges" so I thought I would try them for breakfast. I cut and sautéed about four of them and when they were slightly caramelized, I added some scrambled eggs. I guess it was more of a frittata than an omelet, whatever it was, it was good!     

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Artichokes, Luffa and A new Vase

  Well, I am hooked on Poke Berries! The stain is so beautiful I plan to pick all the berries on my property and save them for future use. I stained a new vase the other day and I stained a couple of wood tree ornaments. The vase came out really cool. See photo.
  Yesterday, the first Jerusalem Artichoke flowers opened! For those of you who don't know this plant, it is a good example of why you should not use common names to identify plants you will eat or use as medicine. First, it has nothing to do with Jerusalem and second, it is not related to Artichokes? It is actually a sunflower that has edible tubers. The tubers are numerous and substantial, making it a good food plant. You can eat the tubers raw or cooked. I really like them raw, eaten as is, or shredded on a salad. They can be cooked like potatoes; boiled, baked or fried. One of my favorite ways to eat the cooked tubers is scalloped, using organic heavy cream. PS. If you plan to plant these in your garden they will spread over your whole garden in a few short years, so plant where you plan to have them for a long time!
  Two years ago I planted my first Luffa plant, the vines grew well but I only got two small Luffa gourds, so I was a bit disappointed. I tried again last year and they did poorly and I got no gourds. I know Luffa need a long growing season so I figured that was the problem and vowed not to plan them again. Well , I changed my mind and planted about 10 plants this year.I planted them in pots and started them early indoors. I transplanted them at the base of the fence going around the chicken coop so they would have a place to climb. Man was that a mistake I thought, as the chickens found those tasty morsels and attacked them through the fence. I put up a small fence to block their advances and they found away around that barrier. I reinforce the fence and it seemed to work. Well, my neighbors Guinea's discovered my female Guinea (of course, it's spring!) and spent days pacing the fence trying to get in the coop. Of course, they trampled my Luffa plants to a pulp! I put up a fence on the outside of the coop to protect the Luffa though not expecting any to survive. They barely held on for weeks but I kept trying by watering and fighting off the onslaught.They finally started to show some life in the form of new leaves so I just kept up the ritual. Once they got tall enough, the chickens started to jump over the small protecting fence and eat the new leaves. I adjusted the fence to cover as high as they can jump and I figured this was the last I was going to do and let nature take its course because I figured that by now there would not be enough time left to produce any gourds. Boy was I wrong! Once thy got higher than the chickens could reach they exploded with growth. Today those surviving vines completely cover two sides of the coop fence, but the best part is there are easily 30 HUGE gourds in clusters all over the fence! The vines are beautiful, covered with dozens of yellow flowers. So, now what do I do with all those Luffa!

Poke Stained Vase w/Berries

Luffa Gourds and Flower
Luffa Vines

Jerusalem  Artichoke Flowers

Monday, September 13, 2010

Nature Observations

  This last week many things have caught my eye, most having to do with the changing of the seasons. It may still be hot in NC and although some plants and animals get fooled by weather, most do not, as their very survival depends on it..
  Canada geese started to fly overhead again, the first time I saw them was in the evening about a week ago, they were heading north-west in one big V. The next morning they were flying south-east in two smaller V shapes. I remember this from last year. I never see Canada Geese all summer and  than they just show up and go back and forth for a while. I remember thinking, hey you should be heading SOUTH not northeast! Maybe they are just practicing?
  There are two Argiope spiders I have been following for awhile, one is in my garden and the other is right outside my living room window. Today both caught grasshoppers. Ever notice orb weaving spiders are hard to find all summer but in the fall they are all over the place. I think it's because they are getting big enough to be noticed, not that they suddenly appear of course. My favorites are the Argiope's as the bright colors are strong and contrast the environment, which is great for photography, most other large orb weavers are in the redish-brown color spectrum. Not to mention there size, the one outside my window is easily 2.75in outstretched! One of the cool things these spiders do, if you touch them while they are sitting quietly, is to start "rocking" the web back and forth violently by pumping their legs. I guess this is to scare away any would be predators.
  I love milkweed plants and when I moved down to NC I brought some with me in case I didn't have any on my property. They are edible and can be used to make a great cordage, not to mention the flowers are not only beautiful but smell amazing and attract tons of bees and butterflies. These are the Milkweeds that Monarchs love, and I planted them with the hope of attracting and raising lots of Monarchs. This year I was very disappointed to have seen only two Monarch butterflies all summer long and NO caterpillars on the plants. I remember when I was a kid first learning about Monarchs, I could go to any Milkweed plant and easily find  5 or 6 caterpillars of varying sizes on any plant I found. Than I would go back weeks later and find lots of chrysalis hanging. Sad to say those days are over. But a glimmer of hope! In the spring, I had dug up the Milkweed in my vegetable garden to move them to my Medicinal herb garden and all summer I was getting shoots from the roots that we left in the ground. It was a loosing battle, so I finally let them grow. Because of this they were way behind in their cycle and flowered only about two weeks ago (the ones left to grow natural have already seeded and are almost completely dead). These flowers were a beacon to any butterfly that came even close to my property as all the other flowers on my land had gone to seed already. One day I counted 10 Fritillarys fighting over 6 flower heads. About a week ago I saw a Monarch butterfly landing on the fresh green leaves, so I ran over to check if she was laying and I found several eggs on the leaves she visited. Today I counted 12 caterpillars on this tiny island sactuary of Milkweed!
  I saw my first "Fall" Dandelion flower the other day. Dandelions don't like the heat very much, so this summer especially, there were none to be found anywhere on my property. Its good to see them back. Dandelions are the coolest plants, they are extremely nutritious and are strong medicines to boot!
  I hope, if you are one of those people that get up early, you go outside every once in a while and look up. If you do you will notice that Orion is much higher in the sky these days, a sure sign Fall is on it's way.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A good Day

  The day started off well. As I went to let the chickens out early in the day, I found 7 passion fruits on the ground! These are not the first but this is the most so far. I love passion fruit, I love the whole plant. The flowers are so exotic looking. I planted the vines along the fence of the chicken coop which serves three purposes, one, the vines have something to climb on. Two, they give the chickens much needed shade in the hot summer sun, you can always find them hanging out under the vines in the hottest part of the day. Three, I have the plant to use for food and medicine and to admire all summer long.
  While watering the medicinal herb garden today I noticed that the Lemon Balm was starting to come back after having a hard time all summer because of  the severe heat.  I decide to harvest some and make one of my favorite drinks which is a cold infusion of the fresh aerial parts of the plant. I take the leaves and stems and crush them a little before stuffing them into a large mason jar, fill with water and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. The only tough part of making this drink is having to wait till its ready! Not only is it delicious but it is extremely good for you, lemon balm is an amazing medicinal plant.
  While continuing my watering rounds, I noticed the Sumac berries were starting to dry out so I picked a bunch that were still good to make some Sumac aide. Sumac aide is just plain incredible, I love sour things and this stuff is sour! This is another drink that is best made as a cold infusion as Sumac is high in tannic acid which is water soluble, so, if you use hot water you will leach out too much tannins. The tannins are the medicinal part of the plant and there are times when you need the tannins but you don't want to much when you are drinking large quantities to quench your thirst.
  Since I was on a roll and I still had Poke Berries on my mind from yesterday, I decided to experiment a little. One of my hobbies is woodturning and since I played around a little with using the berries as a stain last year, I decide to turn a small vase and see if I could stain it successfully. I found a small piece of Sycamore, which is a very light colored wood which would be perfect to test the stain. I quickly turned a very basic shape and sanded it smooth. I went out with a pair of gloves on to the compost pile where there were a bunch of berries that I missed yesterday. I decided that to get the best color I would not add water to the berries so I squashed them in my hands and squished them onto the vase. The color was unbelievable! I took a rag and wiped it down to even off the color than let it sit out to dry. After it was dry, I sealed it with shellac, sanded it again and then finished it with a high gloss lacquer. I think the color is amazing and I hope it doesn't fade. Only time will tell, after all, that is what the whole experiment was about. If it works, I will use it on some nice pieces.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Todays Ethnobotanical Pursuit

 While watering the gardens today, I noticed some of the Poke Berries around my yard were ready to be picked. My plan is to use them as a dye, though I have not had a lot of success in the past doing so. The color is just beyond beautiful, almost florescent, unfortunately the color is not light or colorfast and washes out easily or fades to a brown color. I have researched this problem with poke berry dye before and have tried several things to remedy the problem but to no avail. This year I will experiment with a couple of different mordants to see if I have a better success rate. I have had some success staining wood with the berries though, and I plan to dye some woodturnings to see how they hold up after being finished.
 So, I picked the berries and decided to freeze them till I had enough to do my experimenting with. As more become ripe I will add them to the bag till I get what I need or come across some info on a success story dyeing with the berries.
 Fall is a great time of year to collect dyeing material. Some of my favorites are Black Walnut Hulls and Goldenrod Flowers.