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.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Welcome to Winter

 Today, December 22nd, is the shortest day of the year, with the Sun being at it's lowest point in the sky for we here in NC, USA. The north Polar Axis of the Earth is tilted directly away from the Sun and from this point on will begin to swing around and start pointing more and more back towards the Sun. Because of this shift, from our perspective here on Earth, the Sun begins it's apparent trip Northward towards the Equator which makes our days in the Northern Hemisphere begin to get longer.
 Just a few Nature observations. Our temperatures this Fall have been all over the map. Just the other day it was 19 deg. when I got up to go to work. But today, ironically, it was 70 deg. on the first day of Winter! There are Dandelion Flowers blooming all over my property, there are Sweet Violets in bloom, Field Garlic leaves in abundance and I have patches of Chickweed, green, succulent and in bloom in several places. Henbit is taking over my recently tilled gardens and the  Basal Rosettes of Thistle leaves are as large as I would expect them to be in the early Spring. Yum! As soon as the rain stops I will go and pick a nice salad of "Spring" Greens to celebrate Winter!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Acorn Muffins!

  Fall is the time of year where most Trees produce seeds, it just so happens (by chance?), it is also the perfect time for those living close to nature to collect their stores of high protein and high fat foods to help them survive the long cold Winter. Everything from Squirrels to Woodchucks to Mice and Rats are scurrying around to store enough food. There once was a time when primitive Humans in North America, who lived by the cycles of Nature, had to do the same.
  One of the staple foods to many a primitive Human, especially in Eastern N.America, was the Acorn. The Acorn is the perfect food to store for winter survival. It is high in Protein, Fat and minerals, and comes in its own little package to keep it fresh all winter long till it is needed. It is readily available, and in many forests, there are more than any one family could ever collect and use.
  Acorns come from Oak trees, and the Acorns they produce are as varied as the trees that produce them. They come in all shapes and sizes and are colored in many shades of browns and reddish browns. Two major types of Oaks are the White Oaks and the Red Oaks. Oak trees, in general, are known for their high Tannic Acid content, one of the things that make Oak Trees Medicinal due to it's astringent nature, and the Acorns take up that Tannic Acid. Unfortunately Tannic Acid is is extremely bitter also, which make most Acorns too bitter to eat without processing. White Oaks tend to have less Tannic Acid in their Acorns and I have found some White Oaks in my time that I was able to eat the Acorns right off the tree.
 Luckily, Tannic Acid is water soluble, so it is possible, with a little work, to leach the Tannic Acid from the Acorns to make them palatable. In primitive times, if you were lucky enough to live by a river, you could put the shelled Acorns in a basket and throw it in the river, and as the water ran over the Acorns it would leach out the Tannic Acid. At this point you could use them as they were or dry them for storage to be used later.
  What made me start thinking about all this Acorn stuff was; I had gone over a friends house to get some fire wood that he had just cut down and as I pulled into his driveway the whole driveway was filled with Acorns from a huge White Oak he had in front of his house. I don't have any Oak Trees on my property so I asked him if he wouldn't mind if I gathered some. If I wanted too, I have no doubt I could have easily collected over 200 pounds from this one tree! I didn't of course, I only collected a small bucketful to play around with. I have done this before, though it's been a long time, and I remember how labor intensive it could be.
  What follows is my non-primitive way of processing Acorns.

Whole Acorn right from the ground
 When I got home I tried to crack some of the Acorns but found it very hard to get the shell off, so I gave up and put the Acorns in the garage and promptly forgot about them for a couple of weeks. When I finally got around to trying them again the nut had dried inside and pulled away from the shell which made it alot easier to take the seed out.
Shelled Acorns 
 The next thing I did was to winnow the seeds to separate the debris from the usable parts.
The next step is to leach the Tannic Acid from the Acorns. I did this by placing them in a large Mason Jar and filling it with water.
The brown Tannic Acid Leaching into the water
 There are a couple of ways to do this, one is to have a place where you can keep water slowly running in the jar and continuously overflowing till it stops turning brown. The other is to keep changing the water over and over again for a couple of days till it stops turning brown. This is what I did and it took about three days and maybe twelve or fifteen changes to get to this:
Clear enough!
 Next, I put the Acorns on top of my wood stove to slowly dry. Once dry, I ground them in a blender (real primitive!) into a flour. I put the flour into a small Mason Jar for storage.
Acorn Flour
Today I decide to make some muffins with the flour. If you want the muffins to come out light and fluffy, you have to add some other kind of flour to the mix or the muffins will come out hard. I used some Organic Spelt Flour for mine and just followed a basic muffin recipe.
Acorn Muffins!
The Acorn flour makes the muffins come out very dark and earthy looking, and the Acorns have a unique taste that doesn't compare to anything else I have ever eaten. The taste brought back memories of the first couple of times I tried this years ago. They were really good!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mums The Word


  Fall, in my part of NC is so much different, Botanically and Meteorologicaly speaking, than LI where I am from. Here in NC, the weather fluctuates so much in the Fall, the plants don't seem to know what to do. A couple of days ago we had frost and tomorrow is supposed to be 70! Many of the Wild Edible plants that die off in the hot Summer and are normally Spring plants make a come back this time of year. I am not used to this behavior and it still surprises me to see many plants, I know of as Spring plants, bloom again in the fall. There are Dandelions, Sweet Violets, Henbit, Chickweed and Field Garlic all flowering or growing thick and green, as they would in the Springtime. To me it's an unexpected treat, especially since the frost killed most everything in my garden, it is nice that Mother Natures Garden is still producing.
  Yet on the other hand, many plants are doing just what I'd expect this time of year. One plant I can always count on to bring color to the Fall is Chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemums, like Pumpkins and Gourds, all seem to fit together representing  harvest time and the Fall.

Autumn Salad
  Chrysanthemum flowers are Edible and I sometimes use the flower pedals as a garnish on salads or they can be used as an additive to muffins or pancakes. It's not a Edible I use very often but it's fun to know they are there if you need something fun to add to your meal. The pedals of some plants can be bitter and not taste very good so you will have to experiment to see if they are good or not. Above is a salad I made for dinner tonight and it contains Chickweed, Violet Flowers, Dandelion Flower, and some Chrysanthemum Flower pedals. Except for the Mums, everything else is an unexpected treat I am not used to seeing this time of year.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fire by Friction

  Though I have focused mostly on Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants of my area in this Blog, my interests in Ethnobotany are many and varied. Though Edible and Medicinal Plants and Herbology have remained my passion, I still dabble in other aspects of Ethnobotany from time to time. If you have been following this Blog you will remember my forays into Natural Dying, making Cordage etc. I also have a strong interest how cultures from around the globe use plants in their everyday lives.
  Ethnobotany is the study of how cultures (Ethno) use plants (Botany). Historically, and in modern times, humans have used plants in every conceivable way to help them survive. I have studied Primitive Technology for may years and have taken may classes learning basic Primitive Technology. I teach basic Survival workshops for the public and have designed and taught many Survival classes for young students while I was an Environmental Educator.
  Making fire has been an important part of human evolution. Today we take this hard earned art for granted, we go to the store and find hundreds of ways to easily start fires. I remember when I used to do alot of backpacking, back then, "getting back to Nature" would always involve having the latest fire starting device and technologically advanced cook stove we could find, because one thing is for sure, you don't want to be without fire in the Wilderness.
  Fire by friction (the old adage, rubbing two sticks together) is the oldest and most Primitive way of making fire. What started me thinking about writing about using plants to make fire was the fact that it has been cool here and the Yucca plants I need for the project are at the perfect stage to do this. What follows is a very BASIC explanation on how to make fire using Yucca Flower Stalks.

Dried Yucca Flower Stalks

  The dried flower stalks are the part you need to make the fire making tools. By this time of year the stalks have been drying in the hot sun for over a month, so they are good and dry. 
 Above are all the parts of the apparatus, known as the Bow Drill, you will need to be successful. The parts you will make from the Yucca Stalks are the Fire Board and Spindle. The Spindle is just a straight part of the Stalk with points carved into both ends.

The Fire Board  is made from the thickest part of the stalk and is flattened on two sides opposite each other so it will lay flat on the ground and you have a larger flat surface to work on. A notch is made in the fire board where the spindle is going to rub to collect the hot coal you will produce. Here is a closeup of the fire board with the notch and the depression that will except the spindle.

The Spindle gets wrapped in the string of the Bow, so as you move the Bow back and forth, the Spindle spins at high speed. The bottom of the Spindle is on the Fire Board, which is laying on top of the piece of Birch Bark, creating friction between the Spindle and the Fire Board. The top of the Spindle is being held in place with the Hand Hold. You must lubricate the Hand Hold to prevent friction from happening where your hand is. Also, note the position of my wrist, it is leaning against my shin for support so the Spindle doesn't wobble all over the place. Placing enough pressure on the Spindle with the Hand Hold, start cranking back and forth with the Bow to start to get the Spindle to spin as fast as possible. Notice in the photo the amount of smoke you will make just by rubbing two sticks together! When you get to the point that your arm is about to fall off and you are making a prolific amount of smoke, stop cranking and carefully remove the Spindle from the Fire Board. Hopefully, if you did it long enough, all the dust created from the friction will have gathered into the Notch of the Fire Board and the friction itself will have heated it up enough to start it glowing like a red hot coal.

 Once you have a glowing coal, pick up the Birch bark and transfer the Coal into the center of the birds nest shaped Tinder Bundle. This bundle is made from Cedar bark shavings and Milkweed seed Down (using more common plants!).

  Once the Coal is in the Tinder Bundle, gently blow on the Coal to get it to glow super hot and the Tinder Bundle will start to smoke profusely. 

  Just a few more breaths and the bundle should burst into flame! I didn't mention this before but you should already have your Tepee fire set up and ready to accept the flame.
  Don't be discouraged if you don't get a fire the first few times, you'd be surprised how much practice it takes to be successful. Once you where through the fire board in one spot just start another hole and notch next to it. Good Luck and stay warm!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Jerusalem Artichokes / Sunchokes

Chokes on Plant
Ready to eat !

  Autumn is a time for harvest. It is a good time to dig roots a tubers as the plants are beginning to store their  nutrition in their roots for surviving a long winter and to have a nutritional boost in the Spring to get them started.
  When I teach Wild Edible and Medicinal Plant workshops, one of the important rules of collecting that I teach my students is not to rely on common names for a plants identification. Jerusalem Artichoke is a perfect example of a common name that can mess you up when trying to figure out a plant. This plant has nothing to do with Jerusalem and is not related to Artichokes in any way! Rather than type out a long explanation I would like to point you to a site I found that does a great job in explaining the whole deal: http://www.vegparadise.com/highestperch26.html . Just keep in mind the whole thing about common names and you will have a safer collecting experience.
  I brought my Chokes with me when I moved to NC. It doesn't take many as the reproduce like crazy. If you plant them you better have a place set aside that you can dedicate to the chokes for the rest of your life! They are  extremely prolific. Even if you leave a small piece in the ground when digging them up you will have more plants than you know what to do with in a couple of years. On the bright side, you will never go hungry again!
  Jerusalem Artichokes are actually sunflowers. They bloom in the early Autumn, rather than in the summer like most sunflowers. They can grow quite tall, 7 feet or more is common, and the yellow flowers are small compared to the size of the plant. The flowers don't last very long and you should wait till the flowers and the plants die back before you collect the Tubers for optimal nutrition. Speaking of Nutrition, here is a site that shows the nutritional value of Jerusalem Artichokes:  http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2456/2   Besides all this, the polysaccharides  in Jerusalem Artichokes are in the form of inulin and not starch which means they has a very low glycemic index and are excellent for diabetics when eaten raw.
  Jerusalem Artichokes are really good! They have a mild flavor, are very crunchy (like water chestnuts) and can be used lots of ways in many recipes. I like them best raw, but they can be boiled, sauteed, juiced or baked. I've made them Scalloped on many occasion and they were delicious. The biggest problem is to know what to do with all those Chokes!  

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sumac Aide

 Though it is still hot in my part of NC, signs that Fall is on the way are everywhere. My Sumac Plant has grown huge this year and has a prolific amount of Berries. The berries are at the perfect stage to make Sumac Aide.
Berries with white Malic Acid covering.
  The berries of all the red berried Sumacs (poison Sumac has white berries) can be used to make a delicious tart drink that resembles Lemon aide. I love sour stuff so I look forward to the berries every year. What you are after are the berries with a shiny white coating of Malic acid. If you are not sure your Berries have Malic Acid on them take a couple in your mouth and if your mouth shrivels and puckers, you know you have enough! Malic Acid is a naturally occurring chemical in many fruits and vegetables, it is the chemical that makes Apples tart, with Apples being one of the higher sources of Malic Acid in fruits. Malic Acid has many health benefits, one of which is to increase energy in those with Chronic Fatigue. Who couldn't use more Energy! Search the web for the many health benefits of Malic Acid.
  Different Sumacs have varying amounts of Malic Acid on their berries, as do the different Species, amounts also depends on the Environment in which they grow. My Sumac is a Winged Sumac and produces alot of Malic Acid, I have also had good results with Staghorn Sumac and Smooth Sumac. Try to get the berries before a strong rain as Malic Acid is water soluble and much can wash off in the rain.

Soaking the berries in Water
 Collect the berries, taking as little of the stems as possible. Don't forget to lick your fingers when you are done picking for a super tart treat! Take as many berries as you care to and soak them in enough water to cover the berries.  Use cool or warm water for this. Sumac has high amounts of Tannic acid in the stems leaves and roots with the roots having the highest amounts. If you use hot water, you will start to extract this Tannic Acid and your drink will be bitter. Tannic acid is one of the things that make Sumac a Medicinal Plant. Tannic acid is astringent and antiseptic and makes a great skin wash for oozing sores like Poison Ivy.

Finished drink!
While the berries are soaking, agitate the berries frequently to hasten the removal of the Malic Acid. I do this by squishing the berries with my hands or use a potato masher or what ever suites you. Taste the liquid  to see if it is tart enough for you. When it is to your liking, strain the liquid with a fine tea strainer into bottles and refrigerate. At this point, if you feel you got alot of insects or the berries were not as clean as you would have liked them to be, you can boil the liquid to pasteurize it. If you do, you might like to try the drink hot like a tea, it is quite good this way. Add some Honey if you must, but I like it just the way it is.
  You will notice in the photo above the liquid is pink in color. This will vary depending on the species you use. Staghorn Sumac makes the brightest red drink due to its "fuzzy" berries. Because of this, be sure to strain it well with a super fine strainer to get the "hairs" out. Enjoy this great natural drink from Mother Nature!

PS  If you really like this drink and want to have it even after the plant has died back for the winter, you can pick a bunch of berries at their peak and dry them and they should last you all winter.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Passion Flower Fruit and Chia

Passiflora incarnata


  My Passionflower Fruit are really beginning to fall, which means they are ready and ripe to eat. More on using Passionflower and when to pick them is found here: http://ethnobotanist128.blogspot.com/2010/09/passionflower.html.
  I wanted to try something different with the seeds this year but couldn't think of what to do. One day I was making Chia Seed pudding and it occurred to me that I could flavor the Chia with Passionflower seeds. I have started eating Chia Seeds for their incredible Nutritional Value and super high Omega 3 oil content, check the web for all the nutritional benefits of Chia.
  I simply took the seeds from about ten Passionflower fruit, added about three times the amount of water as seeds, than blended them to make a drink/puree. I added enough Chia Seeds to gel the liquid, hit them with the blender again, and put them in the fridge to solidify. I guess it isn't really a "pudding", it's more like a gelatin, but it tasted pretty good, not to mention the Nutritional value of the Chia and the Fruit seed together. I love to experiment with new plant stuff especially when it turns out good.
  I also use Passionflower for it's medicinal value, and this year I dried a bunch of it and Tinctured a full quart to have on hand if the need arises. Passiflora incarnata is one of the best plants to use for insomnia and anxiety just to name two of its many nervine qualities.  For a basic rundown see: http://www.stevenfoster.com/education/monograph/pflower.html
 Its easy to grow and even if you use it for nothing else, the flowers are just amazing!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Elder Berries

I am very excited, my Elder plants have berries this year!
 Two years ago, in very early Spring, I took some stems off a large Elder plant that grew behind a place I used to work. I stuck them in water and hoped for the best. They started to grow roots and by the time the weather was starting to get warm the stems started to get leaves. I planted them in the ground and kept them watered well. They didn't do that well and I thought I might loose them but they hung on through through the summer looking pretty beat up when the fall came around.
  Last year I was happy to see new shoots coming up but there were still alot of dead branches on them though they did start to do well by the Summer time. I didn't get any flowers or berries and I was wondering if they would ever produce. This year lots of new shoot came up and I got lots of flowers. The flowers are in clusters and are tiny and white and quite beautiful. I started to see green berries about two weeks ago and almost all the berries have turned a very dark blue almost black in color. The birds and the deer get most of the berries but I also get to snack on some when I go out to water the plants.
  Elder is a very important Medicinal Plant. I use the berries are to make a tincture that I use if I get any sign of a cold coming on and through the winter I use it prophylactically to keep healthy esspecially when I get run down. The berries have been shown to prevent the flu virus from entering the cell therefore keeping it from duplicating. Take the berry tincture or syrup at the first sign of the flu and there is a good chance the duration will be shortened significantly. The Flowers are considered a diaphoretic, a substance that helps your body produce perspiration, and is used to treat colds and flu to help you sweat it out. Please do more research on this awesome herb to learn all the great stuff it is useful for. Or, just enjoy the berries as a trailside snack as you hike and play outdoors.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ground Cherry

Plant with unripe Berries

Ripe Berries Fallen to the Ground

Berries inside Casing

  Ground Cherry is a novel plant, with it's fruit encased in a papery sack. Even with the drought we have been having and the extreme temperatures for extended time, the Ground Cherries are producing quite well while most other plants are having a hard time getting through this extreme period. Wild Edibles are few and far between this year, and makes me wonder how difficult it must be to be a hunter gatherer when the weather is uncooperative.
  I only learned about Ground Cherry since I have been in NC, I never noticed it in NY, so I assume it is not very common there. The plants are very conspicuous with it's leathery encased fruit. When on the plant the casing is green and the fruit inside is also green and should not be picked. Wait till they turn brown and fall off the plant to be sure they are ripe. I have heard the unripe fruit an be toxic if too many are eaten. When the casing is brown and has fallen off the plant, the fruit inside should be a creamy yellowish color. Now they are safe to eat in any quantity you like and I have seen recipes for pies and jams on the internet. Personally I just like to eat them as a fruit when out in the garden or I gather enough to have with oatmeal in the morning. If you have a big enough plant it will supply you with fruit till the cold weather comes along. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


  One of the plants I really miss after moving to NC is Chicory. Chicory was very common where I used to live, but I had never seen even one in the years I have been living in NC.
  At my last job, I had to spend time walking dogs in the parking lot surrounding the Vets office where I worked. On the side of the building coming up out of a crack in the asphalt was a plant that I watched , over time, get really huge over the weeks since I discovered it. For some reason, probably because it had been so long since I had seen one, I didn't recognize it right away. Than one day, after a long weekend, while driving into the parking lot, the plant was in full bloom! At this point I recognized it right away, it was the first Chicory plant I had seen since I moved here. I was very excited to say the least, but I also couldn't believe I didn't recognize it sooner. One day I came in early to do some tree trimming etc. around the building and one of the things I was supposed to do was to clean up the parking lot, so, I brought a pick to work with me to try to dig it out. It wasn't easy as the plants roots were under the asphalt and they were larger than the crack I was working in. Basically I butchered the poor plant and was afraid it was hopeless, not to mention the weather was really hot and transplanting a plant in flower is the worst time to do so. I cut the plant way back, placed what was left of the roots in a bucket of water, and transported it home. If there was going to be any chance of this plant surviving I knew I had to keep it out of the hot Sun and keep it well watered.
  The plant withered badly and I was afraid it was no use, but I kept watering it anyway. In a week or so the plant seemed to perk up a bit, than after about two weeks I started to see new growth! When it looked like it was doing well I transplanted it into my Medicinal Herb garden. Unfortunately, it was really hot, and though I shaded it as best as I could it still took a bad hit from being transplanted again, at the worst time of the year to transplant something. Persistent watering and shading helped and as you can see from the photo, the plant is in bloom again! I will leave it alone till late fall than find a permanent home for it and hope it multiplies to many plants over the years.
  I have only used Chicory as an edible plant though it is quite the medicinal plant also. The leaves are succulent in the spring and are good in salads and as a potherb. It is a bit bitter like Dandelion, so it's not everyones favorite, but it is a nutritious plant and is worth getting used too. The flowers are also edible and can be used as you would any other flower in salads or fritters etc.
  The most famous part of the plant is the root. You may have heard of Chicory coffee, something you can still buy in health and other stores. Chicory root is famous as a coffee substitute or additive. The large tap root is cleaned dried and cut lengthwise, than roasted in an oven or next to a fire until the desired brown color is reached. This is ground in a coffee grinder and added to real coffee to stretch its quantity so it lasts longer. It can also be roasted and used as a 'coffee' substitute by it self, though it tastes nothing like coffee, it is really good for you.
  Because I dug this plant out of a parking lot and the roots lived under asphalt, it is not usable due to any toxins it may have accumulated over the years. What I am hoping for is that this plant to be the mother plant for many others as I will collect the seeds and plant them hoping I get a viable stand of Chicory somewhere down the road.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Milkweed Seed Pods

Young Seed Pods


  The Flowers on the Common Milkweed Plants are spent and are beginning to be replaced by young seed pods. These pods will get up to 3" long and start to turn brown and open up by the Fall, so the wind distributed seeds will get a good start by next Spring.
   If you have been following along you may remember me writing about using the young sprouts back in April and than the Flowers in June. Using the young pods is the next step in using the Common Milkweed as it's life cycle and the seasons progress. The pods are edible and make a good vegetable that can be prepared many different ways but it is important to get them while they are young. Once the pods get larger than 1" long, they start to form the silk that will carry the seeds away. So if you plan to try to eat them, try to get them before they get larger than about an inch. My Milkweed plants have pods at varying degrees of size, some haven't even started growing yet and some are about 1.5" long already. This is good because this means the season for picking the pods will last longer.
 Today I decided to have pods for lunch. It's been really hot and I didn't feel like fusing too much so I just decided to sautee them with rice. I picked a bunch of young pods and found the stems exuded alot of latex so I though it would be a good idea to boil them first for about a minute to remove the excess. Next I drained them and let them dry for a little while so they wouldn't splatter too much when I cooked them. I sauteed them in a little butter and the only spices I used were salt and pepper. If it wasn't so hot I probably would have curried them or made a cream or a cheese sauce to put over them but I thought that would be too heavy a meal for such a hot day. The pods have a unique taste, they are definitely up there on the list of good wild edibles. Give them a try!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Wild Pancakes!

Seed Stalks

Wild Pancakes!
  Yellow Dock and Curly Dock are two very common  plants on the East Coast of the USA. Both plants are Edible and Medicinal. In the early Spring when the leaves are young and tender they can be used as a potherb or as an addition to a salad.  Personally I don't like eating these Docks very much so I don't collect the leaves very often. I guess I think of them as a survival food.
   The seeds on the other hand are a different story. Normally the seeds aren't ready till later on in the season but I guess the very hot dry weather has affected them and the seeds are turning brown and crunchy already. To make sure they were dry I cut the seed stalks off the plant and laid them in the Sun for a couple of days. Once dry, I simply ran the stalks through my fingers over a large bowl to remove the seeds. The seeds develop in a covering that turns papery when dry. To remove this chafe, rub the seeds between the palms of your hand to dislodge the seeds and winnow the chafe away. I winnowed the seeds a bit but it was too windy today and I started to lose too much seed so I left the chafe on. The chafe is edible anyway and it adds alot more fiber and bulk. Once I picked out the big stuff, like leaves and branches, I ran the seeds through a coffee grinder to make dark brown flour.
  I mixed this flour with an equal amount of Organic Spelt flour; added baking powder, an egg, a few drops of Vanilla extract, a touch of Stevia and enough soy milk to make a pancake batter. I heated up the pan and made a bunch of pancakes for lunch! The batter and cakes reminded me of Buckwheat Pancakes, they were a dark brown in color and had the texture of whole grain pancakes.
  Though they weren't 100% wild, I still felt good going through the process of using these wild plants as part of my food source. Besides they were REALLY good!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It's Summer!

  Today at 12:17pm  the Sun reached the end of it's northern migration towards the Tropic of Cancer, or 23.5deg. North Latitude, making today the longest day of the year. From this day forth the Sun will start it's trek South again and the days will be getting shorter, only a little at first, but by July the change will be approximately 2 min. a day.
 Most of the Spring plants have gone to seed by now and many plants die back rather than deal with the hot dry weather, only to return at the end of summer and beginning of Autumn. Today it's 97deg. Most plants that supplied ample greens all Spring are withering away because of the heat, or their leaves too tough to be palatable. There are many plants that don't mind the heat, and some, actually like it, though the bounty is definitely dwindling.
  Keep checking back to follow along with my Ethnobotanical Pursuits of the Summer Plants.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Asiatic Dayflower

Day Flower
  I have recently learned about another Wild Edible! If you have been following this Blog you know how excited I get when I learn something new.
  This is a plant that was not common where I used to live so I never really learned much about it. It is somewhat common where I live now and I find it in several places on my property, including a large patch in my ex-vermiculture compost area (my chickens eat all the worms). The whole aerial part of the plant is edible. I was not expecting much the first time I sampled it because usually by the time a plant is in flower the leaves and stem are too tough and too bitter to be palatable. Not only that, the leaves felt very "papery" and dry and I expected to have to tare them apart with my teeth. I was surprised to find they were succulent and very mild tasting. So much so, that I picked a hand full and eat them, flower and all. I was excited at my new find.
 I started thinking of ways to use this new found plant and I realized it would be good in a salad with the flowers added as a garnish, sauteed as a vegetable, in an omelet or added to soups. Since the first time I tried it, I have eaten some everyday when I go out to work in the garden or tend the chickens. A great new wild snack for me!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mimosa Water

Mimosa Tree

Flower Water in the Making

  I remember when I moved to the Burbs from the "City" when I was about 9 yrs. old. I already had a strong interest in nature, and plants in particular, when we moved to the "country". To me it was like being in the country, especially coming from the asphalt and concrete where I lived before. We actually had a lawn and trees on our property!
  The tree I remember most from those days was the Mimosa Tree that grew in our backyard. It had the most exotic looking flowers I had ever seen and I couldn't believe it was in MY yard! Unfortunately all the Mimosa Trees died in our neighborhood, must have been some kind of disease or something.
 So, the Mimosa has been a part of my life for a long time and through out my life, anytime I saw one I admired it. When I moved to NC, on the front lawn of our property were seven of what looked like trees that were severely pruned back to the point of just being ugly skinny trunks. We just figured  they were dead and I would have to cut them down in the Spring. Well, the Spring came and the trees started to sprout some green growth and to my amazement they were Mimosa Trees! Now after almost five years of letting them grow, they have become the most beautiful sight you can imagine when they all flower at the same time. They are in bloom now and the sweet intoxicating smell permeates the air, and sitting on the front porch is like being in Mimosa Heaven!
  The fact that I have had a relationship with this tree for such a long time, and the fact that I love learning about Plants and their uses, it blows my mind that it never occurred to me that the Mimosa Tree had any uses. I don't know why, maybe because when I was young I was told that it was poisonous, or, just admiring it's beauty and fragrance was enough for all those years. 
 Recently I got together with a group of people that have a strong interest in Edible and Medicinal Plants. It's very cool being able to share the combined knowledge and experience of a bunch of like minded people. It is there that my interest was sparked to learn more about the Mimosa Tree. It was there that I learned about making Mimosa Flower water.
 Simply put a bunch of Mimosa Flowers in a jar and cover with water, its that simple. I have been experimenting with how long to keep the flowers in the water and I find that about 36hrs. seems to be good. I keep the jar in the fridge for the whole time and the water comes out a slight pink color and has a nice taste and fragrance. 
  Through my research  I have found that in Asia, where the Tree is originally from, it is highly prized as a Medicinal Plant. The Chinese call it the 'Happiness Tree' because the flowers and bark are both used to combat depression and anxiety and are used as a calming sedative. According to Michael Tierra some modern Chinese Herbalists even call it "Herbal prozac"
 I highly recommend doing your own research on this magnificent Tree as there is alot more  to learn and I am just getting started on this new, and long over due, Ethnobotanical Pursuit.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Milkweed Flowers

 The Common Milkweeds are blooming and their sweet aroma fills the air in as I walk past my  garden. As I have mentioned before, Milkweeds are useful in different ways at different times of the year. Now is the time for the flowers. Before the flowers completely open, they look a little like broccoli heads, especially if you get them when they are small. There are many ways to prepare them, like breading and frying them or using them in a stir fry or stew or just simply steaming them, but today I decided I was going to boil them. Its a quick and delicious way of using the flowers. The flowers don't seem to have the bitter principal that you find in the rest of the plant at this mature stage so no need to boil them twice. Once they boiled for a couple of minuets you can strain them and add a touch of salt and some pats of butter and you have a healthy vegetable for your meal.
 When the flowers open, the scent is quite intoxicating, and the open flowers attract lots of butterflies, bees and other nectar loving insects. The individual open flowers can be nibbled on raw or put in salads. The nectar gives them a sweet taste and they are quite good. The open flowers make interesting fritters also, or can be added to pancakes and muffins. Just don't forget to leave some flowers for the insects and for the plant to produce seed pods, which will be the next Ethnobotanical Pursuit the Milkweed has to offer.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Daylily Flowers

Day Lily's
Unopened Flowers
Fried Flowers
  The Day Lilies are exploding around my house!
  The Common Day Lilly is found in many a garden. They are reliable, beautiful , disease resistant and attract humming birds. They will come back every year with little care to brighten your late spring day. Each flower will open for only one day, than be replaced by another, hence the common name. There are many cultivars of Day Lily and they come in many different colors.   Be careful with common names, many plants have Lily in their common name but are not edible. Lily of the Valley is a good example, it is a very toxic plant.
  In many parts of the world Day lilies are considered a delicacy. All parts of the plant are edible, but the flowers are the part most used. The flowers are often found dried in Asian markets to be used as a soup thickener and to add to soups and stews.
  My favorite way is to use the unopened flowers breaded and fried. Simply dip the flowers in egg and then in bread crumbs, flour or corn meal and fry in a little bit of oil of your choice. They make great appetizers and are a great addition to a Wild Edible Meal!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Yucca Flowers

Yucca in bloom

Flowers close up
   Yucca is just an incredible plant. It can be used for so many things, from food and medicine to fiber,dyes and soap. As the seasons progress, different parts of the plant are used at different times, though fiber can be extracted from the leaves anytime. As the seasons go on I will cover different usages at different times.
  Today we will pursue using the flowers. Simply, the flowers are edible. I don't like the inside part very much but the petals are good. Since the flowers are large and the petals are thick and succulent, they are more substantial than most other flowers. I like to eat them raw as a nibble or as a salad additive. You can bread or flour them and fry them as you might a squash flower. You can dry them and use them for tea or grind the dried flower and use the flour as an addition to muffins or pancakes. In certain Yuccas the flower stem is also edible (actually they are all edible just that some are very fibrous or woody) when young and before the flowers come out. Cook as you would asparagus. I have never tried this as I can never bring myself to cut the flower stem knowing how many beautiful flowers will develop on them! They are just too beautiful. Maybe if I lived in the southwest, where I have seen Yucca plants growing in groups of hundreds of plants taking up an area the size of half a football field, I would certainly consider trying some flower stalks.
  Anyway, the flowers don't last very long so get them while you can!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011



In Flower
 PurslanePortulaca oleracea, is another one of those Wild Edibles that is considered a noxious "weed"by the general public. It's true that it can certainly be a rather invasive little plant. I planted just one small plant that a friend gave me last year and this year I have hundreds of plants in my garden. I don't mind though because I I really like having them to munch on!
  Purslane is a very nutritious plant. It is high in vitamins A and C and is loaded with minerals, especially Magnesium . It is also high in Alpha Linolenic Acid, an important Omega 3 Fatty Acid.
 I like to eat it raw, and munch on it often as I work in my garden. It has a tangy mucilaginous taste, and also makes a great salad additive. It can also be steamed or sauteed and added to soups or stews. One interesting thing to do is to pickle it, a great way to save it for winter when there isn't any  around to pick.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Yarrow Leaf 
                                                I did a stupid thing yesterday. 
  In the mornings I work at a Veterinarians office taking care of the animals. 
While taking a young dog for a walk I decided to give her a little exercise so I started to jog with her. She got very exited and ran directly in front of me, tangling the leash around my legs, tripping me, sending me heading for the gravely asphalt. I put my hands down to break my fall which caused chunks of flesh to be scraped from the palms of my hand. Ouch! 
So how is this ethnobotanical you must be wondering?
  Well, whenever I need first aide, I look to the plants for help. One of the plants I brought to NC with me, because I can't live without it, is Yarrow, Achillea millefolium. This is my favorite First aid plant and I use it more than any other plant in emergencies. I even use it on my animals when they hurt themselves. 
Yarrow is an anti-septic, it is also a Hemostatic herb, meaning it stops bleeding. Legend has it that Achilles used it to treat his soldiers wounds on the battlefield, hence the name Achillea.  
  Normally for small wounds I take a leaf and chew it and than use it as a poultice. This time the wounds were spread over a large area so I made a strong infusion of the leaves and soaked my hands in this solution for awhile. I repeated this several times throughout the day to make sure things were cleaned out well. Finally, I took some infused oil that I make which contains several healing herbs, including Yarrow, and covered the wounds to keep out dirt. Well today is one day after the mishap and, though still very tender, the wounds are healing nicely. 
 I love being able to use plants for healing, it just seems NATURAL!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sheep/Wood Sorrel

Yellow Wood Sorrel

Sheep Sorrel  
 Two of my favorite salad additions are at their prime picking time. I like sour things, this is why I like the taste of these sorrels, both have a very sour tangy taste. Many mistake Wood Sorrel for Clover, but if you look closely at the leaflets, the Wood Sorrels are heart shaped and Clover is not. Besides, the flowers look nothing alike.  Sheep Sorrel is recognized by the arrowhead shaped leaves. If you have ever grown French Sorrel in your garden you know what these plants taste like. Both can be substituted for French Sorrel in recipes. I make a French Sorrel soup that is delicious and if you can find a large enough supply of Sheep/ Wood Sorrel you can substitute for free.
Take a large amount of Sorrel and saute in some butter till wilted and falling apart.
Add enough chicken stock or water to cover the Sorrel
Bring to a boil and let simmer a minute or two 
When cool add to a blender a puree till smooth
Add salt, pepper and heavy cream to taste 
Enjoy this soup hot or cold.