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, 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.