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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Redbuds are Blooming!

Redbud Tree
      The Pea Shaped Flowers

In profile, the flowers look like tiny Hummingbirds

  I didn't really learn about Redbud Trees till I moved to North Carolina and it wasn't till I lived here for a while did I learn about its edibility.
  Redbud Trees are beautiful, showy magnificent trees that are very common in NC. They are members of the Fabaceae or Pea Family, which is quite evident when you look at the flowers which are typical Pea shaped flowers.(see photos) The flowers, and later the immature seed pods, are the part you eat. 
  My Redbud flowers just started to open the other day and I have been nibbling on them ever since. They have a sweet yet tangy taste that is quite enjoyable. I decided  it was time for another Wild Edible Salad do I gathered a bunch of Chickweed and sprinkled the top with Redbud flowers. I also recently learned of the Edibility of Camellia Flowers (not that delicious raw by the way) so I added a few petals to dress up the salad. It doesn't show in the photo but when I was ready to eat it I added a bunch of Violet flowers also. It was a beautiful sight, I almost didn't want to eat it! Remember to save some for the Bees!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Happy Spring

Vernal Equinox 
This evening, at 7:21pm EDT, the Sun crosses the celestial equator on it's trip north towards the Tropic of Cancer, marking the Vernal Equinox or first day of Spring. Today, the Sun rises due East and sets due West causing night and day to have equal (Equinox) lengths. Of course, in reality, this would only happen if there were no Atmosphere on Earth to scatter light, so the length of day and night visually differ slightly. From this point on, our days get longer by approximately two minuets per day. The Sun will stop it's Northern trek at the Tropic of Cancer, where we will have the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere marking the Summer Solstice, than, start to head south again on the first day of Summer making the days shorter.
 This may be more Astronomical then Ethnobotanical but everything is connected. As the length of day and the angle of insolation increases, the days get longer and warmer, triggering plants and animals to awaken and start there often ephemeral lives. In turn, we as humans, get more of the things we need to survive. Be Equal

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New Discovery

I love it when I discover something new.
Yesterday while strolling across my lawn to check out how my Prickly Pear Cactus made it through the winter, I noticed a patch of white in the middle of a carpet of purple flowering Henbit. Thinking I was going to see a flower in bloom I hadn't noticed yet, I went over to check it out. To my surprise it WAS Henbit!, only the flowers were white instead of purple. I thought, this is cool, something I had never seen before, maybe I have discovered something new and all the Botanists around the world will want to come and see this amazing discovery.  So I went on the computer to do some research. Turns out I didn't discover something new, though it is not super common, it has been reported many times before. Oh well, guess I will have to get famous some other way. As cool as they are, in my opinion, they are no match for the beauty of the Purple Henbit flowers (check out my February 3rd Post). 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wild Edible Lunch!


 Today was a nice day so I decided to walk around to see what I could find. There is one spot on my property where Chickweed grows well, so I headed there first. I found a good supply of succulent green and in flower Chickweed, so I grabbed a bunch to use as a base for a Wild Edible salad I would have for lunch. I found lots of other foods while walking around so I picked as I ran into something good. It turned out to be a larger salad than I planed as I continued to find great things to add. When I was done I had Chickweed, Mouse Eared Chickweed Leaves, Wild Carrot(Queen Ann's Lace)sprouts, young Cleavers herb, Henbit Flowers and Leaves, Shepherds Purse flowers and Seed Pods, Field Garlic, Dandelion Flowers, Mustard Flowers and Seed Pods, Clover Leaves and Sweet Violet Flowers and Leaves. I think I remembered everything! After washing what needed to be washed I decided to eat out of a hand made Tulip Wood bowl to add to the ambiance. I also had some Nettles and Stevia Herb iced tea to round off the Wild Lunch.
 Free, super healthy food in a handmade (by me) bowl and tea made from garden plants, can't beat that for a great Wild Self Sufficient lunch!

Monday, March 14, 2011


Sweet Violet
You really know that Spring is close when the Violets start blooming, I wait for this moment all Winter, and it is finally here! I Love Sweet Violets, they are very cheery little flowers, and it makes me happy whenever I see them. Maybe I like them so much because purple is my favorite color. 

Actually, although purple is the most common color, Violets come in a variety of colors, from purple to white to any mixture of both in between.

One of the ways to identify sweet Violet (if the flowers are not enough) is the way the the bottom of the heart shaped leaves curl in towards the stem. Another reason I am so excited about the Violet is the fact that it is one of the safest and healthiest of the common Wild Edibles. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible and can be eaten raw, cooked or dried for use as a tea or to add to green drink smoothies. Dry a bunch and save for winter use when wild edibles are few and far between.
Euell Gibbons calls Violet leaves "natures vitamin pill" because of how many vitamins and minerals are in just a handful of leaves. It is reported that just 100g of fresh herb contains 246g of ascorbic acid and 20,000 IU of vitamin A!
Violets are also Medicinal. The plant is considered a cooling herb and has mucilaginous properties. These attributes make it a perfect herb for inflamed skin problems or internally for things like sore throat, just to name a couple of uses.
Be sure you pick your Violets and all other Wild Plants in a safe unsprayed area.
Beautiful Sweet Violet

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dandelion, Thistle and Chicken Soup

Dandelion Greens/Dandelion and Thistle Root
 Over the winter, many wild plants grow in my garden and when it is time to prepare the soil for vegetables, it's time for those plants to come out. I take advantage of this free feast as I work my way through the garden through out the Spring. This time I got lots of Dandelion and Thistle plants to work with. I was planning on making Chicken Soup this evening anyway, so why not add all this good stuff to it? After blasting the roots with the hose to remove the soil, I brought them inside to prep them for the soup. I cut off the healthy greens from the Dandelions and washed them a second time than took the roots from both the Thistle and Dandelion and cut them up and washed them a second time also. You can't get all the dirt with the hose when roots are tangled like the dandelions were. The Thistle Roots were perfect straight tap roots so they were easy to clean. The leaves on the Thistle are also edible (and quite delicious) though I didn't feel like fussing with the thorns today. My chickens benefited from my laziness as they devoured the thistle leaves with a passion. I now had plenty of wild veggies to add to the regular fare of my Chicken soup!
 This time of year is a good time to harvest roots. The plants still have plenty of energy and nutrition stored there waiting for the warm weather so they can put all that energy to good use growing flowers.
 By the way the soup was excellent!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Purple Dead Nettle

Purple Dead Nettle Patch (frosted)
Single Plant (frosted)
Close up of Flowers
 Purple Dead Nettle is in bloom everywhere. This is another plant most people consider a weed, but on closer inspection you can see it is quite beautiful plant. In profile, I think, the extremely beautiful flowers look like a bulldog, with tiny ears and a protruding lower jaw.
 Purple Dead Nettle is not a popular edible or medicinal plant but is considered both. A member of the Mint Family, it has a square stem and opposite leaves that overlap each other and get a darker purple toward the top.The photos don't show the purple that well because these plants were in the shade, it's early in the season and it is an early frosty morning. As the days get hotter and the sun more intense the top leaves will get noticeably darker purple. The name "Dead" Nettle comes from the fact that it doesn't sting like other plants called Nettle.
  The leaves and flowers can be eaten raw in salads or as a nibble.I like the flowers the best and eat those more than any other part and have never eaten a large quantity of the rest of the plant. It can be cooked also, which is recommended by some because of the high Tannin content. Collect the plant when in flower and dry for the future to make teas and medicinal infusions. It is said the plant is high in Iron.
 Medicinally it is used as a Hemostatic herb, meaning it helps stop bleeding. I imagine this is due to the high tannin content as tannin is an astringent. It is also used to stop Diarrhea and disinfect wounds, again, presumably because of the high tannins. 
 Even if you never eat it or use it Medicinally, at least take a closer look at this prolific little plant.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Flowers and Seed Pods
Things are really starting to happen around here for the Wild Edible and Medicinal Plant enthusiast. Everywhere you look at this 35" 41' Latitude in North Carolina, the Earth is beginning to wake up after it's long slumber. This time of year many of the small mustards are flowering. You can find them mixed in with the Speedwells and Henbit and often growing in patches several feet in diameter on the Natural lawn. In the Mustards, also known as Cruciferae, there are over 3200 species and they are often difficult to key out to a specific species. Take the Mustard plant above. I have been eating this plant in the early spring for as long as I can remember, yet I have not been able to identify it specifically. I know unmistakably that it is a mustard because of the flowers and the seedpods. Once you get familiar with a family of plants it is easy to recognize the similarities of the family. The flowers of the typical Cruciferae  have the petals in an X or cross shape(hence the name Cruciferae or cross) and have 6 stamens(two usually shorter than the other four), . There are two types of seed pods in Cruciferae , short and broad (silicle), and long and thin (silique) and they almost always point upwards on the stem.
 This little plant is a great nibble as the flowers and seedpods are edible, just pluck them off and snack while out working in the garden. Add them to salads or muffins or saute them in a stir fry.
 Hey if anyone can key out this mustard please add a comment so every one who reads this will know.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


 The weather has been warm and many plants are getting a head start on Spring. I am beginning to see Dandelions in bloom on my property. As you may have guessed I love Dandelions. They are one of the most incredible plants on the planet.Every part of the Dandelion is used as food and Medicine and they pack a nutritional wallop to boot. I cant wait till more come into bloom so I can start to eat them on a regular basis. Check out the recipe page on  http://www.thedandelionappreciationsociety.org/ for a couple of my favorite recipes and hopefully soon, other peoples recipes also. You will also find other interesting Dandelion info with lots more to come in the days ahead.
                                                            And Remember:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Time Warp

Silver Maple Flowers
 I just got back to NC from a trip to NY. I was only gone for a week but things were so different when I got back, I feel like I was transported through time.
When I left NY it was 28deg., snow on the ground and barely any sign of life in the natural world. When I got home 12hours later, it was 83deg., Daffodils blooming, Forsythia in bloom, the grass starting to get green, the Silver Maples in full bloom and the Spring Peepers are singing their song.! What a difference a day makes!
 Most people don't realize that the fuzziness they see on the trees in the Spring are millions of tiny flowers. I have heard many people say they thought it was the leaves starting to come out. But when you look more closely you will see how beautiful that fuzziness becomes.
 Maple flowers are edible, though most have a somewhat bitter taste, some are sweet. They are good added to other foods like salads, cereals or pancakes.Just a word of caution, I always remind people that if they are allergic to pollen they should be cautious when eating flowers. See all that yellow stuff on the stamens in the photo, thats all pollen! In the past many parts of the Maple have been used for food and medicine but I don't know of anyone who uses them today except, of course, for making maple syrup and the wood for various constructions.