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, October 18, 2012

Nettles (again!)

  It's that time of year again, when my Nettle patch explodes with growth, after a long hot Summer. Nettles die back in the Summer after flowering, and stay pretty much dried up till the days start getting shorter and cooler.

I was trying to think of something different to do with the Nettles and I kept thinking SOUP. I have made a classic Nettles potato soup before ( http://ethnobotanist128.blogspot.com/2011/04/nettlespotato-soup.html ) but I wanted to try something different. The only other thing ready in my garden is Sweet Potatoes, so I wondered how it would taste substituting Sweet for regular Potatoes in the soup. I dug up a bunch of Sweet potatoes and cut just the succulent tops of the Nettles and headed for the kitchen.
 I cleaned and diced the Sweet Potatoes, covered them with water, and cooked till tender. I added the Nettles and cooked for another 8-10 min. I added just a little salt and pureed the mixture till it was a smooth consistency. Now was the time to taste.

  Wow, it was so good! Way better than with the Regular potatoes. The unique taste of the Nettles and the sweetness of the potatoes was a great combo. I ate two bowls!
 Than I started to think what else can I do with this soup. The next day I decide to add some Curry powder and a touch of Organic Butter to a bowl of soup and it was amazing! Than for lunch the next day I added some leftover cooked Black Beans for some extra body and the soup was delicious and filling at the same time. Any one of these combos would be even better with a little Organic heavy cream in them which would make it a nice rich cream soup guaranteed to fill you up. You could also start the soup with Chicken Stock instead of water for another flavor all together.
 Nettles are high in protein and  loaded with vitamins and minerals. It is one of the most nutritious plants on the planet, not to mention all the Medicinal value each part of the plant has to offer. So, find a safe patch of Nettle and bring some home an give them a special place in your garden so you can have them handy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What to do with my Dinosaurs?


  Every year I try to plant something new/different around my chicken coop. This serves a couple of practical purposes. One, I have a ready made fence for vines to clime on, and two, the chickens have ample shade in the heat of the summer which thy really appreciate. Also I get to plant some cool stuff I don't have room in my gardens for. I've had Luffa, bottleneck gourds, mango melons and a permanent section for Passion Flower Vines. This year I planted "Dinosaur gourds", also known as "Caveman's Club", they are a very unique looking gourd which I have always wanted to grow.
 I have tried before, but for some reason they didn't grow. But this year they really went crazy, so much so I have had to trim them back several times as they were starting to take over and smothering my Honeysuckle Vines, ( see:  http://ethnobotanist128.blogspot.com/2011/05/japanese-honeysuckle.html) which also have a permanent spot on the fence.
 As cool as these Gourds are I have no idea what to do with them! There is not much info on them, but as far as I can tell they are not Edible. I have seen a site where someone made a Dinosaur looking sculpture out of one but that's about it. I also e-mailed the head of a Gourd Society to get some more info on them and the women wrote back that she never heard of them!
 So, if anyone has any definitive info on these unique Gourds, please feel free to e-mail me or write some comments to help us get some info.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


 I get a seed catalog called "an Ethnobotanical catalog of seeds" and every year I drool over all the plants I wish I could grow in my garden. Every year I try to buy some seeds of Wild Edible or Medicinal Plants that I have not heard of or seen before. A couple of years ago I bought some seeds for a plant called Wonderberry. The description spoke of Edible fruits and prolific growth and as it is a plant that would grow in my area I figured I'd give it a try. The problem with this catalog is the lack of photos, it does have some line drawings of some plants but for the most part there is just a description. So, Spring came around and I tossed some seeds in a newly tilled garden just to see what would happen.
 I don't always get a chance to keep my gardens "weed" free and as it turns out this Wonderberry plant, being a Nightshade, resembles other Nightshades that you don't want to eat. So I steered clear of it for sometime, not even realizing it was the plant that I planted. Being busy I didn't get a chance to spend as much time with the plant as I would have liked so I really couldn't get a feeling for it. Finally toward the end of the season, about this same time that year, the fruits began to turn a dark blue/black that I notice that the fruits were different than any Nightshade I had seen before. There were also tiny white and yellow typical Nightshade shaped flowers on the plant that I had never seen before. Just going by gut feeling, I decided to try a couple of the ripe berries to see if I would die or get sick, luckily neither one happened! (by the way I don't recommend testing Wild Edibles this way) Well since I didn't die, I decided to spend some time learning about this new plant to see if I was right. Turns out it was the Wonderberry after all.
  Well, I now have Wonderberry growing all over, in almost all of my gardens and around my Chicken coops etc. A prolific plant to say the least. Some photos below will show you the Wonderberry I have growing. These are only meant to give a basic familiarization of the plant. Remember there are alot of toxic and poisonous Nightshades out there and many of them look very similar to one another so be careful and be 100% sure of your ID before trying any of them. Even with some edible Nightshades, like this one, the edible fruits are toxic when they are not ripe. The photos show the difference between ripe and unripe berries, don't eat the green berries!

Flowers and Green Berries

Green and Ripe Berries

Ripe and Safe to Eat
  One of the distinguishing characteristics of this plant is that 
the leaf extends all the way down the 
petiole, on both sides, to the stem.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Possibly Disappointing Realization

  99% of what I write on this blog refers to wild plants and traditional uses of mostly cultures other than my own. Though, since I have incorporated these traditions into my own life , I guess you can call them part of my culture too.
  I am an avid vegetable gardener and maybe this endeavor never occurred to me to be an Ethnobotanical Pursuit, but as I think about it more and more, it IS about plants and it is part of MY culture and the culture of many here in the US and all over the world. So from time to time I will be adding gardening plant info/thoughts here also.
  I have 7 gardens. This year I have 100 tomato plants. I mostly grow things in my garden that most people don't, though I also grow things that many people do. What I mean is, yes I grow Tomatoes, but mostly varieties that most gardeners don't. Yes, I grow Cucumbers etc., but I add varieties that most people have never seen before. This keeps things interesting. When I hand someone a yellow Tomato or a white Eggplant or a small round yellow Cucumber, the inevitable response is; "this is a______(fill in the blank) I have never seen one like this before".
  Anyway, you may ask why a person needs 100 Tomato plants. The answer is, I like to make my own Tomato Sauce and Tomato Juice to preserve for the rest of the year. And who can get enough fresh Tomato sandwiches or fresh Tomato salad right from the garden? The growing season is relatively short, especially this year with all the rain and damp humid conditions. Good thing I planted so many plants, as much as 50% of my tomatoes are molding and rotting on the vine even before they get ripe.
  While processing and canning Tomato sauce one day I really started to look at the whole process in a very critical way and since the process takes a long time from vine to canning jar, I had plenty of time to think. One of the reasons I do all this is to save money, to be more self reliant and Environmentally friendly and to always have a supply of Organic food available. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this may be going against that whole premise (except the part about having the food available).
  When I was an Environmental Educator, I used to teach a Primitive Technologies program. I would always refer to something I would call Appropriate Technology, which in a nutshell, is using the most primitive Technology you can for the situation at hand. This saves energy, pollution, destruction of the Environment and helps to keep us healthy through physical exercise among other things. For instance,  to dig a root out of the ground for dinner, I could use a stick to dig it out or I could build a backhoe to get it out, both would accomplish  the task equally well. But which one is appropriate for the situation?
  It was along these lines I criticized the whole Tomato canning process. So, lets go through the process from start to finish to see if I am accomplishing my goals. First, I had to get the ground ready. To do this I bought a $700.00 rototiller. To build a rototiller, first, thousands of other machines, buildings and safety equipment etc. have to be built. And to build those machines and buildings millions of other machines and factories have to be built etc. You can drive yourself crazy when you start to think of what it takes to do just one thing in a technologically advanced way. All of this is just to get the ore out of the ground. Once the ore is extracted it has to be transported to other facilities with millions of other machines and buildings etc. The extracted metal needs to be transported to many other factories with all the necessary tools and machines to get molded into parts. Than the parts transported again to the factories that build the machine, than the machine has to be transported to the stores that sell them, so I can take my van and trailer, which were built in a similar way, to pick it up to till my ground. Of course there are thousands of other steps involved in this endeavor not the least of which is the exchange of money and all it takes to produce this almighty paper product, and all the energy, time, buildings, tools, equipment and pollution it took for me to make it and the hundreds of computers and banks it takes for me to bring it home. I haven't even taken into consideration the electricity and what it take to produce it and transport it to all these factories or what it take to build the roads etc. that allows this all to happen.
 The rototiller runs on Gasoline. As do all the transport trucks and many of the machines that produce the machines. Not enough time and space to go through the whole petroleum thing from start to finish but just think of all the energy, pollution, machines, rigs, boats, storage, transport, refining, etc. it takes to get to the finished product!
 Ok, so now I have my land tilled, I need seed. I use organic seed in my gardens which lessens impact on the Earth but still demands an enormous amount of energy to produce. When you consider all the things needed on even an Organic farm, and the energy it takes to produce all that machinery, add to the mix the gas to run them  and the electricity for all the buildings and sorting and packaging machines and the trucks and gas to deliver them, the trees needed to package them and all the machinery it takes to log, transport and process the trees etc., things get crazy real fast.
 My Tomatoes are planted and ready to harvest. I have to collect them (in a petroleum based bucket, at least it's reused from something else), than prep them and than cook them. I don't know if you have ever made Tomato sauce, before but it takes days of cooking to get it right, a serious mount of propane for sure. Do I need to go through the whole getting, storing, transporting, etc. for the propane?
 Now I need mason jars.  The materials, the factories, the stores, the transport etc., etc.!!!!!!
 After all is said and done, I have about 18 jars of sauce, and 9 jars of tomato juice.
 Now it would take a mathematician and an energy flow expert to figure this all out, but it would seem to me, the amount of time, energy, pollution it takes to produce 18 jars of sauce and 9 jars of juice is just staggering.
 Somethings to consider that are beyond my expertise:  My rototiller has done alot more than help me produce these 27 jars of stuff over the last 6 years. Obviously, all the factories, trucks, roads, gasoline, machines, pollution etc. were not produced or built just for my 27 mason jars. In the life of a factory, for instance, it may produce billions of mason jars. You would have to divide all the mason jars that were produced in the factory by the amount of energy it used to be created and run for all those years to figure how much energy it takes to make one mason jar.
 So whats my point? I'm thinking that a factory, that is built to make Tomato Sauce, over its entire lifetime, can probably make a jar of tomato sauce much cheaper and use much less energy per jar of Tomato Sauce than I can at home. Hey, I'm just sayin!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Tallest Mullein Plant

  I remember as a kid seeing my first Mullein plant. I was fascinated by the softness of the leaves and the unusual green color that was so different from all the other plants growing around it. Of course we had no idea of all the cool things this plant was useful for. My Father was a hunter and he told me that the leaves can be used as emergency toilet paper, that's all I knew about it.
  As I got older, and became interested in Backpacking, I heard other "lore" surrounding this cool plant. We were told the soft leaves could be used to put in your boots as a soft cushion for your aching tired feet and can be used as a cushion between your boot and a blister that was forming on you foot to help ease the friction. Of course, the toilet paper idea traveled in these circles also.
  It wasn't till I became interested in Wild plants as food , Medicine and their utilitarian uses was I able to sort out the real traditional uses from the hearsay and even now I still learn new things this plant is useful for.
  When I first moved to NC, there were no Mullein plants to be found and I wondered if they grew here at all. It wasn't till about two and a half years ago did I find my first Mullein plant growing in a neglected part of my Medicinal Herb garden! I was excited to see it and cleared the surrounding plants so it would get plenty of Sun. Now, mullein has a two year growth cycle (biennial) . The first year the plant develops a Basal Rosette of leaves and the second year a tall flower spike grows from the center. So last summer the flower spike developed and I collected about a billion seeds ( the seeds are microscopically small) to plant in other places on my property. Turns out I didn't have to collect seeds because by the end of last summer there were Mullein Rosettes growing all over the place! There were probably another billion seeds that got distributed by Mother Nature. One plant in particular started to grow in my Strawberry patch and I noticed by the end of the summer and into the Fall that the plant was getting huge. The Rosette was easily three feet across and getting bigger throughout the winter.
  As the weather started to warm up this year, the Flower Spike, covered in leaves, started to grow upwards and some side spikes started to grow also making the plant even bigger than I ever dreamed. By the time the flowers started to die back and the plant got knocked over by a 60mph micro-burst during a thunder storm, the Mullein Plant was easily eight feet tall! Now this may not be the tallest Mullein plant in the world but it was the tallest most massive one I had ever seen.
 Mullein is an incredibly useful plant and I read about new uses all the time. But, as you may have noticed, I only like to write about things on this blog that I have actually tried and used in my life. My own personal Ethnobotanical Pursuits. Mullein Flowers are famous for their use in ear oils as a soothing healing remedy, especially combined with Garlic for ear infections. I have used this combo on occasion and have recommended it to others many times with good results. The Flowers are infused in Organic Olive Oil to make the infused oil. Most of the medicines this plant makes I have not had use for yet so this is the extent of my experience with its Medicinal uses. Please research this plant further to see if any of its Medicinal qualities can help you.
 I have actually used Mullein leaves as a cushion in my boots during backpacking trips and it has fended off blisters quite well. If you are a backpacker you will know the name moleskin, Mullein is like natures moleskin and soft insoles. The lore that the leaves are good for toilet paper is true, but as one of my teachers Tom Brown says, using this Sacred Plant for toilet paper will eventually come back and bite you in the ass! You see, even as a Medicinal plant, if you abuse Mullein you will probably eventually get a negative allergic like reaction to it. Tom calls this "poetic justice" to hunters who use this most Sacred Plant for something as degrading as toilet paper!
  The flower stem can be used as a spindle in a Bow Drill apparatus (HERE), especially if tipped with a harder wood. Because the stem can be quit long it makes a great Hand Drill spindle also. Though I have tried using a Hand Drill on several occasions, I have yet to get a fire started this way.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My First Artichokes!

 Last year I took a chance and planted some Artichokes, even though all I had read made it sound like they were a hard thing to grow. The plants grew huge and I wondered what all the fuss was about, but than died off in the hottest part of the summer. I thought they were doomed but I decided to keep them to see what would happen. As it began to get cooler, signs of life were beginning to show again but only about two thirds of the plants came back and I wondered if they just liked the cool weather. Well, they like the cool but not the cold, they all died back again and no sign of life all winter long.
 As the weather began to get warmer late in the winter, again, signs of life began to show, though the winter had taken its toll and now I was down to about half of what I started with. It's amazing how big these plants get in just a short time, and they began to get huge again.
 Just the other day I was out in the garden with a friend and I was showing her the artichoke plants and she pointed to an Artichoke and actually saw the first one before I did. I searched the plants and found a total of five so far!
 I am leaving that first and largest one on the plant because I am so curious to see what the flowers look like but I picked my first two today and I cant wait to eat them!

Follow up:  I have gotten about 12 Artichokes so far. They are on the small side and don't have much meat on the "leaves" but the hearts are delicious. Hoping that next year they will be bigger. The first and largest one that I left on the plant to flower has finished blooming and will be going to seed soon. Hoping for alot of seeds to plant more for next year. Looks like Artichokes can become my next plant obsession!

Starting to open

In full bloom

Monday, April 30, 2012

Redbud Seedpods

Redbud Seedpods
 The weather has been crazy in this part of NC lately, it was in the 80s for a while, than we had a freak frost two mornings in a row which killed about 40 of my squash plants and 18 cucumber plants. Some of the wild plants were also taken by surprise and got "burned" by the frost, definitely been a crazy weather year this year.
  Still plenty of Wild Edibles to play with though, and one of the plants that just keeps on giving is the Redbud tree. Now that the Edible flowers have been pollinated and have fallen off the trees, the fruits of their labor are beginning to show. The seedpods are Edible when they are young and succulent. If you wait too long they will get tough and stringy and are no fun to eat. If you take one of the young pods and bend it in half it should "snap" apart. If you wait too long they will stay together because they are stringy. The raw seedpods, right from the tree, have a somewhat tangy taste. A good snack food or addition to a salad or stir fry. Remove the stem before eating or use it as I do to hold my snack while eating. I eat a hand full once and that sour taste turned astringent and was not as pleasurable as eating just a few as a snack. I have never eaten a large quantity of the pods so proceed with caution and see if they agree with you first, remember you can be allergic to a wild plant as easily as a "common" food plant.
 Don't forget to look closely at the pods so you get to know them before you eat and of course make sure they are REDBUD pods by ID-ing the tree first if you didn't see it in bloom. If you enlarge the photo above you will notice a "fishhook" at the bottom of the pod
  I think its fun to just walk over to the Redbud Tree on the way to the garden and in the early Spring snack on the Flowers than later on snack on the young pods. Nature is so COOL!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Wisteria Heaven!

 It's that time of year again when the Wisteria are flowering. This year is a wonderful show, compared to last year, maybe because of all the rain we have been having.
 Last year was the first time I had made Wisteria water and I thought it was  pretty good, but this year I decided to experiment a to "spice" it up a little. Info and ID photos for making the water are here:  http://ethnobotanist128.blogspot.com/2011/04/wisteria-water.html .
 I don't eat sugar and I usually use Stevia to sweeten things up but I have discovered a new product that I use on occasion. It's organic Palm Tree sap! It's not super sweet and has a very low glycemic index so I figured using it once in a while won't hurt. Besides, there is no bitter after taste like you get with Stevia.
 Anyway, I added a small amount of freshly squeezed organic lemon juice and a touch of the Palm sap to the Wisteria water and WOW was it incredible! I like it so much I am going to collect a ton of Wisteria Flowers and make  bunch of water and freeze it so I can have it after the flowers die off (as they are beginning to do, possibly because of the frost the past two days). Hopefully freezing the water won't affect its taste, well see, just another Ethnobotanical experiment! Give it a try.
 Post Script: The other day I added some Spearmint to the mix as I usually do with lemonade, and it added a new dimension of greatness to the drink! Keep experimenting!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sauteed Nettles

  With all the rain we have been having, things are just growing crazy. My Stinging Nettles patch seems to be growing 3 inches a day! Wanting to take advantage of this most nutritious vegetable before it goes to flower, prompted me to go and gather a bunch for dinner. Normally I don't mind the sting too much but decided to use gloves this time, as sometimes my fingertips stay numb for a couple of days after picking bare handed. I love the taste of  raw Nettles,  and have figured out a way to eat them without getting my mouth stung. If you take the leaves and roll them in your fingers or against your pant leg or something, it triggers the sting and is safe to eat raw. Though a few stings in the mouth is not the worst thing in the world, I'm sure most people would not like it too much. If you dry or cook the plant the sting is neutralized also and I dry lots of Nettles for infusions over the winter and to use as a liquid fertilizer for my garden and house plants.
 Anyway, you may ask, why bother going through all this trouble to eat a plant? Well, Nettles are one of the most Nutritious and Medicinal plants on the planet. Nettles are reported to be very high in Vitamins A+C, Iron, Calcium, Protein and lots of trace minerals. The medicinal qualities seem endless, and as a nourishing adaptogen, seems to help with everything from fatigue to chronic viral infections. Nettles are also Hemostatic and finely powdered herb sprinkled on small cuts and scrapes will stop bleeding and help sanitize the area. A strong infusion can be used as a wash for open sores and Poison Ivy. Ethnobotanically speaking, this plant is a treasure trove of usefulness, from its fiber content for cordage to its ability as a Dye plant just to name a few. This is only the tip of the iceberg!

 Dinner was simple. Once I pulled the leaves off the stem, I sauteed the Nettles with Onions and Mushrooms and garnished with Violet Flowers. Delicious!
 I took the stems and remaining leaves and covered with water and brought them to a boil. I have been using this infusion for watering my garden seedlings and plan to use some of it as a foliage spray for nourishment and to help keep insects away.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Redbud Flower Pancakes!

  At 12:13AM the sun crossed the Equator on its way North towards the Tropic of Cancer, which signals the Vernal Equinox or Astronomical Spring. The weather, and the Earth/Sun relationship, don't always agree with each other. As for the Weather and the Plants, its been 'Spring' for a about a month already and the temperature has been in the 80s the past couple of days.
Redbud Tree In Bloom
 The Redbud Trees are in bloom already, and if you recall from last years post on Redbuds ( http://ethnobotanist128.blogspot.com/2011/03/redbuds-are-blooming.html ) this is a relatively new Wild Edible for me so I couldn't wait for them to bloom again so I can start my experimenting. I have been nibbling on the Flowers for the past couple of days and since the trees were in full bloom on the first day of Spring, I wanted to do something special with them so I decided to make Redbud Flower Pancakes!
 I collected a bowl full of Flowers early this morning for the pancakes. It was easy as the flowers are prolific and clumped together very tightly on the branches. For some close up photos of the Flowers check out last years post using the link above to get a good idea of what the Flowers look like.
I make my pancakes from scratch using Organic Rice Flour, freshly gathered Eggs, non-aluminum baking powder, soy or rice milk and a touch of Stevia. I don't know the exact recipe as I do it by "feel' as I make them. One thing is, I use extra egg because there is no gluten to hold the cakes together and they will fall apart when you go to flip them if you don't. Once the batter was made I added the Flowers and made the

Batter with Flowers
Finished Product!

What a great way of bringing in the first Day of Spring, YUM!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Violets are here!

 Astronomically it may not be Spring yet but due to the mild Winter we have had, the plants around my house sure think it is.
 I love Sweet Violets. Not only are they beautiful but they are nutritious and medicinal at the same time. When I see the Violets flowering around my house I know the warm weather is just around the corner. I also know it's time to start sprucing up some rather boring winter salads. I had some Organic Lettuce in the fridge and decided to go foraging to turn it into a salad any wild plant enthusiast would be proud of. Using the Lettuce as a base I went outside and gathered a bunch of Chickweed, lots of Violet Flowers and leaves and some Dandelion Flowers for health and garnish. Not too extravagant but quite satisfying.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The best laid plans...........

  As an Environmental Educator, one of the programs I used to teach was Maple Sugaring. We had a Sugar Bush and a Sugar Shack where there was an evaporator and all the tools we needed to teach the process.            
 Where I lived I had three large Norway Maples in my yard and would tap them for the whole winter. I would usually get about 35 gal. of sap which equated to more than a gallon of syrup, they were very sweet trees!  
 Here in NC I have one Silver Maple on my property and the thought of taping my maple tree has occurred to me a few times but I had the notion, from all that I have read, that we are too far south. Than last year we had a very cold winter but by the time I thought about it it was too late.
 So, this year I thought about it when the weather got pretty cold there for a stretch. I went through the whole process and the sap actually flowed on the day I did it. I got very excited thinking I may actually get some syrup this year. Unfortunately it started getting warmer and warmer from that point on and the sap stopped running. Now the Tree's buds are swollen and it is in Spring Mode so the chance of getting any more sap is slim to none.
 Looks like this Ethnobotanical Pursuit is not going to happen as planned, yet, it was a pursuit non the less and it felt good going through the motions again. What follows is a description of the steps for tapping a tree, I hope you find it interesting even though I was not able to see it through to the end product.

 The first thing you need to do is make or gather a Spile. A Spile is a hollow tube. My favorite Spiles are Bamboo and my next favorite is the hollow stems (once you take out the pith)of Sumac. I decide to make one for the project this time. The Spile is what allows the sap to drip away from the tree so it can be gathered easily.
The O.D. of the Splie should be slightly larger than the hole you will be drilling into the tree and tapered at one end.

 Next you need to find a Maple or other suitable tree to Tap.The tree need to be at least a foot in diameter and should be in the sun if at all possible.
 This might be a good time to explain the whole Tree/Sap thing. Sap is mostly water and the Tree uses it to transport water and nourishment in the form of vitamins minerals and sugars from the roots/leaves to the rest of the tree. Remember Xylem and Phloem? Since the sap is mostly water, in the cold winter, the tree sends the sap down to the roots for storage, because if it stayed in the tree and froze, it would crack the tree due to the waters expansion. So, on a very cold night the sap heads down to the roots and if the day warms to around 45deg. the sap goes back up the tree. This is referred to as "the sap is Running". Sap can only be collected if it is Running, this is why all Maple sugaring is done in the north, and even there, depending on the weather, they may only get two or three good sap Runs a year! Just one of the reasons Maple Sugar is so expensive. So the ideal time to collect Sap is when we get freezing nights and the days warm to above 45deg.
 Back to the process. Because of the above explanation you should Tap or drill your hole on the south side of the tree because it warms first and will start to flow sooner. I have Tapped large maple trees with three taps going around the tree and the Tap on the south side always starts dripping first. Some days when the Temperature is teetering on being warm enough, only the south facing Taps will produce. Also if you can Tap the tree under a large branch you will get more Sap as the tree has to send more to that part.
 Drill your hole at least three feet of the ground and at an downward facing angle. This angle is important so the Spile never clogs with frozen sap. the hole only need to be about 1.5 inches deep.

Once the hole is drilled. Tap the Spile in, tapered part first, with a rock or hammer till it seats nice and tight, this will prevent sap from being wasted and just running down the tree.

If you do this on the right day the sap will start flowing immediately!

Next you need to find a container to collect the sap. If you use a nail to hang your container, please don't use galvanized, it is toxic to you and the tree. You notice I am using glass, if you do the same, you need to empty the sap every night or your jar will crack if it freezes. Learn from my mistakes, I have lost Sap his way!
Once you collect enough sap you can start to boil it down. Depending on how sweet your tree is it could take up to 50gal. of sap to make 1gal. of Syrup! Keep in mind that all that water has to go somewhere when you boil it off, imagine what 40 gal. of steam will do to your wall paper!
 Once you get close, and the Sap starts to thicken, watch it very closely as you can burn it quite easily. A mistake you don't want to make after all the time, effort and energy to get this far. Your Sap will be Syrup when it reaches 219 deg.
 Unfortunately, we have to wait till next winter to try this again, but start to scout out the trees you will use and get the materials together, and good luck!
 As you can see, even the best laid Ethnobotanical Pursuits of mice and men often go astray!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Whats goin on?

  It has been a relatively mild winter, at least compared to last year, for this area of NC. It is Feb. 1st and Spring has sprung already. We have had Dandelions, Henbit, Speedwell, Chickweed and Sweet Violets all Winter long in small amounts. Now, Daffodils have been flowering on south facing hills for almost two weeks already and I saw the first flowers on my Forsythia today.
 So whats goin on? Maybe this is normal once in a while in NC, and maybe I haven''t lived here long enough to have seen the cycle unfold. Or maybe it's climate change, who knows. But daffodils in January, now thats just crazy! Whatever the reason, I'm going to take advantage of it and make a wild salad today. I never seem to eat enough fresh greens in the winter, I am so used to eating fresh Organic greens from my garden the rest of the year, sometimes I'm too stubborn to buy them at the store for stupid prices. I rely on much of what I had frozen for the Winter.
PS. It's Feb. 2nd and I heard Spring Peepers singing this morning!