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Category Archives: Foraging

“whoa, that’s gross”

…was the thought going through my head after ingesting a truly terrible tasting plant this morning. I’ve only just started learning about wild plants and my sampling range is limited, however that was the first plant I’ve tried that was just awful. I thought it was chickweed and hastily grabbed a few tops and threw them in my mouth. That was a big mistake. I should’ve taken the time to get down low to the plant and really check it out before eating it. It may have been some form of inedible wild mint, but I’m not sure. It was a good reminder to be careful and sensible, even when I think I’ve correctly identified a particular plant. The incredibly bad astringent taste stayed in my mouth and throat for 45 minutes.

Another bummer was they mowed the big patch of land I’ve been roaming lately. Tons of nettles, mustards, and lupine are now all gone. The burned-yellow plants along the pathways also make me think someone came and sprayed pesticide in the last week or two. Not surprising, just sad. I saw a big truck rumbling down the main street the other day with a man in the back spraying down all the weeds growing in the center median. It’s probably something they do every Spring.

Might be time to find myself a more rural spot to spend time in & learn from for a few months. I’ve been bringing home wild weed seeds and throwing them out in the garden so maybe by next year at this time, I won’t have to travel too far. I’ll become what Kiva Rose calls a “weed wife” and visit with my little friends in my own backyard.

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Passion Flower

I made a tincture from the flowers, buds, and vines of a Passion Flower plant. Before I bottled it though, I was compelled to do a little photoshoot.

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“Passionflower is a climbing vine native to South Texas, Mexico, and Central America. Growing to a length of 30 feet (9 meters) under ideal conditions, the vine bears three-lobed leaves, purple flowers, and yellow-to-orange egg-shaped fruit. The name of the plant comes an analogy between the plant’s ornate flower to the elements of the crucifixion of Jesus, white and purple to symbolize heaven and purity, five stamens for the five wounds he suffered, three style for the three nails used to affix him to the cross. A Spanish doctor named Nicolas Monardes was the first to document the flower used in Peru in 1569, which he then brought back to Europe with him, where its popularity spread quite rapidly as a sedative. It was later classified by Linnaeus in 1745, when he noted over 20 species. Nowadays, there are reputably over 400 different species.
Herbalists in Mexico, Central America, and Texas have used passionflower as a calmative and sleeping aid for over 200 years.”
Mountain Rose Herbs

Possibly Field Mustard?

I’m wondering if this is Field Mustard? The leaves look right, but I can’t make a positive identification on the flowers.

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Rumex crispus?

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The fields are aflutter with weeds. Nettles are knee high, bees are spreading their business, and the full moon is giving everyone a little extra “oopmh.”

This morning I found hearty and healthy specimens of what I believe to be Rumex crispus, curly dock. Some plants had all green leaves, while others had leaves flecked with red. Rumex crispus is an edible member of the buckwheat family. The wavy leaves are often described as sour or lemon-y tasting. Dock recipes abound on foraging/wild eating websites. Hunger and Thirst has a recipe for Dock Enchiladas that looks amazing. I’m going to have to try them.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day with Mugwort for Dreaming

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Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana) is our plant for celebrating Valentine’s Day. The plant is known as “dream sage” because it promotes good dreams, which helps to heal the spirit. Sewn into a small pillow or stuffed into a drawstring bag, Mugwort makes a wonderful gift to a lover, a symbol that you care about their dreams (and therefore their health and happiness.)

“Dreams are an essential part of health. Dreams help the spirit remember to be normal, to be happy. Dreams help heal the spirit. Many patients have trouble dreaming because they are under too much stress. They cannot relax their minds at night and simply dream. Many patients use drugs to help them sleep. These drugs usually prevent dreaming and may cause patients to wake up with some lingering depression, hung over. Patients who are addicted to drugs or alcohol may have trouble dreaming. Patients with heart disease may also find it hard to dream and sleep.

Dream sage is used by Healers to promote good dreams. Dream sage is also called mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana. It is called molush in Chumash. To use dream sage, collect the stalks, leaves and seeds, dry them and sew them into a small pillow…Place the small pillow under the normal pillow to promote dreaming…The pleasant, sage smell of the dream sage induces aromatherapy that will help promote dreaming. This helps heal the spirit. When the spirit remembers to be normal, the body can heal.

One of the most romantic things a young man can do for his girlfriend is to make her a small pillow of dream sage. This shows her that he cares about her and her dreams. Hopefully, she will dream pleasant dreams about him.”

-Cecilia Garcia and James D. Adams, Jr, The Advantages of Traditional Chumash Healing

I can’t imagine anything more romantic than expressing an interest in your loved one’s dreams: offering them a gift which has the potential to enhance their inner life, their sleepy soft subliminal self, and their sacred essence. Plus, a few wonderful-smelling leaves tucked into a special bag is a simple (and maybe close to free!) present that honors love and Valentine’s Day in an uncomplicated way.

The scent of Mugwort is hard to describe but I would liken it closely to sage, although more complex. It manages, to my nose, to smell of both the desert and the forest at the same time. It is definitely earthy, and maybe slightly lemon-y. I tried a Dream Sage pillow myself, five leaves stuffed into a muslin bag, which was then placed on the underside of my regular sleeping pillow. Personally, I had a little bit of an allergic reaction to it: slightly itchy eyes. But once I removed it from my pillow and placed it by my bedstand instead, the allergy went away. The dream pillow was still close enough that I could catch the occassional whiff, but not so strong as to aggravate my eyes. (Just in case your honey has averse reactions or sensitivity to some plants, I thought I should share.)

If you have sewing skills, you could make a little pillow from extra fabric, or maybe even buy a special cloth for your honey. I used a muslin bag with a drawstring, commonly used in the kitchen for bouquet garnis, and this worked fine.

Wishing you a relaxed and romantic Valentine’s Day with the ones you love and cherish. And wishing you, of course, sweet sweet dreams.

California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica)

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If you live in or near the foothills of the West, you may recognize the California Sagebrush. This bush plant has feathery leaves and a strong odor reminiscent of sage. I’ve heard the taste described as bitter, but I don’t find it to be offensively so. In fact, it’s tasty taken as a mild tea, using approximately a pinky finger-sized portion of the leaves and stem.

In her book Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West, Chumash healer Cecilia Garcia writes, “California Sagebrush is used to bring back pleasant memories. Burn it or put it in a sack and smell it to bring back pleasant memories.” In an article written with James D. Adams (also her co-author of the above book), she states, “Sometimes, when the spirit is sick, just remembering pleasant thoughts can be helpful in healing. The smell of Californian sagebrush reminds many Californians of the smell of grandmother’s house. A pleasant smell, like Californian sagebrush, can help the patient remember long-lost memories. Aromatherapy is a very powerful way of bringing back pleasant memories.” The book indicates using the plant in tea form during the first days of a woman’s menstrual period, for bronchitis and colds, or worn as a necklace to keep insects and bad spirits away.

The above photo was taken on a hiking trail in the city of Fullerton, California. The bush was growing in close proximity to Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana), a plant I’ll be discussing tomorrow for Valentine’s Day. Garcia writes that the Artemisias are regarded as medicinal plants throughout the world, often used to treat, “…malaria, fungal infections, inflammation, bacterial and viral infections.” Both plants were considered sacred by the Chumash and other Native people.

Goosefoot

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Some photos of foraged goosefoot aka lambsquarters aka pigweed aka Chenopodium. (Whew!)

Wild Food Girl makes informative and entertaining Wild Edible Notebooks that you can download from her website. Her June 2011 issue has a ton of information on goosefood, plus some recipes. Highly recommended reading for plant nerds (myself included.)

Stinging Nettle Experiment: Green Goddess Nettle Tea

The stinging nettle I collected the other day was divided into two piles. The first half was for my tea experiment and the second was hung in the rafters to dry in preparation for an infusion project at a later date. (Wise Woman Susun Weed is a great proponent of infusions. She recommends taking one cup of dried herb, filling a quart jar with boiling water and letting the infusion sit over night. According to Weed, the resulting infusion is incredibly nourishing to the body, being high in vitamins and minerals.) After the nettle is done drying in the garage, I will use Weed’s method to make an infusion with it. But first, I wanted to use the fresh plant to make some tea.

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The above photo shows the amount of fresh plant I used to make the tea. This was more or less half of the entire amount I’d foraged.

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In order to strip the stinging leaves from the stalks, I donned my gloves again. I carefully separated the leaves and then placed them back in the bowl. I boiled 32 ounces of water, placed the plucked leaves in the pot, and then removed from heat.

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The tea was left to steep for 20 minutes before I strained the leaves from the liquid. The resulting tea was a lovely green color, with an earthy taste. All palates are different, of course, but I found the tea to be very mild and devoid of bitterness. It was a nice change from the usually strong teas I normally drink, and I decided to call it “Green Goddess Nettle Tea” after its vibrant color and earthy taste.

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Foraging for Stinging Nettle

While hiking with my husband a few weekends back, we happened upon some weeds that I felt fairly certain were stinging nettle. I didn’t have a guide book with me though, so I decided to come back when I had done more research. I consulted Samuel Thayer’s book The Forager’s Harvest and confirmed that what we had seen was most likely stinging nettle. I made my way back to the same spot this morning and was happy to see even more of the plant than I’d spotted on the last trip. I also found out the way to confirm without a doubt that the plant was nettle: get stung by it.

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Thayer has this to say about the sting from nettle: “I find that the hinderance of getting stung is not nearly as great as the hinderance of having to find and carry gloves, or the simple displeasure of wearing them…In my area the plants have few stingers, and these inflict mid stings.” I’ll part ways with Thayer on this point, since although he is correct that the sting is not particularly painful, it’s still annoying and something I prefer to live without. It’s not a hassle for me to put on gloves and I’d rather not get stung if I don’t have to. The pain of the sting lasts about 20 seconds and is followed by a little raised bump that lasts a few hours, as you can see in the above photo.

Most books on wild edibles will caution the reader against over-foraging. It’s important to leave enough of the plant so that it can continue to propigate itself. As you can see from the photos below, there is enough nettle in this particular area for me and about a hundred of my closest friends. No danger of extinction here.

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(The photos show just a tiny portion of the nettle growing in this area. It was by far the most prolific plant there.)

I took home enough stinging nettle to try two experiments. The first experiment will be making a tea with the fresh plant. The second experiment will be drying the rest of my harvest to make an infusion with at a later date. (The plant has strong nutritional value, is high in vitamins and minerals, and is sometimes used to treat allergies.) Thayer advises using nettle as a side dish to meat or fish. (The stinging property of nettle goes away when the plant is boiled or dried.) I’ve even seen recipes on the internet for nettle pasta, which might be fun to try.

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Dandelion Tincture

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I’m trying my hand at making tinctures. I chose dandelion as my first experiment because they’re everywhere and FREE. If it doesn’t work I’m only out the cost of the vodka, which thanks to Trader Joe’s, isn’t very much. (They sell a brand called Burnett’s for about $7 a bottle. Very affortable for iffy experiments.) I picked the dandelion leaves and roots the other day after the rain. (Yes, that crazy lady at the park with muddy mocassins and plastic bags was me.) I rinsed the plants, separated the leaves from the roots, and stuffed them each in their own mason jars. Filled the jars with vodka, whispered a few magical words, and did a little dandelion dance. That’s all there is to it. You’re supposed to agitate the jar every day or two for the next 6 months. Hopefully I’ll remember. Actually, I’ll just be happy if in 6 months I can remember where I put the jars…

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