Saturday, April 25, 2015

Noxious? Invasive? Abundant!


One of the advantages of knowing the virtues of "weeds" comes with preparing spring vegetable garden beds. I don't turn the soil of these beds. At most I use a broad fork to loosen and aerate the layers of topsoil without disturbing them. After all, those layers are vital ecosystems that support my own intentions, and so much more! And at the least, on those beds that haven't been stepped on, I loosen only the top layer with my hand fork, to prepare the bed for seeds.

As I prepare each bed, each in its own time, as I make it ready to receive, I remove rooted friends that I both allowed to grow from last season as well as those that snuck in. Pictured here root-examples of both. Can you name them?

The longer, straighter roots at the bottom of the bowl are Taraxacum officinalis radix, the beautiful dandelion root. I harvest these in every season, but spring is generous and they're so easy to remove from the soil of my main vegetable garden. I clean them, dry them, roast them in the oven until they're brittle-dry and store them in a jar for enjoying as a delicious, bitter and nutritional, roasted-root beverage that supports my digestion, my liver, my gallbladder, and then some... a nutritional tonic beverage that is often referred to as dandelion root coffee. Yet, as one who honors her organic, fair trade, morning coffee, I don't use that term... the flavors between the two are distinctly different.

Dandelion is often (too often) described as a noxious weed. This pickles me like you can't even imagine. This all too ubiquitous phrasing demonstrates our modern perception of Nature... as something inferior, something to be judged harshly, demonized and controlled. As for me, on the contrary, I see this botanical not as noxious weed, but rather as an abundant food (and Medicine). Which... it is. I use the leaves, the flower petals and the roots. And, dare I say it, we all "should."

But before a rant commences, let's take a peek at those other roots ...

The more pale roots on top, the ones with reaching fingers, are the roots of a local invasive called Allaria petiolata radix, the root of the plant commonly known as garlic mustard. This plant pops up all over my little acre and, like the dandelion, I harvest it in every season, and right now I'm focused on gathering the roots to chop and grate to macerate in living apple cider vinegar for several weeks, and I use the young early spring leaves in salads and in cooking. The vinegar will get used in salads and in other ways, and the root is used as one would use our more conventionally known horseradish. And its flavor is similar, though not as fiery. It's quite delicious. And what a great way to leverage the (invasive) abundance of this botanical! Later in the season I add the flowers to salads (to prevent a few seeds from spreading, and later still I'll collect the seeds to use as one would use any mustard seed. But, more on that in its own season.

My point ~ in this moment, anyway ~ is that Nature is generous. Holistically so. It's time that we all remember this, before its completely forgotten.

Peace.

rose
Walk in the Woods, LLC

Pictures of a bud walk

Rhubarb poking through

Vinca Minor

Pulmonari officinalis or Lungwort

Crocus because they make me smile

Tussilago farfara or Coltsfoot the first bloom

Friday, April 17, 2015

Bud Walk

     It's that time of year when the snow is freshly melted, the lawn is still brown, the buds are coming alive, the spring flowers are in bloom and my gardening crocs take their place by my back door for the season.
     The plants in my yard bring me joy in so many ways. The first spring blooms bring color to my world and joy to my heart.  They beckon me to wander the yard looking for new growth, to tend to their care and anticipate all the possibilities of the coming months.  Many of my plants come from friends and family.  Each has their own story and upon that I layer mine. The plants and I are woven together in proximity, in story and in partnership caring one for the other.
     My favorite flowers are the spring bulbs - tulips, daffodils, crocus and the like.  They are first to break through the snow after a long winter and bring happy brilliance.
From my mother's garden

Daffodils - lemon drop, Tahiti and more from my girlfriend more than 18 years ago

Lenten Rose from my Auntie's garden

     Then the herb garden starts to awaken.  The chives are first.  From a small clump planted when I first moved in 18 summers ago I now have several large clumps and have passed on several.  The garlic chives with their flat stalks are a gift from my herbal teacher and friend.  The mint peaks through and if untamed would take over.  I traded some years ago for a bread machine.  The Baptisia I dug from  a house that was donated to the fire department for training. I was told it didn't like to be transplanted almost two decades later and it still thrives. The sage and parsley I bought and am thrilled are back.  The Autumn Olive is a gift from the birds who frequent the yard.  In the coming weeks violet, nettles, wood sorrel and dandelion will make their appearance. They will be followed by poke and red clover.  So each day I make my bud walk around the yard and in the wood line looking for my friends that slumbered for the winter.
Chives

Garlic Chives

Mint

Autumn Olive

Baptisia australis
Sage

Mullein or  Verbascum thapsus



Monday, April 13, 2015

Recognizing our Early Spring "Weeds"

With only five (or so) weeks before the last anticipated frost, things are accelerating around my little acre, in the gardens, greenhouse, and indoor seed starting shelves, and then some, so time is at a premium. So join me for a quick stroll to identify a few of the rooted friends that are waking after their winter slumber...

Vinca minor, commonly called periwinkle is urging the last of the south-facing snow to melt.

Allaria petiolata, known as garlic mustard... an invasive in my region, but one I've learned to leverage for the food she offers.

Allium canadensis, one of the ubiquitous  wild onions known meadow onion, lawn onion foo, one of our many "lawn" foods that are demonized, poisoned and ~ sadly ~ wasted.

 Allium proliferum, also known as egyptian onion and walking onion (nibbled by the cooks) is a delicious wonder that lives up to her name!

Fragaria spp., a wild strawberry. A plant that makes herself comfortable in my meadow-lawn and in my garden beds.

 Leonurus cardiaca, charming motherwort, a longtime ally of mine that has made herself comfortable in my core vegetable garden.

 Monotropa uniflora, called... monotropa. Imagine that. This is what I call her vernal skeletal remains. We wait now to see where she'll pop up in her growing cycle. She's a mover.

Pulmonaria officinalis, the charming lungwort. She's struggling a bit this year, with all the melting snow making for some soggy soil. But she's a tough little one and I look forward to her blooms.

Stellaria media, the common, smooth chickweed. I hope my chooks leaves me some to harvest for food and Medicine!

Symphytum uplandicum, gorgeous comfrey (though you wouldn't know it now). She's as much an ally to gardens and compost as she is to me.


And we end our weed walk with a long view of my little meadow ... or, the front yard "lawn." Oh, what my neighbors must think!

Now go take a stroll outdoors ~ in your yard, in a park, along a sidewalk ~ and notice the food and Medicine growing around you! EnJOY.

Peace.

rose
Walk in the Woods

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Noble Queen of my Springtime Forest

While wandering the woodland areas of my little acre I spotted this native perennial friend, just peeking up from her winter rest.

I've had her sneaking onto and over my shaded landscape over the past several years, and I leave her be. I understand that her rhizome has a tradition of support to childbirth, and that the bracts ("leaves") are considered edible, but I also understand that she is still a vulnerable and protected plant throughout some of our eastern North America regions.

That she spreading around my little patch of land is so pleasing. Her blossom is captivating to me and I often find myself sitting with her in bloom ... just witnessing and listening. In this way, she's one my teaching plants. It pleases me too to know that our relationship with the local ants is a sound, for they do so much for our ecosystem, including "planting her seeds" here and there as they collect them for food. I understand some wasps do the same. Gotta love Nature.

As she matures over the coming weeks, she'll produce three bracts, which even I call "leaves" (to the horror of botanists everywhere!). As May nears in my world, each plant will offer a single stalk with a single flower ... each offering three gorgeous, deep-red petals and three pale and subtle green petals.

Who is she?

Can you guess?

She is the noble and humble queen of my little springtime forest. She is Trillium erectum ~ the stunning red trillium.

rose
Walk in the Woods

Saturday, April 11, 2015

An April Weed Walk ... As the Snow Melts

The days are warming and the snow is melting and rooted life is ready and willing! I thought I'd share, over the coming days, a few of my earliest rooted friends.

Hemerocallis fulva, the common (and original) day lily, is poking her head up. I'm sure this is true along the local roadsides, too, where she grows with wild enthusiasm. Here on my little acre, she's most pronounced in the warmer sections, but I see her along the north side of our stone wall too. So, like us, she's ready for spring!

She's native to Asia, but has naturalized here over the past 400 years in southern New England and throughout much of North America.

Not only is she lovely flower (later in the season), but she offers us food. The tubers, dug now, in early spring, may be washed and cooked like potatoes. And as spring moves to summer, the flower blossoms are lovely chopped into salads and summer soups and I often dehydrate some to add to traditional Asian soups all year 'round.

I'll add that there's controversy about how edible and/or safe this plant is, but it has a long tradition as food long before it reached to this continent. Thousands of cultivars have been bred from this plant over the past century and those ... those I trust less, as food. After all, they don't share the tradition of potentially thousands of years as food like our orange, spotless, Asian friend.

Allium schoenoprasum, our common kitchen chives, are peeking too. I have them growing around my little acre and plan to spread the love even more this year, transplanting their gifts wherever I please.

She is native to North America and to Europe, and has a long and well known value as food, like many of the alliums, for seasoning and making our food more delicious and for adding immune-supporting benefits too, not to mention other physiological benefits.

I add her greens, fresh to salads, soups, and as a garnish to meat and fish, vegetables and dips. I chop and dry the greens to use throughout the year too. I employ the flowers in the same way, and I make an infused vinegar too, which is both lovely, delicious and Good for you. I infuse the greens and scapes (think: buds) in vinegar too.

Stachys officinalis, commonly known as betony, wood betony, purple betony and bishopwort, and she's making her way back to the upperworld despite the scratching of the cooks.

She is a bitter, astringent and warming herb, and I dry her aerial parts just as she's beginning to flower, and make tincture with the fresh plant matter as well. And I've made tincture with the dry matter too. I'm a believer in using what you've got when you've got it and when you need it. She's has a history of being used as a water infusion ~ a tea ~ but my palate prefers her in tincture form and I feel her Medicine is most effectively gained in this way.

This is a beautiful plant, flowering later in the season, is one that has a long history, not as food, but as a medicinal herb. Maude Greive describes this plant as a "...sovereign remedy for all maladies of the head, and its properties as a nervine and tonic are still acknowledged, though it is more frequently employed in combination with other nervines than alone. It is useful in hysteria, palpitations pain in the head and face, neuralgia and all nervous affections."

Herbalist, Jim McDonald shares his many wise observations on this plant, including support for head injuries. This, like all of Jim's writings, is a worthy read for those seeking to expand their Green Medicine knowledge. I refer students to his site frequently.

And, I can't close without mentioning that, as a bitter, she's a nice addition to support digestion.


As with all plants, whether you're using them for food or for Medicine, be certain of the plant. When in doubt, consult with a local herbalist. We're everywhere! 

So there's our Weed Walk for today. I'll be returning over the coming days to share a bit more about our rooted friends as they continue their emergence from the underworld in our thawing spring.

Peace.

rose
Walk in the Woods

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Avena sativa - Herb of the Month - in Northwest Connecticut

Avena sativa is a long time herbal ally of mine. She supported me through my corporate years, from the inside out and the outside in. 

She seems to be best known in her rolled form ... 

But folks recognize her in her cracked form as well. And there's her beautiful, fresh and silky form that is like an embrace - milky oats.

And there's her dried, aerial bits - oat straw. This is the aspect of Avena that hooked me some 20 years ago. I sipped her and bathed in her ... intimate practices, both. And we've learned more about each other over these many years. So ...


If you're in the region of northwest Connecticut, I invite you to join us for the kick-off of our 2015 Herb of the Month Club, kicking off Thursday evening at Walk in the Woods, LLC in Winsted.

rose
Walk in the Woods