Thursday, May 29, 2008

Field Notes and Homemade Herbarium

My inspiration for tomorrow's class comes from a twofold need:

1) The need to really teach concrete information, regarding both botany and herbal medicine

2) The need to create something fun as the learning context

OK and three - the selfish desire to the above

Anyway ......... we are going to attempt to start an Herbarium. I really want the kids to get into deeper field notes ... so I've created a sort of checklist that they can fill out as the records part - because this is less time consuming than having them all write out sentences and detailed notes. We will also cover what we know about the usage of the plant.

We'll be collecting the corresponding specimens and filing them in a painter's journal - I didn't have time to collect newspapers and corrugated cardboard. I hope it works!

Here are the Documents we'll be using for Field Notes. Keep in mind these are children ages 7-11, not scientists, so some more advanced stuff is omitted. Although if my GPS was working I think that would be cool to use to record the Lat. and Long.

Monograph One
Monograph Two

Have you done this yet? Do share!!!!

Here are some good links for DIY Herbariums:

Waddell School

Wish me Luck!

Brighter Planet\'s 350 Challenge

Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge

Posted using ShareThis

I've been tagged

By Tammy at Witchen Kitchen

so here goes!

Here are the rules of this Blog Tag Game:

~Link to the person who tagged you
~Mention the rules in your blog
~Tell about six unspectacular quirks of yours
~Tag a new set of six following bloggers by linking them

Here is my list for today, since they change often. Tomorrow you'd get a whole new list out of me. Sorry. I have three planets in Gemini and a Leo rising. It's recipe for constant change.

1)I think all of my quirks are spectacular.

2)I hate cold weather and cooking.

3)If I cannot communicate effectively on a daily basis, I can't sleep. Which means my husband can't sleep either, because I have to talk until I have met my daily quota of communication. Thank Goddess for Journals.

4)When I went to Hawaii (age 10 I think) I was stung by a jellyfish. The 30 foot long ones that you can't see because they live under the sand. It's awful, I can remember clearly the stabbing pains rising up my legs, the emergency Island first aid people rushing in, and the oh so fragrant bathtub I was immersed in .... apparently meat tenderizer is the cure. Nothing like a day in the life of a steak.

5)I grew up in an Ashram of sorts. Fairfield, Iowa to be exact. Home of the Golden Domes. Vedic city in the middle of pig and corn land. Wish some of those rednecks would start meditating on their crops. I went to the "Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment", where you meditate twice a day and all of your education is integrated into the Laws of Nature called SCI; Science of Creative Intelligence. This is how I learned that "The Nature of Life is to Grow" and "The Whole is Greater than the Sum of it's Parts" and also that I was destined to be able to use 100% of my brain by the age of 16 and I might even live forever if I just kept thinking positive thoughts. I also lived on the best Indian food you could dream of and couldn't wait to get out of town and into the real world. Now I meditate on my plants and ruthlessly use my inbred Ayurvedic knowledge to best understand them. I think my life is kind of one big quirk.

6)When I was in grade school, I used to fill jars with woolly bears (hundreds of them) and sell them at school for .25 cents each - as pets.


hmmm, who to tag?

Kiva at: Medicine Woman's Roots
Loba (haha you too!) at: Anima Center
Yarrow at: Yarrow of Witchwood
Greenlee at: Greenlee's Forest
Alchemille at: Alchemille's Secret Garden
Sarah at: Kitchen Herbwife

You're IT!

Sassy Brew cont......

So here is the gorgeous red brew that resulted from the sassafras roots. OH the smell .... unreal!

And the whey ..... dripped down overnight from the greek yogurt I found at the store. Kiva recommends Piima cheese but I couldn't find any. From two containers of the "Fage" I rendered one cup of whey.
In in goes..... with the honey and sugar and a little fizzy blessing.
And while we wait we can stuff our faces with this creamy cheese leftover! It's perfect on cornbread.
Hope it works!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Digging for treasure

It all started with one little comment. My boy headed out the door at about 9am (the beauty of homeschooling) and a statement of "I'm going to see if that tree back there is a Sassafras." "OK", I say. "Great Idea. If you dig up some roots, I'll help you make a root beer." (In homeschool lingo that's called curiosity follow up:)

Oohh, you should just see the eye-sparkle.

Since I'm always game for a new plant adventure, I was inspired when I read the other day about easy lacto-fermented infusions by the one and only Kiva Rose, quickly followed up by another fantastic entry by Tammy over at Witchen Kitchen. How could I resist? What I have learned about brewing anything fermented was intimidatingly complicated, laborious, and space and time consuming. And tales of exploding beer bottles stamped that project "after children". So when I read these - and how ridiculously easy it is - it fit perfectly with my Son's sudden interest in Sassafras.

As you can see, his enthusiasm, and the thought of homemade root beer, quickly ignited the interest of big sis, who contributed her determination and elbow grease to the matter.

Here is their biggest prize root. But I'm not convinced it's any better than the little ones, it seems drier. And it's nearly impossible to cut. I had to chop this off of the trunk with a maul.
The leaves we laid out carefully across cloth lined baskets to dry for tea or of course File. What's Gumbo without file? Fresh leaves are decidedly wonderful to eat. They are sweetly bland and slippery, with a very satisfying chewing experience. I would definitely eat up a bowl of Sass leaves, Boston lettuce, and good sesame dressing.
I think, traditionally, Sass root is dug up a little earlier in the spring to drink as a blood tonic, but until this weekend it's been way to cold and rainy for me to do much outside. Really I think it's good anytime to dig the roots and drink as a blood tonic, or just because it's blissfully delicious. And after you brew the roots and eat the leaves .... don't throw out the trunk and branches! I just learned from a fellow Instructor that it makes superb firewood.

More to come on the whey ...... photos of the rest of the root beer process.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Stalking the endangered, worshiping the plenty

Oh yes. The Pink Lady's Slipper. Twenty this year, as opposed to the five or six before.

Blue Cohosh. I found a secret spot where they live ... a sea of them. There must be hundreds. Soon I'll post about that too.

Jack in the Pulpit. Show off.
Mitchella; Squawvine with berries. Which I took the liberty of eating. There is a lot of Mitchella here.
The very hot -n- spicy Monarda Fistulosa, before flowering.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Turning the honey

I wish this were a poetic metaphor for something sensual and romantic.

But I mean it quite literally. If you are going to make an herbal honey from fresh herbs, aside from making certain you are using top quality honey, you have to turn it. Otherwise, it can ferment if the herbs had too much water content. Letting your fresh plant material wilt for a day is o.k. too, if you want, but I really like mine super fresh, (as in: roses! and bee balm, and mint and .....) and if harvested on a dry sunny day, it'll be great. Turning your honey keeps the plant covered in the honey (it likes to float) and helps release the yumminess. It only takes a week - we're working with volatile oils here which are readily released from the plant -then you can strain it or just eat it up. A warm sunning before straining is just right for getting it to sift through the mesh.

I don't refrigerate my finished herbal honey, but you can if you are concerned. Elixirs are great - but sometimes you just want it without the added zing of the alcohol.

See, herbal honies were originally used to preserve precious dried herbs, to administer as a paste - not necessarily to extract the plant constituents. In India where it is very hot, dried plants go moldy easily and they need to utilize their array of clever preservation methods not just for food but for medicine. Herbal honey pastes are a mainstay, demonstrated easily by the wide use of Chyawanprash. And GOOD honey is essential, as we found out when King Tut's tomb revealed honey that was still in edible condition, and in addition the Egyptians used it along with resins to embalm the bodies laid to rest. Good honey lasts a very, very long time. It's no wonder it used to be used as money. I'd accept honey as payment, wouldn't you?

Hit up your local farm market or buy a local honey and call the phone number on the label to see if you can get it direct - and while you're at it ask for beeswax and propolis! With our bee crisis it's ever more vital that we support our local beekeepers.

If you're really jazzed, get a hive and become a backyard beekeeper.

Back to plants - aromatic herbs with low water content are ideal .... Rosemary, sage, Lavender. They are low maintenance and incredibly useful and tasty.

Dried herbs mixed into honey make the options truly endless .... turmeric for deep coughs, ginger for long car rides, ashwagandha for all-nighters, rose for daily anti-pitta teas. Basil and oregano for cooking. Cardamom for everything. And on and on.

Audubon Wonders

We are lucky enough to live right next to an Audubon Sanctuary, whose trails lead to several looping destinations between our house, the birdwatching barn, the river that laces between it all, and surrounding territory. It's a wonderland for native and endangered species, both plant and animal. From the owls, to the Pileated woodpecker, the bobcat and fox, many hawk and seemingly a million birds ....... it's impossible to catch them all by eye or camera, making all your senses even more valuable to an evening spend wandering the trails.
After digging for arrowheads (to no avail - but we found some cool rocks and bones) we walked up the Solomon's Seal lined boardwalk through the woods to the birdwatching barn. In the yard was a full display of the Wild Turkey's mating show. These aren't very clear pictures, unfortunately, but you can get an idea of how massive they make themselves when showing off. at least twice their normal size, with huge bulges like a feathered Popeye. The array of strikingly different feathers on each area of it's body is amazing. The neck bobble (yes I'm sure that's the technical word for it;), normally pinkish and veiny, turns vermilion red with hot blood pumping through it, which gives it's head a rather patriotic decor against the sky blue forehead and white dapplings in between. So cool. I managed to forage myself a couple small feathers too.

And look at these lovely little wild daisy! The wonders never end.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What a day

FINALLY............... some sunshine. After consistently rainy Fridays, today was a blessing to be at Great Hollow, both teaching (aka learning) and participating. I knew something was up after seeing that double rainbow yesterday. As you can see below, my daughter caught a barn swallow with her bare hands. It was in one of the buildings, looking for a window out. I didn't get to witness the catching, all I saw was her walking out the door holding the bird.

"Hey Mom, I caught a bird! It was trapped in the house."

It stayed patiently right in her hand long enough to show the other hikers and to set it free.

On our venture through the woods, we saw incredible huge Solomon's Seal, along with Showy pink lady's slipper flowers and patches of wintergreen, both of which I was too engrossed in talking with the kids about to remember to take photos. grrr.
Below is a captured moment of our lesson this morning which included collecting flowers and replicating their patterns.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

While the veil lifts

This rain ..... after so much cold winter, could drive a sun loving person mad. I muster up the last ounce of creative coping that I have left, take my camera and my eight - almost nine - year old Son outside. I decided we were going to capture raindrops - something I should mark as a ritual because I seem to do it unknowingly every year. Some of the wonders that show up when you slow down and pay close attention, are powerful anesthesia to numb fingers and disarm threatening clouds. On our drive home, the sun shone so bright at twilight it was like a giant Earth yawn. The Haze over the river began to split open, revealing the glittering treetops, and the most incredible double rainbow arching clear across the sky, as if signaling the arrival of a seasonal daybreak and anointing my house. My husband took a photo of if right from our deck.

On our hunt for raindrops through the yard, we came across .....

The Luna moth sleeping at our livingroom window.................

The salvia in full operatic expression.............
Red Clover leaves impersonating lady's mantle................
The Wormwood, silvery as the full moon .......
Droplets on a red clover leaf, tiny mirrors into magic........

The bloodroot jungle at twilight, with seed pods ready to ripen.......
The awakening sky, a view from my deck..................
Little perfumed fairies canopied by their trusty leaves ........
A very bewitching Sage, almost hiding her pet spider but not quite........
The wet air makes an invisible infusion, sending ribbons of scent to catch you before you pass. The Russian olives are practically whoring themselves with their profusion of honey sweet flowers. The Ground ivy refreshes the sleepy weed-looker, and provides one of the first good bee meals of the season. The Cleavers are flowering, the Iris have shown up, and the chives are sending out her blushing buds like a tease, waiting to be courted into flowering.

Now, if only the good weather would come. There seems to be so little of it here that I am crazed and starving for it. We get about four months of the year to revel in Nature's bounty, and that's it. It's four months of crazed flower stalking, leaf watching, medicine making, weed eating, wild presence. Or should I say, presents.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Mystery plants and amazing plants

Blue Beauty: Mystery plant number one. Leaf patterns like the pea family, or maybe rose family, and flowers with five petals and adorable pistol. Any guesses?

Calendula bramble; Mystery plant number two. Calendula like flowers on a rubus style branch growing up and over from the ground. ?
This is the amazing plant. It's the St. Johnswort (Hypericum Perforatum) that began growing in my garden, independently, in other words I didn't plant it, two years ago. Each year there have been a couple more stems of it. But this year, the stems grew RED. ?! I've never seen red stems on SJW although it makes sense, but I've also never seen a stand of SJW actually change colors like that. WHen I crush a peice of stem - it's clear, not red like the bud. And it's beautiful, just beautiful.

Every year I adore the vibrant blossoming of the celandine. I don't talk much of it, I think I take it for granted. But I shouldn't ... it's an unsurpassed topical cure for plantar warts and can also be taken in small amounts internally to help combat retro-viruses. As the yellow stem sap indicates (as in: bile) it's also good for boosting the liver and gall bladder's function. Extremely bitter to the taste, we are well warned not to over do the use of this medicine.

Medicine by the Children

Aren't they beautiful? These are the 'simples' that my Jr. Herbalists made on Friday. We harvested together: wild oregano, wild mint, cleavers, mugwort, and yarrow. It was mostly up to them to figure out what plant went with what menstrum ... and I must say they did a stellar job!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Invisible, Special. The Ramp

For this Month's Blog Party on spring greens, Hosted by the lovely Darcey of Blue Turtle Botanicals, I'm highlighting Ramps: Allium tricoccum.

I've been internally dancing between these two very primal, indelible needs. The need to be invisible; the natural disposition of the human in a vast world, of the mother serving child, of the changeable human nature in a society that wants identity. Novelty becomes novelty. The name, the choices of smell, of visual reference, of color and vocation, they all anchor who you are. Who you are attracts the right audience. Your whole brand become an essential player in what you believe and what kind of life you want for yourself. Your life, way of life, becomes a spell cast unto the universe.

In the forest, somewhere between the spell of trees and water, are the common novelty of a two-leafed spicy personality. A small, crisp underground bulb stalks upward into one purple stem, then into the green linear veins in each leaf. The tips of the leaves reach to a fairy towering height of about 6 to eight inches. Pressure on the leaf reveals it's mouth watering aroma of Grandma in the kitchen sauteing garlic and onion. An eyeballs scan of the mature ramps lends itself to a healthy harvest of this delicate yet intensely satisfying spring green. Pushing my thumb into the cool wet soil, I can begin to wiggle free the bulb, and with a slight angle and a little prayer, they click out like a trimmed fingernail. Some might tell you they want to grow another year - severing itself like a legless eel and offering only their green tops for eats. Ha ha they snicker! Good for next year. Some root themselves passionately between rock and tree root, making for either simple or impossible harvest. The lessons abound in each tug of oniony hope. Some release so easily you think the world is at your fingertips. Some so stubborn your head gets big and bossy. But the basket filling up with our next meal, remind us of gratitude while gathering abundance. Of hard work and reward. Of natural bounty at Mother Earth's breast.

In an invisible moment in the forest, I've filled my arms with these wild leeks. I know that in a couple weeks they will be on their way to making seeds for next years crop. I take a moment to inhale their pungent, cleansing aroma. The green, almost plantain-shaped flags glint and twinkle in the tree broken breeze. I take in the scene of neighboring Hellebore, Bloodroot leaves, of sun filtering hemlock boughs and brainy morels. The air is so honeysuckle sweet I almost can't fathom it all. I know that within a short walk, the nettles flourish, the chickweed plays, and the motherworts stand watch. The world is bountiful when ramps are found. They like that. They like to play invisible, even though they are novelty. A delicacy, really, yet unassuming and celebratory they come, filling up the forest floor in a mischievous rampage.

Embracing the paradox, the ramp tells us about being special yet invisible, unique without greed. It reminds us of seasonality, of abundance, and of versatility. Potato leek soup, leek omelette's, a chiffonade over salad, a ramp smothered pasta, are just a few of the myriad ways they can be enjoyed. Any show where your leeks, garlic, or onions would play an important roll, ramps are a well rehearsed and stunning understudy.

Your liver will thank you. Your blood and lymph will cheer. Your taste buds will be delighted. And if you have a cold, forget it. Chicken-ramp soup will knock it out in no time. Ramps freeze too, if your looking to extend your pleasure even longer. The entire plant is used, bulb stem and leaf. chop it all up for your recipe. But don't miss out. Ramps grow all over the North and Southeast U.S., and upwards into Canada. If your lucky enough to live in Tenessee or West Virginia, you can participate in one of their traditional Ramp Festivals. Or you can gather together and have your own!