How To Build A Solid Wall Yurt

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Herbal Remedies For Insomnia

Winter – a season when darkness usurps daylight, and, theoretically at least, people are able to enjoy more hours of sleep uninterrupted by light.  Yet, numerous experts point to the early winter season as the time of year when the most cases of insomnia occur.  The question, then is what can we do to reduce the frequency of sleepless nights.  In particular, what herbs and natural remedies are effective at treating this energy-sapping sleep problem?

While researching solutions for insomnia, I made the mistake of typing “when do most people experience insomnia” into my Google search bar.  I had the misfortune (and the brief pleasure) of reading one forum contributor’s response: when we can’t sleep.  However, there is a wealth of legitimate, valuable input to offset this tongue-in-cheek comment.

Of particular interest are the discussions on physiological causes of insomnia, from melatonin deficiencies (often  associated with aging) to hormonal imbalance (tied frequently to menopause)  These lead into data on herbal remedies – solutions that are available to us free of charge, if we have the energy to venture into the gardens and wilds to harvest specific plants.

Of course, one of the most commonly cited treatments for insomnia is German chamomile tea.  This beverage has been used for centuries, and is part of the Ukrainian heritage, brought to North America in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  This herb is cultivated domestically and grows very well in the wild.  There a re a few varieties of chamomile, but the most effective appears to be the German chamomile.

While most commonly used as a cough and cold treatment, linden also encourages sleep.  Dried flowers and leaves, made into a tincture or infusion are the usual form of use, while the inner layers of bark can be harvested even in winter and made into a tincture or infusion, as well.

Onion is one of the universally recognized super plants, offering myriad health benefits.  However, boiled onion (drink the liquid, as well, you wimp!) serves as a sleep aid.  I have found that onions, eaten in larger quantities before bedtime seem to induce a lot of dreams.  Good for those with pleasant ones, lousy for those with nightmares!

Lemon balm is cited as a good sleep aide.  However, its most frequent use is as an insect repellent.  Lemon balm, like lemon sorrel and mints, decreases thirst.

Although offering only a mild sedative benefit, raspberry tea is an excellent pre-bedtime drink, and, when combined with wild strawberry leaves, is a very pleasant sipping tea.

Sage is another great plant.  This herb is a great culinary spice with nutritional benefits, but offers a variety of health benefits, from cancer treatment to digestive assistance, from treatment for depression & anxiety to cold treatment and inflammations.  Best known for its use with poultry, it can be taken, if you can endure the sharp taste, as a tea.

For centuries, lavender has been a part of romantic lore, and has a reputation for inducing pleasant dreams.  This, of course, goes hand in hand with better sleep.  Lavender air sprays, lavender sachets under one’s pillow, lavender soaps and skin creams or lavender plants growing in the bedroom window all offer assistance for the sleep-deprived.

My wife uses rosehips to treat a kidney condition.  Along with this wonderful benefit, the rose seed pods also are excellent for the heart, provide a source of vitamin C, show results in cancer treatment tests and, again, provide sleep-inducing qualities.  Rosehips can be used in soups and stews, with wild game, in bannock, or consumed as a tea with a bit of ginger.

Passionflower, native to the southeast of North America, is recognized for its relief of insomnia.

Lastly, elecampane has been found to be effective at treating both irritability and insomnia.  While not a known native of the Americas, elecampane, like dandelion, hawthorn and a host of other plants, herbs and bushes, has taken hold in most parts of North America, likely introduced here by European settlers.

The list of herbs and other plants that have been employed to treat lack of sleep attests to both the prevalence of insomnia and the effectiveness of herbal remedies, as opposed to chemical preparations.  The added benefits of herbs are that they generally have fewer side effects, and, when harvested in the wild, cost nothing!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mountain Ash Great Winter Sustenance Food

As winter encroaches on a wildcrafter’s three seasons of plenty, it is easy to assume that there is nothing that we can harvest from nature in late fall and winter.  That is far from true.  In other articles, I have referred to cattails, goldenrod, tansy horsetail, white willow, spruce buds and rosehips, to name a few of the remnants of the fall harvest.
One of the most obvious, easily harvested in the wild and domesticated crops  and long-lasting foods is the mountain ash berry.
Many people believe mountain ash berries to be poisonous, or, at least, toxic.  There is little evidence to support this belief, and an abundance of evidence of people harvesting and using this bitter berry frequently, with no ill effect.  However, that is not to say that some people do not experience adverse effects from consumption of mountain ash.  There are people who can not tolerate the innocuous morel mushroom, after all!
As with most of the fruits and vegetables with bright colouration, the bright reddish-orange mountain ash berries are rich in anti-oxidants and vitamin C.  This makes them fantastic survival foods in winter, since the berries cling to the branches months after the snow is waist-deep.  Unless you have raccoons and bears in your area, many animals do not touch them.  However, many winter birds do rely on these fruits for sustenance.
I have used mountain ash berries in bannock, with pemmican, and as part of a trail mix.  However, the berry has an almost acidic and bitter flavour, and requires the company of sweeter fruits and nuts to offset its overpowering taste in these mixes.  Mountain ash, like saskatoons, is an excellent garnish or spice for beef and harsh, wild meats.  A few in a vegetable soup provides a good flavour balance.  Yet, I admit that my favourite use of mountain ash is for slightly less acceptable purposes: the making of wine.  This is not a wine for the faint-of-heart, though, since it probably has a sweetness rating below zero!
More domestic users of the abundant berry use mountain ash to make jams and jellies.  Like chokecherry, cooking mountain ash does modify its extreme taste, and a mountain ash jelly is an excellent morning treat.  The British have dozens of great recipes for this tree treat.
One of the difficulties in handling mountain ash is that the berries grow in clusters, and, when you pick them, you pick stems and all.  This requires careful culling and cleaning before use, unless you enjoy picking bits of wood out of your teeth!
From late November to early March, mountain ash berries stand out against the white background, almost daring you to pick them.  Dare, and you will enjoy a bountiful harvest, offering a variety of culinary uses.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hawthorn A Great Survival Food

As autumn sets in, the harvest yield of wild plants and foods begins its steep decline. However, fall is one of the best times for gathering of many of the berries and roots that can be stored over winter. One of the most beneficial, yet least tasty berries is the hawthorn.
Hawthorn shrubbery is not native to North America, arriving on this continent with the early European settlers. Like dandelion and horseradish as well as many varieties of sparrows, hawthorns are opportunistic, quickly flourishing in this climate and environment. Often, like horseradish, hawthorn can be found growing near old homestead sites.
It is a hardy shrub, growing ten to fifteen feet in height, but producing ample sharp thorns that make harvest tenuous and risky. Early pioneers, turning adversity into opportunity, used those protective thorns as sewing needles, and records show that they were even used to suture deep wounds. My mother, on one occasion, used the thorns when stitching up the cavity in our Christmas turkey.
Like many of the staple emergency supplies used by North American natives and Canadian explorers, hawthorn offers little in the way of culinary delight, yet it has found its way into many dishes and meals, because of its nutritional value.
Berries are dried (preferably in the open air and shade), for use throughout the deep winter months. For most effective use, those dried seed pods are ground, using a small coffee bean grinder. The result is a rather gritty tea base that needs to be filtered, using a cheesecloth (tea ballers let a lot of the powdered residue through, as they do with rose hips).
The most common use of hawthorn is as a tea or infusion. For improved flavour, add ½ teaspoon of ginger powder (or let a piece of crystallized piece of ginger steep with the hawthorn) and one teaspoon of honey to each cup of berry tea.
Another recipe for hawthorn herbal tea is to mix two teaspoons of hawthorn berries, one teaspoon of yarrow, two tablespoons of horse chestnut and one to two teaspoons of ginger to six cups of boiled water. This blend is excellent for treatment of varicose veins, and is believed to strengthen veins and capillaries.
Some herbalist parents use rooibos, chamomile, ginkgo, lemon balm or hawthorn to treat hyperactivity in their children. It is recommended, though, that you consult with a physician prior to implementing any such treatment.
Bad breath and mild stomach conditions are relieved by using an infusion of hawthorn, fennel, ginger and boiled water.
I have found that one of the best preventive combination of herbs for my regular gout condition is a mix of celery seed, nettle and hawthorn. When dried, I have ground and sprinkled them on salad, but most frequently make a concentrated infusion, then mix the tea with cherry juice.
A First Nations friend of mine swears that hawthorn also is effective to repair fatigued and strained muscles, and has been successfully used to treat sprained ankles, and to reduce hypertension.
Regardless of the many claims of healing powers attributed to hawthorn, it provides excellent nutritional benefit, particularly in winter months. It is high in vitamin C, and is a phenomenal survival food for winter country hikers. Commonly, as a result, hawthorn was used, along with dried saskatoons or blueberries, rose hips and even mountain ash (another non-native to Canada’s prairies) in pemmican recipes, carried by couriers du bois and natives on winter excursions.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Yarrow -- A First Aid Kit for Wounds And Cuts

Considered an edible wild plant, yarrow is one of those medicinally beneficial plants that offers little in the way of culinary pleasures. It has a somewhat unpleasant, bitter taste (not unlike fireweed) and, unsurprisingly, was used years ago as a hops and barley substitute in beer. Yarrow can be used in soups and stews, and works well as a spice rather than a leafy green. It goes well with heavier meats such as beef and lamb, offering a taste that provides the same effect as worcheshire sauce.
Although its culinary value is not significant, it is quite edible, and offers great nutritional benefit. Along with its nutrition, though, it contains thujone (found in wormwood and absinthe), which is considered narcotic. Yarrow contains flavonoids and terpenes in abundance, and is anti-oxidant.
Modest culinary benefit and good nutritional benefit are the two lesser properties of yarrow, however. It has an incredibly wide array of medicinal and cosmetic uses that have been relied upon for centuries.
antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, digestive, emmenagogue, stimulant is anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant.
Yarrow is an effective aid to reduce bleeding from cuts, and to speed healing of wounds and burns. Innovative pioneers and First Nations even used yarrow to treat toothache. It is an effective treatment for relief of colds, hay fever, sinusitis and influenza. Labelled by the early English as “soldiers’ woundwort” and “carpenters’ weed,” the nicknames attest to its value as a treatment for wounds and bleeding. Because of its astringency, yarrow, as a lotion or infusion makes an excellent cosmetic aid, cleansing and tonibg the skin. Containing camphor and salicylic acid, yarrow can be a great pain reliever when drunk as a tea.
The wide variety of uses for yarrow extend to the garden, with yarrow being used as an accelerator for compost, and to provide valuable copper to deficient soils. As a companion plant, it boosts essential oil production in those plants, deters many insects and acts as a great repellent . Added to water or ammonia, it can be used as a good cleaner.
Late summer and early fall are the ideal times to harvest the feathery leaves and umbrella-shaped flower or seed heads. This plant is found in wastelands around the world, and has become naturalized to North America. Like many herbs that produce quality essential oils, it appears that it is its propensity for growing in marginal locations that contribute to its oil content.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Medicinal And Culinary Uses For Corn Silk

Corn silk may now be associated with a healthy lifestyle and medicinal benefit, but, as an adolescent, my memories of the use of corn silk was as a cigarette alternative. I have been told tales of those people in the Dirty Thirties who regularly rolled dried corn silk into cigarette papers, since tobacco was prohibitively expensive. While I do not recommend this practice today, the anecdote illustrates that desperate people use creative tactics to achieve an end!
Corn silk, ironically, has significant medicinal benefit and use, unlike tobacco. It is used to treat cystitis, prostatitis and urethritis, and has a long history in the treatment of bedwetting, kidney stones, jaundice and oedema. Studies have found that it reduces blood clotting time and blood pressure. As a gentle treatment for gout, it rivals the effectiveness of cherries. (As a gout sufferer, I can attest to the effectiveness of both.)
Rick in Vitamin K, it is a good diuretic, eliminating fluids but not decreasing the body’s potassium. Since it contains significant potassium, whatever is lost through the diuretic effect of the corn silk is more than offset but its input levels.
While the most popular method of consuming corn silk is to make a tea or infusion by steeping a handful of fresh or dried silk in two cups of boiled water, there is a wealth of other options for using this valuable grass in recipes.
I dry corn silk (preferably in open air, as opposed to a dehydrator), then crumble a small handful over my cereal, similar to sprinkling flax seed over cereals. It has a slightly sweet and nutty taste. In early summer, I harvest the silk fresh, chop it fine, and use it in salads. I have found that the full silk is quite stringy, unless chopped. In soups, I use chopped silk along with cream corn and finely chopped potatoes, parsley, a little tarragon, pepper, chopped onions and cayenne. On occasion, I will toss in chopped zucchini or pumpkin and a little pumpkin spice as an alternative. Dried & crushed corn silk also works well in breading for chicken and pork chops.
Ideally, the silk should be harvested just prior to the ears forming, so that the pollen is captured, as well. Because of its high moisture content, do not store in plastic, and dry any silk that you will not be using immediately. To dry corn silk, spread it thinly on a fibreglass screen in an area without direct sunlight, but moderate air movement. In a dehydrator, corn silk tends to clump.
There have been no significant reports of side effects regarding the consumption of corn silk. However, as in all foods and medicines, moderation is recommended.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Common Plantain: Nutrition And Medicinal Benefits

As in the old Timex watch ads, common plantain “takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Commonly found on well-trodden paths, as well as gravelly soils and marginal wastelands, this plant, non-native to North America, is a survivor. Common plantain, while not as prolific or as invasive as dandelion, handles abuse quite well. In fact, last week, I used the leaves of a plantain plant that was growing in my driveway to treat a series of insect bites.
Common plantain not only has medicinal value, but is a great staple for diets focused on the harvest and consumption of wild plants. It, in early spring, is a fresh-tasting addition to a spring salad, is a great addition to a dinner plate as a boiled vegetable, and provides a flour-like paste from its psyllium seed stalks.
The flowers can be eaten raw, and taste something like a cross between a potato and a hazelnut. Because of its high psyllium content, the flower and seed stalk is an effective laxative, but also acts as a great thickener for soups and stews. These seed pods can be sun dried and used throughout the year.
As the summer progresses, the broad, heavy leaves of the common plantain develop thick veins and become quite stringy. Even when boiled, they remain fairly tough. At this point, it is best to use the leaves in an infusion, or as a stock for soups. Because of its high beta carotene and calcium content, it is valued throughout its growing season. However, we have successfully dried and crushed the leaves, and used them in winter as a spice in soups and as a garnish on meat, as well as a great home remedy for a number of health issues.
Common plantain is listed as astringent, emollient, anti-microbal, anti-viral and diuretic.
My father introduced me to common plantain as a child. My first medicinal encounter with the plant occurred when I developed a severe tooth abscess. Using a compress of plantain and white willow bark, I walked around for three days with a white sling around my face, but the toothache pain disappeared in the first day, and the swelling deflated shortly thereafter.
I have used it on wounds, to prevent infection, and have experimented with it on poison ivy, cuts, insect bites, rashes, and even on a few eruptions on my neck that my doctor has scheduled for removal, believing them to be pre-cancerous cells.
On poison ivy, the most effective relief came when I combined fresh garlic and crushed plantain in a poultice. Both the itch and the rash disappeared within three days, compared to other outbreaks that lasted seven to twelve days.
On cuts, I combine plantain with crushed horsetail (high silica content), and have found that the wounds heal quickly and that redness is reduced. Although a subjective observation, I have found less scarring when I apply crushed plantain.
Insect bites (I react severely to most bites, except for the stings of bees, wasps and hornets!), plantain works better than no treatment, but not as quickly as a simple raspberry or strawberry leaf compress.
The truly interesting result has occurred with my recent eruption of supposed melanoma nodules. Of the eight eruptions, five have disappeared, leading me to believe that they were not, as my doctor suspected, cancerous.
Common plantain, like many plants in the wild, have great nutritional as well as medicinal benefits. Unfortunately for most of us, these wonderful sources of free food and health largely are ignored. We would be well advised to follow the message of another old ad – the Fram filter ad. By choosing to ignore the advantages of wild harvesting, you pay a price. Your choice – you can pay now, or pay later!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Strawberries Deserve The Raspberries As A Drink, Soup Or Spice

Wait! Don’t reach into your cupboard for that bag of dried tea leaves to quench your thirst. Step a few feet into the fields, or along some creek bed and pick a few handfuls of strawberry and raspberry leaves to make a fresh leaf tea. While you are along that wetland, grab a couple of sprigs of wild spearmint or catmint to toss into the drink.
Each year, consumers spend tens of millions of dollars on an array of herbal teas off the retail shelves, while a huge diversity of tea options await in the wastelands and fields of North America. Of the dozens of possible plants awaiting your picking, two of the most common are strawberry and raspberry plants, along with wild chamomile, mint and rose (rose hips). While not as popular in the USA as in Canada, commercial teas such as Liptons assortments are purchased year-round, either for use as a hot or cold tea.
Strawberry and raspberry teas are particularly easy to work with, being used fresh or dried. We commonly pick bagfuls of leaves in the early summer, then dry them in on a screen in a shaded area before crushing the leaves and bagging them to be used over the winter months. However, the best tea is made from fresh leaves, picked, bruised by mashing and scraping them with a fork to release the oils and flavour, then making a tea infusion by steeping them in boiled water for ten to fifteen minutes. For colour, throw in a couple of berries. For zest, toss in two mint leaves.
Summer, though, is not the peak demand season for hot tea. Yet, strawberry and raspberry teas (particularly with the mint sprigs) make excellent iced teas, as well. Chill in the refrigerator and toss a couple of ice cubes into your glass, to enjoy a very lively and healthy summer drink.
Strawberries and raspberries contain antioxidants (to fight cancer), plus good amounts of vitamin C, manganese and B vitamins. As well, both are good sources of dietary fibre and are anti-inflammatory and astringent. These last two properties make them valuable as a treatment for wounds, and work well to treat kidney stones, gout and other urinary problems. North American natives used strawberry to treat jaundice and upset stomach, Europeans used the plant to treat bad breath and skin problems and ancient Romans used the plant to treat melancholy and nervous problems.
Although the root is valued for its health benefits, harvesters are advised to focus on the leaves and fruit.
Raspberry is valued for many of the same medicinal and nutritional qualities as strawberry, and, like strawberry, yields its root , fruit and leaves for consumption. Yet, young raspberry shoots, when peeled in early spring, are wonderfully tender and can be eaten raw.
Although strawberry and raspberry teas form the most common uses for harvested plants, juvenile strawberry leaves add a light taste to fresh salads. Crushed and mixed with olive oil, they make a good dressing. But their best use is with wild meats and cold vegetable soups. Create a strong tea infusion by pouring three cups of boiled water over two cups of crushed and packed leaves, then let stand for half an hour. Strain and use the liquid as you would water in zucchini, tomato, potato, pumpkin or other vegetable soups. As a seasoning for meat, dry the leaves, crush them, and let them steep in an olive oil infusion before brushing the blend on barbequing red meats, along with fresh Saskatoon or blueberries. The meat will sing!
Of course, picking your own tea, soup or meat spices in the wild is a personal choice. But it is a choice that not only is free, it is delightfully tasty!

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Rose, By Any Other Name -- Would Be Just As Beneficial To You

The wild rose may be the provincial flower of Alberta, but it is found across almost all of the Midwest and western parts of North America. Its pale pink to bright mauve flowers are one of the earliest summer blooms, and one of the most enduring sights throughout June, July and August, giving way only to the red blush of rose hip bulbs in late summer and early fall. The fragrance of these sweet roses draws insects, birds and humans alike. Yet, the wild rose grows predominantly in marginal soils and headlands or bush tree lines, and offer branches with irritating small prickly thorns.

Aside from its appeal as a flower and summer braggart, the rose is a great find for the avid wild harvester, with its flower petals and rose hips providing great medicinal, nutritional and cosmetic benefit.

Last year, for example, I crushed a pound of petals and make an infusion, then blended the alcohol-based scented mix with gelatine. My wife enjoyed this homemade soap, finding it a wonderful skin stimulant, an aromatic cleanser and a great boost to her complexion.

Because it is a "dry" oil, the skin soaks it up quickly. Being naturally antiseptic, it is great for irritated skin and even for treatment of mild scar tissue. Unfortunately, unless frozen, rose petals so not store well, and will quickly turn rancid in heat.

Of course, rose petals make a wonderful potpourri when dried, using a dehydrator. Sun-drying squeezes all of the colour from rose petals, rendering them quite unattractive.

Rose hips make a wonderful tea, or a great spice or supplement to some meats.

To make rose hip tea, grind the dried hips in a small coffee bean grinder, then make an infusion by steeping for ten minutes in boiled water. To eliminate the unpleasant ground and remnants, use a cheesecloth bag (available at craft stores). Tea balls do not filter enough of the fine seed within the rose hip. To dry the hips, place in full sun on a screen for several days, or use a dehydrator for 10-12 hours. They will keep for over a year in a plastic sealed container!

Nutritionally, rose hips are an excellent source of Vitamin C. They can be used fresh or dried, and even preserved or made into a jelly, jam or sauce. Rose hips go well with wild meats, add great taste to stews or soups, and can even be made into pies (although I recommend using only ¼-1/3 rose hips with other berries).

Medicinally, rose hips are used by those suffering with joint pain, osteoarthritis, kidney or bladder infections and even diarrhea. Rose hips are used to treat cardiovascular disease, and contain known anticarcinogens.

Because roses grow so abundantly, they, like other common wild plants such as dandelion and cattails, frequently are overlooked as a great natural remedy or food source, yet offer year-round relief and nourishment. The rose hips, unless captured by scavenging birds, often will be found in early spring, having overwintered the harshest conditions and deepest snows. Anything that tough must, it seems, be good for you!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Morel Development: Growing and Reproducing Morels

The more rare an item, the more valuable it generally is perceived to be. This is true of both truffles and morels. Elusive and erratic in its growing patterns, the morel is North America’s most prized wild mushroom, with a fruiting season of less than a few weeks and such a finicky nature that it will only grow under optimum conditions in any season, and some years, not at all.
Dedicated morel hunters may find the evergreen-shaped treat growing in thick woods one year, or in open gravelly soil another, depending on soil temperature, light and moisture. To many, it seems as if the morel grows randomly, with no consistent environmental requirements. Some claim that morels grow only after Mothers Day (as if the little mushroom has its own calendar!), while others insist that it can sprout to full size in mere minutes.
I have harvested morels in April and in June, in the same spots in various years. There are, however, a few locations in which they seldom grow, including directly under spruce or fir (largely due to the harshness of the soil and lack of filtered sunlight. Similarly, they rarely are found in knotted, thick grass, and their own underground “root” network has difficulty wending among thick grass roots and compacted soils.
Morels propagate uniquely, via both a lattice of fibre underground and airborne spores. Even with these two “failsafes,” they do not produce fruits every year, waiting for optimum conditions to grow. Yet, they can survive the harshest winters of Canada and the wettest winter seasons in the northeastern USA alike. Morels have largely resisted domestication, in part due to the complexities involved in establishing morel colonies and maintaining (or, more properly, adjusting) the precise atmosphere and soil requirements that enable the mushroom to flourish.
Following is a description of the complex, sensitive process that is the most successful choice for reproducing morels.
Begin by inoculating, or introducing morel cultures to an agar plate. The agar plate is simply a sterilized glass or petri dish with a layer of agar jelly on it. Agar red bean jelly is available at most Asian food stores. The agar allows the fungi spores to grow. The dish, with the samples of morel fruit and spores is covered with plastic wrap, and placed in a darkened cool (but not cold) environment for several days. Soon you will see a network of mycelia (spider-like thin filaments) spreading across the dish. These are often rust or white in colour.
Now begins the real fun. Take some grass seed, such as annual rye, and soak in water for 24 hours, then drain and mix in a ratio of five parts rye to one part potting soil. Put 1 teaspoon of this mix in a 1 quart canning jar with a micro-porous lid and sterilize. Cool the unit and add a few pieces of the agar/mycelia mix to each jar and reseal. Cover, shake well and store in a room-temperature dark area for 4-6 weeks.
Now, the really tough part: getting the morels to produce.
Mix leaf mold or other rich coarse compost with 1/5 sand or porous fine gravel and 1/3 heavier black soil or potting soil. Balance Ph to 7.1-7.4 (using lime or commercial balance solution), add water to saturate, then heat to 160-180F for 20 minutes. Add to seedling trays that have been sterilized.
Carefully break apart the mycelia root networks from the grass seed spawn and add about a large handful of the morel fibres throughout the tray of soil substrate. Refrigerate for 30 days at 0-5 degrees C, and allow the mix to return to room temperature. Flood each tray gently with sterile water, let stand for 12-24 hours, then allow to drain slowly.
Place in a dark, slightly cooler (18-20C) area, with moderate air movement, for 7-10 days.
Small nodes of growth should occur. Before you begin celebrating, though, there is more work to do.
Now, keep the soil at 50-65% moisture, air humidity at 85-90%, air temperature to 22-24C and air movement to 6-8 exchanges per hour ( In open air, this would be a very mild breeze). Mimic spring daylight patterns, with light/dark periods of 12 hours each. After 5 days, reduce oil moisture to 50%, air temperature to 10-15C and humidity to 85%.
If you re truly masochistic, you will have enjoyed this humbling exercise, and, with a lot of luck, produced a few trays of morels. If you are typical, however, you will require numerous attempts and readjustments before you achieve success. Good luck with morel propagation, or, if you are like most of us, enjoy reading about how to grow your own morels, then head out into the woods and pick them in the wild. It is a lot easier!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pigweed A Great Garden Crop, Not Always a Noxious Weed

While dedicated gardeners are madly yanking the noxious pigweed juvenile plants from their gardens in mid-May, savvy harvesters are savouring the wonderful greens that they will enjoy on the diner plate when this tender young amaranth is boiled and served with butter and parsley.
Pigweed is a fast growing, hardy weed that shows up in gardens and marginal soils at about the same time as its equally hated friend, dandelion. Both are succulent, tasty and nutritious plants that most of us shun.
While pigweed can be harvested throughout the summer, it is at its most tender in late spring. The mature plant has a tough stem that requires dedicated boiling to force it into tenderness, while the juvenile amaranth can bee consumed whole.
I often have secured my weekly supply of vegetables simply by harvesting spring’s new wild plants and weeds, even though plants such as pigweed and ragweed are targeted as the source of many springtime allergies.
Like dandelion greens, pigweed is very tasty as a boiled green, augmented with a sprinkle of parsley and thyme. However, the leaves also work well in a modified “garden” salad, using dandelions, wild portulaca, wild strawberry leaves and shaved cattail root. While mints are a little delayed behind the first rush of pigweed greens, they, too, offer a sharp, fresh taste with your wild greens medley. Pickled or canned pigweed can easily be retained for use throughout the winter, and some people simply steam it for one or two minutes before bagging and freezing it.
Pigweed is a particularly hardy plant that takes lots of abuse and continues to grow. It is drought and heat resistant, can survive when tilled, tread upon or even razed in spring grass burning. On the other hand, the taproot gives way easily when weeded from the garden, so, even if you are intent upon eradicating the weed, pull it, but consume the green, above-ground parts. It is a truly vengeful way to punish this weed for its intrusive nature.
Red pigweed is found in almost all parts of North America, excluding Newfoundland Labrador, with green and smooth having somewhat more restrictive territories. Smooth pigweed dominates in eastern parts of USA and Canada, while green pigweed mostly lives in western USA, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Amaranth seeds have complete protein amino acid sets, making the seed a valuable grain. The leaves are high in calcium, iron and magnesium.
Pigweed actually can play a vital role in a garden as a companion plant, as it harbours ground beetles that prey on pests, while trapping leaf miners.
Unfortunately, its reputation as a noxious weed makes it a target for destruction rather than harvest. This is the gardener’s loss, as it is a beneficial and valued food source. It is one of the safest foods to eat from the wild, and a very tasty addition as a side dish or component of the main meal.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


It is unattractive. It grows in wet, soggy or marshy areas. It is grating to the touch. It is largely inedible for most animals. Yet, horsetail is an excellent source for medicinal remedies, and a moderately good source for culinary use.
Horsetail is found across North America, in roadside ditches, on mossy fields, and along the margins of woodlands. However, it is largely ignored by many herbalists, most wildcrafters and almost all others. Horsetail’s most common use is as a cheap source of entertainment for children, who love to hear the “pop!” as they snap each of the many segments of the pencil-thin stalks.
The health benefits, though, of horsetail, are numerous.
Mature horsetail contains silicon, which is integral to strengthening bone. Silica also is essential for nail quality and hair growth and strength. The silica found in horsetail accumulates as the stalk seasons. In immature plants, there are only minimal quantities of this mineral. The silica content, therefore, makes horsetail valuable in hair conditioners and shampoos, and for treatment of fractures, cuts and even osteoporosis.
Horsetail has been used for centuries by North American natives for treatment of minor cuts, wounds and burns. It seems to have antiseptic properties and, when used with common plantain, stimulates healing. In conjunction with its healing, binding and antiseptic properties, horsetail also is reportedly effective for treatment of skin (and even internal) ulcers, and to stop bleeding. Of course, if horsetail is valuable in the treatment of skin wounds and bone, hair and nail strength, it should logically be of value as a cosmetics ingredient. This function, too, has been explored. Consequently, horsetail is a significant ingredient in many natural cosmetics.
Horsetail’s diuretic properties are well known, and often demonstrated. Its use to treat cysts, kidney stones, urinary tract infections and other kidney ailments has met with considerable success, with an abundance of anecdotal evidence to support these claims.
Although there are many benefits of using horsetail for medicinal purposes, there are several contra-indicators, as well. Consumption of large quantities of horsetail may cause a loss of Vitamin B and thiamine in the body. Therefore, people should consume horsetail in moderate amounts, not consume it with alcohol, and should take multivitamin when using horsetail on a regular basis. People with gout and heart disorders should limit consumption. Because horsetail contains traces of nicotine, do not allow young children to consume this herb.
By drying the herb or heating it, the thiaminase in it will be destroyed, thus minimizing the risk of thiamine loss. Heating the horsetail in an oven at 250F for one hour will sufficiently dry the herb so that it can be ground and pulverized more readily.
While horsetail has been used as a culinary green, its high lignin content makes digestion more difficult. As well, the silica can be abrasive, and is not ideal for sensitive stomachs, nor for sensitive or weak teeth, if chewed.
Nonetheless, horsetail can be harvested when the shoots are tender and green, in the early spring, and used in soups or salads. Ground and sprinkled on cereals, the dried stalks can be consumed in the same manner as ground flax. Combine rosemary with horsetail as a rub for meats and other barbeques.
For external use, add horsetail to your hair care products, or make compresses with 10 grams of horsetail per litre of water. An infusion made with 1-2 tbsp of ground horsetail and two cups of boiled water makes an acceptable tea.
Horsetail, once dried, will store for extended periods of time without a deterioration in the quality of the silica. Similarly, the sodium commonly found in many marsh plants will remain in the dried product.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Goldenrod: A Miracle Wild Food Source

It’s the season for goldenrod! Actually, every season is the season for goldenrod. This versatile plant can be harvested at any time of year, and every portion of the plant can be consumed. As a tea or tincture, in a soup, done in an egg topping, used in a batter or mixed with French toast ingredients, goldenrod imparts a modifying flavour to foods, and is excellent in combination with vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and even turnips or rutabagas. It stores well, and can be used dried, powdered, frozen, pickled or fresh. In short, goldenrod is a wonderful survival food as well as nutritious meal component.
Winter is particularly harsh on most plants, and harvesting, particularly in the northern parts of North America, of any plant is challenging. However, because of its upright growing habit and height (it grows twenty-four to thirty inches tall), its head sticks out of most prairie and wasteland snow cover. That is where it grows best: in marginal, gravelly and weed-ridden soils.
Throughout winter, late-blooming goldenrod flowers, goldenrod seed and even goldenrod leaves (albeit browned) are available. All three can be picked on demand and used to make an infusion (like a tea), or boiled in a variety of soups. The best soups are vegetable soups and other thin soups, but the taste of cream soups is greatly enhanced with a handful of goldenrod flowers or pulverized seeds.
In the spring, as soon as the frost is out of the ground (or in the early fall, after the nutrition and liquids of the plant have partially retreated), harvest the roots. Wash them thoroughly, dry them and grind them coarsely for use in soups and batter.
In the spring and summer, pick up to one third of the leaves of each plant for use in salads, or, again, use in soups. Leaves and flowers can be air-dried and stored almost indefinitely, or the leaves and flowers may be frozen with a little water for use later.
The stalks, too, can be used, although they tend to be tough. With care, they can be peeled, or harvested when young. By dipping them in a little honey or sugar/water mix and then baking in the oven at 225F for up to forty-five minutes, you can make a crispy sweet snack that can be broken into smaller pieces and carried with you on hikes, for quick nourishment.
Goldenrod has been used to treat a variety of health concerns, from eczema, arthritis and rheumatism to kidney stones, haemorrhoids and urinary tract infections. Goldenrod acts as a great digestive aid (like peppermint), is an aid to treat colds and flu and even to relieve fatigue. It relieves the itch of insect bites and to treat cuts, athlete’s foot and wounds. It is a bitter astringent and relaxant herb that reduces inflammation, stimulates the liver and the kidneys and is used as a urinary antiseptic and also has an expectorant, healing and anti-fungal effect. Internally, goldenrod is used to treat tuberculosis, diabetes, liver enlargement and gout. It acts as a diuretic, and helps to lower blood pressure.
This is another versatile healing and edible herb with a native history, but is not a North American plant by origin. Although not a North American plant, it spread so quickly upon its arrival in the 16th century, and interbred so well with local plants, that it is found across almost all of North America.
The following Golden Rose Honey recipe is a great tasting gout treatment:
1 ½ oz. rose hips
¼ oz ground ginger
¾ oz. nettle leaves
¾ oz. goldenrod leaves
¾ oz. horsetail leaves
2 ½ oz. honey
Blend all ingredients in a blender, and serve on whole wheat bread. It has a somewhat perfumey taste and a scent like new hay.
Try this Eggs Goldenrod recipe as an alternative to eggs Benedict:
2 cups Macaroni
1 can asparagus soup
¾ c milk
¾ c grated cheddar cheese
1 tbsp onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp goldenrod leaves or flowers
1 tbsp parsley leaves, fresh
2 tbsp prepared yellow mustard
4 hard boiled eggs, chopped
Mix the ingredients together and serve over English muffins
Consider adding goldenrod seed, dried flowers or leaves (crushed or ground) to batter when making French toast, or mix into one cup of beer and add to vegetable soups for a little extra zing.
Goldenrod offers health benefit, a unique culinary taste and a nutritional value not found in many vegetables, yet it is abundant across North America and free for the harvesting. In short, it is a wonder food!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Arnica a Multi-purpose Wild and Domestic Herb

Arnica is a hardy herb that grows well in cold and hardy zones such as zones 2/3. While it prefers a slightly acidic soil, it will grow in a Ph 6.0-8.5 without difficulty. Arnica likes full sun, moderate richness and well-drained conditions, yet likes lots of moisture.. While it has been found growing wild in North America, it is native to Siberia. It is commonly found in the Pacific Northwest mountain regions, but grows as a cultivated plant as far east as Michigan and Ontario. Its mountainous habit explains its preference for frequent watering.
Arnica has been used for medicinal purposes since the 1500s and remains popular today. The plant is used to treat sore muscles, bruises, sprains, wounds, rheumatic pain, insect bite inflammation and swelling associated with broken bones. It may have serious side effects when taken internally, and should be used topically. It is applied as a salve, cream, tincture, compress, liniment or oil. It is tonic & stimulating. The flowers are the primary source for medicinal treatments, and should be dried and stored away from potential insect attacks.
Rheumatism most commonly is treated with conventional medicine. However, rheumatism has been successfully treated, if not remedied, for centuries, with a variety of herbal remedies. Some of the herbs used are: oats, oregano, birch, marjoram, horseradish, elder, coriander, cow parsnip, cowslip, celery, chamomile, chickweed, angelica and arnica.
Flatulence may be a symptom of an underlying ailment. Most often, however, it is simply a gassy problem that can be treated with the following herbs: valerian, oregano, pennyroyal, marshmallow, hyssop, juniper, lavender, dill, fenugreek, cumin, celery, bee balm, caraway, alfalfa, angelica, arnica and basil.
Although arnica is toxic in large quantities, a weak tea is excellent for treating flatulence.
A variety of herbs and other foods that repair & build muscles, improve the circulatory flow and relieve pain includes nettle, Oregon grape, skullcap, rosemary, chamomile, wintergreen, black cohosh, mint, lavender, cayenne, lobelia, white willow, mustard, apple cider, clove oil, garlic oil, sesame oil, thyme, lavender, cabbage, horsetail, hawthorn, arnica and plantain.
Arnica is one of the best pain relievers for sore muscles as well as sprains. Make a salve or liniment using 1-2 tsp arnica (See Herb Preparation chapter). Apply to affected area every few hours.
Bruises are always treated topically, either by washes, oils & ointments or compresses & poultices. Some of the herbs used for treatment are portulaca, slippery elm, common plantain, self heal, onion, calendula, chamomile, nettle, rosemary, mullein, horsetail, lavender, garlic, hops, elder, cow parsnip, cattail, arnica and aloe.
Arnica is highly valued as a treatment for bruises and strains. Prepare an oil infusion using 2 tablespoons of crushed arnica root for ½ cup of oil. Apply topically as a massage, or make a warm compress and apply to the affected area. Arnica in large quantities is toxic, and, although sometimes taken internally, may cause stomach irritation.
The main objectives in treating cuts are to prevent infection and stop bleeding. Two herbs that are ideally suited to these tasks are garlic and turmeric. The staining capacity of turmeric and the repelling odor of garlic may be off-putting, but the styptic effect of turmeric and the anti-infection properties of garlic are incredible treatments for cuts.
A multitude of other herbs work well on cuts and wounds, to heal, reduce bleeding, relieve pain and prevent infection. They are: yarrow, white willow, portulaca, sage, self heal, slippery elm, oak, onion, marigold, mullein, horehound, horsetail, hyssop, juniper, lavender, goldenrod, goldenseal, Echinacea, elecampane, feverfew, cow parsnip, cattail, chamomile, chickweed, apple and arnica.
Crush arnica, mullein seed and goldenrod leaves into athick paste, using rubbing alcohol or warm water. Apply as a poultice on the wound and tape whole plantain leaves on top to hold in place.
Calendula, mint and lemon balm are natural insect repellents with healing properties. Other repellents include lavender, garlic, black cohosh, pennyroyal, sorrel, catnip and chamomile. Regardless, however, of how much repellent you use, you will be stung or bitten throughout the summer. A quick, natural repellent is handy to have available. However, it is not always possible to avoid bites or stings. The following herbs deal with the pain, itching hand swelling associated with insect bites: white willow, onion, oregano, parsley, calendula (marigold), hyssop, goldenrod, evening primrose, cattail, chickweed and arnica.
Catnip, lemon balm & arnica, combined and made into a tincture can be sprayed or rubbed over the skin to provide relief from biting insects, and to take the sting out of those bites that already are there.