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Tastes of the Forest

Day two of the Medicinal herb weekend started with a calm morning of exploring some of the many plant-books and doing some journaling.

Then we ventured up the road to the Krughurst Forest!

What a magical spot! We admired some Swamp Milkweed, and pondered where the milkweed pods come from, does each flower turn into a pod?

We checked out the Cattails, but they were a bit past the prime harvest time for the flower heads.

We ran our hands through the wetland grasses, and wondered about collecting seeds to make our own flour!

After talking about this plant often, we finally got our eyes on some Jewelweed/Spotted Touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis). Besides being an amazing plant to help with sunburns, bug bites and poision ivy Jewelweed is simply beautiful, and their leaves look so shiny underwater!

We spent our lunch staring at the most amazing rock that the group visits each year. This special rock is  the host to 23 species of plants (from our count), all on one moss and lichen covered rock!

This year we spotted the following plants on the rock:
Round Lobed Hepatica
Harts Tonge Fern
Blue Cohosh
Trillium
Red Elderberry
Dandelion

Grapevine

Yellow Birch

Alternate Leaf Dogwood
Bedstraw
Solomons Seal

Baneberry
Violet
Jack in the Pulpit
Herb Robert
Wild Ginger

Buttercup

Maidenhair fern
Hemlock Tree seeding
Wild leek
Canada Mayflower
Plantain Leaf Sedge
Clearweed

A teeny Wild Ginger plant on the rock!

Hart’s Tongue Fern!

We continued walking through a beautiful forest, when Alexis stopped us and pointed out a fawn lying amongst the Maple seedlings and ferns. We quietly snuck away, and continued to find a spot to sit where each found a plant we felt called towards and took the time to drink the plant in a tea. In doing so we tried our best to listen deeply to how our bodies responsed to the tea. It was neat to hear the experiences and messages others got about the plants in their tea.

We met the most fragrant of bushes on our way back! Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) has an incredible smell when you rub the leaves!

After trying the sweet tasting tincture of this Mushroom the day prior it was very exciting when we ended our adventure by bumping into some Reshi Mushrooms growing on a fallen Eastern Hemlock log!

I am grateful for such a weekend full of flavors, meeting beautiful plants and spending time with an inpsiring group of plant-loving people!

 

 

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Tastebuds Tingling

This weekend had our tastebuds tingling! The weekend was all about the taste of herbs, and how we can understand and learn so much about the actions and impacts of herbs on our body just by their flavor!

The day began with Lee and Alexis sharing teas and plants covering all 5 tastes; Sour, Pungent, Bitter, Salty and Sweet!

We used this handy flavor wheel to connect the flavor of a herb with the constituents within them and their action on our bodies. For example we learned how the sour flavor can be the result of tannins in the plant, which can help to stimulate digestion! We tasted Sumac, Lemons and Wood Sorrel!

The Sweet flavor often comes from the roots, where plants store nutrients and sugars! We tasted the sweetness of Marshmallow and Licorice Root!

 

After a talk on herbal energetics and matching herbs to our own body constitution (quiz yourself here to learn about yours) the tasting continued, this time in the form of tinctures!  It is amazing how such a small drop of tincture can contain so much flavor! Alexis passed around and abundance of tinctures and we used our understanding of different flavors, and energetics and compared what we noticed. For example if a herb was Hot/Cold, Damp/Dry.

Woowza, the Caynne Pepper, and Wormwood got strong responses!

We set off to forage for ingridents for a bitter tincture blend to be used to help with digestion, or even for fancy cocktails!

For the bitter blend we combined:
-2 parts Mugwort as the key, or primary herb whose action we desire the most
-1part Yarrow and Motherwort as the supporting herbs who have similar actions to the key herb. Both Yarrow and Motherwort are bitter too!

-1part Bergamot and Lemon Balm  as the Balancing herbs to help tone down harsh actions. In this case these herbs help tone down the intense bitter flavor

-1 part Anise Hyssop as the catalyst to enhance the overall effect of the herbs. Other great catalyst herbs include Ginger, Lobelia, Juniper berries.

We cut the herbs into the smallest peices possible to create as much surface area them to adbsorb into the alchol.

We also harvested an abundance of St. Johns Wort to infuse in oil to help with pain, inflimation and so much more!

In the evening we ventured down the road to collect Elderflowers and Milkweed flowers for fritters!

Yummmmmmmmm! After a tasty potluck feast we gathered to make herbal cocktails. Lee had prepared a number of infustions earlier in the day for mixing and matching!

We made:

Lemon Balm, Thyme, Lavander infused in Vodka

Cedar infused in Whiskey

White Pine, Elderflower and Mint Syrup  (a tea of the herb mixed with sugar)

and a Black Raspberry, Strawberry Sumac Shrub (vinegar infusion)

Herbal Sangria, with Bergamot and Borage flowers!

Elderflower Syrup combined with and Lavander infused vodka!

We took turns mixing and matching the many infused vodkas with syrups, shrubs and soda water! Some winning comobonations included:

3 Trees to the Wind- Cedar Whiskey + Maple Syrup+ White Pine Syrup +Soda Water
Friends of the Forest- Black Raspberry Shrub + Cedar Whiskey +Soda Water
Strawberries on the Beach- Sumac Strawberry Shrub + Thyme Vodka +Soda Water

 

What a wonderful, and tasty day!

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Stewardship Weekend: Part 1

The day started with an extended opening circle; discussing gratitude and how to give back to the land in a good way in a world that doesn’t always reflect nature connected values.  The vulnerability shared and the questions asked were thought provoking and emotionally charged; it felt good to discuss the various issues with people who share similar world view.  The sit spot after this opening was well needed to further sink into the landscape and recharge for a day of learning and giving to the land.

 

Our first stewardship project was planting several trees on Alexis’s property; an oak, a willow, a black cherry and two high bush cranberries.

The digging on the berm around the pond was a good work out, the sun was out in full force.

All the work that went into planting is worth it when you step back and can see a baby tree;

set up to grow for decades adding to the biodiversity to the pond oasis which Alexis watches over.

 

After lunch down the road we went, to a very special hidden spot.

The spot dubbed fern gully for it’s Maddy sized fern fronds! We saw sensitive ferns and ostrich ferns.

And into the forest we go!

Maddy Sized Ostrich Ferns

Sensitive Fern

As we moved slowly, deeper into the ecosystem we discovered a ton of amazing plants!

Including prickly ash, poison hemlock, Valerian, Joe pie weed, swamp milkweed, forget me not, nine bark just to name a few.

The area was full of life and diversity; amazing.

                                                                                    

 

As we approached the river we came across wood nettle. This plant had many lesson to teach us this weekend.

For some the lesson was to slow down and listen to the plant,

for others it was to harvest in a mindful way

and for me it was served as a teacher of keeping my eyes open to the whole landscape as I walk through a place.

 

The walk through the river was positively magical.

We all expressed gratitude for the water on such a hot day.

As we moved along the river we noticed an abundance of dragon flies,

who were moving through the landscape keeping the misquotes at bay.

 

 

During this time we were shocked to find many pieces of garbage in such a special place;

in acts of stewardship we pulled beer and water bottles, barbed wire, styrofoam and a power-sander out of the ecosystem.

 

As we made our way back to the cars, we traversed through a striking pine grove.

Because I don’t have the words to express the awe that was inspired by the trees here is a photo.

 

 

Upon arriving back at Alexis’s home, many of us took a trip into town and came back prepared for a delicious potluck! What a day so full.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Abundant Under-story

Today was such a magical day, I am grateful for all the beautiful beings who shared the day the with us.

The morning started slow and calm as we all gathered ourselves together in preparation for the day, munching on the delicious muffins and perfectly sour rhubarb, banana, honey, chia seed (and more) jam lovingly prepared by Tanya.  As we sat in our opening circle, so many birds could be heard singing to the morning sun.  With the help of Alexis, Tamara and Ann we were able to identify the songs of the winter wren, grouse, red-wing blackbird, sand-hill crane, oriole and cardinal, along with many other morning sounds including that of a several chippies (many of whom had cheeks full of Alexis’s sunflower seed) and some frogs! What a splendid cacophony of wild-sounds; so many of which continue to have only a vague familiarity to my ears which are so trained to hear and understand city-sounds.

We spent some time was spent creating plant journals under the shade of the white pine and apple tree.  As I settled into my reading spot, I couldn’t help but notice how at peace the group seemed; particularly Maddy who had found a cozy spot leaned up against the round bale.  After some time for independent study and deeper reading about a specific plant, we came back together to share something unique we had learned in that time.  It was beautiful seeing the excitement and wonder as people shared their new knowledge with the group.

Soon we were on the road, although the location was a bit further from Alexis’s property the drive was beautiful.  When we arrived at Old Baldy Conservation and followed a pathway into the forest.  As the parking lot fell away, we crossed over mini board walks and ventured past the reach of fence-lines and it felt as though we were being transported into a different realm.

From 1957 – 1973 Malcom Kirk helped with the purchase of thousands of acres with the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority to protect the escarpment. The side trail we walked on is called Mac Kirk Side Trail.

Along the path I was feeling curious about all the different shrubs that had beautiful white flowers on display.  Below are pictured three shrubs which featured delicate white flowers; Hawthorn, Apple and (Pin or Choke?) Cherry; as well as wild strawberry and Hepatica.  These flowers reminded me to always be prepared to change one’s perspective.

     

 

 

The Hepatica was quite the mystery; it took several of us and a few field guides and what felt like a lifetime to figure out who this cute little flower was.  This time served as a lesson to always remember to look closer and deeper when faced with a plant mystery.  Our error when using the newcombs guide was that we had identified that the plant had 7 or more petals on the flower, when really there was 6 petals; many of the petals were deeply lobed but not separate, this detail was only discovered when Alexis flipped the flower over to show us from a different perspective. We also had interesting conversation surrounding this plant regarding if the leaves just below the flower were leaves, sepals or petals.  We discovered they were called bracts.

 

   

It is amazing what happens when we use all our senses. Michelle was able to smell the ginger that Chris was tasting before she recognized the plant! It is amazing how using all of our senses in the forest can completely change our experience of place.  It was so intriguing noticing how the colour of the blue cohosh had changed since we has seen them in the Mono forests.  The stem was still very blue – green, while the leaves have completely changed colour.  One of the other plant communities that I found to be captivating in this forest environment was the community of trout lily and trillium.  The trout lily were just dying back and turning a light yellow – green; this carpet perfectly framed the vibrant, yet soft colours of the pink and green trilliums.

As we neared the edge of the cliff it was amazing to see the forest change from a mixed hardwood forest into a cedar grove.  Beautiful!

Our lunch spot! After seeing so many healthy plant communities we stopped for food and enjoyed the lookout.  While sitting there we were able to observe turkey vultures with binoculars from above! What a change from how they usually soar so far above.  While sitting on the cliff, we talked about many things, but my mind wandered to the geology of this place.

Soon after the lunch spot Tim, Michelle and I  had our own mini adventure while the rest of the group discovered orchids and a little bush – waking!

Coming back together at the end of the day with circles of gratitude always warm my heart with memories and have a way of making igniting curiosity for all that can be shared, noticed and discovered in the natural world.

 

(more…)

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Raining Spruce Tips

Newcombs Foray

Mystery Speedwell

The Earth Tracks Edible Wilds weekend began at the Kinghurst Forest reserve. The sound of a goshawk greeted the plant apprentices as they arrived. Alexis presented a plant mystery to solve – to identify a tiny, irregular flower with four parts. After much debate, the little plant was identified as a species of Speedwell.

The sun was warm and bright as the plant apprentices walked along the trail, stopping to taste Wild Ginger root and admiring its reddish-brown flowers. Alexis discussed sustainable foraging practices and the importance of taking care of the plants. We encountered Poison Ivy next and took time to observe its characteristics and think about its possible role as a protector plant. We felt the soft lung-like leaves of Coltsfoot and learned about its role as a medicine for lung ailments. The apprentices sampled some young daisy leaves while also learning about the ancient Equisetum plants. We learned that these Horsetails can be used as medicine for bones, teeth and hair and should only be harvested when the leaves are upright not drooping.

Next, it was time to dig in the soil and harvest some burdock. Alexis shared that burdock stimulates the liver and increases bile flow. It is also good for the skin. As a biennial plant, it should be harvested in the fall of the first year of its growth or the spring of its 2nd year. We were reminded to harvest the root (bottom 40% is best) when there is no flower. The older, hollow parts should be discarded. The root is high in protein and can be used in stir-fry. Boiling it in a change of water removes some of the bitter flavour. It is considered a delicacy in Japan where it was first cultivated, thousands of years ago. Its Japanese name is “Gobo”. The late spring and early summer shoots can also be harvested, when they are still floppy before the flowers appear. Remove all of the outer, bitter layer and cook (recommended) the inner white core or eat it raw. The sticky seed heads are called “survival Velcro”. The leaves of the burdock plant can be chewed and used to relieve the sting and itch of bug bites. The large leaves can also be used to wrap food (salmon, stuffed peppers etc.) and put on a fire. One of burdock’s ecological roles is to bring nutrients and vitamins to the surface of the earth, using its deep tap root. What an amazing plant!

Burdock Stir-fry

Yummy Stir-fry

In addition to burdock, the plant apprentices harvested plantain leaves and dandelion heads, being sure to include some of the dandelion stem for making fritters later on.

While listening to the “Teacher Teacher” call of the Ovenbird and “Weep!” sound of the Great Crested Flycatcher high above, the group was presented with another mystery plant. It was Baneberry or Doll’s Eye – a poisonous plant to be mindful of. Next, our attention was drawn to the False and True Solomon Seal plants nearby. Alexis shared that the berries of False Solomon Seal are edible. He also shared how True Solomon Seal roots can be used in medicine to help repair cartilage and ligament injuries.

We observed some young milkweed shoots growing up from the trail and learned that it is important to be able to identify the differences between poisonous Dogbane and edible milkweed. We munched on some nearby basswood leaves. Alexis said to choose the young ones that are a little translucent and no larger than a toonie. He shared that the flowers can be used in a tea to help reduce anxiety.

A lilac grove beckoned everyone to sit for a while and enjoy lunch. Alexis cooked up some dandelion fritters in sunflower oil. The fritter batter included flour, rosemary, salt, pepper, egg (optional), and club soda. The sweet dandelion heads fried in tempura batter were delicious! A white-throated sparrow serenaded the lunch buffet with “Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada!”

Transplanting to safety

After lunch, we tried the growing tips of the wild grape tendrils and enjoyed their slightly sour taste. We moved onward past an old farm foundation and healthy, neighbouring Elm tree. Nearby, the light-green spruce tips caught our attention and Alexis invited everyone to collect some spruce tips in a jar. We poured apple cider vinegar over the spruce tips and learned that they can be made into; salad dressing, jelly, tea, beer and spruce tip sugar.

While foraging under the spruce trees, the wind picked up and the dry spruce tip ends started to rain down on the group. This event soon turned into a game as the plant apprentices tried to catch the dried spruce tips in their mouths. A Grey Treefrog churred high up in the trees. The sky darkened and in addition to spruce tips, the wind brought rain and pea-sized hail. We all huddled under the spruce trees, with our backs against the trunks of these protective giants of the plant world and shared stories while the warm rain soaked our clothing.

When the rain stopped, we reconnected with the trail and discovered Bloodroot. We learned that it is not edible and has caustic (?) red dye. We harvested some young violet leaves (ideally from plants without a flower) and admired the purple, white and yellow violets flowers blooming on mature plants nearby. Alexis shared that 1/3 cup of violet leaves contain the daily dose of Vitamin A and D(?). The plant apprentices sampled a trout lily corm and enjoyed its sweet, succulent flavour. We also sampled some apple blossoms and learned more about the edible plants in the Rose Family.

Alexis shared the “Three Rights” of Edible Plants:

  1. Right Part
  2. Right Place (don’t harvest plants from contaminated areas like roadsides etc.)
  3. Right Season (being mindful of where the plant’s energy is focussed e.g. flowers vs roots).

Daylily snack

Before returning for the evening edible wild potluck feast, we harvested some wild grape tendrils, day lily shoots (harvesting the lower stalk from a shoot in the middle of a patch), young basswood leaves and garlic mustard.

The evening feast included a mixed green, basswood leaf, day lily shoot, wild grape tendril, young garlic mustard leaf, violet leaf salad with a vinaigrette dressing. Yum! We also had burdock root fried in sesame oil and another stir fry with plantain leaves, dandelion leaves (not too many due to bitter flavour), chopped nettles, Dryad Saddle mushroom, common Morel and garlic mustard leaves. Jen recommended marinating plantain leaves and dehydrating them into chips as a future enjoyable edible

Nighttime brought a chorus of snipe calls, coyote howls and frog song. It was a lovely day and evening. Much gratitude to Alexis for sharing his knowledge and experience and to the plant world for its incredible generosity. Upcoming: A chance to give back – the Caretaking weekend is next!

Prepping for the Edible Wild feast

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