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Tastes like “Chicken Dinner with the In-laws”

Energetics and Plant Constituents

During the Saturday session of our Plant Medicines weekend, Alexis led a workshop on The Energetics and Constituents of Plants. He gave a brief overview of the origins of plant medicines and discussed Traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic, medicine and Medicine Wheels used by First Nations / Original Peoples. We discussed the age of Modern Medicine being approximately 150 years old in comparison to ancient medicinal practices. He also discussed the Four Humours, a Greek System that is used in North America.

The body has an innate ability to heal. When working with plant medicines, we need to ask, “How can we support this ability to heal?” Alexis recommended finding herbs that stimulate the vital forces healing the body. As an example, nervines and adaptogens help the body to adapt and respond to stressful situations with resiliency and reduce anxiety.

In terms of Energetics, we have all Four (Hot, Cold, Damp and Dry) to some degree. We took a quiz to find out what our constitutional type is. By answering questions, we determined which two energetics are dominant in our own bodies at the present time (this can change as we age). The quiz was from a book called, “The Alchemy of Herbs” (page 16) by Rosalee de la Foret. For more on this topic, Alexis recommended a book called, “Vitalism” by herbalist Matthew Wood.

For healing, a practitioner needs to know a person’s constitution (Hot or Cold and Damp or Dry) to find out what that person needs rather than what might aggravate their condition. Opposites are best. As an example, a person with a constitution that is cool and dry has a respiratory infection that causes them to be damp and hot. The constitution of the illness is damp and hot which shifts the person’s constitution. To bring the body back into balance, the person needs something that will be dry and cooling.  Afterwards, it was time for a tasting session. We had a chance to try a number of herbal tinctures to discover how they might affect the body (Warming or Cooling, Moistening or Drying). We also had an opportunity to guess what the plants were by using our sense of taste.

Flavour Wheel of Fun

Plant Flavour Wheel

Next, it was time to head over to Lee’s “Flavour Wheel” workshop under the cooling shade of the walnut trees. We ate some ginger which is a pungent flavour in the “dry and hot” category on the flavour wheel. We discussed how it would be good for sore throats if used in combination with honey which is a moistening demulcent. We tried garlic scapes, also a pungent flavour and discussed its antimicrobial properties. We tried spearmint leaves (also listed as a pungent flavour) which was wonderfully cooling as expected. Next, we tried Tarragon/Savoury which have antimicrobial properties. We discussed how herbs that were used for meat preservation (Tarragon, Savoury and Cayenne) are still used as flavouring in traditional recipes around the world. We tried Sheep Sorrel and then Black Raspberry. We ate some unripe apple and noted the dry-tasting tannins. We tried Motherwort and discussed how bitters support the nervous system. We learned that Bitters can also be a bile stimulant. Wormwood was very bitter. It is a vermicide, used in killing worms within the body.
Next, it was time for teas. We tried some Wood Nettle tea which was delicious. Lee said to steep it for 15 minutes before drinking since the hairs have formic acid. Nettle was surprisingly in the salty favour category which was interesting. We had a discussion on foraging and how salt is difficult to find in the environment. Being able to taste the subtle salty flavour of a plant would be very important for survival on the land since salts are important in maintaining electrolyte balance in the body. Tamara shared how a visit to Quebec City revealed how the word “restaurant” originated from salty restorative soups called “restoré ” offered by kind homeowners to weary travellers. We chatted about how the human body has the same salt/water balance as the ocean. Beautiful connection! We tried a Borage tea and noted the hairy armour of Borage. We moved into the “Sweet” section of the flavour wheel and tried Licorice Root which would be another great addition to ginger if treating for a dry cough. We tried dried Juniper/Red Cedar berries and discovered that they are sweet on the outside but the seeds have alkaloids in them which makes them very bitter. Too many alkaloids are bad for the body. This is one way for the plant to move its seeds around if animals spit them out.
Lee wrapped up her workshop by getting people to suggest conditions that could be alleviated by a combination of herbs in the flavour wheel. Thanks Lee😊

Tincture Making

Digestive Bitter

Alexis shared information about tincture and tea making. When making healing tinctures for people in need, herbalists understand that herbs have affinities to certain organs. With this understanding, herbalists also recognize that herbs have complementary pairings. Alexis used the example of red clover and cayenne. Red clover is a support to the lymph system. Cayenne is a stimulant that moves the clover medicine around the body.
When making a formulation of herbs as medicine, use the following components:
• 1-2 key herbs (4-8 parts per herb)
• 2-4 supporting herbs (2-4 parts per herb)
• 0-2 balancing herbs (1-2 parts per herb)
• ½ – 1 catalyst herb (1-2 parts per herb)
The key herb is like the king or the emperor. It is of primary importance in supporting a required action for a system in the body. The supporting herbs may enhance the action of the key herbs. They are like the advisors. The Balancing herbs tone down any harsh actions that can be caused by the key or supporting herbs. E.g. Hops and Valerian combined and both cooling and warming (neutralized). The catalyst enhances the overall effect. E.g. cayenne.

We made a digestive bitter with the following herbs:
Key: Wormwood
Supporting: Motherwort, Yarrow
Balancing: Bergamot, Anise Hyssop
Catalyst: Dried Ginger

Poison Ivy Wash

Jewelweed Poison Ivy Wash

Alexis made a tincture with Jewelweed. He cut up jewelweed stems and leaves and put them in a glass jar filled with apple cider vinegar. He placed wax paper on top so that the vinegar would not rust the metal lid. We talked about how beautiful jewelweed leaves look underwater. They are shiny like shimmering jewels!
When caring for tinctures, Alexis said to shake the tincture 1x per day for 4-6 weeks. One of his Herbalism Mentors Rosemarie Gladstar says that this helps to put your positive energy into the tincture. It also helps to agitate the plant material, facilitating better extraction. After filtering the tincture through 4 layers of cheesecloth or a fruit pressing machine (tincture press), funnel it into a medicine bottle or a spray bottle (in the case of the poison ivy wash).

Cocktail/Mocktail Party

Cocktail / Mocktail Party

After a supper break, we reconnected with a campfire and a Cocktail/Mocktail party.  Alexis and Lee shared the motto “Drink to remember not to forget” from Chris and Laura Gilmour (with Wild Muskoka).
On the table, there was a spread of:
• Clear Soda
• Gin
• Ice
• Digestive Bitter tincture (from last year)
• Mint
• Lemons
• Thyme Vodka
• Lemon Balm Vodka
• Cedar Whiskey
• Cherry Syrup
• Rosemary Syrup
• Sumac, Strawberry Shrub (Apple Cider Vinegar and Sugar)
• Elder Flower Syrup (Sugar)
• Elderflower Cordial (Sugar and lemon)
• Licorice Tea
We mixed these ingredients together to create a variety of cocktails and mocktails:
1. Elderflower and honey, Gin, Lemon and Soda
2. Cherry Syrup, Mint, Ice, Soda
3. Cherry Syrup, Cedar Whiskey, Lemon and Soda
4. Lemon Balm Vodka, Cherry Syrup, Strawberry Sumac Shrub, Lemon and Soda
5. Thyme Vodka, Cherry Syrup, Lemon, Mint, Soda

and last but not least…
6. “Chicken Dinner with the In-Laws”: Rosemary Syrup, Thyme Vodka, Lemon Balm Vodka, Lemon and Bitters.

We mused on the traditions of naturally plant-flavoured sodas and alcoholic beverages rather than the present-day artificially flavoured drinks that flood the market.  I am looking forward a glass of my Dandelion wine when it is ready on the winter solstice:)

Written by T. Anderson

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Tracking on the Edge of Suburbia

When we first pulled up to the area we were going to be tracking for the day, I was a bit shocked. The present environment was a suburban housing development underway, bull-dowsed blocks of land, pushing back on the surrounding forested areas, with boxes in rows multiplying, encroaching on what remains of the surrounding natural environment.

What? I was quite shocked, meeting up on a newly created road, on the border of a huge construction zone. When I had last visted this location, about 5 years ago, it was a completely different area.

 

I didn’t know what to expect from this place…

 

It didn’t take long before we found some really great, clear tracks in mud. We started with ID basics, how to narrow-in on the evidence, and explore some possible deductions. We came across raccoon, dog, and coyote tracks, and a red fox trail with scat on top of haybales along the fenceline of the construction zone. Not to mention the birds. The setting was already providing plenty of tracking opportunities and we hadn’t even gone 50 meters from our cars.

 

I had set an intention of paying special attention to the landscape, and tracking ourselves as we move through it. However, paying more attention to the landscape became a bit distracting for me, I found myself feeling quite emotional about the changes happening there, the impact of human activities and urbanization. Several times I had to stop and take a moment to be with gratitude for what bit of nature is still there for us to explore and interact with, and all the lessons woven into it that unfold.

Throughout the day we discovered many amazing things and had some great discussions. One highlight that added another layer to tracking for me was some confusing tracks that seemed to be a morphing animal, turned out to be a hare and coyote travelling along the same line, in opposite directions, their tracks overlapping each other in some spots.

At the end of the day I realized what a gift it is to track in such an environment, filled with human activity and development. It really showed me how easy it is to find tracks and signs of wildlife, even in such a loud, urban environment. We don’t have to go on long excursions out of the city to find good tracking spots, things are happening all around us, wildlife is continually adapting and finding ways to survive alongside our development. All we have to do is look for it and keep asking ourselves questions.

 

Sunday, May 14, 2017 – By Lianna Vargas –   2nd year Earth Tracks Tracking Apprentice

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Rain or Sunshine Kind of Day

The bird songs welcomed folks to our second day of our weekend. As some drank lemon balm tea and others coffee, we settled down in a circle and listened to each other’s morning gratitude’s. To our surprise, one of our year one’s gifted us with Tamarack branches harvested from her morning drive to this course.  Alexis had a grand agenda for us this day and these Tamarack branches were included in the plans.

We started with setting aside a chunk of time journaling about plants. Alexis’s library holds a wealth of information about plants and as we wrapped up this activity, we had the chance to share our new findings in our group. This was a great opportunity to learn a wealth of information within our community of plant enthusiast.

Of course the most memorable components of this day to many of us was the speedy moving clouds that shadowed us throughout the day. When the dark shadows appeared overhead this invited strong winds, thunder, rain and hail to pour down on us. We were well prepared to watch this from Alexis’s green house or porch. It was a beautiful and powerful scene to witness. Our rainy and sunny day was filled with amazing activities and ideas on caretaking and stewardship; multiple perspectives and stories taught me the importance to think on a deeper level about our caretaking and stewardship roles in relationship to nature.

We familiarised ourselves with Tamarack and its medicinal properties. Then proceeded, with instructions from Alexis, to make a tamarack tincture. This tincture provides energy and was helpful as an immuno-stimulant. We also made mouse nests from willow branches, leaf litter and pine needles. We carpooled over to a nearby forest to place these little homes in a much needed space for our wild friends. In the forest and when the rain grew heavy Alexis found a safe spot to plant some bloodroot seeds he had saved. We also did some tree Id and ended our time in the forest with sit spots.

This weekend introduced us to thinking about our roles as caretakers of the land. It is a conversation that is much required in our lives these days and I’m glad that I can begin to take action on a small scale and in simple ways.

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Sunday – where we hit the books . . .and the wetlands

Sunday May 21, 2017

After a beautiful spring night complete with chatty spring peepers and booming thunderclaps, we met Sunday morning in the Rebel Roots greenhouse. Building on some of our conversations from the harvest yesterday, Alexis spent some time talking about stewardship and harvesting ethics – ev

Study Sunday! Hanging out in the greenhouse making plant journals

erything from knowing the local by-laws on land to which plant parts that when harvested have the biggest impact (roots and barks).

We had a great discussion on some of the big 4 edibles to know about while in North America – because they are abundant across most of the continent and have edible parts in each season! Cat tails, pines, oaks and Grasses. With everything from edible seeds or flowers to edible roots or inner barks – these plants alone could be quite the culinary adventure!

Dressing our plantain and nettle chips before dehydrating!

Taking a minute to stretch our legs and harvest some Stinging Nettle (grasp the nettle!) – we mixed up a tamari and nutritional yeast dressing to coat those tasty greens. After laying the seasoned leaves on baking trays – we dehydrated them in a conventional oven at 170F for about 2 hours – checking every 15 min. The oven door was propped slightly open during cooking to allow steam to escape – this process is also an easy breeze for those that own dehydrators 🙂

After putting our snack in the oven – we headed back to the impromptu greenhouse library to get down to some plant journal business!

Flower fritters frying away before being dipped in maple syrup and eaten happily!

From colourful drawings to black and white itemized lists, everyone had their own unique journals on the go – using mind`s eye imaging and great published resources – we all got a little Sunday down time.

Breaking for a late lunch, we munched on our crispy nettle and plantain chips, and even fried up some tasty Dandelion fritters! Coated in a light tempura style batter – fresh dandelion flowers and some maple syrup garnish – the tastiest desserts!

Talking wild leek stewardship ethics

Headed to the wetland and mixed hardwood forest for the afternoon, we had a great lesson in stewardship as we transplanted and propagated Wild Leeks before harvesting a few leaves (only one each from two-leaved plants). Past beautiful Maidenhair ferns and the shape shifter Blue Cohosh, we headed to the wetland where the abundant and delicious Cattails were. From their starchy rhizomes to sweet tender shoots and novocaine like jelly – they truly are as Euell Gibbons stated `The Supermarket of the Swamps`.

`Til next time!

Wetland – home of the Cat tail – Typha “Supermarket of the Swamps“

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From Forest Forage to Potluck Feast

Saturday May 20, Grey County

It was a beautiful sunny Spring day when the Wild Plants Apprentices met up to have their first wild edible themed day! As soon as we exited the cars, it was only a few feet

before we were down on the ground looking at some of the many, many edible and medicinal greens we would find throughout the day!

Never eat a plant you don’t know 100% !

Alexis started us off with some great principles to keep in mind as we enter the realm of foraging wild plants

1) Always have a 100% ID on any plant that you might want to eat. As mentioned “Poisonous plants don’t just jump out and make you eat them!”

 

2) Keep in mind the 3 Rights – Right Season, Right Part, Right Preparation

Armed with that knowledge, we set out to explore the understory – with everything from Wild Ginger to different type of Solomon’s seals we look at flowers, and talked about the coming of some toxic and edible berries!

An understory remnant from when this was an old growth hardwood forest!

Young translucent leaves are delicious raw – watch out for amazing flowers coming late June!

As there were a few mosquitoes out, we even discussed different plants for healing rinses and poultices – Burdock root wash to help heal and bring down swelling and Plantain as a spit poultice in the field!
As we looked up from the ground dwellers, we also harvested some basswood leaves for our salad and talked about tasty apple flowers (some of which folks often pinch back anyway to ensure bigger and juicier fruits for the fall).

We also found Daylily (an escaped garden plant from an old homestead site) – the shoots of which are tasty and succulent this time of year – another score for our wild potluck!

Bloodroot – An incredible native spring ephemeral – and amazingly strong medicine!

Keeping in mind our stewardship ethics, we came across some beautiful Bloodroot that Alexis was able to transplant out of the path of horse hooves and we checked on some transplant patches from previous years that continue to thrive – away from the crushing feet of humans and dogs!

It was the perfect time of day for a wee rest and sit spot – relaxing in the afternoon understory – we could settle in to this complex habitat before our closing harvest.

All in all, everything was delicious from the violet leaves and flowers to the daylily shoots – we even scored some delicious burdock root from our patient and strong diggers! Bon Appetit!

Our feast of foraged plants!

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