Deep roots, green goldfish and wolf flatulence

Hemlock Tea Drinking, November 2018

On Saturday, November 3rd, 2018, the Earth Tracks plant apprentices met at the Mono Forest Tract – one of fourteen Dufferin County Forest tracts located across Dufferin County. Alexis recommended using all of our senses when harvesting roots. He reminded everyone that we are often taking the life of the plants when we harvest the roots. We shared gratitude for the plants to start our day.

To start, we headed over to a patch of Sarsaparilla and learned from Alexis that this plant is also called “rabbit root” because the rabbits munch on it. We looked at the growth rings (or cups) on the plant roots. When I harvested some sarsaparilla root from under an elderberry plant, I counted nine cups or nine years of growth. This plant was used as a source of energy for First Nations’ runners. The root can also be used to make root beer.

Sarsaparilla Root

Next, it was time to harvest Burdock root. Burdock is known as a blood purifier because it stimulates the liver to function more efficiently. It contains iron, minerals and vitamins A, C, D and E. It may also have antioxidant properties. Burdock is a biennial plant with a deep tap root. Alexis shared that when the root dies back, it creates a water channel, insect channel and air channel into the earth. These channels are beneficial to the health of the soil and the creatures/plants that live there. The roots bring macro and micronutrients up from the deeper soil layers. When burdock leaves die back, they return the nutrients to the soil.

Note: A few days later, I harvested some burdock roots to share at a potluck and had a feeling to put the leaves from the harvested plants back on the surface of the soil where I took the roots. I did not think more on this until writing up the notes from the weekend. Maybe the burdock was communicating with me about the necessity of returning those nutrients to the soil and nearby plants that need it. The natural world is amazing!

A few people harvested some mullein roots next. Mullein is one of the earth-regenerators. It has a long taproot that helps control soil erosion and break up compacted soil. A tincture made with the fresh roots can be used for urinary incontinence. We continued to wander along deer trails and mountain bike trails in a mixed forest of beeches, maples and conifers. The undergrowth revealed bright red Canada Mayflower berries and some delicious Common Sorrel leaves which looked like green goldfish crackers. Michelle and Tim recommend this yummy edible.

Green Goldfish: Common Sorrel

Deer tracks and scrapes were observed on the trail. Within moments, some of the group spotted deer moving through the deciduous forest ahead. We took a break for lunch, sheltered from the wind by the trees. Tanya shared some yummy horehound candies from Britain. Horehound is an expectorant, useful for relieving dry coughs. It is also a bitter, to help with digestion.

A ruby crowned kinglet made an appearance as the group headed towards the edge of the forest bordering Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. We harvested some hemlock needles and Alexis prepared nutritious Hemlock tea. He shared that Hemlock helps bind to heavy metals and remove them from the body.

We talked about reciprocity and how humans can help disperse plant seeds. We collected some Blue Cohosh seeds to plant in other areas of the forest. Alexis talked about how heavier seeds, like Blue Cohosh (that are not wind dispersed) need help taking root in new places. Seed dispersal is one form of caretaking that humans have traditionally helped with in the natural world.

Lycoperdon (Puffballs) roughly translates to “wolf flatulence”

Fungi were aplenty in the forest. We observed some puffballs with the genus name Lycoperdon which roughly translates to “wolf fart” referring to the brown puff of spores that these mushrooms release when rain falls on the spore sac. Daniella touched the spores and commented that her finger felt warm afterwards – possibly an intriguing affirmation of the name “wolf fart”?

Alexis pointed out a carrion flower plant and shared a story about an encounter with the plant’s stinky, “smells like dog scat” flowers. In the afternoon, Sammy showed some of the apprentices the extrafloral nectaries on cherry leaves (red floral glands at the base of the leaves). This part of the plant attracts pollinators. So cool! Alexis pointed out a spikenard plant and a little patch of violets. We looked closely at the “blind flowers” or “underground flowers” of the violet and saw little seed pods. There was a whole ecosystem in the violet patch – camouflaged beige millipedes (matched the colour of the seed pods) and snails hiding among the plant stems.

To wrap up this blog post, “What type of plant do you get when you plant kisses?” Tulips!


Roots- Part 2

The weekend’s adventures continued after a day full of fun frolicking, digging roots and wolf farts (the translation of the latin name Lycoperdon pyriforme, for the pear shaped puffball mushroom)!

We had the pleasure of spending the day in and around High Hill Farm and getting to visit some of the Horses there.

We ventured across the road and onto a part of the Bruce trail, that overlooks the Boyne Valley! Though the forest we wandered, finding plenty of Raspberries and Blackberries. We wondered why there might be SO MANY brambles, and so few understory shrubs and small trees.

As we came to an old fence row we found a patch of Beautiful Beech Trees, unfortunaley some had Beech Bark Disease. Alexis pointed out how the old fence rows are great wildlife corridors and are often great places to find fruit and nut trees that have been planted from birds, racoons and other creatures spreading their seeds!

We also laughed at all the apples hiding around the forest! We found the teeth marks of the squirrels who we guessed are preserving some fruit for later.

Can you spot the plant nerds?
After soaking in the sun and looking out on the Boyne Valley, we too gathered some apples and had a cozy lunch along the hillside.

 On our way back to the farm Tamara pointed out these AMAZING bark bettle “galleries”
When we got back to the farm we processed the many roots collected Saturday, and roots Alexis gathered from the herb farm, like these Echinacea angustifolia roots!

We washed away, then lay all the roots out

We ended the day all gathered in the Hay loft away from the wind. Here we processed the roots into many different tincture combinations! Valerian, Elecampane+Nettle+Marshmallow, Cherry Bark+Elecampane and many more blends! 

Feeling so much gratitude for the plants, their roots and my own roots that grow ever deeper as I begin to know the plants in so many different ways. Thanks to Alexis, Margie and all Wild Plant Apprenticeship pals for the fun-tastic weekend!


Plants in Hand

This was a weekend all about using our hands, and exploring the many expressions of plants. Whether it’s their fibre, fruit or physical structure. We spent the weekend playing with some of the many crafty,  utilitarian ways to work with plants !
We started first with learning about friction fire, a skill practiced for centuries, that has played a vital role in human evolution! Some tried with the bow drill, in partners and some solo. We got 1 on 1 coaching from Alexis and Laura Gilmour (of Wild Muskoka Botanicals is a basket-full of awesome, she is a Herbalist, traditional-skills practicer, crafter, naturalist, teacher and so much more. We were lucky to have Laura as special guest for the weekend!).
And the reminder that bow-drill is not all about strength, but about technique, and taking time to make adjustments to be efficient.
Hannah and Bobbi got coals! Yippy
With fire on our minds, we switched focus to making Pitch Sticks aka natural hot Glue!
We used a combination of Spruce or Pine Resin warmed and filtered through a mesh strainer + ground up charcoal + ground up grass (rabbit or deer scat work even better!) + a pinch of ground egg shells to help temper the mixture and help keep the pitch from melting in the sunlight.
After lunch our hands got sticky with White Pine sap, as we carefully pealed back the bark of a recently harvested White Pine trunk to make baskets!
Genevieve’s beautiful butterfly engraved in her basket!
The fire kept burning into the night, with an abundance of coals for making spoons and bowls.
Laura showed us some nifty ways to transport the fire! In a Birch polypore mushroom, a Mullein torch and a beer-can lantern that really lit the way!
The next day we dived into Cordage making, using the inner fibre of Milkweed, Nettle and Dogsbane to make rope!
Laura showed us how to make coil baskets using Cattails, or even cordage!
Next we dived into the world of Natural dye, Nicola and Hannah shared what they had learned about eco-printing and we gave it a whirl! We pressed plants from around the farm into silk, then wrapped them up real tight around a stick, then boiled them for 1 hour, the results were AMAZING!
We used Buckthorn Berries to make a vivid green ink, and the husks of the Black Walnuts to make a delicious smelling, dark brown ink!
Lastly we had the pleasure of learning one last basket-making technology from Laura, this time using Willow!
What a wondeful weekend full of inspiration, and a reminder that there are so many ways to know plants!

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
Red Elderberry


Yellow Birch

Alternate Leaf Dogwood
Solomons Seal

Jack in the Pulpit
Herb Robert
Wild Ginger


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

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!




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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