Green Goodness in our own backyards

The plants in my life have always had a strong and clear voice, especially when I put my focus on listening.

I was beginning to prepare my modest raised bed garden this week for the growing season. Which is always a tricky proposal for me, because there are so many nourishing and delicious plants already growing there.

Any gardener has to decide, do I let this one keep growing and harvest it responsibly over the season, or do I pull it out by its delicate little roots? Often it becomes a dance of blending everyone’s gifts and needs. For instance, this year so far I “weeded” the first raised bed by pulling up all the volunteer grass and feeding the greens to my happy hens, who were quite pleased with that development. But when I got to the 2nd bed, there was this gorgeous patch of grass and chickweed (Latin =Stellaria media) which clearly was having a great time growing here.

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So, I trimmed the tops of the grass for my cat and dog to munch on and cut a big bunch of cooling tasty chickweed to have for my fresh salad tonight. You could not get a fresher, more nutritious, more packed full of minerals and vitamins plant then this one… unless you turned around and looked at my friends the Stinging Nettles, which I brought to plant here when we moved here, and who was kind enough to come in for dinner tonight. Yum yum yum. I haven’t felt this totally nourished after any store bought or restaurant meal I can remember. There is so much goodness free right outside our back door, especially if we commit to never poisoning the plants (and ourselves) with herbicides and pesticides, which are also often hidden in lawn care products – another reason to grow food not lawns on your quarter acre.

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This above is Mugwort. A lovely and magical plant that volunteers many places and is one of the plants resistant to Roundup- ugh- so you will see it many places where people have been foolish enough to spray.  Mugwort, called Cronewort by herbalist Susun Weed, is a main ingredient in moxibustion, a technique used in the ancient art of Acupuncture for deep and soulful healing-one of my favorite techniques! I also have been really loving making Smudge bundles to burn and use for purification of one’s energy and living spaces. This is a wonderful deep plant to spend time with and learn from – she is called Cronewort for a reason!

Well, that’s enough plant lore for one post – go out and love a wild plant today!

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The Joy of Dandelions

I have to send out this quick instructional blog post because it is that time of year again, Spring! And the Dandelions are in full glory.

This is my neighbor’s lawn, and I love seeing it because this means he is not spraying toxic poisons that will run into my backyard – Yea!

ImageDandelions are a wonderful symbol of rebirth, of making it through the winter, and of a cheery brilliance in the face of so much hate! They are a flower that evokes strong emotions in some people – in me, admiration for all their health benefits and long history of benefiting people over eons (there is lots of evidence that cave people dined often on Dandelions. All parts of her are edible or usable for medicine, and her strong tap root will simply multiply if torn out of the ground. In other people, the feeling is one of strong dislike or dare I say even hatred? Hard to believe that anyone could hate such a sunny and happy looking flower, one of the first heralds that winter is really over, but I’ve seen and heard people like this with my own eyes and ears! If they only knew what I knew – that Dandelion is chock full of benefits, a few of which I’ll list here.

The root has been dried and ground to use as a healthy alternative to coffee (along with Chicory root – but that is a gorgeous pale blue fall blooming flower and roots are best dug in the fall anyways). The leaves are a well-known delicacy to use in salads and as a bitter tonic, and also have historical uses as a diuretic and to help with circulatory issues. These are even available in the supermarket aisle, but why buy them when you can harvest them for free? If, of course, you haven’t poisoned your lawn! The flowers have a history in home wine making, but are not as well-known as being edible on a spring walk or in your salad, for making a tea to ease headaches, menses cramps, backache, stomach ache and even depression (of course-just look at those cheerful faces!) You can also make an infused oil with the flowers to help heal pain in the body, easing stiffness, arthritic joints, and sinus headaches historically.  A flower essence from Dandelion’s flower is known to promote deep relaxation and facilitate release of emotions that are held in body musculature. The sap of the stalks and leaves has been used to dissolve warts, corns, calluses, hard pimples, bee stings and blisters, as well as being known as a bacteriostatic and a fungistatic.

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The crazy thing is that when people poison their lawns with weed killers and lawn food mixed with herbicides, they are losing at least two fold. 1st, filling their immediate environment with toxic chemicals. If it kills something else, you can bet it’s not good for you, your children or your pets. 2nd, you will be missing out on the extreme health benefits of these powerhouse plants. Nutritionally speaking, when you look at many of our modern diseases, there is evidence that mineral deficiency is at the root of them, and wild greens aka “weeds” are veritable storehouses packed with minerals which are in a very available form, many of them being edible or able to be tinctured or infused to make these nutrients even more available. Why go any further than your lawn and backyard for your grocery shopping and medicinal needs?

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Our great grandparents brought many of our “garden weeds” over to the New World as medicine to be used every day, especially preventively. We would benefit by returning to some of the herbal wise ways of our ancestors.  Hens love them too!

One way to utilize the many gifts of our backyard wild plants is to make herbal vinegar. And it’s so easy! Here is a photo journal of today’s herbal vinegar making.

Start with a simple quart plastic container, like you saved from your last chinese restaurant visit because you would never throw away a good reusable container like that, right? On a dry sunny day, go out and first just revel in the sheer glory of dandelions in Spring. Flowers love to be appreciated, and don’t we all? I always take a few minutes to ooh and ah over the exquisite workmanship behind the creation of each flower – the Master Architect at work again! Once I have made quite clear that I do appreciate this gift from Nature and the sacrifice of these happy little bursts of sunshine known as Dandelion flowers, I carefully pick the flower heads, looking to make sure any ants or other insects are not coming along for the ride. That wouldn’t be beneficial for them or for you!

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Next, I will fill the entire container with my herb of choice. I often add some of the Dandelion greens, and in this case I also added some Plantain leaves and Violet leaves – both edible and fully of nutrients that will be nicely broken down and made available by the action of the vinegar.

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Once I have filled the container as full of edible greens and flowers as comfortable, I go inside where my gallon of Apple Cider Vinegar is waiting for me. ACV also has a long history in its own right for easing ailments in people, so this can only be good! I will then re-fill and completely immerse the freshly picked plants in Apple Cider Vinegar, using a chopstick to get out any air bubbles and generally move things around until everyone is comfortable. 🙂

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You can use any utensil to do this, but I generally like using wooden or bamboo utensils.

As a final step, always label the container with all pertinent information. Although it all seems obvious now, give it a week or two and you’ll most likely have no idea what this strange concoction is or when it was made (and therefore when it will be ready to use!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALastly, let the mixture infuse with all the goodness contained in these brilliant flowers for about six weeks, then strain off the plant matter, make sure to label the final container, and enjoy! You can take it every day, 1-3 tablespoonfuls in hot water as a morning beverage or with meals to aid digestion (my favorite ways) or you can use any way you would normally use vinegar – such as in salad dressings. Just be sure to use it and benefit from the nutrient and mineral rich infusion that will soon be sitting on your shelf. This is just one of many ways you can benefit by working in cooperation with the plant world around us, naturally.

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