Thursday, May 15, 2008

We'd Walk

We walked just a few feet when we spotted some Garlic Mustard growing along the rock wall at Local Farm. This was the first weed we encountered on the Motherhouse We'd Walk with Alicia North of North Star Botanicals on Saturday, May 10th. Immediately, Alicia pointed out it's white flowers, explaining that once this plant starts to bloom, even if it is pulled up, it will still grow and produce thousands of seeds!

Garlic Mustard is an opportunistic plant in Connecticut and it is considered invasive. Plants such as Garlic Mustard are one reason other plants are now loosing their habitats. So, we asked Alicia "What to do?" and Alicia responded "Eat it!" And that we did! It's flavor is best in Spring; the whole plant, leaves, flowers, and fruit, are edible! Alicia continued and described how she has made Garlic Mustard Vinegar with the flowers and also suggested using the leaves in salads or in a dip.

Now we were involved in an interesting discussion about invasive plants, raising questions such as - How far back do we go to determine if a plant is native or introduced to an area? Debra Tyler, Motherhouse founder, spoke about a plant on the invasive list - Purple Loosestrife and how it could be the saving grace for the honeybee and another one - Japanese knotweed and how she learned from Alicia that it's roots are used in formulas to cure Lyme disease. And here we were eating Garlic Mustard! We talked about viewing these plants as the "enemy" and the problems with using herbicides to eradicate them... Perhaps these plants are here for a reason? It seems as if Nature does provide an answer to all problems and sometimes right in front of us, at our feet!

Growing near the Garlic Mustard was a clump of Dandelions which quickly turned our thoughts to making Dandelion Wine. Alicia recommended the book, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, available at Motherhouse Market or visit Wild Fermentation, the web site maintained by the author. Alicia also suggested using Dandelion leaves in a salad and the flowers for fritters.

The Dandelion is an example of a spring tonic plant and hearing about the health benefits it provides from Alicia, I thought about the taking of spring tonics, an age-old tradition, and again of how nature provides just what we need when we need it. Dandelions stimulate and regenerate the liver and gall bladder and are cleansing. These first greens and tender roots of spring are really just what we need after a long winter! We tasted the leaves and flowers; the leaves are pleasantly bitter.

We hadn't moved from this same spot and Alicia picked out another common weed, the broad-leaved Plantain she is holding above. Alicia called this leaf the band-aid leaf, famous as a wound healer, and especially handy to have around with children. She said it can be chewed up so that it is mushy and then put on a bee sting or cut to work it's wonders. It can even be put in your shoes to help relieve foot cramps!

After walking a little further on, we came to another plant, considered by many to be a weed, Mullen. The leaves of the Mullen have a white fur like covering and are nice, like velvet, to touch. Alicia said the leaves of this plant are used to help people stop smoking when dried, blendeed with other herbs and smoked. It is also combined in formulas for bronchial infections. . After the walk, I learned that you can use two or three of the large leaves and boil them to make a tea. After boiling for about 3 minutes, strain the liquid to remove the leaves and any particulate matter. Sweeten to taste and drink. Mullen is another example of a weed with medicinal qualities!

While we were admiring the Mullen, Alicia pointed out that it is a good idea to get to know plants throughout the different seasons. This Mullen, for example, will have a stalk later on in the summer that can become several feet long with little yellow blossoms aligned in rows that can be soaked in olive oil to be made into an effective medicine for ear infections.

Next we came to a plant that most people avoid, the Stinging Nettle. Alicia told us that you can touch this plant if you do so with intention, but that there are indeed little hairs on the leaves that have the same formic acid as red ants do. Alicia referred to Susun Weed, a well know herbalist, and her uses of this plant.

The big question everyone had about Stinging Nettles was "How do you pick it and prepare it?" Alicia answered "With gloves". Stinging Nettle is chock full of vitamins and minerals, especially high in iron and vitamin K. Alicia suggested shearing nettles throughout the year and said the leaves should be taken off of the stem if the stem is longer than 3 inches. You can steam or pour boiling water over the leaves; heating destroys the formic acid.

Shortly after coming upon the nettles in our walk we headed back to the Local Farm barn to have a delicious lunch of Alicia's Nettle Spanakopita and Nettle Tea. Contact Alicia for the recipe! The perfect way to end a We'd Walk!

Alicia writes - If you're like me, once you learn about the wonderous world of wild foods and medicines, the green world will seem to beckon to you. Before you begin exploring on your own, there are a few things you need to remember:

The first, and absolutely most important rule is to POSITIVELY identify THE PLANT YOU ARE HARVESTING!!!! Never, never, never, ingest a plant of uncertain identity.

Take more classes and learn about the plants in your community with your local community herbalist. (Alicia also plans to lead a July 19 Summer Weed Walk and a October 18 Autumnal Weed Walk for Motherhouse. Go to the Motherhouse web site for updates and information.

Purchase some field guides.

Learn more about the practice of gathering herbs by reading.

Learn which plants are threatened or endangered. Check out United Plant Savers and join!

Get to know the plant at different stages throughout the year.

Harvest only plants you will use and that are known to grow in abundance in your area, being sure they are not on United Plant Savers " At Risk List".

Make use of those "invasive species" whenever possible.

Gather away from all roadways.

Most importantly, gather herbs from the wild with respect for the life you are taking.