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Posts Tagged ‘foraging’

Like most Americans, I grew up hearing people moan about weeds. My grandmother, an avid gardener, was fussy. She didn’t want anything growing between the cracks of her sidewalk. When she still lived at home, she often poured boiling water over unwanted plants. Old fashioned, effective, relatively eco-friendly in terms of chemical use, but laborious. At the same time, she was the first to teach me about foraging and herbalism. She had a respect for the plant world, but wanted control over what grew where in her yard, as many do.  Myself included to an extent! My mother and father have been more relaxed about it. They prefer hand weeding and mulching, but don’t get hung up on dandelions and other diversity in the yard. My mother was always delighted to get bouquets of dandelions, and she taught us to make wishes when they went to seed. Her tolerance transferred to me, but magnified to a deeper respect for plants like dandelions – plants that not only are beautiful in their own ways, but very nutritious for us and pollinators like bees.

Since my early forays into gardening, I’ve been reading about herbs, and that also lead me to foraging. I’m in no way an expert. I have so much to learn about living in harmony with the natural world while also keeping my “territory” safe for my family and veggie patch. You can imagine my horror as I looked out my window to see my new neighbor spraying chemicals on the dandelions and clovers this spring. I’m, shall we say, friendly with weeds?

I actually dislike the word “weed,” but it’s easier than saying “plants growing where I don’t exactly want them.” I suppose I should just call them “wild plants.” The more I learn, walking through my yard is like browsing a grocery store. It’s not just “grass” or “lawn.” I can name much of the flora. Not all, and don’t ask me for Latin names… like I said. Not an expert. Weeding my veggie patch is an interesting mental process for me. It must be done. Just as I do not want fleas on my cats, I understand that my veggies will be less successful with too much competition. And yet, I have internal conversations like this:

“Oooh, lamb’s quarters! I’ll let you grow for now, but I’m coming back for you later. You’re going in a stir fry…”

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My sandy, yet flourishing, herb spiral.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2018.

I made a deal with the crabgrass today. I know it will die off in the autumn, but for now, its roots are helping to prevent soil erosion in my fledgling herb garden. The soil here is very sandy in places. I have my work ahead of me, but for this year, I’m accepting the crabgrass in the bare spots to keep things together when I water. I told the grass, “I’ll let you grow here for now, as long as you aren’t right next to the herbs. In exchange, you need to accept my haircuts!”  Yeah, I’d rather not have seeds settle in there.  I’ll plan to fill those areas in with something else next year.

I did tear plenty out around the lavender, though.

While my family is cultivating parts of the yard for food, we understand the importance of buffer zones for native species and pollinators. The back of our yard, right up by the stone border separating us from the cemetery, is filled with all manner of plants. I needed to see who was there before making decisions about what I want to do with that area. However, one corner is for the pollinator garden (or the “fairy garden” as my daughter likes to call it). We’ve dedicated it to the local spirits. Unless guided to do so, we are not taking anything from it for ourselves. I’ve since learned there are raspberries growing there. They are for the birds. We’ve planted bee balm, purple and yellow cone flowers, and lavender hyssop. Some other plants are starting to grow there, too. I’m carefully weeding so that the native varieties are able to flourish.

Elsewhere in the yard, we also leave patches of clover alone for the most part. The previous owners had a big dog, and he dug massive holes around the yard.  Before we finalized the purchase, they helpfully filled those in for safety, but we had big sandy patches all over.  We let crabgrass and flowering plants take those areas for now and just let them go nuts.  It’s better looking than sandy spots.  I’ve noticed many happy bees, and they bring their joy to our veggie and herb patches. It’s a win-win!  In the meantime, I continue to study foraging, learning what I can eat, how it impacts everything else in the yard, and am even dipping my toes into permaculture.

That said, if we get something really dangerous, I’ll probably follow my grandmother’s lead and bring out the tea kettle…

 

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Wild 
Grain – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016

Each Lughnasadh, I strive to harvest some of the wild grain from the hedges. Not only is harvesting grain traditional at this time of year, but I save it so my protogrove has something with which to weave Brighid crosses during Imbolc, six months later.  With the amount of snow we get in January and February, we won’t have any access to the nice green reeds traditionally used in Ireland!   So preparing for Imbolc is part of my Lughnasadh.  It makes sense – we harvest so that we are prepared for the coming months, after all!

My daughter was such a big help this year.  She’s learning to use scissors, so I let her use a child’s pair to cut the grass.  Bee enthusiastically embraced the task. It’s so nice to share seasonal traditions with her.  (I also found some blue vervain while we were out – a happy find!)

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Basil leaves 
and rose petals drying on my homemade drying rack. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

The warm weather is here, and I’m working to improve my relationships with plants. I’m always learning about herbal properties, plant identification, methods of preservation, and various magical uses. My paternal grandmother started to teach me when I was little.  She had a beautiful herb garden and apple trees at her home.  Some of my favorite childhood memories are of our time exploring the garden together.

Presently, I have various plants drying from my drying racks.  Some will season food, others will become tea, some offerings, and many will serve multiple purposes!

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A basketful of freshly picked strawberries from a local farm.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

Today we went strawberry picking.  It’s alway a lot of work but great fun!  My daughter certainly enjoys it.  We picked three big baskets.  As soon as I got home, I started to process them.  I have several in the freezer and made some jam.  I’m going to throw some on the dehydrator later.  A friend suggested I make strawberry shrub syrup which I hadn’t ever heard of before, but I’m intrigued!  Perhaps tomorrow.  I may even have enough to make more jam!

While picking, I found several patches of wild chamomile and red clover.  I brought some home to dry.  Both are great in tisanes.  My hands smell delicious…

A few days ago, we had our first bonfire of the year at our home.  We decided that we would  toast some vegan marshmallows we had leftover from Bee’s birthday party.  I taught Bee that we need young wood on which to place the marshmallows while we toast them.  We brought an offering of water to the nearby apple tree.  Bee reached up and asked permission without any prompting!  She then held the cup of water up, presenting it to the tree.  She poured the water and then I found suitable branches to cut.  We gave the tree our thanks.  I explained to Bee that I normally don’t harm trees, but sometimes young wood is necessary.  I was really impressed with her respect and how easily the words came to her.  I’m definitely a proud Druid mama!  Hopefully the tradition of working with plants will continue in my family for another generation.

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Rowan Harvest

I harvested a lovely handful of rowan berries near the river this afternoon. Tomorrow I will thread and hang them to dry for magical talismans. I always look forward to rowan berries in August.

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Gathered the last of the tomatoes, and one lone cucumber.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

I love autumn. The weather is exactly how I like it, the changing leaves are so inspiring, and the mosquitos and poison ivy are less of a concern when I take nature walks. I also really enjoy winter. Sweaters, hot cocoa, cooking hot dinners that warm the whole house up … Yet as An Cailleach makes herself known a little more each morning and evening, I do feel a bit of sadness about my garden.

I think it was more of a success this year than last, in part because I wasn’t healing from a large slice in the abdomen. However, a newly mobile toddler didn’t exactly make gardening any easier… I did what I could, though, and got a lot of joy out of sharing it with my daughter.

The most successful parts of my garden this year were the tomatoes, although they came into their own later due to my late planting. I also had a great potato harvest and did more wild harvesting around my home. The scarlet runner beans did well, and were certainly pretty, but they’re very tough beans. Next year, I’ll probably go with something that I can enjoy eating raw rather than something as pretty. I would also like to plan better so that I can extend the life of my garden into the autumn. I may still try to plant garlic in preparation for the spring…

Although I’ll miss my garden, autumn in Northern NY reminds us that everyone needs a rest. The soil and the perennials will soon cover up with a snowy blanket.  When I transplanted my bulbs, I thought about how they symbolize the spring and all the new life that is possible because of that sleep.  While the beginning of winter is often a stressful flurry of activity, what follows the winter holidays is a long season in which many of us will become restless.  As I prepare my garden for its hibernation, I’ve been thinking about how I need to make my own time to relax this season.  Yes, some of that rest will include dreaming and planning for the green half of the year, but as long as I’m doing it leisurely with a cup of hot tea, I’ll be doing my mind, body, and spirit a favor.

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Transplanted wild chamomile. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Earlier I went out to lunch with my husband. We stopped in The Mustard Seed, a local health food store and cafe. We sat beneath a big poster displaying a variety of medicinal herbs. Weretoad asked if I had ever encountered chamomile in the wild and I said that I had not but would love to find it one day.

Sometimes the Kindreds hear you.

A delightful downpour welcomed me home after work this afternoon. Rather than rushing inside, I took a moment to revel in the cool relief the rain brought. I was rewarded with a welcomed sight – a few small patch of plants that looked like chamomile, growing right near my home!  Some research confirmed that I had discovered wild chamomile – aka “pineappleweed.”  The scent of it’s conical blossoms gave it its name.  I decided to try transplanting a couple.  Others online advised that I should trim the tops a bit to promote root growth after transplanting, so you won’t see the blossoms that gave it away in my photograph.  I brought those in and promptly brewed a cup of tea!  Well… after I gave thanks.  I disturbed some ants while digging up my new plant allies, so I gave them a peace offering of sugar-in-the-raw.

May the ants know my respect and the wild chamomile thrive both in and out of my pots!  I’m grateful the Kindreds finally allowed me to find this chamomile.  Clearly the time was right.

 

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I hope everyone is enjoying their late spring/early summer.  I certainly am!  This time last year, I was the size of a blimp, waddling everywhere, and reluctant to wander far for fear of falling or making my back ache worse than it already was.  Ah, the joys of third trimester pregnancy… My self-guided foraging and herbalism studies went on hold until, well, this year!   This year, I have some more freedom to move around and explore the forest and fields around my home.  Bee is starting to find ways to entertain herself, so I have a little more time to develop my knowledge and hobbies (when I’m not preventing her from climbing onto shelves and tables…).  If only I had known last summer – there are so many edibles literally inches from my door!

A few weeks ago, I shared my positive experience cooking with dandelions in cookies and fritters.  Dandelions are very common and arguably the most easily recognizable edible you can forage, but don’t stop there!  With the help of identification/ foraging books and websites that contain excellent written descriptions and photographs, you can add more delicious and healthful plants to your diet – for free.  

A basketful of greens harvested from my garden and lawn. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014

I came up with a fun and easy option to put everything together for a light lunch: Early Summer Greens on Toast.  Along with the greens and flowers I foraged, I also include herbs from my garden, and some produce from the grocery store.  Hey, I’m not entirely self-sifficient, but this is a start!

My ingredients:

  • young, tender dandelion leaves
  • young, tender plantain leaves
  • chickweed leaves, flowers, and tender stems (I can only find the mouse ear variety near my home)
  • ground ivy leaves
  • wood sorrel
  • basil
  • pineapple sage
  • chives (including blossoms if available)
  • organic tomato
  • locally harvested fiddleheads
  • wholewheat bread, toasted

Ahhh… fiddleheads… One of the many signs of summer.  Something about their spiral adds a touch of Druidic whimsy to my cooking.  I have yet to find them on my own. For now, I buy locally harvested fiddleheads from my grocery store.

After washing everything and chopping the tomato, I sauté the lot in a shallow pan with olive oil.  Cook on medium until the fiddleheads are tender.  Greens reduce quite a bit, so if you want more, you’ll need to harvest much more than you see in my basket.  The fiddleheads add texture while the tomatoes add more flavor and color.  The basil, chives, sage, and ground ivy add quite a bit of flavor themselves!  My salt-loving husband never adds extra seasonings to this dish!  Serve on toast to give everything a nice, crunchy base.  Enjoy the taste and savor your growing knowledge of the land.

 

Thank you, Nature Spirits!  Yum! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

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