Surprise!

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Yep, the blog is back. It’s spring and time for new beginnings. No time like the present to get back to the blog after a long absence. Let’s start off with spring tonics…

Spring is a time sloughing off the old to make way for the new. We rake the leaves and dead grass to let the new grass have sun and air for growing. Our bodies also need to get rid of all the old cellular and metabolic waste built up during the winter months of slower activity. The liver is key in the function of removing waste and toxins.  It does this on its own as the seasons change. Spring tonic herbs help nourish the liver so that it can perform as peak efficiency during a time when it is being overworked.

In her infinite wisdom and ways, Nature provides the best liver tonics in the spring, when they are most needed. Their new growth is bursting with vitamins and minerals needed to nourish the liver and improve its function. To remove the toxins many of them are diuretics, meaning they will make you pee more. They are usually either eaten raw as a potherb or make into tea to increase fluid intake.

Besides the physical benefits of spring tonic herbs, there are the benefits of feeling sunshine and breezes on your face as your harvest, reenacting the tradition of your ancestors in gathering green  plants of spring as food and medicine,  connecting with the plants, connecting with Nature/Creator and the good feeling of knowing you’re preventing illness and taking care of your health all by yourself.

We’ll start with an easy favorite, Dandelion. Oh, if only everyone knew the benefits of this lowly, little flower. The early settlers knew how good they were and requested they be sent from Europe. They’re an amazing plant and escaped those early gardens to cover the entire nation. The money spent on killing Dandelions (and the advertising) could be better spent on research showing all their benefits.

Dandelions are an incredible source of potassium and the calcium needed to absorb it, along with an alphabet soup of vitamins – A, B, C and D.  They are an antioxidant (think cancer prevention) and contain essential fatty acids as well as other phytonutrients that reduce inflammation in the body (reduce pain.) They even contain trace elements and provide an immune system boost.  If a prescription could do all that, the company would make billions. We have this medicine growing in our yards!

Now, what to do with them… The leaves can be eaten as salad greens and add a mild bitterness that is excellent for the entire digestive system. The younger the leaves, the less bitter. The flowers can be fried like fritters by dipping them in batter immediately after they are harvested (or they will close.) The flower petals (twisted off the bitter green bud) can also be used to make yummy cookies (recipe below.) Fresh spring roots are made into liver tonic tea or tincture.

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Dandelion Flower Cookies – The Splendid Table

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup oil (we use either coconut oil or butter)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 cup dry oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup dandelion flowers
Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Blend oil and honey and beat in the two eggs and vanilla.
3. Stir in flour, oatmeal and dandelion flowers.
4. Drop the batter by teaspoonfuls onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes.
 
To Prepare Dandelion Flowers for Use in Recipes:
1. Wash them thoroughly.
2. Measure the required quantity of intact flowers into a measuring cup.
3. Hold flowers by the tip with the fingers of one hand and pinch the green flower base very hard with the other, releasing the yellow florets from their attachment. Shake the yellow flowers into a bowl. Flowers are now ready to be incorporated into recipes.

Chickweed – Stelleria media – “little star in the mist”

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Of all the questions I get asked about herbs, one of the most common is “Do you know of any herbs for losing weight?”
Answer: Chickweed 

Chickweed is a nutritional herb, containing loads of vitamins, minerals and even protein. It also contains saponins that help break down fat cells. Drinking at least 2 cups a day of Chickweed infusion is recommended for weight loss, but more is OK.

Those same chemicals also can help with infections and dissolving cysts; ovarian and breast. It is used for skin and eye infections as a poultice and as fresh tincture for cysts. A combination of Chickweed, Motherwort and Mugwort is used in Chinese medicine for many female reproductive system problems.

Freshly harvested Chickweed

Freshly harvested Chickweed

Front Door Medicine Chest

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Wild Violets and Plantain growing on a path by the front door; handy place to have them! Plantain makes the best “spit poultice” for bug bites and stings; stops the pain immediately. Simply chew a leaf, apply to the area and secure with a band-aid or gauze strip. Violets are a pretty and nutritious addition to green salads. You can also make a lovely syrup that can be used for all kinds of tasty treats and refreshing drinks. In addition, both herbs can help with a cough. Violets are a demulcent for dry coughs and Plantain is a relaxing expectorant. Worthy weeds, indeed!
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Herbs for Bones

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Herbs can provide a rich source of calcium, minerals, and plant-based protein, which is the foundation of good bone health. Comfrey (Symphytum offcinale) leaves, Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) leaves, Nettle (Urtica Dioica) leaves and Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) flowers are all rich in calcium and protein. One cup of Dandelion leaves has about 100 mg of calcium. Nettle and Dandelion, common weeds to most folks, are two of the best nutritional sources of many vitamins and minerals.

Calcium from plants is best in bulk, as a tea or fresh plant, instead of tincture or supplement. There’s also more available calcium in cooked foods rather than fresh. Calcium and the other minerals needed by our bodies to make strong, flexible bones are hard. Heat breaks them down to a usable form that our bodies can absorb better.

Here’s a simple recipe for stir-fried Nettle greens with Shiitake mushrooms for your bone health:

Nettle Shiitake Stir-Fry – Susun Weed

Sauté ½ medium-size onion in olive oil until soft. Add thinly sliced shitakes and sauté several minutes. Add nettle greens, along with several dashes of tamari and a few tablespoons of water (just enough to keep it from scorching). Simmer about 10 minutes.

Nettle - spring greens

Nettle – spring greens

Another yummy Nettle recipe:

Nettle/Potato Casserole – Kay Young, author of  Wild Seasons

3 large potatoes

1 cup heavy cream

½ cup cooked, drained and chopped nettle leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon thinly sliced green onion (optional)

350 degree oven – Peel potatoes, slice them about ¼ inch think and arrange the slices in a well-greased casserole. Combine the other ingredients, stir to mix and pour this over the potatoes. Place the uncovered casserole in the oven. Several times during baking, spoon some of the cream up over the top layer of potato slices. Bake until the potatoes are tender and the cream has cooked down into a thick sauce – about 1 hour. Makes 4-6 servings.

NOTE: This one got rave reviews from a 30-year chef!

Common Milkweed

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Common Milkweed in bloom

Common Milkweed in bloom

We had a garden tour a few days ago and a woman commented on the Milkweed growing in one of the gardens.  She was amazed that we had let it grow and hadn’t plucked it out of there since it was such a nuisance of a weed. We always let a few grow by the house and in the south barn gardens, mostly for the butterflies, but also to show what a lovely plant it becomes when full grown.  The flowers are deliciously sweet and the scent carries across the yard with a nice breeze. Milkweed is edible, but the pods, flowers and young shoots must be boiled in 3-4 batches of water to remove toxins.

Cattail shoots (right) and Milkweed shoots (left)

Cattail shoots (right) and Milkweed shoots (left)

The sap of Milkweed, referenced in the name, is used in folk medicine for skin ailments like ringworm and warts.  The silk from the pods is downy soft and makes great pillow stuffing.  All-in-all a worthy weed.

Weed of the Week – Wild Honeysuckle

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Wild Honeysuckle starting to bloom

Wild Honeysuckle is starting to bloom,

Spring is my favorite time of year not only because it ends the cold that last so long here in Nebraska, but it also means the air will be filled with lovely scents.

Shortly after the wild plum blossoms are done. the honeysuckle blossoms start to bloom. Their honey-sweet scent brings hummingbirds and bees to enjoy the blossoms.

The flowers are used medicinally by making a syrup to treat coughs. mucus and asthma. They are also used in making perfume.  They sure do perfume the air in spring!

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Chokecherry – Weed of the Week

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Since we’ll be busy this week getting ready for our Wildcrafting Class, the Weed of the Week post is early.  It’s also about a shrub as opposed to the traditional weeds we’ve had so far.  Since it grows wild and “like a weed”, we’re including it 🙂

Have you seen these blooming on the roadsides lately? Chokecherry blossoms smell heavenly – take a little time to stop and smell them.  They have long, dangling, multi-flower blossoms. The shrubs can grow up to 15 feet tall, but even tiny ones have profuse blossoms this year.

Blooming Chokecherry

Blooming Chokecherry

Chokecherry is also known as wild cherry and has been listed as an official medicine in the US (for cough and sore throats) since 1820. The cherries were also used extensively by Plains tribes for food, medicine and ceremonies as noted in the diaries of Lewis and Clark. Even today, who can resist a jar of homemade Chokecherry jam?

Pemmican, a staple “to-go” food for nomad tribes, was made from dried, ground Chokecherries and buffalo meat that would keep for years if kept dry. The inner bark (cambium) of Chokecherry branches was used for coughs, sore throats and as an eyewash. The leaves and cherry pits are poisonous unless cooked.

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Cambium (inner bark) of Chokecherry

Like most fruit trees, Chokecherry wood is very hard and can withstand a lot of heat before burning. For that reason, forked branches are used to carry hot rocks from the fire pit to the sweat lodge for ceremonies.

Another nice thing about having Chokecherries grow nearby is they attract Tiger Swallowtail butterflies.

Tiger Swallowtail - photo from ehow

Tiger Swallowtail – photo from ehow

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