Posts Tagged ‘Wild Foods’

Dandelion Wisdom

Today we have a guest blog post from Madison herbalist and founder of Wildwood Institute, Kathleen Wildwood. David and I have attended several of her local herb walks, two Wild Edibles Gourmet Dinners, and plan to take her Making Herbal Medicines Workshop this coming June. Kathleen is a wealth of knowledge and today she shares some information about a much maligned weed and all the benefits it offers. Many thanks to Kathleen for her work and for sending me this article to post:

Green Wisdom from the Plant World

Plants are the original green living experts and we can learn a great deal from them. Whether we call them plants, crops, weeds, or herbs, they each have a part to play in the drama of life on Earth. They contribute to the health of our bodies, the health of the planet and all the creatures that live here. They are the ultimate recyclers, taking sunlight and water, free and abundant, and transforming it into nourishment for themselves, for the soil, for animals, and for us.

Wild plants, especially, can teach us about adaptation, beauty in harsh conditions, evolving in harmony with one’s environment, and healing. Consider, for example, the dandelion. When I give herb walks, even toddlers know the name of these sunny yellow flowers! This plant, often unappreciated to say the least, provides numerous benefits to the living things around it, including ourselves. The seeds are eaten by wild birds, including Canada geese. The leaves are eaten by creatures such as chipmunks, rabbits and even bears.

Of tremendous importance, dandelions also provide an all-season food source for bees. And to top it all off, they improve the health of the soil they grow in rather than degrading it. Did you know that dandelions tend to grow in areas where the soil has been demineralized, and that they help to heal it? The deep taproot brings up beneficial minerals like calcium and potassium, to be incorporated into the leaves and roots. If the plants are not removed, they redeposit these beneficial minerals into the topsoil as they decompose, making it richer and more fertile. They also anchor loose soil against erosion, create drainage channels in compacted ground, and attract earthworms to aerate the soil.

Gardeners may want to consider these benefits when weeding! A student of mine taught her 3 year old son that where the dandelions grow, it is OK to play. Where there is only grass and nothing else, herbicides have been used.This plant’s amazing ability to concentrate minerals makes it a wonderfully nutritious food. All parts of the dandelion are edible, and there are no poisonous look-alikes. Dandelion leaves are tastiest when they are smaller, especially in the early spring, when I like to eat them as part of a wild salad. As the plant matures and puts energy into its flower, the leaves grow more bitter. lf you have been put off in the past by the intensely bitter taste of the large dandelion greens sold in stores, I suggest chopping them small and sauteeing them until tender in some olive oil and garlic’ There is nothing wrong with adding a bit of honey or sugar at the end if you prefer, or you can eat them like your grandmother did with a splash of vinegar to increase mineral absorption.

In addition to being nutritive, quality herbal preparations made from dandelion are safe and effective medicines. For example, did you know that a tea or tincture (extract) of dandelion leaves is the only known diuretic that does not leach potassium from the body? Scientific studies done on rats in the 1970s found, to the surprise of the researchers, that dandelion leaves acted as a diuretic only if one was needed. Dandelions have been used by both traditional and modern herbalists around the world to make remedies for indigestion, increasing lactation, stabilizing blood sugar, and much more. The sap even dissolves warts. The fresh blossoms can be prepared as a facial (see recipe), while dandelion wine is one of the few alcoholic drinks that is actually good for your liver!

On a spiritual level, the yellow flower of the dandelion speaks to the 3rd chakra, which in many traditions is associated with self-esteem, self-care and self-protection’ The spirit healing properties of dandelion are said to include: being aware of and appreciating one’s beauty, inner and outer; delight; playfulness; pleasure; enjoyment; taking things lightly. Picture yourself sitting on a hill in summer, blowing dandelion seeds – how do you feel as you hold that image in mind? Truly, we have much to learn from this untamed and exuberant plant.

Dandelion Blossom Facial:

Place fresh dandelion blossoms in a bowl or jar, and core, with boiling water. Cover the container, and let steep for at least one hour. Strain, reserving both flowers and liquid fusion). Put the warm, wet flowers on your face and lie down for at least 10 minutes. Meditate upon your beauty, both inner and outer. Then wash it all off with the infusion. Do not rinse. You can also splash the infusion on your skin before going to sleep. Cleanses the skin, minimizes pores, and gives a healthy glow.


Kathleen Raven Wildwood
is the founder and director of Wildwood Institute, “bringing the plants to the people and the people to the earth” ™ through education and locally grown herbal products. Wildwood Institute offers classes and apprenticeships in herbalism and natural healing. wildwoodherbs.com – 608-663-9608.

Nettles and Chives

Nettles and Chives

Spring has sprung in Madison, and I’ve got the garden goodies to prove it! Well, as you can see from the photo, I’m a Lazy Gardener as well as a Lazy Raw Foodist. I go for the perennials and not so much for the raking of leaves. Weeding? Um, since I actually prefer to eat wild things, I planted those nettles myself last year, having invited them to me energetically. One batch arrived from a potluck/foraging friend of mine via an unknown neighbor who dropped them off during a 2011 Reiki 1 class — just as I had mentioned how Reiki hones your manifestation skills. Touché! The other batch came as a gift from the same potluck friend after their own patch had grown beyond the capacity of nonstop nettle infusions and mortar-and-pestle’d salads. Here they are again, tender little leaves, spiking their way vigilantly through the ground as some of the first signs of spring.

I love nettles! And yes, that’s stinging nettles to you. 😉 These little ladies do leave quite a burn if you ignore them. David and I took a foraging walk in April 2011 with Kathleen Wildwood of Wildwood Institute, and she described it like this: “Nettles like to be noticed.” If you can remember that, you’ll be fine, but if you ignore them, or walk carelessly through their territory, they’ll hurt instead of heal. Fortunately, if you take the time to know nettles, then you’ll find that they contain their own antidote. Softening the leaves and rubbing nettle juice on the stung spots removes an otherwise lasting pain. I find this process so symbolic of life! How many people do you know whose seemingly sharp tongue belies a deeper character of total softie and powerful ally? When you go deeper than the sting, you discover all sorts of gifts and blessings.

Nettles nourish the blood, especially when boiled and allowed to sit in an infusion overnight. In this form, they contain high amounts of iron and other nutrients particularly strengthening for women. They improve skin texture and tone and can enrich just about any kind of cooked dish, if you prefer cooked food. Heat softens the stingers, so you can safely eat them. Last year, we attended a wild foraging dinner, and nettles appeared in everything from pasta to ice cream! I love wild foods because they’re beyond organic. Nothing messes with these superstars, and they help us to become stronger, wilder and free.

Fresh, freeze-dried, in a tea, or juiced, they alleviate allergy symptoms, and Kathleen Wildwood even uses them to help arthritis. On that same wild foraging walk, she shared how one troubled knuckle gets a purposeful early Spring nettle sting (without the juice), and that seems to numb the pain for the rest of the Spring and Summer seasons. She provided me with the herbal maxim, “When in doubt, use nettles,” and I do! I enjoy nettle tea all winter, sometimes plain and sometimes cooled and mixed with a bit of raw cacao powder and vanilla stevia. In the summer, we blend fresh ones in smoothies, and if we ever get out David’s Greenstar juicer instead of always buying fresh juice at the co-op, we might even juice some nettles this year! I like them so much, I gave them raised bed status and planted another patch on the other side of the house:

Backyard Nettles

And what about those chives?! They’re just fresh. We love them. I had been growing some inside the house, but our December and January travels took a toll on them. The batch in the first photo came from a starter plant last year, and it took off in the backyard garden, where only certain things agree to grow. We love them on salads, and I enjoyed reading about their magical and medicinal uses here. Grown outside they take very little care, and again, perennial gardening makes this Lazy Gardener very happy.

I do have plans for the sunny side of our house, armed with knowledge gleaned from last year’s many experiments. We will be building up the soil with compost and worm castings; shifting our garbage and recycling bins to the North side for the summer; and not allowing an accidental pumpkin patch to take over the top sunshine real estate this year. I’ve already started various kales, ruby red chard, oakleaf lettuce and, hopefully, some fairytale blend sweet peas to mix in with greens in the front window boxes. Coming soon to a mini-pot near me: more greens, heirloom tomato plants, a red pepper plant, and as soon as the frost leaves for good, I’ll get some cucumbers and the moon and stars watermelons planted in the ground. We started those melons too late last year, so they never fruited. This year, I’m determined to have not only a wild edibles yard, but also add some more magical elements to our evolving, 3-side of the house garden. My indoor herbs have done well, except for the chives. When it warms up a bit more, I’ll let the parsley, sage, basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano outside — probably right around the time our wild violets start blooming.

Mmmmmmhmmmm! It’s almost super yummy, just picked from the lawn salad time. Cheers!

Hunter-Gatherer Skills Course

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to attend this one, but my friend Sue asked if I’d spread the word. This is a course brought into being by The Permaculture Project, LLC. It’s open to anyone interested in learning how to survive in the wild for practical and/or fun reasons. I’m not a doom and gloom subscriber, but given the recent events and trends in US government and around the world, I do like knowing my options for foraging and community building. This course seems like it offers a lot of both!

Learn the arts and practical skills of outdoor survival

Hunter-Gatherer Skills Course
August 19-26, 2011

Taught by Wayne Wieseman, The Permaculture Project, LLC

Sponsored by Popular Resilience, a Madison-based permaculture organization

Live for a week completely immersed in the environment in 548 acres of prairie, forests, cliffs and wetlands habitats located in Wisconsin’s un-glaciated “driftless area.”

Join with other individuals and families to adopt a hunter-gatherer lifestyle as you learn to make essential tools for hunting and fishing, and pottery vessels for cooking and eating.

Try your hand at fire-making, building shelters, foraging for useful plants, weaving, making cordage, flinting arrowheads, firing pottery, setting snares and more.

All (vegetarian) food included in fee. A kitchen, including refrigerator and freezer, and outdoor grills are also available on site.

Download a registration form or flyer
Please register by August 12th

Contact Norah Cashin (poprezil@gmail.com) for the course schedule or more information
$495 per person
Ask about special pricing for families.
Minimum age 13. Teens 13-18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian

Popular Resilience: Skills for the long term
A happy, healthy, liveable world for our great-grandchildren

Wild Foraging and Weeds: Why Wild Things Make My Heart Sing

Anyone who follows me on Facebook, walks in the woods (or anywhere!) with me, peruses titles on my growing stack of library books, or visits our backyard may possibly have noticed a teeny tiny obsession with all things wild. This is not something new, but it has most definitely intensified since October 2010, when I took an Urban Foraging Class on my first visit to Madison. In years past, I delighted in dandelions, lambs quarters, nettles and purslane, with the occasional sorrel mixed in for good measure. My friend Cecilia showed me a wild strawberry bush and fig tree in Petaluma, and we spent some blissful times gorging ourselves on Nature’s bounty. Perhaps it’s the faery in me, but I’ve always loved weeds, especially clover that attracts honey bees and Leprechauns … as well as forget-me-nots and all things foresty.

In addition to the woods, medicinal herbs have also held a space close to my heart, especially since I first began my Medical Intuitive practice while doing an apprentice trade with a Seattle herbalist of 50+ years (no longer practicing). In exchange for me “reading” his clients, he taught me what he knew about Chinese, Ayurvedic and Native American Herbal Remedies. We both learned lots and his clients benefited from our joint efforts. In my pre-“I not only believe in past lives, but I offer past life readings” days, he would assure me that I must have spent many lifetimes working as a healer because I seemed to just “know” all the remedies. I’ve gradually learned more on a conscious level, and I’ve obviously gotten over my reluctance to attribute any past life infiltration of knowledge! Still, one thing I missed in working with him was the experience of actual plants. All the herbs he used arrived as powders. The most I interacted with them was by taking them internally or counting capsules for his clients. I appreciated the ways he helped me heal from my brain injury, along with the training, but part of me longed to connect with the plants themselves.

Fast forward ten years: living in a house in eco-friendly Madison has provided me with a yard, unsprayed bike trails, and a community of people interested in permaculture, organic gardening and wild food foraging. I’ve since attended another urban foraging class, as well as a Wild Edibles Dinner, hosted by Kathleen Wildwood of Wildwood Institute. The gourmet, multi-course meal was foraged and prepared by the owners of Moonwise Herbs, and it truly inspired me with more community, delicious, deeply nourishing food, and a greater appreciation of the abundance all around us.

As a Lazy Raw Foodist and newbie gardener, I love so many things about wild foods! For one thing, they grow without effort. Instead of weeding the garden, watering the soil, and carefully fertilizing seedlings, you can just let the weeds have at it. I find this comforting, as I watch how slowly my cultivated seedlings have sprouted and begun to grow, in vast contrast to the abundance and fast spurts of dandelions, lambs quarters and wild violets. Our backyard came with lots of bulb plants like hostas and lillies, but I’ve also found wood nettles, bee balm, garlic mustard (great for pesto!), what appears to be plantain, clover, creeping Jenny, wild lettuces, a transplanted stinging nettle, ferns (for fiddleheads), various now potted mints, and some possibly edible leeks. We also inherited three raspberry bushes, two elderberry trees, and some burdock from a permaculture enthusiast who needed to trim back her bounty. These all look happy and vibrant among my kale, chard, chives, strawberries, herbs, nasturtiums and marigolds.

Much happier than my poor tomato plants! Dear me, if I based my gardening experience on the joy of some of the trickier specimens, I’d feel so discouraged that I just might quit. Instead, the weeds provide wonderful greens for smoothies and salads, as well as “proof” that our tiny, unplanned yard can provide abudant produce. If I expand my “garden” outward to include nearby bike paths, I find Juneberry trees, more elderberry, giant dandelions, large burdock and cattails, which I have yet to try. I hear that cattails offer all parts as edibles during various points of the year, but still want some help identifying which parts to harvest when. Our landlord, who lives behind us, also offered his crabapple trees and cherry tree during harvest time. These produce much more than birds and the nearby humans can handle without canning, freezing or dehydrating. Supposedly the crabapples make an excellent cider, and I’m happy to experiment when the time comes.

The Wild Edibles Dinner featured a dessert made from Japanese Knotweed berries, which some of you may recognize as a primary ingredient in Resveratrol supplements. Indeed, David Wolfe has mentioned Japanese Knotweed as a major immune system support for people suffering from Lyme Disease, and I used these to help my ex-husband recover from his Advanced Stage Lyme. There’s a saying among herbalists that Nature provides whatever you need nearby, so I find it interesting that Japanese Knotweed has become a massively invasive species in Wisconsin, where Lyme Disease also runs rampant. I’ve heard the same thing about teasel root growing fast in Oregon and other areas with a LD issue. I don’t have LD, but I must say, that Japanese Knotweed crisp rocked! So much so that I’m going to call the folks trying to eradicate it from a nearby park to see if I can harvest the unsprayed berries.

I love how Nature seems to “know” exactly what issue someone has and synchronously provide just the plants necessary for healing. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I consider humanity to be in a crisis state right now. From government to corporate to environmental abuses to the restriction of all herbs in the EU, we need to wake up and shift! Planet Earth does not require humanity for her survival. In addition to taste and medicinal properties, I love the resilient and unstoppable qualities of weeds. We are what we eat, and we could do much worse than weeds. In fact, weeds balance disturbed or unhealthy ecosystems. Things like dandelion, comfrey and burdock grow extremely deep roots, drawing minerals up to renourish depleted soil. Weeds spring up when the Earth needs healing. By eating more weeds, we can become, on a cellular level, Earth healers. By eating wild things, we become wild, too — more easily able to free ourselves from outmoded societal conditioning that destroys communities and our sense of connection with each other and our environment.

Harvesting local foods frees us from dependence on oil and the transportation system used to bring us the produce we take for granted. It also frees us from having to pay for food. Although I have plenty of money to buy groceries, I recognize BigBanks, BigOil, BigAg and BigPharma as major culprits in all things wrong with our world right now. I would love to live completely outside the system, and I keep researching ways to increase my own independence (and interdependence with more preferable groups). In the meantime, collecting weeds, wild foraging for edibles and seeding easy-to-grow organic plants at home, brings me step-by-step closer to greater harmony with the Earth and my own Nature-loving soul. Learning how to survive on wild items also lets me relax about potential world food shortages caused by poor weather conditions, disasters or disruption of food transportation.

I’m nowhere near my final goals, but I begin each morning marveling at the abundance and beauty all around me. I find it fun. The spunky part of me who’s familiar with Codex Alimentarius and Agenda 21 also gets excited to think of myself like a weed. In a world where governments at best fail to protect their citizens and at worst are actively creating weather, environmental and pharmaceutical conditions to destroy, starve or poison large portions of the population, eating weeds and wild things is my way of celebrating strength and life. Just TRY to eradicate dandelions! Just try to get rid of wild violets and garlic mustard. Even with the most intense chemicals and poor conditions, new ones will no doubt pop up. I have lambsquarters growing in my patio cracks! Feeling that resilience and expansion in myself makes me giggle. I also feel deeply nourished and joyful.

If you decide to forage, I strongly suggest connecting with experienced people in your area. You’ll also want to make sure the no one sprays or pollutes the plants you’d like to eat, and identification does matter. You’ll want to learn the key differences between wild edibles and poisonous lookalikes. If in doubt, don’t eat it! Personally, I find the learning curve exciting. Yes, it takes up a lot of my current time and energy, but I consider the process both recreational and restorative. In a world of change, those who cling to the old may perish, but those who adapt, thrive. I intend to flourish, regardless of circumstances, and I feel ever so grateful for the challenges that brought me more in tune with Earth and some beautiful humans and animals on this planet.