Spring 'Kraut

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

When spring finally comes here in the northeast it can sometimes feel like a race against time. After waiting months for the return of the green, the plants seemingly pop-up all at once, with wonderful exuberance, and at a pace that few of us can keep up with. Harvesting spring greens- if you let it- could easily be a full-time job! And there’s not only the challenge of collecting all your favorites during their prime harvest windows, there’s also the challenge of preserving the spring harvest because it’s simply not always possible to eat all the greens at once!

Enter fermentation, a form of food preservation that was developed and utilized by our ancestors for just this situation. What I love about fermentation is that it’s living medicine, and while I love making wild salad, pesto, frittata, soup, vinegar, and more with the wild spring abundance, there’s something special about knowing that the food you’ve prepared is probiotic and teeming with beneficial microbes that we enter into a reciprocal relationship with when we take them into our bodies. Symbiosis is a beautiful thing! You can read more about the benefits of probiotic foods in my recipe for New England-Style Kimchi, and read-on for my recipe for preserving some of my favorite spring greens in a seasonal-inspired sauerkraut.


Spring ‘Kraut

9 cups cabbage, thinly shredded (about 1 medium-sized cabbage)
3 cups Nettles leaves and stems (Urtica dioica), coarsely chopped
3/4 cup Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), chopped
1/2 cup Garlic Mustard leaves and stems (Alliaria petiolata), coarsely chopped
4 tsp sea salt
other nice additions: Dandelion lvs, Wild Garlic (Allium vineale), Chickweed, Violet lvs, Yellow Dock lvs, Garlic lvs

nettles kraut.jpg

First-off, this recipe is meant to be played around with. If you don’t have access to one of the greens in the recipe it’s ok to leave it out or substitute it for something you have an abundance of! Start by chopping your cabbage. Pile it into a big bowl and sprinkle with about 2 tsp of the salt and begin massaging it with your hands. The cabbage will begin to breakdown, releasing its juices which becomes the brine. Once the cabbage is thoroughly massaged start adding the Nettles bit by bit, along with the remaining salt, and keep massaging. You can wear gloves for this part if you’re worried about the sting (which will be rendered harmless by the fermentation process). Once you’ve added all the Nettles, add the Garlic Mustard and Chives and mix and massage thoroughly.

Next choose your vessel- a fermentation crock or widemouth mason jar will work. Pack the ‘kraut into your vessel and press in with your hands or use a sauerkraut stamper (also called a pounder or tamper) until the brine covers the ‘kraut. Use a heavy lid or small plate with a sterilized rock on it for the crock or mason jar to keep the brine levels over the veggies, or another good trick for this if you don’t have a small lid is to fill a ziplock bag with water and use that to keep ‘kraut below the brine level. Lastly, you can always make brine to top-off the sauerkraut by mixing 1 1/2 tbsp sea salt with 1 quart water. The bottom-line is that the brine level needs to be over the veggies. Now you sit back and let it ferment! Fermentation time will vary based on the weather, but start checking it after a few days to track its progression. It’s ready when it tastes sour, crunchy, and still salty, but not nearly as salty as it tasted when it first started fermenting. Then put it into a jar with a lid and keep in the fridge or your root cellar, if you’re lucky enough to have one! Enjoy as a condiment, with sandwiches, with breakfast, with a heavy meal, as a base for salad dressing, on a picnic, or even as a simple snack. Happy spring and happy fermenting!

And for any of you wanting to learn more about working with our locally abundant medicinal and edible plants, the summer and fall sessions of our bioregional herbalism series, From the Roots Up, is OPEN for registration! This hands-on course meets outside and in the field and focuses on field botany and plant ID, medicine-making, gaining intimacy with our local plants, reading the herbal landscape, materia medica, and so much more!

Learn More Here




Autumn Olive & Apple Fruit Leather

autumn olive in hand.jpg

Have you met Autumn Olive (Eleagnus umbellata) yet? I absolutely love this plant. It’s abundant, easy to harvest, is insanely good for you, and is wild plant we can harvest without concern of overharvest since it’slisted as “invasive” in many states (I prefer to call it “opportunistic”). Also called Autumn Berry and Japanese Silver Berry, this northeast superfood was introduced to the US in the 1830's. It’s endemic to eastern and central Asia, including parts of the Himalayas where it is a traditional food, and has now thoroughly made itself a part of the northeast ecosystem. But they’re not just in New England! Autumn Olives can be found growing south to Florida, in the Great Lakes Region, and west to the Mississippi River. The Pacific Northwest also is home to these prolific shrubs.

Identification: ID is easy- the medium to large shrubs have alternate leaves that are silver on their undersides, sometimes have thorns, and bear small, fragrant, cream-colored, 4-petaled flowers in the spring. The berries are red with silver speckles- one of our favorite nicknames for them is “Sparkle Berries”! One poisonous look-alike is Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp)- but those shrubs don't have silver leaves and the berries don't have the silver speckles, plus Honeysuckle berries ripen in the summer not the fall. If you find a bush with silver, alternate leaves with silver-seckled berries, you’ve got Autumn Olive.

Harvest: Autumn Olives ripen in the fall-Sept through Oct here in New England. They are sour and sweet (like most berries) and get sweeter with cool nights and a frost. Flavor can vary quite a lot from bush to bush, so taste each one to see which is to your liking and harvest from that one. You will find them growing everywhere! But they especially like hedgerows, old fields and farms, and any area that was disturbed in the past. They are an early successional species and are especially abundant in fields in my area that are transitioning from meadow to forest. Be sure you’re harvesting from an area free of chemicals and remember to practice reciprocity in your harvest. For more on this look to my article “Wildcrafting, Wildtending, and Reciprocity” on this blog.

autumn olive underside.jpg

Nutritional Value: Nutritionally, these berries are just awesome. Amazingly, they are the highest known source of the potent antioxidant lycopene, which is cancer protective, anti-inflammatory and promotes longevity. The primary way the average American gets lycopene in their diet in by eating tomatoes, however Autumn Olives have been shown to contain up to 17x more lycopene than tomatoes! The berries are also rich in vitamins A, C and E, flavonoids and essential fatty acids. And they're free.

What to Do With Them: There are sooooo many ways to preserve the abundant Autumn. I’ve made jams, added them to applesauce, made into and incredible sweet and warming fall cordial, frozen for smoothies and baking, and of course they’re also just super yummy and safe to eat raw. They also make a great substitute for tomatoes for folks with Nightshade sensitivities. But one of my favorite ways to preserve them is in fruit leather and I’ve found that their sour flavor profile combines especially well with the sweetness of apples, which also happen to be in season the same time as Autumn Olives, making an amazing bioregional, localvore treat!


autumn olive fruit leather.jpg

Autumn Olive & Apple Fruit Leather

Ingredients:
Autumn Olives 2 cups
Chopped Apple 1 cup

Supplies:
Food Mill (optional, but will make your job easier if you want to remove the Autumn Olive seeds- see details below)
Parchment Paper
Baking Sheet or Pyrex Baking Dish
Blender or Food Processor

Step 1: Start by combining your Autumn Olives and Apples in a pan with just a tiny bit of water. Chop the apples into small 1-2 inch pieces. It’s ok if some of your Autumn Olives have stems attached to the berries but be sure not to include larger twigs or leaves. If you have more than 2 cups of Autumn Olives, then use a ratio of roughly 2/3rds Autumn Olive and 1/3rd Apple. Cook it all down on low with a little water, stirring often to make sure there's no burning happening on the bottom.

autumn olive bowl.jpg

Step 2: Once it’s all cooked put the entire mixture through a food mill to remove the apple seeds and Autumn Olive seeds. NOTE: You don’t have to do this part. If you don’t have a food mill then be sure not to include any apple cores since otherwise you won’t be able to easily remove the seeds. And having the seeds of the Autumn Olives is simply a matter of preference. They likely have some nutritional value and are not at all harmful. For some folks they just like the texture better with or without. The picture here of my fruit leather contains the seeds- if you look close you can see them!

Step 3: Put the entire mix (whether or not you used a food mill) into a blender or food processor and puree well

Step 4: Line a baking tray or oven safe pyrex dish with parchment paper and spread your pureed Autumn Olive and Apple mix thinly (1/2-1 inch thick) onto the paper. Bake at 170 degrees for about 6 to 7 hours, being sure to check it often, since sometimes the edges burn a little bit...if the edges are burning and the center is still moist keep cooking it, knowing that you’ll just have to trim off the edges but the majority of your fruit leather will be perfect. Try it as you go, since it’s "to taste" in terms of how leathery you want your fruit leather to be. I like mine still pliable and not crisp. Basically you’re going for the consistency of fruit roll-ups! NOTE: if you have a food dehydrator you could use that for this recipe instead of the oven!

Store it between wax paper in the fridge where it will stay fresh for weeks, or freeze and take-out as needed. Enjoy your local, free, nutrient-dense, antioxidant rich super- food fruit leather!

And if you want to learn more about food as medicine, the medicinal use of the culinary herbs, medicinal mushrooms and soooooo much more, check-out my Spice Rack Medicine Winter Series. Class meets 1 sunday/mo January- March and registration is OPEN! It will fill-up so sign-up soon if you’d like to join us!


Autumn Olive & Sassafrass Lf Cordial

Autumn Olive & Sassafrass Lf Cordial

And One More Thing!

If you’re super-psyched on Autumn Olives and want to learn how to make them into a sweet and amazing fall cordial for sipping on in the cool fall and winter months, check-out our guide to making your own D.I.Y Sweet Fall Cordials!

GET YOUR FREE GUIDE HERE


Wildcrafting, Wildtending, and Reciprocity

Herbalism is trending and it’s easy to understand why. Plants are beautiful. They are powerful healers.  Interacting with them feeds us-body/mind/spirit. So it’s no wonder that more and more folks are turning towards herbal medicine and learning the art and science of herbalism. For any budding herbalist the most exciting thing is wildcrafting herbs. And if you were to ask most herbalists what their favorite part of their work is, many will answer the same- myself included! But as herbalism gains popularity how can we practice truly sustainable wildcrafting? And what about wildtending and reciprocity? If we’re not weaving these ethics into our harvesting practices then at its worst wildcrafting exploits and harms wild populations of plants. At its best, it becomes wildtending and wild populations are proliferated by human interaction and it becomes a relationship of mutuality. As a person who teaches many students each year plant identification and wild-harvesting skills, I’ve thought about this a lot. These are my thoughts on how we can cultivate a reciprocal relationship with the plants as wildcrafting herbalists.

Rose Hip Harvest  (Rosa multiflora)

Rose Hip Harvest (Rosa multiflora)

Wildcrafting

I’m not anti-wildcrafting. Not at all. In fact, I’m quite for it. Wild medicine is the bridge between the land and our bodies. It connects us to the earth. As a society we are collectively so disconnected- from ourselves, the land, our communities. Wildharvesting is an antidote for the sickness of disconnect; literally a balm. For folks who wildcraft I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. It feeds your very soul.  It’s part of our birthrights as humans on this planet. In my own lineage I need only look back four generations to my great great grandmother who was a peasant (read: shepherdess) in Greece who surely collected wild foods and herbs without a second thought- it was just a part of life and had been for thousands of years before that. It’s staggering to think about how much earth-connection we’ve lost in such a short time and I don’t believe our psyches and spirits have caught-up with all the changes of the past 100 years. It might sound like I’m romanticizing that pre-industrialized life (and maybe I am the tiniest bit) but I don’t begrudge certain modern advancements. It’s just that it’s clear that the farther away we get from nature and her rhythms, the sadder and sicker we get. This is why wildcrafting and wild foods matter.

Wild Grape harvest and riverwalk with my daughter

Wild Grape harvest and riverwalk with my daughter

Wildtending & Asking

If we’re going to harvest wild plants we should do so in a way that proliferates their population- rather than depleting it- known as wildtending. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Writer, Plant Ecologist, and enrolled member of the Citizen Band Potawatomi, calls it The Honorable Harvest. This wild-harvesting perspective is implicit in an indigenous worldview. Wildtending includes a variety of practices, and may mean that some years we don’t harvest from a particular patch or population because of drought, disease or pest pressure, or any other situation that might threaten a plant’s population.  It also means learning the “At-Risk” and “To-Watch” lists of plants from United Plant Savers, and paying attention to threatened plants and ecosystems locally.  But in addition to using our deductive left brain powers of reasoning and observation, we have to sink into our intuition here too and ask the plants if we can harvest. Quite often it’s just a feeling one way or the other. If it doesn’t feel right to harvest from a certain patch or plant, even if everything looks ok on the surface, then follow that. I once asked to harvest leaves from a Peach tree I’d harvested from for years on a friends farm and got a clear “no.” I couldn’t figure-out why but respected what I heard. I told my friend about it later and learned that tree had had a very difficult spring and had been hit incredibly heavy with a gypsy moth caterpillar infestation. I imagine the tree had used many of its resources fighting-off that infestation and needed all the energy it could get and couldn’t spare any leaves that year.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, speaks to this so beautifully:

“Asking permission shows respect for the personhood of the plant, but it is also an assessment of the well-being of the population. Thus I must use both sides of my brain to listen to the answer. The analytic left reads the empirical signs to judge whether the population is large and healthy enough to sustain a harvest, whether it has enough to share.  The intuitive right hemisphere is reading something else, a sense of generosity, an open-handed radiance that says take me, or sometimes a tight-lipped recalcitrance that makes me put the trowel away. I can’t explain it, but it is a kind of knowing that for me is just as compelling as a no-trespassing sign.”

Wildtending might also mean cutting back Asiatic Bittersweet Vines (Celastrus orbiculatus) that are threatening a patch of young Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina)- because, yes, it is ok to remove opportunistic plants from areas where they are threatening endangered or uncommon endemic plants, or even a patch of common medicinals we work with, just don’t use chemicals or methods that cause more disturbance to the area then there was before. It means leaving an area in better shape than we found it, removing trash and litter, or collecting seeds in the fall and spreading them around the site, even if it means an extra trip to that patch if we harvest it in the spring. It looks like moving like an herbivore does across the landscape (have you ever watched a deer browse through a meadow?) when we harvest, taking a little here and a little there, so that you can barely even tell the area has been harvested from, leaving enough for the animals, pollinators, germinating seedlings, and so on.  It involves deep observation and becoming a citizen scientist and understanding- intimately- the reproductive cycle of each plant we harvest so we can help it proliferate.  A simple example here is replanting rootlets and/or pieces of rhizomes on the edges of patches we harvest from to help the plant spread, or only harvesting from the root tips so we don’t affect the crown where the stems grow from. It also looks like reading the landscape and noticing a habitat where a medicinal would happily grow that doesn’t currently have it and planting it there.  An example here is the Northeast would be a wet meadow without any Boneset (Eupatorim perfoliatum) or Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata). This is a habitat which would easily support these two medicinals and you could grow some and transplant it there to start a new population. Or sowing fresh American Ginseng seeds beneath Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum) where you see some of its other companion plants growing, like Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), Solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum), Spice bush (Lindera benzoin) or Trillium (Trillium spp.)  In the case of re-planting I do only promote this practice with endemic plants and not introduced species. Some might balk at the idea of so intentionally altering a landscape, but we know that pre-colonized North America was actually full of wild gardens or forest gardens, tended by the indigenous peoples already here. Humans have always interacted and changed the landscape and nature is not static, it’s a dynamic, living landscape.

Re-populating the woodlands with threatened woodland medicinal, Wild Leeks/Ramps  (Allium tricoccum)

Re-populating the woodlands with threatened woodland medicinal, Wild Leeks/Ramps (Allium tricoccum)

Our challenge, as bioregional herbalists who value and understand the spiritual, physical, and ecological importance of interacting with the wild, is that our harvesting practices must include both wildtending and wildcrafting. Ideally they become one and the same. If we’re going to harvest from the wild then we have a responsibility to do so in a way that doesn’t cause habitat degradation and, instead, actually increases the diversity and health of the bioregion in which we live.  If we can’t harvest a certain plant without doing so, then that right there is our sign-post that we should not be harvesting that herb and instead we should be advocating for its conservation, because wildcrafting herbalists also need to be medicinal plant conservationists. If a plant is so abundant that it would be quite difficult to over-harvest it, like Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) in the Northeast, then we should still be offering our gratitude to that plant and engage with wildtending other more threatened plants or sites as an act of reciprocity.

Reciprocity

Reciprocity means giving back in some way so the relationship becomes mutually beneficial. How do you say thank you to the plants for providing their medicine? How do you avoid bringing a taker, colonialist, capitalist, entitled mindset to your relationship with the wild plants? How do you enter into a deep and intimate partnership with the plants? I don't have all the answers but I know a huge piece of the puzzle is practicing reciprocity. This practice for me is always shifting. For years I ran a medicinal plant nursery from my home and propagated and sold threatened Northeast woodland, medicinal plants. It warmed my heart to know folks were going home and planting Goldenseal and American Ginseng in their woods. To me, helping spread the medicine was an act of reciprocity. Now my reciprocity often looks like advocating for threatened endemic medicinals, like Ramps and Chaga.  Other meaningful acts include doing plant rescues from areas that are going to be developed or logged, lodging seeds balls filled with endemic seeds into meadows and vacant lots, guerilla planting, and teaching kids about the Honorable Harvest. Simply being an advocate for clean waters and protected forests and wild lands is an act of reciprocity. And it doesn’t have to always be grand gestures. You can also express it to the plants on an individual level- leaving some dried nettles as fertilizer, watering the plant if it’s a drought, or harvesting seeds to start new patches. It can be this simple- the next time you go to harvest a wild plant, ask yourself, “Am I taking? Or have I asked and it was offered?” From the simple act of asking reciprocity follows; we want to offer back something in gratitude, reverence, and respect.

Pondersosa Pine  (Pinus ponderosa) , dripping with resin. Trees exude resin in response to stress as a layer of protection from pathogens and to help heal from injuries. Resins are best harvested from the forest floor. I was lucky enough to find some of this gorgeous resin beneath this tree freely given- a huge chunk of it had fallen to the ground.

Pondersosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), dripping with resin. Trees exude resin in response to stress as a layer of protection from pathogens and to help heal from injuries. Resins are best harvested from the forest floor. I was lucky enough to find some of this gorgeous resin beneath this tree freely given- a huge chunk of it had fallen to the ground.

The Honorable Harvest

I could write my own list of wildcrafting guidelines, but it’s really not necessary because Robin Wall Kimmerer has already done it so incredibly well. Below are her guidelines for what she calls the Honorable Harvest. I just love these and think that wildcrafting herbalists should embody these guidelines in our harvesting practices, and teach them to our students as well.

The Honorable Harvest

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.

Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.

Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.

Never take the first. Never take the last.

Take only what is given.

Never take more than half. Leave some for others.

Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.

Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.

Share.

Give thanks for what you have been given.

Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.

Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.

peach twig.jpg

 

Further Resources:

Video: Reclaiming the Honorable Harvest: Robin Kimmerer
At TEDxSitka

Returning the Gift
From Minding Nature’s May 2014, Volume 7, Number 2.
By Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and The Teachings of Plants
By Robin Wall Kimmerer

Wholehearted Wildcrafting
By Sophia Rose

United Plant Savers

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For any of you wanting to learn more about sustainable wildcrafting, wildtending, medicine-making, and gaining intimacy with our local medicinal plants, enrollment for the fall session of my bioregional herbalism series, From the Roots Up, is OPEN. Class meets 1 Sunday/mo September-November in the Amherst/Northampton, MA area

Learn More and Register Here

Seaside Yarrow Harvest

Seaside Yarrow Harvest