Thursday, June 18, 2015

Eat Your Yard!

I am constantly looking for edibles in our yard... my kids yell at me when we are outside and I bend down to pick a snack :)  I am trying to teach my kids about wild edibles, and they are slowly accepting that you don't have to go to the grocery store to get your greens!  

There are many varieties of wild edibles in this country, but since I am in the mountains I am going to show you what we have found here.  I am sure some of these are widely available, so keep your eyes peeled next time you wander through your neighborhood...

Common Mallow

The first wild edible I found is Common Mallow.  This a wonderful green herb- it reminds me a little bit of spinach when eaten raw
The plants are usually about 1 foot high. The mid-Spring flowers can be white, pink or light purple, and all have five petals. Shortly after the flowers drop off, the plant produces a small, disc-shaped fruit that resembles a wheel of cheese about 1/4 inch across.
Common Mallow in bloom
All parts of mallow are edible, and nutritious!  Although the leaves and stems are yummy when raw in salads, all parts, including the roots, can be boiled with soups to make them thicker.  The roots can be eaten after being boiled until translucent.
If you can find enough of the roots, you might be able to use them as people have traditionally used marshmallow roots-- to make candy. To do this, peel the root, slice it and boil in just enough simple syrup  to cover. The root will first turn translucent and then seem to melt away. The liquid should be reasonably thick at this point and, after straining any remaining solids, can be dropped by the spoonful onto waxed paper to dry or whipped into a chiffon-like confection. 
Common mallow leaves are rich in vitamins A and C as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and selenium.  Dried leaves can be made into a nutritious tea.

Pineapple Weed
Pineapple weed, is a beautiful, feathery edible!  The plant can reach up to 18 inches in height and has fern-like leaves.  It resembles its relative chamomile, although the flowers seem to have no petals!  

Pineapple weed got its name from the pineapple-y scent it emits when you crush it.  You have to have a pretty keen nose to get the full pineapple effect, so don't fret if you can't smell it!
Pineapple weed makes a very nice, relaxing tea when you steep the arial parts of the plant in hot water for about 5 minutes.

Close up of Pineapple Weed flowers

Since it is a cousin to chamomile, you can expect the same medicial properties- very calming, good for menstrual crams, improves digestion, alleviates gas and treats colds.  It has been noted as having mild antiseptic properties, as well!

It's also great to munch on when you find some on a hike!  Feel free to toss some flowers and leaves into your spring salad mix :)

One of the best known wild foods is dandelion.  Although the leaves are best harvested in early spring, before the plant blooms, the flowers can be harvested throughout the summer and made into a delicious "wine".  Once the plant blooms, the leaves become very bitter, although still edible.
The flowers and long taproot can also be eaten. The flowers are best stripped of the green sepals at their base and stir fried or used as a colorful garnish for soups or salads. The taproot needs a long simmering before eating or can also be roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute.
As I stated in my previous post on dandelion wine, the dandelion has been used traditionally as a liver detoxifier and has many vitamins and minerals, including calcium and iron.

Daisy Fleabane
I have always been a big fan of daisies, but I never knew they were edible.  This variety of daisy grows  anywhere between 1 ft to 4.5 ft in height.  The leaves of this plant tend to be hairy.
Only the leaves are edible. Since they are hairy, the leaves have a somewhat ‘furry’ texture making eating them raw not too nice. They can be used wherever you cook with greens. 
Daisy fleabane leaf extracts contain caffeic acid which is an active compound that has antioxidative and neuroprotective effects on neuronal cells.
Every plant in the mint family is edible- just look for squared-off stems, opposite leaves and a minty scent!

Catmint tastes minty,  although more delicate and more floral than other mints. It can be used in the same ways you might use any more common mint such as peppermint or spearmint. In other words, in just about anything. 

You can also drive your cats crazy with catmint!  It is said to be just as stimulating as catnip for some cats...
Catmint is really great for menstrual cramps, and is also a calmative and muscle relaxant. It is said to relieve the symptoms of colic in children, and can be used as a digestive aid for adults.  Just eat the leaves right off the plant or make into a fragrant tea.
Common Yarrow

On the subject of medicinal plants, Common Yarrow is a legendary powerhouse.   It sprouts in early to mid-Spring with leaves that resemble green pipe cleaners. Its flowers are white to pink and grow in large umbrella-like bunches. 

Common Yarrow in bloom

Common Yarrow's leaves, stems and flowers, dried or fresh, make an herbal tea that is particularly popular in Europe and contains more than 120 active, medicinal compounds. Some of those compounds stop bleeding from open wounds, suppress menstruation and help heal bruises and burns. Those compounds are balanced by other compounds that promote the free flow of blood. Tea brewed from the leaves has been used as a heart, circulatory, arterial wall, and kidney tonic. It also lowers blood pressure and helps sweat out colds, flu, fevers and other infectious illnesses. As if that weren't enough, it has anti-inflamatory and antiseptic qualities. A fresh leaf can be crushed and applied directly to an aching tooth to soothe the pain.

Leaves can be consumed raw or cooked. They have a somewhat bitter flavor yet they make a great addition to mixed salads. They are best used when young. Common yarrow leaves are also used as a hop-substitute for flavoring and as a preservative for beer. Although in general yarrow is a very nutritious and beneficial plant to add to the diet, it is recommended that this not be consumed in large quantities. Tea is made from the flowers and leaves.

Wild Rhubarb
I had never seen rhubarb growing wild before we moved to Colorado!  But, along the seasonal creek that flows past our home, I found a large bunch of this purple-stalked edible.  

Fresh raw stalks are crisp (similar to celery) with a strong, tart taste. The stalks are primarily used in the U.S. in desserts (think strawberry/rhubarb pie!).  Do not eat the leaf, as it contains toxic components.
Rhubarb has cathartic and laxative properties and is used in the case of constipation.

Wild Strawberry
The next two edibles are very similar, even in name- the wild strawberry and the wood strawberry. But, the two fruits are very different, so keep in mind the differences between the two plants.

Anybody who has tried a wild strawberry knows that they taste the same as strawberries sold for cultivation- just much smaller :)  As you can see in the photo, wild strawberries have three, toothed leaves and white flowers (unlike the "fake" wood strawberry- below- that has yellow flowers).
The fruits of the wild strawberry grow downward and hang from the plant, the wood strawberries point upward and are easier to spot.  Both fruits are edible, but wood strawberries are known to be disappointing- they have zero flavor.

So, if you like strawberries, don't be fooled by the beautiful red fruit of the wood strawberry!  Here is a list of things to look for when searching for real wild strawberries:

  • Red fruit, pointing down
  • Three, toothed leaves, plants close to ground
  • white flowers
The roots and leaves of the wild strawberry can be made into tea.  It has been used to treat cases of diarrhea, ailments of the lungs and stomach and can be used raw or dried for skin infections.  Like the dandelion, all parts of the plant are edible!  Like the wild strawberry, the leaves and roots of the wood strawberry can be used for much of the same purposes...just not as tasty.

Wood Strawberry

Common Mullein
This is the most exciting find yet!  Known more for its healing properties than its edibleness, mullein is a very useful herb. As with many of the most useful plants, mullein has many names, including Jacob's staff, flannelleaf and feltwort. I have even heard Coloradans call it "Indian toilet paper"! 
Mullein leaves can be more than 2 feet long. The leaves feel exactly like felt. In its second year, mullein sends up a thick flower stalk that can reach 10 feet in height. Yellow flowers, then seed pods develop on the terminus of the stalk.  When we moved here in December, I remember seeing all these stalks, still persisting in the cold weather...

Mullein, shooting up a flower stalk
Mullein thrives in places where few other plants can grow, like sandy or overly alkaline soils.  It has antihistimine, antiseptic, pain inhibiting, antispasmodic, tranquilizing and sedative qualities. In addition, it can help heal wounds, soothe burns, reduce swelling, stimulate growth and soften skin.
A tea made from the leaves and carefully strained to remove the hairs contains loads of B vitamins as well as vitamin D, choline, hesperidin, PABA, sulfur, magnesium, mucilage, saponins and other active substances. It's one of the most effective remedies around for a sore throat or bad cough. Smoking the leaves can alleviate asthma, bronchitis and other lung ailments. 
A tea with many of the same properties can also be made from the root; this is especially helpful during the winter after the leaves have vanished. Tea made from the flowers has been used to treat migraine headaches, and oil extracted from the flowers has cured ear infections. The yellow flowers contain a color-fast dye that can be used on cloth or, as many Roman women did, to dye hair blonde.
The leaves can be used to treat arthritis because they increase blood flow wherever they are applied. They are also one of the best things around to use as an impromptu bandage.  After having been bruised, just wrap the leaf around the wound!
Mullein leaves and flowers are edible, but tea is probably the preferred method of ingestion :)
This is one herb/edible with many uses!  One of my favorites :)

I found juniper bushes all around our property and in the forest behind us.  The berries are a beautiful shade of blue and have many uses as well!

Bruised juniper berries have traditionally been used as a spice in meat dishes in Europe.  It has also been used to flavor gin (the name "gin" is derived from either the French "genievre" or the Dutch "jenever", both meaning "juniper") and other traditional beverages.
Juniper has diuretic effects, is believed to be an appetite stimulant, and is used to treat rheumatism and arthritis.  It is also being studied as a possible treatment for diabetes, as it releases insulin from the pancreas.  Some Native American tribes used juniper as a female contraceptive.
Juniper essential oil is readily available for use in skincare and aromatherapy.

Be sure to identify the species of juniper you find in your area, as the  Juniperus sabina is toxic and should not be eaten.

Go out and explore your local area!  Find out which edibles are available and show your own family that greens don't always come from the produce section of the grocery store!  Enjoy!

For part 2 of my edibles post, click here!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Homemade Herbal Allergy Glycerite

My son suffered from seasonal allergies when we lived in Louisiana.  With all the oaks and flowers blooming in spring, even our cars were sometimes colored yellow from all the pollen in the air!  It was also hard for him because the humidity was always high, even in the spring, making it harder to breathe and pretty much unbearable to spend a lot of time outside...  That was the situation that spurred my interest in herbal remedies :)

10 years later... I am still concocting herbal remedies for my family!  As David Christopher, Master Herbalist and director of the School of Natural Healing, put it so simply:

 "There are no commercially sold herbs as dangerous as the safest drug. "

I want the best health for my family and refuse to give them synthetic drugs, unless necessary.  That includes over-the-counter allergy meds.  So, I'm going to share with you my very effective "Allergy formula".  It has no lengthy list of side-effects (none, actually), and works like a charm!

The Herbs:

I am using three herbs in this formula... first, the superstar herb, fenugreek.  It is used in many herbal formulas for lung healing.  It expels mucus and phlegm from the bronchial tubes and soothes sore throats. 

Next up, the side-kick herbs nettle and peppermint.  Nettle is high in vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, silicon, potassium, and protein.  One of its uses has been in formulas for illnesses concerning the lungs. Peppermint I added for flavor, since herbs are not known for tasting good :)  Peppermint also promotes relaxation and aids in digestion and headache relief.

What you need for your homemade allergy glycerite:

canning jar
crock pot (big enough to hold the canning jar)
wash rag
food grade glycerine
herbs:  1 part Fenugreek, 1/2 part nettle, 1/2 part peppermint 


(If you are making a quart jar's-worth of this extract, use 1 cup as your "part" measurement.)

  • Mix herbs and place them in a clean canning jar. (fill jar about to about 1/2 full)
  • Pour a small amount of hot water over the herbs to wet them.  Let it sit 5 minutes.
  • Fill the canning jar to within 1" of top with glycerine.  Cap tightly.
  • Put the canning jar into your crock pot on a folded rag (to prevent jar from breaking) and fill crock pot with water, up to just below the lid on the canning jar.
  • Set your crock pot on the low or warm setting.  We are not cooking the herbs, just heating them to quicken the extraction process.
  • Let the jar sit in your crock pot for three full days.  Shake the jar at least once a day to circulate the herbs and refill the crock pot with water if it gets too low (the jar should be covered up to just below the lid).  If the herbs settle when the glycerine is fully heated, just top off the extract with glycerine.
  • After the 3 day extraction period, filter your glycerite through a cloth and bottle the liquid. Make sure you label and date the bottles.  This extract is good for 1 year.
Dosage: 1 dropper-full, 3 times a day on an empty stomach.  You can use up to 1 t, three times a day for adults.  If you find the taste isn't pleasant, you can mix this with juice.

Treat your seasonal allergies with herbs this year and see how much better you feel! And, Enjoy a symptom-free allergy season :) 

You can also use this formula to make an alcohol tincture.  Just follow these directions.
Using alcohol will lengthen the shelf life to 2 years, but it is not recommended as a children's allergy remedy.