Stir Fry with Dandelion and Wild Onion: Archived 2011

For our Wednesday evening meal we decided to do a regular stir fry with the buds and hearts of a dandelion and the leaves and bulbs of wild onions.

During one of our Coyote Kids! after school program we decided to show the kids what an entire dandelion plant looks like. We found a beautiful plant with a very large root and told the kids how one can eat the entire plant at certain stages of growth. After the program we brought the dandelion home for our meal. The picture below isn’t the plant we harvestesd it was just way cool cause all those flowers are on one plant!

To get to the heart of the dandelion simply cut away the root stalk where it meets upper section of the plant where the leaves begin to come out. Then cut just below where the leaves begin to form. You will have generally an inch or so of plant matter that is considered the ‘heart’.

We also threw in the buds, the little unopened flower heads. I was really surprised how much one teeny flower bud can pack such a bitter punch! It really gave the meal a powerful kick. I wasn’t a fan of the dandelion hearts because they were way too bitter for me. Matt seemed to really enjoy them and even liked them better than the fiddleheads we had. To each his own. ;)

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Tuesday Edible – Steamed Fiddleheads: Archived 2011

Day two of wild foods extravaganza!

Tonight we decided to go for a more native plant that is growing in our back yard. The beautiful and rather controversial edible, bracken fern fiddleheads.

Bracken fern or Pteridium aquilinum can be found in many of Eugene’s coniferous forests and have deep rhizomes underneath the soil. Each year the fiddleheads come up out of the ground in Spring and (right now is perfect fiddlehead season!) then die off in the fall leaving behind fern skeletons to eventually decompose.

Harvesting fiddleheads is fairly simple. The little shoots are surprisingly hard to find as they are skinny and are dark green to purple in color so they blend in well. However if you look for the fern skeletons of the previous season you will find the little plants growing up in the same area because of the underground root system. Clip the stem a couple inches below the unfurling leaf. Be sure that the leaf is still well curled as this is the time when the plant is most edible. If you see the leaf beginning to take shape then leave those plants – you may be too late in the season.

To prepare the plant put a couple of inches of water in a pot, place the heads inside and let them steam for 4-5 minutes. You may add whatever topping you would like to suit your taste. We added butter because the fat really helps with the bitterness. I was really surprised by the taste. On first bite I was struck with the bitterness not unlike asparagus, however the after taste strongly resembles anise. Very interesting! We shared our fiddlehead meal with a very tasty baked chicken.

Caution: Bracken fern is not known for acute poisoning however it has been researched and noted that after mass consumption or regular consumption people have been more susceptible to cancers. The leaves are generally thought to be carcinogenic though this will take time to accumulate in ones body. In countries like Japan fiddleheads are consumed on a regular basis as a good food. Eating this plant raw can cause a deficiency of Vitamin B1 which causes the body to reduce its thiamine levels however cooking it is believed to eliminate the problem. The ironic thing is that I read that bracken has been eaten as a treatment for cancer…ahhh plants.

As always approach eating wild edibles with caution. Every body is different so start slow and monitor your body’s reaction to the foods you consume. Have fun with it but understand the risks.

Wild Edibles Week – Monday Tortilla Soup: Archived Posted 2011

Spring is here and the plants sure know it. Now is the time for ultimate harvesting of spring greens. They are lush, plush, and filled with yummy nutrients and medicine.

My goal for this Spring is to try and harvest nearly 100% of my veggie needs and only buy vegetables and fruits that I couldn’t possibly harvest at this time of year. So each day this week I (and Matt) will be going out and finding what wild plants we can harvest to add to our dishes. This is also in preparation for our Spring Harvest Walk happening this Saturday from 1-3pm. Check it out here.

Tonight on our way home for the evening we decided to focus on harvesting plants that would go well in Tortilla Soup. We ended up with:
Wild Edibles
Dandelion leaves (Taraxacum officinale)
Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
Broadleaf Dock (Rumex obtusifolias)
Dandelion buds/flower
Red Clover leaves (Trifolium pretense)
Wild Onion leaves (Allium spp.)

Tortilla Soup with wild greens recipe

Tortilla Soup

Ingredients
* 6 (6-inch) corn tortillas, preferably a little old and dried out
* 1/4 cup sesame oil
* 1/2 cup chopped onion
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* Assorted wild greens: Dandelion leaves, Sheep Sorrel, Wild Onions, Broadleaf Dock, Red Clover
* 1 medium Anaheim Chile
* 4 cups homemade turkey stock
* 10 cherry tomatoes
* 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
* 1 ripe avocado
* 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 Cut tortillas in half, and then cut the halves into 1/4-inch wide strips. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a 3-quart pot. Working in three batches, fry the tortilla strips in the oil, until lightly browned and crisp. Remove the tortilla strips from the pan and let drain on a paper-towel-lined plate.

2 Pan fry the tomatoes on medium heat while stirring until tender.

3 Add the chopped onions to the pan, cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the chopped chile and cook for 2-3 minutes more, until the onions and chiles have softened. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the broth, tomatoes, and salt. Increase the heat to high, heat until the soup begins to boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the wild greens just before serving.

3 To serve, pit, peel, and cut the avocado into 1-inch pieces. Divide half of tortilla strips among 4 individual serving bowls; ladle in soup.

(recipe adapted from http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/tortilla_soup/)

Herbal First Aid Kit: Archived – Posted 2010

A couple months ago Matt (my husband) approached me with another one of his ‘wild hairs’ and said “I want to hike 100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in July – wanna come?” Now, for Matt this was a very simple, easy hike because in 2005 he was able to hike more 1,700 miles of the PCT! I on the other hand have never hiked more than 10 miles in one day, let alone 100 miles in 8 days.

Needless to say, this got my first aid kit gears turning. Last month I completed a Wilderness First Aid course and was excited to start incorporating my basic first aid knowledge with my herbal knowledge.

The tricky part about putting together a backpacking first aid kit is that it has to be light. Since we were going to be hiking for at least 8 days without resupplying our food – we would have to carry 8 days worth of food. And man do I eat a lot. To my surprise I was able to get my base weight (the weight of my backpack with all of my gear excluding food and water) to 11 pounds.

There was quite a bit of hemming and hawing about what I could reasonably take with me without overburdening myself and what items I just couldn’t live without.

So here is what I brought:

4 Spongebob Square Pants Band aids (I work with kids)
1 Nonstick gauze-like pad
1 ACE Bandage
1 Lavender Sanitizing Towelette
6 Potable Aqua chlorine dioxide tablets
1 Sawed-off toothbrush
2 Diphenhydramine Capsules
Medical Tape
1 Sheet of Mole Skin
.25 fl. oz. Bottle of Lavender Essential Oil
1 oz Glass tincture bottle 1/2 full of Osha Tincture
.5 oz Spray bottle of Herbal Hand Sanitizer
.5 oz Tincture bottle of Burdock, Thyme, and Black Walnut
.75 oz of St. John’s Wort Oil
.5 oz Tin of Plantain Salve
1 oz Tincture bottle of Uva Ursi and Yarrow
1 oz Tincture bottle of Chickweed and Comfrey
2 packages a day of Emergen-C (not in first aid kit)

All of these items fit into one quart size zip lock bag.

Lavender Essential Oil is pretty much essential (ha ha) in every first aid kit because of the variety of it’s uses. For myself Lavender is very calming and I consider it to be one of my protector plants and so she is always with me. I used the essential oil last week for the plethora of bug bites I received. Lavender is actually anti-pruretic which means it stops the itch response and so I dab a little of the oil directly on the bite or sting and within seconds the itch goes away. On the first day I started getting a pounding temple headache (probably from heat and exhaustion) but also from stress and pressure. So I applied a few drops of Lavender on my temples and within a minute the headache had dissipated. Unfortunately I did end up with one fairly nasty burn on my back. As long as you are using Lavendula officinalis it can be ideal to help treat burns by inhibiting blisters forming, stopping the pain, and reducing inflammation. For the blisters on my feet I would daily treat them with the essential oil hoping that the blisters might reduce and harden. A great way to dry up blisters and to get them to callus is to use a blend of Lavender Essential Oil, Baking Soda, and Castor Oil. I didn’t bring the other two ingredients but Matt’s experince in the past with hand-drill blisters has shown that it helps. Another reason I love to have Lavender Essential Oil with me is for it’s help in treating shock in case myself or someone else got injured. You can inhale the essential oil and it can help bring the person back on solid ground. Wow that is just one .25 oz bottle of essential oil! Also I brought the Lavender Sanitizing Towlette which I never used but can be used in very similar ways as the essential oil.

Osha Root Ligusticum porteri is a Parsley Family plant that grows in high altitudes. It wasn’t until just recently that I became aware of this amazingly powerful plant. Now I will not go anywhere without it. I keep Osha Root around specifically for it’s ability to be a histamine receptor blocker. In other words it can reduce and stop allergic reactions – even anaphylaxis – because it is a bronchodilator and vasodilator. For allergic reactions I take 3 drops under my tongue and no more. If in a few minutes I need more then I can take 3 more drops again. Luckily I rarely get allergic reactions and so only have had to use it a couple times but when I have it seemed to have worked almost immediately. Osha root is also anti-viral and anti-bacterial so I could also use it to clean wounds or use it internally in case of infection. Also its diaphoretic action means it could help me with a fever by raising my body temperature to kill off the infection then dropping it back down to normal.

Matt asked me to put together a hand sanitizer and since we didn’t have a full small bottle handy of the store bought stuff I decided to make my own. So, I took a teeny bottle of manufactured sanitizer with a little bit of the original ingredient (benzalkonium chloride) left and added water, Peppermint, and Rosemary Essential Oils. I chose Peppermint and Rosemary for their antimicrobial properties and for their ability to perk you up. Unfortunately on the first night I had forgotten that I had brought Peppermint along and really could have used it because I had made myself sick from over-exertion and heat. I was nauseous and vomiting and would have really enjoyed Peppermint for it’s anti-emetic (prevents/relieves nausea) ability. I also ended up using the spray on my dog’s paw as he ended up with one of his pads cracking. I wanted to clean it a bit and decided to use the hand sanitizer as a wound spray.

We decided to bring along water purification methods however 90% of the time we just drank from the springs. Though this water is most likely pure as can be, I still wanted to be safe because I have a much more delicate digestion than does Matt. So I decided to bring along a tincture I had gotten from Mrs. Thompson’s Herbs when I went to Mexico. It is Burdock, Thyme, and Black Walnut. These plants are very strong anti-microbials and so can kill viruses, bacteria, or fungi that may be in the water. The Burdock can also help restore healthy function of flora in the intestines. I was told that you could use it as a water purification on it’s own by putting drops in the water before you drink. And if you do end up with Montezuma’s Revenge the blend can help relieve the symptoms. Use the blend as prevention, to kill, and to heal! Also, I never think twice about using strong anti-microbials for other possible infections internally or externally. And for the record I have not had any symptoms!

Using sunblock or sunscreen has been an increasingly tough issue for myself. More and more I realize that I do not want chemical sunscreens absorbing into my body and many people including doctors believe that sunscreen can actually cause more cancer. So I try to be smart about my sun exposure and use clothing when appropriate. For this particular hike I brought a very nice sun hat called a Tilley (very prestigious sunwear) and several layers to protect my skin. I also brought along St. John’s Wort Flowers infused in Sunflower Oil. Both St. John’s Wort and Sunflower Oil contain natural SPF’s that can help protect your skin from the more harmful UVA rays. Here is where I should have splurged instead of skimped – this mistake caused me to use less of the oil in order save it for the whole trip. I applied the oil on the tops of my shoulders which were the most exposed when I removed my long-sleeved shirt but only applied it once on the first day. By the second day I was getting a bit pink but not bad after only applying it once. However the spot I did not apply it was on my back next to my shoulder blade and I got a very nasty burn there where it peeled under two layers of skin! Goes to show that indeed if the oil is used correctly it does work well. The cool thing is that the St. John’s Wort oil not only works as prevention to burning but also can help heal burns at the same time. The burn on my back healed fairly quickly after lathering good amounts on it daily. St. John’s Wort Oil also works wonderfully on nerve pain for muscle injuries. I ended up using the oil on the tendons in my ankles as they were starting to get strained from walking downhill.

In my previous blog I gave an entire rant on the uses of Plantain, so I will keep this section short. I of course could not leave behind my Plantain Salve especially up in the higher elevations where I did not find any Plantain plants growing. I used the salve on some of my insect bites, blisters, scrapes, and chapped lips. Neither of us got stung luckily but that usually one of the main reason I carry Plantain Salve. I will always opt to use the living plant if I have the option however.

One of my struggles in doing physical activities is my constantly sore and inflexible muscles. I feared this would be most apparent while hauling around a 30 pound pack climbing up and down mountains. So, it was suggested that I try a blend of Chickweed and Comfrey in a tincture form. Chickweed helps ease inflammatory conditions, it is demulcent, vulnerary, and diuretic so it will help increase the elimination of fluid. Another cool action is that it is a refrigerant so it will help keep my body cool in the hot weather. The Comfrey will help heal over-stretched and sore muscles and combined with the Chickweed makes a wonderful combo. Though I was still experiencing soreness I do believe it helped relieve excess pain and heal my muscles faster. Also I never once became over-heated even on the 90 degree days hiking in the hot sun. I ended up using this blend for my dog as well for his poor cracked pad. I put several dropperfuls in a bowl with water and made a fomentation by soaking a handkerchief in the water and tying it around my dog’s foot.

I ended up bringing along a bottle of Uva Ursi and Yarrow because I was worried my body was fighting off a urinary tract infection. I knew it would be bad news to have one of those on a mountain top and so decided to play it safe. I ended up fine and really did not use the tincture much. However it was nice to have some Yarrow around in case of a cut or excess bleeding internally and externally. Fresh Yarrow ended up following us along the entire trail – even up to 7,000 foot level. I was surprised because the majority of the plants that grow that high tend to be native and Yarrow was growing just everywhere! I ended up using the plant fresh as an insect repellent by rubbing the crushed leaves over my body, to help stop a nose bleed, and as a tea because my digestion felt a bit off one night. I love using plants as medicine fresh and ready to go.

Lastly I brought along Emergen-C packets as a daily supplement to help restore electrolyte levels and to give myself some extra vitamins and minerals. When one is packing for a hiking trip generally the rule of thumb is to pack calorie dense, dried food – not fruits and veggies. In the middle of the hot day it was a nice boost to have in my fresh mountain spring water.

In all I was happy with my First Aid Kit. I would only improve it a little bit by adding an herbal insect repellent, a couple more band aids, more St. John’s Wort Oil, and a second sheet of mole skin. What I was most surprised to learn was how easily you can adapt one particular tincture or oil to another health condition all together. I never considered that I would use my Chickweed and Comfrey blend to help heal a cracked paw on a dog. I love the versatility of herbs – it truly is the spice of life!

To view pictures of our trip click here.

June First Aid Plant: Plantago spp. Archived – Posted 2010

I just spoke with a friend of mine who lives in Texas and is the mother of a young boy. She told me that she had just taken her son to the doctor for several very infected spider bites and was prescribed strong antibiotics. I gave her some unsolicited advice that I believe every parent should know. It is a particular remedy for those scary spider bites, itchy mosquito bites, terrible bee stings, infected wounds, painful splinters, and the key to prevent doctor visits for antibiotics for any of the aforementioned. It is simply a weed. A weed that grows underfoot. A weed that invades your lawn. A weed that has been used for thousands of years all over the world. And a weed that was called “mother of herbs” by the Anglo-Saxons.

My advice to my friend was to use Plantain. She then asked “Well how do I use it and how can I get it?” Wonderful question! This is how:

First and foremost before we use any plant for any reason is to safely and correctly identify it. Plantain is not the tropical fruit but rather a perennial weed that is found throughout the world with more than 200 species in the Plantago genus. One species you may know well is Psyllium Seed Husks for troubles with digestion. Same genus!

The species I am most interested in are Plantago major and Plantago lanceolata simply because those are the two species that grow in my lawn. Plantago major or Common Plantain have oval shaped leaves while Plantago lanceolata has spear shaped leaves. Both species grow in a basal rosette and have veins that run parallel or like train tracks from leaf stem to leaf edge. As mentioned before Plantain loves to take over lawns, and you will most likely find them in disturbed fields, along road sides, along the sidewalk as you walk to work, and where soil has been disturbed or packed. Here is a picture of a huge Common Plantain found at Armitage Park last month.

Plantain

Now, once correctly identified, how do you use it? Plantain is well known for it’s drawing capabilities. Once I had a splinter deep in my finger and I worked on that sucker for a good 10 minutes to no avail. I came across some Plantain and picked a nice, clean, healthy leaf, stuck it in my mouth and chewed it to a pulp. I spit it out onto my finger and held it there for 3 minutes. After I removed the pulp I squeezed my finger and out popped the splinter!

It’s no magic trick (though sometimes it is nice to give a little mystery to kids) it’s chemistry. Plantain is very astringent and this quality makes for good pulling (things out including infection), stopping (such as bleeding), and closing (tissue together from a wound).

No matter what kind of camp or program I am teaching Plantain always finds a way to teach a lesson to kids. This summer we are teaching an array of summer camps for kids and one topic that always comes up are bee stings. Plantain can pull out the venom from a bee sting, reduce the swelling, kill any bad bacteria that may have been present, and can reduce the risk of major allergic reaction. Yes please!

The best way to apply Plantain is the method I described above for my splinter. Chewing it like gum can get the medicine working internally as well as externally. Now if you are a bit squeamish about chewing up a plant you can always squish it between your fingers really well or between rocks. This method is called a poultice. Depending upon the severity of the wound you may need only one application or ten.

A story I will leave you with is one I enjoy telling when I am introducing Plantain. One day I was working with a bunch of adults making bow drill kits for friction fire. Before I sat down in the gravel I decided to walk by a patch of grass and took notice of a couple Plantain plants. Then I started my grueling task of making a bowdrill kit from scratch. After a couple of hours in the sun I was getting hot, tired, and cranky. My knife slipped and I saw a rather deep cut slice just above my knuckle on my left pointer finger. Without hesitation I got up walked to the patch of grass, found a Plantain leaf, chewed her up and slapped her on. I applied pressure and held up my hand for three to four minutes. When I felt that the blood had clotted I removed the pulp and found the cleanest cut I had ever seen. The Plantain had completely stopped the bleeding and cleaned up the blood and I could already tell that the tissue was trying to stitch itself back together. It barely scarred, just enough to be able to show it off.

When in need Plantain will magically appear. Please be sensible about harvesting plants for first aid. Know your plants well before applications and be aware of your limitations. Once you build a relationship with Plantain she will be one of your most important allies!

Recommended Resources:

Tom Brown’s Field Guide Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants Tom Brown Jr.
Botany in a Day Thomas J. Elpel
Just Weeds Pamela Jones
Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast Pojar and Mackinnon
http://www.HerbMentor.com
http://www.celticherbs.com
http://www.pfaf.org
http://www.botanicalstudies.net/

Fall Harvesting in Eastern Oregon – Archived: Posted 2010

Visiting home is always such a bittersweet occasion, but the older I get the sweeter it seems and the less bitter the bite. I grew up in a town very opposite from Eugene – geographically and mentality wise. Baker City is in fact not in California as most people presume but rather is nearly as far on the Eastern side of Oregon as one can get.
Located 2 hours west of Boise, Idaho, Baker City is nestled between two ancient mountain ranges (the Elkhorn Mountains and the Wallowa Mountains) and surrounded by Sagebrush/Juniper/Rabbitbrush communities. You don’t have to go far to get out of the desert – travel up to the mountains for an hour and you will find yourself at an elevation of 7,000 feet!
I make it a point to visit Baker City every year as my father, grandmother, and extended family still live there. The Sieg family have been in the valley for generations and grandma can still remember stories from her great aunt about traveling the Oregon Trail.
This year I made it a point to learn and harvest plants of the area. I cannot tell you how surprised I am to find plants I know grow in the Willamette Valley, growing in the high desert. How did I not notice these plants growing up? How did I not realize these plants were there when I was visiting last year?! Here are a few examples of plants which I didn’t realize grew in Baker until last week:

Snowberry, Oregon Grape, California Mugwort, Larch, Rabbitbrush, Stinging Nettle (I knew it was around but never noticed the abundance), Indian Poke, and Elderberry to name a few.

This knowledge humbled me – the idea that I can grow up in a place and ‘think’ I know it, but come back in a few years and realize a whole new world is there in front of me.

I visited one of the only bookstores in town, Betty’s Books. I used to work there in high school and am good friends with the proprietors. At the store I picked up an awesome book that stayed with me all week. Medicinal herb books of the high desert region are not abundant so this one is a real gem.

The book is called Healing Plants of the Rocky Mountains by Darcy Williamson.

Williamson gives great descriptions, harvesting, uses, and recipes for these high desert plants. I was most excited to learn about medicinal uses for Sagebrush other than just for incense.

To get to the point of this blog I will give you a list of the plants that I was able to harvest and what I plan to do with them.

California Mugwort Artemesia californica Seems to grow in higher elevations with Sagebrush. Collected a few stalks and am drying them to add to incense. (Mugwort can actually help prevent and heal Poison Oak dermatitis.)

Catnip Nepeta cataria Found it growing next to a creek near the Wallowas. Gathered a few flowering stalks and put them in a jar to make an alcohol tincture.

Elderberry Sambucus spp. Grows abundantly along creek sides. Gathered berries mostly south of Baker near Durkee. Garbled berries and put them in quart jar to make an alcohol tincture. Freezing the rest to eventually make a syrup*.

Juniper Juniperus spp. Junipers tend to grow on the south side of Baker Valley. I collected the ‘berries’ which are actually cones and am drying them in a food drier in order to eat them to help my hypoglycemia.

Mullein Verbascum thapsus Pretty much grows everywhere from the valley to up in the Sagebrush hills. It certainly surprised my ranching family to hear that such a weed as Mullein is amazing for lung issues! Harvested leaves from first year rosettes and am drying to make into tea and smoking blends. FYI Mullein leaves take forever to dry…

Pitch Pinus and Abies I am collecting pitch off of Pine and Fir trees so I can make a pitch based incense.

Rose Hips Rosa spp. So many Rose bushes and they are loaded with beautiful red hips. I found them growing along roadsides, creek sides, and southern slopes. The best time to gather hips is after a frost which there luckily were a few nights that got down to freezing level while we were there. I gathered the reddest hips possible and am in the process of cutting them in half, taking out the seeds and drying them to use in teas and to possibly add to honey for a Rose Hip honey mixture.

Sagebrush Artemisia spp. Sagebrush grows all over Eastern Oregon but is tending to take over habitats it normally would have stayed away from because of over-grazing etc. in the past. I gathered enough leaves to fill at least a quart bag. Made part of it into an alcohol tincture, oil, and am drying the rest for incense and teas. Sagebrush is strongly anti-fungal and so is great for foot fungus.

If you ever get a chance and live in or near Oregon take a trip to Eastern Oregon! The high desert is breathtaking, diverse, and full of wildlife. We saw Pronghorn, heard Elk bugling, Coyotes, Mountain Goats, Jackrabbits, Golden Eagles, many species of Hawks, Deer, and so much more.

* Here is an exciting recipe taken from Darcy Williamson’s book about how to make Elderberry Syrup.

Gather berry clusters after the first hard frost. Remove the stems from berries.
Place berries in a large kettle and heat slowly, mashing berries to extract juice (or put berries through a juicer). Pour juice and berries into a clean old (hole-free) pillow case and hang above a large clean kettle to allow the juice to drip overnight (if using a juicer, this process is eliminated). The next morning, measure out juice. Add an equal amount of honey. Simmer honey and juice over medium-high heat until mixture thickens to syrup consistency. Pour into sterilized bottles and seal in a boiling water bath for twenty minutes.
Use as a cold preventative.

Happy Fall!