..Autumn Wild Food and Medicine..
As the dried leaves are carried by the strengthening winds, a majestic and almost eerie nature is felt as we loose ourselves in a swirling of whipping wind and spiralling debris.
Berries start to ripen and amongst the landscape of littered eucalyptus leaves and lush ferns of the Dandenongs, we see the introduced treasures that can provide us with medicine.
Now I say these are treasures as I love 'weeds'. That is not to say I condone their spreading throughout this area or even Australia, there are many species which are detrimental to the landscape that need to be kept under control or even eradicated- what I am saying is that we can use some of these plants as food and medicine while we manage them. Seems like a win win situation to this little Pixie!
This post is a follow on from the Permaculture Design Course class that I teach on Wednesday nights, this session was about Autumn wild foods. In a 3hr class we went for a weed walk, discussed some plants and their uses and then we made:
- Slippery Elm lozenges
- Fennel Brew
- Hawthorn Vinegar
I will cover these recipes, some information about different herbs and the season and I will include a few more recipes at the end for everyone to go get their hands dirty! (which I wholeheartedly encourage, I personally think that soil contains something that makes our souls go 'ahh').
It all starts with a process called wildcrafting. This is me, in the streets with my basket and my headphones and my knife, walking and sweating and looking for patches of medicines that grow freely beside roads and in parks. Now a note for collecting herbs beside roadsides- I only ever collect from roads which are not used too frequently, never a main road! Our plants are very sensitive and they take in nutrients from the air and soil, absorbing anything nasty that we have subjected them to.When wildcrafting it is important to know your plants and herbs- please, I do stress never eating anything if you are not sure, especially in large quantities. Get a good book, or use the internet as a resource. (I will include some good resources at the end of the page). I also want to add that using intuition is something that people have long forgotten it seems, and I highly suggest honing in on and developing this skill. The more you start to look, feel, taste and smell the more you will gain a sense of what is edible, what is medicinal and what is not.
On my walk I collected: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Dandelion (Taraxacum officanale), Plantain (Plantago lanceolata), Broad leaf plantain (Plantago major), Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgar), Violet (Viola odorata), Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) and Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila).
Join me as we touch on the wonderful world of Hawthorn as the deciduous leaves give a crisp coating to the Dandenong floors.
Identification:Branched spiny deciduous shrub or small tree that grows up to 10m high, generally not with one central trunk, but with many branching from the base.
Leaves: wedge-shaped at base with toothed lobes, main veins on lower surface are hairy and the leave stalk is up to 5cms long.
Flowers/Seedhead: white or pink, up to 15mm wide in terminal flat-topped clusters.
'Berries': the berries that we see in the Autumn are actually false fruits, which are red when ripe and about 9mm wide, each with one single seed inside.
Indications and Actions:
Astringent, Anti-microbial, Diuretic, Antioxidant, Nutritive.
A herb for the heart! Improves circulation, strengthens smooth muscle tissue, increases the efficiency of contraction of the heart, stabilises high and low blood pressure, improves high cholesterol problems, dilates the coronary arteries and helps angina, aids digestion, aids insomnia and nervous disorders and can be used for diarrhoea and dyspepsia. It is a herbal adaptogen, loosely meaning it helps to bring the body into balance, irrespective of whether it is over or under functioning.Constituents:
Anti-oxidants,alkaloids, flavonoids and bio-flavonoids, phenylalanine and tyramine, pectin, phenolic acids including crategolic acid, citric acid, chlorogenic acid, tartaric acid and triterpene acids, coumarin, tannin.
Recipes: There are many recipes that can be made with this delicious plant (the leaves and flowers can also be used in the spring!). Infusions, Decoctions, Jellies, Tinctures etc. can all be made. As to not make your heads explode I will give you a 'simple' recipe (using just the one plant) and a 'compound' recipe (using two or more plants) and then some resources in case you feel like going Hawthorn mad this Autumn!
Herbal vinegars are different to culinary vinegars as they have more medicinal properties. They are so easy to make! One of the great advantages to making herbal vinegars (and herbal oils too) is that they can be used as part of daily meals and you are receiving health benefits.
- If you are making a vinegar you will need a jar with a plastic lid (vinegar corrodes metal).
- Fill the jar almost to the top with Hawthorn berries (leave a small space of perhaps .5mm - 10mm to the top of the jar).
- Now fill the jar to the top with vinegar, preferably apple cider vinegar as this has amazing health properties. Don't use vinegars like red wine or balsamic. Make sure the herb is completely covered by the vinegar so that it doesn't oxidise and breed mould.
- Put the lid on and let steep in a cool dark place for about a month.
- When ready, strain the mixture into appropriate vessel and use accordingly on food, or the mixture can be taken by having a small capful each morning to kickstart the digestive system.
Slippery Elm:Family: Ulmaceae
|photo from www.diverticulitisinfo.com|
Identification: Leaves: Alternate in arrangement, broad below or near the middle and tapering to a long narrow point. The base is rounded and uneven with a double row of teeth along the margin. Upper leaf surface is dark green and rough, while the lower surface is lighter. All the veins run directly to the teeth along the edge.Flowers: flower buds have 8 to 10 purplish coloured scales which are covered with copper coloured hairs. Flower buds are often larger and rounder than leaf buds. The flowers themselves are green and appear early n spring before the leaves expand.
Bark: the bark is dark brown, reddish brown, or even slightly grey. It is thick, with irregular furrows the separate the flattened ridges.
Indications and Actions:Demulcent, emollient, expectorant, diuretic, nutritive.
Due to the high content of mucilage, which is a slippery substance that lines the mucous membranes, Slippery elm is used to sooth and heal areas such as the throat and skin. It is useful for making everything a lot smoother, which makes it excellent for constipation too. If taken internally, has a nurturing effect on the mucous membranes of the stomach and intestines, giving excellent results in gases of irritable bowel, gastritis, gastric catarrh, as well as things like bronchitis and even bleeding in the lungs.
This plant bark is amazing as a food supplement when ill or when other foods can't be contained or absorbed. Slippery Elm can be made into a porridge type gruel (sounds appetising doesn't it?! But you can actually make it into a tasty type of pudding or breakfast cereal!). It is super nourishing during the time of Autumn, as we ready ourselves for the winter cold.
Constituents:Mucilage, tannins, calcium oxalate, phytosterols and cholesterol.
Slippery Elm lozenges:
Mix them both together so you get a consistency that is a little more slippery than dough but a little more floury than paste. Roll into balls (or other creative shapes if you like... astronauts, bees... let your imagination go) and place on a baking tray. Bake at about 100 degrees Celsius for 20-30 mins (or so the lozenges are hard but not too brown).
These are great to keep in your first aid kit or in your bag to have when your throat is sore or you have had a big day. They also work good if you need a little extra nourishment in the day.
If you want a harder hitting throat lozenge that is designed for a dry irritated throat and cough:
Sweet Sucker throat relief: - Sage oil
- Thyme oil
- Oregano oil
- Licorice root powder/herb
- Marshmellow root powder/herb
- Slippery elm powder
- Honey- Calendula powder/herb
-Ground ivy tincture (optional)Now please forgive me! I am not one for measurements really, I have many books that tell me how much of what and how to work out percentages of herbal constituents in medicines (which I may even do a whole post on one day for the wonderfully mathematical minded!) but I tend to work with the earth herself whispering in my ear "yeah a little more of that... mmmhhmm... now a dash of the oil, a little more of that one so it has this effect... yep... nice one love!"
For those that haven't grown up cooking don't fret!
You want to mix in a few drops each of the oils, perhaps 7 or so depending on how pure the oil is, blend all the dried herbs and add the powders, honey and a few drops of the tincture and mix together so you have a consistency that you can roll into a ball or other lozenge type shape.
Bake for about 20-30mins on 100 degrees Celsius.
I encourage people to use their intuition and logic, blend things until you have a good consistency and add less of the more potent or concentrated ingredients. I am also aware that not all people are comfortable with this way of making things, if that is the case there are lots of herbal recipes to look up, or you can message me and I will try and be more specific. I would love to do a page on measuring herbs out for recipes at some stage..... just bare with me while I work organically and keep you on your toes!
Fennel:Foeniculum vulgare Family: Apiaceae
Grows to about 2m high, perennial. Stem is striated with a white pith running through the centre.
Leaves: Finely divided, lacy, with ultimate segments filiform (threadlike).
Flowers: terminal compound umbels, 5-15cm wide, each umbel section having small yellow flowers on short pedicels.
Fruit: A dried ovoid/ oblong brown to yellow seed, 4-10mm long with 5 ridges creating a groove effect.
Indications and Actions:
Carminitive, purgative, stomachic, expectorant
Used for abdominal pain, digestive upsets, problems of the bowels. It is an amazing herb to use after a meal, aiding the process of digestion. Also used for colds and flus, coughs and liver upsets. Regulates breast milk production and stimulates bile flow.
Constituents: Volatile oil, tannins, stigmasterol and coumarins.
This is a simple and effective medicine and can be applied to many other recipes or drinks.
Fill a large glass jar with as much of the fresh herb as possible.
Pour boiling water into the jar and fill to the top (remember to pour a little at a time and swish it around the glass jar, or heat the jar in the oven first so that the difference in temperature doesn't crack or shatter the glass!)
Leave to infuse overnight
In the morning strain the mixture, which can be kept in the fridge for up to a week.
Reheat this brew as a tea, or add the brew to juices, smoothies, other herbal teas, soups or salad dressings.
This brew does not taste the best, so it is sometimes better disguised with other foods. The medicinal properties are amazing though. It is a good thing to drink it in the morning or at night after a meal, as fennel aids digestion.
Fennel and Fig salad:
This recipe is more of a flavour sensation rather than used for its medicinal qualities- if you do require the actions of fennel, using the brew is the best way to go.
This is delicious though:
- Fennel bulb and leaves, finely chopped
- Cos lettuce, thin slices
- Pomegranate jewels
- Figs, halved
- Beetroot, grated
Fry the figs in a little honey, water and fennel seeds, until they are soft and squishy
Toss everything together!
Make a dressing out of: honey, orange juice, cinnamon, apple cider vinegar and olive oil... awesome!
Fennel, Hawthorn and Rosehip Jelly:
This is a recipe that requires a little bit of time but is worth the effort.
Firstly, pick fennel seeds when they are plump and juicy. They form into firm seed heads which turn a pale green to yellow colour.
You can pick rosehips around this time of year too, when all the berries are making themselves known along the sidewalks (be careful, make sure the berries you are picking are actually edible, some berries are extremely toxic). Rosehips are full of anti-oxidants and vitamin C.
Pick and dry the rosehips and hawthorn berries (you can buy rosehips too, if you are finding sourcing these a little too difficult). By drying them you will retain a lot of their properties and it will help for the constituents to leach into the jelly later.
- Place rosehips and hawthorn berries in a pot of water, so the water level reaches about 10cm above the plant material
- Bring to the boil, then gently simmer until the berries and rosehips are soft
- Use a blender or a barmix to make the mixture smooth
- Add the fennel seeds (you can also use dried fennel seeds, but its nice to use the fresh ones that are still plump for this recipe)... not too many so it overpowers! you only want about a 10th the amount of fennel seeds to the amount of berries and rosehips.
- Gently simmer until the mixture turns thick and sloppy, adding more water if necessary
- The mixture should turn into a thick paste, so that when you scrap the bottom with a wooden spoon you can see the bottom of the pot clearly
- Jar the mixture and wait for it to settle. The pectin in the hawthorn berries should set the mixture into a jelly like substance which you can use on toast, deserts, with cheese and crackers... be creative and enjoy the benefits of Autumn wild food!
This is only a short brief on each of these herbs- there is so much more information available on each of them, let alone all the others I haven't included here. I hope this inspires you to go outside, take a walk and start looking for your own food and medicine! I will be including a brief on wildfoods each season, and am hoping to compile my own materia medica of herbs and publish them as pages on this blog one day.
If you have any questions please write to me and I will try and answer to my best ability.
Now.... Go and RECLAIM OUR MEDICINE!!