Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Monday, 2 September 2013

The Quickening... Setting to bud

Lets just start with a big deep breath in, as I am feeling the warmth of the sun start to angle its way towards brighter days.
The Quickening is a time, in the southern hemisphere it starts on August 2nd, and continues on into the spring equinox. It is the time where we start to see the softness of spring spark and unfold. The sap starts to rise and flow in trees, perennials start to burst with new life, buds open to the newborn sun and blossoms hold their petals strong.
The mornings get warmer and brighter, but there is still a cold clenching to the earth as she bares her teeth in one last yawn of winter. Birds start to sound more, insects collect in buzzing, bees make their way from the hive to taste the first of the springs nectar....
This, to me, has always been the most magickal time. I believe all things are filled with magick and energy, but we can really see it now. Its absolutely beautiful, watching the land burst with renewal. Everything seems to be readying itself for the courtship dances of the season- everything is preparing to procreate. It is a time of fertility, abundance and birth.
It is also a time that we need to start preparing water management systems, nourish the soil, mulch for water retention, start seeds, dig in green manure.... there is LOTS to do in spring!

So as I was walking today with my animal companion, I took special notice of all of the little juicy wildfoods that are coming out to nurture us. I would like to share a few of them with you to get you paying attention to the things growing around you, and how you can use them for both food and medicine.
(Please do keep in mind I live in Melbourne, Australia- the southern hemisphere).

Keep in mind I could probably write a whole page on each of these wonderous plants, but I will keep it down to a list so you can find what is growing in your area Right Now!

Betula pendula
Birch Sap:
Anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiparastitic.
Birch sap mainly consists of fructose and glucose, simple sugars that are produced through photosynthesis and then used in respiration for metabolic processes of the tree. In the spring the sap starts to rise, after being dormant in the tree, from the roots to the branches, giving live blood to the tree to produce new buds and leaves.
The sap contains vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, thiamine, phosphorus, zinc, sodium, iron, amino acids, and vitamin C. This makes it an excellent tonic for coming into the new season, fighting off colds, repelling the effects of hayfever and giving you a new burst of spring energy!

Tapping: This will not harm the tree if carried out correctly. They should only be tapped every three years (allowing them to heal and rebuild their reserves- remember, your taking some of the trees life force, it needs some time to regain that strength. The tree produces excess sap in spring, but if you are tapping too frequently it will be unsustainable and the tree may suffer). Trees that are only 25cm and larger in diameter should be tapped.


photo taken by nami nami

- Drill a hole in the tree which is about 8-12mm wide and 50mm deep.
- Insert a sterile plastic tube the same size as this hole into the tree, making sure its nice and snug.
- Make sure the tube is long enough to reach the ground, and insert the other end into a bottle (plastic is ideal in case of frost, as glass may shatter).
- To secure the bottle you can tie some string around it and the tree to fasten it. Bungee cords also work well for this.
- Leave the tree to flow! This, depending on the point in season, can take anywhere from one to 6 days. Getting in early is good, the sap will flow faster!
- When the tree has given you enough of its sweetness, you need to spray the hole with water and insert a cork, or you can use some environmental grade putty or clay. (Cork is best though, as it still breathes). If you do not plug the hole the tree can actually bleed to death! be responsible with your foraging ;)

Using Birch Sap:You will need to use the sap straight away, as the chemical composition will change if left for even a night. Making birch syrup is a good way of keeping its self life strong, and is very versatile.
To make birch syrup you need to simmer the sap down until you have the desired consistency. Birch syrup is only about half as viscous as maple syrup. You do not want to burn the sap! Keep it on a low temperature for a long time, stirring as you do so.
When the sap has reached the desired viscosity, decant into sterilized jars to use in future recipes.
This syrup can then be made into beer, vinaigrette, to caramelize onions or glaze carrots and can also be used on ice cream!

Salix alba
  Weeping Willow Buds: The buds of weeping willow can be eaten, although they are extremely bitter! I am talking about the tree Salix alba and not the weeping willow! Weeping willow can be used for many plant crafts, but is not the best for eating. The willow is a lot harder to find in Australia than in England and Europe, but there are a few places... do dome tree ID and see if there is one near you.
Willow is where aspirin comes from, it is found in the cambium layer (the inner bark) of the tree. It has been used for pain relieving medicine for years in Western herbal medicine history. Unlike modern day aspirin, it contains many other constituents which support the body when taking aspirin, making it a Whole plant medicine!
The new shoots and buds of the willow are high in vitamin C, and are all best cooked with something else- they are described as "not prime eats" and "survival food"....but, if your like me, you'll want to give them a try!


Urtica dioica
Nettle: Nutrative, Tonic, Alterative, Hemostatic, Anti Anaemic.
Stinging nettles are one of the most extraordinary foods on this earth in my opinion! They will be coming out now (in Australia) in full force, on the edge of waterways, barn edges, abandoned paddocks or urban lots. The stinging nettle contains massive amounts of vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, Potassium, Chlorophyll, Phosphorus and Magnesium. Nutritious nettle also contains copper, sulphur, B complex vitamins, vitamin A and zinc.
Yes, stinging nettles do sting, but you can wear some gloves to harvest, or be very careful. The juice of the nettle is actually an antidote for the sting! If there is any dock or plantain growing nearby it will also act as an antidote. The stings, unless you are allergic, can actually have a medicinal effect themselves. There are sections of the nettle that don't actually have stingers, such as the top side of the leaf. If you want a nutritious snack you can actually pick the nettles from the top of the leaf, squish it between your fingers, roll it up (this crushes the stingers and dissipates the acid that causes the reaction) and pop it in your mouth!
If you are not so game, There are some amazing recipes for nettles! One of my favourite things to do is fry them up with some butter, garlic and onion. (Sometimes I add some sprouts near the end too).
There are many recipes for nettle soup which I am not going to repeat. You can add fresh nettle juice to your fruit and vege juices, or nettle Sheppard pie... Mmmm.
I often make up a brew of the dried nettle (it keeps very well dried, and its constituents are extracted easily with a brew or in alcohol as a tincture). I place a handful or two of the dried herb in a bowl, pour boiling water over it and let it steep overnight and in the morning reheat it as my cup of tea.
This herbal wonder is amazing for any kidney upsets, used as an iron tonic for anemics, helps reduce bleeding, is excellent as an ally for women, supports the respiratory system, helps the thyroid and nourish hair, nails and skin. Thank you mama nettle!



Stellaria Media
Chickweed:
Alterative, Carminative, Emollient, Demulcent, Nutritive.
In my experience, we only have a month or so left of this little lady, as I have seen her die out in the hot Australian summer. She likes to have enough moisture and now is the time where she spreads loads of energy to her leaves, uses the water from the winter to nourish herself and produce lots of chlorophyll for many animals to munch on!
This grows near creeks and waterways, creeping its way across the land that is in need of repair. Her flowers are tiny tiny, as you can see in the picture, and she has a lovely mohawk of fine hairs that runs along her stem and changes direction at each node! Pretty fancy. She loves areas which receive sun, but not too much, perhaps the morning sun is best for her as she is a little delicate. Chickweed contains high amounts of magnesium, vitamin A, iron, aluminum, calcium and chlorophyll.
I pick mass amounts of this, it is one of my favourite salad greens EVER! It is so nourishing I can taste the goodness as I munch! I never cook this little lady, I use her fresh or juice her beauty to make sauces or combine the juice with alcohol to make a succus. She responds well to being infused in oil, and can be used externally on the skin for itches, irritations, burns and bites. A very good skin healer, used inside and out!
Try making a chickweed and pine-nut salad, or infusing in olive oil to give a nourishing kick to your meals. Chickweed helps to cool skin if there is inflammation or infection, acts as an expectorant (loosens mucus) for the lungs, is great to use for coughs and bronchitis, carries fats out of the body with her saponins and is amazing for soothing tired, injured or infected eyes.


Taraxacum officinale bud
Dandelion Blossoms & Buds:
Hepatic, Tonic, Digestive Stimulant, Astringent, Diuretic, Stomachic, Fungicide
I could write all day about this plant! Dandelion, Dente-lion (teeth of the lion because of its serrated leaves) is a superfood. It also grows pretty much EVERYWHERE! It is one of the post amazing pioneer plants, moving in when the soil needs some help to keep it moist, break up compact soil with its taproot and bring minerals from deep within the soil to the upper reaches of our terrasphere. 
This herb is full of extremes with its healing capabilities, but is well balanced with its vitamins and minerals. Has high amounts of iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, protein and vitamin A.
You can find this plant by roadsides (although please don't collect from busy roads), abandoned urban lots, parks, peeking out through pavement.... anywhere that has disturbed soil (so pretty much everywhere in our world, right?!).
At this time of year the new light and bright green leaves are amazing in salads as they are not so bitter! This is a very bitter plant, but don't be afraid, thats where its healing comes from. The buds are also starting to ripen at the moment, so you can make some amazing omelletes using the buds, stir fry them with meals... they are really good with pan fried things. The leaves can be used to make pies, as a side dish with garlic oil- most people like using dandelion with something else, as it takes away some of the bitter taste.  The flowers can also be used, they make a fantastic infused oil by just stepping the blossoms in some olive, sunflower or even coconut oil. Dandelion blossom infused honey is one of my favourites! The flowers are a great addition to salads or puddings. Dandelions healing action is mainly on the liver, it acts as a tonic, stimulates blood flow, aids digestion, helps premenstrual symptoms and relieves pain. If this plant heals the earth imagine what it can do for us.


Avena sativa
Oatstraw: Nutritive, Tonic, Demulcent, Nervine, Diuretic, Diaphoretic,
This is where oats come from! Wild oatstraw starts to make itself known at this time of year as it flowers. Before that it can just look like a grass. It is a grass with a very hollow stem though, hence its name oatSTAW, you can actually drink from it like a straw if you wish.
During this time of year the lovely flower and seed heads (shown left) start to dance and sway in the breeze. Its absolutely beautiful!
I find it beside train tracks quite a lot, as well as in fields, parks and high along creek lines. It likes to be moist, yes, but can actually withstand quite a bit of sun. Likes well drained soil, and is a little more picky than plants such as dandelion and plantain, who will move in and colonize any bare soil. Oatstraw likes to be in the sun, and can often be found up high. Its very distinguishable by its prong like seedhead which stems from the plant on tiny delicate strands.
Although oats can be obtained from the plant, the 'straw' is what we want to harvest at this time. This is a part of the plant which has many properties, and contains high amounts of calcium, iron, folic acid, fiber, vintamins E and K, vitamin B complex, vitamin A and vitamin C. It is a plant that represents fertility, and can be used as a libido stimulant (sow your wild oats?!), immune strengthener, nerve tonic and digestive aid. The milky substance that you get from oats themselves are a healer, nourishing the skin externally and lining the gastrointestinal tract internally, which is very soothing to people with digestive upsets or bowel problems. Having a bath and adding 2 litres of oatstraw infusion to the water will help sooth nerves as nourish skin. Once you have harvested your oatstraw while it is green and glorious, its best to make an infusion with it by steeping it overnight in hot water. This makes an amazing spring tonic, and can be drank everyday to help rejuvenate our spirits and get us back into the spring of things!


There are also many young shoots and leaves you can start eating now, although our pallet is quite used to sugars and salts, meaning you may not find them so flavoursome!
Here is a small list of edible leaves and shoots to seek out in spring!
- Maple
- Birch
- Persimmon
- Beech
- Common fig
- White Mulberry
- Pomegranate
- Blackcurrent
- Sassafras
- Elm
- Ash
- Linden
- Chaste tree

Hope you enjoy this incredible season and start to learn more about reclaiming your food!
For those interested I will be running a Herbal First Aid Kit workshop in September and a Spring Wildfoods workshop in October, contact: thepermapixie@gmail.com for a registration form.

Happy foraging!