Foraging for Wild Edibles: Soil and Red Clover

 

 

Wild edibles are blossoming. Some are easy to identify right now because of their flowery display. Bees are humming too, gathering sweet nectar.

Red Clovers (Trifolium pratense): sweet purplish pink flowers fill fields and meadows, hang out at the edges of our gardens. Who hasn’t picked a flower and enjoyed the sweet taste? They are not naive to the US and probably came with the early settlers. Today, red clover can be found all over the world. Trifolium pratense is the species most often referred to for edible and medicinal use.

What’s so special about them? Clover and related species are nitrogen fixers which basically means they contribute to soil fertility. How? These plants contain nitrogen fixing bacteria that can pull unusable nitrogen from our air and convert it into usable nitrogen compounds that can be used by the plant. In the video, above, you can see  different species of clover used to help organic farmers rebuild soil with nitrogen fixing plants, not synthetic fertilizers.

nitrogen-fixing bacteria, microorganisms capable of transforming atmospheric nitrogen into fixed nitrogen, inorganic compounds usable by plants. More than 90 percent of all nitrogen fixation is effected by them.”

Clovers, legumes, for example, are in this category. Because of this nitrogen fixing ability, we use them as cover crops.

The NRCS states: Cover crops have the potential to provide multiple benefits in a cropping system. They prevent erosion, improve soil’s physical and biological properties, supply nutrients, suppress weeds, improve the availability of soil water, and break pest cycles along with various other benefits. The species of cover crop selected along with its management determine the benefits and returns.”

Your State’s Agricultural Extension Service can help you decide on the right cover crop for your purpose and area.

Today, red clover is blossoming in our meadows and by our roadsides. 

Name: Red Clover: Trifolium pratense

Where Found: Field and roadsides, by trails

Uses:  Salads, flour, tea; I usually toss several into salads by breaking apart the flower into pieces. I find wild salads are more palatable when using foraged foods by cutting leaves and flowers smaller pieces.

Red clover tea is light and palatable and easily mixes with other herbs such as the mints. Red clover flowers can be added to grain dishes. Pick them now while vibrant, always save some for the bees. They can be placed on a tray and dried for future use. These flowers can be added to a summertime solar herb tea too. Today, research into red clovers components is ongoing. For example, iIsoflavones may be helpful for the symptoms of menopause but that research is mixed.

This Mother Earth News article on red clover has a great recipe. While I haven’t made a bread with red clover flour, I have made solar teas and toss these pretty flowers into salads. I  intend to gather flower-heads and seeds, dry and hopefully collect enough to make a flour. We’ve been enjoying acorn flour bread and chestnut flour in our pancakes. All gluten free. Red clover flour would be gluten free as well.

Red clover is an easy flower to get to know when learning about edible plants. This time of year they can be easily found. Remember do not use those by a roadside. There are tars, lead and other pollutants by roadsides.

Do you have a favorite red clover recipe? I’d like to hear from you.

Enjoy. Judith

Sustainable Landscaping: the Time is Now

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Sustainable Landscaping

Sustainable, edible landscaping is a hot topic today  from at least four perspectives:

    1. Are we providing food in a way that builds soil for future generations?
    2. What will that food availability look like?
    3. What are the consequences of pesticide contamination in our food supply,
    4. Finally, what the consequences of over developed land use practices?

We are rethinking land use. While turning lawn into meadow is a favorite topic of mine there are a plethora of ideas flooding our internet channels on how to do just that:  create sustainable landscapes that serve vital purposes for the planet and ourselves and other species.

Sustain, in its simplest form, means “to give support to or relief to.”

Sustainability, in landscaping, contains in its core principles efforts and practices that enhance water and soil conservation, rebuilding wildlife habitat and prevention of further land degradation and provide food.

Fact: land degradation jeopardizes biodiversity. Doug Tallamy, in Bringing Nature Home, reminds us that 4000+ species are in danger today.

Fact: World forest cover continues to decline by an alarming rate.

Fact: Communities in the western part of the US face severe water restrictions due to intense development. Over development and the use of showy botanicals, often not native to the region, decreases food, water and shelter for many species and I include humans in that mix.

The desertification of the planet (over 1/3 of our planet has been turned into desert) creates food shortage problems.

The good news is “more than two billion hectares of land worldwide offer opportunities for restoration through forest and landscape restoration.”  Calamity, hardship, trials often create the soil for innovation and that is happening today in the use of land.

For example: while city roof tops have been known to contain gardens, designers, architects, and engineers are looking at ways to convert flat building box store rooftops into gardens that produce food they can sell.

Front lawns are being turned into diverse landscapes that can produce food.

We are only limited by our imaginations. It seems to me there is a renaissance occurring planet wide. Renaissance implies a renewal of life, vigor, interest, a rebirth, a revival. Over the next posts I’ll share with you some of the ideas bursting on the scene, exciting possibilities for growing food, supporting wildlife in unexpected ways.

Pinterest abounds in ideas, great visuals that take us to great articles.

What are your ideas? Have you changed your backyard into a more diverse landscape? Share your ideas, share you pictures. I would love to hear from you.

Enjoy. Judith

 

 

The 3 R’s for Earth Day: Recycle, Reuse, Repurpose

Got stuff lying around? 

Do you ever notice what people place on the side of the road as giveaways or sell cheaply at home garage sales?Perhaps leftover construction materials, do it yourself renovation leftovers, old windows, a shower door, end tables?

Today DIY (do it yourself) projects are hot. Shows like Flea Market Flip have participants pick up rusted, broken down, tired furniture and odd pieces like a file cabinet. With some adjustments, paint and polish, they give them a new life, some sparkle and even attitude.

Earth Day 2017 is here. Many events are happening in our communities. This spring we have been reusing leftover wood, an old shower door with tempered glass, castaway field goals in our DIY projects. Today I would like to share one DIY project we recently completed.

We had an old above ground pool liner out by our woodpile. Something sort of hanging around but forgotten about till this winter.  My honey wanted to use it finally since the pool came down years ago when his kids grew up. He came up with the idea to cut the outer frame into circles and create a three tiered planter for our strawberries.

 

You can measure your liner or material to any size you want. He cut the middle tier first to keep the height, then the second tier and finally the third outer tier to the height we wanted. He secured the ends with screws and used a couple of posts to reinforce the outer edges for support. You may want to measure total length and decide on lengths needed for each tier so you have enough and not short change any tier.

 

Next we had to decide what to fill it with. These units would need a lot of precious soil. We decided to use brush, leaves, twigs etc not fully broken down. In fact, we did a bit of spring raking and used the material to fill these container sections. We packed them down a bit because they will decompose creating soil as it ages. Next we took about 6 barrel fulls of composted soil to “top” it off. We transplanted strawberries (to make room in the garden beds) into their new home. Rains came yesterday and the strawberries look healthy, perky and doing well. We look forward to upcoming strawberry season.

In summary this project cost us: $0.

  1. We re-purposed, reused and recycled an old pool liner, the outer shell frame for an above ground pool. This is not the inner liner.
  2. With some measurements taken for our space he cut the liner for all three tiers.
  3. The inner circle has the most height and he placed an old bucket (re-purposed, reused) )not being used in the center to take up space.
  4. We packed each tier with raked leaves, twigs etc.
  5. We “topped” each tier’s garden bed off with composted soil.
  6. We transplanted strawberries, from one bed we wanted to free up, to this new “home.”
  7. The top tier holds pansys, When in bloom they will create a beautiful hat for this container. When and if they cannot withstand the summer sun and lose their oomph they can easily be replaced after seeding.

What do we do about the outside? We’re not sure yet. The outer material has been washed down, seems to be a plastic/fiber material. At the very least the old stripes add a little bit of color like ribbons or icing on a cake. Any suggestions? We welcome your ideas.

Enjoy. Judith

 

Interview with Katerina vanDeusen: Earth Steward and Scientist

 

 

My interview for this week’s post  takes us into a different direction. Earth Day is around the corner with many planned celebrations, conferences and dates. I decided to reintroduce to my readers scientist and ecologist, Katerina ‘Kat’ vanDeusen. She and I have been presenters at a women’s’ gathering:“Strawberry Moon Festival.” that used to take place in June. My elder who organized this event is no longer able to do so. However, I found myself looking over bios for the last event and came upon Kat’s bio.

Intrigued, I called Kat and she agreed to be interviewed for my blog..

Kat comes from a matrilineal heritage of healers, one of whom, her Grandmother from Puerto Rico, taught her how to respect, gather and use wild   plants. And yes, to sense the presences in nature that can guide us, heal us and provide for us.

Kat is a senior project scientist and completed graduate work for a masters in bio-engineering at Cook College, Rutgers University where she also studied molecular plant biology. She is the primary coordinator for an innovative program within her company, EWMA. EWMA primarily tackles sites in New Jersey and New York State. An environmental engineer, she uses her expertise for “phytoremediation”, using plants and trees to decompose the components of toxic pollution from contaminated water and land sites. This is a unique and effective program.

Many of our undeveloped land in these states have soils and waterways contaminated with:

PCB’s
Petroleum products
Dry cleaner fluids (particularly toxic)
Metals
Landfill waste

These sites are termed Brownfield sites. Our traditional way of dealing with contaminated sites is to extract the soil for example, remove it. Then the question becomes where do we dump this toxic soil? Other techniques for water breaks down the contaminants and then sprays them into the air. Is that further contributing to air pollution?

Kat is unique in this field. As a trained scientist she uses the skills and tools from her education. However, her grandmother taught her something about working with the plant kingdom in more traditional, esoteric ways. Kat has a knack for scouting out an area, observing plant species present which often leads to a hidden toxic dump site. How does she do this? The plants tell her, she replies.

How does she work?

  1. She evaluates the landscape or Brownfield.
  2. Evaluates plant and tree species present; these two steps are complex as our topography undulates, has curves and slopes.
  3. If she has to replant the area, she uses plants/trees in multiple steps to prevent further contamination into water or lowlands.
  4. Specific plants/trees can eat up contaminants, metabolize them, which results in in the expiration of water vapor into the air that is no longer toxic.
  5. First successors like cedar trees, pokeweed do this efficiently.
  6. Does it work? Ground water is repeatedly tested and these scientists note an 80% reduction in contaminants in the soil and water.
  7. Cattails (Typha latifolia), Phragmites are great at protecting habitats. Have you observed these plants around waterways near our highways?  While some may consider Phragmites to be invasive I find it interesting that these plants are part of nature’s clean up crew. Dandelions are soil stabilizers. Did you know sunflowers are planted extensively around Chernobyl? They absorb the radiation from the soil. Fukushima sunflower project is under way.


Kat concluded our interview by stating nature has effectively engineered a way to create balance and the renewed hope of cleaning up our mess.

Lastly, she gives thanks to the plant kingdom for their guidance and when done often feels she receives their blessing.

She states: “The true measure of a scientist is to allow themselves to be open to all possibilities not the empirical.” This philosophy allows the scientist within and her scientific curiosity to blend with her matrilineal ability to perceive plants differently: which plants give a clue to a problem, which plants can literally eat up toxins and bring healthy renewal to our land. Her projects are unique. Her approach is innovative. Her results are measurable and positive.

Earth Day is upon us; a national awareness time for our country to celebrate the abundance and bounty the earth provides for us. And, to highlight the problems before us and stimulate us to take action. I would like to see us honor the earth everyday, wouldn’t you? Katerina vanDeusen’s phytoremediation efforts remind us of the complexity of nature. We still have much to learn don’t we? Earth Day for me is a reminder to stop, observe, and give thanks.

Enjoy. Judith

 

 

 

 

Book Trailer: At the Garden’s Gate

 

Visited the Book Club bookstore this week at the owner’s new location in South Windsor, CT. Several of us met, self-published authors, to catch up and share ideas We are all members of APSS, an organization dedicated to helping us sell more books! The subject of videos came up. I shared that I found Karen Cioffi-Ventrice, very helpful. She offered a book trailer opportunity I took advantage of at the right time. After all, we are authors, writers, and have to learn all about book marketing which can be overwhelming especially when it has not been our respective fields of study.

So how do we do it? Well, we are members of APSS, an association that offers many benefits, monthly webinars and face to face meetings. We have formed quite a network here in Ct. I find it helpful and supportive.  APSS has chapters all over the country too.

We chatted, found out what one of our members has accomplished as a screenwriter. One woman writes in the young adult genre. Our fearless leader, Dan Blanchard, keeps us going by encouraging get- togethers so we can learn from and help each other as we go where former authors have not gone.

So a special thanks to the Book Club and Dan for getting us to connect and inspire.

Would love your comments. Enjoy. Judith

The North: Conscious Gardening

 

 

This blog continues to focus on soil and our relationship to the earth beneath our feet. I would like to share a quote from Michael J. Roads, from his book, Conscious Gardening, with you. A conscious relationship with the soil reaches us on a deeper level. Soil components react with our brain chemicals and create a feeling of peace. I hope that as your gardening begins you reflect a moment or two on the amazing world that exists in dirt. Soil, dirt, is the seat of all our fertility on the planet. Each of us can make a difference with the choices we make. Organic fertilizers, organic mulches, organic insect sprays fill the pages of our cyber worlds and are only a click way.

“Care for the soil with conscious attention. Be aware and conscious of the soil as a living medium. The soil is alive, and it is your responsibility as a conscious gardener to support and value that life. It is estimated that the weight of life in the soil far outweighs the weight of all humans, animals and creatures that live on the soil. That is a sobering thought. It is up to us, as conscious Beings, to support this natural balance, in however small a measure, by the care and intelligence of our actions in the garden.”

(P.80.) Conscious Gardening by Michael J.  Roads.

Can we walk more softly upon this earth, this soil, this dirt beneath our feet? I hope so. Remember we are caretakers here honoring our commitment to co-create with nature and all her aspects. Stewardship is a responsibility and a privilege.

Take a moment and walk barefoot if you can today. Touching the earth this way keeps us grounded and connected. Like the tiny Hummingbird, we can be conscious gardeners simply by  “doing the best we can.”

Happy Planting. Judith

 

 

 

The West: Dreams: the Hummingbird

Dirt: the Movie features an exceptional woman ( one of many) who became an environmental advocate in her native lands. Wangari Maathi won the Nobel Peace prize  in 2004 for her many efforts to improve the conditions in her country, Kenya. In 1977, she began the Green Belt Movement which helped woman plant trees to provide wood for cooking, fodder for livestock, material for fencing, protect watersheds and stabilize the soil improving agriculture. She has helped and encouraged the plantings of millions of trees.

She tells the story of a Hummingbird in the movie, inspiring and rich with the flavor of Africa that goes something like this:

Fire broke out in the forest, raging and burning.  The animals rushed to the river’s edge and watched as their forest burned not feeling they could do anything about this devastation. A Hummingbird could not stand this and decided to do something. It went to the water’s edge and picked up a drop of water and rushed to the fire and dropped it on the fire to help put it out. She went back and forth and back and forth much to the others surprise. The elephants and other questioned her, how could this possibly help? How could she make a difference? The Hummingbird replied: I am doing the best I can”.

Each of us has our dreams. Do you ever get discouraged? I know sometimes I do. I see the problems with land use, mono crop agriculture, the rm pesticides cause on soil and bees and wonder how long will it take us to wake up and reclaim a relationship to this earth? to this soil we walk on every day? When I hear about folks like Wangari Maathi who made a difference one step at a time in the face of adversity I am reminded to simply do the best I can.

What does the hummingbird mean to you?  This little bird delights us with her flying ability and how she stores food in early fall. These birds seem to migrate south based on shortening daylight. The hummingbird finds its primary nutrition in insects. They especially love baby spiders. Nectar gives them instant energy for their high metabolic needs but the fat, oils, minerals for their overall needs come from insects they find while flying or in the flowers they seek for their nectar.. And contrary to local lore, they do not suck nectar through a “straw” but grab the sweet droplet of energy with a tongue.

In my dream work with animal totems I found that the hummingbird is associated with air (intelligence, higher thought, the ability to see the bigger picture.) They seem to be constantly in motion, rapid wing beats which represents persistence and a feeling on endlessness or infinity. Many cultures in the Americas believed the hummingbird represents rebirth.

I would like to suggest that we spend a few moments today contemplating this marvelous, tiny creature. Spring is here in New England and soon these delightful birds will be back.

Persistence, knowing I am enough, and knowing I am doing enough in this moment are great personal, daily reminders. One more question: do you dream of hummingbirds? Let me know.

Enjoy this wonderful day. Judith

Grapes: Fruit on the Vine

Grapes have a rich and fascinating history. Experimentation on finding hardy varieties that produce good quality wines has been ongoing for centuries. Today 7.2 trillion gallons of wine are made per year. Parts of the plant today continue to be researched for nutritional and health benefits

Parts Used:

Leaves: smaller leaves are tastier than large leaves. Foragers typically pick them at about 3-4” long usually in the spring. Grapes leaves have a rich culinary history and many sites give great recipes. They also contain antioxidants and omega 3 fats. Stuffed with pasture raised meat and rice boosts healthy omega 3’s which supports cardiovascular health and helps decrease inflammation. The Cherokee used grape leaves in tea form for liver disorders and diarrhea.

 

Fruit: who can resist crisp cold grapes on a hot summer’s day? I know I can’t and while I like both green and red varieties I usually pick the red fruit for resveratrol. Some controversy continues today that in supplement form resveratrol, an antioxidant, could be detrimental or at least negate the benefits of exercise in men. However eating normal amounts of a daily serving of fruit doesn’t appear to pose any health risk. When out in the wild, fruits typically ripen late summer, early fall. They also contain Vitamin K, fiber and potassium. (Note: the photo at the right is a picture of muscadine grapes, Vitus rotundifolia which many birds love. It is also the host to local species of the sphinx moth.)

What about pesticide residues on commercial grapes? Good question. It seems commercially grown grapes are loaded with pesticide residues. In fact, 56 have been identified. It’s my understanding that grapes are one of our most heavily pesticide use food crops.  I place my grapes in cool water and add 1/4 cup vinegar to water and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Then I rinse thoroughly and dry. Vinegar can be helpful in washing residues off fruits and vegetables.

Seeds: Grapeseed Extract made from grapeseeds is intensively studied. Does it have health promoting effects on cardio vascular tissue? Does it mitigate inflammation? It does have specific antioxidants. Antioxidants protects cells from free radical damage. Today grapeseed extract is being used to help in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancers.

Foraging and Survival Fact: Out on a trail overnight? Grape vine stems have a bark that peels. Small amounts of this remove easily and can be effective fire tinder. And, cut grape vines, in most cases, provide potable water; cut vine and you will see liquid water substance which can be safely drunk and quench thirst.

 

Grape Juice: I discovered homemade grape juice by accident. I was making jelly from wild grapes. Once I cooked and mashed the grapes to remove skins and seeds I was left with a bright wine red juice. I let it cool and tried it a bit later. I had not added any sugar at this point and found I didn’t need to. It was delicious.

The specific colors in fruits and vegetables contain specific antioxidants that scientists are studying for health benefits. Fresh grape juice is loaded and may even protect one against Type 2 Diabetes.

Grapes by the handful are a refreshing snack. Some folks eat the seeds too. Depending on where they come from and how farmed, I would be cautious.  Harvesting from your own woodlands is a different story.

Enjoy. Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. © all rights reserved. 

3 Health Benefits of Herb Teas


 

Today I would like to begin a discussion on the health benefits of using herb teas in everyday life. If we can grow them ourselves or know how to forage mindfully and with respect to the environment all the better.  In general, I find my garden choices or foraged choices more potent.

Homeostasis: this is the quality or state of being where our body constantly strives for a steady internal environment.  Our body’s internal regulating mechanisms are complex and ever functioning in its minute adjustments to our blood pressure, blood sugar, temperature regulation all for the purpose of our efficient functioning in daily life. Herbs, plants wild or cultivated that are edible from our external world help us maintain the internal world of our biology. Our society seems intent on instant this or that including healing. The use of herbs in a tea form can provide us with nourishing brews that contain some of the plants key components.  Chamomile, for example, can sooth us after a hectic day. Chamomile not only soothes the spirit but soothes the digestion.  However, in general, the key components in herbs provide nourishment to key systems in our bodies that in turn keeps us going in a good way. Subtle, yet healing non the less, herbs help to keep all systems go, contributes to the homeostatic function of our bodies, psyches and our spirit. If chamomile soothes our digestion we relax. If chamomile soothes our spirit we relax more easily. We know from breath work studies and meditation studies that turning down the hecticness of a day turns down the chemical contributors to stress which hastens the aging process and causes wear and tear in the long run.

Chamomile contains an oil, blue in color thought to  contain  ingredients that reduce swelling and may limit the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Many of these microscopic species live in our body. When foreign or populations naturally found within our body get out of balance, this herb in particular may be helpful in restoring balance. The oil is found in the crushed flowers and is used in aromatherapy often to help with skin issues and as an anti-inflammatory.

Chamomile is an annual and a favorite in cottage type gardens. Seeds of Change carries organic seed.

Subtle? Yes. contributor to homeostasis? Yes. Winter persists here in New England. Yet on warmer days spring clean up is under way. Do you have chamomile?  Chamomile tea, soft and pleasant brew, is a wonderful addition to the kitchen supply of teas. Small white daisy like flowers can fill a pot or fill a spot with color and scent.

Enjoy. Judith

 

Spring Garden Planning: Edible Flowers

For most gardeners spring planning is just about done. Seeds have been purchased and started. Snow comes, soon melts, spring’s official beginning is around the corner, and birds have begun their mating songs.

Years ago I attended an herb class at a local herb farm. The owner prepared a beautiful glass urn of sun tea. The urn was filled with a variety of flowers, violets, johnny jump ups, roses, lavender, herb blossoms and more. This tea was refreshing. I was impressed and have not forgotten this experience.

Recently, I came across a new book from Rosalind Creasy, the Edible Flower Garden. Her cover and photography hooked my curiosity as the subject of edible flowers is limited. Rosalind is a well known author and respected organic gardener. It is a stunning work with gorgeous photography that highlights the beauty of flowers and shows off culinary delights using flowers in a variety of ways. She has researched claims of edibles and addresses some of which are myths, such as stock. History shows it may have been eaten in times of famine but no other time. Therefore, stock is not on her list.

blossoms in quiches. Small amounts of wild strawberry flowers when in bloom, rose petals, lavender So So many wild and common flowers are edible like the violet leaves pictured above. In my wild food classes we used echinacea and dandelion blossoms, squash blossoms, and nasturtiums, for example, created a lovely palette for the eye in recipes as well as providing variety of tastes. They inspire our creative juices, fill our senses with texture, color and form. They are the stuff of poetry and stories. Yet in my travels I have found folks a bit leery of using flowers in food.

Please keep the following in mind:

1. Flowers should never be used as food from stores. Store bought flowers often come into our country from overseas and are chemically treated.

2. Organic gardens, whether traditional landscapes or vegetable based, do not have that concern. If you do not have a garden but a neighbor does, please ask questions. Make sure they are organic.

3. If you have planters and need to give your plants extra food to maintain growth, please read labels carefully.

4. Always check with a reliable source before picking or tasting anything you are not familiar with. For example, most mushrooms are poisonous. Pokeberry flowers and berries are not edible. Daffodils are not edible.

Title: the Edible Flower Garden

Author: Rosalind Creasy

What I like: Rosalind gives the reader an encyclopedia of flowers that are edible. Pictures are crisp and easily identify a flower accompanied by: how to grow and how to prepare sections. She then provides us with photographs and recipes that are simply elegant. She rounds out her book with appendixes on planting and maintenance, pest and disease control. She has suggestions for non toxic management if pests show up. Lastly she has well organized section on seed sources.

I recently spoke to a library about the benefits of herb teas. The dried flowers contained in the herb blends were a hit. It was surprising to me how many lovers of flowers have no idea that many common plants are edible. And that some of these flowers and plants contribute nourishment. Nourishment, provided from a variety of plant constituents, such as vitamin A, B, C and calcium, supports our biology.

For those of you who are curious about edible flowers I highly recommend this book.

Enjoy. Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. 

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