“To exist as a nation, to prosper as a state, and to live as a people, we must have trees.” Theodore Roosevelt
Trees, tall and majestic, as a species, are profoundly connected to us. We value their wood for fire, warmth, cooking and creating tools, cooking implements, crafts. We use their leaves, barks, fruits, and roots for food and medicine. They provide shade in the summer, reducing cooling costs. They break the winds from the north providing protection from the cold. They offer habitat to diverse species.
My podcast guest this week, Dana Karcher, Program Manager for the ADF Alliance for Community Trees, says tree science is relatively new. I’ve been reading, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben from Germany. His research and others are beginning to show how holism principles apply to the forest, though many indigenous cultures knew/know this. Science is catching up.
Let’s look at the concept of holism: it is defined as: “the theory that the parts of any whole cannot exist and cannot be understood except in relation to the whole.”
Scientists are discovering that members of the forest are interconnected. What happens to one can affect the whole. If one part is weak, then through an intricate underground network, messages are sent, received with help on the way. Fungi connect the dots and seem to help by receiving chemical signals through their networks that are connected to root tips. Fungi seem to be mediators, too seeking to distribute information and resources equally. The well being of our forests depends on their community. Isolated trees can actually lose their biodiversity and disappear. Therefore we can no longer go in with our machines, look for the best trees, cut them down often injuring others anymore. All parts are connected. Irresponsible logging destroys ecosystems which can take several years to recover if that is even possible.
” ..a tree is not by itself a forest. Together they actually create an ecosystem that can moderate extremes in temperature and generate humidity.” ( The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben.) And its complexity is just beginning to be understood.
I saw trees near where I lived completely cut down for apartment development. A beautiful rolling hill was grazed of its trees, many of which were oaks. Oaks alone support over 500 species, versus a Bradford Pear which has now become invasive and supports little wildlife. Our insects need homes, and if we continue to take habitat away, then we see declines and even extinction up the food chain. What are the implications then of removing trees for development?
First, trees give us oxygen. “One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.” U.S. Department of Agriculture
Second, they help retain rainwater. When removed from our landscapes we see an increase in stormwater. Stormwater collects all manner of garbage and pollutants which end up in our waterways. “The planting of trees means improved water quality, resulting in less runoff and erosion. This allows more recharging of the groundwater supply. Wooded areas help prevent the transport of sediment and chemicals into streams.” USDA Forest Service
Third, trees improve our health and add economic value to a property. “Healthy, mature trees add an average of 10 percent to a property’s value.” USDA Forest Service
Fourth, trees help keep carbon in the soil. With development like I mentioned above, acres of trees were removed and the soil dug up for housing development. This act alone sends carbon into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. “There are about 60– to 200-million spaces along our city streets where trees could be planted. This translates to the potential to absorb 33 million more tons of CO2 every year and saving $4 billion in energy costs. National Wildlife Federation
Trees are a part of our world and therefore a part of us. They create intricate ecosystems that I hope will be valued again.
Please plant a tree and if you cannot, support the wonderful work that the Arbor Day Foundation, ADF, offers around our world. If you live in communities with rules, find out which ones support habitat and diversity and if they don’t, get involved and change them. ADF’s Alliance for Community Trees helps individuals and communities replant.
What stories do you have about adding diversity to your landscapes? Have you been able to make a difference in your community? I would enjoy hearing your stories.
Can a plant give us a clue by its structure, its form? Can the color of a flower or root be an indication of some of its properties or the organ system it helps?
Apparently, that’s not new information. In herb classes, the Doctrine of Signatures is a well-known reference to these correlations. Stemming from the ancients and passed down through the ages, often referred to as folklore, gave herbalists, the village healers, doctors, a reference point for which ones to use in healing various conditions, disorders, organ systems.
“The doctrine of signatures, dating from the time of Dioscorides and Galen, states that herbs resembling various parts of the body can be used by herbalists to treat ailments of those body parts.” (Wikipedia)
“Paracelsus was a physician and alchemist (early 1500’s) who believed that medicine should be simple and straightforward. He was greatly inspired by the Doctrine of Signatures, which maintained that the outward appearance of a plant gave an indication of the problems it would cure. This theory is sometimes surprisingly accurate.” (USDA forest service)
Today we have advanced equipment, labs to test the validity of some of these claims and guess what? Science is proving what the oral traditions, the folklore traditions knew: clues from the plant, their structure, their form, colors that seem to help heal, can, in fact, help heal specific organ systems. Nature reflects back to us what we are and offers help. Many successful healers looked at the plant world in this way. They were connected to the sun and moon cycles, very aware of the weather, knew their landscapes well.
Centuries ago and not that long ago, we did not have the knowledge of bacteria, viruses that we can see with super microscopes. Evil spirits were the names of the stuff that gets you, brings in illness etc. That was the lingo of the times. There was a deeper more colloquial connection to the Creator, to God, by whatever religion you followed. There was a recognition that the Divine in nature provided clues, assistance. My Native elders said that we have all that we need for healing if we pay attention to what’s beneath our feet, what’s near us. Observe.
My guests this week, Andrea and Matthias Reisen, have over 25 years experience as growers deeply connected to the plants and their land. They are caretakers in the true sense of the word, offering prayers of thanks, gratitude, and acknowledgment for the gifts the land provides. In our discussion, we touched upon invasives, Japanese knotweed in particular. My curiosity piqued. I decided to look into this plant more carefully because the Reisen’s harvest it, for use in the medical community for Lyme’s disease.
Name: Japanese Knotweed: Polygonum cuspidatum var. Japonica or Japanese bamboo; bamboo-like stems with somewhat heart-shaped leaves, herbaceous perennial shrub-like.
Where Found: Originated in Eastern Asia, member of the buckwheat family. It was introduced in the US in late 1800’s. Thrives in disturbed areas, forms dense thickets; little grows with it so it crowds out vegetation. Unfortunately, the soil remains bare between the stems which can be susceptible to erosion. This plant decreases species diversity, alters ecosystems. Can grow to 3-15′ tall. Its stems are easy to identify, notched like bamboo and have purple-red speckles.
Properties: very high in resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes, peanuts, mulberries, red wine
Uses: Leaves, young shoots: spring vegetable in Asian cultures, Used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine with other herbs for gastrointestinal issues, cardiovascular issues as well as cognitive function. Resveratrol continues to be studied for its effect on decreasing cancer and helping combat Lyme’s Disease. In the plant, resveratrol acts to stop microbial infections. It’s this observation that links the way Japanese knotweed may work in Lyme’s disease.
I came across this article, from the forager chef, on how to cook and use it. I am not familiar with foraging this plant but the recipe I link you too looks delicious. It’s too early here but I know of a patch and will keep an eye on it. Young stems 12″ or less need to be cut in the early spring. Otherwise, as the season and growth progresses, the stems become too fibrous and not very palatable. You can make a refreshing tea from its roots.
Let’s look at the root, known as ‘tiger root’ in the orient..
Healing Spirits Herb Farm has been selling the root for many years. It’s been difficult for me to find a picture of its roots due to royalty rights. However, from the ones I found, I can see Matthias’ description very well. There’s a knot, then root, then knot, then root and the root can go down 10′! No wonder once you got it, it won’t go away. It’s the root that he harvests and because he does so, he contributes to managing the land space where this plant is located by his ‘neck of the woods’ in western NY. Will it go away? No. but by harvesting in large quantities he helps control its spread.
Now, tying in the Doctrine of Signatures, the root system seems to have notches, like steps, Maybe this pattern gives a clue as to how the plant works. Studies are showing that the root in tincture or capsule form helps kill the bacteria found in Lyme’s Disease. The resveratrol may work on the bacteria in steps. Can we prove this? Not yet. But observations from nature have validity and patient healing offers hope for healing Lyme’s disease.
Today, its too early to gather the young shoots and leaves but I want to try. I also want to make a tea this summer from its root. How about you? We have plants in our backyards we have forgotten how to use. How about looking into an invasive such as Japanese knotweed and use it. Get your neighbors involved. Make a recipe and bring to a block party, a family picnic. Remember it’s a cherished food in Asian cultures.
Send me your recipe, a short story on how you use Japanese knotweed. I look forward to hearing from you.
The book Ecospasm, by Robert Radin, my podcast guest this week, takes science from today’s knowledge base and plays it forward. He uses the science of GMO seeds, systemic pesticide use and explores possible consequences for our future food supply through fiction. If you missed the podcast on 3/6 you missed a rich discussion concerning unintended consequences.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of blogs to understand the details of our big agriculture system and its use of GMO seed and the use of systemic pesticides. It seemed confusing to me. John and Ocean Robbins conducted a GMO summit in 2014. I thought the speakers, the research available astounding. The more I learn about soil and soil health, watch reports about health concerns, these articles still seem relevant. (You can access these articles right here on my blog page. The category list has GMO and you will find several articles, speakers, scientists, farmers etc. with valuable contributions.)
Ecospasm, a sci-fi environmental thriller, plays it forward, a science-based idea of what could happen based on the choices we make for product development. Maybe as the author suggests, we should try to play it forward. What are the consequences for future generations? Sustainability means we are using enough regenerative practices in farming to ensure our future generations have enough and can do the same and so on.
GMO’S: The Science and The Myths: Part 7
Today I would like to share reports and information coming from farmers. These are real-time farmers working the land and livestock, producing crops and meat the rest of buy and eat. What have they observed with the advent of genetically modified seed crops? Bt corn was the first to be introduced in our food supply of which a huge portion went to livestock feed.
In the GMO summit, I heard Howard Vlieger share his research and observations when GMO’s were first introduced to farmers around 1994. Howard serves on the board of directors for the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA) and The Food Freedom Foundation.
Farmers began to notice when Bt corn in the feed was introduced to livestock, the livestock shunned the GMO feed over the non- GMO feed. Also, he states that in a non-scientific manner where livestock and wild animals were given the choice between the two feeds, they consistently walked away from GMO feed.
Howard along with Judy Carmen and colleagues conducted the first scientific study involving feeding GMO grain to some hogs and non-GMO grain to other hogs for their entire lifespan. Here’s what they found in GMO feed hogs:
- Their uteri were larger
- They weighed 25% more than non- GMO fed hogs
- Had severe stomach inflammation: in fact in young males, it was 4x as high.
- This study confirmed that GMO feed is related to digestive and inflammation problems
In the soil we see other problems with the use of GMO crops and pesticide spraying:
- They extract minerals, chelate them which decreases the amount left for plants uptake.
- Last year Iowa experienced a severe drought. Droughts decrease soil microbial activity and decrease soil aggregates which basically loosens the soil structure.
- The GMO fields, in the same area experiencing two days of heavy rains, suffered terrible erosion. The non-GMO farmed fields did not. They held up well with two days of intense rains.
Are the crops we grow healthier with the use of roundup ready seed and systemic pesticides sprayed on these crops? Mr. Vlieger states that contrary to what these chemical companies would have farmers believe, they are not. They are more susceptible to funguses and therefore the use of fungicides on crops has increased. These products have created a generation of superweeds and now Monsanto, Dow, for example, are looking for other more potent pesticides. They are seeking approval for application to the farms with superweeds. and they want it ASAP.
Also, the FDA keeps raising the allowable limit of glyphosate to meet Monsanto’s demand.
Finally, glyphosate was patented as an antibiotic in 2010. Remember in a previous post I mentioned that glyphosate is not given by itself but with adjuvants to help drive it into the cell? Ampicillin is one of the adjuvants. Today it has been estimated that 880 million pounds of this antibiotic have been put on the ground. Wildlife, livestock, our pets, and humans are ingesting small amounts of the pesticide, with the adjuvants such as an antibiotic, now found to be present in our food and water supply. The photo to the right shows an aerial view of an extensive Iowa farming area.
Dr. Seneff in her interview during the summit series mentioned that butchers are finding the livers of cows so badly deformed they are not offering beef livers in our supermarkets. And their intestines are so thin they cannot use them to stuff sausages. Check out sausage ingredients. I did. I am seeing on the ingredients label: “in a natural lamb casing” Did you know that that very casing comes from NON- GMO fed sheep in New Zealand?
Howard Vlieger is from Iowa and is a part of the Council for Healthy Food Systems.
Farmers have first-hand knowledge of these problems. I hope you will join me in supporting our local farmers’ efforts to create biologically and organically healthy farms and livestock. Check out your state’s farmers organizations and find out what they are doing to grow safe food. Remember farmers markets are great for our communities but some farmers who come to these markets do use roundup ready seed and spray pesticides. I ask questions if I do not see any organic signs by a vendors booth. I hope you will too.
One of my favorite summer plants is Borage. Large leaves with beautiful bluish purple flowers are getting ready to blossom. Known as the “bee” plant, it obviously attracts many bees and is a good companion plant too for strawberries, tomatoes and squashes. making it a good contributor to our gardens. I have a couple of plants in between my tomatoes and a few near my strawberries. When the flowers are gone to seed, collect some seed and then cut plant down and leave in bed. The leaves will be good for the soil.
Borage: Borago officinalis
Parts Used: leaves, flowers, seeds
Where Found: originated in Syria; naturalized over Europe, US
Borage, also known as the “Starflower, named for its beautiful light blue – purple star shaped flower, is a plant that is edible. It is a hardy annual plant that can reseed itself, too.
According to some of the old herbals, this plant was noted to soothe a troubled heart and help with exhaustion. So many herbals refer to this plant “as a comfort to the heart, increasing joy of the mind, and relieving sorrow. “
Leaves: are a good source of organic potassium, calcium and minerals. The juice from the leaves is mucilaginous, which means it offers a soothing, cooling quality to the stomach. This is one of the herbs that seem to be helpful in adrenal exhaustion. Stress, long days, and decrease in sleep can take a toll on our adrenal glands. As the flowers come into bloom the tender leaves can be picked and added to salad. The leaves have a mild cucumber like flavor.
Recipe: Pour 1 pint of boiling water over 6 teaspoons of fresh cut leaves. Let sit, strain and then add to wine, juice, lemonade even by itself over ice makes a refreshing drink.
Flowers: these beautiful blue flowers are edible, attract bees and can be used as a garnish to salads or side dishes. Many wild edible enthusiasts candy the flowers:
Recipe: Candied Flowers:
Thin the white of an egg with 1 tbs water, and the juice of one lemon. Dip the blossoms into this mixture and then roll in granulated sugar. Dry on wax paper until they no longer stick together, then put in a covered dish, store in refrigerator or freezer if not using right away. This makes for a lovely party treat or topping for cupcakes or cakes.
Seeds: Borage seed oil can be recommended for a variety of skin and inflammatory issues. The seeds when pressed contain a large amount of GLA (gamma linolenic acid) which has health benefits. The form of GLA found in Borage oil seems to help turn off the inflammatory mechanism implicated in so many chronic diseases. It may reduce the symptoms of Rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and contribute to healthier skin in the elderly. Borage Seed oil has its cautions though and should not be taken with seizure disorder, blood thinners or pregnancy. It may be a good idea to check with your health professional about stopping prior to surgery.
Borage, the plant for courage, has many uses and contributes to a sustainable garden. Enjoy.
As I drive through the countryside I see so many wildflowers ready to bloom or blooming. The white faces of wild daisies dot the many roadways as do the purple vetch and the yellow black- eyed Susan. It’s Mullein however that caught my eye the other day as I wondered what plant to feature this month. While there are many wildflowers to choose from, Mullein, standing tall and erect, just showing its yellow flowers on its tall stalk, grabbed my attention.
Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, root
The photo above shows mullein in its first year. Broad velvety grey leaves form a rosette that can easily catch ones eye when on a hike or by a gardens edge. The photo to the right shows the second year growth. This biennial shoots up a tall stalk sometimes reaching six to eight feet that then begins to display small yellow flowers near the top. Soft grey leaves can be 12-15″ long.
Where found: Europe, West and Central Asia and North Africa; likes dry soils and often seen in disturbed areas. Mullein migrated to US along with early settlers. For example, I have seen Mullein grow abundantly throughout California’s mountainous areas, the mountains near Flagstaff AZ and here on the East coast.
Leaf System: the leaf arrangement of the Mullein is botanically interesting. Hairs that cover the leaves so thickly and give it this velvety feeling act as a protective coat to the plant. Since they tend to be found in dry soils, this thickness of the leaf helps the plant from giving off too much moisture. They also act as a deterrent to creeping insects and grazing animals as they can set up an intense irritation in the animals mucous membranes so these critters will leave the Mullein alone.
The flowers close at night and in sun.
While Mullein tea is often recommended for coughs and colds it must be strained before consuming. These tiny hairs can cause irritation to the mouth.
The flowers give a lot of pollen and you will find many bees and other insects enjoying mullein flower nectar. These flowers are often gathered in a small jar and then filled with olive oil. Let sit for a few weeks and then strain. Mullein flower oil is often used for swimmer’s ear or ear irritations.
Please not: do not place any liquid into the ear if one suspects a ruptured ear drum.
Mullein’s tall stalks, velvety grey green leaves, bright yellow flowers are hard to miss on our roadsides. This plant has a rich history of medicinal use. For more information check out At the Garden’s Gate found below.
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.