Tag Archives: Herbalism

A May Wildcraft – Reishi and Lady’s Slipper!

4 Jun

I had the opportunity to travel north of Lakefield, Ontario last weekend to do some hiking and plant identification! We found many new plants that I did not have the pleasure of finding in flower last spring. Spring holds some of the most aromatic and floral-scented wildflowers, some of these being my favorites! Here are some of this week’s finds:

1. Trumpet Honeysuckle (not quite blooming)

Trumpet Honeysuckle(Lonicera sempervirens) – I love honeysuckles and this is one that I found growing in the forest’s edge in a small cluster. I am hoping to find another one in a few weeks when in full bloom and add its picture to  this entry. The way the opposite leaves almost make a cup around the flower cluster always catches my attention. These flowers are very pretty and have a wonderful, sweet scent, hence the name ‘honeysuckle’, a hummingbird favorite.

Edibility: None noted
Medicinal uses: You can juice the plant and use the juices externally for bee stings. The leaves were dried and smoked to alleviate asthma symptoms

2. Miterwort

Miterwort growing in a carpet of small snowflakes

Miterwort growing in a carpet of small snowflakes

(Mitella dphylla) – This little delicate flower was growing in the deep woodlands alongside Toothwort, White Trilliums, birch trees, and hemlocks. It can grow almost anywhere in our area but prefers moist soils. I like this plant because the leaves are mirrored symmetrically at the stem and also the way the waxy little flowers remind me of snowflakes.

Edibility: None noted
Medicinal uses: You can make an infusion from the leaves to treat fevers and as eye drops for sore, red eyes.

3. Yellow Lady’s Slipper

Yellow Lady's Slipper, close-up of the flower

Yellow Lady’s Slipper, close-up of the flower

(Cypripedium calceolus) – Lady’s Slipper is also known as ‘Nerve Root’, among others. What a find this was! I knew they grew in our area and are common in Europe, but this is something I have not found or seen outside plant books. The basal leaves were very camouflaged and as we were walking home through the forest trail, my sister’s partner, Kevin, told us he had found something. Katie and I immediately saw the ‘slipper’ and were so happy he found it. It does really have the shape of a shoe; I guess the name was a ‘good fit’…..

Edibility: None noted – can cause dermatitis to the skin and large doses can cause hallucinations
Medicinal uses: Lady’s slipper is most known for its sedative and relaxing effect on the nervous system. It is characteristic of this orchid to have a strong, bitter, pungent smell.  North American Indians used it as a sedative and antispasmodic to ease menstrual and labor pains and to counter insomnia and nervous tension. Nerve root might act as a drying agent to help shrink blood vessels.

4. Large Toothwort

Toothwort in full bloom with white flower clusters (very similar leaf and stem relation to Miterwort

Toothwort in full bloom with white flower clusters (very similar leaf and stem relation to Miterwort

(Dentaria maxima) – I found this plant growing in many areas of our forest walk, noting its similar posture to the Miterwort. A very nice show of white flowers carpeting the forest floor in small patches. This plant is very frost hardy (down to -20 degrees C.) and can be found near rivers and creeks, or in shady forests.

Edibility: Root – You can eat the root raw or cooked. Traditionally prepared by harvesting the pungent root and piled into a heap, fermenting for several days. This allows the root to sweeten where it is then boiled.
Medicinal uses: Again, the root is used as a ‘stomachic’ that helps tone the stomach, improving overall function and increases appetite.

5. Canadian Columbine

Canadian Columbine

Canadian Columbine

(Aquilegia canadensis -L.) – I first noticed Wild/Canadian Columbine when I was living in B.C. and first started to have an interest in wild flowers and identifying them. They really remind me of a nodding onion with the way they are so delicate, bowing down towards the ground. You can find these rosy plants in open or shaded forests and in rocky areas. I found this one in the picture above near a gravely road in the open sun, next to a coniferous forest. Their range covers most of North America. They can grow in acidic and alkaline soils, flower May to June, and grow about 2′ tall. Wild Columbine are perennials.

Edibility: I had no idea that the flower was eaten as a sweet addition to salads as they contain high amounts of nectar. Very tasty to snack on if you have them in your garden! The root can also be consumed
Note: Not known as toxic but other members in the Ranunculaceae family are known to be slightly toxic so caution is advised.
Medicinal uses:  The root is astringent and diuretic. It is chewed or made into a weak tea for the treatment of diarrhoea and stomach aches. The tea is used in the treatment of uterine bleeding. The boiled plant was used as a hair wash. The seed is anodyne and febrifuge. An infusion is used in the treatment of headaches and fevers (PFAF, 2012).

6. Wild Sarsaparilla

Flowering Wild Sassparilla and its root

Flowering Wild Sassparilla

(Aralia nudicaulis) This was an interesting find! At first glance I thought we had found ‘Dwarf Ginseng’, but after a closer look, we saw we had found another usable root, Wild Sarsaparilla. They like to be in dark, rocky, forested areas, found on the eastern half of North America. A perennial that grows just over a foot tall. You can notice the white cluster of flowers and the draping leaves that are taller than the flowers (unlike my mistake with Dwarf Ginseng).

Edibility:  The rootstock is used as a flavouring, it is a substitute for sarsaparilla, and is also used for making ‘root beer’. It is also used as an emergency food (usually mixed with oil), having a sweet spicy taste and a pleasant aromatic smell. A nutritious food, it was used by the Indians during wars or when they were hunting since it is very sustaining. Young shoots – cooked as a potherb. A refreshing herbal tea is made from the root. Pleasantly flavoured[222, 238]. The roots are boiled in water until the water is reddish-brown. A jelly is made from the fruit. The fruit is also used to make wine. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter (PFAF, 2012)
Medicinal uses: Wild sarsaparilla is a sweet pungent tonic herb that acts as an alterative. It had a wide range of traditional uses amongst the North American Indians and was at one time widely used as a substitute for the tropical medicinal herb sarsaparilla. The root is an alterative, diaphoretic, diuretic, pectoral and stimulant. The herb encourages sweating, is stimulating and detoxifying and so is used internally in the treatment of pulmonary diseases, asthma, rheumatism, stomach aches etc (PFAF, 2012).

Narceus Millipede in the forest

Narceus Millipede in the forest

The first blooms of Hemlock Reishi mushrooms

The first blooms of Hemlock Reishi mushrooms

We found these baby fruiting Hemlock Reishi mushrooms on the same Hemlock stump as we found the mushrooms last year. There were about 8-10 new blooms this year which is good to see that we did not over harvest the mushrooms last year! We will be going back to harvest one or two this summer (with photos to come).

Last years Reishi fruit

A Reisi mushroom that fruited last summer

Plant Information Sources:

Web MD – Nerve Root overview: http://goo.gl/tCkqp
Plants for a Future Organization, http://www.pfaf.org
Ontario Wildflowers Database, http://www.ontariowildflowers.com
Newcomb, L. 1977, Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.
Knopf, A. 2001, The National Audubon Wildflowers; Eastern Region, Revised Edition.

Deep in the Forest Beneath the White Cedars

14 May

“Plant identification may sound mundane, but when you observe the hundreds of  variables and interconnections that single plant has with the surrounding ecosystem, it becomes quite magical.”

A patch of White Trillium we found at the forests edge, just next to a meadow

A patch of White Trillium we found at the forest’s edge, near a meadow

 

This week was a great chance to spend a few days and evenings in the woods, meadows, and swamps near my home. I have been so busy with the garden and work that I have barely had a chance to get into the forest and see all the new living plants emerging from the soil. It is still pretty early in the year, and the nights have been pretty cold this week, but a few new species of plants that I did not have the enjoyment of identifying last year were  some of the ones I stumbled across during my hikes. I have to say that in the past, hiking out into a mucky swamp or down a dark cedar trail, even walking through horse-fly guarded grassland, was not really my thing to say the least! I enjoyed the outdoors and being in the forest but for much different reasons. I enjoyed walking and looking at the trees blowing in the wind, smelling the damp leaves and decaying branches, and spotting any wildlife I came across. These things are still very close to me when I go into the forest, but a new element of observation really ‘clicks’ with me; wildcrafting and plant identification. Plant identification may sound mundane, but when you observe the hundreds of  variables and interconnections that single plant has with the surrounding ecosystem, it becomes quite magical. You learn to notice things like the type and number of pedals an opening flower has, its fragrant pollen, the colors and textures of the leaves and stems, the ecosystem in which it is growing, its population and overall health,  insects which are eating it, its mode of fertilization and seed mobility, and lastly but most predominantly- its full life-force. This idea is what has called me closer to herbalism and understanding (mostly the basics so far) the powers of local plant medicines. I like to routinely grab my bike, my harvest packs/bags, camera, and I.D. books, and enter the woods to see what I can catch coming to life! It is a great way to connect with nature and learn a few things while doing it.

Today I was visiting a store, an old used book store to be exact, and when my partner showed me a National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, I was ecstatic! I spent over half an hour looking at the great detail of the pictures of wildflower petals, the majestic backdrops of the plants found all over the East Coast which featured numerous types of ecosystems, and I wished I was in each one of them. An urgency to visit all these wild places and smell each forest’s scent. The feeling that I get when I am looking through one of these plant field guides or gardening  design books  is a mixture between curiosity and amazement; I want to know where and when each plant will bloom, and most of all, the evolutionary processes and adaptations that occurred to make that plant what it is today. In other words, I am blown away when I try to understand the complicated relationships between predators and protectors of a particular plant; whether the plant adapted  to attract the pollinator or the other way around – that kind of question. It really is quite hard to understand, but the beauty is how well everything works out in the end.

A natural ecosystem, whether one that includes humans or not, is so much more complicated than one would assume. I have shared in the common view of nature as being trees and plants with a few bugs and birds and some natural weather fused in. The reality is unless you get down on your knee and peer deep into the ecology of even the soil beneath your foot, you will miss the very breath that is life on this planet. I have realized how much more there is to a simple forested path than just trees and pine needles covering the trail. There is a myriad of connections you can make that intertwines all the creatures and acts of physics within a wild-space.  For example, on my hike through the forest a few nights ago, my sister and I noticed what looked like a beaver damn in the river. We walked over to the water’s edge to see in fact it was just a burly shaped fallen branch. We happened to be standing in a tightly knit White Cedar forest with only a little light reaching us through the canopy. My sister pointed out that one of the cedar roots beneath our feet was erupting with little baby cedars! We followed a trail that was winding under the soil to the water’s edge. I noticed these were not Cedar trees at all, they were poplar – Balsam Poplars to be exact. We followed the emerging line back the other way, right up and over the root crown of the cedar beside us and abut 6 more feet to the base of a mature Poplar. It was erupting with basal shoots that were infants on a successful root that had made it to a source of sustenance, the river beyond us. I then became aware of the forces at work in this situation;

a) the immense number of emerging roots that became more noticeable as I took along the ground beneath me. A literal spider web, possibly a meter or more deep of roots, supporting a spongy, hollow forest floor.
b) a fierce competition of roots, like arms swarming and reaching over each other to fight for retreating ‘ground’ space.
c) the small clearing we stand has spots of light trickling in from above; the perfect location for these opportunistic Poplar shoots and they were growing steadily toward it.
d) The area was littered with fallen cedar limbs. The energy of the decomposing organic matter made by the cedars now fuels the explosive energy of the pervading Poplar; inviting it into its territory.

There were many, many other examples of associations that were happening while we assessed the forest floor, but this is only my interpretation. As an observer, the story was my own. Another could see the layout I explained and have a totally different understanding. That is the beauty of having your own experience in nature, learning from all the plants and insects around you. Just like us, each living organism has its own complex interactions and associations with its ecosystem.

Next time you are walking on a forest trail or even in your own back yard, stop to notice aspects beyond the flower itself. Look at the shape and color of the petals. Maybe a few quick questions like: How many petals does the flower have? What do the leaves feel like? Are they waxy or fuzzy? Are there any insects living or feeding on the plant?  There are many things we can learn from nature if we look a little deeper and I invite you to open up to this as well.

“The reality is unless you get down on your knee and peer deep into the ecology of even the soil beneath your foot, you will miss the very breath that is life on this planet.”

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This week’s plant-finds:

(Lunar Harvest can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.)
Trout Lily in the forest

Trout Lily in the forest

1. Trout Lily

(Erythronium americanum) – This amazing little lily was blanketing the forest floor with waxy, dark leaves that are spotted (like a trout) and curled. It is native to Ontario and is edible! I came across these earlier in the spring so they have not fully opened, but this is what a Trout Lily looks like when it is fully blooming.

Trout Lily corm

Trout Lily corm

Edibility: at the base of the plant, there is a small ‘corm’ that is edible. I did not pick the ones I found as they are still very young and I wanted to leave them for birds and other wild creatures, but this is a picture of what a corm of the Trout lily looks like. It is said to taste similar to cucumber.
Medicinal Uses: None noted

2. Yellow Downy Violet 

(Viola pubescens) – This awesome little

Yellow Downy Violet

Yellow Downy Violet

yellow violet was all over an east facing hill that was opening is small areas. This one is not fully open, but you can see the fuzzy, round toothed leaves and the typical vertical black marking on the lower petal. These violets are in the Viola family and found in dry, mixed deciduous forests. They bloom in the spring months, April through May.

Edibility: Wild Violets are noted as edible! You can eat the flowers and leaves – great for salads and tea,  syrups and vinegar!
Medicinal Uses: None noted

3. Field Pussytoes

(Antennaria neglecta) – These little white shoots have been something on my to-find-list and I

Field pussytoes ready to bloom!

Field pussytoes ready to bloom!

stumbled across them last night in a grassy field. The name alone is quite interesting as are the flowers themselves. I have always come across this plant in my plant identification book, but have never really noticed it in the past here in Ontario.

Edibility: None noted
Medicinal Uses: Not used very often anymore, but once used for coughs and for the gall bladder. The plant is very rich in mucilage which makes it very valuable in the treatment of chest complaints. It is also used in the treatment of liver and gall bladder complaints.

4. Periwinkle

(Vinca minor) – I have seen these little guys in my

Periwinkle Flower

Periwinkle Flower

neighbors garden before, a waxy ground-cover looking plant that has a little blue/violet flower in the early spring. Periwinkle is VERY invasive and should not be spread or introduced outside the home garden. It grows in many areas of North America, predominantly on the Eastern coast. We found this growing in a dark Locust grove as a ground cover mixed with Wild Grape and deciduous trees. It likes to line moist forest floors.

Edibility: None Noted
Medicinal uses: Periwinkle is an Antispasmodic, Astringent, Bitter and Sedative  tonic, among other important things. It contains a potent alkaloid called ‘vincamine’, which is extracted and used pharmaceutically as a cerebral stimulant and vasodilator. Its real use, since its discovery, is treating heart problems and dementia, which is due to low levels of blood reaching the brain.

5. Marsh Marigold

(Caltha palustris) – This swamp and stream-bed loving flower is known to light up wet areas in April-May with its bright and beautiful yellow blooms. I had seen this in the spring many times and wanted to document it. The Marsh Marigold definitely needs wet, saturated soil to thrive and can also grow in a soil based water garden. I stumbled across this only because it is almost impossible to miss if you are hiking around an area that has and wetlands or streams…

Marsh Marigold in damp creekbed

Marsh Marigold in damp creekbed

Edibility: This plant can be very TOXIC if eaten raw. It contains the toxin glycoside protoanemonin, which can be harmful if sap gets on your skin. It is best to stay away from the older parts of the plant, like lower stem and basil leaves. Cooking is the best method to deactivate the glycosides; Boil in water, then change water repeat, 3 times! I don’t think I would risk eating this plant as most of the nutrients would be gone after a triple boil, but it is good to know for survival.
Medicinal uses: Since the whole plant is an irritant, caution is advised! Externally used to treat warts, or boiled and mashed to create a poultice for sores. A tea made from the leaves can act as a diuretic and laxative.

6. Coltsfoot

(Tussilago farfara) – Coltsfoot is the first plant I tend to see rising; a very eager flower which

Coltsfoot flowers in full bloom

Coltsfoot flowers in full bloom

gladly provides sustenance for early and competitive bee populations. When this stalk emerges, it really reminds me of Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys) due to the texture on the stem, especially before it blooms.

Edibility: Contains alkaloids that can be toxic to the liver in large doses. Smaller doses are safer. There are many uses for Coltsfoot, most of the plant is edible! The flowers and buds are good raw/cooked and have a light anise flavor. The leaves can be boiled (also rinsed after boiled to help lower the bitterness). A tea can be made from the leaves and flowers and again has an anise flavor. I found out that you can dry and burn the leaves to create a salt alternative!
Medicinal uses: Coltsfoot is a noted for its great Antitussive and Demulcent abilities, helping to relieve coughs and expelling mucus. There are possibilities of toxicity when using in higher amounts, especially dried flowers. Coltsfoot is also used as a whole body tonic.

We came across some other common flowers in the area like Wild Strawberry, White Trillium which is our provincial flower, and an interesting fungus growing on some white and red cedar trees; Cedar-Apple Rust, as shown below. Thanks for reading my post, hopefully I can blog more weekly finds like these in the future!

Cedar-Apple Rust on a Cedar tree

Cedar-Apple Rust on a Cedar tree

A patch of White Trillium we found at the forests edge, just next to a meadow

A patch of White Trillium we found at the forests edge, just next to a meadow

Wild Strawberry Flowering

Wild Strawberry Flowering

Adam D.

Plant Information Sources:
Plants for a Future Organization, http://www.pfaf.org
Ontario Wildflowers Database, http://www.ontariowildflowers.com
Newcomb, L. 1977, Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.
Knopf, A. 2001, The National Audubon Wildflowers; Eastern Region, Revised Edition.

Building An Herb Shelf; 6 Tips on Storing Herbs

19 Mar

This weekend was perfect to get a project done that I have been planning and thinking about for a long time; where to safely put all of our herbs and plant medicines? I wanted to make sure a few standard requirements were met when answering this question. I have put together these six standard requirements for storing herbs which are the basis to maintaining high quality medicinal and nutritional qualities. By keeping the conditions of your storage area optimal for preservation, you can get the longest shelf-life and potency from your plant medicines

a) Store herbs in glass jars with a tight fitting lid
-Glass is a great container for herbs (mason jars are what I use) and can be recycled from soups, canning, and certain food products. The largest benefit is they do not leach plastic by-products, like plastic bags or containers do. Another benefit is creating a tight seal and not allowing oxygen or moisture to enter, minimizing oxidization or mold on the plant material which will drastically lower its shelf life.

b) Keep out of direct sunlight
– Light can destroy valuable vitamins and phytochemicals within the herb and can lower the potency of your dried herbs. Storing in a dark cupboard or closet (in my case) is a great way to seal out any ultraviolet rays.

c) Keep the medicines cool and away from any heat sources
– Storing herbs away from a heat source is very important. Just like cooking your food, several enzymes and nutrients (mostly vitamins) are destroyed when heated. This also quickens their expiry date. When drying the herb, it is best to either hang or set-to-dry to reduce the exposure of heat. Another way to shorten dry-time  is using an adjustable temperature dehydrator. Keeping the temperature low, and humidity low, the plant material will dry out faster with less chance of mold and will retain higher amounts of nutrients.

d) Organize alphabetically or by group
– In the picture of my herb shelf, I have created an example of how I would like to organize my shelf eventually, into simple areas that make searching for particular items easier. You can

A rough organization by group for my closet herb-shelf

A rough organizational grouping of my closet herb-shelf

organize it any way that  you want. Some health food stores organize their herbs alphabetically for the sake of simple referencing. This is perfect for storing at home too. I like my layout to be set up in groups so if I need a few herbal ingredients to treat a certain ailment, they are all grouped together. This comes in handy when I need a little extra help with anxiety or getting to sleep, I can grab my favorite herbs from the Nervine and Sedative sections. Grouping does save a lot of time once you get to know your layout.

e) Easy access is important if you need to find things quickly
– The way that I have the shelf set-up is that it is at head level. This way when I am am standing in front of the shelf, it is easy to see all the labels and reach everything I need. I also have a light mounted on the wall above the shelf which I can turn on when I need to see inside the dark closet. I installed a ladder on the wall to the left so I can reach the harder to access areas at the very top of the shelf. If you have the shelf near the floor you have to bend down and there is generally less light when you are trying to view labels. Since you are trying to keep sunlight out of your storage area, having a small light to see in this dark space is key.

f) Properly label and date when the herbs were purchased or harvested
-It is a very obvious idea, but putting large and visible labels on the fronts of your containers helps to know what you have in the jar. Dating helps to determine how long the herb has been on the shelf, allowing you to rotate or replace. I like to add if it is organic, sustainably harvested, or if I was the one who wildcrafted/grew the herb. I even keep my home-grown/harvested herbs in a separate container than the store bought herbs. That way I can appreciate the tastes and potency of our garden saved herbs, knowing I watched them grow and nurtured and harvested them myself – it makes the tea/remedy much more special.

DSC04854

Herbs with tight-fitting lids, in glass jars, labeled

DSC04853

Label shows I wildcrafted it, the herb name, and date dried

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I have been continuously reading into Rosemary Gladstar’s , “The Art and Science of Herbology”, a course that I am currently completing. At the starting of this course she mirrors these requirements, outlining a set of four tests that can be completed to assess and measure the health and potency of the herbs you grow or those that you purchase. The four tests are as follows;

Color: The herb that you dry should be vibrant as the day you picked the herb. If you harvest mint leaves or lemon balm, they should be alive and green after they are dried. Herbs that are yellow/orange like Calendula should be bright and not see-through or pale. Roots hold true to this rule; they should be almost the same color and vibrancy as first harvested. Echinacea root should be a grey-brown, Yellow Dock a yellowish brown, Golden Seal should be a bright golden-green color.

Smell: A good marker for quality is its smell, not necessarily a good smell, but a distinct smell that represents the herb’s quality. Some herbs are bitter, some sweet smelling, some very ‘bad’. A notorious ‘bad’ smelling herb is Valerian,  having the resemblance of dirty socks. If you purchase or have Valerian stored, higher potency will accentuate a VERY dirty smelling pair of socks. This is actually a good thing… Another herb Rosemary points out is Peppermint. If you have a very good stored mint, the uncapping and smelling should make your nose tingle and eyes sting. Each herb is different, some are ‘green’ smelling, some are fragrant like flowers and pollen. Take note on the vibrancy of different brands, varieties, and suppliers, remembering the effects each herb has on your nose and senses.

Taste: The power of the herb when placed on the tongue is a great indicator of the life-force and value of the plant. Again, not all herbs will have a good taste, so how much you like the herb is not the measurement. When you taste the herb it should be fresh. You should judge the potency by how strong, distinctive, and vital they are as well as how much they ‘rouse your taste buds’.

Effect: The last measurement of quality and potency is to actually try the herb to see its effectiveness. We know that for much of human existence, our species has had a knowledge about plant medicine and certain plants are good for certain ailments.  If your herb is not working for you, it is wise to first question its quality and potency of the herb, followed by if it is really the right remedy for the situation.

Building My Herb Shelf

When I decided to build this shelf, I did a lot of measuring and designing on AutoCAD to create a plan that fit the different sized jars and tincture bottles I had. I also took into consideration the access to the attic hatch in the closet ceiling; not to block the door. I used reclaimed wood from old shipping containers that I dismantled and planed clean and smooth. The cupboard is floating, not attached to the walls at all, just kept in place by a tight fit and 4 screws up from the main shelf it is sitting on; this way I can remove it if  I wanted it elsewhere. The main dimensions are around 40″ long by 34″ wide. The shelves are double width at the bottom and single width, 4.5″ deep, at the top and on the right side. I am definitely not a carpenter by any means and this project took me about 4-6 hours to complete, not including the AutoCAD design which I made a little over-complicated for such a small shelf and simple concept. The drawing did however come in very handy for measurements and allowed me to play around with spacing before cutting any materials.

DSC04857

View of the right shelf

DSC04856

View looking into the closet (front)

Herbs and Spices
A common place for people to store their culinary herbs and spices is beside or above the kitchen stove… The heat rises towards under-side of the cupboard they are stored in, potentially warming the herb. With heat can come moisture from kettles or boiling water. If herbs are not kept sealed and kept in a proper jar, they have the potential to become moldy or go bad.  Moving the spices away from the stove or elements so they can maintain a cool and consistent temperature will help you keep cooking with strong, rich herbs.

Other tips: 
-Make sure if you are purchasing herbs from a store, they are sustainably harvested or certified organic. Some lower grade herb manufacturers spray their herbs with fungicides and pesticides to keep the product longer.
– If you are harvesting herbs for home use, make sure you harvest them sustainably and responsibly! There is a large index available that lists herbs and plants that are over-harvested and at risk for extinction in the wild. (Some USA endangered species are listed on the USDA Natural Resources and United Plant Savers). The best way to ensure you are getting a good quality medicinal herb is to actually grow it yourself. You then know its growing conditions, its harvest date and shelf life, that it was harvested at its prime, and if there were any chemicals involved or not.

-Adam Deck

Heavy Metal Detoxification – Herbal and Natural Chelators

11 Mar

As we watch the environment around us get more and more polluted, it is imperative that we protect our organs and living cells from the damage these environmental toxins cause. When I say ‘protection’, I mean using the simplest and most basic form our bodies have adapted to, by a process of millions of years of evolution and environmental stimulation. I definitely do not mean a way that humans invented in the last century;  a slurry of  chemicals and compounds that contribute even further to the overwhelming load of acquired toxins in our tissues.  The form I am talking about is as simple as using the very foods we eat and the herbs we see growing around us! I have compiled a select list of herbs and natural compounds that I have researched for helping remove heavy metals from the body.

Heavy metal poisoning can be a very harmful malady. It is a major cause of hormonal imbalances, cancer, thyroid problems, neurological disturbances, learning problems, depression, food allergies, parasites, etc. The two most common types of heavy metals are mercury and lead. Both are used industrially and in many products in our daily lives. It is no wonder certain cancers and other health problems associated with heavy metals have risen due to increased exposure. Here is a list of some common ways humans are exposed to mercury and lead.

Lead:

  • Soil: Lead particles that settle on the soil from leaded gasoline or paint can last for years. Lead-contaminated soil is still a major problem around highways and in some urban settings.
  • Household dust: Household dust can contain lead from lead paint chips or from contaminated soil brought in from outside.
  • Pottery: Glazes found on some ceramics, china and porcelain can contain lead that may leach into food.
  • Toys: Lead is sometimes found in toys and other products produced abroad.
  • Traditional cosmetics: Kohl is a traditional cosmetic, often used as eyeliner. Testing of various samples of kohl has revealed high levels of lead.
  • Lead was also once a key ingredient in: gasoline and is still used in batteriessolderpipes, roofing materials 
  • Lead in paint: Lead paint was used up until 1978 for homes, children’s toys, furniture, and more. Most lead poisoning in children results from eating lead-based paint chips.
  • Water pipes
  • Imported canned goods: lead solder in food cans is banned in the United States but it is still used in some countries.
  • Lead pipes: brass plumbing fixtures and copper pipes soldered with lead can release lead particles into tap water

Mercury:

  • Power-plant combustion, of which coal-fired power plants are the largest aggregate source (40% of U.S. mercury emissions in 1999). 
  • Amalgam Fillings
  • Gold production and mine tailings. The three largest point sources for mercury emissions in the U.S. are the three largest gold mines. 
  • Non-ferrous metal production, typically smelters.
  • Cement production
  • Waste disposal, including municipal and hazardous waste, crematoria, and sewage sludge incineration.
  • Caustic soda production
  • Batteries and florescent light bulbs
  • Volcanoes (A natural source, non man-made)

“Mercury is found in many rocks including coal. When coal is burned, mercury is released into the environment. Coal-burning power plants are the largest human-caused source of mercury emissions to the air in the United States, accounting for over 40 percent of all domestic human-caused mercury emissions. EPA has estimated that about one quarter of U.S. emissions from coal-burning power plants are deposited within the contiguous U.S. and the remainder enters the global cycle. Burning hazardous wastes, producing chlorine, breaking mercury products, and spilling mercury, as well as the improper treatment and disposal of products or wastes containing mercury, can also release it into the environment.”

– www. medicinenet.com

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1. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) – leaf and stem

http://weekendcountrygirl.blogspot.ca/

weekendcountrygirl.blogspot.ca/

“An article by M. Aga, et al, published in the ‘Journal of Ethnopharmacology’ in October of 2001, investigated the effects of cilantro on mice with high levels of lead in their bodies. Another chelating agent, DMSA, was used as a control to validate the results of the experiment. After 25 days levels of lead were significantly decreased by the cilantro, suggesting that cilantro has lead suppressive activities.”

– Christy Callahan

Many people know it as a peppery herb in Thai or Mexican food, or something green for garnishing a tasty dish. Cilantro is also known as Chinese Parsley.

Using a simple green herb that grows abundantly in the herb or vegetable garden to remove these heavy metals, among others, is a very inexpensive, tasty, and healthy alternative to man-made chemical compounds. Cilantro has been found to chelate (remove) heavy metals like mercury, aluminum, and lead from the body. In fact, it is believed to cross the blood-brain barrier and actually remove these metals that were deposited within the brain and may be one of the most effective agents in doing this. Some people take cilantro tinctures along-side Chlorella (or other high-chlorophyll containing greens) to assist the process of removing metals from the blood, and out the body. A major study has been done by Dr. Yoshiaki Omura, Director of Medical Research of the Heart Disease Research Foundation, where he fed patients Vietnamese soup (the major ingredient being cilantro) and measured their urine. He saw an increase in the output of mercury which demonstrates that it had been removed from the body in higher concentrations. He also found that after feeding this cilantro based soup to patients with mercury poisoning, they successfully removed a large amount of the toxin out of their bodies within three weeks. You can add a handful of cilantro to salads, as a garnish in dishes, or dried and powdered in capsules.  A simple and delicious recipe for cilantro ‘Chelation’ pesto:

“Cilantro ‘Chelation’ Pesto”

4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup Brazil nuts (selenium)
1/3 cup sunflower seeds (cysteine)
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (zinc, magnesium)
2 cups packed fresh cilantro (coriander, Chinese parsley) (vitamin A)
2/3 cup flaxseed oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice (vitamin C)
2 tsp dulse powder
Sea salt to taste

Process the cilantro and flaxseed oil in a blender until the coriander is chopped. Add the garlic, nuts and seeds, dulse and lemon juice and mix until the mixture is finely blended into a paste. Add a pinch to sea salt to taste and blend again. Store in dark glass jars if possible.

2. Zeolite Clay

Zeoforce capsules

Zeoforce capsules

Zeolite is a naturally forming microporous, aluminosilicate mineral combination that is found in rock deposits around the world. I purchased zeolite clay as it has been scientifically proven to bond and chelate to heavy metals as it has negatively charged ions and attracts the positive charge of heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, lead, arsenic  and others. The same holds true for other agents I mentioned and is the backbone of how they bond and chelate these metals from the liver and other bodily tissues, directing them towards the kidneys. We ordered this clay in capsule form, just for the sake of not having to taste it. It is grey and looks a little like concrete powder. After taking one or two capsule per day for over a month, we ran out. We then ordered some in the powder form and the smell and taste are much stronger. Mixing it with water tastes like crushed gravel… I feel like there is a great similarity to the benefits of Benonite clay, another clay which also helps to bond to toxins in the body and excrete them. I took this in conjunction to the other herbs and greens I listed.

3. Chlorella and Spirulina (Blue/Green Algae)

http://helpyourselftohealth.blogspot.ca/2010/12/the-antioxidant-power-of-spirulina.html

helpyourselftohealth.com

Chlorella and Spirulina or some of the oldest, single-celled algae organisms on the planet. Chlorella contains proteins and peptides which are compatible in our bodies to bind to these substances and carry them out of the body. The key point to purchasing a brand or grade of algae is to understand the water or source of where they were grown. The same role that all these other chelators play with binding to positively charged ions, such as heavy metals, takes place with spirulina and chlorella. If the water they are grown in is exposed to high levels of toxins, pesticides, herbicides, etc., they will bond and accumulate contaminants in the final product. That is why it is very important to source organically, and if you can, away from China/Japan sourced algae due to their industrial infrastructure and Japan’s radioactive output (fukushima). When you open a container of either of these ‘greens’ powders, you will instantly smell a fishy, seaweed taste, and a little ocean as well (chlorella being a little stronger). A great way to consume these powders is in a smoothie or mixed in a vegetable/fruit juice. I usually take about one or two Tablespoons/day in my morning smoothies for the chelation properties as well as the chlorophyll, proteins (over 62% by weight), minerals and vitamins.

4. Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) – leaves

http://cms.herbalgram.org/virtualtour/human.html

cms.herbalgram.org

Another common herb that helps with heavy-metal detoxification is yellow dock. This herb, a potent alterative and blood purifier, has deep, strong roots that absorb lots of nutrients and are very high in iron. Unlike Gobo or common burdock, whose roots are used as alteratives, yellow dock’s young leaves are used. You can add them to salads after boiling and rinsing the leaves multiple times to remove as much oxiliac acid as possible. The alterative abilities of dock are helpful with binding to heavy metals and stimulates the liver to release heavy metals and process through the kidneys. I harvested some seeds I found and identified wild last season. We hope to have a small planting in our garden for easy access, although it grows very rampant and is easily identifiable in the wild.

– I have tried using these for chelation as I have spent a long portion of my youth painting for summer jobs and doing construction work. I realized how serious it is to have absorbed so much potential lead dust and other heavy metals from this form of work. I decided to get my blood tested for heavy metal levels and the results came back very low. Although far below the “low” level on the blood test, there was still a number. I felt uneasy about  knowing I had lead floating around in my blood and felt it was simple enough to include some herbal helpers in my diet. These are all easy to find and incorporate into ones daily diet and they all have many other amazing benefits built in for your health!

Adam D.

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Sources:
http:// www. mayoclinic .com/health/lead-poisoning/FL00068/DSECTION=causes
http:// www. medicinenet .com/mercury_poisoning/article.htm
http:// www. rawfoodinfo .com/articles/art_cilantroremheavymetals. html
http:// www. livestrong .com/article/194198-cilantro-as-a-chelator/
http:// en.wikipedia .org/wiki/Mercury_(element)#Releases_in_the_environment
http:// www. naturalnews .com/027942_cilantro_heavy_metals.html
http:// www. custommedicine .com.au/health-articles/zeolites/
http:// public.naturallynovascotia .com/learnaboutherbs/viewherb.asp?herbid=31
http:// www. umm. edu/altmed/articles/spirulina-000327.htm

Tried and True Herbal Cold Busters

9 Mar

This is a little bit of a spontaneous post, but I felt the need to share one of my recent experiences. I caught a cold on Monday and by Thursday I’m feeling a whole lot better, a great deal faster than I anticipated. I always get a sore throat first when I catch a cold, so when I feel that coming on I know that I’m in for a bad time for the next few days. As soon as I knew that my body was starting to become weakened by an infection I reacted with some of the herbs and folk remedies that I have read about. I am going to try to keep this article straight and to the point, although given the fact that my 2 previous articles were quite lengthy, I have my doubts [Editor’s note: those doubts were accurate; I completely and totally failed at making this article short and concise. Oh well!] because I tend to ramble quite a bit. But we’ll see how it goes. Anyhow, listed below are the few herbs and other natural produces that I decided to use to prevent from getting totally sick and had enormous success.

apple cider vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar
: I received a book from my partner entitled “Folk Medicine” which is written by D.C. Jarvis (a physician) and published in 1958. This book is pretty much the bible for honey and apple cider vinegar, illustrating how both can cure a wealth of common ailments and help one to ultimately achieve a healthier and longer life. Even though some of what is stated in the book may be up to debate regarding it’s scientific accuracy, many of the things it tells have proven over and over to work. I usually drink apple cider vinegar, just a gulp or two a day, because it is rich in minerals and nutrients that are preserved by the bacterial culture. I like the taste, and have no problem getting it down although understandably it may be too strong and acidic for everyone’s tastes. Diluting it in juice, water or tea  is a more enjoyable way of enjoying the benefits of cider vinegar.

So how does cider vinegar help when you’re sick? I found it to be the absolute best cure for a sore throat. Just sipping the vinegar brings relief which lasts for a good long while. My guess is that the vinegar creates an environment in your throat so acidic that it damages the virus/bacteria that are causing the discomfort. Or perhaps the answer lies in the bacterial culture in the vinegar somehow affecting the invading infection? Just some thoughts. But how ever it works, It works big time. Sore throats are my least favorite common health problem. Thoroughly unenjoyable. Pro tip: Organic apple cider vinegar can be found in the natural product section of most grocery stores, as well as at natural health food shops or the occasional pharmacy.

For the do-it-yourself-er: If you buy good quality cider vinegar you will notice that it contains the ‘mother’, which is a long chain of bacteria that appears as a dark, cloudy mass somewhere in your bottle or jug. By preserving the mother, apple cider vinegar can be endlessly propagated by simply adding apple cider (the drinking, sweet flavored kind) to a remaining amount of cider vinegar which contains the mother. After waiting a certain amount of time (look it up), the mother will convert the regular apple cider into more vinegar. So theoretically, you only have to buy it once if you are creative!

Honey: You are definitely going to want to invest in raw honey. Even better if it’s organic. The best quality product provides the best support you are giving to your body. I encourage you to try to buy local honey as well, since our local bees could really use some love and support. Unpasteurized honey has more enzymes, protein and other delicate nutrients that are often eliminated when the honey is pasteurized  When ever I remembered, which turned out to be 3 or 4 times a day, I would take a big spoonful (or 2) of honey. It coats your throat and is anti-bacterial, and really helps to sooth a sore throat. Honey is a valuable, nutrient and vitamin dense super-food that is loaded with natural sugars and I find just helps for the infection to weaken faster and with less lingering complications. I also added it to my tea, smoothies and anything else that I ate or drank that would be appropriate.

Capsicum annuum

Capsicum annuum

Cayenne Pepper: Chances are, from what I have experienced, you have this in your house. It’s a common spice, made from the cured, dried and ground-up fruits of hot pepper plants, which are cultivars of the species Capsicum annuum, a native of southern North America and northern South America. Fun Fact: This same species is also the ancestor of the sweet green and colored bell peppers. Cayenne peppers contain a compound called capsaicin which is responsible for the hot, burning and numbing sensation that is produces in the mouth and throat. It is a very valuable medicinal plant and can be used to treat cardiovascular disease, topical skin infections, relieve pain, and much more.

What’s important when you have a cold is cayenne’s antibacterial, analgesic (pain-relieving) and decongestant properties. The powder when dissolved in warm water (the spicier the better!) really helps to loosen the mucus in your sinuses so that it can be expelled from the body, as well as sooth and eliminate sore throats. I drank this twice in the evening, on Tuesday and Wednesday night, mixing a heaping teaspoon of powered cayenne with 250ml (standard measuring cup) of freshly boiled water. I had to sir quite a bit to keep the powder evenly suspended, but it’s not a big deal. The heat that you feel after swallowing the cayenne also encourages perspiration; the skin is porous and has the capacity to flush toxins from the blood by dissolving it in the water that your body releases as sweat. Of course, incorporating generous amounts of cayenne to your food does not need an explanation and is another excellent way to enjoy it’s benefits. Cayenne is invaluable if you have any sort of sinus/respiratory problem, and would be absolutely one of my top 10 easiest to find and most useful herbal remedies.

peppermint

Peppermint: This is certainly an herbal product that you don’t have to look very hard to find, it is so common that most grocery stores carry it at pretty cheap prices. However, I would go for peppermint that is sold at bulk herb stores or other establishments that sell natural food and healing products. Even better would be to grow your own mint or harvest it (sustainably of course) from wild species. If you live in southern or central Ontario you can find field mint, Methna arvensis, and water mint, Mentha aquatica. Both species are usually only locally abundant, but when found are quite prolific. They like to hang around in damp meadows and along sunny stream edges.

I used Mentha arvensis that I collected this past summer when it was just coming into bloom. The taste is more pungent than spear or peppermint, but I find it more penetrating and medicinally potent. I find it quite earthy and comforting, ah yes! All true mints (Mentha species) can be used interchangeably for the purposes of treating a cold, and are applicable because they contain anti-spasmodic (muscle contraction or spasm reducing) and antibacterial properties and help the body to clear phlegm and mucus from the sinuses and lungs. Coughs and sore throats are also relieved by mint, if fact they have a significant capacity to heal the respiratory system. Indigestion, acid reflux, an even ulcers can be prevented and cured using this incredible group of aromatic plants.

Matricaria chamomilla

Chamomile: This low growing, whispy and fragrant herb, Matricaria chamomilla, has been used for countless centuries to relax and sedate the central nervous and digestive system, but aso has an important role to play involved with fighting respiratory illness. It is pain-relieving and anti-spasmodic like mint, but is also a potent anti-inflammatory that reduces the swelling and irritation in your sinuses and throat. Chamomile (occasionally spelled Camomile by a few eccentric individuals and distributors) is another widely available natural remedy that you could pick up in a variety of locations, although growing your own or sourcing from a reliable and trust-worthy source is always best! Chamomile’s time-honored calming affects also help someone with a cold to be able to sleep, which is extremely important when your body is using up energy fighting off an infection.

Garlic

Garlic: The potent chemicals found in this plant are completely undesirable to most bacteria, fungi and viruses and so can be used to disinfect the body internally as well as externally. Definitely throw in some extra garlic with whatever you are cooking for yourself when you are sick (which should include lots of easily digested and nutrient rich fresh fruit and vegetables. It also helps to eliminate dairy from your diet when you are sick, because it can enhance the production of mucus and may affect the immune system). I like to add borderline-insane amounts of garlic so that I can really feel it; certainly the more potent the better. Garlic also helps you to digest your food after it has passed through your throat to numb and heal inflamed throat tissue and relieve sinus congestion. I have found that eating a whole glove of garlic makes my stomach do somersaults, but if you can stomach eating raw garlic then all the power to you.

So that’s pretty much it; organic Apple cider vinegar, unpasteurized raw honey, powdered cayenne pepper, wild harvested mint, chamomile and garlic was all that my body needed to assist in expelling all of the symptoms, as well as the infection itself. All of these things are more or less very easy to come by and are extremely reliable. I couldn’t have hoped for being sick for a shorter period of time and now I know exactly how to treat myself using natural, safe and straight-forward ingredients. I encourage you to give it a shot, and to also explore other herbs and natural remedies that might work better for you. Everyone is different, and the only way to figure out what fits your needs best is to be creative, diversify and experimental!

Virginia Skullcap (Scutellaria latiflora)

9 Feb

First and foremost I would like to give a big thanks and lots of love to Adam and Katie for their interest in having me contribute to their online wellness-gardening-homesteading collective. It is a pleasure to write for such a forward thinking, wholesome collaboration of souls and ideas that bring us back to the basic skills and knowledge that connect us with our cultural and biological heritage. I am a firm believer in the resurgence of these types of concepts and ideas; which are not only factual and informative but encourage the mind and body to exist beyond the parameters with which the vast majority find themselves. These articles are life lessons that are invaluable for us on an individual and community basis: there is another way to exist that treats our bodies, the body of the earth and all the various lives that it has nurtured with the inherent respect and reverence that has allowed us to survive thus far. Thanks again you two, we are all in this together.

Most of us, myself included, at this point in the winter begin to feel tired, tense, worn out and perhaps even a little bit more irritable than usual. These emotional changes are normal and tend to effect people differently and are likely dependent on factors including ethnicity, diet, exercise and other more obscure variables. However you choose to look at it, there are things that one can do that can assist them with taking the edge off of the ‘winter blues’. This includes turning to some natural remedies that many have not heard of but I have found to be extremely effective.

Scutellaria lateriflora by Tom Murray

Scutellaria latiflora, more commonly known as Virginia skullcap  blue skullcap  mad-dog skull cap, plain old skullcap or skullcap, is a perennial herb in the mint family (Lamiaceae) which grows in moist, organic soils adjacent to gently flowing streams through sunny woods and along the edges of marshes throughout southern Canada and the United States. The name ‘mad-dog’ was given to this plant when, many centuries ago, it was believed that this herb was a cure or preventive measure against rabies. Although modern science has failed to confirm this particular medicinal attribute, it has revealed many other uses that perhaps reach a wider audience. Plants for a Future (one of my preferred sources for online herbal remedies) has this to say regarding S. lateriflora: “[Virginian Skullcap is a] very effective nervine that has traditionally been used in the treatment of a wide range of nervous conditions. Its tonic and restorative properties help to support and nourish the nervous system, calming and relieving stress and anxiety”

This has a tremendous flexibility for helping the faint of spirit during the cold, short days and even colder nights of winter. The herb possesses anti-spasmodic properties which sooth and relax muscles, relieving tension and promoting fluid movement and elasticity. This herb, when used in combination with others (such as Angelica sinensis, Alchemilla vulgaris or Valeriana officinalis) could help to gradually lessen the pain and discomfort associated with menstrual cramps and limit blood and nutrient loss. I have had enormous success with Scutellaria and take pride in using an indigenous plant that could be ecologically and morally grown in one’s edible/medicinal garden without worry of introducing an invasive species (because we most definitely have enough of those..). The plant in it’s second year produces fine erect stems which bear opposite facing lovely light purple flowers that are composed of petals that have fused to form a tube. This provides pollinating insects with a courteous landing pad and allows them to rest while they feed on nectar and inadvertently transfer pollen from plant to plant.

Scutellaria is also a tonic herb; which means that the active compounds present in the plant tissues are slowly but gradually and completely utilized by almost every organ system in the body and, if consumed regularly, helps to bring about a state of health that mainstream science does not, as of yet, have the means to understand. Consistent use of this herb also promotes cardiovascular health by strengthening the heart muscles and the lining of the veins. By depressing the central nervous system, Scutellaria helps to combat pain, anxiety, panic attacks, stress, mental fatigue, and when taken in the late afternoon and throughout the evening prepares the body for sleep; something that on it’s own can help combat the many afflictions in which Scutellaria is most effective.

As a beverage, tea made from this lovely and embarrassingly underutilized herb tastes wonderfully earthy and wholesome. When consumed warm like many herbal teas, Scutellaria promotes sweating and the purging of accumulated bacteria and toxins from the bloodstream and skin. It also contains an aray of important, health promoting micro-nutrients and minerals including magnesium,  manganese, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc and potassium; as discussed in Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC. I find Scutellaria to be one of my new favorite herbs to take once I arrive home from work and relax in the evenings with music, food and books. A winner combination for me is Scutellaria mixed with Centella asiatica, which is known as Gotu-Kola. This thin, delicate Asiatic trailing perennial has similar attributes to Scutellaria including it’s ability to reduce anxiety, muscle tension and strengthen cardiovascular function. is also proven through centuries of medicinal use in China and India to improve memory, improve the healing of wounds, strengthen immunity to disease and regulate the nervous system. It was also used spiritually to prepare the soul and body for a state of deep meditation and mental stillness.

In combination with an increased intake of dense, high-energy fresh foods and increasing the amount of time in which you set aside to relax and contemplate, the mind will gradually clear and your overall emotions will level off and become more stable. The long nights, cold temperatures and less physical exercise that accompany winter are difficult to deal for what is in reality a tropical species. It’s all about doing what you can and not worrying about what you don’t have to or can’t change. With the help of various herbs, including but certainly not limited to the particular species that I have discussed, the path to healing is likely to be faster, easier and hopefully mentally fulfilling as well.

Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity.
– Hippocrates

Tom Nagy
Tom NagyTom is an herbal medicine missionary, nature enthusiast and skilled field botanist. He has spent many years researching the identification, taxonomy, medicinal and ethnobotanical properties of Ontario’s flora. He has successfully conducted informative public seminars on both edible and medicinal plants and continues to heal both himself and others through his studies in herbalism. He resides (at least part of the time) in Stoney Creek, Ontario.

References:
[1] USDA Plant database – profile for Scutellaria lateriflora – http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=SCLA2
[2] Plants for a Future – http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Scutellaria+lateriflora
[3]Perscription for Nutritional Healing – Phyllis A. Balch, CNC. 2000.
[4] The Herb Handbook – Sue Bristow. 2004.
[5] Herbs for Health & Healing – Kathi Keville. 2006.

Our 2012 Medicinal and Vegetable Gardens summary Part 1

6 Jan

NewspaperThis past summer of 2012 was one of the most awakening and deeply enjoyable garden experiences of our lives. Between the two of us, we both spent extensive time digging, sweating, planning, planting, watering, weeding, and exploring our new backyard organic garden.

The entire project began with a rich yearning to till the soil in the backyard’s green grass monoculture. We are both expanding in our knowledge and experience with gardening and being self-sufficient so growing our own food and medicinals was a clear next-step for personal growth. Actually, in my opinion, the best thing to do if you are not confident or not sure when/where to plant a garden, would be to just start with a small garden plot, pick out the plants you want to use, do basic research (even just on the back of the seed packs about which month to plant or how much sun/water), plant them in the spring, and watch them grow until they are ready to harvest! It is as simple as that. I cannot guarantee you will be successful with what you try to grow, but at least you observed, learned, and can take that knowledge to improve and  build upon the mistakes you just made.DSC02846

In our case, we both had some farming and gardening experience so we were not really starting at the bottom but after planting 60+ species of plants and not knowing exactly what grew best where, or which needed extra care or sunlight, as well as the quality of our soil… it all became a little wrenching to see if ANYTHING would grow. This was our best lesson; almost everything that germinated did amazing and we had tons of success with things like Butternut squash, which grew 17′ vines that crawled the length of our garden beds and produced seven 5+ pound squashes! The only major problem we had was with cucumber beetles and tomato blight- it was a very bad summer for that indeed.

Our indoor garden we made last winter and blogged about, started off the 2012 season. Many of our herbs were started inside and that allowed the roots to flourish and get a head start. We then hardened them off in the early spring as we began the immense and tiring task of plotting out our future garden and tilling the soil all by hand! We mapped out a space a little under 1300 sq. ft and removed the sod, and tilled about 12″ deep to loosen up the topsoil once the ground had dried from the receding frost. You can also see the full layout of the 2012 Garden here. We had only started our compost the fall before which forced us to purchase a half pick-up truck load of leaf and mushroom compost to use for adding nutrients to the dry topsoil. Instantly, the soil went from a light grey to a dark black earth, with much greater moisture holding abilities.

DSC02849

 Once May rolled around, and all the partially-raised beds were constructed, we converted two more 5 gal barrels into rain barrels and started collecting rain water and cheaply made a 50′ clothes line to help lower our electricity consumption for the summer (we also love the smell of clothes that had been drying outside on a

 warm, sunny summer day). We dug a large trench around the perimeter of our compost and shaded garden because in the past the rain load emitted by the garage roof swamped out the garlic and spinach planted near our path. After digging the trench and filling it with large crushed gravel, heavy spring rains washed into the deep trench and by-passed the beds and flowed into the corner of our property. One other project we completed before the season began was the digging of a small toad pond near the interior of the middle garden. We found 3 very small toads while doing maintenance gardening for a customer, and brought them home to live for the summer in case they got hit by her lawnmower. We only saw them from time-to-time but it was the hornets that we observed making frequent visits to the pond to collect water to drink, or to take to their hives. Another friend of the garden was the giant fuzzy bumble bees, burrowing their nest in the soil next to our potato mounds. In the early morning as we toured the gardens before work, we would pass the potatoes and witness a scurry of 5-10 big bear-like bees buzzing past; off to collect nectar.

IMG_0622

It was amazing the number of insects a large garden can bring – from thirsty hornets, to hover flies, honey bees to hawk moths, even lace wings and horned worms. This diversity was our goal in producing this years garden as the aid of specific flowers and native plants, like yarrow, that brought in beneficial insects was part of why our garden thrived and created balance. Overall, we had a great time, learned more than we could have hoped for and had so much fun being able to enter the garden at will and eat ripe and local food we watched grow from seeds! Growing your own food is a very liberating act 🙂

Check out part two of this blog (hopefully in the next day or two) to hear about our planting, harvesting, and finally putting the garden to sleep last fall!

Thanks for reading,
– A

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