Medicinal Herb Help Needed

Last Fall I bought some seeds from Amazon and I was planning on growing them this season. I don’t know as much about them as I want to. I got the seeds to grow plants for medicine. I do not know anyone that has grown these plants so I am hoping to reach out to any herbalists that could read this blog. I have done a bit of online research but I would like to hear some first hand opinions of the plants. One is more common and the other two are not.

Mad-Dog Skullcap: Scutellaria Lateriflora

Lion’s Tail: Leonitus Leonurus

Wild Dagga: Leonurus Cardiaca Sibericus

I’m sure I will grow the skullcap, I just don’t know how to use it. The other two I am not sure about. If you have any experience with any of these plants -growing or using- that could be useful to me, please e-mail me or post a message.

I Love My Compost!

Out of everything in my yard I have a very special relationship with my compost. What I like about the compost is that it makes life into a cycle. I can grow food, put the waste in the compost bin. It turns into good soil then I can return it to the yard to feed the next years plants. 

My first compost bin was awesome! I made it by hand with 2×4’s and chicken wire. I made it into a rectangular bin. I dug the four corner post and a post for the gate 18″ into the yard. I leveled the thing, put up the chicken wire and threw whatever I could in it. It was huge too, it turned out to be 5’x8′. I would throw crap in it all year and empty it in the spring. By fall that thing was always overflowing. By the time we decided to move I had plans on making a second one the same size to rotate the compost.

I just made a compost for the new place. I had in mind what I wanted to do for a compost bin for a few months now. I went out in search of wood pallets in the G.A.P.O.S. van, dumpster dove to get them and brought them back to the yard. I wanted this compost to be somewhat temporary, so I was not going to make it permanent like my last one. I had four pallets and I went out and got eight-four foot poles. I put the poles in the ground and put the pallets over the poles, like the forks of a forklift. I am able to easily break it down if needed and it will hold all our crap.

There are some ethics to dumpster diving for wood pallets. (I did find ads on craigslist for free pallets, but I wasn’t able to get them on a Sunday evening.) I trolled slowly behind businesses looking for pallets. Yes, that is an invitation to get questioned by the Cops. To the credit of the businesses on South Robert in West Saint Paul I didn’t find what I was looking for. I came across junk pallets next to dumpsters in an industrial area in Saint Paul. If a pallet looked like it might not have been trash- I would have asked the business if I could have it, or not taken it at all. The ones I found were not wanted anymore. I piled them up in the van and proudly took them home.

Now that I have a cheap compost bin I can start to throw crap in it. ‘What can go into a compost bin?’ You ask…Well here is what I compost: leaves, grass clippings, straw, weeds, egg shells, unused or bad fresh food, kitchen scraps, hair, old plants, coffee grounds, and vacuum bag crap. Basically I have a lot of yard waste and kitchen scraps I put in mine.

Composting is a key part of gardening and part of the cycle of life. As much fun as it is for me to watch a small seed grow into a fourteen foot flower with a wood-like stalk, it’s just as enjoyable to watch my yard and kitchen waste turn into food for my yard.

Wine

It is grape season! Vineyards are having events along with the U of M to celebrate wine grapes.

I know very little about wine. I like light, sweet and bubbly wine. I don’t like dry wines.  I like the wine that is made by the Italian dude that comes in a gallon glass bottle- Carlo Rossi. My wife likes dry wine. When I go get wine I don’t like to buy too much, but we don’t always agree on what to buy. I learned a trick in bartending school- pour soda in your wine. So I buy a dry wine and fill my glass with half wine and the rest with 7 UP. That is my basic knowledge of wines. From listening to The Splendid Table, I think you have had to have a few bottles of wine to start to appreciate the different tastes… and it will cost some money.

I have seven grapevines in my yard. We have have fresh eating grapes and wine grapes. We have: Niagara, Catawba, St. Croix (2), Edelweiss, Frontenac and Marquette grapes. We harvest all of our grapes and throw them in a large bucket and make something out of all of them. Last year it was good jelly. This year it’s wine.

I bought this book last year called, “Wild Fermentation,”  by Sandor Ellix Kraut. I have said this before on this blog and I will say it again: Dude is good! He has a recipe for Ethiopian wine, made from honey and water. It’s straight honey and water. I made a batch last year. I made the quick version and did not let it age. I should have let it age; I did not “appreciate” the taste. The wine I am making now I am gonna make off that recipe, bottle it and let it age.

I just harvested our grapes. We are in the process of selling the land our “vineyard” is on and we want to take the “vineyard” with us. While harvesting our grapes I pruned all the vines way down to transport them. They grew awesome this year. I am not sure where we are going to put them yet. I know I won’t plant them all in the yard we have with the rental house. I am thinking guerrilla gardening stuff. If you have any ideas or may want one let me know.

I took the grapes off the clusters and washed them. I ran the grapes through a food mill getting out over three quarts of juice. I poured the juice in a large stock pot and cover it with a clean t-shirt. I let that sit on the shelf for a few days gathering wild yeast. I mixed in just over 3 cups of raw honey and let it continue to sit on the shelf a few days until it got nice and bubbly. The very top of the wine is very frothy and you should mix that in twice a day. The smell of this stuff was wonderful! It was like wine. It smelled like grape juice, honey, and alcohol. I put my head in that pot several times a day to get a good whiff. After it gathered the yeast I poured it into a Carlo Rossi wine bottle. It’s a 4 liter, which is just over a gallon, glass jug. I got it with wine for $12. Then I put an airlock on the top and put it in the pantry. It has been consistently letting gas go every 1-2 seconds, 24/7 since I capped it with the airlock It’s pretty cool to pop my head in the pantry and see it doing its thing. I will leave it like that for a month or so then siphon it into bottles. After the siphoning I will age it for 18 months or so.

I want to mention why I use wild yeast. There are a couple of reasons: The first is that it’s free. It comes from where I live, this drink will taste like my land. The second is I want to do things myself. If I can get a “excellent” wine yeast from Italy, or where ever good wine yeast comes from and keep it alive or allow it to multiply- I will think about it. I don’t want to be dependent on living near a home-brew shop and I don’t want to be told which yeast will give me the best wine. I am doing this to be free from marketing and trends. I just want to make a descent tasting alcoholic beverage.

I invite you to make your own homemade wine and let it age. We can get drunk together in the summer of 2013. We can bring our mystery-tasting wines together and have a unveiling. If you say you have no grape vines in your yard- I say there are a lot of wild grapes in Minnesota. I have seen some in parks in Saint Paul, a State Park in Saint Paul and I was up near the river in Anoka foraging for sumac and I stumbled across some as-well. Or you could buy some wine grapes from vineyards or some grocery stores.

Hollyhocks

I read in the Peterson’s Wild Edible Field Guide that you could make marshmallows, capers and tea from the  hollyhock plant. Well actually they were under the marsh mallow plant. The book said there are similarities between the two flowers, so I wanted to give these recipes a try.

I have planted flowers in the yard the past few years. I am very discriminate against any non-edible flowers. If you are a flower and you are in my yard, you need to feed me. I looked into edible flowers or bee attracting flowers; Bee’s help to pollinate flowers. I have planted: marigolds, lady slippers, johnny jump-ups, hollyhocks, nasturtiums, zinnia, echinacea and many others, but only a few of them took.

Hollyhocks are a gorgeous flower. They look like something my grandma would have had growing up. They grow to be over seven feet tall, with several flowers coming out of the stalk. They are a perennial and they re-seed more flowers. This year I had several I never planted growing in our main vegetable garden. I knew what they were when they started to come up, so I let them grow. They are a great addition to the yard.

   

I have a dozen hollyhock plants in my yard and I wanted to use them. The Japanese beetle devoured a lot of the leafs off the flowers, but I was able to get a half pint of the small flower buds. Then I dug up four of the roots for marshmallows and medicinal tea.

The first thing I tried were the marshmallows. It’s a marshmallow before the marshmallow we know today. You take the root of the marsh mallow plant, peel the outer skin, cut it in pieces and boil it in sugar water. It puffs up and looks and tastes similar to a modern marshmallow. The hollyhock root didn’t turn out. It didn’t puff up and it was really stringy. It didn’t taste half bad, but I will need to try it with the marsh mallow root.

I needed a recipe for the capers. The Wild Edible Field Guide didn’t give me one. I found a recipe at The Splendid Table for nasturtium capers. When I work in the kitchen I often listen to Lynne Rossetto Kasper; She inspires me! The recipe is for nasturtium seed pods, but I thought I would give it a try with the hollyhock flower buds. 

I combined three cups of water and six tablespoons of salt and brought it to a boil. I poured the mixture onto the clean flower buds in a clean wide mouth pint jar. I put a normal size lid in the jar and a weight on the lid in the jar to hold the buds in the brine. I covered and let it sit in my pantry for three days. On the third day I made a mixture of: 3/4 cup white vinegar, 2 teaspoons of sugar, two bay leafs and some dried thyme. I brought this to boil and poured it into a jar with the drained flower buds. I put a lid on it and set it in the fridge for another three days.

The taste was… like eating young unopened flower buds, that are in white vinegar, seasoned with bay leafs and thyme. It seems pretty straight forward. Maybe the taste changes as they age. The texture is cool. It has a rough- thick, thicker than a lettuce leaf, but not too thick outer leaf. Inside there is a very young flower with a bright color to it.

I enjoy the tea the most out of these three recipes. I took the unearthed root, let it sit outside to dry for a week or so, brought it inside, rinsed it off, cut a couple inches of it up, boiled it in a quart of water for 15 min or so and drank the cooled tea.It’s not real strong and it has a very pleasant taste- like root. It’s not bitter at all. I am looking forward to drinking more. I have three more large roots out back to save. I will drink the stuff just for the taste, but medicinally it soothes a sore throat and helps with an irritated digestive tract.



Hollyhocks on Punk Domestics

Neighborhood Eggs

I have not been buying eggs at the store lately. The last three dozen eggs I got- I bought from people that have chickens in their backyards. (I just found out you do not need a license to sell your own chicken’s eggs.)

I bought eggs from a guy today that lives in South Minneapolis. He has a sign outside his house and I drive by it on the way to work. “Eggs $3.50 dozen.” I have seen the sign for months, he never takes it down, but today was the first time I stopped. I had $3.50 ready and knocked on the door. An older man with a long graying beard answered. I ask if he had an eggs and he responded, “A Dozen?” like he had done this several times before. I nodded and he walked in the house and came back out with a dozen eggs and I gave him the cash. He told me they were gathered an hour before. 

He looked like a nice guy so I asked about his chickens. He told me he has 30 in his yard! I told him I am interested in getting some and asked if they are a lot of work. He told me they are and you need a good coop. He said he has a very nice coop with heat and running water. I could have asked several more questions but I didn’t want to take up too much of his time. I thanked him for the eggs and went on my way.

The first lady I bought eggs from I found on Craigslist. She lives close to me here in Saint Paul. She didn’t seem so comfortable talking about the eggs so I didn’t ask questions. She sold me two dozen for $4.

If I can give small farmers $2-$4 for a dozen eggs from chickens in their yard it is well worth it.

Seedlings

On a hot and early afternoon of the 4th of July, I found myself pacing in the yard. I was telling myself, “I need manure! Manure! Manure; where can a get a bunch of manure.” I was transplanting seedlings and I was in a rush.

My “nicely spaced garden” was getting a bit more crowded. I had bought more seeds and had  planted them a few weeks before. The seeds grew and I needed more space to put the seedlings. I weeded the night before and I was trying to find room for the mammoth sunflowers, watermelon and zucchini seedlings.

When I planted the garden this year I tilled the soil down 6″ and made mounds with the loose dirt. I planted 3 seeds per hill and gave each hill its space. I wanted to make several more mounds for my new seedlings and needed some dirt. The mounds were soft, but the rest of the garden was very hard.  I dug out enough for one mound from the garden, leaving a hole in its spot. I didn’t want a trench running through my garden but needed dirt for the mounds. The manure would have been perfect.

I was in a rush because we had friends coming over and I needed to go to the store to get supplies to grill and I needed to get some POTTING SOIL. Yeah, I was very impatient. I could have waited a day…But I wanted it done that day. I dug up more soil from the garden and mixed it with the potting soil to make the mounds. From what I initially planted, my number of mounds nearly doubled to over thrity.

We had a bunch of neighborhood kids over that day. Most of the kids know they can come over and help themselves to our food. We had a 5 pound bag of organic oranges on the counter. They helped themselves to the oranges. I told them to eat them outside at the picnic table, then when they were done they had to throw the orange peels into the compost. They grabbed  butter knifes to cut up the oranges and walked out the door.

I was doing garden work when one of the girls went into the house and grabbed her 3rd orange. She came back out and asked me about the garden. I proudly walked her through our plants telling her what everything was. She knew what the raspberries were and wanted to pick some. I told her they will be ripe in a week. She ran off and said “I can’t wait to come back to eat all this good food!”

Our garden is looking good. I am fighting off the crabgrass, weeding and using what we get from the yard. I have made several jars of strawberry jam and dried two quarts of medicinal herbs: chamomile and lemon balm. I have a long list of garden work to do. One thing on that list that is new to me is canning grape leaves. There are challenges and it takes discipline to work out in the yard everyday; but I am enjoying gardening more and more every year. As far as the 5 pound bag of organic oranges go…the pack of wild neighborhood kids devoured them all.

Romaine In Our Lawn

As a young homeowner I was excited about my land. I would take the girls out to the lawn in the evening, just to lie in OUR grass and talk. This is my spot in the world. The first year of owning our home I mowed the lawn twice a week. Since, I have mowed a lot less. Now I get upset when my neighbors mow every two weeks and I have not, it makes my lawn look worse. These past few weeks have been different though. I have not mowed because I don’t have the time or that I am lazy. I have not mowed because I have been eating plants from my yard; Dandelions and Greater Plantain.
My view on foraging has changed since we started our garden four years ago. Before that I never viewed plants as food. Even plants that are food I never viewed as plants. For example: corn on the cob, potatoes, sunflower seeds, apples and lettuce. I thought they were magically and safely made for human consumption. Plants that you eat seemed wild and risky. Not something you would do unless you had to.
When I started learning more about types of beneficial plants that we could grow from our land, I came across medicinal plants. Mainly herbs, very similar to cooking herbs, which you could use in teas. Things like mint, chamomile and echinacea. We have tried growing different herbs and using them in teas. This seemed safer than foraging for food in the wild. We always bought chamomile tea at the grocery store now we can grow it just like squash or tomatoes.
My gateway foraging plant was the raspberry plant. I have raspberry plants in my yard and there are wild raspberry plants that grow in Saint Paul. Picking berries out of plants in your yard is very similar to picking them in a park. Last year I took Aurelia to help me pick so we could get more berries. We had quart mason jars and filled them to the top. Our hands were stained with the color and smell of the berries. We were able to bring them home and cook them into a jam.
I bought foraging books and dreamed about going to foraging lectures. The more I learned about our food system and the more my views on how I eat changed; the more I became comfortable foraging for my dinner. Here are some of the main reasons I enjoy it: Self reliance, knowledge of your environment, sustainable, low cost, a connection to our ancestors and being disconnected from our industrial food system.
I have mowed my grass once this year. We went through and weeded the gardens, pulling up dandelion roots for roasting. Last week something clicked for me while I was looking at the dandelions in our front yard. My thought was, “We have hundreds of lettuce plants in our grass. We don’t have anything from our vegetable garden yet and I want to live off our land.” I went out and picked a salad bowl of dandelion leaves, cleaned them and tossed them in with our store bought lettuce.
Earlier this week I learned about broad leaf plantains. I had sandwiches on the menu for dinner and I wanted a vegetable besides salad so I went out and picked plantains. This weed is more common in my yard then dandelion and I never knew it was eatable or medicinal. I picked a bowl full that I cooked up and served with dinner along with a couple dozen fried dandelion blossoms. It made for a great meal.
I am a very novice forager. For some people this is crazy, to other people I am a complete poser. I am comfortable eating plants that I am very familiar with and if I have the foraging spirit. Plants are food. We should be appreciative of what we have and what is around us.
I want to give a couple easy recipes. Cooking is not always technical and you don’t always need instructions in front of you to do it. I wing a lot of stuff. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but most of the time it does. Both of these dishes are a good starter foraging dishes because they are cooked or fried with oil and topped with salt.

Broad Leaf Plantain Crisps:

Pick a bowl of young plantain leaves, maybe 4-6 cups. Your compost will be hungry for what you don’t cook.
Clean them real good. I use a salad spinner and rinse them three times.
Put them in boiling water for 15 minutes.
Drain them and let cool.
Spread them out on a cooking sheet and sprinkle with oil. I use coconut oil; you could also use olive oil.
Bake them at 350 until they are crisp. Do not overcook.
Salt and enjoy.

Plantain Crisps

Fried Dandelion Blossoms:

Pick at least 2 dozen good looking blossoms
Rinse well with water.
Crack an egg into a bowl and beat it.
Pour 1/2 cup to 1 cup of flour into another bowl depending on how many blossoms you have.
Heat a small pan with oil to medium. I use my 8″ cast iron skillet with 1/4″ of coconut oi at the bottom.
Dip the blossoms into the egg than the flour.
Shake off any extra flour before frying.
Fry blossoms around 12 at a time.
Fry on one side till golden and flip. 2-3 minutes per side.
Take out when golden, put on plate with napkin to soak up extra oil.
Salt and enjoy.

Fried Dandelion Blossoms