If a Tree (Stump) Felt in the Forest & Other Adventure Tales

A WILD YEAR IN THE OHIO WOODLANDS

DAY 3

Feeling stumped, but not in the usual way.  What does that really mean anyway, does anybody know?  I’ve been pondering about stumps lately.  All these old trees I’ve known, my friends, that are now stumps, make me a little sad.

I’ll admit it, I’m a total treehugger.  I get attached to trees and their wise old souls.  With all the meditation I’ve been doing, the quietness of trees is even one more reason for me to love them.  I’ve had close relationships with at least two hollow trees.  There is something truly amazing about standing inside of a tree.  It’s like a whole other world.  I totally recommend it!

Lately I’ve been working on my throat chakra.  One of the last things I learned about the throat chakra was its connection to breath and the fear of death (ooh, nice rhyme), like the last breath.  My fear of death became more apparent once I got pregnant because this other person was depending on me.

So that brings us full circle back to the stumps and the question of the day, Do they feel?  Sitting on one, thinking about all the life it held and all the life it will bring, makes me wonder.  What do you think?

DAY 5

I continue to work on my meditation.  Lately I ‘ve been trying to connect to the elements more, especially during this quiet time of my day.  Today I found a great meditation spot, and it inspired poetry.

I start down the trail

and feel the sun warm my face

after its long winter absence.

I give thanks to fire

and feel connected to all those who came before

and performed their spring rituals.

I sit on a stump to meditate,

take in the sounds of the flowing creek below

and give thanks to the waters of the world.

I focus on my breath, still my mind,

and give thanks to the air

and the trees and plants who purify it.

I connect to the earth beneath my feet,

holding me up with strength,

and give thanks to the Mother.

I feel

I listen

I breathe

I stand

I give thanks.

creekside meditation ampitheater

DAY 5

Spring is like first love all over again, except less painful.  Everywhere you turn, there are beautiful surprises.  Every day when I go out in the woods, I see a new sprout I didn’t see the day before.

cleavers and wild onions

winter aconite

spring beauty

First it was aconite, then chickweed, spring beauty yesterday, and cleavers and the anxiously awaited TOOTHWORT today!  Toothwort is one of my favorites, its beautiful flowers, toothed leaves, and shocking horseradishey tasting, tooth-shaped root.  It’s one of the first edible wild plants of the year, foreshadowing many more tasty plants and gorgeous days of fantastic weather full of opportunities to hike and explore.

a harvested toothwort and its tooth

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Metaphor and Meditation

A WILD YEAR IN THE OHIO WOODLANDS – DAY 2

Crazy as it seems, I’m sick a-g-a-i-n.  Trying not to blame myself for not noticing the many blatantly obvious signs of impending sickdom.  The signs telling me, “slow down, or else!”  I think my main life lesson this go round is BALANCE.  Yes, in capital letters.

Often I tell myself, subconsciously, that because I’m an Herbalist, I’m immune from illness.  Ha ha ha, so laughable and ironic.  I believe many Herbalists sought out this line of work because we’d beaten ourselves so badly through overwork, overindulgence, and basic lack of self-nurturing, we hit that rock bottom place.  We didn’t want to feel this way anymore, so we took action, took our healing into our own hands.

Today, on the second day of this project, it was hard to get out into the woods.  All my body felt like doing on this sick rainy day was lying in bed.  But I had a goal, and to wimp out on the second day just wouldn’t do.  Plus, getting the ick in my lungs moving was probably a good idea.  So I pulled on my flowered rain boots, my raincoat, strapped on my camera, and headed out.

Within about a minute of getting outside, I knew I had made the right decision.  There’s something about being outside and breathing (somewhat) fresh air that can lighten my mood on the gloomiest of days.  One of the first thoughts I had was how nature really can be an amazing metaphor for life.

So the light was low and I haven’t totally gotten the hang of my new borrowed camera (thanks, Sis) yet.  I was hoping to catch the ripples in the puddles, but maybe you can kind of make them out.

okay, just imagine them

Metaphor #1:

I thought about how life is like the ripple effect.  We make one little change in an effort to make our lives better and it ripples out, through our lives, other peoples lives, and the world.  Just like this project.  It will get me outside, which will relieve my stress, give me more exercise and playtime, and keep me connected to the natural world.  Hopefully it will inspire someone else to get outside, even on a rainy day, and connect to nature, which will create an appreciation and a value for it.  Then, maybe they’ll go out to inspire someone else, and it will be one more step toward creating a healthy world.

It’s like this one morning that sticks out in my head.  I was rushing to the post office before work on a relatively average day.  There was a man standing next to the mailbox.  For seemingly no reason, he said hello and asked how I was.  Then he smiled and said something like, “I hope you have a fantastic day.”  I was touched by the random kindness of this stranger and passed that smile to other people throughout my day, who maybe passed it to others.

Metaphor #2:

I have laryngitis.  I love to talk, and joke, and even sing.  This has been hard.  It has forced me to be quiet and I’m learning silence really is golden.  Because when you’re silent, you have to slow down.  Another one of my goals for the year is to practice meditation.  The technique that I’m studying talks about first being present to all of your senses, including really listening.  As I walked into the woods, I listened to the falling rain, my footsteps, and the quiet all around me and my mind slowed.  In the woods, slow and quiet is a way of life (literally).

Metaphor #3:

Everything is wet!  The way the raindrops gently hang there on the edge of the new twigs and buds, the way the water flows.  It is the definition of rebirth.  That feeling of rebirth is palpable to all of us, especially me on this day after my birth(day).  I think we all get a little woowoo thinking about how we can remake our lives this year.  What an opportunity!

Metaphor #4:

Some really nice person, knowing how ridiculously slushy this trail gets, made a walking path through the mud out of bark.  This must have taken some time, energy, and thought.  Whether they knew doing this would help others make it through or not, they did it.  And this is how it is with me.  This new year of my life, one of my main resolutions is to really truly love myself.  Part of that lesson is really truly believing I’m loved and supported by others, that I’m taken care of and never alone.  And it’s always shown to me in the least expected ways and times.

As I sign off, I’m challenging you to get outside and look for the metaphors all around you.  Then come back here and leave me a comment about it!

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Birthday Resolve

On this auspicious day, the day of my birth, I made what is sure to be a life-changing New Year’s Resolution.  I resolved to start a project that I’ve been thinking about for at least a couple of years now.  The main idea was to document the life cycle of these woods for a year, the woods of my home, the Midwest, the Ohio River valley.  And, as an added bonus, I would get to venture into the woods every day for a year.

I’ve always been drawn to and fascinated by these woods ever since I can remember.  I used to spend hours as a kid in trees or exploring the creek bed below our house.  I moved away from Ohio a couple of times, but like many I know, it never stuck.  Certain times of the year I get homesick for my second home, the West.

But a weird thing happened last time I went to Colorado, thinking about the possibility of relocating again.  I felt disconnected, ungrounded.  I thought to myself, “How can I feel ungrounded when I’m surrounded by mountains?”  But I realized I felt disconnected from this lush, deciduous woodland.  So, though it would sound strange to my rebellious teenage self at the time, this is my home.

More on the project.  As an Herbalist, a budding (ha ha) Botanist, a nature lover, a spiritual person, and a mom with constantly too much on her plate, this project gradually became more and more attractive.  I added to it, too.  Not only would I document, in pictures and words, the progression of the local flora and fauna throughout a year, I would have an excuse to get out and connect to nature every single day and write about it and my experiences.  Then I would share it, in the hopes of peaking others’ interest in the local wildness.  Hmmm…

So here goes, . . .

A WILD YEAR IN THE OHIO WOODLANDS – DAY 1

I have several birthday traditions.  The most important of which is getting out in the woods by myself and doing some  introspection, meditation, and general feeling of my feelings.  This year was no different, even though I felt icky.  I felt the draw of the trees and the budding wildness.  I convinced myself I could take a short, low-intensity hike.  Of course, no matter the weather, once I’m out, I never want to go back in.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m gradually opening to my spirituality, or some astrological event, or what, but this year the time around my birthday has been pretty rough.  Sickness, serious introspection, big emotional waves and more included.  It’s good, though.  So many things have been revealed that I needed to see, though they may be painful.

So many amazing things happened on this amazing hike!  First I noticed this beauty (sorry it’s a little out of focus), like a fungus rose just for me on my special day.  I love fungus!  It’s one of the few things you can see growing in the winter and it’s so interesting, the shapes, colors, textures, and how different it is from plants.

Then I saw a truly awesome thing!  I heard this weird bird call that I didn’t recognize, almost thought it was a crow.  I looked around and saw a beautiful bird with a big wingspan, a hawk.  Then there was another one!  It was a gray day and I forgot the binoculars, but I think they were Cooper’s hawks.  Unfortunately they eluded my camera, but here’s a picture of the nest they were making.  One of them kept flying to various trees, gathering sticks, and adding them to the nest.  What a birthday present!  At that moment I felt so blessed and the feeling just kept getting bigger.

I saw all the baby plants, plants I know and love, struggling with all their might to push their way through the leaf litter up to the light.  I felt their growth and my own and felt totally connected.  We’re really not that different.

baby wild strawberry plants poking out under log

The day was so inspiring, I couldn’t resist writing some poetry.  Here’s one I’ll leave you with:

THESE WOODS

How appropriate that I walk through these woods again,

The woods I know like the back of my hand,

but offer me a new surprise every time.

I walked through these woods every day of a sweltering summer,

big and pregnant,

feeling my life, the life inside me, and the life all around me

without boundary.

Soon after, I labored to push a stroller up this trail.

Now, years later, I reflect on my own birth.

Today the veil is thin and I reflect on everything,

I open my heart and the wonder peeks through,

like the new green growth sprouting

and working its way through the leaf litter,

against all odds.

These woods are a metaphor for my life.

I hope you’ll join me in this project, checking back for new posts of my adventures in the woodlands of Ohio and leaving your comments.

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The Other Dreaded “S” Word

I have been in serious transition mode.  Yes, I moved AGAIN.  For those of you who know me well, you know that this has been a recurring event in my life during the last two years.  I’ve had a little string of  difficult living situations, but am hopeful this one will stick.

Every time I go into the first stages of moving mode, I think it will not be that big of a deal.  However, then I get back to reality, start packing, realize how many things I have acquired, how few I’m willing to get rid of, and how much packing and unpacking that requires.  Then I realize and remember how much work it really is to move and how truly draining it is, physically, energetically, and spiritually.  A very wise man pointed out that moving even forces us to change the patterns or physical pathways we are used to taking every day through our living space.  All of this adds up to a lot of change.  Change usually results in one big bad ugly “s” word.  “Stress,” whether it be positive or negative, is hard on the body.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  Anything new, any change can cause stress.  I tend to forget this, then wonder why I’m feeling weird, worn down, and not sleeping well.  These thoughts have led to me a curiosity and research on adaptogens.  In a previous newsletter I shared a link to a conversation on adaptogens by Maine Herbalist, Gail Faith Edwards.  You can find the article on her website, Blessed Maine Herb Farm.

Gail describes adaptogens as, “… natural substances that help the body adapt to stress, whether physical, chemical, biological, emotional or environmental. They support the normal metabolic processes of the body and help to restore balance. In order to meet the criteria as defined by the word adaptogen a substance must be non-toxic, produce a nonspecific response in the body which boosts the ability to resist multiple stressors, and exert a normalizing influence on physiology. Adaptogens strengthen the immune, nervous and glandular system, increase metabolic efficiency and reduce susceptibility to illness and disease.”

Currently I have two favorite adaptogenic herbs I’ve been experimenting with, eleuthero (or siberian ginseng) and tulsi (or holy basil).  I have been including both of these in daily tea blends to help me chill out and keep my immunity at a steady level while many people around me seem to dropping from various ick.  As an added bonus, they both protect the body from the effects of radiation and environmental toxins.  Of course there’s other lifestyle changes we can make that will help a lot, but first the herbs.

Eleuthero

Eleuthero used to be called siberian ginseng because it has many of the same health benefits as the other ginsengs.  Thought it is in the same family, it is not a true ginseng, meaning it is not in the panax genus.  Eleuthero, or eleutherococcus senticosus, has been tested with amazing results.  The root of the plant is the part that is usually used.  It is made, by the decoction method, into a tea.  I especially like roots because they are extra grounding, and being a Pisces with a Libra rising, I need as much grounding as I can get!  Even if you don’t believe in that astrology stuff, we could probably all use a little more grounding in this quick moving world.

Tons of studies have been done on eleuthero with amazing success.  It has been shown to increase athletic performance, decrease flu cases, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, increase productivity, and immune system function, and more.  Eleuthero is even believed by many to promote longevity.  It is mild and considered to be safe for regular use and all age ranges.  Of course, always check with your Herbalist or health practitioner before starting an herbal program if you have any health concerns, are on medication, are pregnant or breastfeeding, etc.

Tulsi (holy basil)

Tulsi, ocimum sanctum, alternately called holy basil and a member or the mint family, has been a part of Indian ayurvedic therapy for around three thousand years.  It also has a multitude of uses and is revered in India as being sacred to the god, Vishnu.  There’s a whole load of benefits offered by tulsi including stress reduction, lowering blood sugar, preventing allergy symptoms, increaseing brain circulation, mental clarity and memory, fighting viruses, and boosting immunity with its powerful antioxidants.  Tulsi mainly grows in India.  Its leaves are used in a tea infusion.  Putting a tulsi plant on your doorstep or wearing its stems made into a mala (beaded necklace) is supposed to put you under Vishnu’s protection.  There are conflicting reports of the safety of tulsi for pregnant women or women trying to become pregnant, but otherwise it is considered very safe over long periods of time.

Other things you can do to help manage stress, though they seem obvious, are often difficult because they’re lifestyle changes.  However, as I’ve noticed, they can make me feel a lot better and that’s a huge reward.  I try to look at it, not as giving something up, but doing something to honor myself.  Some of these things include decreasing or cutting out caffeine consumption, at least coffee and sodas which have the most immediate and severe effects as opposed to tea which is absorbed more slowly and more gentle to the body.  Regular aerobic exercise is great for decreasing stress, along with more meditative practices like yoga, tai chi, deep breathing, and various forms of meditation which help to quiet the mind.

There’s a lot of information out there on adaptogens, just do a search on the internet for more.  Also, definitely read Gail Faith Edwards article (link above) and the book Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes is a great one.  In this ever-faster paced world of ours, we could probably all use a little help adapting.  My favorite health maintenance practice is at least one big cup of therapeutic tea every day, blended personally for me by me.  Drink up and stay healthy!  And let me know what your favorite stress reduction techniques are.

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The Dreaded “S” Word

Okay, so I hate to admit it and was in denial up until about yesterday morning when I could no longer deny it, I’m SICK.  I always get into this place of denial about it because I think something not so succinct, but basically, “I’m an Herbalist, I’m invincible, right?”  Yeah, well this seems like it should work in some sense, but no…  I’ve learned the hard way that, just because I know how to be healthy, doesn’t mean the health is going to absorb, like osmosis, through my cells.

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that, just like everyone else, when I stress out, don’t get enough sleep, and ignore my own needs, I get sick.  Hmm, you’d think I’d have learned that lesson already.  Apparently, though, this is not a rare lesson to have repeatedly to learn in the Herbalist field, and actually probably one of the lessons that has created many Herbalists.

Today I had to make an executive decision to cancel a workshop I was supposed to teach this Saturday.  I really didn’t want to because I was worried I’d seem flaky.  However, my oh-so-wise elder Herbalist mentor pointed out that I wouldn’t be a very good example if I taught a class while sick, besides the fact that I probably wouldn’t teach very well and possibly pass on my germs.

My throat has been on fire for a couple of days and I’ve been on the verge of laryngitis.  I’m trying not to beat myself up, once again, for letting the lack of self-nurturing get so extreme that my body had to get sick to force me to rest and nurture.

I’ve also been wondering what the significance is of the illness being in my throat, because I’m like that.  There’s a great book by Louise Hay that’s on the top of my bookshelf, called “Heal Your Body A-Z: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Way to Overcome Them.”  In the book, Louise says that the probable cause of a sore throat is: “Holding in angry words.  Feeling unable to express the self.”  While I can definitely see some of that in myself recently, things are never that simple.  Of course, everything means something different to everyone.

Then again, maybe it’s more simple.  Maybe, since it’s hard and painful to talk, I need to be more quiet, more restful.  Considering that I’ve been working nonstop lately and getting ready to move, I think this would probably be great advice to give myself in hindsight.

When I was listening to the radio the other day, I heard a musician talking about getting the nodes removed from her vocal chords.  It was one of those strange, perfectly timed coincidences, serendipity or synchronicity.  She said the 2 weeks following the surgery were some of the best weeks of her life.  She realize how much of what we say on a daily basis is superfluous.  I feel that way, like a lot of times I talk just to talk, to fill space.

What’s in that space that we’re missing?  If I was quiet and just listened, what would I be able to hear?  Would I be able to hear what my body was telling me before it got sick?  Double hmmm……

So, though my throat hurts a lot, I’m enjoying the time to just be and listen, nurture myself.  Last night I felt like the most nurturing thing I could think of was a bowl of warm, creamy, spicy squash soup.  I was trying to figure out how to make it just drop from the sky.  When that seemed pretty improbable, I realized that it wouldn’t be that hard to make with, lo and behold, the leftover squash in the fridge.  Though the idea of putting out the effort to actually make it didn’t seem very appetizing,  the actual action was nurturing in the way it let me experience another one of my passions, cooking.  I love being able to combine 2 things I love: cooking and health.  One day I’ll write a cookbook of healing recipes, but for now you get all the benefit.

Leftover Squash Get Well Soup

2T  coconut oil &/or ghee

1 small onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1t curry powder

pinch ground cayenne (optional)

1t ground cardamom

3 carrots, diced

leftover roasted acorn or butternut squash removed from skin (seasoned with ginger and cinnamon)

1/3 can coconut milk

1c chicken or vegetable broth

2T miso

1t raw ginger, minced

2T maple syrup (or to taste)

salt and pepper

Warm oil in stock pot or sauce pan.  Add onions and saute on medium low for 5 minutes.  Add garlic and spices (except for ginger, salt, and pepper).  Saute for 1 minute.  Add carrots and saute until barely soft.  Add squash and saute just until warm to imbibe with the flavor of the spices.

Move everything to a food processor or blender and add the coconut milk and broth.  You may have to increase the amount of liquid depending on how much squash you have; mine was half of a small acorn squash.  Dissolve miso in 1/4c warm (not hot) water, while stirring.  Add to food processor with the ginger and syrup.  Blend until desired consistency; I like mine just a little chunky.  Move back to pan and heat just until warm; you never want to boil miso or coconut milk.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

This soup was so soothing and nurturing!  All of the ingredients are very nourishing.  I used the cardamom because I read in James Duke’s book, “The Green Pharmacy,” (which I also love) that it has a compound called cineole in it which is helpful for laryngitis.  The spices help to warm you up and move that pesky mucus.

Click on the book to go to Duke's fantastic site

Let me know what you think of the recipe and what you do to nurture yourself.  And, please, take it from me, nurture yourself now.

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Hip & Tasty Elder Rose Syrup

This article is part of the Sweet Medicine Herbal Blog Party for August.   Herbalist Kiva Rose is the host this month.  For lots of great information from some pretty amazing Herbalists, check out her blog throughout August:  The Medicine Woman’s Roots

Yum, one of my favorites!  My daughter and I have both loved elderberry syrup for years now.   It’s so deliciously tasty and a great immune booster.  Elderberries are supposed to grow around here, on the edge of wooded environments.  However, no matter how I hard  I look, I still haven’t found any.  Last autumn as the rose hips turned their bright red, like a flag they beckoned me.  I had to wonder…  Both elderberries and rose hips are high in antioxidants (Vitamin A and C) and have historically been utilized for immunity boosting, virus fighting, cold, cough, and flu relief, etc.  Plus, they both made tasty concoctions.   After a little experimenting with my potion, it was “delicioso” as my daughter says!

First, here’s some syrup basics that are good to know if you’ve never made syrup before.

SYRUPS

An Herbal Syrup is simply a water extraction of one or more plants, thickened with a natural sweetener.  Syrups are commonly used to boost immunity as a daily tonic, and for coughs and respiratory ailments.  They are a tasty, gentle way for children and adults to consume their herbs.

Honey and sugar are some common sweeteners used to make syrups.  Honey is great because it is a natural expectorant, builds immunities (especially to local allergens), and has a high mineral content, enzymes, and so much more.

Maple syrup, which is also high in minerals, is a good vegan alternative to honey.  Another vegan option is agave nectar which does not raise the blood sugar and is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. Glycerin or brandy may also be used.

Useful Equipment:

2 qt pot/pan

Pint or Quart size Mason jar

Mesh or other strainer or filter

Funnel

Making the Syrup:

Ingredients:

2 ounces herbs (~ ½ cup for leaves or flowers; 1 cup for denser parts like roots, barks, and berries)

1 quart (=4c) water

½ – 1 cup sweetener or to taste

*Notes: Feel free to change amounts of herbs, leave some out, add some, etc.  One part equals whatever you would like it to: a tablespoonful, handful, etc.  You might want to make a small amount first; then do a taste test.  Make adjustments if necessary and make more.  It’s helpful to write down exactly what measurements you choose and changes you make so you won’t have to guess the next time.

Directions:

Simmer herbs in water without lid until liquid is reduced by ½ (=2c), about 45 minutes.  Strain carefully by pouring through strainer or cheesecloth and funnel.  Cool until just warm enough to liquefy the honey if using (below 110o F).  Stir in sweetener.  Bottle and label with ingredients and date.  Will keep for weeks to months in the refrigerator.

Dosing Guidelines:

For adults: 1-2 tsp per hour or two, or as needed

For children:

-Young’s Formula: Age in years divided by (age + 12) = portion of adult dose

-Dilling’s Formula: Age in years divided by 20 = portion of adult dose

OR When Adult Dosage is 1 teaspoon :

Age Dosage
Younger than 3 months 2 drops
3 to 6 months 3 drops
6 to 9 months 4 drops
9 to 12 months 5 drops
12 to 18 months 7 drops
18 to 24 months 8 drops
2 to 3 years 10 drops
3 to 4 years 12 drops
4 to 6 years 15 drops
6 to9 years 24 drops
9 to 12 years 30 drops

rose hips

(from Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal)

Now for my tasty recipe:

Elder Rose Syrup

½ cup Elderberries

¼ cup Rose Hips

1 qt water

½ – 1 c sweetener

You can use fresh or dried berries and hips.  I’ve read you should deseed the rose hips, but that’s pretty labor intensive, besides they have a lot of Vitamin E.  Chop them up if you like, but I just leave them whole.   Also, fresh rose hips are sometimes bitter, possibly a lot more bitter than dried.  So taste them first.  If they taste bitter you can try using less rose hips and more berries.  You can also make smaller quantities until you perfect your recipe.

Follow Making the Syrup directions.  Sweeten to taste.  Cool & Refrigerate.  Drink following dosage guidelines for acute ailments, or drink a little everyday for an immunity boosting tonic.  My 6 year-old daughter and I drink about an ounce or two per day, especially during the cold and flu season, or an ounce every few hours during times of illness.

I hope you love this syrup as much as I do. Please post your own experiences, questions, and your  recipe variations.

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Blog Party: Weeds of Summer

What a great idea!  Herbalist, Darcey Blue is hosting this blog party in which Herbalists post an article about their local Weeds of Summer.  All of the posts will be listed and linked on her blog, Gaia’s Gifts, on July 1st.  I am so excited, I’m just about to burst!  Local plants, especially edible and medicinal “weeds” are one of my favorite things!

Of course once I got started thinking about it, I came upon a big dilemma: which one weed do I choose?  There are so many great ones out there!  There’s dandelion (one of my totems, my tattoo, and in my top 5), burdock, chicory, jewelweed, plantain, and on and on and on.  So, I decided, why not go with the weediest weed I could think of, one of the weeds that is most exasperating to those purists out there: Garlic Mustard!

The one with the jagged edged heart shaped leaves

The one with the jagged edged heart shaped leaves


In flower

In flower

Around here (southern Ohio), they call Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) an invasive species.  The US National Arboretum states: “An invasive plant has the ability to thrive and spread aggressively outside its natural range.  A naturally aggressive plant may be especially invasive when it is introduced to a new habitat.  An invasive species that colonizes a new area may gain an ecological edge since the insects, diseases, and foraging animals that naturally keep its growth in check in its native range are not present in its new habitat.”

Native plant lovers goes nuts over garlic mustard, it is their nemesis.  They see it as their personal mission to eradicate every plant within miles.  Many times, I have gone on hikes and seen the wreckage of the ever popular “Garlic Mustard Pull:”  dead and dying plants everywhere you look.  A firm believer in plant spirits, it tends to bring about melancholy and regret for me.  It seems like these plants were pulled in vengeance, like their destroyers had a personal vendetta with the plants, with no respect for their life.  And not only that, but these plants which I believe have their own way of feeling, and could provide food and medicine, are pulled by the hundreds and just left to die on the side of the trail.  Okay, enough of my ranting.  So why do I feel so passionate about this weed?

Well, first a little bit more information.  Garlic mustard is in the Brassicaceae or Mustard family.  Other plants in this family include, of course, mustard greens, and cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, horseradish, etc.  Its genus is Allaria, similar to the genus, Allium, which garlic belongs to, because of its garlic-like smell and taste.  Consequently, it is highly edible!

Garlic mustard can be included in any dish as a green or garlic substitute.  It is great in stir fries, herb vinegars (especially used to make salad dressing), and  omelettes.   The flower bud looks like broccoli and tastes like a garlicy broccoli.  Good on salads and kids love to just pop it in their mouths while out hiking.

the broccoli-like bud

the broccoli-like bud

Probably my most favorite food made with garlic mustard, though, is pesto!

Here’s an interesting recipe I found on the Meet the Farmer Blog :

Garlic Mustard Pesto Recipe

4 cloves garlic

3 Tbs.garlic mustard taproot ground

¾ cup parsley

1 cup garlic mustard leaves

1 cup basil leaves

1 ½ cups olives, pitted

2 cups walnuts or pine nuts

½ cup yellow miso

1 ¼ cups olive oil

Blend all ingredients together to make a paste, leaving nuts coarsely

chopped. Use on your favorite pasta or spread on toast. Makes 4 cups.

Yum!  I often leave out the cheese, try other nuts (like macademias), etc.   I have seen recipes with only garlic mustard leaves and no roots or basil.  I like to add the basil, though.  The garlic mustard can get bitter, especially toward summer, when it starts to flower (the smaller and younger the leaves, the less bitter, too).  You can also add other wild greens, like chickweed or dandelion.

Garlic mustard can often be found when other plants can’t.  They have a lower freezing point, so they stick around during most of the winter.  And the garlic smell keeps insects away.  So look for the abundant stands in any woodsy area.

On to the therapeutic benefits!  The leaves can  be eaten to promote sweating to clear colds and respiratory type infections.    They can also be ingested to help with bronchitis, asthma, and eczema.   For external use, the leaves can be made into a poultice for an astringent for ulcers, and anti-itching solution to insect bites and stings.  Or chop the roots, heat in oil, and apply to the chest for bronchitis relief.  The plant is also high in Vitamin C and helps clear parasites from the body.

Though it’s probably better to harvest garlic mustard in the spring and fall when it’s less bitter, I couldn’t resist writing about its merits.  Besides, it’s still growing in the summer, so why not take advantage of it, especially if you’re going to go ahead and pull it anyway.  I’m sure our ancestors didn’t hesitate to use anything for food or medicine any time of year.

That brings up another good point to close on.  Happy Summer Solstice!  This solstice was and often is thought to be the best time to harvest herbs.  It is the time of year when the energy of the plants is at its peak.  So take this opportunity to consciously forage or wildcraft some herbs.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget to take a minute to give thanks for the abundance the plants offer for our taking.

Gratitude & Green Blessings!

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