Burdock & Rose

wildly-crafted plant tales from herbalist, forager & author lisa rose

Month: March, 2015

Spring Break Fun: Junior Forager Adventures

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The Starner kids learning a bit of botany in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Florida.

 

Spring break is a time to load the car and head South to warmer climes, don sandals and enjoy the outdoors.

If you are headed out of town, be sure to visit area nature centers and eco-preserves to walk the trails and experience the land that might be different than in the Great Lakes. This is a great chance to expose children to plants that they wouldn’t find perhaps in their own neighborhood. Who knows? You may find your kids recognize some plants that are also found in Michigan!

If you are staying in Michigan over break, get the kids, neighbors’ kids and even dog outdoors to plan a Junior Forager adventure. Foraging can be one of the perfect activities for a staycation. You needn’t be heading to any place exotic to become a forager – foraging is an activity that can – and should – start as nearby in your own yard.

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In Michigan, Emma gathering early spring nettles in a nearby creek-bed.

 

Parents may say, “What’s outside now that I can forage or harvest?” or “How do I know what’s edible?” or “Where do I start if I want to forage?”

If you want to forage, head outside!!!  Here are my top five tips for Spring Break Foraging 101:

1) Head to the library and select a few good plant field guides for help with plant ID. I think Sam Thayer is one of the best wild edibles authors, but for beginning botany the Petersen field guides are a good start, and my book – “Midwest Foraging” will be available this June {Preorder here}.

2) Let the kids choose an area or two to explore. I recommend starting with your own yard, then maybe choose to explore a nearby park or a friend’s farm. Always ask permission, never gather from parks with rules against foraging, and most of all – know the plants before harvesting for the sake of safety and the plants’ sustainability.

3) Have the kids pack a notebook, colored pencils, a camera, and be sure they dress in weather appropriate outdoor clothing. Pack a lunch, too, if that’s your fancy. Make a day of it.

4) Then, head out, and pay attention. Practice your botany. Map plants on a notebook, notice their leaves, maybe sketch them in a book or take pictures with a camera.

5) Only taste and plants if you are 100% certain of their edibility. A few early spring favorites are violets, dandelions, garlic mustard and early field garlic. As the weather warms, the plants are going to take off! It’s also a good time to get those kids planting peas while you’ve got them outside!!!

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A much younger Emma, using Herbal Roots Zine to study Yarrow in New Mexico.

Let this journey be kid-led. Let them explore the outdoors, make a plant journal and even let them get muddy boots. Create a cool certificate or badge for those kids completing the adventure and to celebrate trying something new.  It’s a low-cost, high-yield activity that offers lessons to last a lifetime.

Want to have a few great materials to complement your wild plant learnings with kids? Check out Herbal Roots Zine – a great monthly plant magazine designed to help kids (and adults!) learn about plants and their uses!

Need expertise to organize a “Junior Foragers” adventure? Drop me a line to discuss private events at lisa.marlene.rose@gmail.com. Perfect for birthday parties!!! 

The last days of winter…

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The last days of winter are always the longest days. It’s like being 9 months pregnant – just when you thought it was your due date and the baby’s ready, you are forced to weather out 10 more days, waiting for change. And with spring, just when you are about to sell the proverbial farm lot, stock and barrel, the weather breaks and plants spring forth from the ground.

Well, even with that nice 65 degree day us Michiganders had Monday, we aren’t to spring… yet.

The snow is retreating and has left behind a trail of winter – dirty snowpiles and trash along roadsides. Maple syruping continues (READ MORE HERE), but it’s too cold still for planting cool weather crops directly in the soil– maybe we will see the soils warm enough over the next 10-20 days to plant sweat peas and other cool-weather greens for spring salads.

As for the wild and weedy plants that come up on their own time (like birthing babies), I am finally seeing the familiar and cold-tolerant field garlic in clumps among the leaf litter, mullein basal rosettes starting to unfurl and dock leaves stretching their long leaves.

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It will only take a bout of warmer weather and we will see many other plants spring forth from the soil — the chickweed, cleavers, garlic mustard, dandelion greens and violets to name a few… all are right around the corner.

Want to learn more about what’s coming up for spring foragers? I invite you to come to my next class, Foraging 101 with Ada Parks at the Ada Parks Learning Center. We will cover foraging basics and head outside for an early season plant walk.

Check out my other plant walk classes coming up this spring – lots of opportunities to learn about the wild edibles around you! Click HERE to see the listing – there’s something for everyone!

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In the meantime, the land wants some help in spring cleaning. Take a moment or two this weekend to collect a bag of trash off the road or in a nearby park. It’s a good deed for the land, and nourishing for the soul to be a caretaker of the earth this is about to offer us another season of life.

The Magic Nectar of Maple Syrup

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Who doesn’t love that dark amber nectar of real maple syrup – the sweetness of the trees and one of the earth’s most decadent and natural sweeteners? Click HERE to watch me rave about syrup on WZZM13.

We treat maple syrup like it’s liquid gold in my house – a precious food that I love to use in cooking. Why is real maple syrup like liquid gold? Because it is! Not only do the sugar maple trees grow in relatively small range across the globe, but it takes up to 60 gallons of sap to produce just ONE gallon of maple syrup. Consider that next time you are incredulous over the price of real maple syrup in the market — most commercial brands are made entirely of corn syrup – not a drop of that natural sap. Cheap and totally not the real deal.

In its raw form, the sap is a drinkable beverage that endurance athletes are realizing has a similar content of electrolytes as coconut water – and local, too. The sap also contains trace minerals of zinc, manganese and some iron, and these minerals remain as the sap cooks into maple syrup.

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A variety of trees and species can be tapped to produce a syrup sweetener (maples and birches), but it’s the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) specifically that produces that sweet, vanillin flavored syrup we all know as REAL maple syrup.  The sugar maple grows as far east across Canada into Vermont, as far west as Wisconsin, and as far south as Georgia – making a heart-shaped area in the northeast in which superior maple syrup can be produced. Read more HERE to learn about the syruping process.

As a sweetner, maple syrup has half the glycemic load of refined or white sugar, making it a good choice for those minding their sugar intake (all of us, right?).

It’s delicious of course in pancakes, stirred into coffee, topped over oatmeal and drizzled over ice cream. But maple syrup has lovely savory uses as well – as a glaze for meats and fish, balsamic dressing, or drizzled atop stinky cheeses.

And the baking and candy making – oy – the candy making. My favorites are turning maple syrup into caramels and toffee. Super yum.

Maple syrup is also a useful sweetener in my herbal apothecary for tonics and tinctures, like my Dark Storm Bitters. The maple syrup can also be used as a base to make an iron-rich yellow dock syrup supplement for those needing an iron supplementation.

And these are just a few maple syrup uses… what are your favorites? Any special ways of using it in the apothecary?

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Maple Fleur de Sel Caramels 

What’s more decadent than a delicious caramel? Why, one that is made with maple syrup, of course! These classic French-style caramels are styled similarly to a Fleur de Sel caramel.

The use of maple syrup in lieu of the commonly-used corn syrup will require close monitoring as the mixture reaches 248 degrees, but results in a much more balanced vanilla flavor that’s worth the effort managing the viscosity.

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Ingredients: 

1 cup heavy cream

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature

1 teaspoon fleur de sel

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

Parchment paper, baking sheet or pan and a candy thermometer

1) Prepare pan with parchment, oil slightly – the caramel making process is a sticky one.

2) Bring cream, butter and fleur de del to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

3) Boil syrup, sugar, water in a large saucepan, dissolving sugar and gentle stirring until syrup comes up to a boil.

3) Stir in cream, stir constantly and simmer until the candy thermometer reaches 248 degrees.

4) Pour caramel mixture into the prepared sheet, let cool.

5) Cut into strips or bite size candies, wrapping them in pieces of cut parchment, twisting ends.

6) Caramels store in a cool location for up to two weeks.

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Maple Syrup: A Forager’s Sweet Treat

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Can you hear the trees awakening? It’s maple syrup time for the farmers and foragers setting out to tap the maple trees!

Even though the land around us continues to be covered with a deep blanket of snow, there’s a shift in the trees. With warmer days and cold, clear nights, the trees are stretching their hibernating limbs and the sap starts to flow. The birds also begin to sing again. A sure sign of spring and maple syrup’ing!

Maple syrup harvest season begins when the weather stays above freezing for a few days with continued cold temperatures of 20 degrees or so overnight — usually toward the middle to end of February in the Midwest.

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The length of the sap season varies from year to year according to the weather, anywhere between four to six weeks and toward the end of the season, the quality and viscosity of the sap changes considerably and lessens in quality. This year, because of such a late thaw, we can expect a short and fast Sugarbush season.

Why is real maple syrup like liquid gold? Because it is! Not only do the sugar maple trees grow in relatively small range across the globe, but it takes about 60 gallons of sap to produce just ONE gallon of maple syrup. Consider that next time you are incredulous over the price of real maple syrup in the market — most commercial brands are made entirely of corn syrup – not a drop of that natural sap. Cheap and totally not the real deal.

 A variety of trees and species can be tapped to produce a syrup sweetener (maples and birches), but it’s the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) specifically that produces that sweet, vanillin flavored syrup we all know as REAL maple syrup.  The sugar maple grows as far east across Canada into Vermont, as far west as Wisconsin, and as far south as Georgia – making a heart-shaped area in the northeast in which superior maple syrup can be produced.

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Want to tap your own trees? To produce maple syrup in any quantity, first identify maples of the right size for tapping. Tap only mature sugar maples at least 12 inches in diameter, placing the spike or tap about 4 to 5 feet off the ground. Hang a bucket off the tap, check it daily.  It’s helpful to have the trees close to where you will be processing the sap; as hauling, storing, and boiling down the sap is quite an operation.

To make syrup you will need to boil the sap down into syrup. Boiling off the water from the sap is a lengthy process and it puts off a lot of moisture into the air. You can build a temporary sap boiler outside to boil the sap down into syrup, or you can collect the sap and deliver it to an established sugar shack in your area. Search for local farms and nature centers across the Midwest that may have them on their properties.

Just note – Don’t boil the sap inside your home! Boiling off the water will literally peel the papers off your walls and will leave a sticky residue all over the kitchen. Not good. Not worth it – even to make syrup.

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Once the sap is boiled down into the syrup, it can be poured into bottles and canned by water bath or stored into the refrigerator.

Inspired to do your own Sugarbush? For more information check out Michigan Maple Syrup Association for news on events and backyard sugarbush training. Want to visit a local Sugarbush? If you are in the Grand Rapids area, check out Blandford Nature Center’s event happening in March!