Burdock & Rose

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

Month: June, 2015

On Writing “Midwest Foraging”

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There’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your new book for the first time. As a mom, it’s sort of like seeing your newborn child – mixed emotions of excitement and uncertainty and relief and nervousness all combined.

The day my book arrived, I was writing at my desk at home, not expecting a package. When I opened the door, I realized it was my book in that plain envelop. In urgency, I called after the UPS man to wait because I didn’t want to open the package and see the book for the first time alone. We opened it together (funny thing, sharing such an intimate moment with a complete stranger), he was impressed and said, “You must know a lot about plants to write such a big book.” I didn’t know what to say – simply hugged him and said thank you for staying and delivering my book today, and that it meant a lot for his kind words.

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The author’s blurry selfie the moment the book arrived.

I returned back to my desk alone to savor those first moments with my text. As I flipped through the pages, memories and images of me producing the book flashed across my mind.

As I flipped through the pages of my newly minted work, I was somewhat in awe. In part, in awe because 1) I produced another book, 2) I produced another book despite all that was happening in my life around me.  I saw that in that book was my life embedded in print. From childhood to adulthood, my learnings, my relationships and most of all – my relationship with the earth — all of these were embedded into the pages.

Writing Midwest Foraging spanned two years from signing the contract with Timber Press in 2013 – one year writing, photography and one year of editing and publication. Those two years happened to span the most two difficult years of my life. I wrapped up a divorce, sat by my father’s side in the ICU until his death at home in hospice, up-rooted my gardens and moved across town, and abandoned running to nurse a blown disc. It was an epic time in my life, but in that time, I was surrounded by the most amazing people to help me through the tough stuff and to produce my book.

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Each of of my experiences with both people and plants have helped make Midwest Foraging possible. And albeit intense, I would not change any of it.

Now, these are more existential musings than musings of plants and wild edibles. Working with the plants have taught me so much – they’ve helped me grapple with the cycles of life and death, find peace in the struggle and offer hope in moments of the unknown and despair. The wild plants hold the keys to our past and can unlock the doors to our future if we choose to sit and watch and listen and pay attention.

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Of the more bittersweet moments, the finished piece that arrived after my father’s passing and the dedication in his memory.

For this reason, I’ve begun describing my writing as part botanical field guide, part culinary treatise and part memoir. The wild flavors of plants that I describe in Midwest Foraging are not the same as the flavors in the grocery store. They are real and vibrant. They are raw and unfettered. The wild plants reflect the diversity of experiences in life – the bitter and the sweet.

Embracing the wild tastes of the wild plants help me embrace the wildness of life. The wild tastes awaken all my senses, and encourage me to be fearless and enjoy life’s spectrum of experiences more fully and appreciate all that the journey has to offer.

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The author, excited to walk into the Chicago Tribune Tower to talk with a reporter about the book. Full on stoke, excited for the possibilities.

So with that, I share with you Midwest Foraging and invite you to fearlessly step into the world on your own wild journey. And may you embrace each moment of living in the not knowing, living with hope and excitement as to what may be around the next bend.

Midwest Foraging is available at your favorite local bookshop, online at major retailers like amazon.com or can be procured directly through me – I’ll sign it and ship it off to you with wild plant love inside the envelop.  For retail or bulk sales inquires, contact Tina Parent, tina.parent@storey.comFor media inquiries, contact author Lisa Rose, lisa.marlene.rose@gmail.com or Timber Press publicist, Bethany Onsgard at bonsgard@timberpress.com.

Wild Gardens in the Windy City

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During a weekend of work and play in Chicago, I made my way down the stairs on Wacker to the riverfront for a morning walk. Musing about the layers of the city and metal beams my partner commented, “Chicago is a city built of steel with 3 dimensions.”

I thought more about that statement in relation to the environment- the three dimensions. The stark contrast of metal and concrete to the blues of the harbor and green of the gardens and uncultivated weeds. The intersection of plants and human development. How the plants are persistent, and how humans are affected – or affect – this presence. How nature expresses itself. How we express humanity toward nature in the city.

As we walked, I took note of the blooming lindens along the Chicago riverfront, the lambs-quarters popping up in newly sown grasses. The plantain edging the sidewalk and the succulent chickweed encroaching on the roses in a private garden bed.

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Through Millennium Park I walked and stopped, walked and stopped. In part for my own rest and to just watch other visitors around me fall into a comfortable relaxation among the plants. I appreciated the park staff’s integration of my favorite wild plants like elderberry in the formal gardens of Millennium Park.

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For a city of its size, Chicago has a refreshing abundance and intentional focus on green space and greening initiatives- from the new garden spaces (including edibles!!) in many of the municipal parks to the secret gardens and spaces across the city maintained by city residents. Green space is valued by Chicagoans.

Finishing the walk, I left the manicured gardens of Millennium Park and turned back toward the riverfront to climb the metal stairway to back up to the hotel.  I looked down at my feet, paying attention to the weedy plants along the alley and intersection. But then I stopped.

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Among the weedy plants, I noticed a small sign that said “Look Out For Plants.”

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Then another sign, “Please don’t walk here.”

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And another, “Fire Department Garden.”

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Sure enough, alongside my favorite wild weeds of burdock, dandelions, lambs-quarters and wild carrot were squashes and cucumbers planted in the spaces between a vacant lot and a sidewalk.

Beneath the cacophony of the steel overpass structure there was the human effort to cultivate nourishment in a small space of vacant land. The paper garden signs were a small request for people to be mindful and pay attention to these efforts. All offered quietly planted with loving tenderness.

I don’t know the front or backstory behind these plants – though I am curious. But less important than the story was that this small, cultivated space contrasted among the persistent wild, weedy plants and vacant lot did make me stop and take pause in appreciation for the humanity of the gesture.

It’s the simple things. Take notice. Care for what’s around us. Plant seeds. Even in places where you think no one will notice. Perhaps those are the best places to root your efforts.

Poison Ivy & Favorite Herbal Remedies

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Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a common invasive plant across the Midwest, found in damp riverbeds, woodlands, trailsides, sand dunes, and open fields. The poison ivy is abundant this year – finally leafing out and growing in large stands in backyards, along trails and carpeting the woods, keeping the morel mushroom hunters at bay and irritating gardeners who want it eliminated from their cultivated garden beds.

“Leaves of three, let them be” may be a good start to identifying poison ivy, but the plant takes many shapes and if you only look for leaves of three, then you will also be avoiding plants like the raspberries and the roses. Poison ivy has compound leaves in sets of 3-5, with outside asymmetrical leaves and a middle leaf that is symmetrical that alternate along a woody stalk.

When the leaves first appear in the spring, they can be a soft or shiny purple leaf than changes to green over the season. It can be a small creeping plant, or the stalk can also be a thick, hairy vine that winds up and along tree trunks and buildings.  Poison ivy produces inedible berries in the fall, and its hairy vine can be identifiable in winter. It can be easily confused with box elder, whose leaves are also compound but are opposite along the stem.

Poison Ivy & The Gardener

To the surprise of many, I actually admire poison ivy for it’s ability to mark territory and protect lands from trespassing or overuse. It was once told to me that poison ivy was given to us humans when we started to forget to say “Thank You” for the abundance of the earth’s blessings. This makes sense – poison ivy doesn’t pull down vegetation like the bittersweet vine, rather it creates a blockade causing humans to step back. Poison ivy protects the land while allowing it to regenerate.

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Next time you see a large plant of poison ivy with runners all along a piece of land, take a step back and consider what is going on with the area’s ecology. Is it trying to heal itself from overuse? Is it an area that gets a lot of human traffic that needs to be limited? Something to consider, and perhaps help shift your perspective on the role of poison ivy in our environments.

Frequently I am asked how to manage the plant in gardens and in landscaping. And my answer is that I usually don’t feel a need to remove poison ivy, rather learn to identify and avoid it (those that are highly allergic never like this response, but nonetheless, I feel it’s a more realistic strategy than trying to aggressively remove the plant from the yard).

A Few Favorite Remedies for Poison Ivy

Invariably, folks that enjoy the outdoors – especially in springtime before the plant fully leafs out – will come into contact with poison ivy. There are a lot of homemade remedies to help care for the aggravating wet, weepy rash, and I list a few of mine below. Take note, that oil-based preparations should be avoided with poison ivy as it can worsen the rash.  For those with serious allergies, a visit to your MD sometimes is the most prudent course of action.

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Rose Vinegar One of my first aid kit must-haves is a rose-infused vinegar in a spray bottle – which is great for poison ivy rashes. A rose-infused vinegar is useful in the herbal apothecary for topical skin infections, abrasions, burns and rashes.

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Rose petals infusing in apple cider vinegar to make a spray to astringe the wet and weepy rash of poison ivy.

Preparations of rose – teas, liniments or soaks – are naturally astringent and antimicrobial can be used topically as a skin wash to cool and soothe inflammation. Vinegar – especially the naturally fermented apple cider vinegar – can also be used to wash and astringe the skin, especially conditions that are wet and weepy caused by rashes like poison ivy (it can also be used directly on the leaves and vines to help force it back from an area you are trying to clear).

Together – the rose petals extracted in vinegar -makes an awesome vinegar-based wash that is so very soothing on poison ivy inflicted skin. Simply infuse the vinegar with the rose petals and leaves (fresh or dry works), let steep for a week, strain and add to a spray bottle. Keep refrigerated, and mist skin as needed. Also perfect to soothe a summer sunburn.

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Echinacea is useful for topical and septic infections like poison ivy.

Echiancea Echinacea is an excellent herb to help support the immune system’s response to septic infections.  It can be used topically as a preparation of tea (strained, cooled to room temperature) to wash the wet and weepy skin infection of poison ivy. It should also be taken internally as a tea or tincture to support the immune system’s response to the plant.

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Jewelweed is a useful plant to apply topically to areas of skin that have been exposed to poison ivy.

Jewelweed  Jewelweed is a tall succulent annual plant that sometimes grows densely like ground cover. Its root system is shallow and its hollow stalk a neon translucent green, growing about 3 to 5 feet tall. The plant is very juicy when crushed, and makes a wonderful topical poultice to apply to areas that have had contact with poison ivy, but the skin hasn’t had any eruptions. Jewelweed can also be made as a tea for a skin wash. For use throughout the season the plant can be frozen into ice cube trays for later use, or even incorporated into handmade oatmeal soap recipes for a poison ivy wash.

Of course, soaking in a tub of oatmeal water still works to soothe the itch, as does Mom’s calamine lotion. It also helps to reduce the metabolic load on the system while the body fights off the reaction – this means eliminating alcohol, sugar, refined carbs and coffee. This just opens up more bandwidth to help the body clear up on its own. Lymphatics like red root or cleavers can really help with this process.

Further reading

Jim McDonald’s treatise on poison ivy can watched here.