Burdock & Rose

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

Category: gardening

Magical Mother’s Day Flowers: The Lilac

The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris)  is anything but common. The lilac is an ephemeral scent of spring, its fragrance from the purple and white blossoms wafting in the warm breeze of May. For me, the scent reminds me of my own Mother, her love of Derby Parties and Mother’s Day with my own children.

Of course, the lilacs are gorgeous as cut flowers, arranged in large vases that should fill every room of the house. But did you know – the lilac flowers are also edible!

The Delectable Lilac

Gather the lilac’s blossoms and bring them into the kitchen, preserving their fragrance for use in drinks, confections, and desserts.

The lilac’s memorable springtime scent can be captured in an aromatic simple syrup or lilac jelly. The lilac syrup can be used in refreshing cocktail recipes, lemonades, and soda spritzers.

Lilac jelly can be topped over pastries, shortbreads, or an accompaniment (with fresh flowers as a garnish, of course), to French madeleines. It can also be drizzled over fresh spring goat cheese with spring chives for a savory and beautiful appetizer.

The fresh flowers and flower odor of the lilac can be infused directly into white sugar (let infuse for two weeks to allow the aromatics to scent the sugar) and used for baking projects – particularly delightful in shortbreads and sugar cookie recipes, or even for lightly flavoring ice cream or white yogurt.

How to Identify & Harvest the Lilac

The lilac is a European shrub that grows to heights of 15 feet tall.  The lilac has dense branches with smooth, gray bark when young. As the branches grow older and larger in diameter, the bark becomes grayish brown and shreds. The leaves are simple, ovate, green and shiny. The lilac blooms around Mother’s Day in May, with showy flower heads (panicles) of sweetly aromatic white and purple flowers.

The lilac is commonly planted as an ornamental and found often feral along hedgerows and fences. Gather the flower heads (be sure to ask if you are gathering from someone’s private garden) on a dry sunny day. Take them into the kitchen and process immediately, as the flowers quickly wilt and do not tolerate refrigerated storage for a significant amount of time.

The lilac is a common planting across the Midwest, but the forager can propagate the lilac with cuttings, air layering, or from seed. It’s a delightful spring flower and adds a nice touch to a permaculture landscape design.

Interested in learning more about wild plants as food and medicine? Take a look at my books, “Midwest Medicinal Plants,” and “Midwest Foraging” (Timber Press, OR) – both available on Amazon.com.

 

 

Botanical Balms For Dry Winter Skin

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Old Man Winter is upon us and rough lips, chapped cheeks and split cuticles are all signs that the dryness of winter months has gotten under our skin – literally.

I love winter.  As a runner and skier, the cold doesn’t keep me inside. BUT, the time outside in the dry cold can wreck havoc on my skin. Having a great skin-healing balm at the ready helps me enjoy the winter’s cold, as it protects my lips, cheeks, hands and feet from becoming overly dry!

Many products line the pharmacy shelves claiming to heal our dry skin and protect from chaffing and chapping. Conventional products often contain synthetic chemicals derived from petroleum, and while they may act like sealants on the skin, they do little to truly heal the dermis.

Fortunately the marketplace offers other options for skin care that are plant-based and more environmentally sound.

Chickweed

Chickweed

Botanicals for Skin Healing

As protective bases; plant-based oils like coconut oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil, and rose hip oils are all excellent choices and are versatile for all skin types. The healthy alternative to parrifin wax in skin care is beeswax. This helps create a protective barrier from the elements while letting the skin sweat and helps support bee-keepers. 

While perusing the skin care aisle, look for creams that contain plants like plantain, calendula, comfrey, chickweed. These plants are deep-tissue healers that can repair the cracks and splits in the skin.

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Want to make your own skin-healing salve?

Visit Rodale’s Organic Life for my recipe for a Calendula Chapped Cheeks Balm!

Create a batch of chapped cheek balm in your kitchen with just four ingredients: herbs, olive oil, and beeswax. Beeswax helps solidify the balm and works as a protective layer on the skin without leaving a greasy feeling.

Apply the balm before heading outside to protect the skin from harsh elements. If your skin feels sensitive in the shower, apply the balm before you rinse off. It may sound counter-intuitive to getting clean, but it will protect your skin from drying hot water and allow the botanicals to soak deep into the dermis for healing.

If you don’t have time to make your own, support local. While there are large-scale manufacturers making these botanical ointments, there’s a chance you live nearby a local herbalist that makes these skin creams from plants in your area.

I get great reviews on my Burdock & Rose Botanical Lip and Body Balm – which is made from all local plants that I wildcraft. I also really love Autumn Moon’s Plant Glamour in Detroit, but you can also check out localharvest.org to help locate an herbalist in your neck of the woods.

And remember – keep those balms handy to help you enjoy the cold. As my dad used to say, “There’s never the wrong weather, only the wrong clothing!” Protect your skin!

Boo-tanical Fun For Halloween

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Snake Lady. Photo Credit: David McGowan

It’s that witchy time of year when the leaves blow from the trees and the winds howl through the misty October darkness. Apple cider, pumpkin carving and costume decorating is underway for the fun celebrations that fall across the last days of October. For a bit of botanical fun, my colleague at The Chicago Tribune and I were brainstorming lists of plants that could fit the scary and spooky bill for Halloween in his recent feature, “From creepy to dangerous, some plants a perfect Halloween fit.”

As a forager and herbalist, here’s my own Scary {but Edible!} list of Boo-tanical Horrors:

Poke (Phytolacca americana)

The pokeweed plant is very alien-looking with its bright purple clusters of berries and branching vibrant green stalks stretching across areas of disturbed ground and in waste places in urban lots and weedy garden plots.

Poke Berries

Many think this plant is poisonous – and if eaten incorrectly, it can be. But the pokeweed, despite all the warnings, can be made edible by eating the early, tiny spring shoots to make the traditional Southern dish of poke salt and the root and berries are used in herbal plant medicine. The berries make a beautiful purple plant dye to color fabrics and decor projects.

Prickly Pear (Optunia species)

Creeping along the ground with its red fruits dotting the landscape, the prickly pear cactus is the Midwest’s only wild cactus. The prickly pear grows in colonies, spreading across disturbed sandy and rocky soils, in south-facing locations.

Prickly Pear Photo Lisa Rose

Its spines ward off predators, but for those brave enough to handle the plant with leather gloves and remove it’s thorny glochids, the fruits can be used to make a delicious and fruity simple syrup for cocktails or sodas. It’s fruit can also be pureed to produce a fun and edible pink slime – perfect for Halloween tricks and treats.

Hawthorn (Crataegus species)

The hawthorn is a tree with a history of magic and folklore. The hawthorn grows as a rambling, hedgerow shrub with long and pointy spines lining its bark and branches warning everyone to hone their senses, lest they fall into the shrub’s spiny clutches while gathering the tree’s delicious fruits. Its berries are edible and can be used to make vinegar shrubs, cocktail syrups, and can be used similarly to that of the crabapple in cooking and hard cider-making.

Hawthorn Berry and Thorns

And as the hawthorn is known to be a plant of the faery realm, it’s worth remembering to take a gift of butter for the plant faeries and to sing songs while harvesting the berries. At the very least – and if you don’t believe in the plant faeries – signing songs or whistling is a good way to express thanks and gratitude for the tree’s fruits as you harvest and protect you from their potential tricks.

For more about these plants, how to harvest and how to prepare, check out my book, Midwest Foraging” and have a safe and fun Halloween season!

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“Midwest Foraging” Featured in Chicago Tribune

INTERVIEW Midwest Foraging_Chicago Tribune

 

To read the entire Chicago Tribune article, click HERE.

Go Nuts with Walnuts: Italian Walnut Liqueur

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Cocktails flavored with different plants and herbals are now all the rage among foodies and at popular restaurants. Beyond the garden, foraged, wild flavors can be gathered from the woods and fields to be blended into infused liqueurs, simple syrups and handmade bitters for the cocktail cart.

The windfall of falling walnuts becomes noticeable in mid-summer as the green fruits of the black walnut begin to drop. Your main competition for this fruit will be the local wildlife, particularly the ever-aggressive squirrel.

The wild walnut of the Juglans nigra (black walnut) is a forager’s delight – not only does it offer delicious nutmeats for cooking and baked goods, but the green hull has a fragrant, citrus-like aroma that infused in liquor makes a delicious aperatif.

Traditionally, nocino is made from the English walnut, but here in the Midwest, black walnut may be used. In some literature, there has been question whether or not the juglone content of the roots in the black walnut render the nut inedible (as it is a gardener’s nightmare for plants intolerant of the juglone), but there is enough traditional and contemporary use of the black walnut to negate this potential concern. The only issue that the black walnut may cause is in companion planting in the garden! 

For more tips on identifying the black walnut, get a copy of my book, Midwest Foraging to take with you into the fields! 

In “Midwest Foraging,” I describe that  the green hulled walnut can be transformed into a traditional Italian digestif known as nocino, an aromatic spicy liqueur that contains clove, orange peel, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Try making a nocino with the herbs of the spicebush, tulip poplar, and wild ginger.”

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To make your own nocino, gather 4 quarts of green walnut hulls. In the kitchen, stuff large ball jars to the brim with the nuts, including a tablespoon each of clove, juniper berries, orange peel, cardamon, ginger, and 2 cinnamon sticks. Cover completely with vodka (or white wine), and let macerate for 8 weeks. Strain and preserve in a glass bottle to let age.

Enjoy as a sipping liqueur or in a dessert course with fragrant cheese and dark chocolates.

Don’t Bug Me: Herbal Spray & Bite Remedies

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A PureMichigan summertime is made up of camping trips, picnics, and summers by the lakeshore surrounded by family and friends. But usually unwelcome visitors to the festivities include the pesky mosquitos, ticks and spiders – unavoidable in our forests and backyards.

To fully ensure you will stay bite free, cover the skin up in lightweight fabrics – tech ware for the lake and woods are now increasingly more affordable and available to extend the enjoyment of being in the outdoors. To prevent the pesky (and potentially infectious) tick bites, be sure to wear shoes, socks and tuck long pants into the socks while hiking in the woods or through tall grasses.

While there are many commercial chemical bug sprays on the market to help deter and even soothe bothersome bug bites, it’s best to go chemical-free when at all possible. There are plant-based and natural alternatives to helping keep the bugs away and the itching at bay. Consider making your own blends of herbal bug repellant!!

Plants helpful for deterring mosquitoes include yarrow, catnip, lavender, and lemon grass. Click HERE to view my recent segment on WZZM Take Fivetalking about these plants, or click HERE to order my book, “Midwest Foraging”to ID these plants in the wild!

Burdock & Rose’s “Don’t Bug Me” Herbal Bug Deterrent & Skin Soother

For herbal tincture formula, mix equal parts tincture:**
Plantain
Chickweed
Yarrow
Catnip

Combine herbal tincture formula. Add 1 part formula to 1 part distilled water (50/50) blend to a spray bottle. Add essential oils of lavender or lemongrass as preferred, 15 drops/4oz bottle. Can be spritzed on clothing and skin to deter bugs, and also can be used topically to soothe bites.

**Plants can be foraged in the wild and prepared as tinctures or purchase tinctures pre-made from reputable sources like Mountain Rose Herbs.

Got bites? Plants helpful for soothing bites, scratches and itches topically include plantain, chamomile (as a tea to apply topically, or tea bags added to a soothing bath), chickweed, and calendula. Other natural remedies to relieve scratching include baking soda baths and applying zinc oxide on the scratches (especially to dry wet, weepy rashes). Avoid using oil-based creams and lotions on bites as that can increase irritation.

In the event of suspected West Nile virus (influenza like symptoms), visit your doctor but also consider an herbal protocol like echinacea, elderberry, boneset, yarrow, elderflower and medicinal mushrooms like reishi and maitake to support the peripheral immune system while fighting the virus. In the event of a suspected tick bite that may carry Lyme’s Disease (symptoms include a bull’s eye marking, rash, fever, dizziness, blurred vision), visit your MD immediately to seek antibiotic treatments.

 

 

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.

The Roots of My Practice

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Maya healer and wonderful friend, Don Daniel Pool-pech. Tulum, MX

“If you don’t do the work of the heart, then you will always have pain.” ~ Don Daniel, Maya plant friend in Tulum MX, 2015.

I traveled to Tulum first in 2009, the first of what began as many trips to the Yucatan and the beginning of a love affair with such a magical place.  It was on that trip that I met an herbalist from Colorado – Shelley Torgrove where she introduced me to her Maya teacher and plant healer, Don Daniel Poolpech.

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Don Daniel and Shelley Torgrove, Tulum MX.

 

At the time of that trip, I was between “careers” … I had recently left my work as the director of our local nature center, which included leaving the small nonprofit I had founded called Mixed Greens (we created school gardens to teach nutrition education programming to urban schoolkids). I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was doing some food systems consulting, but that wasn’t tugging at my heart-strings. My children were little, then-husband commuting to Ghana (yes, Africa) and I was needed at home. NGO work had burned me out, having babies had sucked me dry — I was fried. And I was only turning 30.

I remember telling a farmer friend of mine I was so tired that I couldn’t even bother clearing away the leaves from my garden. His reply – maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe you should sit and listen to the plants. In Tulum – and upon meeting Shelley – I said out loud, “I want to work with plants as an herbalist” (even though I had no idea what that even meant – and still don’t haha). I just ~knew~ that being an herbalist was my calling.

Don Daniel, seeing how anxious I was (about everything) gave me blessings and a strong sedative tea. He told me (in Spanish) to drink it, as it’d help heal my stomach, clear my head and open my heart. Then he sent me back north to begin my path as an herbalist…

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Vinca blanca, an ingredient for my tea from the garden of Don Daniel in Tulum, MX.

Now 2015, I went to him with gratitude and humility and prayers for clarity and strength as I begin this next chapter in my life.

Don Daniel took me into his garden to harvest plants for my medicines and taught me their names. I dried the plants in my window of my rental car, as an impromptu solar dryer. Plant medicines for my own healing, to carry with me as I head back north to continue along the path.  Hopeful. Softer. Less anxious. Focused. And free. There’s healing power inherent in gathering your own medicines.

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My visit with Don Daniel in 2015

My plan is to return to Tulum within the year with my own students, to introduce people to the culture, food and herbal traditions of the Yucatan. We will stay in Tulum with locals, ride bikes, swim at the beach, dive into cenotes, eat nourishing foods and learn a bit from Don Daniel’s ways of Maya healing. It will be adventure of rest, renewal and growth. Look for an invitation soon to join me on a trip in May of 2016.

For now, I am partnering with Shelley on a fall excursion in Maya healing with Don Daniel. Interested? Take a look at Shelley’s website, Artemisia & Rue for the October 2015 excursion. We’d love to have you join us.

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!

And a foraging book begins…

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My writing sabbatical starts today. Diving deep into my next book.#Foraging #EdiblePlants #TimberPress #MidWest