Burdock & Rose

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

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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.

 

 

Eat the Weeds: Strawberry-Knotweed Pie


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Yup I said it. Pie.

Who said foraging and eating wild edibles was all about tree barks in tea and wild and bitter leaves in salads?? Us foragers also love a really yummy PIE! {which that’s not to discount the barks or bitters, btw}.

We all know and love a good strawberry-rhubarb pie in the month of June, when the wild berries are ripe or are getting big and juicy in the garden. But did you know that the invasive Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) can be transformed into a delicious strawberry pie with a similar flavor?

Japanese knotweed is at the top of nearly all of the invasive plant “Most Wanted” lists. It has virtually no known predator, other than foragers, to keep its spread in check. The Japanese knotweed spreads voraciously, lining ditches, streambeds, and woodland fields where there is damp soil. To find a stand of the Japanese knotweed, look for tall stalks left from the previous year as their woody, jointed stems last well into the next season. 

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Large stands of Japanese knotweed are fast growing and can reach heights of over 10 feet tall.

The perennial Japanese knotweed’s woody, bamboo-like leafy stalks grow in dense stands, towering in heights up to 10 feet. The new shoots emerge in early spring and are hollow and jointed with red flecks at the joints along the stem. The leaves are heart-shaped, bright green, and arranged alternately along the stem. The plant goes to flower in late summer into early fall, producing feathery clusters of dainty white blossoms.

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The tender stalks of Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) are best gathered in the spring and then stripped of leaves and used in pies, compotes and fruit jams.

The early spring shoots are crunchy with a tart, citrusy flavor similar to that of spring rhubarb. Its bright flavors make for a tart simple syrup, good for use in cocktail recipes. The larger stalks can be prepared as you would use rhubarb (unless you are cooking them, then the stalks soften significantly) in summer fruit compotes, jams, or pies. Because the fruit ripens much later than when you harvest Japanese knotweed, its stalks can be chopped and then frozen for later use.

While delicious and edible, many landscape companies and parks management protocols include using agressive herbicides on the plant to stunt its growth. So, be sure the area where you harvest hasn’t been treated with an herbicide meant to eradicate the plant. Look at surrounding vegetation for visible signs of plant burn, or ask the landowner or park manager about herbicide treatment.

One of my favorite Japanese knotweed & berry combo is in a strawberry rhubarb pie. While the strawberries from the garden aren’t ready yet here in the Midwest, the addition of the invasive Japanese knotweed was a delightful “re-wilding” of the grocery-store berries of May coming in from down south and out west (do choose organic – it matters!!).

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A Forager’s Strawberry-Knotweed Pie

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend ingredients in a mixing bowl for the filling and add to the prepared pie pan. Bake for 50 minutes until the filling begins to gel and the crust turns a golden brown. Serve with heaping spoonfuls of whipping cream, creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream. Garnish with lavender blossoms for a delightful herbal top note.

You will need: 

(1) 9″ pie pan and crust, pan buttered

For filling: 

4 cups strawberries

2 cups trimmed Japanese knotweed stalks

3/4 cups white sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 tsp salt

Go Green with Garlic Mustard Pesto

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What is the adage, “A weed is a plant that is growing where you don’t want it?” Abundant in areas of disturbed soil – at the forest’s edge, along roadsides, and on river floodplains – the Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata, Brassicaceae) is deemed by many as a noxious, invasive species, choking out native vegetation and spreading wildly across the state.

The National Park Service describes the earliest appearance of the Garlic Mustard on the Atlantic coast to be documented in 1868. High in Vitamin C and a nutritious bitter green, it is believed that it was brought along by settlers to the area of Long Island, NY for food and medicinal purposes.  Since that time in the 1800s, Garlic Mustard has spread south and west and has wrecked havoc on natural areas throughout the Eastern United States, particularly throughout disturbed areas within fields, floodplains, and woodlands here in the Great Lakes BioRegion.

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What makes Garlic Mustard able to take over so much area in so little time? Garlic Mustard thrives on disturbed land and areas under development.

It is winter-hardy biennial plant and can reproduce lightning fast in its second year with its ability to produce hundreds of seeds once it goes to flower. And once the plant sets its seed, the seeds can remain viable in the soil for many years.  So if you want it out, pull it as it sets out its showy white flowers (photo above).

Be sure to replace the area with other plants native to the area to help reestablish the disturbed space and prevent another Garlic Mustard Invasion (that could be a band name, hehe).

Behind Every Vice… The Garlic Mustard’s Virtue

While Garlic Mustard continues to persist throughout our Great Lakes bioregion and threatens to crowd-out wildflowers and native vegetation, let us consider one of its virtues:  It is edible!

Like many early spring greens, the flavors of the Garlic Mustard are predominantly bitter. Different parts of the plant, as well the age of the plant can affect the degree in the bitter flavor.

Great Lakes Herbalist Jim McDonald believes that the Bitter flavors of plants, while having a negative connotation to many, may be one of the keys to our wellness.  Bitter flavors help stimulate digestion, bile production and can support healthy liver function.

Other bitter plants that are beneficial to add into the diet include parsley, arugula, romaine, radicchio, endive, dandelion, and coffee. Best thing about Garlic Mustard as a bitter – it can be easily harvested for FREE with little concern of damaging its plant population!

The early basal roots are more bitter in the spring, the fleshy stems less so – and it is sweeter in the fall after a frost. The roots are slightly nutty, and the second year plant should be harvested just before it flowers… But don’t get caught up in these rules — if you are pulling it to preserve other plants in your garden or a participating in a pull, use it and partner it with other flavors like parsley, walnuts and lemon to suit your palate!

One of the most popular ways to prepare Garlic Mustard is preparing it as a versatile, delicious pesto. Variations on pesto recipes can vary to suit personal taste preference and the flavor of the Garlic Mustard that is being harvested.

Want to prepare a large batch? Pesto can be made without the nuts (they tend to taste rancid after thawing) and froze into ice-cube sized portions that will last for several months until the local Basil is ready for harvest here in Michigan.

The pesto can be added to pasta, used in soups (like a French soup au pistou), served on crackers with cheese as an elegant appetizer, or even used as a base for a wild foods pizza of local Michigan Morels, homemade soft cheese, and wild onion.

Basic Foraged Greens & Garlic Mustard Pesto

4 cups leaves, stems of Garlic Mustard (washed)

1 cup wild chives

1 cup wild garlic scapes

1 cup parsley (if desired)

1 cup walnuts

4 TBSP coconut oil

1tsp sea salt, pepper, squirt of lemon juice to taste

Add all to food processor, puree.  Check flavor, add parsley, salt, pepper to preferred taste. Serve over crackers, on pizza, pasta, soup… the ideas are limitless and the pesto can be used in similar ways to traditional basil pesto.

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.

 

 

Pull, Eat, Repeat: The Invasive Garlic Mustard

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Tender basal rosettes of the first year plant of garlic mustard are a delicious, spring wild edible. Harvest it now to eat and also to prevent spread of this invasive plant.

Abundant at the forest’s edge, along roadsides, and on river floodplains, garlic mustard is deemed by many as a noxious, invasive species that chokes out native vegetation. But we mustn’t forget that garlic mustard is also a highly nutritious spring green.

An invasive species like garlic mustard is a wonderful early spring staple in the forager’s kitchen — it makes a delicious and utilitarian pesto. We can help minimize the plant’s invasiveness in native habitats while providing nourishment at the table by incorporating it into regular mealtime.

The earliest appearance of garlic mustard was recorded in the mid-1800s on the Atlantic coast. High in vitamin C and a nutritious bitter green, it is believed to have been brought by settlers to the area of Long Island, N.Y., for food and medicinal purposes. Since that time, garlic mustard has spread south and west and has wreaked havoc on natural areas throughout the eastern United States, particularly in disturbed areas within fields, floodplains, and woodlands across the Midwest.

Garlic mustard thrives on disturbed land and areas under development. It is a winter-hardy biennial plant and can reproduce lightning fast in its second year, able to produce hundreds of seeds once it goes to flower. Once the plant sets its seed, the seeds can remain viable in the soil for many years. 

Frequently, the entire plant is pulled before it goes to flower to help maintain control of the garlic mustard’s population. Try to work clean in removing the plant from the soil, as this will mean less soil to remove in the kitchen. If you don’t remove the entire plant and only want to gather the leaves, kitchen shears can easily trim the edible greens. The stems are best harvested before the flower buds appear or open. Trim these succulent stalks of their leaves and discard the leaves before cooking.

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A versatile garlic mustard pesto for flatbreads, pastas and crackers. A delicious way to eat the weedy invasive species!

One of the most popular ways to prepare garlic mustard greens is as a versatile, delicious pesto. Pesto recipes can be adjusted (the lovely thing about pesto!) to suit personal taste preferences and the flavor of the garlic mustard that is being harvested. Want to prepare a large batch? Pesto can be made without the nuts and frozen into ice-cube sized portions that will last for several months until the local basil is ready for harvest. Add the nuts later, when are ready to serve the dish.

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Flatbreads featuring garlic mustard pesto and locally grown mushrooms.

The pesto can be added to pasta, used in soups (like a French soupe au pistou), served on crackers with cheese as an elegant appetizer, or even used as a base for a wild foods pizza of local morels, homemade soft cheese, and wild onion. In other dishes, partner garlic mustard with complimentary flavors like parsley, walnuts, and lemon to suit your palate.

Basic Foraged Greens & Garlic Mustard Pesto

4 cups leaves, stems of Garlic Mustard (washed)

1 cup wild chives

1 cup wild garlic scapes

1 cup parsley (if desired)

1 cup walnuts

4 TBSP coconut oil

1tsp sea salt, pepper, squirt of lemon juice to taste

Add all to food processor, puree.  Check flavor, add parsley, salt, pepper to preferred taste. Serve over crackers, on pizza, pasta, soup… the ideas are limitless and the pesto can be used in similar ways to traditional basil pesto.

Think Little This Earth Day

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Pointing out the small spring shoots of Solomon’s Seal.

In the spirit of Earth Day, I think of the small actions and the power each of us has to effect positive change on the Earth, its land and all its inhabitants. Sometimes the problems we face as a planet and species seems insurmountable, but deep down, I truly believe we each have the power to make change.

Question is, where to start? We need to start with ourselves. Being open to see our relationship with the world and how we view the resources around us. How can we live more in tandem with the cycles of nature – in business, at home, in our personal lives. Can we be honest with ourselves, asking truly how do our actions impact others across the Earth? These are tough and uncomfortable questions.

I am not perfect and enjoy many creature comforts life affords me in the realm in which I live. But I do need to ask – how can I be a better steward of all I have to support me in my life? How can I do more with less? How can I listen to the Earth and better mimic the cycles of rest, growth, death and regeneration?

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I am seeing a growing groundswell of interest in learning the wild, edible plants.

I know I am not alone in asking these questions. It pleases me that more and more people are paying attention to these questions – questions that aren’t new, but are absolutely still relevant. When 40 people show up to my wild edibles classes, I start to realize that just like the growth of the local food movement, there is a growing groundswell of interest in the bigger picture of the natural world around us.

I offer inspiration from an essay by Wendell Berry called “Think Little” (from A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural & Agricultural reprinted in the Whole Earth Catalog, 1969).

“If we are to hope to correct our abuses of each other and of other races and of our land, and if our effort to correct these abuses is to be more than a political fad that will in the long run be only another form of abuse, then we are going to have to go far beyond public protest and political action. We are going to have to rebuild the substance and the integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and we are going to have to put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods. We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need persons and households that do not have to wait upon organizations, but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own.” ~Wendell Berry, 1969

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Sharing love for Motherwort.

I teach about wild plants and their role in our lives because its a forum that helps me better understand both myself and the place in which I live. Studying both plants and their ecosystems are models that can show me how to live a truly rich life. If I pay attention.

We are realizing that the answers we seek are already around us. If we pay attention. If we take action.

 

 

*photos by Megan Smith. 2015

Are you a worry wort?

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The darkness of winter gives us a chance to rest and replenish as the days begin to grow longer and progress toward spring. In addition to nourishing the body with good foods and healing flavors, now is the time to experiment with ways to address stress, insomnia, and worry and find out what works for you to help you have a better handle on life to address your stressors year-round. There are many things we can do on a daily basis to help manage stress, anxiety and worry including use herbal therapies to help us achieve the life style changes we need.

Stress & Our Body. Physiologically, it’s important to remember that when we are stressed, many of the body’s processes get put on hold. The body’s energy is diverted away from the immune responses, making it hard to both defend against viruses and infections – even chronic disease.  We stop digesting when we are under stress, reproductive hormones decrease, our glands dry up, and our respiratory response quickens. This, over-time, can have huge impacts on our immune system and quality of life.

Herbs aren’t needed for exercise! Get moving! Movement and physical activity (especially movement in the brisk, winter’s air) is something all bodies regularly need to both fight stress and build immunity: With proper hydration, movement keeps muscles and ligaments juicy and lymphatic glands moving. It helps blow off elevated cortisol from a stressful day and over time and in tandem with a healthy diet, can have a significant impact on blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Aromatic Herbals for Energy. Instead of that extra shot of espresso, go with an aromatic herbal blend.  Rose, Mints, Lavender, Lemon Balm — all have aromatic oils that are uplifting and can provide a boost of energy without adding the extra stress on the system that caffeine offers. These herbs can help clear a foggy head in the middle of a workday, break up tension from stress or soothe a headache caused by dramatic changes in the weather patterns.  Try adding these aromatic essential oils in a bottle for a refreshing face mist or room clearing spray to help lift the mood.

Still tired? THEN SLEEP MORE!  Regular sleep patterns seem to be quite a luxury nowadays, but sadly, this lack of sleep is a contributing factor to weight gain and deprives our body of the desperately needed rest and restore time so it can recover from our demanding wake time.  How to support a regular sleep schedule? Reduce after-hours activities that include screen time. Late night computer and television use can actually disturb the REM sleep patterns later in the evening. Try to cut off screen time after 9 or 10, and certainly avoid the urge to turn the screens on if you are unable to fall asleep.

Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening. This can affect the body’s ability to fall asleep later at night. Limit alcohol consumption to dinner time.  Having the proverbial nightcap may be a relaxant beverage, but regular, late-night consumption of alcohol can also disturb REM sleep patterns (not to mention, relying on alcohol or other heavy narcotic to support regular sleep can lead to longterm dependency).

Insomnia? Relaxant herbals can help you catch some Zzzzz’s. The ritual alone of bedtime tea can help you unwind at the end of a busy day. Try blending relaxant herbals like Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Spearmint, Catnip, Rose, Blue Vervain, Scullcap or Kava Kava. Hops and Valerian can also help and relax the body for sleep.

Try these as tinctures, teas or even as massage oils and balms to help the body relax and relieve the stressors of the day. Or perhaps a hot bath? Herbs can be infused into bathwater as a tea or infused into an epsom salt bath. This can be done with whole herbs or by using aromatic essential oils.

Upset tummy? Try bitters. In times of stress, the body slows the digestive process and this can inhibit the proper uptake of core nutrients leading to a different sort of malnutrition. Bitter herbs are a MUST for helping stagnant digestion that is symptomatic of excess stress.

Bitter foods ~should~ be had as food and a main staple in our diets (think dandelion leaves, Romaine lettuce, fennel, Chamomile tea) but they can also be integrated into our diets as classic digestifs (such as commercial Campari or Angostura) or tinctured bitters (variety of herbs can be used for homemade bitters, such as orange peel, cinnamon, aspen Bark, fennel, chocolate, etc).

Lemon balm or catnip does wonders for soothing an anxious stomach. Blend it with aromatic herbs like cinnamon or lavender.  Chamomile also does wonders to calm nervous anxiety.

Ulcerations: If there extreme digestive deficiency and there is ulcer, etc., more must be done with diet and herbs that can support the mucosa to heal should be introduced (marshmallow, slippery elm, etc). Reduce alcohol, sugar and refined foods. See an herbalist to formulate an herbal protocol to best help gut healing.

Can’t get out of bed? Herbs for Grief, Sadness or Depression. Herbs like tulsi basil, hawthorne, rose petals, lavender, and lemon balm can offer comfort for a sad heart. Aromatic herbs are uplifting and help clear away the dark clouds and offer some clarity and peace of mind. And of course, see a professional if your stress simply is hanging over you to the point where are are affected and family and friends can no longer help. There is a role for pharmaceuticals, and many can be used in combination with herbals – just first consult an herbalist familiar with both therapeutics.

Nourish your nervous system for the long term. Build back up your nervous system with herbs that can actually restore tone to the central nervous system used over time . These herbs include milky oats (Avena sativa), nettle, passionflower, skullcap, ashwaganda, burdock root, and American ginseng. There are others, but those are a few favorites (and toning needs to be done with lifestyle change).

Lisa Rose’s Time for Sleep Tea**

1 Part Passionflower

1 Part Catnip

1 Part Elderflower

1/2 Part Holy Basil

Steep, covered in hot water (in a french press or tea ball) for 2 minutes and then sip. Promotes restfulness, focus and soothes an anxious mind and stomach so you can sleep.

**Bulk, dry herbs are available via Mountain Rose Herbs

Holiday Merriment Means Movement

IMG_2009It’s that time of year again when holiday stress is high.  Holiday parties, plates of butter cookies, and glasses of cabernet are the temptresses: singing to us like sirens on the rocks with their promises to way-lay the best set plans for getting in some exercise. We all kvetch that there is little time to “get it all done,” much less build in time for movement and exercise.

But movement and physical activity (especially movement in the brisk, winter’s air) is as important as making healthy choices during the holidays and getting adequate rest. Movement is something all bodies regularly need to both fight stress and build immunity: With proper hydration, movement keeps muscles and ligaments juicy and lymphatic glands moving. It helps blow off elevated cortisol from a stressful day and over time and in tandem with a healthy diet, can have a significant impact on blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Too many group commitments? Instead of another cookie party meet up, suggest a walk around the neighborhood as a way to get in some movement and fresh air. Or consider other group activities — from ice skating to sledding to roller skating, a group could even hit up the open swim at a local pool for a game of Marco Polo. It doesn’t really matter your current physical fitness level — it just matters that you make the decision and move!

And don’t let the snow and cold be a deterrent to getting outside.  The cold winter air is great to help build immunity and stay strong during cold and flu season — it just requires a mental re-frame about the winter weather and a bit of clothing planning. Remember, there is never the wrong weather — only the wrong clothing.

Here are some ideas to try that will keep your heart rocking, your glutes burning and will mix it up for the holidays. The tips are Grand Rapids specific, but wherever you are located, you can check into community resources in your area for similar activities — and all these suggestions are group and family friendly! Mix it up and get moving!

Ice-skating. There’s nothing more picturesque during the holiday season than an outdoor ice-skating rink.  Grand Rapids locals know one of the most fun and magical locations for ice skating is outdoors at Rosa Parks Circle located in downtown Grand Rapids in the city’s center adjacent to the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It’s our own little Rockefeller, and has affordable ice skate rentals. Afterward, you can stroll the local streets for some last minute holiday shopping or stop into the Art Museum to check out their most recent exhibit. There are also many private rinks in the area featuring rentals and open skate throughout the holiday season.

Skiing. Whether it’s classic cross country or downhill adventure seeking you crave, the snow machine has been ON in Michigan since Thanksgiving, allowing nearly all the local hills and resorts to have established base conditions for this early in the season. For cross country lovers, Kent Trails provides miles of fantastic cross trails, and many ski resorts offer both rentals and groomed trails where you can spend the day testing your cardio, quads and glutes on the skis. For a resource on all things ski related, including resort and conditions reports, check out MISkiReport.

Sledding Hills. Yes, wax the toboggan, it’s time for some sledding. West Michigan boasts some great sledding hills especially at the lakeshore state parks (Hoffmaster is especially nice) as well as in the city here in Grand Rapids (GR Kids GR Sledding Hill Guide), Pando is also a local favorite for tubing down the hills, and also has trails and gear for the ski enthusiast.

Roller skating. Roller skates! Yes, the 80s are alive and well (infused with a bit of Taylor Swift top 40 hits) at local rinks in the West Michigan area including Tarry Hall in Grandville. So, get your best Limbo and Hokey Pokey ready — it’s time to lace up and go for a roll!!!

Trampolines. Want to blow through a ton of calories playing on trampolines? Check out SkyZone Indoor Trampoline Play . This is exactly what is sounds like! Indoor trampoline play great for kids and adults alike—  you can even book “court time” to accommodate a group for an organized session of Dodgeball.

Hiking.   Grand Rapids is surrounded by extensive trail networks that are ready for a nice Christmas or New Year’s hike with family, a trail run or even a session on snow shoes. Enjoy the benefits of the great Michigan outdoors in winter. It’s magical and good for your spirit as well as body, and a great time to practice winter botany for upcoming spring foraging haunts!

Foot Races. There are some of us running junkies (ahem, you know who you are) who will want to get a race or two in over the holiday. Well, I am not going to say no to that one. The classic year-end Wolverine World Wide Resolution 4 mile Run/Walk is a great way to wrap up 2014 on New Year’s Eve, and then you can wake up and race all over again with a New Year’s Day race at the lakeshore for the Sgt Preston Yukon King Run.

All in all, don’t sweat the small stuff — just make sure you do sweat some over the holidays. It’s that first step that’s always the most difficult, but in the end so very worth it for your health. Your body and loved ones will thank you!

Happy Holiday Trails!

Crafting Your Cold & Flu GamePlan

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It’s unavoidable — being human means we will get the icky sniffles at some point this winter season, but the good news is that our bodies are of amazing design. We have built-in immune responses to help defend our system when we catch a virus or bacterial infection.

The trick is ~working~ with these immune system responses to ensure we can defend our body from further debility and return to everyday life just as strong as before.  Here’s a general game-plan for you to consider BEFORE you start to get sick so you can choose helpful therapeutics, recover and get back to the game of life.

Recognize the early warning signs. Stressed? Feeling worn out?Aches? Pains? These may be early signs that your body is giving you to SLOW DOWN. You may be under excess stress, making you more susceptible to viruses and illness. Dial back and rest, and most likely you will be able to negotiate the coming weeks sans illness. Make sure you nourish your body with good food, sleep, and Vitamin D.

Early-on Herbal Therapeutics. When you first start feeling crappy, try to kick the ick early and employ herbal therapeutics to support your body’s immune processes. Bust out the elderberry syrup – it can help inhibit the virus’ ability to reproduce. Echinacea also can help boost the peripheral immune system. Combo teas like mint, yarrow and elderflower are a must-have to help early on in a cold or flu, helping stimulate the immune system and relax the body.

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Elderberry syrup is a must-have staple in every home apothecary.

Rest up to kick it quick. My theory? Cut your losses early, rest and get better more quickly. Renegotiate any short term commitments to allow for some significant rest. I know this is hard for us parents, or folks with work that isn’t very flexible. Do what you can to re-arrange the workload so your immune system gets a bit more bandwidth to fight an infection. Remember, energy put into work while you are sick is energy that could be used for your healing. And the potential cost of pushing through a cold or flu virus? A secondary bacterial infection. No one wants that.

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Mandatory bed rest for your herbalist: At the corner of sick and miserable.

Got sniffles? A fever? At this point, you are sick and the hypothalamus is calling in the troops.  Don’t try suppressing those immune responses like the sniffles and a fever. Remember — these are not illnesses. They are ways the body helps fight illness. They are on your team!!! Fevers are not inherently bad (read more on fevers HERE thanks to Jim McDonald)– Support the fever’s therapeutic actions with herbs like elderflower, mints, yarrow, ginger, boneset, or chamomile. These are wonderful as hot teas (the hot water is a therapy in and of itself). These will help the body produce an effective fever and also be relaxant to the body (good for the aches and pains). As for those sniffles? Work with the body’s attempts at trying to loosen and move the phlegm and mucous so that healthy tone can be restored to the respiratory tissues. Using an OTC mucous eliminator is counter intuitive to maintaining healthy tissues — mucous is good!

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Aromatic garden herbs (fresh or dry) can be used as an herbal inhalation steam to clear clogged and congested sinuses.

Soothe the congestion. Try an aromatic herbal steam inhalation with peppermint essential or eucalyptus oil to open the sinuses. Or brew a pot of aromatic garden herbs like thyme, sage, or lavender to open the sinuses. Don’t forget to eat onion and garlic in copious amounts for its aromatic and antimicrobial benefits. Raw honey is also helpful too, especially in soothing a dry cough. A relaxant lung herb like mullein or cherry bark can help relax and open the lungs, while elecampane can work well on damp, wet coughs (great in bacterial infections also).

Chicken soup (or in my house -Jewish penicillin). Ok, it doesn’t have to be chicken. But any hot soups — nourishing clear broths full with onions, garlic, cayenne will help warm the body and the aromatic kitchen herbs can help clear clogged sinuses and offer additional anti-microbial benefits. I make broths well in advance of getting sick and store the quarts in the freezer so they are at the ready when my family gets sick. Click HERE for my recipes.

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Consider making chicken or beef broth by the stock-pot full and then freezing it to have on hand all winter long.

Clean out the gunk. Rest. Repeat. As the body starts to feel better, your lymphatic system will be working to clean up the debris left over from your immune system’s battle. Support this lymphatic work with continued liquids and broths, and herbs (teas or tinctures) that include red root, mullein, or very simply lemon in your water. This will help move the gunk from your body as it returns to normal. Also don’t jump back into the grind the first moment you feel better. Continue to take it easy for 10 days or so after a serious illness.mSlowly re-introduce work, stress and strenuous physical activity over time. This will all help to prevent a secondary bacterial infection that can easily settle in if your defenses are down and you carelessly jump back into the fray.

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When you start to feel better, continue to support your body by drinking lots of clear fluids – simple lemon water can help your lymphatic system “clean up” after illness.

Once you are better, keep feeding your body good foods, get enough sleep and exercise — that is foundational for winter wellness. For a bit more on my cold and flu theories read more HERE. And remember, at any given time you feel your illness is beyond your control and you find yourself turning to Facebook for answers — see a doctor.

Wild Apples, Forgotten Harvests & ReWilded Pies

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A recent walk around my favorite farmer’s market led me to discover an abundance of wild and feral apples. I am one that is know to snack off trees and pluck greens from the ground as I go about my day, so stopping down to taste one of the abandoned beauties didn’t surprise my companion, who I also offered a taste of the wild, crisp deliciousness. “Why, it tastes just like a real apple!!” my friend exclaimed.

I had to laugh. Without blowing my friend’s cover, I’ll disclose that she is an apple person and her family owns an orchard in Upstate New York. “Well, yes,” I chuckled. “They are in fact real apples. Crabapples, maybe, and wild in flavor, crispness and sweetness, but apples just the same.”  I proceeded to fill her purse with the beauties, because I couldn’t stand to walk away from such an abundant harvest.*

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This year was another bumper crop for apples – both cultivated in the orchards and the feral ones in the field. This is good for foragers this year, as wild apples and crabapples are one of the easiest edible trees to find in parks, landscaping, edges of forests and along trails. Just keep an eye peeled and a harvest bag on hand to collect your windfall. There will be wild apples to gather well into November, both on the trees and on the ground. Just look for firm, healthy looking fruit and taste them along the way to select those with the flavors you prefer best.

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Your wild apple harvests can be stored in a cool, dark place and used into the first part of the winter. Of course, they can be prepared into apple sauces, fruit leathers, dehydrated apple snacks, and pies. The smaller, more tart crabapples are delicious made into a spicy chutney or even pickled. Both can be mashed and made into cider (fermented for hard cider) or made into a delicious apple cider vinegar.

This harvest was made into delicious french dessert called a tarte tatin. A tarte tatin, despite the fancy name, is really an upside-down apple pie. The tarte tatin is probably one of my most favorite french desserts (tied with a clafoutis). I learned how to make it while I was studying in France in college and love the tarte tatin for its rustic simplicity. Perfect for my little foraged apples. Click HERE for a recent recipe featured on Food52.

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It had been AGES since I had made, enjoyed and savored a tarte tatin … and sooo delicious it was.  I scooped spoonfuls of plain yoghurt on top and ate nearly the entire tarte tatin myself. Total perfection in both the feral harvest and rewilded French dessert. C’etait manifique.

A note on urban foraging: I foraging in and about Grand Rapids and am very mindful of the plants I gather, where I gather and when I gather. I feel it’s a forager’s responsibility to own the risks associated with foraging from areas that might be subject to soil and air contaminants and how the plant you are gathering could be affected by such contaminants. That said, I frequently muse to myself that these are plants — specifically like this apple tree — that live alongside me in the city, subject to the same pollutants and noise of the city. To that end, and knowing that there would be little issue of spray, brake dust, or heavy metal contaminants in the apples I was gathering (AND that the harvest was for my own personal consumption), I didn’t feel too concerned gathering these fallen fruits from the ground.