Burdock & Rose

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

Tag: grand rapids

Eat the Weeds: Garlic Mustard

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Garlic Mustard: An Edible, Bitter Green

Dandelion, parsley, arugula, romaine, radicchio, endive are all delicious, bitter greens of springtime that make perfect addition to salads!  Why do bitter flavors matter? 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.

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 an edible, bitter green. Harvest away, 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).

Garlic Mustard Pesto

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.

Recipe: 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.

The Rise of Garlic Mustard

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 Roots of Garlic Mustard

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.

The Garlic Mustard Invasion

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).

Picking Garlic Mustard for the Best Flavor

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!

Want to learn more about wild edibles? Check out my book, “Midwest Foraging!” Available online at Amazon.com.

Herbal First Responders: Cold & Flu Care

 

Lisa M. Rose in a field of wildflowers in Millineum Park.

Gathering wild bee balm for my well-known Gypsy Tea.

Sometimes when you feel a cold or a flu coming on, it’s easy to brush it off and keep pushing ahead. But when that little voice tells you that your body has caught a virus, heed its warning!  Learning when and how to use popular herbal remedies can help you prevent from getting stuck at the corner of sick and miserable!

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Plant medicines like elderberry can help shorten the lifespan of a virus — If you know when and how to use them! If you listen to your body’s call, and try preparations of elderberry elixir within the first 48 hours of the start of a virus, medical research shows that symptoms that come from colds and flus can be lessened by as much as 4 days. (1) Now, that doesn’t mean you can just chug elderberry elixir and NOT rest. Of course not. Resting is a crucial part to the body’s healing process.

But how does elderberry work? Elderberry is not only filled with antioxidants and flavonoids useful for the body, but it stimulates the body’s inflammation response against the virus. By triggering the production of cytokines – the inflammatory and anti-inflammatory agents that regulate the body’s immune system – elderberry powers the immune system which then inhibits the virus’ ability to reproduce. (2)

Elderberry is most commonly prepared as a syrup of the fresh or dry berries. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) syrup is easy to make (RECIPE FEATURED IN RODALE’s ORGANIC LIFE), but if you don’t have time, make a trip to your local health food shop to stock up, or better yet – support this local herbalist by stocking up with her elderberry elixir blends!! (Hint, hint) So at those first signs of illness – down that elderberry syrup in large tablespoon doses!

 

Gypsy Tea: Echinacea, Mints, Yarrow & Elderflower

While downing tablespoons of elderberry when I start to get sick, you will also find me making pots of my favorite tea traditionally known as Gypsy Tea- a formula that goes back generations. Gypsy Tea is a tea blend of aromatic mints (I prefer the wild bee balm, Monarda fistulosa), the bitter yarrow, and the relaxant elderflowers. I also add in echinacea for its additional immune boosting power, and sometimes garden herbs like sage and thyme for extra aromatics.

Gypsy Tea is also a great base in which to add honey and your elderberry elixir!To make your own Gypsy Tea, these herbs can be foraged from the wild, or you can procure your own herbs from a reputable forager or an online source like Mountain Rose Herbs.

Gypsy Tea Ingredients:

1 Part Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

2 Parts Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)

2 Parts Bee Balm (Monarda spp) or Peppermint

1 Part Echinacea (Echiancea spp)

Directions: Add herbal ingredients to a french press or directly to a pot of boiling water. Cover, let steep for 5 minutes and drink hot. And like Grandma always says, Put on a hat!  Cover the body, keep it warm, take to bed and REST. If you really are feeling crummy, consider making a large thermos of tea to keep hot by the bedside – this will help you to stay in bed and support the body’s immune system as it works on staying well.

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Even herbalists get sick.

It’s easy to forget how to care for yourself once a virus settles in and your body begins to ache. Be prepared! Have on hand the ingredients you need to care for yourself allows your body to rest and fight off the virus. And remember to have a backup friend to rely on when you are at the corner of sick and miserable – even if it’s your golden retriever.

For more tips on making a plan for Cold & Flu season, click HERE.

A Few Other Good Links & Resources:

– Darcey Blue on Flu

– Todd Caldecott’s Ayurvedic approach to Colds & Flu 

–  7 Song’s Materia Medica for Colds & Flu

— Paul Bergner on Vitamin D

Footnotes:

1)  “Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.” J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40.

2) “The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines” Eur Cytokine Netw. 2001 Apr-Jun;12(2):290-6

The Herbalist’s Line

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I’ve been in-house blending organic teas at The Spice Merchants in Grand Rapids as their resident herbalist. My favorite combos are now located right there at the shop under “The Herbalist’s Line.”

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I also have some of my own wildcrafted, Burdock & Rose herbals in stock at the Grand Rapids location, as well as my book, “Midwest Foraging.” I’m pretty delighted to work with the Spice Merchants – it harkens back to the family business in Flint – my Grandfather’s wholesale tea and coffee business: Mack Tea & Coffee.

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You will see me around the DT Market every so often, working alongside their great staff answering herbal questions. I’ll try to get better at announcing when I’ll be around so you can stop by!

In the meantime, be well and drink tea!

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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Claiming Our Place At the Table: Growing the Good Food Movement

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Each one of us has an important role to play in growing the good food movement in Grand Rapids. What’s your role? Photo by Ryan P. Photo

On September 21, 2001, a group of about 25 people representing all sectors of the food community – from farmers to schools to clinics to social agencies addressing hunger – gathered at what is now known as Feeding America West Michigan. With Groundswell farmer Tom Cary at the helm and with me taking notes, we collectively organized Grand Rapids’ first food policy council. We all recognized and outlined the myriad of challenges facing our fractured food system in Grand Rapids, including race, the built environment and socio-economic disparities, to name a few.

This community effort – over time – faced its own hurdles and challenges in the decade that followed. Programs in the community came and went, and today – while the food system landscape is completely different, the core issues faced then remain the same.

Since I published the local food documentary, Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution (History Press, 2013), citizens have continued to take up shovels to clear grass and concrete and build gardens. When policy gets in the way, citizens continue to appear at policy meetings to help coax our leaders to make change.

From the outside, it can appear that the local food system in Grand Rapids has taken off – from beer to markets, it could seem that the larger Grand Rapids community has benefitted tremendously from the various additions to the Grand Rapids food landscape. 

But has it?

For nearly 14 years to the day, I’ve been engaged in helping grow the local food community in Grand Rapids. It’s been a pleasure to call the Grand Rapids cadre of food activists my most dear friends – those working to increase access to fresh foods within the urban community through a myriad of channels – community gardens, urban farms, food cooperatives, a more effective pantry system – to name a few. 

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When stepping into the Wealthy Theatre on Monday for the Urban Roots local food community conversation I left my preconceived ideas, assumptions and past experiences at the door. I arrived open to learn of new endeavors and to be inspired by new faces on the front lines.

Surprisingly, I was glad to know only a few faces as part of the group. I was excited to hear about the experiences of other community organizations and people working for systems change in Grand Rapids. It was inspiring to witness the passion and commitment of others trying to make change in the ways they knew, yet humbling to realize the vast expanse of work that still is ahead, with many hurdles to tackle.

Addressing Systems Issues as a United Front 

In the recent opinion article penned by urban farmer and local food expert Levi Gardner, many of the issues raised with the Downtown Market are larger systems issues that face all of Grand Rapids – particularly those that are immediately relevant to food access rooted in socio-economic disparities, race and segregation because of our built environment. 

To be fair, the criticism the Downtown Market has received isn’t because the market isn’t a needed piece of food systems infrastructure for the local downtown community — it is. The Downtown Market has tremendous potential to bring people together, to be a welcoming space for people to learn and share knowledge. The Downtown Market has tremendous potential to serve the local community as a food hub, meet local access needs and provide an economic platform for vendors to be able to affordably participate in economic exchange. 

The Downtown Market has received criticism because the greater community  wants its leadership to rethink its outreach, its purpose, its messaging and how it engages a diverse set of audiences. The greater community has needs and is asking the Downtown Market to proactively help meet those needs. The community wants the leadership of the Downtown Market to be present and responsible for being part of the solution. And as a point of order: as a publicly funded institution, the Downtown Market leadership has an ethical obligation to do so, and to ensure it is inclusive of all backgrounds in an intentional way and to actively be a part of community conversations.  

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Growing Roots. Photo by Shane Folkertsma.

But let’s be real: This isn’t an issue that faces solely the Downtown Market. While it’s easy to critique a large organization like the Downtown Market, we all need to examine the ways in which we each engage and mutually support open and honest dialogue. We need to examine how we engage each other in the various aspects of our work, helping to make it accessible and inclusive and actualize co-learning.

My own food systems learnings have led me down the path to foraging, wild edibles and herbalism as a form of healthcare. Admittedly, I find that it’s easier to sit in the woods, alone, working with plants rather than people. But I know that its the education I have to share that I feel can help effect change and so I work in my community as a community herbalist and teacher about the natural world.

To that end, I, too, am holding myself personally accountable to consider how I design my work to address issues of race, culture, poverty, education, socio-economic disparities and health disparity in our City. To work in partnership with others in the community, rather than shy away from working at it alone because it is “easier” or without political (read exhausting) drama. And to invite others to be part of the conversation, and helping make a place at the table for many voices to be heard. 

It is only by working through difficult conversations and partnerships that we can grow. Stonewalling, boycotting and judgement won’t get us where we need to be. Repeatedly showing up and being open to arriving to new destinations will get us where we need to be. When we shut down – close each other out – we will go nowhere. 

We need process and intentionality, but we also need to allow room for organic growth. And be accountable for each other and help our organizations grow in the directions our community needs. 

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Grand Rapids’ New Mayor-Elect, Rosalyn Bliss, an active leader who helped champion the urban hen legislation in GR. Photo by Ryan P. Photo.

Leaving Room for Organic Growth

Intentionality is important. Each decision should be made with focus and purpose. But it is also worthy to be flexible and open to change and new directions. I leave you with a segment from my book, Grand Rapids Food, where a local gardener talks about the vision for their community gardening space. 

Amy contemplates the future of the community garden space. “I would like to see it be a place where the neighbors are investing their time. For what we have — the social aspect — It’s what draws people here. We have such a small space compared to other community gardens. But it’s perfect for our block — we aren’t trying to reach large scale. Certainly people can come from anywhere, but we want  the neighbors to enjoy this. To be their garden.  

“Beyond that? I don’t know. I think that is the enjoyment — that we have of these dreams. We just start in one place and keep moving forward. Which is exciting because people’s needs change, the neighborhood changes. I like that space to be open — it leaves room for creativity. Let’s keep the master plan in the shed.” 

It is my wish that you, too, can be inspired to move forward with intentionality and openness to continue to address the rooted issues that face our food system in Grand Rapids.

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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 Leeks: A Tasty, Precious Sign of Spring

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Spotted: Wild leeks, Allium tricoccum

Regionally, Wild Leeks are distributed as far east as New York State and through Canada, west into the forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota and south into Appalachia.

Here in Michigan, the Wild Leeks (or Ramps are they are also called) are plentiful in the Beech/Maple woods along the rivers and on the back dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline, frequently found alongside the unfolding MayApples and Trout Lilly.  They are abundant in Leelanau County, throughout the Sleeping Bear region and in the southwest portion of the state near St. Joseph and toward the Indiana border. In the Greater Grand Rapids area, they exist but do not carpet the forest floor as plentifully in other areas of the state.

A relative to onion, the Wild Leek is a bulb and is markedly onion-y in both flavor and scent. Take care to note these characteristics in trying to identify the plant, as it could be easily mistaken with the immature False Hellebore, or Lily of the Valley, which neither smells or tastes like onion, and is quite poisonous.

I spotted these beauties at one of my favorite parks, Johnson Park. These are a part of only a few stands here along the river, outside the City of Grand Rapids — please let them alone. Equally, if you see stands within the Greater Grand Rapids area — they aren’t as abundant here as in other areas at the Lakeshore and up the coastline.

A 2011 article in The New York Times featured the Wild Leek and claimed the increase in harvesting for the restaurant market and by hobby foragers is putting pressure  on the Wild Leek population.  While the Wild Leek certainly is not ~that~ close to being extinct in the Great Lakes area, it is something to consider as the plant ends up on the farm to table menus and baskets of market foragers – particularly when we know the plant is not widely distributed.

Because it takes about three years for a seed to develop into a mature leek for harvesting, I personally no longer harvest the bulbs, and have taken to transplanting them to try to re-establish stands in local parks in the area. I won’t lie — I really ~love~ the Wild Leeks, but unless we take some pressure off of the plant population in our area (due large in part to the love of this plant by the farm to table & locavore community), we will over harvest them and secure their own demise.

From my perspective, I don’t believe we have enough plants in our Great Lakes bio-region to be regularly supplying the local farmers’ markets & farm to table restaurants with an abundance of wild-harvested Leeks for the entire spring season.  It really is an issue we eaters must be concerned with, not just the foragers. I once saw a social media post by a local chef hauling out a full garbage bag full of leeks for his restaurant. This was several years ago, and if I saw this happen again by someone I knew in my community, I would not be afraid to do some public shaming of the chef and the restau for simply bad foraging practices. Not only is unethical foraging not ok, it goes against fundamental environmental values of “do no harm” within the local food movement.

So in the essence of helping share the knowledge — if you come across them in the farmers market or in the restaurants — I ask you to inquire about the source of the Wild Leeks. Ask about the forager’s standards. Ask about their sustainability practices. And if YOU are the forager and are planning on harvesting, take time to first learn for yourself the distribution of leeks in your area. THEN find a sizable stand and clip the tops only. This is the most sustainable way to use the plant.

Yes, I know these beauties are delicious pickled as cocktail onions in martinis (!!) and roasted, drizzled in olive oil over a nice spring egg & nettle quiche, so a few handfuls is probably is ok.  And if you do indulge, just make sure you offer to help replenish the stand and give deep thanks for the plant world that sustains us.

Grow Your Herbal Apothecary from the Ground Up

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It’s that time of year again — Spring! I know I’ve been thinking about planting time since January, when the seed catalogues began to drop into our mailbox (an evil tease, I say) and this time of year I become so excited to once again get my hands into the soil. It is my therapy and peace.

It delights me with happiness that the urban farming and gardening movement continues to gain momentum and that others are joining in, tilling the soil to grow their own food and herbs. For reasons of health, economy, environment and justice, it’s now quite popular to have tilled the grass for edible plants and vegetables as outdoor landscapes instead of lawns. On the note of health, as you think about starting your garden this spring consider including herbs into the plan.

Imagine this at the end of your harvest season– your own herbal apothecary filled with local herbs that are gathered from your gardens, the farmers market, and even field hedgerows and woodlands that you can turn to when you feel a cold coming on or get an upset stomach after an indulgent meal.  There is nothing more gratifying and satisfying to know you’ve stocked your pantry with herbal concoctions and medicines to keep you and your family well throughout the year. {AND you will find you will not need to take those expensive trips to the health food shop to procure your herbal remedies!}

For many, the word herbal apothecary evokes images of shelves, bottles and jars all filled with mysterious herbs, herbal formulas from exotic plants.  But to have an herbal apothecary that your family can turn to for basic ills and chills, plants need not be exotic or mysterious – in fact, as more and more people look to local plants and herbs to incorporate into their natural wellness routine, beginning your own apothecary can begin as close to home as the garden.

Grow your own.  In establishing a supply of herbs for your own herbal, consider growing a few perennial kitchen herbs like popular plants such as Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Mint, Bee Balm and Lavender. These well-known plants will not only offer you a source of fresh culinary herbs throughout the season for cooking, but can be dried for tea for winter’s warm sipping. Also keep in mind that it’s nice to have these culinary herbs close to the kitchen for easy harvesting when cooking.

I also love other perennials like Echinacea, Yarrow, Comfrey, Borage, Boneset, Roses and Milkweed. Pollinators love these plants (think BEES!) and they offer wonderful medicines for the herbal apothecary. They also work in containers.

Kitchen herbs can be easily integrated into a current garden plan if you already do have a garden or yard, or can be easily grown in containers on the patio and in the windowsill if you are an apartment dweller and lack growing space.  These basic kitchen garden herbs are widely available at local greenhouses and can often be found at the farmers market (when selecting transplants for your gardens, be sure to look for plants that have a vital energy and have been started in chemical-free, heavily composted soil).

Farmers Markets. Don’t feel left out if you aren’t a gardener. The summer farmers markets are gearing up for the growing season. And if you aren’t growing your own, the farmers market is the next best place to be procuring garden-fresh herbs that you can preserve and dry. Check out LocalHarvest.org for a market or farmer that sells herbs in your area.

Harvesting & Preservation. Throughout the growing seasons, kitchen herbs can be easily cut with scissors and can be used to make herbal honey or vinegars.  Their stalks can be bundled and hung to dry simply dried on screens to later be blended together for a soothing aromatic tea blend. An added bonus for cutting back the first round of blooms: Sometimes an early cutting of the flowers will result in a second bloom. Lavender will often do this if it’s a warm summer.

To dry the plant material for tea, individual leaves and flowers can be harvested and dried on screens in a dry space. The larger stalks can be bundled and hung to dry. Be sure to harvest the plants after the morning dew has evaporated and that the plants are fully dry before storing in glass jars.  If the plant is not thoroughly dry before storing, there is a high likelihood that the drying plant material will mold in the container — and that’s a drag. Be sure to always label and date the jars as you put up your herbal harvest.

Using your herbs in your apothecary. Tasting, smelling your freshly harvested herbs will set you on your way to better understanding how plants can be used in times of illness and as part of a regular diet.  Take note as to how they taste in tea using both dry herbs and fresh plants. Notice a difference? You will learn ways to prepare the herbs to suit your tastes, and also how they may have an action on the body. So as you continue along your herbal harvest journey, experiment with the herbs singly as a tea or try blending them together!

Over the coming season, you may find that you like working with plants so much you will want to delve into making herbal salves, herbal infused oils and tinctures.  Or become a forager of the wild, uncultivated plants. You certainly will discover that it is truly satisfying to begin to rely on the natural world for wellness and to connect to a  tradition of herbal healing and reliance on plants that is as old as time itself.

To learn more, consider signing up for one of my foraging and medicine making classes. I’d love to have you and share with you the healing wonders of the outdoors. It’s good for both mind, body and spirit (AND pocketbook!).