Burdock & Rose

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

Tag: puremichigan

Simply Sassy: A Mitten Gal’s Sassafras Rootbeer 

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The dunes of my childhood where sassafras grows in abundance.

While on a trail run through the dunes of Hoffmaster State Park this summer I realized that there is no other smell reminiscent of my West Michigan lakeshore upbringing than sassafras. That aromatic, spicy rootbeer fragrance of the sassafras floats on the breeze in the dew of the morning or after a wet, damp rain. It is one of those smells that truly defines my life.

You can imagine my delight when forager friend Sam Thayer recommended me to host a Minneapolis-based film crew to learn all about sassafras for their “How To Make Everything: Rootbeer” segment! I enjoyed taking the crew through the dunes woods of my childhood stomping grounds to gather the sassafras roots for their project. Check out our final segment on sassafras HERE.

Though it is fall and the leaves are rapidly falling from the trees, it isn’t to late to gather a few saplings to make a late fall batch of rootbeer! Want to make your own local rootbeer? Read more…

A Mitten Gal’s Sassafras Rootbeer 

Sassafras albidumSassafras is common along trails and beach areas and makes a delightful tea and culinary spice. Sassafras is a small deciduous tree that grows to heights of up to 60 feet or more in optimum conditions. It commonly has mitten-shaped, three-lobed and un-lobed leaves. Its bark is a rough and reddish brown, the aromatic roots range in color from white to reddish brown. The roots of a small sapling can be gathered in the spring or fall. Wash, chop, and completely dry them.

Here’s what you’ll need to make a simple syrup with sassafras and other woodland herbs for a refreshing batch of rootbeer soda pop.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chopped roots of sassafras**
  • 1/4 cup burdock root*
  • 1/4 cup sarsaparilla*
  • 1 tbsp dry hops*
  • 1tsp juniper berries*
  • 10 wintergreen leaves*
  • 1 tsp dry ginger root*
  • 1 tsp spicebush berries (optional)*
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups MICHIGAN maple syrup

Directions:

  • Simmer herbs in a pot with 4 cups boiling water for 5 minutes, covered to retain volatile oils.
  • Strain
  • Stir in maple syrup, let cool
  • Add 1 part sassafras simple syrup mixture to 2 parts club soda and serve over ice or with vanilla ice cream
  • Sassafras simple syrup can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 weeks

*Some herbs can be gathered by hand from the wild, procured from your local health food store or ordered online. I like Mountain Rose Herbs as an online supplier for organic herbs. To learn more about sassafras or other herbs mentioned in this recipe? Check out my book, “Midwest Foraging.”

After the Storm: Leelanau, Wild Plants & New Beginnings

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Leelanau County is a beloved place for me. When my family and I watched the devastating storm slam into the beach on Sunday, August 2 – with its winds reaching speeds of nearly 100 mph- and then witnessed the extensive devastation that has left Glen Arbor and many surrounding areas still without power, my heart seemed to break open.

Many folks suffered extensive damage to their homes and businesses. The landscape has forever changed. It will be some time before the beloved trees grow in and the property damage repaired.

In the days that followed the storm, stories that came out of the Glen Arbor devastation were tales of resiliency. Shopkeepers powered through, despite the lack of power. People fed each other and had each other’s backs – a communal responsibility to pull through and take care of one another: a quintessential trait of a small, Northern Michigan community.

As I entered Glen Arbor for the first time since the storm for a book signing at The Cottage Book Shop on Saturday, my mouth was agape at all the felled trees. My memory flashed back to 1998, where my hometown of Spring Lake fared similar destruction from straight line winds. Nearly twenty years later, the town’s landscape still shows open spots where the winds ripped the tree canopy to shreds.

While I was having flashbacks, my daughter noted something different: “Mom, all the trees have fallen down around it, but the sign for Glen Arbor is still standing.” Yes, I thought. The plants will regrow and come back. The land and the community will heal itself.

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The wild lakeshore of Sleeping Bear has weathered aeons of storms … the shifting sands change daily, as do the plants. I love the snakegrass and beach peas (Laythrus japonicus – and yes they are edible) that grow along the Leelanau shoreline.

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

Listening to the Land

6am. Sunday, August 2.

I woke up with coffee on my mind, contemplating a long run. As a runner, those Sunday long runs are sacred to me. As a mom, those quiet moments before the house wakes are equally sacred. With the latter more infrequent, I chose to linger a few more moments and savor my hot steaming cup of Joe while looking out over the water.

As I listened to the rustle of the trees, I could feel that the air was unsettled, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. There weren’t any bird noises – which is unusual as normally the morning noises include the chirps of the finches, cardinals and an occasional screech of a passing heron or an obnoxious blue jay. This humid morning, however, there was only sound of the rustle of leavings coming from the on shore breeze as it swirled through the trees and out across the bay. I didn’t know what it was, but I sensed things were off. Little did I anticipate it being the wild storms our shores were about to weather.

Fast forward seven days.

6am. Sunday, August 9.

The morning light is still gray, with the sun yet to rise up over the ridge to cast light onto the western shore. The birds are already awake and the morning on shore breeze is gentle, casting dancing puffs across the water. Like last weekend, I wanted that same indulgence of a quiet morning with my coffee, but my dog really wanted to go for a run. So, I decided to take the dog for a lap up to the top of Overby Hill.

Across time, humans have made their way to the highest points on the landscape to seek inspiration and solace. Pyramid Point, Alligator Hill, Empire Bluffs – these are just a few of the sacred Leelanau spots that have offered sweeping vistas and inspiration to people for thousands of years.

For me, I’ve been seeking solace and wisdom from a less notable high point: Overby Hill off M22 in Lake Leelanau. For the past several months, I’ve been drawn to include this hill in my regular runs. For obvious reasons, it’s a killer hill, and for a runner, a ball-breaker if you want to improve your abilities to run hills. What draws me more, however, is the landscape of Overby. 

From M22 to Overby, I pass the cedar swamps and through the fields of goldenrod, milkweed, Queen Anne’s Lace and poison ivy. The roads winds up the ridge with its hardwood forest and tender woodland gullies.  Up the steep climb, the gravel road opens up at the top of the ridge to a plowed field and orchard.

Colleague and Glen Arbor Sun editor, Jacob Wheeler recently asked me about my running in an interview – ironically on the morning of August 2 – inquiring as to what I think about on my runs. Today, I simply wanted to be out with the plants, open to any secrets the land wanter to share with me.

I lumbered up the hill with my dog and I listened to the winds again. They were playful winds, rustling the leaves of the birches, beeches, oaks and maples. The quaking aspen leaves waved to me as I went by.

Then it came to me. They knew. Last Sunday, the trees, the birds …  the land knew the storms were brewing. The behavior of the wind and animals were signals that something was amiss.

Having grown up downstate just minutes from the Big Lake and the daughter of a sailor, my father always taught me that if you listen to the land and the water, they will talk to you. Nature will tell you what you need to know.

When I reached the top of the hill, I took notice of all the wind-fallen green acorns that littered the road. Signs that the ripe acorn masts are soon to fall.

At that moment, I knew that it was in the acorns that we are reminded the land will heal itself, and despite the brutal force of its storms, it will also offer us the resources we need to move forward.

During my plant talk at The Cottage Book Shop, I asked my listeners to consider how the land might heal itself going forward after such a devastating storm. We talked about the acorns that were shaken from the trees. The acorns are not only the rebirth of a new growth of oaks, but also a complete and complex carbohydrate, filled with plant proteins and healthy fats. We will have a good year for acorns this fall – a wild food from the land that can nourish and sustain us.

The land – with all her natural systems of regeneration – will fill in the cracks. We talked about the native and “invasive” plants that will fill in now where the disturbed soil is exposed, revealing the seeds in the soil’s seed bank to the sun and water. 

While we are still in the midst of cleanup, it will be interesting to watch and observe nature’s approach to the restoration work. And perhaps of all the tools that are helping the community get back on its feet, our ability to watch and listen will carry us through this long haul of renewal.

Many thanks to shopkeepers like Sue Boucher of Cottage Book Shop for carrying on and the endless UpNorth Michigan hospitality.

Author’s note: I submitted this essay of musings to the Glen Arbor Sun after my “Midwest Foraging” book signing on August 8 at The Cottage Book Shop. This is a short narrative not only on the storm; but as a naturalist and plant person, reflecting on my never-ending quest to better understand nature’s ways as means to help me live a deeper, more connected life to both the land around me and with my community. 

The Magic Nectar of Maple Syrup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maple Fleur de Sel Caramels 

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

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

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Ingredients: 

1 cup heavy cream

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature

1 teaspoon fleur de sel

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

Parchment paper, baking sheet or pan and a candy thermometer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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