Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Foraging in the City

"O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.—
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!"

At this time of year, in this part of the world, there's not a whole lot of green in the landscape, especially in an urban environment. If there hasn't been a fresh snowfall for a while, and the sky is overcast, the end of January starts to look gritty, dirty and bleak. Not quite of The Road proportions, but close. I cast my eyes about, hungry for some spark of colour and freshness.

Enter the evergreen. Thank god for the evergreens. It's the conifers that get me through. Spruce, cedar, fir, juniper, pine. I love the scrubby bushes, the thick hedges, the majestic silhouettes of the trees. I love all the shades of green from emerald to blue, and the smells are downright heavenly.

And because there isn't much else going on in the plant world these days and I'm suffering from FWS (Forager's Withdrawal Syndrome), many of the conifers provide some lovely opportunities for winter foraging and medicine making. I've already enjoyed tasty pine tea and harvested juniper berries, which I'll talk about in another post. Last week I experimented with pine again, this time with an external preparation.

I took a long walk along the Rideau river checking out the pines and spruces. "Hey baby, looking good. Those some fine looking needles you got there. Yeah, you know it. Can I touch your bark?" Ok, maybe it wasn't quite like that, but I did get up close and personal with a few trees, looking for identifying marks and distinguishing features. I smelled and tasted the needles of various trees to discern differences in scent and flavour. This one lemony, that one resin-y, tangy, spicy, bitter...

From what I've learned so far, the best time to harvest conifers is in the late winter, early spring when there is new, fresh needle growth, so I wasn't planning on taking a harvest that day. However, as I walked along, I found a small pine branch on the ground that had fallen or been knocked down. I picked it up and carried it home.

Not knowing how long it had lain on the ground, and considering the season wasn't optimal for harvesting I decided I wouldn't bother with making a tea or tincture. I decided against an oil preparation for the same reason. I guessed that a strong alcohol maceration might do well to extract pine's constituents, so I went with 90% rubbing alcohol to make a liniment. A bottle of rubbing alcohol is cheap and if nothing else I would still end up with a disinfectant and sore muscle rub. With nothing to lose, I felt this was a suitable experiment to play with.

I cut some needles with scissors and filled a small jar with them.

I poured the rubbing alcohol over that and capped the jar. The liniment started to green almost immediately.

Because rubbing alcohol is toxic if ingested I made sure to label the jar clearly and thoroughly. This is for external use only! Also, I still haven't identified the exact type of pine tree, which I really ought to do, and plan on, but for now it shall remain Pinus species.

I took another picture of the liniment this morning in daylight. I can't stop looking at and fondling this jar. I am completely enamored by the gorgeous emerald green colour. It's so friggin' pretty I could cry.

I'll use this external liniment for sore muscles, joint pain and chest and sinus congestion. Mrs. Grieve talks about pines here and Susun Weed praises the white pine here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Urban Homestead Series: My Own Hallmark

This is my collection of cards and card making supplies. Thrift stores, church bazaars and charity shops are great places to find all kinds of unused, stationary items. I love my card supply because it means that I never have to buy a new, expensive card. I save money, reduce waste and I always have something on hand for every occasion. I store everything in a box that I keep on my desk. It's neat and tidy, yet easily accessible when I need it.

I celebrated a friend's birthday on the weekend and since he's a lover of fine food and drink, I gifted him with a bottle of my homemade, plum infused brandy. The bottle came from a consignment shop near my house.

I wrapped it in this pretty piece of linen purchased at a church bazaar and tied it with a drawstring separated from some random item a long time ago, that I had saved. From my card collection, I chose this old postcard from Spain. It kinda looks like the birthday boy and his awesome dudette and they visited Spain last summer. I skipped the envelope, since, unless you're mailing it, just seems superfluous to me.


Update: Just adding some links with information on the environmental impact of the greeting card industry.