Sunday, February 27, 2011

Coloured glass

It's overcast and gray outside, but inside there are plenty of colours to brighten up my day.

Dandelion wine

Nine day old willow tincture

Chamomile tincture

Freshly washed bottles

Homemade almond milk

Red and white sauerkraut fermenting

Monday, February 21, 2011

Around Ye Old Urban Homestead

Getting in under the wire for the Urban Homesteader's Action day, here's what I've been up to on my urban homestead this weekend.

It was crazy mild on Friday, so I biked to the garden to check things out. Here are two of our plots.
And the other two. Everything is still under a blanket of snow, but it won't be long before things are lush! We sheet mulched as many beds as we could last fall, which should make for an already-prepped, easy start to the season.

Winter is actually a good time for certain kinds of plant ID, if you know what you're looking for. This stand of last season's Evening Primrose stalks and seed heads stands out so much more obviously at this time of year than when in a field of growing tall grass and other plants. Now I know where to look for new growth, this spring and summer.
Not all is dead or dormant. I was thrilled to see stinging nettle shoots pushing their way up out of the ground under a paper bag of leaves. Hello you beauties!

After I pruned the currant and gooseberry bushes and tidied up around the wild roses I'm trying to encourage to take over, I took a few moments of rest before my feet got cold and I made my way home under the setting sun. The rest of the weekend turned cold, so I was content to stay warm inside with hot herbal teas and infusions.
I tinctured some fresh growth of willow twigs I harvested.
You can just make out the constituents extracting out into the alcohol. It's so pretty.

I've got homemade crackers in the dehydrator.And a pie fresh out of the oven. I've been hoarding the strawberries and elderberries I froze last summer, but it's time to tuck into and savour them!
Hope everyone had a lovely weekend!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Calendula officinalis

"The yellow leaves of the flowers are dried and kept throughout Dutchland against winter to put into broths, physicall potions and for divers other purposes, in such quantity that in some Grocers or Spicesellers are to be found barrels filled with them and retailed by the penny or less, insomuch that no broths are well made without dried Marigold." ~The Countrie Farme

I grew and dried a lot of calendula last year.

In The Earthwise Herbal Matthew Wood writes, "As an 'immune tonic' European peasants gathered the flowers throughout the year and threw them in soups in the fall and winter to warm and protect against wind and chill. In this regard it is an analog to astragulus. It prepares for the stress of winter by removing old lymphatic congestion and lingering infections."

Being of sturdy, European peasant stock myself, I see no reason not to reclaim this old tradition, so I keep a jar of dried flowers in the kitchen pantry. It is such a pleasure to stand at the stove in bleak midwinter and pluck bright orange petals and meditatively toss them into the pot.

Last night the petals went into a squash and pasta dish, along with garden grown sage, rosemary, thyme and garlic. I added crumbled stinging nettle leaves too. The squash I got at the farmer's market last fall. It has kept so well for months. The oyster mushrooms were grown locally. The onions came from somewhere in Quebec. The brown rice pasta came from far, far away. I do the best I can.

Point is, I really enjoy cooking this way. By with what is available. Not by what is dictated in a recipe. It stretches my imagination and makes me creative. I cook by feel and sight. Is that the start of soft spot on the delicata squash? It's on the menu tonight. I scan my shelves and see a flash of colours. Orange, green, yellow, purple. Use me! the jars say. Yes! I respond.

This morning more calendula was added to stinging nettle and red clover flowers, this time for an herbal infusion. It will steep all day today and later I will have a nutrient rich drink targeted to my lymphatic and immune system.

I love when the lines between food and medicine blur and disappear. In fact, why we're so hell bent on isolating and separating the two, I'll never understand.

All the herbs mentioned here are easy to grow (or forage for in the case of nettles and clover). Containers on a sunny windowsill or balcony will serve if you don't have a patch of land. If you're planning your garden for this season, I highly recommend growing calendula.

(Awesome food photos I do not take. I live in a dim basement and my camera is a hand-me-down (for which I'm most grateful) pocket sized affair, whose most notable feature is that it is hot, metallic pink. Whatevs. This isn't Saveur or Food and Drink. However, if there were such a thing as smell-o-net and taste-o-net, I'd win you over with that pasta dish. It was tasty!)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

All Things Botanical

While the ADG is geeking out at the Game Summit this weekend (*cough cough nerd! cough*), I plan to geek out to some of the 100 Botany blogs listed here.

Here are some promising looking ones:

Tree Notes

Ten Thousand Trees

Get Your Botany On!

Learn Plants Now!

The forecast for the weekend sounds decent, so hopefully I'll be able to get out 'in the field' too!

What nerdy things do you like to geek out on?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Larix larcinia

I had a dream the other night that the larch trees in the park started sprouting fresh, green needles. They were so vibrant and bright! In reality though, they are still bare and needleless. Though I'm not officially observing the larch trees for my tree year, I can't help but keep an eye on this little stand and admire them.

Larches are quite unique, in that, unlike other conifers in the family, their needle-like leaves turn yellow and drop every fall, leaving a very striking silhouette during the winter months. Often, the cones stay on adding an interesting texture to the bare branches, and making them fairly easy to identify from a distance.

There are about a dozen different species of larch. The ones in my park are likely Larix laricina, also known as Tamarack or American larch.

Folklore and myth surround these trees, particularly in Europe and Siberia. Larch bark was thought to protect from the evil eye and the smoke from burning larch bark was used to drive away evil spirits. In Siberia, shamans believe their souls are formed in a sacred larch tree, and poles of the tree are used in rituals.

Medicinally the bark and needles are used to treat a number of ailments. The King's American Dispensatory states that "a decoction of the bark of this tree is said to be laxative, tonic, diuretic, and alterative, and is recommended in obstructions of the liver, rheumatism, jaundice, and some cutaneous diseases; a decoction of the leaves has been employed in piles, hemoptysis, menorrhagia, diarrhoea, and dysentery, and externally in cutaneous diseases, ulcers, burns, etc. In dropsy, combined with spearmint, juniper berries, and horseradish, it has proved valuable. Dose of the decoction, from 2 to 4 fluid ounces, 2 to 4 times a day."

Maude Grieves writes about the European larch, and lists its uses as a "stimulant, diuretic, astringent, balsamic and expectorant. As an external application it has been found useful in chronic eczema and psoriasis. Its chief official use is as a stimulant expectorant in chronic bronchitis, with much secretion. Its action is that of oil of turpentine. It has also been given internally in haemorrhage and cystitis.
The turpentine is used in veterinary practice. It has been suggested for combating poisoning by cyanide or opium, and as a disinfectant in hospital gangrene."

According to Wikipedia, Siberians harvested young needles in the spring, preserved them by fermentation and used them in salads in the winter. I'm definitely adding this project to my list!

What a sweet and pretty tree!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Tree Year: Bark Life Part II

This is the catalpa tree I'm observing this year.

There are two in the park. I'll be spending time with the one in the foreground.
I love the gently curving branches.
The most notable thing about the trunk of this tree, are the splits and cracks in the bark.
Some of them look quite fresh, exposing soft, white wood within.
These cracks have me a little worried. How did they happen? Is this normal? Is it a sign of distress in the tree?
One of the cracks ends here. Anybody home?
The catalpa is native to North America, tropical in origins but extending its habitat northwards, so that now it thrives well in the more southerly parts of Canada. It is grown as an ornamental tree in Zones 4-5.

According to Diana Beresford-Kroeger in Arboretum America, the catalpa tree can deal well with climate change. "The catalpa is basically a tropical tree that has, by adaptation, moved itself into all of the north temperate regions of the world. It can withstand the ravages of sun, drought, snow and ice. It produces good quality shade during the heat of summer. Because of its flowers and fruit, it extends nature's food basket northward. Seed-eating birds such as the cardinals...have learned to use their beaks to split open the seed pods while they are still hanging on the tree. The cardinals release the seeds on to the ground to eat them." She goes on to say that, "Catalpas will keep pace with the needs of a moving bird and beneficial insect population." The trees are important to beneficial, non-flying insects as well as butterflies, bumblebees and wasps. They feed seed-eating birds, squirrels and smaller mammals.

I'm looking forward to getting to know this tree better and will keep on eye on those cracks and see how they might be affecting the tree.