Monday, December 24, 2012

Homemade for the Holidays

This little elf has been tinkering away in her workshop for weeks, crafting lots of holiday gifties.
With a large garlic harvest this year, I dehydrated quite a bit and put it through the spice grinder to make garlic powder.
When a friend told me he was making beef jerky for gifts, I was all like, "Whoa, that's a brilliant idea!"  So I made some too.
Pretty much everyone on my list is getting one of these little soap sacks.  It's for when your bars of soap get too small and fussy to use.  You put all those little slivers into the sack and use them up!
I had a panic attack when I realised I spelled coffee 'liquor' and not 'liqueur' and pretty much decided that Christmas was ruined because of it.  Then, while watching TV at my mom's the other night, a commercial for Kahlua come on with the tagline: "Kahlua, the original coffee liquor." Ha!  So Christmas is not ruined after all, but I'm pretty sure the commercial got it wrong too.
I loved making these herbal salves.  I lined up all my infused oils, picked some wonderful smelling combinations, melted the beeswax and spent a few hours concocting various salves and balms.
Aside from one brief and focused trip to a mall, and another to a specialty, local shop, I managed to avoid all shopping chaos, and instead, really enjoyed making these quick and easy, stress free gifts for my loved ones.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful, happy and safe holiday season!  May it be merry and bright!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Of Roots and Divinity

We had mild temperatures in Ottawa last week and I made use of that little weather window by harvesting these wild carrot (left) and evening primrose (right) roots.

The more I get to know these two plants, the more I love them.  Considered a weedy annoyance to many, I actually encourage these plants when they grace my garden with their presence.  In fact, this year I prepared and planted a bed of wild carrot from seeds that I gathered and saved from a previous season.

The roots have an intense carroty aroma and flavour.  The cultivated carrot that we all know and love is just a domesticated version of wild carrot. They even share the same Latin name: Daucus carota.  Wild carrot, or Queen Anne's Lace, as it is also known, has many edible and medicinal uses from seed to root.  A word of caution though: it is extremely important to have a 100% positive ID with this plant.  Two of the most deadly plants in North America, poison hemlock and water hemlock, are in the same family, and have been confused with wild carrot with fatal consequences.  A mistake you certainly don't want to make, so be sure to familiarise yourself with this plant and its poisonous look alikes, if you want to harvest it.
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is another plant with many edible and medicinal parts.  I love the sweet, slightly mucilaginous flowers in salads and tincture them for medicinal use.  I dry the leaves for tea, gather the seeds and eat them for the nourishing oil they contain.  The roots have a sweet flavour with often a sharp, peppery or slightly acrid aftertaste.  I suspect this varies depending on growing conditions and times of harvest.  This batch was very sweet with no sharpness at all.
Some of these roots went into a delicious beef stew along with some garden carrots and parsnips, and the rest I dehydrated to add to my pantry.

I've got a handful of years foraging under my belt now, a growing body of knowledge and a good sense of the effort and discipline involved in the practice.  I've been eaten alive by mosquitoes, burned by midday sun,  covered in mud, soaked by rain, with wet feet squelching in my boots, while scrabbling in cold earth with freezing hands. 

I know gathering is the easy part and have spent long hours cleaning dirt out of gnarly roots, garbling leaves and carefully preserving the plants so nothing goes to waste.  And still, the romance has yet to wear off.  I get such a thrill learning about and working with wild plants.  I feel deeply grateful to be in relationship with nature in this way and fiercely protective of the spaces where plants grow.  I pray that I do right by the ecosystems that I interact with and ask for the wisdom to be a beneficial advocate on behalf of the plants.

You can't tell just by looking at the pictures above, but those unassuming roots are sacred to me.  Digging them out of the earth on dirty knees, an act of worship.  Spreading their seeds a prayer and gesture of hope for future abundance.

I've visited some of the most famous temples and sacred sites in the world and attended hundreds of church services over the years.  Some have left me inspired and soaring, others dull and sleepy.  My desire to experience the divine led to study religion in university.  In all my seeking, nothing has brought me closer to understanding the interconnectedness of all things as the wild plants have, and I am humbled by that.

Well, I did not start off this post thinking this is where I'd end up!  And I guess it might seem strange or downright blasphemous for some, to find religious ecstasy in a pile of weedy roots but there you have it.  Some people look at the natural world and see dollar signs, some see the possibility to know the divine in all its manifestations.  No doubt there is vast spectrum in between.  When you pass your favourite plant, I wonder what you see?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Juliette of the Herbs

Watch this and fall in love!

Juliette of the Herbs from B Bee on Vimeo.

"Juliette of the Herbs is a beautifully filmed lyrical portrait of the life and work of Juliette de Bairacli Levy: world renowned herbalist, author, breeder of Afghan hounds, friend of the Gypsies, traveller in search of herbal wisdom and the pioneer of holistic veterinary medicine.
For more than 60 years Juliette lived with the Gypsies, nomads and peasants of the world, learning the healing arts from these peoples who live close to nature. Juliette's well-loved and now classic herbals for animals and for children have been a vital inspiration for the present day herbal renaissance and holistic animal care community. Juliette's extraordinary life story is as colourful and as exciting as her tremendous wealth of herbal knowledge.
Filmed on location with Juliette, 11 years before her death, and her Afghan hound in Greece, Spain, France, Portugal, Switzerland, England and America, and interwoven with Juliette's vast collection of archival photographs, together with scenes of Gypsies dancing and Bedouins with their herds, Juliette of the Herbs is an inspiring portrait of a remarkable healer."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rocket Stove!

This summer the ADG completed a project that's been on my wish list for some time; he built a rocket stove

Basically, a rocket stove is an insulated fire that burns efficiently and hot, releasing very little smoke or particulate matter and uses minimal amounts of small wood fuel. It's a fire that burns clean and runs on twigs. They come in all shapes and sizes and some are adapted as thermal mass heaters to heat homes.

The version that the ADG built comes from Root Simple's design, using a 5 gallon metal bucket, which I just happened to have on hand.
We finally got around to firing it up for the first time last week.  Carrying it to the edge of the river, in a secluded area, we proceeded to light the inaugural fire.  This took a few false starts and some time before we got the fire going, but eventually it ignited and started to burn.

As you can see, the horizontal fuel chamber is near the bottom of the bucket. Once the fire was going, we had to keep it constantly fed with twigs and sticks, because they burn very quickly.  My plan is to use the dried stalks of invasive Japanese knotweed as fuel.
We didn't cook anything this time around, but a rocket stove is best suited to things that you can cook quickly with high heat.  We'll probably end up trimming the stove pipe coming out of the top and fit a wire cooking rack over it, and then we'll be set.  I hope to offer a cooking demo sometime in the spring for any locals who are interested in seeing how it works first hand.
I'm really excited to combine rocket stove use with my solar oven cum haybox cooker, for some majorly low-energy, fossil fuel free cooking!

Thanks ADG for making this happen.  Yer awesome dude!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


...I had a litre of milk left over from a workshop I hosted recently on wild, roasted root coffee. I don't drink milk and the ADG has been so busy lately that he wasn't able to drink any of it before it had begun to sour slightly. Not wanting to cry over spoiled milk, I heated it up on the stove, added some apple cider vinegar to separate the curds and whey and proceeded to make farmer's cheese, thus extending the life of that milk by at least a couple of weeks. The ADG promises it won't last that long!  
...I ladled my most recent batch of bone broth into jars to keep in the freezer.  This one is rich in minerals and immune boosting herbs with the addition of astragalus, burdock, nettle and clover. It's so good.
...I found a little quiet time in the afternoon to work on a couple of craft projects, destined for Christmas gifts.

...the marshmallow roots I dug out of the garden the week before, were finished drying in the dehydrator so they got stored away in jars. 
...these local, organic apples were turned into juice and apple sauce.
...I cooked up another batch of homemade laundry detergent while the apples were steaming. was such a beautiful day that I went for a long walk and watched the sunset at my sit spot.
Yesterday. It was a good day.