Wild Weed Wisdom

Nurture Your 'Inner Wild' with Foraged Edible and Medicinal Plants


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Prickly Sow Thistle

Prickly Sow ThistlePrickly Sow Thistle (Sonchus asper) is another edible plant that grows as a weed in disturbed soil or neglected places. I picked some the other day to add to my daily “Super-Local Food” intake! Nothing fancy here – you can cook it up with garlic, olive oil, herbs, or chop it up to add for soups… use it as you would spinach, like we do with most wild greens. It looks prickly, but the ‘prickles’ are actually quite tender, and when cooked they’re fine. Today I’m adding Prickly Sow Thistle to a ‘green juice’ along with wheatgrass and ginger.

Mainly, I want to give you a good photo for identifying this plant. Notice  how the buds look remarkably similar to dandelion buds – you could make pickles out of either of them – but the Sonchus asprer has prickles even on the buds!! They will soften if you blanch then before pickling. The flower in full-bloom also looks similar to dandelions golden-yellow face – I’ll go back for a photo soon to show you. The leaf-edges are wavy, very decorative in their own way, and the base claps the stem in a graceful arc, with the leaf half-surrounding the stem in a big hug. So, for all the prickles, I still see it as a gentle, loving plant.

Here are a couple more photos to get a good idea of the plant. The large, ridged stem is a bit blotched with red, and it’s hollow, like a straw, with milky sap, much like the dandelion in this way.

Wikipedia lists this as a noxious weed that can cause irritation, but I think they are being cautious. You can find many other sites that consider this plant to be safe. I ate it and loved it. Here is another site that feels the same way: http://www.eattheweeds.com/sonchus-sow-thistle-in-a-pigs-eye-2/

DSC07094 DSC07095 Sow thistle back side of leaf

 

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Wild Weed Wisdom – Scrapbooked!

Wild Weed Wisdom - Scrapbooked!

69090_10200102779986400_1007381699_n It’s quite an honour to be included in the herbal scrapbook of Leoniek Bontje, who apprentices with me. Leoniek is not only a dedicated student of wild medicinal plants, but she’s also an excellent artist.

You don’t need any special skills, however, to make your own herbal scrapbook, and I would urge you to start on one. It is a real way to learn, I mean really learn, about the plants.

Sketching the plants will help your brain organize all the small details that are so important for identification. It will train your eye.

Leave your Smartphone at home for your next walk. Bring instead, your guide book, scrapbook, a roll of tape and a pencil. Tape small samples into your book. Pay attention to the details. Is the leaf hairy on the underside? Is it leathery or like a thin, transparent skin? Is the stem hollow, milky, ridged or prickly? Ask these questions, and many more, then answer them in your notes. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you learn, and how incredibly satisfying it is to have your very own scrapbook.

Happy hunting!


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Wise Eyes ‘Cedar’

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My ‘Winking Cedar’ friend is most likely an Eastern Red Cedar, Virginiana Juniperous L.

Cedar trees, like this one, have been considered sacred in all parts of the world where they grow. The aromatic wood repels insects, as does the smoke from the green or dried branches. Traditionally, First Nations Peoples used smudge sticks (cedar leaves wrapped in grass or thread, and then burned to create smoke) to dispel evil spirits, bad thoughts, and to make a bridge of sacred smoke connecting the earth-world with the sky-world.

I love the smell of cedar – it reminds me of summers in the Canadian wild. I often break off leaves as a nibble as I walk along – the antibacterial properties of cedar are readily apparent in the taste left on the tongue. Cedar is also astringent, diuretic, anti-spasmodic, and sedative. I add leaves to my rice or quinoa, and make tea and herbal tinctures from them as well.

Actually, many of the trees we call cedars are actually not cedars at all, rather, they are types of conifer (cone-bearing) trees that have fragrant wood, much like the sweet-smelling wood of the true cedars. The Eastern Red Cedar is really a kind of juniper, as the botanical name tells us.

True cedars, or Cedrus, are part of the pine (Pinaceae) family and native to North Africa and Asia – there are only four varieties in the world; Cedrus libani, the cedar of Lebanon, which is native to Syria and south-east Turkey; the Deodar cedar of the Himalayas; C. libani var. brevifolia which originates in Cyprus; and the Cedrus atlantica, the Atlantic or Atlas cedar, which comes from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

When you look at this winking cedar, don’t you think she/he has some wisdom to share?

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This gorgeous leaf is the ‘hair’ from the same winking cedar shown above… notice the little blue “flowerettas” on the tips of the leaves. I’ll need to come back over the summer and autumn to see how the cone looks so I can be sure I’ve properly identified this tree.


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Fiddlehead “Flag” Indicator – Mature Fern

When looking for fiddleheads – look for this indicator! It’s the mature fern. All the fiddlehead sprouts will be found growing – or will soon be coming up – at it’s feet… kind of like an old woman surrounded by her grandchildren.
Those ‘seeds’ you see clinging to the browned leaves are actually spores. If you brush against them, or give them a pat with your hand, the spores will be released in a cloud, like magic. Once upon a time, it was indeed thought that this magical cloud had the power to make someone invisible.


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Fiddlehead Time!

long-legged fiddleheads

long-legged fiddleheads

Violets and Celandine

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Violets and Celandine

Sometimes I don’t have my paper bags with me for harvesting, so I just use whatever is available. Today it was my daughter’s lunch box. I picked Greater Celendine, which I made into an herbal tincture, and about 10 violets. We have company staying with us, so nothing nicer than to introduce them to food-foraging with a dessert of wild violets on ice cream!
You can get a really good look at the leaf of the Greater Celandine – front, and back-side, which you can see is quite a bit lighter in colour.

Japanese Quince Blossom

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Japanese Quince Blossom

Right now is the time to spot your local Japanese Quince! Besides being utterly gorgeous, this little bush bears small, edible yellow fruit that are scented like rose and peach combined. The fruit are even more sour than the regular (Turkish) Quince, but with enough sugar, they make a divine (and pretty) jelly or jam. I’ll post that recipe in Autumn, when the fruit are ripe.
Often Japanese Quince mischievously self-seeds in beds of other shrubbery, so can be found in unexpected places – and though it likes some sun, it can tolerate full shade. If you can find some now, mark it in your mind, and come back to visit to watch how the bees love it, and how the little fruit-balls grow snug against the branch. Like the rose, these branches are thorny (see photo) so do take care.