When I see young people moodily pulling leaves off a tree as they walk by, or tearing a flower to bits, what I see is an instinctual – though unconcious – act of herbal self-healing. Just as we clench our fists when angry (this is a hand-mudra, used in yoga to deal with anger) or bang our fists to our heads with frustration over a problem (in yoga, pressure on the forehead activates the frontal lobe, dealing with short-term memory and problem-solving), so tearing up leaves or flowers releases chemical components of the plant and surround the person with its healing energy. These are simply my thoughts and intuitions… how do YOU feel about this?
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.
In a day or so, the yellow brightness of the flowers will burst forth and make this plant quite easy to spot from a distance. Still, sometime it’s nice to identify a plant before it blooms, while it is simply pure potential. At a later date, I’ll talk more about this plant – or just come and join me for a Wild Weed Walk…
I recently posted an article about picking roots – in this case, Burdock Root – and the option of buying the same root from Japanese or Korean shops (where Burdock is known as Gobo) instead of going to the hassle of digging them up.
Truth be told, I enjoy the ease of buying Burdock, but I also really LIKE to dig them up!!
Here’s what I foraged for last autumn. That’s the best time to harvest, as the goodness gathers there in preparation for over-wintering.
I use Burdock as a grounding food and tincture, along with all it’s other supportive functions – cleansing the liver and therefore, the blood. Which keeps the skin clear and helps skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
Digging up wild roots in many parts of Great Britain, Europe, and North America is against the law. One must get special permission from park authorities or the land-owner, unless you are digging on your own property. This is an ethical question I sometimes struggle with: in the case when a plant is considered a nuisance, a common weed, wouldn’t it be better for a forager like myself to remove this plant and make good use of it? As opposed to prevelant ‘weed management’, where the plant is removed anyway, and often with harmful pesticides? I know of numerous instances where I respected the law, only to see that the roots I’d have loved to harvest had been dug up en masse by park authorities…
I do understand that we also can’t have everyone digging up as many roots as they like!
Anyway, the delicious burdock roots shown in this photo came from just down the street, from the Korean “Toko” shop; where gobo (its Asian name) is sold for use in traditional Korean and Japanese dishes. If you’ve eaten vegetarian maki, you’ve probably eaten gobo (牛蒡 or ごぼう). Korean use the term “u-eong” (우엉) or “tong u-eong” (통우엉), meaning, “whole burdock”. If you have never tried this before, head over to your local shop and pick some up.
The cultivated roots of burdock can grow about one metre long and two centimetres across, though I believe the wild, first-year burdock would have more medicinal properties than a cultivated one. Burdock root is crisp with a sweet, mild, and pungent flavour and earthy smell. Its helpful to soak it, julienned or shredded, in water for five to ten minutes to keep it from turning grayish-brown once the outer layer has been removed (remove it as one would peel a carrot).
In macrobiotic cooking, burdock root is considered healing, warming, and calming. It helps one think more clearly and stay even-tempered. It is an excellent jet-lag remedy.
Burdock Root (Articum lappa) is great added to soups, stews, and stir-fries. I add it to my ‘almost-famous’ Boston Baked Beans dish. I will post this recipe at a later date and link it to this page. I’ll also continue to add photos of burdock in various stages of growth to help you locate your own; as well as describe all the other amazing things burdock has to offer.
- Sweet Potato Ginger Carrot Stew (cookingintuitive.com)
- an Herbalist’s Root Beer (northhollowbotanicals.wordpress.com)
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I’ve been out taking heaps of photos the past few weeks, aiming to capture the first signs of Spring, and I decided to follow them through all four seasons as well. So, this year I’ll be following as many plants as I can manage, so we can practice identifying them in all stages of development. It can be really helpful – and immensely rewarding – when you discover you can identify plants even before they flower, or from the dried stalk.
As I go, I’ll be adding more information about special properties of the plant, recipes, habitat and so on. Sometimes I might just post a photograph. At the moment, teaching small groups or one-to-one is my preferred way of sharing… If you can make it to a weed walk, workshop, or event, that’s the best way – get down on your knees to really look at the plant; smell it, smell the soil in which it grows, feel the leaves and stem, perhaps draw it, meditate by it, and, if safe to do so, taste it. This is how one becomes friends with our plant allies.
Remember, if you do plan to forage for food, herbal medicine, or any other wild plant product, please follow the rules of safety, respect, responsibility and ethical harvesting and use of these plants. See here for some guidelines.
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