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?
Prickly 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/
Want to learn how to make an herbal tincture? This Friday morning join me in some hands-on tincture-making. I’ll provide a selection of dried herbs (some herbs work better dried, others fresh – we’ll talk about this on Friday), and you bring a number of small jars and your own alcohol of choice – or buy some from me if that’s more convenient. Possible herbs include: Arnica, Vitex Berry, Cramp Bark, Gotu Kola, Pau d’Arco, Rhodiola, Shatavari, Tumeric, Yarrow.
We’ll also process a number of my own herbs that are ready to be poured-off. This is a great way to learn what to do when your own tincture has ‘matured’, as well as being a fine introduction to many medicinal herbs and their healing properties. You’ll get a chance to sample each tincture as well.
This workshop will take place at my home, and my apprentices will also be there for additional assistance. Spaces are limited, and reserved for those who have pre-paid.
Please RSVP by bank transfer to L J Akse Kelly, INGB 0755 5451 33
Date: Friday, May 17
Time: 10:00 to 12:00
Fee: €15 to reserve your space . Please fill out the contact form. At the workshop, you’ll buy your chosen herbs to tincture. After you RSVP, I’ll send details with my address and phone number.
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.
Here’s a tricky fellow. We saw some folks out in their garden today, in their volkstuinhuis (garden lot/house) while we were looking around. They were busy tidying up and pruning some bushes. I was caught by the cedar-scent, and came over to investigate. The photo shows what we found. But I can’t seem to identify it – I thought it was a cedar, but looking it up, I can only think it must be some kind of cypress. If you have any ideas, please help me out. The photo shows both the front and back sides of the flat branches. It is too early for any cones, though had I been thinking, I’d have asked the owners to describe them. Anyway, I kept a bag of it to use – perhaps in tea, perhaps a smudge stick, maybe to flavour our rice tonight… we’ll see. It has a delicious, pungent scent that reminds me of the anti-bacterial properties held in cedars, pines, and cypresses.
I don’t know if you’re as crazy about arugula (rocket) as I am, but I know that it is one fine and tasty salad green. I have been sighting this garden-escapee all over Amsterdam for the past few years, and you can look for it as well – there is a good chance it is growing in a sunny, sandy location near you!
Simply be sure it is in an unpolluted place – and then only take a few leaves at a time. If you keep picking, it will keep providing… growing thickly until late summer, when the flowers and then seeds come out. The first thing you’ll probably notice when you sample it, is that the wild arugula has a far superior flavour than store-bought – and a spicier bite!
If you find some, but not in a clean place, no problem – gather up the seed pods and release them into a preferred location – it must be well-drained soil and sunny – and then enjoy them next year.
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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