Wise Woman Herbal Ezine

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  • Friday, June 07, 2013 9:14 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    Wild Seed Condiment

    I am especially respectful when harvesting the seeds of annuals. Though annuals do their best to make lots and lots of seeds, they are nonetheless vulnerable to extinction if there are wide swings in weather patterns. I take no more than one-third of what is available from any one plant or patch of plants.


    To begin: Taste the leaves of any wild cabbage family plant. If they are tasty or peppery or cabbagy or mustardy, continue. If they taste bitter, find a different plant to harvest. (A few plants in this family have poisonous seeds. Those taste bitter. ) Shepherd’s purse seeds are the one mostly commonly used for food purposes. I also enjoy “poor person’s pepper” seeds prepared this way.

    Then: Harvest a small amount of seeds, just a spoonful, at first. After your first batch, if you like Wild Seed Condiment, you can harvest larger quantities of seeds.
    Most likely, you will have to separate the seeds from the inedible husks. Fortunately, there is no chaff, so separation can be done easily by hand.

    Toast the seeds in a cast iron frying pan or in a toaster oven until they start to pop.

    Crush seeds, using a pestle and a little sea salt, in a mortar.

    Put in a shaker top jar and use.
  • Thursday, June 06, 2013 8:33 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    Ode to cabbage family
    Here is a small sampling of cabbage family plants whose seeds might be used as a condiment. Recipe follows.

    Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa pastoris)

    This member of the cabbage family is easy to identify by its seed pods, which are in the shape of little heart-shaped “purses.” The shadow photo and the flower photo are of a local species – Capsella rubella – which is used in all the same ways as the bursa-pastoris, which is in the third picture, showing off its ability to make seeds. This great bunch was growing next to the barn at an organic farm.

    Midwives and menopausal women depend on tincture of the flowering top of fresh shepherd’s purse to staunch uterine bleeding. It is prompt and effective in dropperful doses, under the tongue if needed, or desired, for fastest action. I occasionally eat the young leaves, when they look like miniature dandelion leaves and have a spicy, cabbagy taste. The tincture usually has a strong smell, like sauerkraut or cabbage.

    The part of this common farm and city weed that is most often used, historically, is the seed. In times of need, it was collected and ground with wheat, or even used instead of wheat, to make bread. It is most unusual that a seed in the cabbage family can be eaten in quantity, most are best used as condiments, and may, even then, be problematic for some.

      shepherd's purse in shadow                              shepherd's purse flowers

       shepherd's purse seeds

    Poor man’s pepper, pepper grass (Lepidium virginicum)

    Pennycress (Thlaspi arvense)

       pennycress                                                    pennycress flowers

       pennycress seeds

    Cow cress (Lepidium campestre) is not photographed but is another peppery condiment.

    The apprentices renamed “poor man’s pepper” as “poor person’s pepper” or “poor witches pepper,” but you don’t have to be poor to enjoy the spicy, peppery seeds of these cabbage family plants. They show up around me in great abundance around the middle of May, offering tasty leaves for my salads. By the beginning of June they are flowering and just beginning to set those breath-taking seeds. And they are so easy to use. You don’t have to toast or crush them. Just separate the husks away and they are ready to use. Add a little spice to your life!

    Barbara’s cress, Winter cress, Yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris)

    This is one of the first wild foods that I learned to recognize and use, but I must admit to never enjoying it. Winter cress is too bitter and acrid for my taste, and I am a great lover of cabbage family greens in all their forms. It is nice to know that it is virtually evergreen and thus provides greens for winter scavanging (so long as the snow is not too deep) I will eat the flowers in my salad and I am curious to see if the seed is usable as a condiment. And I continue to feel a special kinship with yellow rocket and to exalt when it covers fields and pasture lands with a sudden yellow wave.

       Barbara's cress in flower                                   Barbara's cress seed pods
  • Thursday, June 06, 2013 7:04 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    Ode to cabbage family

    Rainbow warrior womb-one cabbage, I sing your praises.
    I sing in color, fiercely, with savor and scent, as you do, oh cabbage, oh queen of the garden.

    Purple, blue, green, white, and gold: Rainbow Woman, your colors are endless.
    Oh yes, I sing your praises in glowing hues.
    Leaf, flower, seed, and root; Warrior Woman, you give your all.
    Oh, fiercely, I sing your praises.
    Brussels sprouts, kale, rutabaga, radish, mustard, collards, bok choy, turnip, arugula, watercress, daikon, kohlrabi, collards; Great Mother, Womb-one Woman, your nourishing forms are infinite.
    With sharp scents, I praise you.

    Rainbow warrior womb-one cabbage, your powers amaze me.
    I am in awe of your endless uses.
    I am astonished by your shape-shifting abilities.

    I grate your roots (horseradish or wasabi) and mix them with vinegar (or water) to make a thick sauce.
    I gather your leaves.
    I gather your leaves singly, in bunches, in heads.
    I gather your leaves to my bosom. I take them to heart.
    I harvest your heads of tightly-furled flower buds (broccoli, cauliflower), steam until tender, then saute with garlic in butter, oh my!
    I grind mustard seeds into a condiment or turn them into a deadly gas.

    Rainbow warrior womb-one cabbage, your stories are legion.
    Babies are left – by a stork – under a cabbage leaf.
    What is “kraut?” It is cabbage. As in sauerkraut, fermented cabbage. Kraut is a cultivated plant, not a weed; a weed is unkraut (not cabbage). Kraut becomes all edible plants as krauter, vegetable.
    Four servings of cabbage family plants per week reduces cancer risk by half.

    Cabbage family, mustard family, Brassicaceae, cole, Crucifera, cress.
    Every name for you is a name of praise.
    Rainbow warrior womb-one cabbage, all praise, all gratitude are your just rewards.
    We are blessed by your presence in our lives.

    Look around you. Green blessings (of a cabbage family sort) are everywhere!

    p.s. I am looking for a few more women to join me for the Green Witch Intensive, and several more women to join us for the Green Goddess Apprentice Week. Jump into summer! Jump into green blessings.
  • Thursday, May 30, 2013 5:11 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    Twilight Salad
    Serves 4

    •     Buy a nice bunch of arugala or watercress. Or, better yet, harvest your own. Chop into 1½-inch lengths.
    •     Collect 30-40 large first-year garlic mustard leaves and tear them into thirds or quarters.
    •     Collect 25-30 hedge mustard leaves and tear them in half.
    •     Collect ¼ cup creeping Jenny tops and mince.
    •     Toss all greens together.
    •     Garnish lavishly with Queen of the Night blossoms, periwinkle flowers, and purple pansies.
    •     Serve – at twilight, of course – with tamari, herbal vinegars,* extra virgin olive oil, and gomasio.

        * Garlic mustard root vinegar and garlic pigtail vinegar are especially good choices
  • Thursday, May 30, 2013 3:41 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    Eat Those Weeds

    The gardener’s best revenge is to eat the weeds that beset them. And some of the most edible weeds are members of the cabbage family. They are easy to recognize when in bloom: They have flowers with four petals and conspicuous, often interestingly shaped seedpods. This week we will look at some cabbage family plants whose leaves and blossoms are delicious – right now – in salads. Next week, we will look at some whose seeds – which will be here soon – are especially useful.

    Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officinalis)
    Here are the pretty flowers of garlic mustard poking out of the sturdy goat-proof fence around my garden. If the goats don’t eat them, we will. The more of the flowers we pick and eat now, the fewer seeds there will be to sprout and grow next spring. (Next week we will discuss what to do with seeds that do develop, for one can rarely eat every single flower.) Garlic mustard blossoms taste good, and look great, in salads. We pinch off the entire top, flowers and flower buds, and toss it whole in salads.

    The leaves of the flowering plants are smaller and tougher and more bitter now, so we leave them (or feed them to the rabbits) and start harvesting garlic mustard leaves from the first-year plants. They sprouted last month, and have grown big and tender without any tending on my part. All I have to do is harvest as many tasty, vitamin- and mineral-rich greens as I want to cook and put in my salads.


    Queen of the Night (Hesperis matronalis)
    Field guides call her Dame’s rocket, and she does bloom at the same time as yellow rocket, also known as Barbara’s cress. I prefer the literal translation of her botanical name however. Especially as it reminds us to visit with her at night, at twilight, when her scent is released to lure her lover, a moth as big and as fast as a hummingbird. Some people confusingly call her Wild Phlox. She does come in the same colors as phlox – a mix of whites, light purples, and pinks – and she is about the same height, but phlox has five petals, and this flower clearly has the classic four petals of the cabbage family.

    We carefully pick the lower flowers, leaving the buds in the center to develop so we can have flowers for our salads for weeks and weeks and weeks. Yum.


    Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale)

    We identify plants by their flowers, but often we want to use them when they are not in bloom. Look carefully at one or more of the weedy cabbage family plants that grow around you. Look daily for a period of several weeks; watch the plant go from just leaves to leaves and flowers, and finally to seeds. You will notice that their leaves change shape as the flower stalk pushes up from the basal rosette. The leaves of hedge mustard do not change as much as most, in shape or in flavor, so they are easier to recognize and still fine to use at all stages of their growth.

    One photo shows a bare patch in the garden that rapidly filled in with hedge mustard. It grew there last year and I let several of the tastiest plants go to seed, which I shook out onto the soil when I pulled the dead plants out last fall. With little effort, I have a bed of delicious greens to use in salads or for braising. (Yes, there are a few lamb’s quarter plants in there, too.)

    The other photo shows the small, yellow, four-petaled flowers of hedge mustard, which defy custom and refuse to arrange themselves in a cross shape, crowding together, instead, into an “H.” The photo also shows the darker, more pointed, more trisected leaves found on the flower stalk. I happily eat these leaves as well as the younger, more tender, ones. I don’t bother to harvest the flowers; they are too small. I plan to experiment with the seeds this year, however.

    Share your successes. Share your failures. Write and tell us what wild cabbage family plants you are eating and how you are preparing them. Send photos too. Much appreciated.

    Green blessings. Susun   

  • Thursday, May 30, 2013 3:00 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    Full throttle summer coming your way! Green blessings await you.

    Most of you reading this live in the Temperate Zones of the world, as do I. As a child, when I learned about the Temperate Zone, I thought it had to do with The Temperance Movement and the abolition of alcohol.

    Imagine my surprise when I discovered that temperance, in this context, refers to extremes, not  moderation. When metal is tempered, it is subjected to extremes of hot and cold.

    The Temperate Zones are subjected to wide swings in temperature throughout the year, from winter. Here in the Catskills, I can have winter temperatures of  10 degrees below zero Fahrenheit for extended periods, and occasional temperatures down to 25 below, and summer days sometimes hit the hundred mark. That is a swing of over 125 degrees!
    And we can get big swings as summer grabs hold. Last night it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit, today it is in the 80s. That is a big swing for one day. (My friend Betsy Grace the desert rat has even wider daily swings.)

    These fluctuations cause the atoms in the metal to line up in ways that are more flexible and stronger. Do the fluctuations of temperature found in Temperate Zones change how the atoms line up in the plants? In our bodies? Does that make us more flexible? Flexibility is part of the definition of health in the Wise Woman Tradition. I do believe that experiencing these swings between cold and hot, light and dark, add to my health and my flexibility.

    The cabbage family is temperature flexible. Their seeds sprouted happily in the cold soils of spring and are now offering us leaves, blossoms and seeds to eat.  Our photo gallery this week (and next) spotlights some of my favorite wild cabbage family plants. What are yours?

    Eating cabbage family plants is a great way to prevent cancer. Do it with class, with my exotic, but easy to make, “Twilight Salad. “

    Mentored students are continuing their studies of plantain, the plain Quaker lady with so much to offer us. It is one of the Great Remedies I will be focusing on at my next Wise Woman Center class. Do join me.

    Green blessings.  

    p.s. Hope to see you at the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference.

  • Tuesday, May 28, 2013 12:30 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    Wild Waldorf Salad
    Serves 6-8
    I first made this salad with dandelion leaves from the supermarket.
    Everyone loved it, even children.
     Then I used wild dandelion leaves. Still tasted great.
    Then I substituted young, tender plantain leaves, chopped very small.
    That was so good I began to think I could use any green at all and end up with a yummy salad.
    I plan to try it with yellow dock leaves, garlic mustard leaves,
    creeping jenny leaves and flowers, and even young cronewort.
    Write and tell us what wild green you used and how your Wild Waldorf turned out.


    •     2 cups chopped wild, edible leaves
    •     2 cups diced apple with skin (1 large apple)
    •     1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
    •     1 cup firm goat cheese, diced
    •     5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    •     3 tablespoons herbal vinegar or apple cider vinegar
    •     1 tablespoon honey
    •     1 tablespoon mustard
    •     salt to taste

    Combine chopped wild leaves, apple, and walnuts. Combine oil, vinegar, honey, and mustard in a small jar, put on lid and shake well. Pour over the salad. Stir well. Add goat cheese and salt. Stir gently. Marinate several hours before serving.
    Preparation time: About thirty minutes including picking the wild greens.
  • Thursday, May 23, 2013 12:06 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    The barberry (Berberis thunbergii) [photo 18] is blooming too. Oh, those fairies have been busy, busy, busy. This is the Japanese barberry – the leaf margins are smooth, not toothed – but all Berberis are useful. The leaves can be eaten in salads. The berries make an excellent conserve. And the bark of the branches and roots contains the important medicinal compound, berberine, an anti-infective alkaloid.
    We’re nearing the river. Can you hear the rush of the little falls near the bend in the river? Under these trees is where the fairies left their pantaloons to dry out after swimming. Even the field guide agrees: calling them white Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). [photo 19]

      [photo 18]                                                                  [photo 19]
    What’s this? Blooming among the needles between the big white pine and the eastern hemlock? You’re right! It’s a pink lady slipper orchid (Cypripedium acaule). [photo 20] Like the hepatica we saw earlier, the roots of this rare orchid used to be used medicinally as a nervine, but not now.
    That’s a pileated woodpecker making all that racket. And the chickadees sure are noisy, too. Is something upsetting them. Oh! Look! A red-tailed hawk, circling right above us! And a red flower at our feet.
    This stunning flower is red trillum, or wake robin (Trillium erectum). [photo 21] The root of this uncommon beauty was once used to help women giving birth since it contains the hormone oxytocin, which encourages uterine contractions. (The drug version is called pitocin.) Note the three green sepals, the three red petals, and the three-part leaf. Surely a plant of the goddess, and herb set aside for women. Let’s not disturb her, but be on our way.

      [photo 20]                                                                  [photo 21]
    I’ve saved the best for last, though it isn’t, strictly speaking, a wild flower. At least, not now. It will flower, but later in the year, after the leaves have died. And it is the leaves and bulbs of this plant that interest me. Here, in the seep of this spring, her it is: a beautiful patch of wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) [photo 22], also known as ramps. The smell and taste is stronger than leek, stronger even than garlic. Ramps are delicious cooked and they make a knock-out vinegar. Shall we dig a few to have with our dinner?

      [photo 22]

    Thanks for coming on this walk with me. Join me for daily walks in the woods at the Green Witch Intensive coming up this July, or the Green Goddess Apprentice Week in early August . Join the sacred circle of women at the Wise Woman Center for these events, or for a free moonlodge, or a work exchange weekend.  Or come see me at the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference. I’ll be there soon.
    Green blessings.
  • Thursday, May 23, 2013 11:46 AM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    Dear friends and students,

    Welcome back to our native wildflower walk in the deep woods of early summer. If you are just joining us, you may wish to read last week’s ezine first. But you don’t have to. You can jump in right now, right here and enjoy the walk.

    Follow me over this wall, around the fallen oak, and past the small quarry pond and we’ll soon come to my secret patch of dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius), [photo 12] one of the finest of the many spring tonics that grow here. Where it grows thickly, I’ll gently cut off a leaf. Here, have half.  Savor it. My mouth waters for this taste in the spring, so I make an annual pilgrimage every May to be with it and nourish myself with its wildness.

    And right next to it is gold thread (Coptis groenlandica) [photo 13] in bloom. You and I met gold thread some weeks ago, at the right time to harvest its yellow root/rhizome.  Now, we need only sit here and let our imagination turn the flowers into fairy lanterns that will light the way to the gala fairy ball.

      [photo 12]                                                                  [photo 13]
    We need no imagination at all to see those strange-looking green leaves as large green umbrellas. That’s American mandrake, mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum). [photo 14] The leaves are big enough for an entire family of fairies to shelter under in a thunderstorm. The entire plant is quite poisonous, except for the fruit, the May-apple (which usually ripens in July!), but once again, the deer always beat me to them.
    Jump across this little stream and let’s explore a swampy area. Lok at this patch of big, vibrantly-green leaves all folded up like fans. That’s Indian poke, or false hellebore (Veratrum viride) [photo 15]. Like the mandrake, it is poisonous. Unlike the mandrake, it grows tall, up to eight feet when it is flowering.

      [photo 14]                                                                  [photo 15]

    Stand still and close your eyes. Open your ears. The warblers are back – the myrtle warbler, the palm warbler, the black and white warbler, and the chestnut-sided warbler. Now, inhale. That delicate sweet scent is spicebush (Lindera benzoin) [photo 16] in bloom. All parts of it have been utilized as seasoning for food. The hard berries are similar to cloves, the aromatic leaves, which aren’t out yet, are somewhat like bay, and the twigs are spicy, but not peppery. And it is so beautiful. Altogether agreeable, to all the senses.
    It’s only a little further to the river. Let’s follow the crows. They’re going that way. Along the way we can visit with the dwarf blueberries (Viburnum anfustifolium). [photo 17] Aren’t their flowers lovely? Each one will turn into a blueberry, but I’ve yet to get more than a berry or two to eat, because the deer always beat me to them (and they eat them while they’re still green, too).

      [photo 16]                                                                  [photo 17]

    continued ....
  • Sunday, May 19, 2013 2:11 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
    Greetings of early summer joy to each and every one of you.
    Shall we go on a walk in the woods on this delicious day? The sun is warm and the trees are in blossom and not yet leafed out. It’s the perfect time to find and enjoy the native wildflowers of the deciduous forest, which tend to bloom while they are still bathed with sunlight, before the emerging tree leaves plunge them into shade.

    The air smells fresh. The sky is cerulean blue. Everything is teeming with energy. And no doubt there will be lots of fairies joining us on our walk. Take off your shoes if you wish, and come along.

    Our first wildflower reflects the sun and the sky: It’s light-blue with a yellow eye at its center. I call it “Quaker ladies,” an alternative to the usual field guide name of “bluet” (Houstonia caerulea). [photo 1] It’s said to be a headache remedy. Hmmm. I guess if you sent the kids out to harvest several hundred of these little flowers – and they are so abundant you could harvest hundreds of them – you’d at least get an hour of peace and quiet to resolve your headache.

      [photo 1]                                                            

    If I had a headache, though, I would prefer to eat violet flowers as my remedy. The darker the purple, the stronger the effect on the head, so this one [photo 2] would be better than this one [photo 3]. They are all tasty though, and surely they are robes for the fairies if the night grows cold.

      [photo 2]                                                               [photo 3]

    Well! The fairies certainly are enjoying themselves painting the flowers this year. Here’s a patch of Quaker ladies dressed in white instead of the usual blue. [photo 4]  

    On the top of this mossy cliff is the inappropriately-named, but very beautiful, wild oats (Ulvularia sessilifolia). [photo 5] This dainty fairy dress, quivering in the slightest breeze, is a bellwort, not a grass, and this particular species has leaves that touch, rather than clasp, the stalk.

      [photo 4]                                                                   [photo 5]

    Aha! Here’s one of my spring favorites – and certainly a favorite of the fairies – gaywings or fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia). [photo 6] It always makes me smile when I find it. Perhaps the fairy queen will wear one to the ball this weekend. (for those who can count, photo five to be added later today)...

      [photo 6]

    Or perhaps she will wear a red and yellow party dress of wild columbine (Aquliegia canadensis). [photo 7] They are here, at the edge of, and across the face of, this cliff.  And, this lovely plant, growing in a crack in the rock, is early saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis), [photo 8] the rock breaker, one of seventeen species in my area according to Peterson’s.    

      [photo 7]                                                              [photo 8]

    Over there, beside the trail, is trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). [photo 9] I can’t take you to see it and I don’t know if I even dare to take a picture. It’s so shy, it sometimes dies if you look directly at it. Really. I thought it was a tall tale until I saw it happen. When it flowers, the fragrance is sensational, so I lie next to it, with my eyes closed, reveling in the scent.

    Down this path there are more yellow lilies springing up from the damp ground. They are heralded by strange leaves that are mottled like a trout, thus the name trout lilies (Erythronium americanum). [photo 10] Their perfect tiny yellow flowers are used by fairies as caps or skirts, I’m sure.

         [photo 9]                                                              [photo 10]

    And here, almost hidden by the leaves, is a famous plant that used to be used to help the liver, round-leaved hepatica (Hepatica americana). [photo 11] The flowers come in amazing shades of purple, blue, pink, and white. There’s no reason to disturb a relatively-rare native perennial, since there are so many abundant, common plants, like dandelion, that help the liver.

    Follow me over this wall, around the fallen oak, and past the small quarry pond and we’ll soon come to my secret patch of dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius). [photo 12]

      [photo 11]                                                           [photo 12]

    We will continue next week.
    Green blessings.

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