Archive for September, 2009

elderberry I would consider my “culinary point of view” to be – one of a sneaky cook. My goal is to make dishes that my family will eat, AND that are good for them. As my children get older, at times that is hard to accomplish. Elderberries are an amazing healing food. They taste wonderful. First off, picking them is quite an easy task, a pair of clippers and I think it took me 15 minutes, along with pictures, and smelling the wonders of the woods. I live on the “EAST SIDE” of the cascades, I still have to drive a little to harvest these beauties. What a great reason to take a drive. The fruit harvest is in full swing here, nectarines, peaches, apples, hazelnuts and walnuts are coming on. Fall always fills me with a sense of gratitude for the abundance of this valley.

I will not go into the medicinal use of this plant, as Kate has already done a magnificent article about its use. I will start with a basic syrup recipe; this will keep in the fridge for 3 months. It can also be frozen, or canned, however the enzymes in the honey are destroyed when you can the juice. My old stand by for preserving food is Putting Food By by Janet Greene.


pearsElderberry Syrup

3 cups elderberries (blue or black, not red)

2 cups water


Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Mash berries, strain, add 1 cup honey, return to pan and simmer 5 minutes. Cool and store in jars in refrigerator.



This syrup can be used for pure enjoyment, for ice cream, shortcake, smoothies, yogurt…. (Medicinally- eat up to 4 teaspoons a day)


From this batch I made:









Poached Bosc Pears, in Elderberry syrup 















Mead Hazelnut encrusted Chicken with Elderberry sauce


I also put up canned Peaches with Elderberries and Honey Elderberry Jelly And……..


d4zg8cv_6469w5b4gn_bNectarine and Elderberry Cobbler

7 cups fruit
3 tablespoons flour
½ cup sugar (sweeten to taste, sweetener of choice)

 Mix together and place in baking dish. Heat in 400* oven till juices are bubbling around the edges. Then add topping and bake another 20 minutes or until golden brown.

1 ½ cups unbleached flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp salt
6 Tbl. Butter (coconut oil, or organic shortening -palm oil)
¾ cup liquid (heavy cream, butter milk, milk, almond milk…)

Mix dry ingredients. If using whole wheat pastry flour, the liquid will absorb differently. Use less liquid. Also, use less liquid if your choice of liquid is a thinner consistency (like almond milk). The dough should look like drop biscuit dough, not too wet. I prefer my dough a little dry. This is my master cobbler recipe; feel free to substitute other fruit.

Enjoy the celebration and harvest of fall! Ann

*Note- Elderberry seeds are considered slightly toxic untill cooked,  so please cook your berries (as in all of these recipes) or strain the juice before using.


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When you live in an area as verdant as I do, it’s easy to keep the calendar by when plants come into bloom and when it is time to harvest all the bounty that surrounds us. Since living here in the Pacific Northwest,  I’ve learned that dandelions flush in May, foxgloves bloom in mid June and they are replaced by purple fireweed in July. In August, furry spikes of hardhack cover the roadsides.  In the early February, Indian plum puts out leaves first and nettles start sprouting in march.

The summer months offer a tasty way of keeping the calendar; around here we are overrun with berries.  Some of these berries are medicinal and some of them only offer medicine for the senses like sweet treats, the colors of faceted gemstones, bright lanterns and robins eggs.  With so many varieties around I’ve learned to keep a careful watch and remember when to start looking for the harvest.  There are yet a few berries remaining from the summer’s glory days, the rest are mostly memories.  But seasons change and next year, just as the one before, the cycle of abundance will begin again.

May- the first delicate berries arrive


Salmon Berry - Rubus spectabilis


The first on the bushes, watery and slightly sweet, a wild flavor that wets your palate for the coming season.



June- keep looking,  there is more ripening on the vines 

Red Huckleberry - Vaccinium parvifolium

Red Huckleberry - Vaccinium parvifolium

Red, gem-like globes. Tart, but they tickle the tongue. 
Trailing Blackberry - Rubus ursinus

Trailing Blackberry - Rubus ursinus

  Our native, early ripening blackberry. Small and delicate, but sweeter and tastier than it’s invasive cousin.

Thimbleberry - Rubus parviflorus

Thimbleberry - Rubus parviflorus

  A seedy variety of the raspberry.  Early, ruby colored, soft fleshy fruit.
July – An exercise in abundance
Blackcap Raspberries - Rubus leucodermis

Blackcap Raspberries - Rubus leucodermis

If you find these, covet them and tell no one 🙂
Black Huckleberry - Vaccinium membranaceum

Black Huckleberry - Vaccinium membranaceum

Tart, but a treat on the trail.
Saskatoon Berry - Amelanchier alnifolia

Saskatoon Berry - Amelanchier alnifolia

Gather these and delight, a subtle sweetness like no other.
Oregon Grape - Mahonia Nervosa

Oregon Grape - Mahonia Nervosa

Bitter eaten off the vine, but a rich and potent deep purple treat when sweetened.
Wild Strawberry - Fragaria virginiana

Wild Strawberry - Fragaria virginiana

Look low to the ground, and keep your eyes open, these tiny gems go fast but make farmed strawberries look like food for the fowl.
August- Head to the hills and let your baskets over flow with Blue
Low Bush Blueberry - Vaccinium caepitosum

Low Bush Blueberry - Vaccinium caepitosum

The Hikers delight!
Alsakan Blueberry - Vaccinium alaskaense

Alsakan Blueberry - Vaccinium alaskaense

The juicy basket filler.
Oval Leaved Blueberry- Vaccinium ovalifolium

Oval Leaved Blueberry- Vaccinium ovalifolium

The taste of late summer.
September-  The brambles give back
Himalayan Blackberry - Rubus discolor

Himalayan Blackberry - Rubus discolor

The invader is bountiful at the end of summer,  providing a temporary reprieve from is poor reputation.
Cutleaf Evergreen Blackberry - Rubus lacinatus

Cutleaf Evergreen Blackberry - Rubus lacinatus

Harder to find but it has a  gentler taste than the Himalayan.
Salal - Gaultheria shallon

Salal - Gaultheria shallon

Sweet Salal, a native and forgotten favorite.

The summer offers so many gifts. The amazing thing is that there are MORE berries,  my list stops short to include only the most palatable varieties. Imagine what it means to have too many berries! Perhaps you live in a place where you are not blessed with fruit that falls off of the bushes as we are, but look around.  The planet is a lesson in abundance; wildflowers, rivers, flatlands and deserts all offer their gifts.  Some places have things to be eaten, some places have pure serenity and some have strong medicine.  Some places offer simple living, temperate ecosystems, too much water, too much snow, too much heat or simply too much visual beauty.  Take note of it all, make a list of those things that are abundant,  be thankful and if you can, eat too many berries.

Blessings- Kate

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My experience with plants and using them for medicine has included a lot of reading. There are many books that lay out common usage of plants, dosage information, chemical constituents and preparations. And though I find many of these book to be priceless in their breadth of knowledge and information, I also find that the plant is the best teacher. I have been fortunate in my life to deal with very little illness and hope to maintain that record, however, there is a strange bit of excitement when encountering a new ailment and I get the chance to test a different plant on the problem. For then I see, first hand, its magic. Some plants work subtly, some take patience, and some help create the needed change that facilitates healing immediately. Elder has been that sort of teacher for me, affording immediate witness to its healing powers.


On this side of the Cascades, beautiful Red Elders grow profusely. However, they are not the plant to use as there is much  dispute over their medicinal value versus thier apparent toxicity. It generally takes a trek over to the Eastside of the mountains, with the dry, ponderosa forests and sage to find the Blue Elder. But if you are lucky like me and keep an eye out, you might find a rogue Blue Elder growing near your house. In September, when the berries are blue with a yeasty bloom it is much easier to spot. Look for large swathes of soft blue amid the wall of green that covers our area. Collect the flowers in the early summer and dry them to use as a decoction at the first sign of cold or flu. You can also wait until September and gather the berries, cover them with Vodka or Brandy and let steep for a couple of weeks to make a tincture.

Blue Elder is a healing powerhouse has been used by our native peoples as well as by our European ancestors as a top choice remedy for the common cold and influenza. Paul Bergner recommends its use in prevention of the A1 H1 virus that is so heavily talked about these days. A recent clinical trial in Israel showed that a preparation not only ended cases of the flu within three days, but also increased antibody production. The researchers concluded that Elder seems to be designed specifically as a weapon against the flu virus. The flu virus has tiny spikes covered with an enzyme which helps penetrate healthy cell walls and allows the virus to then begin reproducing within that cell. The researchers found that the active ingredients in Elder disarms the flu’s cell deteriorating enzyme in 24-48 hours halting the spread of the virus.1 The effect on influenza of a syrup made from the berries of the elderberry has been studied in a small double-blind trial.2 People receiving an elderberry extract (2 tablespoons [30 ml] per day for children, 4 tablespoons [60 ml] per day for adults) appeared to recover faster than did those receiving a placebo. Animal studies have shown the flowers to have anti-inflammatory properties.3

Clinical studies like these offer nice support for using this plant but my strongest confidence in this plant comes from my own direct experience. My initial introduction was at a women’s retreat in New Mexico. I had just arrived at the grounds from a taxing plane ride and a few weeks of very high stress. The morning after arriving I awoke with a biting sore throat, phlegm in my chest and a deep buzz in my head. All of the tell tale signs illness had found its way into my weakened body. I was resigning myself to the illness when the local herbalist gave me one dropperful of a sweet elixir that tasted like port wine. I rested and took another dropperful in the evening and by the next day all of signs and symptoms of illness had passed. Amazed by this outcome, I now have this medicine on hand at all times. My husband works in a large building in downtown Seattle and seems especially sensitive to flus . Illness commonly makes its rounds through the office and before my introduction to this herb, he was often home sick. He now keeps a large bottle of elder near him at all times and has not been sick in many moons. Any day now, a new little baby will join our household and though I am not generally one to get caught up in the mania associated with “possible” pandemics or the media focus on the upcoming flu season, I think that we will certainly take extra precaution and dose up just to help that weak and developing little immune system. I have found that the trick to preventing the illness on the spot is to take the elder in the form of a tincture at the first signs of illness. If caught soon enough, it seems surely to ward off the full blown sickness. Some of my friends and relatives who have not been so vigilant have noted benefits from taking the tincture even after the flu has gotten hold. In that scenario, it does not seem to offer an immediate turn around but does bring the intense symptoms down to lasting only around 3 days. It is said that a tea of the flowers is just as powerful, but my personal use is limited to the alcohol infusion or honey laden tincture.

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Yesterday I climbed the small hill to reach that rogue tree that grows nearby. I pulled down all the branches I could reach and broke off umbels of the robin’s egg colored fruit. I quickly filled my basket and returned home to free the berries from their stems. I filled a jar and covered it Vodka, and layed the rest on the screens to be dried in the dehydrator. In a few weeks, I will strain off the tincture and add a cup of honey to it and fill small apothecary bottles. They will go to the office, be stashed in cars and purses and be put up in the medicine chests of my friends and family. All fall and winter I will lift a dropper to my mouth and take in the sweet medicine and be thankful for the healing.


Botanical Names– Sambucus nigra, Sambucus caerulea-

Common Names-Blue Elder, Mexican Elder, Black Elder

Parts Used– Berries and Flowers

Preparations– Decotions made from the dried flowers, alcohol extractions of the fruit, and syrups made from the berries.

herb walk 039Sweet Elderberry Tincture

One ounce Elderberries-dried or fresh

One pint Vodka

1/2 Cup Honey

Steep the berries in the liquor for at least two weeks, strain and press out all the juices that you can, mix with honey and pour into apothecary bottles. Stable for at least a year if it last that long.







1-Mumcuoglu, M. Sambucus nigra (L), Black Elderberry Extract: A breakthrough in the treatment of influenza. Skokie, Illinois: RSS Publishing, 1995

2-Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Alt Compl Med 1995;1:361-9.

3-Mascolo N, Autore G, Capasso G, et al. Biological screening of Italian medicinal plants for anti-inflammatory activity. Phytother Res 1987;1:28-31.

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This weekend brought rain.  Rain is a thing that sounds so common in the Pacific Northwest, but this summer, rain has been scarce.  I woke to the sound of raindrops on the roof this morning and grey skies that hid the mountain outside. Many people find the rain intolerable but I rejoice in it.  I took a deep breath, pulled the covers higher and settled into deep cuddles with my husband, cats and baby yet in my belly.  I  listened to pats of water on the tin roof and breathed deep the smell of damp leaves and earth that wafted in through the open window.

Eventually I was called to rise and all I could think to do was to to wander out in the weather.  I began down a trail that leads  through protected second growth forests and along the Sauk river.  Much of my study of plants over the last several years has been merely observing them in their environment, and learning their different phases according to the time of year.  Here is a brief overview of what I encountered today.  The plants are beginning to brown, some have lost leaves, the berries have mostly been made and dropped or eaten.  They are beginning to pull their energy back down into the ground offering a wonderful mirror of what happens even to us at the days shorten and the nights cool.

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False Lily of the Valley- with Berries---Malanthemum dialatum

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False Salomon's seal- with Berries--- Smilicina racemosa

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Star- flower False Solomon's seal-with Berries--- Smilicina stellata

All of these plants in the lily family are little used in modern medicinal preparations.  The natives of this area apparently used them for poultices, made a tea out of the roots of the Solomon’s seal for rheumatism and ate the berries on occasion, although they were mostly considered unpalatable.  They may not have strong medicine but  they fill the forest floor with green sheathes of feathery undergrowth and beautiful flowers in the early summer.

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Devil's Club---Oplopanax Horridus

Devil’s Club~Oplopanax Horridus—I will say little on this plant as it is deserving of a full post.  Its many uses will be discussed very soon, but as I was simply on a plant walk I will note only the effect this plant has on me, even in passing.  One of my teachers told me that this plant was considered a spirit gateway plant.  Although I have not been able to factually back up this claim,  I can vouch for the swirling energy, the earthward pull, and the call to fling off my shoes and walk barefoot  that is felt whenever I enter a grove of this plant.  If you are so lucky to live in an area where this plant grows, as I do, take note.  Seek her out, sit in silence and breath in the magic she so freely shares.

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Methuselah's Beard- --Usnea longissima

Methuselah’s Beard~Usnea longissima—This lichen has been widely used for its anti-microbial and anti-viral properties.  A common remedy for bladder infections, it also is used in fighting colds and flus.  It is another plant deserving of its own full post in the very near future as we gather and prepare it in October/November.  One thing to note ,however, is that this plant is a strong indicator on the environmental state of a forest.  It is very sensitive to air pollutants and therefore its range has been decreasing over the years.  So happening on bunches of this lichen makes me happy knowing that my forests are healthy, at least for now.

As I wandered on, rain drops fell through the massive trees that towered overhead.  Grandmother Cottonwoods, giant Douglas Firs and mossy Big Leaf Maples caught the better part of the rain.  

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Black Cottonwood----Populus balsamifera

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Bigleaf Maple---Acer macrophyllum

In the underbrush the rain was merely a light sprinkle that misted my clothes and cooled my face.  The forest detritus sparkled with the damp and slugs slowly rambled through their forest of small plants.

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Palmate Coltsfoot---Peasites palmatus

Palmate Coltsfoot~Peasites palmatus—Around the corner I encountered a patch of large late season coltsfoot. This is another plant that will be useful in the upcoming cold season for treatment of coughs.   A simple decoction or infusion made from the dried leaves will help calm an intense cough but please note that it will not treat the infection.

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Youth-on-Age---Tolmiea menziesii

Youth-on-Age~Tolmiea menziesii—This plant is a favorite of Suzanne’s, our favorite teacher and gathering member.  Note the little leaves that grow off of the larger one.   It is a member of the saxifrage family and a plant that has been commonly cultivated as a houseplant.


Indian Pipe---Monotropa uniflora

Indian Pipe~Monotropa uniflora—This plant is a treat to come across in the woods.  Its other worldly appearance and stark whiteness beckons one down on hands and knees to better assess it.  As this plant does not have any chlorophyll it connects to the roots of conifers byway of a fungus present in the ground.  It is a delicate parasite that grows in bunches and pushes its way through the ground like a mushroom.  It is used as strong nervine, though I must admit my medicinal familiarity with this plant is weak.  I have found little information of modern use of this plant except for an article written by Ryan Drum, and I think I’ll let the expert do the talking in this case.   It is nonetheless a beautiful forest find.

My path continued on towards the river, the Sauk was running heavy and grey with the newly introduced waters spilling in off the hills. 

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Sauk River- Snohomish County, Washington

Nearby I passed where Clear Creek came around its last bend before joining with river. 

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Clear Creek-Snohomish County, Washington

I came across the half eaten body of a Golden Chantrelle, a sure sign that more will be on their way, especially with this newly fallen rain.  The season of rapid growth and reproduction is nearly over, but a walk through the woods reminds me that the plants are never entirely dormant and each month brings new medicine, if only you look.

River Rocks with Alder Leaf

River Rocks with Alder Leaf


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