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Archive for the ‘Food As Medicine’ Category

Last year at this time my little piece of land was being hit by yet another snow flurry.  The many feet of snow that had fallen in December was slowly decreasing yet the whole ground was still blanketed in a thick covering of snow turned ice. Down the valley, towards the Sound the weather was not quite so intense but it was still so cold and the plants were slow growing.  That is why this winter has surprised me with its lack of “wintryness.”  I was able to begin spring harvesting in earnest weeks ago.  I was wandering through the woods down the creek bed towards the river when I saw the first nettle rosettes, the plum tree is heavy with buds about to burst open and early spring salad greens of peppergrass and chickweed are popping up in every bit of bare soil I see.  Last week, when we all harvested together it was shocking to find nettle shoots already up to my knee.  No plant harkens spring or calls in the season of growth and harvest like nettle.  It often one of the first medicinal plants ready to harvest each spring and so perhaps it is not surprising that is is also the plant by which many people are first introduced to herbs and also the plant that has called many wise women to down the path of herbalism.  This plant that sprouts first is the woods often sprouts first in our hearts.  I call nettle the gateway plant 🙂

Blessed with an abundance of nettles in my woods this time of year, we eat them almost daily, along with daily infusions at night we eat them in soups and stews and add nettles to our dinner in anyway possible.  I have included a few of the best recipes I have come up with over the past few weeks.  I apologize for the lack of pictures, I left my camera at Ellen’s,  but know that if I included the recipe here it was definitely worth remaking 🙂

To begin, I made a soup, sweetened by the natural sugars found in organic or home grown acorn squash and made creamy with a “healthy” portion of cultured cream cheese. Topped with roasted squash seeds,  its a savory treat on these chilly early spring nights.

Cream Of Nettle Soup

1 acorn squash- halved and baked-reserve seeds

1 onion-diced

4 cloves garlic

1/2 inch piece of ginger grated

Heaping bowl of young nettle tops

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

1/8 tsp nutmeg

6 oz cream cheese

water or broth to cover

Begin by baking the squash in a 400 degree oven until it is soft.  In a pot, saute onions garlic and ginger until translucent. Add coriander and nutmeg and cook with the onions for one minute. Wearing gloves, roughly chop nettles and add them to the pot and cook them until they have wilted, this may have to be done in portions as the nettles wilt and create room for more.  Scoop meat out of squash and add to pot, fill with enough water or broth to amply cover all the ingredients and smash up the squash meat, simmer for 20 minutes. Allow the  soup the cool down a bit and add the cultured cream cheese, if you prevent the soup from boiling the active enzymes in the cultured cheese will not die.  With a stick blender blend cheese into soup, serve in bowls, drizzle with olive oil and top with squash seeds

Roasted Squash Seeds

Butter

Squash or Pumpkin Seeds

Salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Clean off all squash remnants from the seeds by soaking in a bowl of water, when clean place all seeds on a single layer on a clean kitchen towel and dry.  Add a tablespoon or so of butter to a cast iron pan and saute with a bit of salt until the seeds are lovely and brown.  Place pan in oven and cook for 15- 20 minute or until seeds are crunchy and delicious, serve on soups, salads or just eat them as is.

Another perrenial favorite is a quiche made with the sweet green tops of early spring nettle, eggs from my hens and deliscious organic cream and cheeses over a seedy crust of flax and sesame, eliminating grains and ensuring it is gluten free.

Nettle Quiche with Flax/Sesame Seed Crust

Crust:

1/2 cup Flax Seed

1/2 cup Sesame Seeds

1 Egg White

1/4 cup Olive Oil

In a well greased pie pan mix ingredients and pat the mixture against the bottom and up the walls of the pie tin.  Cookk in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes remove and then fill

Quiche Filling:

1 cup cheddar or semi-hard cheese of your choice

2 cupped finely chopped nettles

1/4 cup onions

4 eggs plus yolk left over from the pie crust

3/4 cups cream

6 strands of saffron or spices of your choice

Sliced tomatoes

Saute onions and nettles until soft and wilted.  In a bowl whisk cream and eggs and saffron.  In pie crust layer cheese on the bottom cover with nettle/onion mixture and pour the custard over it all.  Arrange tomatoes on the top and bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, reduce heat to 350 and bake additional 20 minutes or until the quiche is set.  Serve with a mixed wild green salad.

I have a secret, one that I am often scoffed at for and hear sounds of disgust made by those who know it of me.    I love organ meats! When I was 5 and before my family became vegetarian, we had some old time farmer neighbors in Iowa. They would often serve me up a portion of liver and onions and I relished it.  I later wondered through all those years of vegetarianism why everyone complained about liver when I knew it to be delicious.  My husband does not quite agree with me so I find ways to incorporate it in his meals so he is not too offened by the taste or soft texture. This final dish is an example of how I really do try and add nettle to EVERYTHING this time of year.  It also is a way I am able to incorporate beneficial pastured organ meats into our meals in a way where my husband doesn’t have to choke them down.

Ground Beef and Liver Dolmathes with Nettles

1 pound ground beef

1 medium onion, diced

4 Chicken livers- sauteed and then finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, flat leaf if available

1/4 teaspoon dried mint, crumbled

2 cups of  Nettle- chooped super fine in a food processor

1 egg

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Salt and pepper

1 jar preserved grape leaves

1/4 cup beef broth or water

Combine all ingredients in a bowl except grape leaves and broth. Using only the best and most intact grape leaves, lay them shiny side down and fill center with approximately 1 tablespoon of filling.  Roll leaves as you would a burrito and lay them seam side down in a large oven proof pan.  Continue until all leaves are stuffed.  Barely cover with broth or water and cook in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour.  If you have any remaning meat you can simply fry them in a little olive oil and eat like meat balls.  Drizzle with sauce and serve!

This a traditional sauce to serve with dolmathes.  This recipe came from the owner of the house we stayed in while in Santorini on my honeymoon.

Egg & Lemon Sauce (Avgolemono)

2 eggs
Juice of one Lemon

Reserved Broth

Beat eggs well; gradually beat in lemon juice. Pour off about 1 cup of hot broth from dolmathes. Beat the broth into the egg mixture. Remove plate from top of dolmathes. Gradually pour the egg mixture into pan; tipping pan to blend the egg mixture with remaining broth in pan. Cover pan; remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature

So these are some of what I have been doing with this bounty from the forest floor.  I’ve been feeding not only my heart and filling my tummy, but nourishing my adrenals and strengthening my liver and giving this winter-worn body a high dose of absorb-able vitamins and nutrients.  Grab your gloves and if nettles have sprung near you harvest, fill your baskets and and let springs first gift fill your belly and strengthen your soul.

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The snow level has fallen and the mountains, now colored black and white, threaten to begin blanketing the river valley with the same frozen rain that will cover them through the winter and into summer. Smoke from the moxa Ellen made wafts out of the bamboo box it burns in and the room is doused in the earthy smell of Artemisia. The smoke drifts through the air and I sence it has latched ahold of my spirit and carried it with it. Bundles of dried Pearly Everlasting, Lavender, Pink Hardhack and Goldenrod hang from a solid wood beam and serve as reminders of summers flourish. The grasses outside remain green and tendrils of Usnea hang from tree branches while the staunch Cedars wave their feathery arms in the cold wind.

Pacific Mugwort ~ Artemisia suksdorfii

Plants are full of medicine, medicine of the mundane and medicine of the surreal. They evoke their healing powers in ways both physical and ethereal. They are our co-inhabitants of this planet, our green ancestors who have sprouted from this earth from times well before their mobile offspring. Their existence is a spiritualists dream, organisms that consume nothing more than light, rooted in place, presence must not be a practice but a compelled state of existance.I come to the plants for healing, they heal the body and do so with intelligence that begs the existence of a god. I come to the plants for more healing, they heal the spirit with undue compassion the likes of which a buddhist could only strive for.

Red Cedar ~ Callitropsis nootkatensis

The magic of this healing is twofold, much time is spent speaking to the physical healing aspects of the plant, but I experience so much of the work in mere communion. A barefoot walk to the river brings my body in direct contact with plantain, chickweed, grasses, dandelion and fallen pine needles. A glance out the window frames a world of varied, green giant trees. An evening meal is comprised roots and leaves and flowers. All of this is plant medicine.

Walking fern ~ Polypodium hesperium

The plants have the power to evoke experiences both unique and universal. The smell of the  Cottonwoods in a river valley rouses memories of smelling them before and affords me the ability to remain in the present and yet ply it with the experiences of the past allowing for an ever-growing sensation of life. Rather than life loosing its lustre after so many years of living, it gains the depth of feeling and love and color given only by many layers.  Think of memory and presence as co-celebrants, creating a life full of depth just as a painting is comprised of so many layers of paint but only one picture.

Goatsbeard ~ Aruncus dioicus

The plants also lend us a macro model for the micro-experiences of our life. They offer a model of strength and a promise of outcomes. In the winter, when much is dead or dormant, the plants that remain green remind us that the wheel will turn again. The spring is likened to the quickening, the first sence that life is growing among us, tender and new. Summer is a glorious and intense labor: long days and short nights, heat and power and production. And Fall is the ecstatic moment of sitting back and holding the harvest in our hands: a ripe tomato, a newborn baby and a deep full breath. It is followed again by the pause and the promise.

Devil's Club ~ Oplopanax horridus

In an abstract sence, healing the body begins first with healing the mind. The plants are an access point, a way to engage in the act of returning to wholeness. I suppose we are born whole and either through outside guidance or our own mis-informed acts we begin chipping away at that wholeness. Many of us later engage in a conscious path of healing or home-coming. We seek to return to the place we sence we once were. This, for me, is the true power of the plants, their physical acts of healing are merely door shows meant to entice us to buy a seat to the Big Top.  And once inside the path home is illuminated in green. Step outside, notice your ecosystem, let the green neighbors conjure images of what our lives could look like if we remembered ourselves as unbroken and again intact.

Old Man's Beard ~ Usnea longissima

Near my little home, a walk in the woods gleans views of trees strewn with long strands of Usnea longissima hanging from the giant rainforest trees like fairy-made tinsel. Usnea  is a powerful anti-microbial, assisting our bodies  in warding off unwanted intruders. But there is more. Walk through the woods and bring your awareness to the lichen: half plant, half fungus. Notice where it takes you, what thoughts it excites or inhibits. Sence your place on the planet in connection to it’s environment. Breath deep. Do this again with dandelion, with hawthorn, with beebalm, with whatever grows around you.
The plants evoke shifts in consciousness, they remind us to think of healing as wholeness and to notice that the planet is a web of healing. Everything we need is here and every living being, every mineral and every formation truly is our kin.  We are whole and we are not alone, never are we separated from other life. Let the plants remind us of the closed system we live in, let them tell us how our bodies feed the smallest life forms and make soil, which feeds the plants, which in turn feed us.  We all share air that has been breathed in and expelled by countless bodies, we drink water that has been ingested by inumerable entities and travelled through the skies and down mountains and rivers and again to the ocean. The basic elements that afford formation of our cells come from the rocks and the soil. Remember that the very air we breath is a creation of the plants.  It is the elixir they released and began summoning us out of the waters and into life. They are light eaters and without them we would not exist.  Look to the plants and let them remind us that we all live off light.

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016The leaves have changed. 

My land is covered in a veil of fallen leaves, remnants of summers prime.  We are entering the darker time, the static withdrawal, the pause before the re-fruiting.  This is the transition time.  The apple trees still have a few ripe fruit clinging to their branches even though the leaves have turned yellow and orange.  Random hawthorn trees are yet covered in bunches of blood red haws.  And in the underbrush, rosehips hang from leafless  bushes like so many cherries.

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Crataegus phaenopyrum- Washington Hawthorn

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Rosa nootka - Nootka Rose

These last remaining fruit beg to be used.  Harvest and dry them.  Mix into tea blends and savor on the cold mornings to come.  Cover them with brandy to flavor and add medicine, mix the infused spirit with hot water and honey and enjoy on fire warmed nights.  Or simmer into sweet preserves that can be enjoyed on the winter days ahead.

Here is my recipe for a fruit butter using this trifecta of fall. Begin with apples and add rosehips, hawthorn berries and a touch of cinnamon, the result is a heart healthy preserve that tastes vaguely of citrus.  Enjoy it through the winter.

022Rosehip, Hawthorn, Apple Butter

4 lbs Apples

2 cups Rosehips- seeds removed

1 1/2 cup Hawthorn Berries

1 cup Cider Vinegar

2 cups Water

2 cups Sugar

Juice of one lemon and rind

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Cut apples into pieces leaving seeds and skin.  Add all fruit to a large pot along with cider and water, bring to a boil and simmer for twenty minutes or until all  the fruit is soft.  Put all the fruit through a food mill and discard the skins and seeds.  Return to pot and add remaining ingredients.  Simmer on low heat stirring often until the mixture has significantly thickened.  You can tell when it ready because a spoonful put onto a room temperature plate will thicken and gel.  No pectin is needed as these fruit all have large amounts of pectin.  Pour into half pint jars and can in a water bath for ten minutes.019

Brief Notes On The Heart Healing Properties Of  Each Fruit

Hawthorn- Among other things, the berries or Haws of the the hawthorn tree have been used for centuries as a medicine for the heart and cardiovascular system.   It prevents heart disease, strengthens the  cardiac muscles and promotes circulation.

Rose Hips- Are higher in vitamin C than citrus fruit, however the vitamin C is said to be destroyed with heat, so do not hope to get your daily dose of C from the above preparation. However, rosehips are known to be a beneficial tonic for the heart and other organ systems.

Apples-  Apples are a natural source of iron.  Ingesting apples or fresh apple juice daily has been effective in blood building and treatment of anemia.

Cinnamon- Cinnamon  prevents clotting of the blood.  It therefore acts essentially as a blood thinner, reducing the effects of hardened arteries and decreasing blood pressure.

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October in the Pacific Northwest is mushroom time.  The cooler days and wetter weather often bring large flushes of fungi growth in our forests.   This month we organized a foray with local experts and mushroom aficionados Jack Waytz and Buck McAdoo.  We arrived at Deception Pass on a beautiful fall day.  It was wonderful mix of plant lovers. From our core group of medicine women, Ellen, Kate, Michelle, Mira and Carrie were all in attendance and for the first time we had the special honor of sharing the day with 3 week old Coralie. Carrie brought with her two friends, Matt and Hollie who are both Naturopathic doctors in Bellingham, and her friend Laura came up from Portland.  Ellen’s friend Matt an herbalist and acupuncturist from Bastyr also joined us.  We met at noon with a plan to forage on the banks of Bowman Bay but Jack and Buck arrived to deliver the news that only the day before a group on nearly 1000 people had been to the same hunting grounds and would have surely wiped out most of the goods.  So we spontaneously headed south over the bridge to a less traveled path.

misc 002

We began walking the trail and were immediately ignited by the level of enthusiasm both Jack and Buck had for mushroom hunting.  The weather has been very dry so we were warned that we may not find a lot of mushrooms. We never did stumble upon stands of edible mushroom, but every small friend that was presented to the foray leaders was met with equal excitement and zeal.  Both Jack and Buck offered an incredible amounnt of information for each mushroom found including identifying characteristics, latin names and edibility/toxicity.   They offered other tips that were very helpful as well. For instance, Buck suggested that doing a spore print on a piece of glass and then using a razor blade to collect the spores would help a person be able to identify the spore color even if their were very few spores present.  An interesting idea to all of the foragers came from Jack who insisted that if you don’t see a mushroom on the main trail you likely wouldn’t find it off trail as his experience informs him that “mushrooms want to be found.”

misc 005

The trail was covered with numerous false chantrelles and a variety of mushrooms they called LBM’s (little brown mushrooms) that are difficult to identify one from another and therefore, generally are not edible.  We found a few soggy boletes, russulas, puff balls and some beautiful polypores. It was wonderful day in the woods and though none of us took home basketfuls of mushrooms we all enjoyed the company and information.  

Back at the cars, Jack stepped into the woods and came back with a handful of fresh AND edible shaggy mane mushrooms.  Mira had really wanted to take some mushrooms home with her and took the chance to trace his steps and also came out with a couple of large shaggy manes.

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We all returned to Ellen’s house and shared food and interesting conversation dense with all of the amazing (and unusual!) plant experience everyone has had.  With the naturopaths at the lunch table we got onto topics of homeopathy and parasites and urine therapy was even discussed which is always good for a lively debate.  Matt and Ellen had been playing with a new steam distiller all weekend and had made some essential oil of rosemary and grapefruit the evening before and we all got a chance to take a peek at the new equipment.

 It was a day of friendship, community, connection and of course plants.  It was great to open up the group to new faces and new ideas and we hope to see Laura back and writing for the blog soon.

Thanks Jack and Buck. Your expertise was certainly inspiring!

 If you are interested in learning more about mushrooms and live in the North Puget Sound, attend the Northwest Mushroomers Fall Show on October 18th 2009 in Bellingham.  You’ll find Jack and Buck there as well as many others willingly sharing all of thier info and years of experience.

Until November- Devils Club?

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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:

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Poached Bosc Pears, in Elderberry syrup 

 

 

desert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Base
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.

Topping
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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