Friday, May 28, 2010

Local wild plants, medicinal herbs and foraging

When I first started learning about growing, foraging, harvesting and using medicinal herbs I had a case of "the grass is always greener on the other side".  It seemed as though all the most popular and most common herbs, (Echinacea, Goldenseal, Marshmallow, Ginger, Chamomile, Comfrey, Feverfew, Astragalus, Plantain, nettles and thistles) that grow in abundance elsewhere were not even hardy enough to survive our winters. Many of these plants are challenging to start from seed and then they require longer seasons than we have even to bloom. Many of the plants are grown for their roots, which are usually not large or potent enough to bother harvesting their first or even second year. So even trying to grow them is somewhat futile.

One day I was reading in an herbal about the benefits of Crampbark, and I was thinking how badly I wished that we had it up here and as I was reading the description I realized that what my book was referring to as Crampbark was what I had always known as High Bush Cranberry, which really isn't a cranberry at all. I realized that I needed to start focusing on what was out my back door instead of pining for the impossible for surely there must be other medicinally significant herbs growing here

I purchased the book Discovering Wild Plants, Alaska, Western Canada, The Northwest by Janice J. Schofield. After finding most the plants and trees growing in our woods covered in this book, with every plant being used for at least one if not many remedies, I had a memorable epiphany: all plants have a purpose. All native plants and trees have medicinal relevance even if they just provide nutrition but are not traditionally used for any other purpose. Sometimes leaves are used, other times flowers, berries, roots or the bark. This was a huge realization for me. Looking back I am somewhat embarrassed by my  ignorance and naivety.

Since my earlier days of bemoaning everything that didn't grow here, I've learned that some of those herbs do grow here in the wild or may be wintered over once started from seed, and some of them are still worth growing as annuals even though I have to start them again from seed each year. Astragalus grows wild in our woods but it doesn't grow very large, and since the roots are used it would take a lot of plants to make a small amount of tincture. Plantain grows in disturbed areas and along road sides, it does well in fertile areas, like my old horses manure pile. Valerian grows here as well as Pulsatilla, Arnica, Yarrow and Wormwood. Some plants are not always recognized for their medicinal benefits such as Chickweed, Fireweed, Clover, Currants, Low bush cranberry or Lingenberry and Dandelions. One ingredient that I was sure must be something more special than the obvious was Red Raspberry Leaf (leaves off raspberry plants) Some of these medicinally relevant ingredients have been right in front of my nose without my realization of the purpose they served such as Usnea, the light green moss that grows on the trees, Birch Conch, Birch bark and leaves, Spruce tips, Poplar and Willow buds.

Herbs that are worth growing as annuals are plants that are harvested for their flowers (or leaves). Chamomile and Calendula come to mind, as well as Goldenseal, California Poppy and Borage. Some plants that I've grown in the garden, that I wasn't sure if they would winter over here are California Poppy, Mullein, Sorrell and Feverfew. Catnip and Borage seed often survive the winters and re-seed. Chives come back in abundance as does domesticated yarrow, in addition to the wild Yarrow. This year I have started true Comfrey and Nettles (yes stinging nettles) from seed with hopes that they may come back next year.

There are many plants growing on our property that are nutritious to eat, some more tasty than others. This is the time of year to be foraging for tasty young greens, although with all the heat and dryness we've been having they turn bitter quickly. Look for small plants growing in the shade, and away from roads. Some plants we've been nibbling on that I've been meaning to bring into the kitchen are dandelion greens, horsetail, fireweed and chickweed. Other edibles that grow wild in our woods  that we'll be snacking on this summer are bluebell flowers, rose petals and later rose hips, violets, cranberries, currants and raspberries. We'll be foraging for mushrooms later in the season. I'll also be picking and drying plants for tea. Among those growing wild are fireweed, strawberry and raspberry leaves.

Plants that are harvested for leaves can be picked any time but medicinal properties are usually
the strongest in new young leaves and before the plants flower. Try to harvest in the morning or evening or plants growing out of the direct sun. Shrubs and trees harvested for bark should be harvested in the spring or fall, when juices are flowing strongest in the trees. So either harvest your Crampbark now or wait till September. Obviously, now (or a month ago was) is the time to harvest spruce tips, willow and poplar buds while there are- were still new growths to harvest.

It's nice to know that while there are not yet mushrooms and berries growing in abundance nor is the garden providing, there are lots of highly nutritious greens to eat growing right out the back door. Sometimes it seems silly to spend so much time on the garden when there are so many plants growing all around without labor or our time other than snipping, washing and cooking with them. I find that the best uses for bitter tasting greens are blended soups, cook them with onions, garlic, potatoes and chives and blend them up, add milk, sour-cream or yogurt, and homemade croutons. Make a green dip by blending one or more greens, dandelions, chickweed etc, with garlic, chickpeas, yogurt, salt and pepper. Serve with tortilla chips or veggie sticks.

I was happy to walk up on Noah today, sitting and eating Horsetail and Fireweed. Of course if I purchased and prepared a salad with such bitter greens and served them at the dinner table he would protest. The spontaneity of just picking things growing around you and eating them on the spot is delightful.

Do you forage for wild greens? Favorite recipes anyone?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May Days

I've another confession to make. I've been staying up nightly live-streaming T.V. series. Most recently I've been watching a Robin Hood series, cheesy but fun. A more healthy addiction than the Twilight series to be sure. Main side effects include lack of sleep and failure to keep up on the blog or update the website with kid pictures.

I've been spending mornings doing house chores and making food for the day so that after lunch we can all get outside and enjoy the beautiful day. I am elated with our farm apprentice. She has been doing all the morning chores on weekdays, watering and feeding everyone, milking, processing milk and washing pails. I try to have lunch made by the time morning chores are finished. Then we all get out into the garden together to water, sow seed and transplant. I've been having Becca move soil and dig holes while I am usually distracted by the kids and try to decide what to plant where and what to sow next. The garden is pretty much in with the exception of some beans and squash and some leftover onions I need to find a home for. We still have a pile of topsoil leftover from last summer. So Dustin has been gradually building more raised rows and boxes while we, er, Becca fills them.

We have been having summer weather for the last couple weeks, it could easily be June or July weather. The last few days have been in the seventies, highs near eighty, clear and sunny. In the afternoons the thunderstorms roll in, however we seem to be in a bubble. Thunderstorms and rain all around and not a drop for our thirsty garden.

Current mouths to feed: eight goat kids, six does, three bucks, (goats are plowing through the hay), two roosters, sixteen layers, four growing cornish cross, seventeen ducklings, sixteen pullets, four turkey poults, ten one week old Ameraucana chicks, one cat, one dog, two kids and two adults. Whew. I've set a batch of Khaki Campbell duck eggs and we are expecting thirty cornish cross in a couple weeks which will be the last of the birds for the season.

The garden has had top priority, house chores are falling behind as are goat chores. On my goat to do list is to advertise bucklings, whether (neuter) bucklings, tattoo and register doelings, clean goat stalls and pens.

D has been working a bunch and I've been stranded at home without a vehicle. Fortunately that is about  to change as he has been spending a day a week at a friend's shop rebuilding our Westfalia camper van's engine and it is almost finished. By next week I may be taking the kids to the Farmer's market and the playground - can't wait. Well I'm needing to clean the kitchen and make room for processing milk and draining and hanging yesterdays cultured milk- curds. Wishing everyone a beautiful summer day!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

More Goat Kid Pictures


Xanadu's son, available for sale as a pet, companion animal, brush clearer, pack animal or as an intact buck for breeding purposes.

Rose's light red son, also available for sale as a buck or pet. Out of our six bucklings we have, two are reserved for summer brush clearers and meat purposes. We have three that we feel would make quality breeding bucks. I wouldn't try to sell two as bucks because their mother's udder is not as attractive or hold the volume as our other two senior does have. We also have one runt that we fed with a drenching syringe for a couple days, and is just weaker than he should be.

Pigs lounging, chicks hatching - spring

Avery is taking a bath in the sink and playing in the whey that is draining off the chevre. Every morning one of my first chores after making breakfast is to do the dishes, and clean the sink and counter so I can pour chevre which has been culturing overnight into cheesecloths to hang for the day. Avery often bathes in the sink so I can watch her while doing dishes and cleaning the kitchen. I haven't been saving the whey. Sometimes I feed it to the chickens, make ricotta or water plants with it.

Spring starts hardening off, protected from Avery who is still at the stage where she will spontaneously pull plants up or rip leaves off.

Ameraucana chick hatching.

Ameraucana  chicks in the incubator. We set twenty eggs and have eleven chicks so far. I made the mistake of setting a dozen eggs and then setting one or two each day until we'd filled the incubator. So now I'm ready to set some duck eggs but I've got to wait and let the rest hatch. Our Ameraucanas are show quality and lay lovely blue eggs, unlike the Ameraucana Easter Eggers that you would find from a large hatchery which are not show quality but hybrid mutts, bred to lay a variety of colored eggs...still nice birds just not the same thing.

So, here are the pigs I've been talking about. We selfishly talked our friends into raising pigs this summer, one of which is for us. They seem to be off to a good start. There are two sows and a boar. They are being fed whole local barley, pig feed, brome hay and scraps. I am impressed with how well they are turning the ground, wish they were easier to transport into the garden come fall.

I'm already dreaming of lard for pastries and frying, bacon, sausages, ribs...mmm

Kids and I photo shoot - with goats

We were all out visiting the goats a while back so I asked Dustin to take some pictures of the kids and I holding Avalon. I was hoping to get a good picture of all of us, but instead ended up with least they are entertaining and in order. Note how well mama goat Xanadu is watching over her daughter, Avalon, who is being a great sport. Every day I make time to sit and hold her and Asia for a few minutes at least, in the hopes of having better handled doelings. Our junior does are ok about being tied up for their morning grain, and they let me trim their hooves etc. but I am not bonded with them as much as I'd like to be.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Spring Garden

It is green around here if you look up. The Birch trees have leafed out and are a bright spring green. The ground is still mostly brown with tufts of green grass here and there. The Iris, Delphinium, Columbine, and Strawberries are up as is the clover in the garden and the perennial poppies. The first plants to bloom around here are the poppies, although the newspaper shows a picture of the pulsatilla wildflower each year as the first flower to bloom locally. I guess my pulsatilla are not as content as my poppies - I should relocate them someday. The chives are also up, although I've been snipping them daily so I haven't given them much chance, can't help myself - fresh chives! I'm beginning to think the rhubarb kicked the bucket. That is what I get for transplanting it in the fall and burying dead chickens under it - which the dog dug up before the ground froze solid and continued to dig all the snow away from it throughout the winter....extra rhubarb divisions anyone?

As far as vegetables that I've planted this year go, the peas, carrots, radishes and beets are all up and growing. I've been planting onions and leek the last two days and have more starts than I have room for. I'm tempted to just keep planting them and then figure something else out as needed, but I have soooooo many broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage starts to put out, and then there are the greens, kale and chard and then there's the corn and squash and beans, edamame and outdoor tomatoes...ah so many things to plant and never enough room! 

Potatoes have been in the ground for a week. We've sowed rutabaga and turnip seed. Tomatoes are in the greenhouse. Eggplant, peppers and cucumbers are going into pots to be placed into the second greenhouse, but I'm not in a hurry to move them out as they'll be happier in the house for the next couple weeks. Next on the list for planting are some herbs that are rootbound in their small pots, they'll be going into raised and covered boxes, so should be fine. I've been hardening most the starts off for the last couple weeks by moving them outside during the day and back in for nights. I am going to wait a week or so before I put out the outdoor tomatoes, and any other starts that won't be in covered beds. So I think we'll switch to building some beds and filling them with soil this week. Make some room for beans, celery and squash.

Hopefully we don't have a super hot dry June, or I'll be regretting the size of the garden quickly enough - unless we get organized enough to install a drip irrigation system. Tomorrow we are headed over to friends for the day to help put up fencing for pigs, one of which will be ours this fall - I'll take some pictures of our future pork, mmm...cute piggy goodness.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Goat Kids

 The herd. If you look closely you can see Noah and Dustin down in the woods putting up woven mesh fencing on the outside of the electric strands. Four strands of electric have kept the does in since we moved them down last fall, but the kids are able to sneak under the bottom rung and with how unlevel our ground is we decided to go ahead and put the woven mesh up.

Noah building ramps and toys for the kids out of firewood that was below the doe pen - gradually working its way towards the house.

Xanadu and her daughter Avalon

Asia, Xoe's daughter. She is black and tan with a white back left sock. Avalon's markings are more silver or gray than brown, tan or white - and she has a few silver spots on her face.

One of Xoe's two bucks

One of Rose's three bucks

Twilight obsession and resulting funk

For those of you who keep up with the on goings of our homestead,  you know that I don't write about much other than goats, chickens and the kids. Well I'm going to take a deviation from the norm and write about something that has been on my mind the last few days. I've been in a serious funk, which is not normal for me. I don't consider myself a moody or easily depressed person, but I've been walking through my daily routine in a haze, which is a bummer as there are so many new things going on this time of year and I haven't been enjoying the progress as I should be. We've been milking, making cheese for the first time this season, building and filling new beds in the garden and planting tomatoes in the greenhouse and all the while I've been feeling melancholy, so maybe having it all out will help get it out of my system.

On Thursday night my husband brought home the movie Twilight. For those of you (like myself) who according to one of the actors in the film "have been living under a rock" and have not heard of this series, it is a movie about a high-school girl who falls in love with a vampire and the troubles and issues that follow as a result of their love for each other. It is very much a teenage girl heartthrob sort of movie, but I have to say that I was totally sucked in. What appeals to me the most is the character Edward (the vampire) played by Robert Pattinson. Edward treasures Bella and wants to enjoy her human-ness, wants to love, protect her and keep her safe, as she is. She on the other hand wants him to turn her into a vampire so that she can be with him forever, not age into an old woman and gain powers to help protect them both.

The movies are based on a series of books written by Stephanie Meyer. There are four books, and there will be four movies, Eclipse is coming to theatres in June followed by Breaking Dawn in November 2011. On Friday night we watched the sequel New Moon. The following night we watched the second half of both movies again, as I was hungry to see the initial romance between the two that was in Twilight and Dustin had fallen asleep and missed the ending of New Moon. Sunday I watched the special features to New Moon which included different aspects of the making of the film, sets, special effects, set scenes, music etc.  Then I got online to look up more about the actors, er Robert Pattinson...and watched some sneak peaks for Eclipse. I was obsessed and consequently in a funk. As the movies were due back, we returned them and headed to a friend's BBQ, where I proceeded to dwell in my mind, in the world of Edward and Bella.

It is rare that I remember an actor's name, let alone look up other movies he has been in. I felt like I was spying, looking up interviews about Robert Pattinson online and once I watched him visiting in superficial talk-show fashion, I was letdown and simultaneously relieved to see him as a not so mysterious twenty-three year old man. It was naive to expect that Pattinson would say something insightful or meaningful as if he were really his character Edward, and it was comforting to know that I had just been smitten by the character, a vampire struggling to control his desire, who is certain his soul is doomed to hell,  practices vegetarianism, that is only sucks the blood of animals - not humans, in an effort to be less of a monster.

Finally I felt sympathy and shame to see how little privacy Robert Pattinson and other actors have once they make it big, and as much as we expect that it comes with the job, it is rather a sad story that actors following their passion and finally succeeding in their art, have to deal with such intensive invasions of their privacy. Looking up clips and seeing all the sites that are filled with daily star tracking,  I was embarrassed  to see how many people spend their time following the lives of celebrities, and to have taken part however briefly. However, on that note, I couldn't help noticing that Pattinson and Kristen Stwewart, who plays Bella are dating in real life, and I can't help but wish a happy ever after ending to the real life couple - although they are certainly more doomed with Hollywood being what it is, in addition to how we treat our celebrities, than Edward and Bella are in battling werewolves, revengeful vampires and the vulturi.

After a weekend of watching these two movies and then thinking of the characters and the lives of the real actors throughout the day...well everything in my life has seemed very dull and bland in comparison. How can cleaning house, making food, and caring for kids and animals all day compete with the supernatural world of vampires or for that matter the lives of celebrities? I can easily say that I have never been too impressed or caught up by the lives of celebrities, nor is that a life or occupation that appeals to me whatsoever. I generally feel incredibly fortunate to have the life I do. I wouldn't change much if I could, and I really couldn't ask for more. I suppose I've been caught up in a world of fantastic make believe and am having a hard time transitioning back to my reality. It hasn't helped that we have had a couple cool, gloomy and overcast days.

So, I think I'll be dragging my husband along to see Eclipse in the theatre. I may be reading the series, but I'm taking some time off before I go looking for it. I for one need to come back down to reality and focus on the real things in my life... Sesame Street is ending and Avery is trying on her brother's superman underwear and it is time to get the kids out to milk some goats - for real.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

May snow, November weather

It is November this morning. The ground is frosted with a crunchy coating of snow. As the morning sun reaches the trees, the frost and snow drips to the ground giving the appearance that the woods are gently raining . The ground is barren and brown.  Last falls leaves still cover the ground. Pathways are muddy. The temperature is hovering in the thirties. If it were a week from now, maybe the woods would be tinted green with new leaves on the trees and it would look like a late snow in spring, but as I can barely even see the new buds on the bushes and no we don't have daffodils either looks and feels like November. The only obvious sign that is is truly spring is sound I hear once I open the door, a chorus of birds singing their courting tunes.

Last night was almost as confusing, the birds were silent, the woods were still. It was densely foggy and unusually damp which made forty degrees feel much colder. I would have sworn it was certainly fall... except it was light. It was overcast, there was no sign of the sun, yet it was dusk at one a.m. It seemed as though the sun was rising at four this morning, as our room grew lighter and the babe began to stir.

It is lovely outside, although cool and damp and muddy. But the sunlight coming through the trees is warming, soothing and inspiring. I wish I hadn't planted my shallots a couple days ago. They have the protection of the soil up to their shoulders and the beds are covered with plastic. I think they'll survive, but certainly would have been better off inside for a few more days. Temperatures for the week are down to the thirties at night, fifties and sixties during the day. We've sowed peas, carrots, radishes and beets, all under row covers. I think we'll stick to starting seeds in flats in the greenhouse for the next couple days and hold off on putting anything else directly into the ground.

I was able to skim heavy cream off the surface of a quart of raw goat milk this morning. Goat milk is naturally homogenized, meaning that the cream does not separate on it's own like cow milk does. When the goats first kid their milk is heavier in fat than it will be later in the summer, thus the cream on the surface now. We are just milking to even out lopsided udders now, but starting this weekend all the kids will spend the night together away from their mothers. We will milk three does each morning before letting the kids out for the day. Then we will start separating cream in the cream separator weekly and I should be able to make sour cream, ice cream, cream cheese and creme fraiche.

This morning I am enjoying my tea and cream immensely along with a homemade scone and some spring strawberries. The kids are playing happily together. I can hear a hen laying an egg all the way up the hill and in hear coop. Our farm help should be here any moment to begin feeding the animals breakfast, allowing me to focus on laundry, sweeping, dishes, lunch and saving me from having to drag the kids along behind through the mud. And then there is the sun melting, warming...dripping a shimmery dance to the forest floor.