Sunday, August 16, 2015

Aronia Berry: A Perfect Fit for Your Kitchen Garden?

Blooming Aronia melanocarpa in RavenCroft's West Hedge

This morning found me and Joy in the west hedge gathering aronia berry. The A. melanocarpa, Viking, has been in the hedge about 15 years now. A prolific bearer and versatile in the kitchen, this berry is a delightful addition for most gardens and would benefit many a hedgerow.

Bioflavinoid rich aronia berries

The purple-black astringent berry is not a snack fruit for out of hand eating. It is best simply processed into juice, syrups, jams, wines and sauces. As an herbalist interested in optimum nourishment, it makes sense to include as many nutrient dense foods in garden and diet as possible and aronia has earned her keep in my garden...

Native to North America, aronia has found world wide acceptance as a food with deeply nourishing properties. Rich in bioflavinoids, aronia has the highest concentration of the antioxidant, anthocyanin, of any fruit, with elderberry running a close second. Improving circulation and strength of blood vessels, the berry may reduce blood pressure with regular consumption. Along with reducing general inflammation and specifically inflammation of the urinary tract adding aronia berry to your diet is a simple, delicious way to improve health.

Fresh harvested aronia berries

As a gardener, I enjoy the tenacity and vigor of the plant itself. Aronias are hardy, unfussy as to soil and will grow in sun and part shade. At RavenCroft the shrub holds a place in the damp, clay soil of the west hedge. Every year, even with wide variances in weather, the 6’ x 6’ bush consistently yields 25-35 pounds of fruit. 

Beautiful spring blossoms, aronia is in the rose family

A deciduous shrub, aronia begins unfurling her year round beauty with the arrival of deep green glossy leaves in spring. Having a leathery texture and somewhat fuzzy appearance, the leaves provide a great backdrop for the beautiful white flowers tinged with pink and  born in clusters on the branches. After the blossoms fade the dense green holds a steady place in the garden or hedge for the summer. Toward late summer the abundant green berries begin turning black. This is a bush that offers color and interest for months on end. 

As fall approaches myriads of deep dark purple black berries literally drip off the limbs. Easy to harvest in their tidy clusters, I picked 15 pounds in just under 30 minutes this morning. It was a fun morning to be gathering the berries, as the annual bike event riders were pedaling by and beyond the hedge I heard a steady stream of “thank-yous’ offered to the police officer guiding traffic around the tight corner...

 IronMan bike race and a stream of Thank-you's bless the harvest

Once the fruit is gone and the weather turns toward its cold and wet wintery self; the leaves turn a vibrant red signalling the dark days scented with wood smoke will soon settle upon the croft. 
Red leaves of fall

With Aronia wine, Aronia-Fennel Oxymel, Aronia syrup and vinegar in the cellar all is well and the weather just keeps life interesting!

See you at market!

If you’re already growing aronia or can find some at your local farmer’s market, give this delicious Aronia Chutney recipe a try and let me know what happens!

Tastes as delicious as the picture looks!

Aronia Chutney

2.5 # aronia berries
2 # apples any variety, chopped
1 onion, diced
3 yellow banan peppers, any variety will work
3 small pilloncillo towers of raw sugar (find at local tienda)
1 cup dark brown sugar, 2 if no pilloncillo is found
1 cup fennel flower vinegar
1.5 oz minced garlic
1 T ceylon cinnamon punded fine in mortar
2 lemons juice and zest
2 oranges juice and zest

Put all ingredients in kettle, bring to boil, simmer until thick. Enjoy fresh for up to one month refrigerated. Freeze or can what won't be eaten for later...Enjoy!

Aronia Fennel Oxymel 
yield 1 gallon 

4# Aronia
4# apple cider vinegar (4 pints)
4# honey (2 qts)
fresh fennel blossoms to taste

Simmer aronia with vinegar until berries pop, crush with a potato masher, let sit until cool, press mixture through a mesh sack, return juice/vinegar to pan, heat with honey and fennel just long enough to dissolve honey. Strain and bottle. Store in cool, dark place.

Tangy oxymels are an easy way to preserve the harvest and can be enjoyed many ways. Enjoy with sparkling water for a thirst quenching, nutrient dense beverage, add to fruit salad to brighten flavor or to a vinagrette for a green salad dressing, enjoy off the spoon or drizzle over pancakes! Have fun imagining more ways to include this nourishing food in your daily diet.  Let us know what you come up with!

Until next time!
Be well, make time to go outside and play...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Hot? Try Linden Healing Infusion

Linden allee along the river Avon in Evesham, England

Lindens, Tillia sp. have been presenting in beautiful and surprising ways in my life over the last few years. On pilgrim adventures to England and France, I came to appreciate how entwined their history is with the peoples of those places. Often planted in parks and used as allees in vast, spacious settings, lindens are ubiquitous. 

Lindens in a city park in Monroe, WA

Upon returning home to Washington state, I began seeing them everywhere as well. City parks and streets host many lindens in Seattle and outlying areas. In Monroe, WA where I live, there is a beautiful row of 10 lindens in one of our city parks. I've enjoyed gathering the flowers here for the last dozen years early in the morning as sunrise kisses the trees. At first they were so young I could stand on the ground, now, I bring a step stool and enjoy their growth as they rise into their natural elegant gesture with their heart shaped leaves and open-armed grandeur.

Linden flowers almost ready for gathering!

Today it's hot! It's been unseasonably hot for over a week now. I wanted a refreshing, cooling beverage with some nutritive value as it's almost too hot to eat! Voila! Linden healing herbal infusion with a hint of hibiscus added for heart health is born.

Linden Hibiscus Healing Herbal Infusion
Linden-Hibiscus Healing Herbal Infusion

Place 1/2 oz. dry linden flowers in a quart canning jar. Add boiling water and cover. Steep 4-8 hours. Strain. Return herb to pan, cover with cold water and bring to boil. Let sit until cool, strain and squeeze out the herb. (Feel the soothing, slippery quality of the linden flowers...sometimes, I just rub them up and down my arms for a quick soothing beauty treatment!) Mix infusions together top up to make 1/2 gallon infusion.

Place 1 oz Hibiscus flowers + 1 or 2 small cones pilloncillo* in a separate 1 quart canning jar, add boiling water, steep 4-8 hours. Strain and squeeze herb to garner all the delicious nutrients and flavors. This is a semi-sweet concentrate you can add to other healing infusions for taste and enhanced nutritive value. Refrigerate. Blends well with the sweet taste of oatstraw healing infusion.

Mix linden and hibiscus infusions together to taste, pour over ice, add a swizzel stick of lemon balm and enjoy the heat fortified with this simple, refreshing summer beverage!

This cooling infusion nourishes, reduces inflammation, adds nutrient dense bioflavinoids, soothes internal organs and allows a body to meet the heat of summer! 

*Living in a town with several Mexican Tiendas, I've enjoyed weaving flavors from the home places of friends and neighbors into my herbal repertoire! 

Local, common and easy to access herbs and foods abound closer to home than you might the fields, forest and yes, even the local tiendas treasures are awaiting discovery. What's growing in your neighborhood?

Remember stay cool, jump in a river or lake every chance you can and take good care with fire this very hot summer...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A May Day Love Potion

I’ve enjoyed tending several hawthorns in the hoop of life I travel each year. The hawthorns are among my favored allies because of their persistence, sense of humor and down right tenacity.

I travel the highways and byways of the Snoqualmie, Skykomish and Snohomish rivers for most of my herbal interplay now days. Settling into this triad of rivers and the medicine found here is an ongoing exploration in a layered, well-lived life.

Last spring I had, I thought, finished the hawthorn flower and leaf gathering when, low and behold, a sassy spring charmer flagged me down from the side of the road. Yes, her pink delicate blooms reached right out and grabbed my heart. Has that ever happened to you? It is one of the dangers of the practice of herbalism that few speak of, I refer to this phenomenon as 55 mile an hour botany.

Hybrid hawthorn in a bed of fern...

You know what I mean? Have you been at this long enough to know? Or, maybe you’re just beginning your herb wanderings, so I am going to tell you what others keep to themselves! Be Aware! You finally reach a point in your passionate affair with plants that the oddities and vagaries along the highway leap into consciousness as you speed by. As if possessed, you find yourself screeching to a halt, turning your vehicle around and going back to investigate! It’s an outright danger this way of life imposes on those struck with plant medicine syndrome! Be Aware!

Well, it was just such a time, when she, that young, crossbreed of a wilding lifted her skirt and yahooed me while I was descending upon the village of Monroe...With all the flirtatious energy of the May, she grabbed this crone’s heart and would not let go. “I’ll be back”, I called as I slowed and looked deeply into her limbs. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Sure enough, the morning brought me into the limbs and sweet scent of the softest, apple-blossomed hawthorn I had yet to see in my valley meanders. Her delicate blooms as soft as a maiden on those tough, sinewy mother limbs anchored to the crone of her short, twisted trunk. “Take me home”, she whispered in a sweet, sensuous voice entwined with her voluptuous scent. “Take me home with you and let’s have some May Day fun!”

Back in the flumdiddley kitchen, I settled into a deep, listening trance as the pink blooms fell from hand to basket. She giggled, “See that pitcher over there?” she asked? “I want to go in there with some of that cool water in the jug from the spring. Then, I want to go out on the porch and bask in the sun for the rest of the day!” 

Well, this was easy enough to do. All those years of study and medicine-making and curing and fixing while expanding an understanding of life and herbs and medicine and spirit; I was enjoying this otherly directed fling with my new found ally. Evening rolled around and I went out to bring the sprite in. “Get your hands off me!” she curtly directed…"Do you not realize tonight is a full moon in Scorpio? I am now ready to infuse into the arms of the grandmother. Leave me be!” “Okay”, I said, she surely seemed to know what she wanted and I was perfectly content to see where this was heading…

Early the next morning as a warm sun rose over the eastern hedge, I went out to fetch the vessel now blessed with the sun and infused by the light of the moon. Whew! This was shaping up to be some strong medicine, indeed! All from a roadside imp with a magnetic personality! “Ready to go in?” I queried. “Yes!” she chirped. “I am ready to be strained and bottled”, came her brisk response.

After straining the golden liquid, a small splash of brandy was added to stabilize the brew. Then, we were off to the shop for bottles. There some very tiny, very cute 2 ounce bottles offered themselves up for the endeavor. “Yes, perfect”, she squealed. “That is just right!” I began pouring the very soft infusion into the very tiny bottles complete with very happy giggles and snorts. “We’re going to Wisconsin, we’re going to Wisconsin!”, her lilting song flooded the room.  Of a sudden a loud rattling was heard from the shelf where the dried herbs lay. 

I went over to see what was causing the ruckus. “Right!” they retorted. "We've been loyal and steadfast all these years and now some sweet young thing throws herself at you from the side of the road and you fall head over heels for her”, harumphed the dried old hawthorn berries gathered last fall. And every fall for the last 20 years from the same trees in the same hedge up valley. “You’re running off to Wisconsin with that side of the road cross breed?” they howled, "with nary a thought about us?"

“Oh, do I hear jealousy in your tone, dear ones?” I inquired. “You bet your booties you hear  jealousy in our tone” exclaimed the old fruitful ones. “Well, what would you like?” I asked quietly. “What would we like?” they grumped. “Yes, what would you like?” I asked again. “Hummm, well”, they mused, “We want acknowledgment, recognition and consideration, you know, respect, for our years of loyal service! And, we want to go to Wisconsin, too!” 

“Okay, what might that look like?” I perused drawing them out of their cave. “We want  3 dried haw berries in each bottle" came their quick retort. Then, we’ll all be in every bottle!  Compleat hawthorn, the entire valley, the best of time and place in each and every bottle!” “Perfect!" I smiled, as I placed 3 dried haws in each and every bottle. Capped and carefully placed on the shelf, they rested. Infusing with one another the sweet young blooms and the old crone haws bathed in each other’s presence. 

A few weeks later, off I went to give a presentation at the annual Bastyr Herb Fair. Off to the Fair went the very tiny bottles of hawthorn elixir, laid in a basket of dried haw flowers. I was giving an herb walk and talk on wild edges, hedges and my long friend hawthorn. At the end of the discourse, one of the very tiny bottles of Haw Elixir lept into my hand. As the lid was turned “Fisssst!” they squealed as they came fizzing out the top! “We’re so much more than an elixir now", they chimed together. "We are the Blessed May! We are alive and the Blessed May is alive and Love Potion is born!” With peals of laughter everyone sipped the Love Potion and, you know, in that moment, life sparked with love and everyone smiled!

Yes, the 3 of us did go to Wisconsin later that summer. No labels found their way onto the very tiny bottles. As they were placed on the marketplace table at the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference, life emanating from those tiny, well-filled bottles began to cause a stir. With the flirtatious tenacity of a young sprite and a certain staid presence of a crone some immeasurable essence lept from those very tiny bottles into the hearts of women passing by. “What’s in those very tiny bottles with no labels? they inquired. “Oh those”, I answered. “Hawthorn Love Potion! Would you like a taste?”

Bright Blessings of the May to you and yours as sun climbs again toward zenith and the dance of life continues ‘round the spiral...

For Hawthorn Medicine click here

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Miner's Lettuce and Co. A Tiny, Spring Salad

Miner's Lettuce
Miner’s lettuce, delicious salad herb, succulent green reminiscient of spinach, is a hardy winter annual.
Claytonia perfoliata appears during a slack time for garden greens. Along with hairy bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta and mache or corn salad, Valerianella locusta, these 3 wildings make a tasty, textured salad in early spring. They grow well in cool weather and are ample before lettuces are up and growing in the garden. Served with a light balsamic vinegar or spruce tip vinegar and lots of olive oil and a bit of chive makes for a delicious fresh spring treat.  

The miner's lettuce although bland, is juicy and has good crunch, giving a small salad texture. Hairy bitter cress is fiesty, on the peppery side of the flavor scale yet lacks any real tooth. Mache, on the other hand, has the butteriest texture of all the wild greens. A real smooth mouth feel and of my favorites. 
All 3 naturalize in the garden easily. For the wise gardener, it creates a perfect "eat your weeds" scenario. I often remind apprentices that "if you can't beat it!" Beware! The caveat around eating wild food is, you may have wild thoughts. You are duly warned…enjoy!
These hardy greens seem to carry with them an added vitality. Perhaps because they aren't afraid to come out when we humans prefer to stay in! What I know, is that I'm hungry for something fresh when they are at their best. Along with cooked overwinter brassica tips and the beginnings of the spring potherbs, these wild wonders make easy foraging in a wild-edged garden!
Miner’s lettuce often grows in thick stands so harvest can be quick. It prefers the edge of the woods in filtered light and then persists longer in denser shade as temps warm up. By summer it is easily replaced with garden lettuces and greens. Miner’s lettuce goes by in flavor and texture as summer heat moves it toward dormancy.
Claytonia is easily grown in the home garden, seed being available from many vegetable seed purveyors. With a simple shelter Miner’s Lettuce will stand through the Maritime winters here by the Salish Sea. Hairy bittercress is abundant and needs no coaxing or shelter often blooming upon emergence. An excellent survival strategy! Mache is no native here, so needs to be seeded to start and  often naturalizes. The name corn salad comes from the weed’s appearance in grain fields in Europe where corn referred to the grain of the area, i.e. wheat in England, oats in Scotland and Ireland, probably barley in the Bible. 

A Tiny Spring Salad

Miner's lettuce, hairy bittercress, mache in parts to your taste!
Leave greens whole, toss with balsamic vinegar or spruce tip vinegar, olive oil 
And a quick grind of salt and pepper if you like...

Happy foraging. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Reflections in a Japanese Garden

Lighting the way...
Driving to Seattle I felt curious. Would the rain abate? Would a rain hat as well as my rain coat be necessary? So much sun recently. Today, a rainy, grey afternoon. The Plant Junkies garden club was converging on the Seattle Japanese Garden for a guided tour and I was among the hopeful!

I've come to enjoy Japanese gardens slowly over the years. Raised in a classic Dooryard Garden style, the Japanese garden seemed distant and way too formal for appreciation in my early gardening years.

Luckily, the West Coast boasts many traditional Japanese Gardens and I make a point to visit them as often as life allows. I've come to appreciate the storyline that each unique garden expresses. Plants following the dance of the seasons, celebrating the moon and poetry and art as part of the garden's function; people connecting with one another and with those things beyond the earthly, yet so sensuous one would need earth and a body to fully experience the juxtaposition...that a formal tea ceremony housed within an intricately built structure offers…

These are some of the fine points succinctly planted in each Japanese garden uniquely expressing in that garden's continued unfurling over many years. This is what brings me back again and again!
Azalea fire on cool green moss. Today, a rivulet flows...

"Gardens are the slowest performing art!"
A phrase I have always enjoyed and find especially fitting while visiting Japanese Gardens. Come, let us wonder and wander through the Seattle Japanese Garden on a rainy afternoon in timeless reflection.

A rocky island, reminiscent of another time, another place...

Possibility beyond imagining…

An open boxwood hedge..
…offers curvaceous form along a path

Grey skies, rain drops, perfect light…

Reflections between heaven and earth…suggest something just beyond view, mystery around every curve...

Community, art, poetry…cultivating perspective

Beauty bridging time, distance, culture...

Growing and reflecting in a garden…
Enjoy a garden near you, soon!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Salt and Pepper Pickled Eggs

Eggs! New beginnings, continuation, future possibilities, potent mystery, seeds of species. Eggs represent many things to many people. And, eggs are delicious. Spring is surely the time nature finds most suitable for generative activity. And, here in the flumdiddley kitchen we have lots of fun with eggs that become many tasty meals…Some quick, others maturing through the seasons for carrying the pleasure of spring and summer into the dark of winter.

While browsing at a local nursery last week, I happened upon this tiny nest tucked into a row of geraniums! Nature accommodates, the birds make do with possibility...

A tiny nest tucked into the geraniums at a local nursery!

Chickens at RavenCroft have managed to live on the wild side this season. Finding their nests has been a source of joy and consternation. Seems a raccoon in the neighborhood enjoys soft protein as much as I do! Using nettle as a hiding place proved a wise move on the wiley chicken's part and made for a quick supper in our kitchen. Green Eggs and Nettle being a long time favorite.
Brown and green eggs in the nettle patch...

Last week I brought the last jar of Pickled Eggs up from the cellar, the plain, ordinary Salt and Pepper recipe. It was a beautiful day for working in the garden so a quick trip to the cellar provided ingredients for a tasty potluck contribution at our Snoqualmie Valley Tilth farmers' monthly potluck. There is no easier way to preserve the bounty of spring for a future time than by vinegar brine pickling…even eggs.

Salt & Pepper Eggs from the cellar
Here's an easy Salt and Pepper Pickled Egg recipe you might enjoy trying in your kitchen this spring…As we move through the year watch for recipes for Rainbow Eggs in every season hatching here in the flumdiddley kitchen blog.
Diced Pickled Egg with dooryard herbs

Salt and Pepper Pickled Eggs
12 eggs, hard boiled, leave one egg in it's shell, peel the rest
1 - 1 qt canning jar with plastic lid
.5 - 1 tsp whole pepper corns

Salt Brine:
1.5 cups Apple cider vinegar
.5 cup water
2 T pickling salt
Mix in a small nonreactive saucepan. Heat and stir to dissolve salt into vinegar.

Place the 1 egg in shell at the bottom of canning jar (as eggs stand through the months ahead, the calcium in the shell dissolves into the brine deepening accessible nutrients)
Add pepper corns to taste.
Add peeled, hard boiled eggs to fill jar.
Pour slightly cooled brine over all and cap. When jar cools place in refrigerator. I've stored eggs for up to 8 months brined and refrigerated. They make quick and tasty morsels all through the year. And, the brine is an excellent nutrient rich addition to cooked beans, salad dressings and over hot rice!

Egg Salad on its way to Tilth Farmer's Potluck

Pickled Egg Salad

12 pickled eggs, chopped
Add enough yogurt, mayonnaise or mix of both to make a spreadable texture
Add minced herbs, whatever you have in the garden or available at your farmer's market or green grocer...Chives, sorrel, thyme, sweet marjoram, young leeks, parsley, fennel and lovage all work well.
Have fun with the changing flavors as the seasons turn one to the next.
Freya with her hatched "egg",  another unfolding creation

Pickled eggs run deep in my family's storyline. One of my favorite stories is about great Uncle Elmer's one room cabin set in the plains of Manitoba. There, a shelf near the ceiling ran on three sides of the room and on that shelf were gallon jars of pickled eggs. Imagine, if you will, a major portion of your diet being from the simple, whole nutrition in eggs. Those eggs got Uncle Elmer through many a cold winter on the rolling Canadian plains. Their piquant, tangy flavor still brings great pleasure to our table today. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Wellness Adventure to Remember

The adventure began months before I boarded the flight from Seattle to San Jose, Costa Rica. I committed to the support team for Susun Weed's Wellness Adventure in July 2014. Like planting bulbs in fall and anticipating the delight of seeing them bloom in the spring, the commitment brought with it feelings of anticipation and the excitement of a pending adventure months before the actual journey began.

When I disembarked the plane, a magnificent hand-painted ox cart was a hearty welcome to a small, verdant country with a rich and colorful history. An especially magical greeting, given the small carts dreams which have visited me through out much of my life.

After landing in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, I caught a cab to Hotel Volcanes. Here the gracious and unpretentious accommodations were a pleasant respite before heading out to the Nicoya Peninsula. I felt comfortably at home with the indoor-outdoor gardens in the courtyard and dining room at the center of the hotel.

The next morning back to the airport for a hop flight over Nicoya Bay to Tambor on the peninsula. As the small plane took off from San Jose, we shouldered into a strong side wind and headed off to an unscheduled pick-up at a remote hotel. The unfolding excitement of a true adventure gathered momentum with a bush pilot landing at the hotel's rustic dirt runway!

The half hour flight was a great way to get my first glimpse of the 
Nicoya Peninsula's abundant, beautiful beaches.

Stay tuned…as we travel to Casa Smythe and the elegant Blue Zone B next...