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 taste...one 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...eat 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!