New Scout Guide to Foraging Season

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

scouts-guide-to-wild-edibleThe Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles, by Mike Krebill (St. Lynn’s Press, 2016, $18.95) is among the most useful books I’ve seen about foraging. It’s short, familiar and accessible. It lists only commonly items found in most of the United States and much of Canada.

The author curates just 33 plants and 10 mushrooms. Then, he tells you what to do with them in a list of 10 activities (scout leaders, listen up) and 17 recipes.  Herbs are, of course, among the forage-able. They include amaranth, lambs quarters, stinging nettle and yellow wood sorrel.

I’ve collected comprehensive tomes of wild edibles. I have books of essays waxing sentimental about personal history. Krebill’s book is not one of these.  And, I consider that an asset. This is a small, paperback I can carry with me and use in the field.

rampsKrebill doesn’t spend time with memories and philosophies.  He gets down to business and tells you what, where to find it, what to do with it and what to avoid. Complete with pictures, it’s plug-n-play. I’m keeping it in my car as a reference.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the book is its practical organization which includes information on harvesting sustainably, preparing and preserving. Or maybe the recipes which include dandelion donuts, purslane pickles and sumac lemonade.  (Be careful with the dandelion donuts, my helper Allison – who has common weed allergies — had a reaction to dandelion bread last year.)

What surprised me are some of the cautions. For example, I didn’t know that unripe Mayapple fruit is toxic. The most worrisome about the book is the inclusion of pokeweed which is dangerous unless prepared properly.

Since I missed a gifting opportunity at Christmas, I may get extra copies to add to Easter baskets of my outdoorsy nephews. It’s a great little reference.


Krebill is a former science teacher and Boy Scout leader. He’s a member of the National Wild Foods Association Hall of Fame.

Meet Mountain Rose Herbs

Meet Mountain Rose Herbs

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

MRH webpageWhat began as a small herbal business to supply quality herbs to students at the California School of Herbal Studies in the late 1980s — Mountain Rose Herbs —  is now a top supplier of herb and herb-related materials . The Oregon business has 180 employees and is a business member of The Herb Society of America.

We recently gathered information to introduce the supplier.

Q. What is Mountain Rose Herbs?

A. Mountain Rose Herbs makes and distributes sustainably harvested, organic, herbs, spices, and botanical products. We are a mail order company and ship directly to our customers who include home herbalists, natural food stores, restaurants, breweries, and food manufacturers.

Q. What are the product categories?

A. We have four general categories: health and wellness, culinary, body care, and DIY supplies. More specifically – herbs, spices, resins, seaweeds, teas, essential oils, aroma sprays, hydrosols, butters, oils, clays, waxes, tinctures, capsules, salves, glass bottles, tins, plastic containers, kitchen tools, pet supplies, merchandise, and books.

Q. What’s the most popular product or product category?

A. Herbs and essential oils are top sellers. Top-selling herbs include nettle, rosebuds, elderberries, marshmallow leaf, damiana leaf to name a few. Lavender and eucalyptus are top essential oil sellers.soap nuts

Q. What’s the most unusual product?

A. Probably Soap Nuts, which are actually the husk of a Chinese soapberry. Found in both eastern and western hemispheres, they are native to India and Nepal. Soap nuts have recently become a popular alternative to chemical detergent, and are a gentle option for those with allergies to chemicals in regular detergents. Soap nuts contain saponin, a natural detergent. The soap nut shell absorbs water and releases the saponins which circulate as a natural surfactant in the wash water, freeing dirt, grime, and oils from clothing. There is considerable discussion as to what variety of Soap Nuts is preferable for use as a laundry soap alternative. Any Soap Nut from the genus Sapindus will work just fine as they all have Saponin producing properties, hence the genus name Sapindus.

Just a few nuts (4 to 6) in a cotton muslin bag should work for an entire load. There will be little or no bubbles during the wash cycle, and it will smell lightly similar to apple cider. They can be used several times and then composted afterwards. They will look mushy and grey when they need to be changed. They can also be used in a powder form as a cleansing cream by adding a small amount of water

 


Herb Society of America members get a 20% discount on purchases. Members need to go to the HSA Website Members-Only section to get the discount. To join HSA visit herbsociety.org.

 

Make Peace with Native Herbs

Make Peace with Native Herbs

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170228_111219In the current political climate all I want to do is curl up with my seed/plant catalogs and hide … from FOX News, from NPR, even from Facebook. It can be downright scary. That said I remember the phrase: “Think globally, act locally.” In this case I’m thinking locally as in the gardens in my backyard. That’s one place I can surely make a difference.

Last year I turned to pollinator-friendly herbs. This year I’m learning more about natives.  When I received an email listing the natives available from the Grower’s Exchange I was delighted. They make it easy for me to identify and source the plants I need. Some I can get from private property I access. Others I can simply order.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m borrowing this explanation from Briscoe White’s blog. White is the co-founder and head grower of The Grower’s Exchange.

WHAT ARE NATIVE PLANTS?
In one word, native plants are local. They are plants that have been growing in a certain habitat for thousands of years, and are adapted to the climate, light, and soil that make up their ecosystem.

asterWHY ARE NATIVE PLANTS IMPORTANT?
Native plants provide the foundation for a healthy ecosystem. If planted in the right place, they require less water, fertilizer, and maintenance to thrive. They are also vital as ‘host plants’ to the insects that are critical to our ecosystem and are a source of food and protection to other species.

CAN YOU USE NATIVES WITH OTHER PLANTS?
Native plants look and feel so natural because they belong together! They are great choices for every season, and provide so many choices in terms of color and texture. Create an entire native garden or add to your existing garden or landscape.

A review of the natives available is reassuring. They’re not those ugly weeds I wrestled with last year. Instead they include some of my faves purple coneflower, bee balm, yarrow and a miniature Joe Pye weed.

I plan to Keep Calm and Herb Garden On.


Contact growers in your own area for suggestions on what natives are best for your situation. HSA will continue to update information on their website as to sources and the best choices for pollinators and “going native.” Learn more about natives from the Herb Society.

 

 

GourmetSauvage Sells Pickled Milkweed Pods and More

GourmetSauvage Sells Pickled Milkweed Pods and More

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170224_154939When I grow up I want to be Gerald Le Gal, owner of GourmetSauvage. His Montreal company supplies 48 foraged products to retailers and more than 100 to the Canadian food industry. Think herbal tisanes, jellied wild bergamot, pickled milkweed pods, marinated spruce tips and more.

Crafting with foraged products at home makes me feel so self-reliant and resourceful. Educating others to their potential, like Le Gal does, is a career dream. Le Gal works with more than 100 foragers across Quebec to supply his three-plus person company.

I stumbled across the Gourmet Sauvage foraged products on a recent visit to the Jean-Talon Market in Montreal. While tempted by many items, my budget limited me to two.20170228_093900

  • Milkweed pods tasted pure and clean like their pickling liquid of cider vinegar and
    sugar, a bit like a caper, only shaped differently. Their recommended use includes serving like pickles or with smoked salmon. I’d certainly do that to impress friends with my creativity.
  • 20170228_094337Cattail hearts – canned in water with a hint of lemon juice and sea salt – were more of a novelty than a culinary experience. They look like the white end of a green onion or thin hearts of palm. They’re tender and taste like, well, not much.

Le Gal says his foraging started in youth. “Mom used to forage, mostly for wild fruit and I would accompany her. However, my first real discovery occurred while I was up in a tree observing a rookery of great blue herons. A wild grape vine had made its way up there and to the eyes of a nine year-old, they looked like small grapes so I tasted them. Wow!”

“Then, I worked with indigenous people as a young adult and that really opened my eyes to the huge variety of edible and medicinal plants. Early into my 40’s, I decided to make it my life’s work.

20170224_154746“I launched my company with four wild products, juneberry jam, cloudberry jam, pickled milkweed pods and marinated cattail hearts. The fruit recipes were easy as I had made a lots of jams and jellies before. The two veggies were more difficult so I experimented and conducted taste tests with friends to arrive at the final result.

Residents of and visitors to Montreal can attend one- to six-day workshops to learn more about foraged edibles. By request the French-speaking guide will lead them in English.

Products are available by mail but Le Gal says, “We accept no responsibility for problems at customs. That being said, we have never had any problems.”


It’s important to note Le Gal’s philosophy:  “One word guides our work: respect … respect for the environment, respect for protected and private lands and respect for other harvesters.

Visiting the Botanic Garden of Padua Italy

By Susan Liechty, Former President and Board Member, The Herb Society of America

italy-2016-original-1053A visit to the botanic garden in Padua is a step back in time.  The garden was established in 1545 when a professor was hired to design a garden so students at the University of Padua could research and recognize medicinal plants.

Inside the ancient city walls, the garden was located near a canal for a permanent water supply. It was laid out in a circular design with walkways throughout and square beds in the middle.  The design is the same today as it was in 1545.

The original design included a substantial number of trees, medicinal plants, and hardscaping.   A few trees are known as “the Grand Old Men.”  The oldest survivor is a specimen of St. Peters Palm (Chamaerops humilis) also known as Goethe’s Palm, planted in 1585.  A focal point and a must see is the Oriental Plane tree (Platanus orientalis) planted in 1680.  It’s easily identified by its huge hollow trunk, a result of a lightning strike sometime during the last 200 years.  Even after all the damage, it continues to grow and thrive.

Plants in the garden are grouped by characteristics, for instance, medicinal plants, poisonous plants, carnivorous plants, and rare exotics.  Many plants introduced into Italy and Europe such as the potato, sesame, lilac, and sunflowers were first planted in this garden.

italy-2016-original-1071In 1835 two important institutions were added, the Herbarium and the Library.  The Herbarium collection is composed of about 500,000 specimens in two sections; the plants from North-East Italy, and those from other Italian regions and foreign countries. One of the prized possessions in the library is a small book printed in 1591, L’Horto dei semplici di Padova.  It contains a map of the original garden, it’s subdivisions as well as a list of the plants cultivated at that time.

A welcome center and bookshop were built to funnel the thousands of visitors in and out of the garden.  A new set of buildings erected in 2014 consisting of many greenhouses is called the Garden of Biodiversity.  It demonstrates the world climate zones and sustainability.  It is operated strictly on solar and water power.

The garden’s brochure has the best statement to summarize the garden.  “It is the origin of all the botanical gardens in the world, a cradle of science and scientific exchange, serving as the basis for the understanding of the relationship between nature and culture.  It largely contributed to the progress of a number of modern scientific fields, the likes of which include, of course, botanicals, as well as medicine, chemistry, ecology, and pharmaceuticals.”

Sansho Pepper Experience Startles Me

Sansho Pepper Experience Startles Me

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170225_100136I seek herbs when I travel, to see how they’re part of a local culture. The Jean-Talon Market in Montreal was a jackpot.

My favorite store in the historic market was Epices de Cru, a colorful exotic vendor of herbs, tea and spices. The husband and wife owners travel the world to bring home the best ingredients from the “ordinary” to the unusual. Think: Cinnamon leaf or avocado leaf (use like bay leaf with a different accent.) I was so entranced I visited twice. The second time I spent an hour perusing shelves and deciding just what to carry to my Ohio home.

Feeling adventurous I asked for the most unusual product and was introduced to sansho pepper. I can’t decide if the person assisting liked me or hated me when I was allowed to sample the small “peppercorn” which comes from the berry of a deciduous shrub – prickly ash — cultivated in Asia.
sansho-pepperIt was like my first experience with wasabi. Intense nerve confusion. I wasn’t sure if I was going to live or die. I lived. Obviously.

First, the tip of my tongue numbed. That electrified numbness spread. From cheek to cheek I sensed a citrus – lemon/lime, maybe – coolness. And, my mouth started to water. It wasn’t hot or spicy, but like something had a hold of the nerves in my mouth. It expanded beyond taste to a physical sensation. And, it lasted nearly 10 minutes.

Once I realized that anesthesia was the expected experience and the limit (I wasn’t succumbing to rare nerve poison), I was fascinated.  But, why would someone want to add this seasoning to their food?

Rumor has it that it cuts through fatty eel richness and minimizes heat perception in some dishes. I can see why.

I didn’t buy sansho because I wasn’t sure my friends were ready for the challenge. But, you can find it at Spice Trekkers.

The unusual herbs and spices are just part of the utility and charm of Epices de Cru. It’s also educational. I plan to compare rosemary from Provence and India as well as Oregano from Oaxaca, Yucatan and Turkey. I know origin has influence.

Building a Realistic 2017 Garden Journal

Building a Realistic 2017 Garden Journal

melridge-herb-garden

1990 – My first herb garden

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Last year I started an Herb Garden Journal. I did really well in May. I listed my goals, cataloged my seeds. Then nothing. I’m not surprised. I spent more time in the garden (and on the motorcycle) than writing about the garden. And, that was the best use of my time. My only regret is not taking more pictures. I like to look back and reflect.

This year I’ll do what’s realistic and useful. I’ll reflect, dream, plan, catalog and photograph. And, that’s enough.

1. Reflect … Review last year’s plans to see what worked, what didn’t work and what I should revisit, repeat or relinquish.

2. Pinterest … Examine herb gardens and save my favorite ideas. I may develop my own interpretation or not. Nonetheless, I’ll expose myself to the creativity and unconsciously absorb what I might need.

garden-goals3. Plan … This is a two-step process for me.

  • Set goals … Determine what I want from each of the five major garden plots, window boxes and container gardens.
  • Identify steps to get there … List the steps, such as testing and enriching soil, to achieve those goals

4. Catalog … Identify what I planted whereby saving seed packs and catalog descriptions, taking photos or making sketches.

5. Photo … Take pictures at the beginning, in late summer and in between … posting to Facebook as the muse moves me.