What CAN you do with Dandelions?

...asked someone on my instagram feed. The answer is...WHAT CAN'T YOU DO WITH DANDELIONS?!?!?

Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is still considered a weed by many. Well, not by us Hedgewitches, herbal medicine makers, plant people. It is one of those wonderful plants where most every part of it is useful (the stem's a mite bitter), and most everyone knows what it looks like, and where to find it.

This makes it a plant not just beloved to herbalists, but a great beginner's one as well.

The easiest way to interact with herbs, is to include them in your diet in the form teas, vinegars, and actual meal ingredients. This is the oldest way of herbalism, treating food as medicine, and Dandelion is a perfect plant friend to have that relationship with.

Here's a few ways I like to use dandelion in my food:

Greens- for salads, additions to green pestos and smoothies, use like spinach as cooked greens. They're rich in antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamins K,C, and B6, calcium, iron, potassium and I can't even remember what else...

Root-add it to your herbal vinegar.Great for digestion, liver support, immune support, also rich in antioxidants. My friend Chen (@life.learning.chen on insta, one of the most epic wildcrafted food peeps you'll meet!) reminded me that if you're industrious, you can dry, or roast the root and make your own coffee substitute powder from it too!You can also slice it fine and pickle it, but it's bit tough in my experience. (And obviously it can be tinctured, but this is a cooking post. ;)

Flowers-make dandelion wine? Or if that's too much work, add them to your sima for a little golden herbal kick. You can also make like I do and batter them in an egg, cornmeal and spices, and fry 'em up in some oil, oh my! They're a lovely addition to quiches, potato cakes, stuffed zucchini, pizza, anything and everything where you'd use any other kind of veggies, or leafy greens. Some folks love to add them to cookies, muffins and other baked goods (though do note that adding sugar to your food as medicine kind of negates the medicine part;). 

There you have it. Those are some of the things you can do with dandelions. It is an abundant, resilient, joyous plant. I recommend you form a relationship with it.

With a plant like dandelion, the ones with the long taproots, for breaking up distressed soils, the ones that crop up everywhere, one should be extra mindful of where the plant is sourced from. Always make sure to gather your foods and medicines from places where you know no contaminants could have entered the plant. Avoid roadsides, pesticide-treated lawns, and other compromised areas. Always rinse your plant matter thoroughly before using. 

What are the other plants in this picture, you may ask? Well, they're Cleavers, Miner's Lettuce, Lawn Daisies, Fir Tips, and Bracken Fern fiddleheads. What do I plan to do with them? You may also ask. The Cleavers and some of the Miner's Lettuce are for medicine, the rest and the Lawn Daisies for a stir fry, and the Fiddleheads, for an asparagus like side dish, with butter. But before you rush off to pick your own fiddleheads, be advised of two things: they're considered carcinogenic, and if you pick them, the plant may not grow again for this season (I try to pick the sideshows.). For both reasons, we eat them very sparingly. 

Which brings me to something I've been wanting to mention for a while, about plants, caution, and mindfulness: 

If you're planning to eat wild foods please make sure you know how to identify them correctly in your area. Get a field guide (specific to your area/ bio-region), and always double- and-triple-check your sources. DO NOT EVER go by what someone, most anyone says online (less the information is a part of a course, and even then I encourage you to always consult multiple sources in plant id), or especially on a picture on instagram, or a blog. For one thing, the person who posted it may or may not be knowledgeable about plants, you never really know, and different plants can look different in different bio-regions.

Wildcrafting and herbalism are definitely #trending these days, and while it's wonderful to get empowered about bio-regional knowledge, one's own health, and food as medicine, it's important to note that plant knowledge is a life-long pursuit. It doesn't come instantly. I encourage anyone and everyone to pursue it, but please, do it with the respect that the powers of the plants require. This is a topic for a whole other post, but this one written by the lovely Sophia Rose of La Abeja Herbs is absolutely essential reading to all wildcrafters, novice and seasoned. Her work is thoughtful, magical, and a great resource, so poke around and check out her offerings too <3 

That's all for now, folks! Happy Spring! 

You Will Not Take My Heart Alive

In the past two weeks, I have locked myself out of more-or-less every email, social media, work, and personal online account I own. Not entirely on purpose, obviously. Rather, these things happened, and sometimes I would leave them locked, keys lost, important passwords gone, for days. Somewhere in transit I let my iPod die, and noticed I had not brought a charger, and could not turn it back on. Finally, I took this as a sign, and stopped trying to rescue the thing, said goodbye to texting, instagram, even listening to music while walking.

Already, before I even left, I'd set my email on vacation mode, in hindsight in rather passive-aggressive terms.  I'm not entirely proud of that, but I'm also not entirely ashamed of it either. 

For a while now, I've been meaning to write about my conflicted relationship with social media, and its ever-increasing bias towards images, witticisms, personal brands, flame-wars, memes, sharing, and reacting rather than considering.  Is it worth participating in at all? What is the value of this near-instantaneous connection to all the world, all the time? Am I participating in something, or simply creating content? 

The answers to those questions will have to wait for another time, or maybe forever, but here's what I've "learned" from all this so far:

When you're traveling your eyes are wide open. You notice small, ordinary things in a way you normally wouldn't. These things strike you as funny, absurd, tragic, they are imbued with meaning beyond meaning, suddenly, they are potent with symbolism. Events, objects, buildings that might strike you as ugly, boring, or even depressing as a part of your daily grind gain special powers in the eyes of a traveler. They can become beautiful, magical almost.

And there is almost no better medium for small observations than social media. What I've missed the most at times, is having an excuse to make small videos, or take pictures of something that uniquely sums up something about my experience here. Instead, I have written them down in notebooks, stored them in the imperfect banks of my memory. It is comforting, I suppose, to know that this urge, to store, to frame, to capture, in me is at least in part, artistic.

And yet.

I'm reminded again, that I like keeping secrets, that things hidden are sometimes more valuable to me than the things that everyone knows. 

So here we are friends, you and I, somewhere in the middle of the wilds of Finland. Outside the window snow-dusted birches pass by. Lone pines stand on hills in the middle of vast clear-cuts. Boys in army uniforms, too young to shave, heading home on Easter leave ride the train, finding seats where they can. Three magpies sit atop three scraggly spruces like Shakespeare's witches. The most #cabindreams cabins of all time, peek red and inviting through the trees, pushing smoke up from their chimneys to the gray skies. The train pulls slowly into a station. No one is waiting for it. No one gets up to leave.

Thank you for traveling with us today. We hope to see you again soon.

(Ps. The original title of this post was "All The Fucks I Ever Gave About Social Media". I think I'm going to save that for one of my less poetic days.)

Counting Backwards From A Thousand

They say that you can't go home again, but that isn't strictly true, I've found. Perhaps a better way to put it might be:

"If you're from a small town, on the edge of the known world, so little changes over time, that you almost can go home again."  

You can, for instance, walk always, year after year, decade after decade, in the grove of old birches, pines, and firs, the town cemetery, in which your grandparents are buried.

You can, in fact, hike up the hill to the tallest point of the town, among the evergreens, some of the largest and oldest, and take the elevator up to the rotating restaurant on the view-tower, and eat soft white pulla, and drink weak coffee, while the landscape slowly turns in front of your eyes.

From there, you can see everything: the sausage factory your grandfather ran, the schools you went to, the ones your mother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and best friends went to. You can see the twin smokestacks of the town heating plant, a block away from the house you grew up in. You can see the lake, now covered with ice, that you swam in, in the summer, and walked on in the winter.

You can still buy all the same snacks from the same market place stalls, the tiny breaded whole fish, the fried dough pies...

The library and the town museum remain the same, growing shabbier, and becoming renovated on a predictable cycle. 

Many of the same trees stand in the same places, growing slowly in the arctic winters. The descendants of the same squirrels you fed as a kid, still dart from tree to tree at the cemetery, and generations of crows and magpies, have hopped from brach to brach, chattering in the same language. 

It was a long road to get here. I was so sick, that by the time I arrived, all I could do was to sleep, and wake up again to eat another bowl of berries: blueberries, wild strawberries, currants, raspberries, my mother had gathered all summer long. 

I forgot everything: chargers, addresses, extra pairs of long underwear. It's been nice to leave the computer turned off, to leave social media behind. To read thick books on ethnography and history, and thin books of childhood fairytales. To listen to scratchy records, and ski slowly around the pond. Some things, it turns out, not only do not change, but remain in muscle memory. 

It's strange to be home. Good and strange...

Taste of Spring

Every spring I'm reminded how much living in this bio-region makes me feel rich. If you've never lived through an endless, nameless arctic winter, you might never know what it feels like to see trees bud in February, to hear the chorus of frogs at dusk in early March...

Being able to grow greens through the winter, to plant garlic in January, to be wildcrafting in February, sow seeds in March, feels like genuine magic to me. Eating new, light green fir-tips in spring, gathering fresh raspberry leaves, and digging my fingers into the dirt and feeling new roots emerge, while most of my home country is still waiting for the sea-ice to melt, will probably never seize to amaze me.

Lately, the plants have even been coming into my dreams. At night, I visit fields of Chickweed and mountainsides littered with Turkeytail covered logs. In those dreams, I lay down to rest next to them, instead of picking them, to marvel at the abundance. The dream-skies are often overcast, but have a luminosity, the glow of summer skies in California. When I wake up, it's hard to actually tell the difference. I mean, I know I was dreaming, but I also often go out only to discover that there is, in fact, a log erupting with Turkey tails right by our path. 

The other day, Charlie pointed it out to me, smiling:

"Didn't you just say you would like some more of these guys? Well here they are." Magic indeed.

For a brief moment, the hundred-year-old plum trees bloom in our yard like fragrant, fluffy white clouds.Overhead, the eagles do aerial acrobatics in the heat of mating. Soon, the lambing season will start, dotting the hills with their own fast running cloud-puffs. 

This year, these things are tugging my heart extra hard, because I'll be leaving for a whole month in the next few days, missing so much of this new growth, March magic. Am I excited to go to Finland? Of course I am. But before I actually get there, it's hard not to dwell on all the things I'll miss while I'm there.

Being rooted in a place, having an intimate knowledge of it, can make you feel that way. It's a good feeling, a wonderful one, but it's hard to always be missing something. Just as my hearth aches a little to think of missing the birth of our neighbor's next batch of baby goats, it also often aches for the endless light of the arctic summer, for the snowdrifts like hills, and the crackle of sea ice underfoot at Christmas time.

For a long time now, I have not been a huge fan of flying, of our ever-globalized way of moving around the planet, seeing only the biggest lines, and missing all the small, vital things in the undergrowth. 

The best medicine, for this spring-longing, I figured, has been just immersing myself in gathering plants, planting a few seeds in the garden, and making medicine. This week, I happily pulled endless dandelion roots out, in the weak sunlight, picked nettles from my usual spots, and made a flower essence from our ancient plum trees. 

I collected all of it into a little shop update, and made bottle, vial, and jar after another for my friend Callie's Apothecary shop she's opening in town (More about that later! Eeeep!). 

Often, I like to make specific medicine for myself, at different times of the year, or for different occasions, like trips, Moon phases, or seasons. So, to take a little bit of spring with me, I decided to create and bottle up my favorite spring vinegar: "Dancing Green Woman". 

You may remember that my hope for my herbal shoppe, Fireweed & Nettle, is not just to sell products, but to also do my part to keep alive the DIY-spirit of folk herbalism and hedgewithching by sharing recipes, so that instead of buying, you can just make your own, provided that you have the time, and ingredients. 

Vinegars are the simplest, most delightful way to add herbs wild and garden-grown to your diet. A few spoonfuls of apple cider vinegar in your morning water will get you a long way. Herbal vinegars aid digestion, the lymph, and create a fertile environment for your body to soak up the nutrients of the plants in a different way.  The medium of vinegar extracts minerals, and is a lovely addition of flavor to salad dressings, soups, stir-frys and any other dishes you can imagine. Kitchen medicine is my favorite.

These days I'm actually using local acv, but this is an old pic. Who has the time to take endless pics of processes, when there's medicine to be made ;)

These days I'm actually using local acv, but this is an old pic. Who has the time to take endless pics of processes, when there's medicine to be made ;)

I even have a custom vinegar concoction I like to take for my own specific needs, a little spoonful of flowers and leaves to set me on the right path in the morning.

For a spring vinegar you will need:

1. Apple cider vinegar (there are other vinegars, but ACV is alive with tummy-strengthening bacteria. Make sure you used the kind made with a vinegar mother <3 )

2. and any of these fresh herbs:

Chickweed/ Nettle/ Dandelion blossom, leaf, or root (I actually do a separate "Roots" vinegar, but dandelion roots are fun and vigorous in the spring)/Wild Mustard/ Cleavers/ Purple Dead Nettle/ Selfheal/ any other seasonal green that you know how to correctly identify and that grows in your neighborhood

1/2 in volume of you container, loosely packed. More herbs works too, as long as they can be submerged

3. Organic apple cider vinegar

4. A container

Method:

1. Clean your greens and roots well. Soaking overnight works good for me. Make sure to scrub any roots so that all dirt is removed. 

2. Chop your ingredients small and put them in the jar. The better you chop, the more active constituents you'll be able to extract into your brew.

3. Cover with the acv. Store in a cool, dark place for about a month. Shake often and well.

4. Strain and enjoy. Keep refrigerated. 

Additional thoughts and tips:

1. Make sure to learn identify the plants in your bio-region correctly. Please cross-reference your info, and don't just go by what some instrgrammer, or blogger on a different bio-region does. Use your wits and don't poison yourself, okay? 

2. While the plants in this concoction are fresh, many other vinegars and tinctures work better with dried plant material. As a rule of thumb, mostly use dried friends.

3. All these ingredients make a lovely wild tea as well. I like to just bring a thermos of hot water with me and find tea fixings on my walks. 

4. To find some of my previous Nettle posts follow the link and type "Nettle Recipe" in the search bar. Hahahah! 

5. This is my version, of a simple, ancient recipe. You can add almost anything to it: calendula, rosehips, and rose petals, burdock root, turmeric root, yellow dock, oh my. I do love this one in this, it's simplest incarnation, but there are so many ways to play <3 

Happy Spring, folks in similar regions! And the rest of you, I promise: it's coming <3