A Holistic Treatment Plan for Seasonal Allergies

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you know how frustrating the symptoms can be. Dealing with running, itchy eyes and nose, sneezing, coughing, and wheezing can make life very uncomfortable and unfortunately, prescription allergy medications can leave you feeling groggy and tired. There are ways, however, to treat allergies holistically. The results are not immediately effective, however, when the treatments are done faithfully, the result is permanent relief from seasonal allergies and better health overall.

PREVENTATIVE PROGRAM

It is best to start this part of the treatment when you are having the least amount symptoms, well before the onset of an acute allergic reaction. Continue the below program for 6 months to a year.

Support the Liver with Diet & Herbs
Allergies occur when the liver over reacts to foreign protein bodies in the environment, including things like plant pollens, dust, animal hairs, chemicals, foods, and cosmetics. Usually, this hypersensitivity to environmental factors is caused by a weakness or breakdown somewhere in our internal system.

If cellular wastes are not being efficiently broken down or eliminated, they build up and begin to weaken internal tissues and organs. This excess protein build up in the blood triggers white blood cell activity, which activates other defense systems in the body. This creates a state of chronic low level agitation in the body that makes it hypersensitive to foreign proteins, also known as antigens.

When an antigen enters the blood stream, the body produces antibodies to “protect” itself. This reaction causes the production of histamine, which is toxic to membranes. This substance causes blood vessels to dilate and makes them more permeable. Histamine is responsible for causing allergy symptoms, like swelling of the mucous membranes in the nose, eyes, and lungs, and the contraction of air passages that results in wheezing and edema.

The liver is responsible for deactivating poisonous substances in the body, even those that the body itself creates. When the liver is healthy, it is able to produce an enzyme, histaminases, which is a natural antihistamine. However, when the liver is stressed, it can not produce enough histaminases to eliminate the histamine the body produced and allergy symptoms continue. Thus, a healthy liver is crucial to being able to eliminate allergies.
Because the liver plays such an important role in the allergic process, the first step to treating hay fever and getting rid of allergies is cleansing and toning the liver.

Diet

Most liver imbalances can be classified as deficiencies or excesses. A person who suffers from hay fever tends to be liver deficient.

In this case, the liver function is slow and weak. Cellular wastes are not properly eliminated, and the body is polluted with its own toxic metabolic wastes (as described above). A liver deficiency results in poor use of ingested nutrients and inefficient uptake of the proteins and cholesterol the body needs to regenerate cells. Diet is crucial to helping to improve the health of the liver and establish balance in the body.

Deficient livers are often caused by a diet that includes too many simple carbohydrates and not enough quality protein and fats. Usually, too much emphasis has been put on raw, or cold “yin” type foods; dairy, fruits, and carbs. So in general, a corrective diet for a liver deficient person should include more high quality proteins, fats & oils, and warming foods, as well as:

  • dark leafy greens
  • fresh sprouts – especially clover, fenugreek & alfalfa
  • fresh, steamed vegetables – especially beets and other root veggies
  • whole grains
  • seeds – especially sesame
  • raw almonds
  • fresh, alkalizing fruits, like lemon & grapefrui

Foods to Avoid 

  • alcohol
  • cold drinks and foods
  • fried, fatty, oily foods
  • dairy
  • food preservatives and additives
  • sweets, sugar, and fruit juices
  • raw fruits and vegetables

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Dandelion: More than a Weed

The dandelion (Taraxacum officiale) has a bad reputation for being a nuisance and is often considered an undesirable plant in lawns. But, this common weed is edible, medicinal, and a valuable source of food for insects in the early spring.

Dandelions are truly one of my favorite plants and I get so excited when I see them starting to come up each year. I love our dandelion packed yard and I cringe when I see people mowing down or spraying big patches of dandelions. They are so useful! All parts of the plant can be utilized in making food and medicine.

Dandelion leaves are a delicious bitter green that are delicious in salads, soups, pizzas, pastas, stir fries, and more. They can also be used in teas and salves for medicinal purposes.

The roots of this plant are also edible and medicinal. They are best collected between June and August when they are the most bitter. Cut them in half before drying to speed the process. The leaves can be collected anytime. The roots also can be used to make tea. They are often roasted and then simmered to make a strong decoction that tastes a lot like coffee (but doesn’t have the same effect). I also enjoy adding fresh, chopped root to stir fries and soups.


The blossoms are my favorite part of the plant to use in the spring as they are plentiful and very cheery. They make lovely infused syrups and jellies. I also like using them in a unique veggie patty. Each year when the dandelions are in bloom, I harvest tons of flowers for different projects. This spring, I made dandelion blossom wine, fermented dandelion blossom relish, dandelion blossom kombucha, and dandelion blossom syrup.  I infused witch hazel extract with dandelions blossoms and other spring herbs for a lovely soothing, facial toner.

I have really enjoyed adding dandelion root and leaf to many different tea blends this season, including a wonderful kidney tonic tea.

Below are a few of the recipes I just mentioned:

 

Fermented Dandelion Blossom Relish

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups dandelion blossoms, packed
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly ground coriander
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 Tbsp salt (use a salt without additives like iodine, or anti-caking agents, like calcium silicate)

Equipment: 

  • 1 wide mouth pint jar with lid
  • 1 fermentation weight – we like these ones from Tamarack Stoneware. They’re very well made, pretty, and they work like a charm.

 

Directions:

Add the dandelion blossoms, garlic, and spices to a large bowl. Mix everything together roughly with your hands, shredding and smushing the dandelion blossoms.

Add salt and water and continue to scrunch and mush everything together with your hands until the blossoms are all broken up and the mixture is well blended.

Pack the blossom blend and brine into a quart jar (you may have a little brine left over). Push the solids down firmly so everything is well covered by brine. Place your fermentation weight on top to keep everything submerged (if things aren’t covered in brine they will get moldy). Cover jar with lid, but do not tighten down more than a half turn. You want the gases to be able to escape or it may bubble over (not that I would know…).

Set jar on a warm shelf out of direct sunlight and check it periodically. Give it a taste every so often to check how much it has fermented and once it has reached your desired level of tanginess, store it in the refrigerator to slow further fermentation. I let mine ferment for a month, but your taste might be a little bit different, so give it a taste sooner than that.

Enjoy this tasty fermented relish on veggie hot dogs, tempeh burgers, or with grilled pita. It’s a tangy, garlicky condiment that is as unique as it is delicious.

 

Dandelion Wine

I made an adapted version of this dandelion wine recipe that was published in Mother Earth News in 1978. I used honey instead of sugar and added grapefruit. This season was my first go at dandelion wine so it will be interesting to see how it turns out. This beverage takes about 2-3 weeks to ferment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hungry for more ways to enjoy this plant? Below are a lot more fantastic dandelion recipes for you to try this season:

Breakfast:

Dinner – Main Dishes & Sides:

Dressings & Condiments:

Dandelion Kombucha

Beverages:

Desserts:

 

In addition to being edible, dandelion is also has a variety of medicinal applications. It can be taken internally or used externally to treat many different conditions. It has been used traditionally to help treat liver & kidney problems, UTI’s, skin eruptions, eczema, anemia, and more. Dandelion tea can be drunk to help ease stomach aches. It is a nutritious herb that can be helpful for anemia. This plant helps to purify the blood. Dandelion also aids the heart and can decrease blood pressure. Dandelion leaf tea is a diuretic that can be helpful for fluid retention, weight loss, and cystitis.

Dandelion is great for your skin too! It is healing, soothing, and helps reduce inflammation. This makes it a  wonderful addition to salves, lip balms, and facial toners.

Dandelion, Violet & Cleaver Facial Toner

This facial toner is simple to make and is beneficial for all skin types. Witch hazel extract is produced from the leaves and bark of the Witch Hazel shrub  and is naturally astringent and anti-microbial. It helps to reduce bags and puffiness around the eyes. It can also shrink pores and help to heal blemishes. Infusing witch hazel extract with these skin soothing, spring herbs makes it a perfect cleansing, facial toner that can also be used to relieve skin irritations.

Ingredients:

Directions: 

Add herbs to a glass jar with a lid. You will want to fill the jar roughly 3/4 full (you want enough room for at least 1-2 inches of witch hazel on top of the herbs.) Don’t pack the herbs down in the jar too tightly as you want everything to be evenly submerged in liquid.

Pour the witch hazel extract over the herbs and put the lid on your jar. Place in a cool, dark place and let infuse for 2-4 weeks. Shake your jar daily (if you remember). The witch hazel will start to take on the color and scent of the herbs.

When your concoction has finished infusing, strain out the herbs with a cheese cloth. Store in a clean bottle or jar (be sure to label your jar!).

Pour a few drops of aloe vera gel into a 4 oz spray bottle, fill to the top with your infused witch hazel. Shake well and spritz on your face to tone and cleanse skin.
Below are some more delightful dandelion body care recipes to enjoy:

13310558_1729956513940045_5088574184601419208_nAs you can see, there’s no need to spray or mow your dandelions this year. Instead, you’ll surely have lots of ways you’ll want to use this cheery little plant for food, medicine, and skincare.
Do you have any favorite dandelion recipes? Let us know!
Other fun DIY dandelions ideas:

 

 

 

 

Resources:

A Modern Herbal: Volume I. M. Grieve. 249-254.

The Way of Herbs. Michael Tierra. 127-128.

The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism. David Hoffman. 69-70.

Back to Eden. Jethro Kloss. 123-124.

“Dandelion: The Dandiest Weed of All.” Herbal Adcademy. https://theherbalacademy.com/dandelion-the-dandiest-weed-of-all/

“A Family Herb: Dandelion.” Herbal Academy. March 9, 2016. https://theherbalacademy.com/a-family-herb-dandelion/

Purple Dead Nettle: Not Just A Weed

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium Purpureum) is a lovely and useful herbaceous plant. It grows abundantly around our site in Southwest, Michigan and I see it popping up all over this area. It can be found throughout the US, Canada, and many other parts of the world. This hardy weed thrives in lawns, roadsides, and can grow in a variety of conditions. It is also frost tolerant. It is most commonly found growing in loamy or sandy soils, but will also do well in clay soils. It is an self-seeding annual. Each plant produces lots of seeds (it’s estimated to be several hundred to several thousand) and those seeds can germinate year round.

Purple dead nettle is considered to be an “invasive species” due to its ability to thrive and reproduce in many environments. In fact, much of the literature available on this plant is geared towards methods of eradication, including pulling up the herb to control its population. It is interesting to note that purple dead nettle seeds germinate better when the soil is disturbed. “Invasive” plants like purple dead nettle often grow in places where humans have disrupted the natural balance.  These plants are simply trying to restore equilibrium to their environment. When we pull and spray these plants we are further disturbing the areas where they grow and actually increasing their ability to return and spread.

If we care about the environment, should be be attempting to eradicate these species, like purple dead nettle, that have been determined to be invasive? Research shows that meddling with nature isn’t necessary and could cause more harm than good. Tomás Carlo, assistant professor of biology at Penn State, states that “Invasive species could fill niches in degraded ecosystems and help restore native biodiversity in an inexpensive and self-organized way that requires little or no human intervention.”In 2011, he conducted a study on how invasive species affect their ecosystems.  He found that some invasive plants actually helped improve natural areas that had deteriorated due to human use. He stated that attempting to get rid of invasive species could actually harm the newly found balance in these ecosystems. In fact, the areas he studied, for example,have actually had an increase in the native migratory bird population because the invasive plants that grow abundantly there provide an important food source that had previously been displaced by human development. Carlo also stated that trying to eliminate invasive species on a large scale could also be a waste of time and money. He explained that when organizations try to rid an ecosystem of a particular invasive plant, it often ends up growing back despite all of their efforts.

Instead of pulling and spraying these weeds, we can appreciate and utilize them. Invasive plants often play important roles in their ecosystem. For example, purple dead nettle blooms in the early spring and is an valuable food source for insects when not much else is is flowering.  Many invasive plants are also useful to humans and make wonderful food and medicine. They require little to no care as they often occur and thrive naturally in our gardens and yards. These wild edibles can be a great low-maintenance, free food source. Foraging wild greens like purple dead nettle is easier than tending to more fickle commercially grown greens and is certainly cheaper than buying organic greens at the store. If you aren’t sure how to forage purple dead nettles, visit the Edible Wild Food site for more tips on finding and identifying this plant so you too can enjoy this spring green.Always be sure you properly identify a plant before eating it! For more foraging tips, check out our post on foraging spring edibles.

Purple dead nettle can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves have tiny little hairs that some may find strange texturally, but I have found that they aren’t bothersome when the plant is cooked. The leaves taste similar to spinach. When bruised, the plant has a noticeable green, earthy scent. Purple dead nettle leaves are great source of fiber, iron, and other important nutrients. They can be used in recipes much as one would use more conventional greens like kale or spinach.

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Foraging Spring Edibles

Spring is my favorite time for a walk in the woods. I love seeing everything come back to life and explode into green again. One of the very best things about spring though is the great opportunity it provides for foraging and wild crafting some fantastic wild foods. Finding and harvesting wild food is a great way to get outside, learn more about nearby the forests and fields,  and to enjoy unique, fresh foods.

Though foraging for your own food may seem daunting, it’s actually really easy to do. Many of the woods, fields, and riversides by your home will be full of plants that you never realized were edible. When I go anywhere where wild plants are allowed to grow, I am on the lookout for wild edibles (even if I won’t have the chance to forage them). You would be surprised to see the many places that food grows. You probably have some food growing in your front yard right now.

As a society that is very out of touch with nature, it is important for us to learn about wild plants and their multitude of uses. The following tips will help you begin to take advantage of the food that is growing all around you.

  1. Choose your foraging site wisely. I never forage plants for food off the sides of roadways or in places where I think people may be inclined to spray chemicals. Though many plants found in the wild are safe to eat, the toxic chemicals that people carelessly introduce to the environment are not at all safe for human consumption and can make you very sick. I don’t say this to scare you. Just be smart about where you forage and consider any potential toxins that may have been introduced to the area.
  2. Respect the Forest. Be sure to treat the area that you have chosen to forage with respect. Do not over harvest one small area. You want the plants to keep coming back every year so you, and others can enjoy them. Insects and animals depend on plants and fungi for food and habitat. Don’t ever take more than you need and never ever take all the plants from one spot. Be considerate to the plants you are harvesting and don’t harm them any more than necessary. For example, if you are foraging something just for the greens, snip only the leaves, and leave the roots and part of the established plant intact.
  3. Don’t Forage from Nature Preserves. Nature preserves protect the health and well-being of their land and the plants that grow there. Don’t ever collect plants from protected areas.
  4. No Trespassing. Know who owns the land you plan to forage and make sure you have their permission to do so. Most people don’t mind if you take their nettles (actually most people thank you for doing so), but just make sure you ask first.
  5. Know What You’re Harvesting. While much of what grows in the forest is edible (even though it may not taste great), there are certain plants that can be dangerous if consumed. Know how to identify the plants you plan to eat and make sure you know the proper methods for preparing them (some plants aren’t edible til they’re cooked). In general, our nature phobic society is too cautious of plants, however, there really are some plants that can make you sick so just be smart about what you eat.

wild ramps growing in the forest
Now that you have an idea how to forage, let’s talk about what we’re looking for. The plants available will certainly vary based on where you live, but the following plants are common in many areas of the United States.

 

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) 

Nettles are by far my favorite spring food to forage. They are delicious and amazingly versatile. I’ve used nettles in teas, soups, smoothies, paninis, pastas, pizzas, spanakopita, infused vinegars and oils, and more. Nettles are also great for you. They are low in calories and high in important nutrients like potassium, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C. After a long, hard winter, nettles are the perfect nourishing food. Below are some great recipes for using the nettles you harvest this spring.

For more information about nettles, check out this video where herbalist, jim mcdonald, talks about them in more detail.

Morels

You’re probably already familiar with this edible mushroom. It is one of the most well known wild springtime foods and I often see people looking for them along the forest trails I frequent. Often morels are sold in grocery stores and at the farmer’s market in the spring, but they are very expensive. This definitely makes it worth it to forage your own if possible. As with anything you are harvesting, be sure you are able to properly and confidently identify any mushrooms before consuming them. For more tips on hunting morels, check out this quick guide.

There is a very short window of time during which you will find these delightful fungi, but if you can locate some, it’s certainly worth it. They are very tasty sautéed with butter or as a unique pizza topping. Check out the recipes below if you’re looking for ways to enjoy morels this spring.

Ramps

These wild leeks are another one of my favorite spring foods to forage. They have a fantastic onion-garlicky flavor and are great on salads, pizzas, and eggs.

Though ramps are easily enjoyed in a variety of dishes, it is best to harvest them sparingly. Recently, ramps have become an increasingly popular wild edible. Over harvesting this slow growing plant can easily cause an area to stop producing and that’s what’s happening more and more now that ramps are in high demand. If you’d like to read more on the topic, this wonderful post from Heartstone Herbal School goes into more detail about how to harvest ramps sustainably and why it is important to do so. 

When foraging ramps you should harvest only the leaves (and don’t take more than one leaf per plant) so the rest of the plant can remain and continue to grow. The leaves are just as flavorful and versatile as the bulbs , so you won’t be missing out.

For some ideas of how to use ramps, check out some of the recipes below.

 

Violets

Violets make wonderful infused vinegars, gins, vodkas, syrups, and other beverages. They can also be used in wild flower jellies. I love using violets as a delicate garnish on a salad or any other spring dish.For more information about using violets and some great recipes, check out this post I wrote earlier this spring about wildcrafting violets.

Dandelions

This common weed is one of my favorite springtime foods. All parts of this cheery little plant are edible and each has a variety of uses. The nutritious leaves are great in salads, stir fries, egg scrambles, pizzas, pastas, and more. The root can be used in teas, bitters, and stir fries. I especially enjoy using the sunny yellow flowers in the springtime. These make syrups, wine, fermented condiments, and veggie burgers. Check out the recipes below for more ideas.

For more information on foraging dandelions, click here.

Chickweed

Chickweed is another nutritious and tasty common weed that is easy to find in the spring.  There are many delicious ways to enjoy this pretty little plant. Some of my favorite uses are adding it to salads, sandwiches, pizza, pesto, or egg scrambles. Chickweed does not store well because it is so delicate, so it is best to use it fresh and soon after harvesting.

 

There are many more spring edibles worth collecting and eating. I’ve just mentioned a few of the ones I find and use most commonly to help get you started. We are always finding and foraging new things, so check out the blog throughout the season for more recipes and information about our favorite wild edibles.

If you’re looking to learn more about plants you can forage and how to enjoy them, I recommend checking out the book Foraging and Feasting by Dina Falconi. It is beautifully illustrated and has lots of great recipes and tips for foraging and cooking with a variety of wild plants. You may also enjoy perusing the following blogs for foraging tips and seasonal recipes:

 

Happy foraging!

Augusta Creek Permaculture Forest Garden: May 3, 2016 Plant Walk

Spring is a truly lovely season in the forest garden. Today was an especially beautiful, sunny spring day here at the Augusta Creek Permaculture site. There’s lots popping up right now and so many things I’m excited about. Below are some of my favorite springtime features of our site.

Perennial Flowers

Perennial flowers are a great way to add so much beauty to your yard or garden with very little effort. You simply plant bulbs once and the flowers come back year after year. It’s magic. This past fall I planted tons of flower bulbs so this spring has been an especially colorful one. We had lots of snowdrops, then crocus and daffodils, but now those have died back and the tulips are stealing the show. They are all assorted colors – yellow, pink, red, purple, orange and many multi-color blooms – and are popping up all over the forest garden. It’s wonderful.

Asian pear blooms

Fruit Trees & Bushes

We incorporated many types of fruiting trees and bushes into the forest garden. Many of them are leafing out or flowering right now, including:

  • Honey berries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries
  • Wild black raspberries
  • Asian pears
  • Cherries
  • Persimmons
  • Plums
  • Paw Paws

The great thing about fruiting trees (besides the fruit) are their lovely flowers. I love the delicate blossoms on our Asian pears and cherries!

cherry blossoms
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honey berry blossoms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hops

Herbs

As an herbalist, growing my own herbs is very important to me. It’s a great way to control quality and to ensure the herbs I’m using in my food, medicine, and Wild Blossom products are grown sustainably, organically, and with love. A few of the herbs that are coming up in the forest garden right now are:

  • Hops
  • Red clover
  • Dandelion
  • Cleaver
  • Chickweed
  • Plantain
  • Yellow dock
  • Burdock
  • Violets
  • Yarrow
  • Purple sage
  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Catnip
  • Mint
  • Purple dead nettle
  • Comfrey
  • Mullein
a patch of chickweed, purple dead nettle, violets, cleavers, chives, and dandelions
cleavers

 

 

mullein

 

purple sage

 

 

 

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comfrey

 

 


 

garlic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Edibles

We have many other plants with edible berries, bulbs, roots, and leaves incorporated into the forest garden. Many of these plants are perennial and self-seeding, making for a low maintenance edible landscape.  While our perennial crops get well established (some things need to grow for a few years before they can be harvested or produce fruit), we are also incorporating some annuals for a more immediate food source. Some of the things coming up, leafing out, and blooming on site now are:

  • Kale
  • Garlic
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Strawberries
  • Horseradish
strawberry blooms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ornamental Bushes/Trees 

These lovely bushes and trees provide beauty and diversity to the forest garden and are useful in many ways, including providing habitat for birds, insects, and other animals. I also enjoy using branches in unique bouquets. Some of my favorite ornamental trees/shrubs we have are a red bud – which has lovely pink blooms in the spring – and the red leafed maple that grows in front of our home (both are pictured below).

red bud

I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour of the Augusta Creek Permaculture site. If you are interested in a live tour or have questions about any of the plants we are growing and how we are growing them, feel free to contact us. We love talking about plants and are always glad to show people around the forest garden.

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maple

 

 For more information about forest gardens, check out what Martin Crawford and Sepp Holzer are doing at their sites.

Wild Crafting Violets

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Violets are one of the first plants to come up in the spring bringing a dash of cheery color to the forest floor. They are lovely little plants and have a variety of uses in food, medicine, and body products.

There are over 200 species in the Violet family that can be found growing abundantly in temperate and tropical areas all across the world. While they are herbaceous plants in North America, Europe, and Northern Asia, violet family plants native to tropical regions and South America are trees and shrubs. In North America, the violets start appearing in late February and generally bloom by the end of April. We are located in the Midwest United States, so the violets I’ll be talking about are a herbaceous variety.

Violets have heart shaped leaves and drooping flowers that are generally a deep purple. Light purple, blue, yellow, and white colored flowers are also common. The many different types of violets have similar properties and can be used the same way. The flowers and leaves of this plant are both wonderful food and medicine. They are rich in minerals and vitamins, like A and C. The flowers are sweet and a little astringent. They make a lovely garnish on salads or desserts. Their delicate flavor also lends nicely to infused liquors, vinegars, jellies, and springtime beverages.

There are many delicious ways to enjoy violets. Gin infused with violets has a very nice flavor and turns a lovely purple color when mixed with tonic water. Apple cider or rice vinegars infused with violets are wonderful in a light spring dressing. Violets can be added to tea, wine, and make a very pretty purple lemonade. They also can be used in making wild flower jelly.

Another simple, traditional way to enjoy violets by making violet syrup. In the 1930’s herbalist M. Grieve published this classic recipe in her book, A Modern Herbal. I have made a similar rendition of this recipe and it was quite delicious.

Violet Syrup: Infuse 1 lb of freshly picked violet flowers with 2 1/2 pints bowling water in a covered pot or glass jar for 24 hours. Then strain the flowers out, put the liquid in a pot, and add double the weight of the liquid in sugar. Simmer until liquid cooks down into a syrup. Do not let mixture boil. 

Violet infused water

Medicinally, violets are a diverse and potent remedy. They provide blood purifying action and help to eliminate waste in the body. They also help stimulate the lymphatic system. They can be helpful for swollen glands, congestion, coughs, and sore throats. They are a mucilaginous herb and thus, are good for soothing irritation and reducing inflammation. They are a good addition to skin care products are they are very healing and soothing for skin. This violet leaf soap from the Herbal Academy would be a perfect way to utilize the healing properties of violet leaf for sensitive or irritated skin. Click here for the recipe.

  Wild Crafting Violets

When wildcrafting any plant it is important to follow a couple basic guidelines.

  1. Only harvest plants from areas that have not been sprayed by chemicals or are near roadsides where there is pollution from cars.
  2. Do not over harvest plants. Make sure that you are leaving enough plants so that you are not harming the plant population and the supply for the animals and insects that also depend on wild plants.
  3. Always take general safety precautions. Wear orange if you are going to be in the forest during hunting season. Know whose land your are foraging on and be sure that they don’t mind. Just be smart.
  4. Make sure that you know exactly what plants you are foraging if you are going to be eating them or using them in body care products. Many plants are totally safe to consume, but there are a few that can be very poisonous. Don’t be discouraged. Plant ID can be pretty easy when you start learning about it. If you don’t know how to identify a plant you could invest in a field guide that is suited for your area, ask a friend who knows a bit about plants, or find an herbalist in your area who does seasonal plant walks. There are also many great herbalists online. Much can be learned by reading their blogs and websites. Some favorites are listed here.

Wild crafting is a very enjoyable experience. Once you are able to identify a few medicinal and edible plants its very exciting to see that food and medicine grow all around us. Foraging keeps us better connected to the natural world and is a great way to get inexpensive, unique, and potent herbs, flowers, fungi, berries, greens, and barks for use in foods and medicines. Enjoy your violet wild crafting adventure. I’d love to hear about any amazing violet concoctions you come up with.

 

References:

  • A Modern Herbal: Volume II. M. Grieves. “Violet, Sweet.” 834-840.
  • Violet.” Jessica Modino. www.susunweed.com.
  • Violet Herb.” jim mcdonald. www.herbalremediesadvice.org.

Garden Planning Resources

There’s still lots of snow that has yet to melt here before planting will be possible outdoors, but spring is not too far off here in Southwest Michigan and I must say that I’m so ready for it.

I have been planning my garden for weeks now. The winter blues caught on hard a month or so back and I began tearing through seed catalogs to ward it off.

Planning my garden each year is always something I always look forward to. However, it can sometimes seem like a daunting task. There are so many places to go to buy seeds and other supplies. And so many options.

Before I knew much about planning a garden, I would pick up whatever was left at the garden center at my local grocery store in the late spring. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with doing this, stocking your garden at this type of store is not ideal if you want real variety, quality, and uniqueness.

There are many awesome sources for garden seeds, plants, trees, etc. that use ethical growing/seed saving practices, and offer many unique and quality products. I’ve compiled a list of some of these resources to help you plan your garden this year. It is certainly not all-encompassing by any means, but it does include several companies who I have had success with in the past. Happy Garden Planning!

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Spicy Nettle & Tofu Soup

20140515-232556.jpgThis past winter was – as Midwest winters often are – long and cold. I cooked a lot of soup for about five months straight. Now that it’s been warmer outdoors, I haven’t been making soup at all. But, sometimes the chillier temps and cool rain that are common in the spring months here in Michigan been make me crave a warm bowl of soup again. 

By this point in the season, I’ve used up all of my winter vegetables, so when cooking this dish, I decided on a light, spicy soup that would use up some of the springtime produce I already have in the kitchen. I used fresh nettles in my soup (and I highly recommend them), but you don’t have to. If don’t have any or don’t know where to get them, you can substitute any other spring greens you have on hand, like spinach, chard, collards or kale.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces of portobello mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups of fresh nettles,* washed and roughly chopped (can substitute fresh spinach, kale, chard, or collards)
  • 5 fresh ramps or green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup white miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of ground fresh chili paste (I used this kind. I found it at my local grocery store)
  • 1/2 Tablespoon of coconut oil
  • 12 ounces of tofu, cut into small cubes
  • 12 ounces of light beer (optional – but does add nice flavor)
  • 1 yellow onion

*Be careful with fresh nettles as they don’t fully lose their sting until cooked. I have noticed that nettles that have been picked more than a day or two ago and stored in the fridge do lose some of their sting, but if you don’t want to get stung, I’d wear rubber gloves while washing and chopping the nettles.
Directions:

Heat a large pot on medium high. Add a 1/2 Tbsp. of coconut oil. When the oil has melted (this should happen very quickly if the pot is the right temperature), add the onions and the mushrooms. Let cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring as needed to keep things from burning or sticking to the pan. Add, 1 tsp. sea salt, stir the mixture and let cook another 3-5 minutes.

In the mean time, add 1 cup water, miso paste, and chili paste to a medium bowl and whisk to combine thoroughly. Then add the miso-chili paste mixture, beer, nettles, and tofu to the pot and stir well. Add about 1-2 cups of water to the pan depending on the desired thickness of the soup. This soup will be brothy in nature either way, but if you’d like it to be more brothy add more water (or less, depending on your preference). Bring the soup to a boil and let bubble vigorously for about 5 minutes, then reduce to medium heat. Then add the wild ramps. Cover the pot with a lid and let the soup simmer for 15-20 minutes. While the soup simmers, wash and chop cilantro and set aside.

When your soup is done, remove from heat and serve with fresh cilantro on top. Enjoy!

Natural Relief from Spring Allergies 

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, April showers and May flowers can bring you a lot of discomfort. And you aren’t alone. Hay fever (an allergy to mold or pollen) affects 30 to 60 million people nationwide each year. Springtime is especially rough for sufferers since trees are beginning  to produce pollen. Additionally, all those spring showers, especially accompanied by warmer temperatures, encourage mold growth. Spring breezes worsen the problem further by carrying these allergens far and wide.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology there are 11 types of trees that trigger spring hay fever. They are: oak, sycamore, maple, elm, birch, ash, western red cedar, walnut, hickory, poplar, and cypress. These trees start to produce pollen as spring arrives, around the same time every year. Once their pollen is airborne, those who are allergic to it will experience sneezing, congestion, along with  itchy eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Rainy and cloudy days, or days when there is no wind to carry the pollen will allow some relief from these symptoms. However, warm, dry or windy days will aggravate symptoms because there will be higher levels of airborne pollen.

Mold spores are very similar. Molds, like yeast and mildew, release spores (seeds) that can be carried in the wind, much like pollen. Spores, however, can be found both outdoors and indoors. Some outdoor molds are Alternaria, Cladosporium, and Hormodendrun. Indoor molds include Aspergillus and Penicillium. These molds can cause common allergy symptoms, such as congestion, itchy eyes, runny nose, and sneezing.

If you experience springtime allergies, you’re probably wondering what you can do to eliminate or at least lessen your symptoms. While there are many prescription and over the counter allergy medications, there are also many natural options you can try instead of medication.

Using a saline nose rinse can help alleviate allergy symptoms by flushing out irritating particles that can become stuck in your nasal passages and cause itching and inflammation. You can buy saline solution at the drugstore or you can make your own rinse at home. Just add a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of baking soda to a pint of warm, distilled water. Then bend over a sink and sniff some of the solution through each nostril and let it drain out through your nose or mouth. You can do this once or twice a day.

Taking a hot shower may help during a coughing/sneezing allergy attack because it helps to open up the sinuses, which allows you to breathe easier. Additionally, it will rinse off any irritating allergens that may have stuck in your hair. Rinsing itchy, red eyes with clean, cool water can also help to alleviate symptoms.

Hot herbal tea can also provide allergy sufferers with relief. The hot liquid and steam helps open up nasal passages. Additionally, many herbs have medicinal properties that can help alleviate allergy symptoms.  Natural or health food stores usually carry tea bags that contain blends of medicinal herbs. Traditional medicinals teas, for example, have blends specially prepared to help treat and nourish various body systems or ailments. Their blends  Gypsy Cold care,  Herba Tussin, Organic throat coat, and Breathe Easy are ideal in helping battle allergy or cold symptoms.

Natural food and health food stores often also carry herbs in bulk if you want to mix your own tea blends.The following are just a few herbs herbs that can help with allergy symptoms. Look for these herbs in your pre-blended tea bags to identify teas that will help with your allergy symptoms  or mix and match them in a variety of your own tea blends to see what tastes and works best for you.

  • Peppermint: helps relieve nasal and sinus congestion; has antiseptic properties; an anti-inflammatory 
  • Mullein: a natural expectorant, helps clear the airways of mucus
  • Licorice: helps relieve pain and inflammation of mucus membranes; helpful for sore throat
  • Elderberry: a natural expectorant and detoxifier
  • Marshmallow: often used to treat respiratory disorders and inflammation; a natural expectorant
  • St. John’s wort: used to treat bronchial problems; a natural expectorant and antiseptic
  • Wild cherry bark: used to treat respiratory disorders, soothes cough; natural expectorant

Adding honey to your herbal tea may be a great way to boost its effectiveness in fighting allergy symptoms. Consuming local, non-pasteurized honey is thought to help reduce your initial reaction to pollen. When bees make honey, they transfer some of the pollen they collect from local plants into their honey. So, when you consume honey made by local bees, using pollen from local plants, its like you’re getting a series of mini allergy shots and specifically targeting the pollens in your area. Eating this honey will help you slowly build a tolerance to allergens and thus, can eventually decrease the severity of your allergic reaction to pollens. Honey also has anti-inflammatory properties and thus, can help relieve allergies in the short term as well.

Wasabi and horseradish can also help alleviate the symptoms of hay fever. This is because they contain allyl isothiocyanate, which promotes mucus flow. Try putting a generous amount of horseradish on your sandwich or wasabi on your sushi to help with allergy symptoms.

 Allergies can certainly make life miserable for those who can’t kick the symptoms. But, living with allergies doesn’t have to be terrible. It is possible to get your symptoms under control and to enjoy everything life has to offer, without all that snuffling and sneezing.


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