We just went for a hike at La Cresta Ridge. It was a lovely rainy day. The hills all around us were green. We were happy to find the goats and sheep back this year. Today, the goats were huddled together under cover trying to stay dry.
Last year was the first time they were employed to mow the grass. For years this land has been disced and torn up. Now, the goats and sheep munch the grass, Mustard, Wild Radish, and Fennel down to the ground. And, while they are munching away they are fertilizing the the fields. I just love this kind of win win situation!
It’s February and we’re already thinking of sorbet and Scrub Jay fledglings.
Yes, it’s early February and the Wild Plum outside our kitchen window is in full bloom. It’s always the first tree to bloom on our little homestead. It grows on the shady North side of the house and gets it’s water from the underground spring that also feeds the giant Redwood further back in the yard. It is always the indicator of approaching Spring. It has served as the sunning spot for the resident Scrub Jays for years and years. It was here when we bought the place and was probably planted by earlier generations of these same Birds. It’s smack in front of the “garage” doors and no human in their right mind would plant it there.
We feel blessed by this tree in so many ways. The blossoms, the birds, the fruit, a beautiful natural dye from it’s leaves, plum jam and… sorbet!
A couple of years ago my Wild Plum jam did not set and as disappointing as that was it lead to a new discovery. I realized I could simply pour it into the little Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker (a Recycletown find and easily found in thriftshops) and make sorbet. I add some dried ginger but you could add fresh grated too. Plum Ginger Sorbet is a huge hit around here. We always make it during our Spring Herb Camp and the kids love it.
“Thank you” little plum tree for being so giving…
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is delicious and plentiful in the backyards of our neighborhood. When we can’t keep up with it we feed it to our chickens and ducks who love it. It comes up on its own in the garden beds and is easy to identify. The stem when gently broken and pulled apart has a little ‘string’ inside. When the plant blooms the flower looks like a little star. Hence the name Stellaria.
My favorite Spring tonic! Chickweed is highly nutritious and contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid. I have made a salad of only chickweed and dressing much to my taste buds’ delight. It tastes just like a spinach salad without the funny feel on your teeth. I have read about large quantities causing stomach upset but I’ve sure never experienced it. Lately I’ve been making pesto out of it. Because the flavor is so mild I add Cilantro to spice it up a bit. Just combine garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper with your herbs in a blender. That’s it. I make big batches in wide mouth jars and then freeze it. We’ve been eating pesto all winter this way. We put it on everything! We put in on toast, sandwiches, tamales, pasta, rice dishes, meat loaf, anything that needs a little extra flavor.
I’m not the only one around here who’s hooked on Chickweed pesto on toast topped with a backyard egg!
Our friends who happen to live behind us (see very first blog entry) have a ‘weed’ problem in their vegetable garden. We need Calendula for our homemade salves, lotions and lip balms but have a hard time growing it. What does one thing have to do with the other? Everything. Each year as the rains fall in our gardens we all get edible, useful and medicinal plants without even trying.
For a hundred years or so our two houses have been here and our backyards have been joined. Over that span of time much of our topsoil has been washed by rain into our friend’s backyard down slope . We are left with clay soil filled with river-rolled pebbles (and lots of broken glass). Many years of compost has now been added to our soil but it has a long way to go to match the silty soil next door. With the two different soil types we get different types of weeds.
I’ve planted Calendula officinalis (pot marigold) in our garden over the years and it grows but doesn’t thrive. Next door, no one plants the smaller, wilder Calendula arvensis (field marigold) and it happily grows everywhere without effort.
Each year before they pull it out to give their veggies some room I go over with my basket and harvest. This year I had help. The kids happily dove into the process. At first there was talk of spiders and bees and ladybugs and then eventually silence. They were engrossed. “Snip, snip”, “buzzzzzz…..”.
As we were finishing up our friend came home with his little daughter. She saw us and quickly grabbed her big plastic ‘trick or treat’ jack o’ lantern and began filling it with the small orange flowers. Her Dad pitched in saying, “You remember that oil you like? It comes from these flowers”. Then, with baskets brimming with color we finished the harvest. “Look! The sun is in our baskets!” one of them said. Sure enough. They glowed like they were lit from within. Our hands sticky and smelling of warm Calendula we headed back to the house to prep the flowers for drying.
We then laid the flowers out on trays for drying in the greenhouse. We really just needed them wilted and not completely dried. Because we were putting them directly into olive oil and not storing them for use at a later time we just needed a lot of the moisture out to keep the oil from spoiling. The warmth of the greenhouse had them ready in no time.
We got out a big Mason jar and packed it with our flowers. Olive oil was poured over the flowers so that it covered about a half an inch above the flower level. We checked it later and the flowers had absorbed the oil so we had to top it off. I keep the jar in the side of our old oven where I store my cast iron pans. That way it gets warm from the pilot light in the other side and I can check it each day when I get out a pan. In June the kids and I will strain out the flowers and make our favorite Calendula Healing Salve. They put it on all of their bumps and scratches. One of the girls uses it for her eczema. I’ve given it to friends with babies and they swear it’s the instant cure for diaper rash. I use it every night on my lips before bed. Its magic.
No, this isn’t a Thanksgiving recipe even though it sounds like one! We recently took a wonderful class on “Wild Foods” at the California School of Herbal Studies. We love our wonderful teacher Autumn Summers! We’ve been foraging the edges of Petaluma to hunt for California Bay Laurel nuts and acorns. Both of which can be found in great abundance right in our neighborhood.
We always look far and wide for something only to find what we need right here under our noses. Our neighborhood park is called Oak Hill for a reason! The kids and I go acorn collecting and find many different varieties from which to choose. I’ve had them drying on a cookie sheet on top of the old stove for about a month. The griddle stays warm from the pilot light and it seems to work just fine. When we get to processing them I’ll write about it here.
As part of that same class we learned about mushrooms and couldn’t wait to get out in the woods! Our first find was some beautiful Turkey Tails (Trametes versicolor). An antiviral, immune enhancing, antitumor, anticancer medicine. And, as it grows on dead logs it is easy to find. This mushroom is powerful medicine and that’s exactly how we will use it. It can be used as a tea, in soups for flavor or powdered and taken in capsules. We will be blending ours with other medicinal mushrooms in a tincture. When I get to tincturing I’ll be sure to write about it here.
On a different outing we found some gorgeous Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus). Although this mushroom does have medicinal uses we dried some for future culinary use and sauteed some in the following morning’s duck egg frittata. Delicious!
We are absolute beginners so we’ve only eaten the easy to identify mushrooms so far. We carry with us What the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by David Aurora. When we get home we look through Medicinal Mushrooms: An Exploration of Tradition, Healing and Culture by Christopher Hobbs, L. Ac. We have now entered the amazing world of mushrooms!