Saturday, July 23, 2016

Blueberry picking!

We are so fortunate to have a no-spray (nearly organic) u-pick blueberry farm nearby!  It's an annual family outing and adventure for us to go picking, usually not just on one day but many throughout the late July to August. We love to have our freezer stocked with frozen blueberries for winter smoothies and baking, as well as dried for handfuls added to trailmixes, granolas - or, our latest favourite way to preserve fruit, as fruit leather!  Here is a quick oven or dehydrator method for making blueberry fruit leather.

Blueberry Fruit Leather - easy oven or dehydrator method

You will need:
  • 1 lb fresh or frozen blueberries (or other fruit - apricots, cherries, peaches, etc)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp honey (optional)
1) Preheat oven to 170F (or prepare dehydrator sheets).
2) Prepare baking sheet (or dehydrator sheet) with parchment. 
3) Place ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.  Add a little water as necessary to help blend.
4) Pour blended juice onto prepared baking sheet or dehydrator screen.
5) Spread out evening, but leave a margin around the edges of the pan/sheet.
6) Bake 6-7 hours in oven (aprox the same in dehydrator) until juice is not sticky anymore.
7) Cut into sheets or strips, roll up in the parchment paper into snack sized portions.
8) Store in glass mason jars.  Enjoy!

Flower Essence workshop

The summer blossoms are in full beauty - all around the garden, though it's very dry from this heat wave, the flowers are gorgeous.  It was the perfect timing for hosting a Flower Essence workshop here.  Local plant spirit healing practitioner Heather Cain was here to lead this class, guiding participants through the understandings of how to approach plants (listening, asking permission to harvest, gratitude, and hearing what the plant is offering us) when looking for suitable blooms for a flower essence, then the how-to of making the essence, as well as how to choose the right essence to use for ourselves.  This fascinating herbal topic brings us into the realm of plant communication, plant spirit healing, and plant vibrational medicine or energy healing.  It brought a wonderful counterpoint to the practical hands-on herbal classes that I teach at Little City Farm.

First, after mindfully choosing blossoms that are vibrant, the blossoms are harvested very carefully, then placed into filtered or distilled water in a glass bowl and set in the sun for several hours.  The plant essence water is then carefully drained, and bottled into a "mother" essence (in a ration of 50:50 with brandy).  From this a stock essence is made by diluting the mother, and then a dosage essence can be made.  Read more about making flower essences here and here.

Here are some scenes from the workshop:

Friday, July 15, 2016

Local Superfood Spotlight: Black Raspberries

Move over goji and acai berry!  We have wild black raspberries here, and they are free, abundant, and packed with nutrition.  By now it's mid July, and it's proving to be a very bountiful berry harvest this year!  Currently, the black raspberries are in full production, growing wild along many ditches, park trails and roadways.  They line our back fenceline in huge bushes - a wild weedy patch, yet abundant in fruit.  We have have the pleasure of going out each morning for the past week to harvest huge bowls of berries for breakfast, with more than enough to stock up the freezer as well. 

Tips for harvesting:
Black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) is related to the red raspberry (Rubus ideus), is native to North America and grows wild in many locations, including urban areas like parks, trails, river banks, ditches, and other abandoned lands.  The berries are ripe when deep dark red-black coloured, and should come off easily when plucked from the stem.  The stems and stalks are prickly with little thorns, so some careful picking is necessary in order not to get scratched.  But the slow careful picking is well worth it, as these black raspberries are amazing in luscious, rich flavour.  Here is an interesting site to tell you about the differences between red and black raspberries, as well as how to differentiate between a black raspberry and a blackberry.

Why are black raspberries a superfood?
Black raspberries (as well as blackberries and red raspberries) are extremely high in antioxidants, meaning they offer multiple health benefits including cancer-fighting properties.  The black raspberries specifically contain high levels of anthocyanins, which give them their rich, dark color. Anthocyanins work as antioxidants that help fight free radical damage in the body.  

How to use:
Eat ripe berries warm off the plant!  Feed to your kids!  Get them to help you pick.  Or freeze, dry or cook into jelly, jam, or syrup.  The black raspberry leaves can also be used for herbal tea, either hot or iced.  Steep a handful of fresh leaves (or 1-2 Tbsp dried) in 4 cups water that has just boiled for at least 10 minutes.  Sweeten with honey or maple syrup, or add fresh mint leaves to the tea blend for additional flavour.  All species of raspberry are medicinal, usually red or black raspberry is most common for women's tea (helps to regulate hormones, helps to tone uterus before labour and birthing, rich in minerals and calcium).

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Local Superfood Spotlight: Mulberries

End of June, and the mulberries are ripe.  It seems there was a nice trend to plant mulberries and service berries in public areas around our town as edible landscaping some years ago, and we are now reaping the benefits.  There seem to be ripe mulberry or service berry trees on nearly every street, often the service berries are lining the boulevard all the way along.

Tips for harvesting:
The mulberry trees are generally easy to spot - distinctive lobed leaves, and the tell-tale signs of a blue-stained sidewalk or roadway below.   These trees can be quite tall, so picking by ladder might be in order to get the most benefit.  It's often easiest to gather the berries that have fallen to the ground, or climb the lower tree limbs and shake the branches to drop berries below onto a waiting ground sheet.

Why are mulberries a superfood?
Mulberries are one of our amazing nutrient-dense local superfoods.  They are full of antioxidants, high levels of vitamins (A, C, E, K), iron, protein and fibre, and also help boost the immune system. They have been found to regulate the blood sugar, and also help cleanse the blood and detoxify the body by stimulating the liver.  They are all around wonderful, tasty, and easily harvestable locally (for free!) if you take a bit of time to find them.

How to use:
We love freezing mulberries for winter smoothies, but also eat them fresh in our granola, or by the handful as we pick them.  They make a wonderful pie, jam and jelly as well.  Mulberries, when dried, are perfect for trailmixes or eating as a snack on the go.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Plant communication & plant spirit healing workshop - reconnecting with nature

We had local herbalist and plant spirit healing practitioner, Heather Cain here to lead a workshop on Plant Communication.  She invited us to enter the fascinating world of plant energetics, to take time to listen and tune in to the language of plants (understood with our intuition, our 5 senses and beyond), to see plants as closely related to humans - to understand that humans and plants co-create, we need each other, we have evolved together.

It's interesting to see the surge in mainstream culture with "earthing" (grounding ourselves literally), barefoot parks like this one for therapeutic value, barefoot running, forest schools and forest kindergartens, forest-bathing (the practice of simply breathing and being in the forest for meditation), and concepts like Nature Deficit Disorder (a phrase coined more than 10 years ago, and now commonly understood - simply the idea of being disconnected from nature and the ill effects that brings to our bodies, minds, health, spirits).  There is obviously a need to reconnect with the natural world, we see and feel the healing benefits from spending time in the woods, with soil, with plants.

Heather will be back to lead a workshop in July on making and using flower essences, and a herbal root-based workshop in the fall.  See workshop descriptions here.

Practical Herbalist series - session 1

The first of this season's 4-part Practical Herbalist workshop series brought 14 eager participants to us today.  Over the course of 4 months (June-Sept) we are meeting one Saturday morning per month as a group. 

The goals are to provide hands-on practical experience in herbal medicine making, including harvesting and using leaves, berries, flowers, roots, bark, seeds (each as they come into their prime in the Little City Farm garden); wild-harvesting plants with the emphasis on local nutrient-dense "superfood" wild plants to be used as both food and medicine; and also helping each participant to develop a deeper relationship to medicinal plants while learning in the simpler tradition (i.e. building a relationship with plants that is hands-on, locally focused, creating simple remedies made by hand together). 

There is "homework" to be done each month between get-togethers, so that participants have the chance to practice what was talked about during the session; and also herb journals/or herbariums to work on - we will be covering 22 locally available plants so the hope is that each participant will have a good working knowledge of how to best prepare these plants for use, and how to use safely and effectively in their home for first aid and general minor ailments. 

It's a lot to pack into four short sessions, but with the month time between each workshop the participants can work as extensively as they are interested or able, to further their knowledge as we go along.  My role is facilitator and guide, helping as they develop their own personal path for herbalism.  I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such a wonderful and interesting group of participants in this way over the summer.

Today we worked with peppermint, lemon balm, nettle, red raspberry leaf, and plantain (Plantago major)- harvesting and processing these plants to make a plantain solar-infused oil; and a solar-infused sun tea (equal parts nettle, red rasp leaf, peppermint and lemon balm).  We also made a delicious nutrient-dense green smoothie with plantain, mint and lemon balm.  I especially love using locally wild-harvested herbs as food, (i.e. free "food as medicine").  Plantain is high in B vitamins, protein, Vit C and Vit K, and fatty acids.

Plantain Nutrient-Dense Green Smoothie
(adapted from a recipe by Rosemary Gladstar)

You will need:
2 cups pineapple or pear juice, organic and/or fresh
1 large handfuls of fresh plantain leaves *
small handful fresh peppermint leaves (a few sprigs)
small handful fresh lemon balm leaves (a few sprigs)
1 banana
3-4 icecubes
water to adjust consistency

* fresh plantain can be interchanged with other fresh nutrient-rich herbs like red clover, or red raspberry leaf

1) Blend everything in a blender until smooth.  Stir to mix in the foam which will form on top (delicious!).
2) Drink iced, immediately.
3) Very refreshing on a hot day!
4) Serves 6-8 people.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Petals & Roots - Kids Herbal Club finale

We had four great weeks with a group of kids here, exploring the world of herbs, herbal remedy making, and harvesting wild foods as part of our first Petals & Roots Kids Herbal Club.  During this series the kids learned about safely identifying herbs (by using our senses, stalk shape, leaf pattern, flower, etc), how to carefully and respectfully harvest herbs, and how to store and dry them, how to incorporate wild herbs into our meals, and how to make a few basic remedies. 

We packed the days with hands-on activities, including harvesting the particular plants we were talking about.  We made green smoothies with dandelion, cold frescas with mint, steeped sun tea with lemon balm, sketched plants in our journals, transplanted herbs into pots to take home, had a herbal scavenger hunt, built simple plant presses that fit in a backpack, and made an all purpose healing salve with plantain.  Hopefully this series sparked a continuing interest in the wonderful green world for these kids, an understanding that these wise and useful plants are all around us and we simply need to pay attention, learn and practice.  It was amazing how simply sitting with the plants (while sketching, or harvesting) was a special part of each week.  We don't slow down and do that often enough.

Here are a few photos of the creations from our last day together - edible flower cupcakes, topped with an assortment of edible herbs and flowers from the Little City Farm garden (we did a little tour around the garden and found 20 types flowers that were ready for eating today, including: dandelion, sage, lavender, chive, calendula, marigold, thyme, kale, fennel, clover, violets, heartsease, and rose petals!).  What a lot of beautiful creations (and adventurous eaters!), and a nice reminder of the vibrancy, joy and colour that herbs can bring to our life through our food (food as medicine). 

We hope to offer this Petals & Roots Kids herbal series again in the fall, focusing on herbal roots, seed saving, and other fall-related herbal projects.