Eat the Invasives: Wild Thistle

I’m a big fan of foraging and when I saw a podcast on the “Sustainable World Radio” series entitled, “The Wild Wisdom of Weeds with Katrina Blair” I got pretty excited!  I learned SO much from this podcast!

One of the most intriguing wild edible featured was Thistle.  This spring I pulled a few wheelbarrows full of this prickly invasive out of my lawn.  It spreads SO fast and is SO painful to step on.  I absolutely don’t regret removing it but I do regret not juicing it!

The kids and I decided to sample some thistle juice for ourselves yesterday.  Finding the plants around the periphery of the yard was pretty easy. Even my 22 month old was pointing them out!

Thoroughly soaking the greens seemed like a good idea to removed dirt and whatever else might still be lurking.   Washing them was especially fun as lots of little creatures came to the top and I removed slugs and bugs and put them into bowls for the kids to watch.IMG_1544

 

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We don’t have a juicer so we put them into the blender with a little orange juice.  After blending I strained them twice to remove any remaining spikes. Once thought a metal strainer and then a second time through cloth. The juice that remained was surprisingly tasty.  We made a second batch with just water added and all agreed that the orange juice was an important addition.

My kids loved it and it was really fun to experience this plant in a new way!  Apparently thistle is great for detoxifying and has lots of healthy benefits.  The process was a little labor intensive so I don’t think this will be a regular thing but it was a fun experiment for sure!

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Here’s a video by someone who knows MUCH more about this stuff than I do!

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The REAL reason why choosing organic matters

I can trace my health and wellness journey back to my teen years.  It was then that I was struck by the reality that I felt bad about animals being killed.  A friend had hit a chicken with her car and was really upset about it and so was I!  But the irony of sharing these tears over chicken burgers was not lost to my fourteen-year-old self.

My struggle toward mindful living could be seen in those early years but continues to be a major theme even now over twenty years later.  It’s SO hard in our culture where mindless and passive consumption seems to be the norm.  Just don’t think about it…

We all know that organic food is good for us, but is conventional “bad”?  Is it really such a big deal if me or my kids eat something that has been grown using conventional pesticides?

Well, on an individual level, no, it’s not terrible, I don’t think?  As a mom I’ve enjoyed taking a middle ground where we TRY to eat mostly organic but don’t stress about it too much.  And I REALLY want to avoid making our food into a stressful thing.

But…

What is the TRUE cost of “conventional” farming?  A few years ago I read this article and it kind of blew my mind.  Somehow the full effect of conventional farming was something I hadn’t really grasped before – the effect that crop dusting has on the farmers working the fields, the families living near by, the ground water and rivers that provide drinking water to the community, the nearby ecosystem of endangered animals, livestock that provide milk, cheese and meat to people. PEOPLE.  FAMILIES.  CHILDREN.  Woah…

It just made and makes me sick to think that this is what is considered normal.  Spraying toxic substances with KNOWN cancer causing chemicals onto our food and onto farmers and nearby families.   And THIS is “normal” and “conventional”?  And I’m the weird one for wanting to seek out organic?

In the past year or so I’ve been thinking more and more about where “stuff” comes from too. Discovering Konmari was super inspiring for me in this regard.  The fact that consumption is the leading cause of global warming rather than just population is a very interesting and upsetting reality. Somehow I had managed to go 34 years without thinking about the environmental impact of manufacturing and the impact of manufacturing on the people who work in the factories, the families who live nearby and breathe in the pollution from the factories, the animals in the surrounding areas…

I think for most people (myself included) there is a disconnect between what it actually MEANS when we buy something.  What is the impact on a broader scale?  Where does the cotton for my new t-shirt come from?  Who picked it?  What was the factory like where it was made?  What sorts of toxic chemicals were used in the growing, harvesting and manufacturing of it? The effects of GMO cotton seeds (Monsanto!!!) on the PEOPLE  of the villages is upsetting for sure.  Here’s a good recourse for seeking out ethical and fair trade clothing companies, and my favorite for affordable and ethical basics here.

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The idea of “Fair Trade” being a thing you can choose is baffling to me too.  Why is this a choice?  Why is unethical treatment of workers “conventional” and we have to seek out clothes and food that were manufactured in ways that allow people to retain dignity and a minimal quality of life?  Organic manufacturing tends to be better in this regard too, which is a good reminder to me when I’m feeling temped by low prices.

When my first baby was born I really tried to only put her in organic clothes.  My reasoning behind it was that her skin was so delicate and I didn’t want chemicals seeping into her sweet little body.  People thought that was strange.  I’ve tried for years to buy mostly organic food to keep my family healthy.  I always justify it with the idea that I am voting with my dollar and the more people who demand organic, the more affordable it will come for everyone.

I never thought about the REALLY important reason to choose organic though.  The unseen and unheard PEOPLE who quietly work in the farms and factories.  The FAMILIES who live nearby.  I want to choose to support their health and quality of life too.  Call me idealistic, I don’t care.  That’s a compliment to me for sure.  Because I WANT things to be better.  I NEED to see the world start to heal from years of mistreatment and neglect. Our children NEED to grow up as gentle and mindful consumers.  This is the REAL reason why choosing organic matters.

This is the kind of stuff that just screams “sustainable and joyful” to me.  I really want to feel truly good and joyful about the choices I make as a consumer.  Yes, it’s more expensive to buy this way.  But what if we all just bought less? And I take it one day and one decision at a time.  Because EVERYthing makes a difference.  Even the smallest change matters.  That being said, I’m far from perfect on this stuff.  Sometimes convenience just wins out.  But I’m trying!

What are your thoughts on this?  Any good recourses for living a more mindful life as a consumer?

 

The little Azalea that could…

In February of 2014 we moved out of the city in to a house surrounded by the woods.  It was what I had always wanted and working in the yard has been even more wonderful than I could have imagined!  In Spring of 2015 I decided to tackle the overgrown area between the lawn and the street.  Pulling up invasive Burning Bush, Barberry, Multiflora Rose and other little mangy things was very satisfying work!

The previous Spring I had noticed two Azalea blooms among the thick of it but figured the plants were as good as gone.  As I cleared I found that there were actually a handful of Azaleas that were bring strangled by the brush.   Seeing that the previous owners had at one point planted a little grove of flowers made me feel even better about the work I was doing.  It was like I was unearthing some of our home’s history and the love that had been planted so many season ago.

Here is a “before” picture:

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Here is the “after” from that year:

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I was walking around feeling quite pleased with myself after this.  Doing work around the house is the gift that keeps on giving… sitting in the yard felt that much more satisfying when I could see the results of my hard work.

But the real gift came this year, a year after the land clearing.  The plant that had only had a few blooms the past few years finally was able to shine!  I guess having the soil all to itself helped it to regain health?  I moved some of the other plants around the property and they are also doing well.  Clearing out invasives and reinvigorating the plants I already have is TOTALLY sustainable and joyful! Yay!!!

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Springtime Magic

Every year I am STRUCK by all of the magic that surrounds me as the earth begins to wake up. Yeah, I know there are scientific explanations for all of it, but birth and rebirth of anything is about as close to magic as I have seen.

I push little seeds into the wet earth and part of me just doesn’t believe it’s possible for such a tiny speck to become a plant.  But then it does.  A little sprout pops up and it grows and grows.  It brings forth new life.  AMAZING!!! It’s like what I always say about the human birth experience… it’s crazy how the most EXTRAORDINARY thing can also be so incredibly ORDINARY!  Like, how is this happening EVERY day?  EVERY second even! (Don’t get me started…)

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Getting to share the magic of spring with my kids makes it that much more special too.  I know it’s such a cliche but seeing the world through their eyes is priceless.  Also, getting a chance to retell the story of what is and what might be to them helps to renew my own belief in what is possible.

The other day I was hanging out in the yard with my sweet 4 year old Ada when a Swallowtail butterfly landed right in front of us.  We both knelt down to get a closer look.  Ada asked if she could pick it up and I encouraged her to very gently.

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The butterfly let her hold it in her hands.  The joy on my little girl’s face was perfect.  Luckily I had my phone in my pocket… What was I saying about detaching from my phone?

Anyway, the butterfly then flew off and jumped around on the ground for a few minutes.  I was pretty sure it was injured.  I suggested to Ada that we say a little “prayer” to Mother Earth (because I’m like that) to see if we could help the little guy.

I kid you not.  Only seconds after we wished for it to find health and happiness the butterfly flew off.  And not just a little bit… it flew to the top of the tree line and disappeared into the sky!  Now THAT’S magic!!!IMG_0378

How have you been experiencing the magic of Spring?

 

SUPER simple non-toxic air freshener

I used to be a big fan of scented candles and incense. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to go to a college that didn’t allow you to burn incense in your room!  Haha.   I bought conventional brands because they were cheap and smelled nice.

That all changed when I got pregnant for the first time all of a sudden I had a HUGE aversion to scented anything. It was like my body instinctively knew that they weren’t good for me.   I even ditched my perfume collection because I just didn’t have the stomach for it anymore.  I avoided that said “fragrance” after learning it was usually just a nice word for synthetic toxic chemicals that happened to have a smell.

Many air fresheners contain “phthalates which are hazardous chemicals know to cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems”.  The really crazy thing is that since these products are food the manufacturers don’t even have to list that on the label! They can even call the product “unscented” or “all natural” and still be full of toxic chemicals KNOWN to cause cancer.  But if you are breathing something in, you are consuming it.  It’s getting into your blood and your cells.  That’s just how it is. See source here. 

Discovering essential oils has been a reawakening to the world of scents for me. Finally I found a healthy way to scent the air and myself! Diffusing true therapeutic grade oils smells great and you are getting the health benefits of the oils at the same tine.  I have a cool mist diffuser that we use daily and LOVE.  I like diffusing calming blends in the afternoon and sleep enhancing blends in the bedroom at night. If we feel any sickness coming on I choose blends that boost immunity.  It’s all SO lovely!

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But my inspiration for THIS post is my SUPER simple non-toxic bathroom air freshener!  Young Living’s Purification blend is PERFECT oil to use if you are making this for the bathroom as it really helps to clean the air and has a fresh scent but you can have fun and experiment with different oils! I have one for the bedroom that has lavender.  It’s so nice to spritz over the bed before getting in or on the sheets when I change them.

The supplies you will need are:

  • Glass spray bottles
  • Alcohol
  • Essential oil of your choice
  • water

Glass spray bottles are best to use since essential oils  can break down petrochemicals and therefore degrade the plastic over time.  I bought my spray bottles here.  Pour in a few tablespoons of alcohol. I used vodka but any clear alcohol should work.  Then about 10-20 drops essential oils.  I’m way into my Young Living oils as you may have noticed.  If you want to hear more about why check out my post on “My Essential Oil Obsession”.

But anyway, just combine the alcohol, essential oils, water and shake before using.  That’s it!IMG_0147

Purification just smells CLEAN to me and I love how it makes my house smell like I’ve been scrubbing the floors even when it’s been a while since that actually happened! Another added bonus of Purification spray is that it doubles as a bug spray since one of the main ingredients in Purification is Citronella!

So I have my Purification foaming soap and the air freshener in the bathroom at all times and LOVE them!  I hope you do too!

 

DIY drainage swale using a reverse hugelkultur

FullSizeRender (8)Last year we had our our back yard cleared of invasive brush in the fall and then planted with low mow grass in the spring (some conventional grass seed as well, which I regret).  Over the course of the summer I couldn’t resist and put in my first attempt at at hugelkultur to house the many tomato plants that had seeded themselves around the garden.

This year I decided to take down the hugelkultur and put in a larger garden bed in it’s place.  It’s the one part of our yard that gets full sun but unfortunately it also has a bit of an underground stream flowing through it that becomes a problem during rain storms.

We got some HUGE quotes from local landscaping companies to deal with the drainage. Um, no thanks, I don’t want to spend 16k to make my back yard pretty! I’d much rather keep our money and just have a stream!

But then I started thinking about using a swale.  I’m kind of obsessed with permaculture but actually incorporating it into our landscape is an ongoing challenge.  Basically a swale creates a holding tank for excess water that will then slowly release into the land below.  Conventional drainage just moves the water away to the side of the yard or whatever.  This allows you to still USE the water for the garden!

I had made a small swale as part of my hugelkultur last year but it didn’t quite do the job. I decided to expand it to cover almost a quarter of the 20×10 garden space.

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I dug a hole about 18inches deep.  Deeper would have been better but getting through the clay and rocks was a challenge.  The water quickly filled the area, delighting my kids but somewhat frustrating me!

I tried my best to keep it in line with the grade of the slope.  I want it to really hold the water rather than just funneling it away.

While digging I was sure to separate out the topsoil from the lower levels of clay. The best part though was dismantling the hugelkultur and finding tons of worm castings and nicely broke down compost!  When I put it up last year I had said, worst case scenario it will be a big compost pile and I can use the soil for my new garden.  Score!

I decided to fill the trench with rotting wood.  In the same way that a hugelkultur uses rotting wood like a sponge to hold water above ground, this should do the same under ground.  Well, I hope it does…  I looked it up again in Gaia’s Garden to make sure my line of reasoning made sense and it seems like it should work!

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I just can’t help myself.  I LOVE the idea of a closed system where you just use what you make and make the things you use.  I’m REALLY far from that reality but I do have lots of rotting wood so I figure it’s worth a shot!

After I filled the trench with rotting wood I had a chance to see how it performed before covering it fully.  After a full day of spring rains I could see that it was holding a lot of water but some was escaping out the side.  I decided to go with that and create an overflow drainage ditch that is higher than the rest of the ditch so the runoff will go where I want it to.  I also caved and just bought a drainage pipe to use in there. I couldn’t figure out how to keep it open enough to move the water while also having it be just shallow enough to just catch overflow?  Maybe one of you knows?

I then filled in the crevices with some smaller sticks to help keep space for air and water.  IMG_0003

I separated out the dirt, soil and compost to rough in what will be the garden beds.  The local tree guys fortuitously called to ask me if I wanted more wood chips the week before so I used those to cover the swale and the garden paths.  They had pine, which apparently isn’t so great for plants but I’m hoping it will be fine since I’m not planting directly over it.

A traditional swale would usually have a raised mound directly down slope from the ditch.  I’m not doing it that way though. Sometimes I like to just half follow directions and see how it goes.  And when I say sometimes I mean usually.  But anyway, I’m hopeful it will work!

Next I covered the swale with wood chips which will serve as the pathways for the garden.

I also put in the beds.  I used large rotting logs to create the boundaries of the bed on the lower level of the garden.  I kind of love dragging big rotting trees from the forest! My hope is that they will help create a barrier for weeds, store extra water and break down over the next few years to eventually add more biomass to the garden. I was lucky enough to find a whole pile of rotted wood that crumbled into soil as soon as I picked it up. I filled up several wheel barrows with this and mixed it in with the soil I saved from digging the swale.  Again, rotting wood from around the property serves as a great free recourse!  And don’t worry, there is still PLENTY of rotting wood out there to feed the forest floor!

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Now all I need is to put in a fence and add some extra compost and amendments to the soil.  I’m planning to break down a few more rotting trees to enrich the soil too. I hope it all works!

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Edible invasives: Garlic Mustard

IMG_0110I’ve been excited by the idea of foraging for food since I was a little girl. I remember sucking the sweet nectar from clover buds in the fields around my childhood home and the delight of finding wild raspberries or blueberries on summer walks.

It seems like foraging is really having a moment now though, which is equally as exciting! Foraging gives us a cheap source of  food that is high in vitamins and minerals that occur naturally in the forest floor. Unfortunately, over foraging can negatively effect healthy growth of the foraged species as well as the health of the overall forest.

That is NOT the case when it comes to foraging for invasive species though!  Eat all you want! PLEASE!

Garlic Mustard is a terribly invasive plant that was believed to have first been introduced in the late 1800s as a culinary and medicinal herb.  It spreads rapidly  when left to go to seed and not only does it push out other native plants but it also releases chemicals into the forest floor that interfere with tree growth.  So yeah, not so good!

BUT it is very tasty and easy to harvest and prepare.  Look on forest floors, around the edge of the forest and in shady rode side area.   It has a somewhat heart shaped leaf and grows in bunches so it’s easy to find. If you are unsure just press a leaf in your hands and smell it.  Do you get a big whiff of garlic and onion?  You’ve got it!

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The leaves can be large or small.  These ones are pretty big.  Lovely, right?

Make sure to pull out the root too to stop this guy from spreading even further!

I decided to use mine to make pesto!  You could even just use the leaves in sandwiches or to add a spicy kick to salads though if you want to keep it simple.

You will need:

  • Garlic Mustard
  • Parmesan cheese shredded (or whatever hard cheese you have)
  • Olive oil
  • Walnuts (or pine nuts, or whatever you think would be good)
  • lemon (although vinegar could work too)
  • Salt (I LOVE salt)

Call me crazy but I kind of just do all the ingredients to taste and based on how much I have.  I’m not much for measuring…

Next take it in and wash all the dirt off.  I like soaking in a big bowl of water as it’s an easy way to separate the dirt from the plant.  I threw in a few pumps of my Dr. Bronners soap since I put it in everything I wash.  You can read about how I make mine here.  Then rinse well with cold water and you’re ready to go!  I just used the leaves but you can also eat the roots like horseradish apparently?

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Toast walnuts in the oven until fragrant.  We were roasting a chicken at 375 and that worked but I think 325 is the ideal temperature.  Maybe 5-10 minutes?

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Combine Garlic Mustard, walnuts, olive oil and shredded cheese  in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Add in some lemon if you want. I like squeezing lemon into a strainer so that the seeds don’t get in.  Add salt to taste.

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Use your own judgement as to what it needs until it’s just right!  Toss with pasta, use it as a salad dressing by adding extra oil and vinegar or spread on sandwiches!  It is surprisingly delicious!

So yeah, Garlic Mustard is a super healthy ingredient that you can find in your own yard from spring until fall!  The flavor is usually best in spring though so test a leaf before going too far with the recipe.  I LOVE the idea that we can decrease invasive plants, help encourage native species AND feed our family well.  Now that’s permaculture right there!

Which edible invasives are your favorites?!?!