Saturday, September 23, 2017

Seed Saving 101


How is your garden growing? If yours is anything like mine, you're thinking about saying goodbye to summer and beginning to plan ahead to next year's garden.  On the top of my list is saving seeds.

I've had a good run with several varieties of heirloom tomatoes, string beans, peppers, squash, and greens, and I'm already looking forward to starting them again in the spring. So I've been saving seeds.



Let the plants mature, then collect good sized fruits of tomatoes, squash, and peppers. Tomatoes and squash need to be thoroughly rinsed and dried before storing, while pepper seeds can easily be set out on a paper towel to dry.

 

The pods of string beans will swell up, turn brown, and begin to crack open when they're ready for harvesting. Mustard greens go to flower, then form pods which dry out and release tiny round seeds. The same is true of other greens such as lettuce and arugula.


In just a few minutes over the course of a few days, you will have seeds ready for planting next spring. Imagine how fun it will be to harvest free food all summer!  

You can learn more tips on saving seeds from Seed Savers Exchange.  


Sunday, August 27, 2017

New England Women's Herb Conference


This weekend I was fortunate to be able to attenan herb conference with experts in the field of ethnobotany and plant medicine. This was the 30th annual New England Women's Herb Conference held at a camp in beautiful Hebron, NH.

Each year, for the past 30 years the New England Women’s Herbal Conference has brought together women, herbalists, healers, and plant lovers to share their wisdom of the herbs and natural healing. Though the emphasis is on women’s health, healing, and well being, the WHC is also a joyful celebration of women spirit and women’s wisdom, as well as a special time to honor Mother Nature.



In one workshop on flower essences, we learned the energetic properties of some native flowers, including this lovely borage flower. It's easily grown as an annual in New England, and its bright blue flowers make a pretty edible garnish on salads.


Its properties are strength during times of stress, particularly with major life change. That's why borage is known as the courage flower. So plant it in your garden for strength and resilience, and eat some when you need that little boost to move forward in your life.


The founder of the conference, Rosemary Gladstar, led an herb walk across campus where we learned plant stories about native species such as Dandelion, Self-heal, Japanese Knotweed, Goldenrod, Plantain, Lamb's Quarters, Phlox, Jewelweed, White Pine, Elderberry, and a hidden clump of Indian Pipe.


Deb Soule also led a fantastic workshop on designing a Sanctuary Garden: one that is a sanctuary for birds, beneficial insects, pollinators, and people. She runs the wonderful herbal apothecary Avena Botanicals in Rockport, ME. It was a true pleasure to hear her share her plant wisdom with us, including these lovely messages from Native American plant healers.



This was such a wonderful experience and I gained such a wealth of knowledge about the plant kingdom. I look forward to sharing it with students in my vegan cooking classes and presentations.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Backyard weed walk

Daylily, Mint, and Lemon Balm

Our backyards are filled with wild plants that can be consumed for food and medicine.  A common Cherokee belief is that when we respect the plants, they will give us medicine to cure any illness. By observing and understanding plants, we reconnect with Mother Nature and our body’s natural ability to heal. This is also how we empower ourselves and resist oppression. 

Purple and Holy Basil "The King" of Herbs

This weekend I held a weed walk in my backyard.  While it's a relatively small space - just a quarter acre - it's amazing to discover the wide variety of plants growing there.  

The weed walk included hands-on instruction in plant identification, habitat analysis, medicinal properties, and folklore of over 25 common plants found in the suburban landscape.  I shared what I've learned over the past 20 years as a gardener, forager, and herb enthusiast, learning from such luminaries as Widman Steve Brill, David Winston, Jim McDonald, and Rosemary Gladstar. 

We followed the walk by sipping some mint and lemon balm sun tea and munching on fresh snow peas from my garden dipped in an oregano and garlic scape pesto. 

Snow Peas with Oregano and Garlic Scape Pesto

I love these words of inspiration from Michigan herbalist, Jim McDonald, about his first forays into wild plant foraging:
"In 1994, while living in an old, overgrown farmhouse in Okemos, Michigan, I discovered a tattered, purple herb book, left out haphazardly on the kitchen counter by one of my roommates. I began flipping through the book, and within a few weeks had begun foraging through the abundant weeds that covered the property and brewing them into strange tasting teas. Till then, I had little interest in either herbs or health, and so my sudden and growing passion with them was perhaps unusual. In hindsight, I think something in those first sips of strange tea woke in me my passion for plants and their medicine. From those first curious experiences, my hunger to both learn from and serve my green friends has been without end."
My experience began in a similarly innocuous way in 1995 when I was visiting my in-laws and began flipping through the pages of Culpeper's Color Herbal sitting on their coffee table. The book was filled with beautiful color illustrations of plants I had never before taken the time to notice, and I was fascinated by the historical context that extended hundreds, even thousands, of years, and included medicinal properties, food and nutrition information, and folklore. My eyes were opened, and I began to notice these incredible living things everywhere. 

Feverfew growing in abundance on my brick patio

I recommend going on a weed walk whenever you can -- in your own yard, in a field, or deep in the woods. Identify what you know, learn the basic properties, ignite your passion for plants, and share your knowledge with others. Connecting with the wisdom of plants develops our bond with Mother Nature and establishes a pact of protection. If we honor and respect her gifts, use them wisely, and reciprocate with environmental practices that nurture the ecosystem, we can have what Robin Wall Kimmerer calls an "honorable harvest," a truly sustainable environment that supports us all.  

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea)

Garlic Scapes

Plantain (Plantago Major) also known as "White Man's Footprint"

Catnip (Nepeta Cataria) and Lavender (Lavendula Agustafloria)

Tofu with Garlic Scape Pesto

Minto, Cilantro, and Thai Basil Coconut Curry 

Fresh Mesclun Green Salad with Garlic Scape Vinaigrette

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Recipe: World Peas Salad


This is the kind of recipe you'll want to make all summer because it's colorful, refreshing, and most importantly, does not require any cooking. We've been in the midst of our second heat wave here in Connecticut and it's just the first week of summer.  It's been a blessing to indulge in this dish and not have to heat up my kitchen in the process.



I once catered a bridal shower where one of the guests was telling me about a family favorite recipe called “Carolina Caviar” (also known as “Cowboy Caviar”), which she enjoyed when growing up in the south.  It's made with black-eyed peas, a southern staple because it's easy to grow and is a low-cost source of protein. In fact, the other common name for them is "cow peas" because they're often a thrifty feed for cows.  They originate from Northern Africa, so I decided to reclaim their heritage with this recipe and spread the message of world peas/peace in the process.

You can see me demonstrate how to make this quick and easy recipe on my recent cooking segment for WWLP-TV's "Mass Appeal" program. The recipe follows below. 


World Peas Salad
(serves 4-6)

Salad Ingredients
1 15 oz. can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup sweet red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 cup green bell pepper, finely diced
1 tbsp jalapeno, finely diced 
10 oz. frozen yellow corn, drained and thawed
2–3 scallions, finely sliced
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 of a 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes

Dressing Ingredients
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp agave syrup
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sea salt
a few splashes of hot sauce

Combine all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients.  Combine dressing with the salad ingredients, season with salt and hot sauce, then refrigerate at least a half an hour before serving.  Garnish with fresh chopped scallions and edible flowers.



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Veganic Workshop with Will Bonsall



I was fortunate to attend a workshop recently with Will Bonsall on the foundations of veganic agriculture.  This is a natural growing method which uses no chemicals and only vegan inputs. 


Many people are not aware that mass produced organic agriculture is heavily connected to the animal agriculture industry as waste from factory farms is often converted into compost.  This can include cow, pig, and chicken manure as well as feathers, hooves, blood, and bone meal.  Other non-vegan soil amendments include shells from lobster and other crustaceans, fish, and worm castings (manure).  While animals such as worms, insects, and organisms in the soil are essential components of a healthy ecosystem, as veganic gardener Will Bonsall would say, the cultivated, caged, and castrated kind are not.  His book, Will Bonsall’s Radical Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening, is the bible of veganic gardening and an essential read for anyone interested in learning more about the topic.  



Over a dozen of us gathered in the home of Amie Hamlin, the founder of the Coalition for Healthy School Food in Ithaca, NY. She worked together with vegan registered dietician George Eisman and his wife Claire Holzner to coordinate this event. Sadly, George passed away just shortly before this workshop was held, but we could feel his presence with us through the delicious plant-based menu he helped design as well as the joy of the natural world we all shared. 



If you like to dig in the dirt, I recommend converting a sunny spot in your yard into a veganic garden.  This way you will not only be growing fresh produce for yourself, but you will also be forming a deeper connection with Mother Nature. Even if you only have space for a few pots of herbs, this is still a way to get vital plant energy into your body. 


There is nothing healthier than eating fruits and vegetables that have been picked fresh from your own garden, warmed by the sun, fortified with natural soil amendments, and free from harmful pesticides, herbicides, and other toxic chemicals. Most importantly, a veganic garden does not use any animal products in the process.  

Natural ecosystems depend on the process of decomposition to build humus, a rich, nutrient dense compound that supports plant life.  This can be achieved by using Mother Nature’s natural resources, such as dried leaves and grass clippings.  Start a compost pile, feed it with a mix of plant-based kitchen scraps and leaf debris, and you’ll have the formula for good compost. 
Amendments such as seaweed, rice hulls, corn gluten, and “green manure” like clover and buckwheat, can be incorporated into the soil to further enrich it.  Over many seasons of nurturing the soil with lawyers of these components, you will have a thriving veganic garden.  Start small (a simple 6” x 10” plot will do), then expand as your interest and love of gardening grows.
Veganic gardening utilizes natural inputs that enhance the soil, benefit the plants, improve vitamin and mineral content of plants fruits and vegetables, and nourish our bodies.  It is a truly sustainable ecosystem that can save our planet.   

Sunday, May 7, 2017

On-line herbal studies

I've always been interested in culinary herbs for flavoring foods, and more recently i've begun exploring the medicinal properties as well. This is a whole new way of looking at plants that not only taste good, but are also good for us.


I recently completed The Herbal Academy's free Herbal Materia Medica Course which provided a strong foundation for understanding an herb's constituents, actions, energetics, and healing properties as well as best methods for preparations.  My favorite form is teas and decoctions, and I do this with the fresh herbs in my garden like Lemon Balm, Mint, and Oregano.


I chose to study Immune Boosting herbs which are so important to our health. My Materia Medica included Astragalus, Echinacea, Elder, Ginko Biloba, Red Clover, Tulsi, and Turmeric. As much as I thought I already knew, this class taught me so much more.  I can't wait to continue my studies by exploring the Advanced Herbal and Clinical Herbalist courses.

If you're interested in an excellent on-line herbal studies program that can be completed at your own pace, check out their offerings here:  The Herbal Academy Online