The gall of those thistles

13 Apr

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A great why to learn about a certain plant is to notice it when it isn’t growing.

Happened to notice some large galls which turned out to be plentiful on last year’s Canada thistle stems. This is a plant I have some interest in though the ground was still frozen today so I was unable to take a piece of  root home to grow in a pot. Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) actually isn’t from Canada but arrive here from France in the 1700s. The insect which created these decorative galls isn’t originally from Canada either, they were brought into the province of New Brunswick back in the 1970s from Europe to slow down the growth of Canada thistle. I was unaware of this gall creating insect known as Urophora cardui until today and it appears it can drastically reduce the number of seeds which will develop and be available for me to pick latter in the year.

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Canada thistle grows incredibly quick, especially its root system and its roots and the young stems and leafstalks are edible, so I suspect it could be a good perennial plant to grow as an annual in the house during winter. I haven’t eaten this plant for a few decades mostly over concern with nitrates in this deep rooted perennial and some mention of some thistles being carcinogenic. With this in mind I am much more comfortable growing it as an annual in a pot or spreading fresh seed in a selected isolated areas.

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In the wild supposedly 14 hours of sunlight triggers new stem growth and if I read correctly the newly emerging Urophora cardui from their last year galls enter the new Canada thistle stems when they reach about 12 inches high which gives me a little time to harvest some fresh stems as our day light hour are on the increase. Of course an insect that only eats Canada thistle is not something I’m overly concerned with consuming anyhow, though I’ll focus on the new young stems.

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I’m hoping to find a spot in my area where these galls are not quite as common on the Canada thistle as some seed collecting would be nice from the female plants when ready.  Even with both Urophora cardui and myself wanting to eat Canada thistle the plant has no worries as it has been a very common plant throughout much of Eurasia and N.A. and should remain so. ciao

For ages

2 Apr

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It has been awhile since I’ve entered any post on foraging, so I decided to show a couple photos to explain my absence. The above photo is from my front step looking out across the street at 6.30 AM this morning. With all the beautiful snow around I’ve had a great opportunity to plan which new wild foods to try this year and I’ve become quite interested in gathering some of the edible grasses and sedges in my local area in coming months.

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Here is a photo of one of the few grasses still visible from last years growth and I collected these along the edge of a highway a few days ago just to check out which member of the Phragmites family they were.  Phragmites is the largest grass in Canada’s maritime provinces and these grass stems here were sticking out a few feet above a 4 ft bank of snow. Now I have these culms stuck in the snow beside my shed to remind me of the ground cozily blanketed below my feet and the many wonders preparing to soon arise. ciao

Wintergreen tea pick

18 Jan

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We are having a January thaw right now, much of the  accumulated snow has melted this week, though in most of the surrounding forest there is still plenty of snow except for areas like this one where some jack pine trees have been recently cut and the forest floor close to the stumps are snow free and Wintergreen leaves are now visibly available to those who may choose to partake in gathering some fresh leaves for tea.

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Here is a closer look at the Teaberry plant aka wintergreen, (Gaultheria procumbens) its small round red leaves are noticeable on the south-side of the stump. Now the majority of the wintergreen leaves in these woods where the trees are still standing has (green) leaves beneath the snow, though in open areas like this the leaves are often red which makes for a pink colored tea of good flavour.

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Marguerit is also here today to join in the gathering of these small leaves with a big taste. I mentioned earlier on in a post in November the flavour of wintergreen doesn’t reveal itself right away, you need a little patience as it takes a couple days of fermentation for the flavour to fully appear. I use a few handfuls of cleaned leaves placed in a jar add a litre of boiling spring water and close the lid for 2 days. After I may drink the strained tea cold or reheated, the leaves from the ferment can be used a second time by just steeping them again with newly boiled water or they can be dried and packaged for later use. cheers

Outside and in

24 Dec

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You usually do not hear much from me this time of the year though tonight I will show you some of the fun I’m having during a very snowy December here in Moncton N.B. Since we have ample material to work with I decided to shovel up a small snow gazebo today. It’s about 4 feet high at this time and I’ll go up another foot and then close it in tomorrow.

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A couple lawn chairs and this should be a nice spot for a few cups of herb tea over the next few months.

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Now a couple strides into the house and here is one of the plants I’m interested in watching develop from seed.

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Water parsnip (Sium suave) which isn’t a commonly gathered wild food in the last few centuries as it resembles 2 of our most poisonous plants which also grow in the same swampy areas of North America.

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Here is one I have growing in the basement, I notice the stems of this plant has a very unusual contact dermatitis with my skin which feels almost like deep paper cuts which fade and reappear for a few hours. I can’t find any info on this being something commonly noticed about this plant, but this is enough of an experience for me not to try eating this plants leaves which are supposedly edible during the early spring. The part of Sium suave known to be most popular with folks hundreds of years ago are the numerous white thickened roots directly at the base of the plant which are rumored to taste a bit like carrots. As mentioned earlier this plant has some dangerous look-alikes so it is important to know a plant like this in all stages of development before ever attempting to eat it. ciao

December mushrooms

13 Dec

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Above are some Flammunila velupites mushrooms growing out of the cracks on this large Elm tree. These wild Flammulina velupites look a little different than the commercially grown small white Enoki mushrooms many folks are familiar with. This is a late fall and winter mushroom which is gaining some ground as a good medicinal mushroom well worth investigating.

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Another angle.

turkeytail log

Here is an extremely common mushroom found where ever trees grow in this world and can be harvested most times of the year for medicinal teas or soups. This mushroom which contains PSK is known as Turkey tails and also Yun zhi (Trametes versicolor).

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A look at the white pore surface below the caps. Check it out. ciao

Gaultheria teas

17 Nov

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Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens) is a very common plant under Jack Pine trees on dry sandy soil in my neck of the woods. The red berries are starting to get large and will be a nice cold weather treat from now until May any time they are visible as they may possibly be snow covered for a few weeks to 4 months, time will tell.

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Today I’m gathering a few berries but mostly the plant leaves for tea. Some folks prefer the red leaves which seem to grow in the drier sunnier areas.

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I’m also collecting some green Teaberry leaves from a shadier area to compare the 2 different colored leaves flavour.

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Ah, a wet spot in the Jack pines and here we see some green Teaberry leaves and below them is Moxie-plum (Gaultheria hispidula) which has tasty white berries during the summer and its wintergreen leaves may even make a better tea than teaberries. So I’m going to do some Gaultheria tea testing in the next few days.

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Moxie-plum (Gaultheria hispidula) usually grows in wet areas on or near old tree stumps and is rare compared to Teaberry in my area.DSC06530

Here we see a larger mature stem with many small round leaves this one is well over a foot long.

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I found a couple tea testers here at the house who will sample both the red and green Teaberry teas and also the Moxie-plum leaf tea in coming days as I must first ferment the leaves for a day or 2 before the tea tasting begins.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fk11Acjofu8

Gaultheria products are rarely made today though they were used many years ago. I suspect the Teaberry gum in the video was originally made with Teaberries in the early 1900s but by the time of the 1960′s video probably was made with more easily obtained ingredients, nevertheless the videos is kinda fun and the song was a popular instrumental when I was a lad. I will post the results of our (in-house tea tasting event) as an update in this post in a few days.

UPDATE Nov 19/2013

Both Gaultheria procumbens and Gaultheria hispidula leaves when fermented for 2 days make incredibly great teas. Gaultheria hispidula won the (in-house tea tasting event) by 2 votes to 1 as it was slightly more smooth though both were truly flavourful.

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Since Gaultheria procumbens is one of our most common forest plants I will choose it as the one I gather and ferment  frequently this winter. If you live where this plant is common, enjoy fresh air and walking in the woods and also have space for a few small mason jars to ferment for a day or 2, then you clearly owe this small investment of timely pleasure to yourself. This is one tasty medicinal tea. cheers

Evening Primrose

11 Nov

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Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) still remains a common plant here in eastern Canada and I suspect the folks who lived here thousands of years ago were very fond of this health plant.

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This is usually the time of year I gather this plant though I do enjoy the yellow flowers in salads during the summer. The whole plant is edible and my favorite part for eating are the boiled roots which become very soft textured with a pleasant flavour and a peppery aftertaste.

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Evening Primrose oil which is a well known herbal product is made from Evening Primrose seeds either grown commercially or gathered from the wild, so here we are looking at a stem with the 4 chambered seedpods.

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Here I’ve opened a couple of chambers to show you the brown seeds which can be used as a peppery condiment.

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These still green basal leaves are what you’re looking for if you’re interested  in the large roots which can be harvested from these first year plants as long as the ground isn’t frozen and the 2nd year stems haven’t begun to grow. All the above photos were taken around my shed, this plant grows in a variety of areas including roadsides, railway banks, gravelly soils along brooks, drier areas near salt marshes and disturbed soils.

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I usually freeze the leaves for winter use but this year I’ll dry some to use as a pepper replacement. This plant was taken to Europe in the 1700s and was given the name the King’s cure-all, so it must of proven to be a beneficial plant in its new homelands.

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Above are a couple photos of Evening Primrose in flower taken this summer. ciao

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