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Calendula, an introduction and Harvest

Harvest and make  medicine from local and organically grown Calendula flowers at the Apothecary’s Garden this Sunday

Calendula is likely one of the best  known, easiest to grow and use medicinal herbs in the Western world.

Calendula Harvest 2014 Apothecary's Garden Churchill Park Hamilton
Calendula Harvest 2014 Apothecary’s Garden Churchill Park Hamilton

With a strong affinity for healing the skin, Calendula is used fresh or dry, in an infusion, oil or salve. It quickly soothes and facilitates the healing of insect  bites and stings, burns, blisters and chafing, cracked, dry and chapped skin, itchiness, rashes, sores, cuts and scrapes, eczema, psoriasis, fungal infections, and much more. Besides its skin healing applications, varicose veins, oral inflammations  infections, thrush and candida are traditionally treated with Calendula..
Not only is it an herb that should be in every household in one form or another, but it is one of the prettiest and easiest medicinal herbs to grow at home and use as medicine.
For families it makes the best nappy creme and works wonderfully from birth for  both mothers and babies. It effectively treats many of the bangs and bumps we all receive through childhood, and works just as well for pets and domestic animals. Calendula can and should accompany us all from birth to grandparenthood as a familiar in the garden and medicine cabinet

Preparing Calendula flowers for medicine with mortar and pestle.
Preparing Calendula flowers for medicine with mortar and pestle.

I have yet to find anything that works as well as a Calendula salve to soften and moisturize rough, dry or cracked hands from gardening, carpentry,and even concrete and cement work overnight.

From an Astrological point of view, Calendula is ruled by the Sun as indicated by the shape and colour of its bright sunny flowers and healing attributes. Like our skin, Calendula flowers meet the sun head on and they share that nourishing cosmic source-energy with us readily. There is no flower that brightens up a room like Calendula. Fresh or dried it has a bright uplifting presence.

Join me in the Apothecary’s Garden at the Teaching Gardens in Churchill Park this Sunday, share in the harvest, and I will share some of the many ways Calendula can be used for everyday healing at home.

The harvest this year is abundant, so if you can’t make it this Sunday, let me know and we will repeat this on an upcoming Sunday. Why on a Sunday?  I will let you figure  it out, or come and ask me on Sunday…

The harvest is free, child friendly and all are welcome. Bring a paper bag and take notes if you like.

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Under the Willows – Garden closing 2013

I often refer to “Under the Willows”.

I keep a link to it at the bottom of my blog with other favourite and meaningful places.

UTW closing ceremony and Parade
UTW closing ceremony and Parade

Under the Willows is a summer program for children at risk in Hamilton.

Earlier this winter, as we do every season, we closed the Under the Willows gardens for the year. Similar in some ways to the closing ceremony of the Apothecary’s Garden in Churchill Park, except, we have closed UTW with the children for quite a few years now, and Under the Willows  is definitely different. There is no other place or program like it. While our Apothecary’s Garden has great potential for education, Under the Willows functions as a place of healing and restoration for children.  Restoration of hope and light.

Established as a healing haven for children at risk, children who’s lives were derailed or darkened by trauma, violence and conflict, Under the Willows performs  a profound service and function that finds no comparable reflection anywhere else in our community. Modeled after the Butterfly Garden in Sri Lanka, a healing program for war orphaned children, and inspired by the Spiral Garden in Toronto, Under the Willows, quietly performs its service each summer mostly unheard of and unknown by the public.

Under the Willows is the brainchild of Dr. Ruth Pickering, a retired child psychiatrist, and as the name implies,it is located under a magical grove of  12 Willows. Adjacent to The Lynwood Charlton Center on Upper Paradise in Hamilton, a “last resort” to keep kids out of prison, foster homes, and  the “System”. The center’s residence provides a school setting, where a handful of  kids can  live and learn safely away from home. An opportunity to heal wounds before scar tissue permanently limits the reach of limber limbs and bright futures.

Willows watching over the garden till Spring. Seasonal rituals with residence kids nurture their relationship with Nature.
Willows watching over the garden till Spring. Seasonal rituals with residence kids nurture their relationship with Nature.

For 3 days a week, 4-6 weeks per summer, artists, musicians, craftspeople, creators, volunteers and staff of Lynwood Charlton Center come together to man an alternate universe of healing and creativity, where, for children, anything is possible. A place where the shadow of violence never enters. A world apart, safe and bright.

Under the Willows is a country where nature nurtures, heals and teaches. Where children can laugh, dream, sing, create and  imagine again. Where magic and possibility spring from fertile imaginations to grow as naturally as the lilies and flowers that find their way into salads and magical potions.

Supported financially by grants  and the Lynwood Charlton Center, UTW is separated from the surrounding world not only by the canopy of protective weeping willows, but  by the bridge which sets a subconscious boundary between it and the regular world. The only entrance and exit to the gardens in the summertime, the bridge, is a little bit of practical everyday magic. Once crossed, one enters a different world. A place of magic, healing and play.

Corey Soufle' entering Under the Willows via the bridge
Artistic director Daniel Allen as-Corey Soufle’ entering Under the Willows via the bridge

I have seen the most cynical, defensive and life weary children, open themselves to imagination and possibilities again, laugh, smile and engage. The 5 garden beds are planted with medicinal, edible, magical and fragrant plants. Nature, is an important ingredient in Under the Willows.

Every Spring, volunteers are called to help out with “The Big Dig”, a community effort to plant, prepare and primp the space for the children.   Planting vegetables that will ripen in time for the program, gourds, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers, more Lilies, Hostas and other perennial edible flowers that will enhance the garden’s crop a little bit more each year, edging the beds and re-stocking missing medicinal and magical plants, while adding as many berries and fruit as can be afforded. All plants are used by the program, one way, or another, for snacks and lunches, as craft materials, garnishes for salads or in “drama dress-up”, in potions, lotions, magic and medicine. Children are encouraged to tend the garden beds, work with nature in any capacity that draws them.

Incredibly quirky and colourful  characters appear on a regular basis to engage the children in activities, bring messages from other worlds, or add a new piece of information that the children work into the story line. One personality that is permanently on the premises is Gramma Ruth, AKA Dr. Ruth Pickering, who monitors  the children, takes them to the dream lodge, ( a structure woven of living willows),  if they need some quiet time alone, a band-aid on a boo-boo or a little grandmotherly guidance.

Harold the Herald- Under the Willows
Harold the Herald- Under the Willows

Gramma Ruth

Children take part in any of the engaging creative activities that  inspire them. Drama Dress-up, Oceans of Potions, or Clay World where a whole world is born from a huge, shapeless lump of clay each morning. Figures and scenarios emerge from the clay describing events and characters, sometimes fantasy scenarios peopled by fictional figures, but often reflections of real life situations. Life is born daily in clay world, then, for better or worse returned to a nondescript lump every afternoon when the children leave. There is something healing about this daily renewal, and always having a chance to start over.

They can participate in the huge sandbox,  gardening, creating lunch or snacks, or any one of the many special craft projects set up by the artists and craftspeople. However, once the season is underway, and the storyline is discovered,  a purpose and direction to creativity becomes clear. This is when the children are  actively engaged in creating  the mythology and storyline that becomes the focal point of activities, and the season’s finale.

Oceans of Potions at "Under The Willows summer childrens program
Oceans of Potions at “Under The Willows summer children’s program

“Oceans of Potions” is the activity “station” I conduct in my function of artist/gardener/wizard/priest which facilitates the making of magic, medicine, incense and perfume, while encouraging an intimate and healing relationship with nature.

UTW Hand carved by children 2006-Willow trunk mortar for Oceans of Potions
UTW  Mortar-Hand carved by children 2006- Tree  trunk mortar for Oceans of Potions

In Under the Willows, children are the protagonists, they lead the way and write the storyline. A story that is woven through the fabric of Under the Willows, often continuing from year to year. A story created to explain some very unusual events!

   Mysterious and unexplained objects just appear in the gardens.  Whether eggs of  some yet to be discovered creatures, or a giant shoe, some  imaginary personal belonging left by an unknown being, or a glimpse of some strange activities beyond the fence, children’s imaginations engage and make sense of it, clothe it with meaning and give it life in the context of the Garden.

giant shoe on the roof
Giant shoe on the roof
"Collector" behind the fence
A “Collector” behind the fence

Music circles are more than just singalongsThey are also where the children come together to share their thoughts, insights and visions. It is where the storyline is discovered and developed with a little help and support from staff. From these discoveries, spring communications, invitations, ceremonies, craft projects, offerings and rituals, while staff  unobtrusively support and facilitate manifesting their visions. This process often culminates in a grand parade and ceremony that ties up the season and leaves them dreaming of possibilities till the next summer..

This is where Oceans of Potions was born. A teepee of Cedar staves, covered with colorful cloth and filled with magical curios.  Colours, textures, fragrances, incense and resins, bone and wood, claws and  skulls, brass and glass,  symbols and sigils, all creating an environment of magic, and mystery, where children  are drawn to congregate with mortars and pestles, mixing,  pounding and grinding magical herbs from the gardens, essential oils, and other natural materials to create potions for the characters in the story line, or for those in their own lives.

The name, location and presence of 12 mature weeping willow trees is providential. Under the Willow trees, children find a safe haven to explore and express emotion and imagination, to reconnect with Nature and self.  Willow trees  traditionally represent sadness, but also the relief of pain and the process of regeneration.  Though they do weep, Willows are known to ease pain with the salicylic acid found under their bark, (Aspirin), and not only are they one of the most flexible trees, easy to weave and difficult to break, but Willows are the quickest of all trees to come back to life and almost magically regenerate themselves. One twig or branch, stuck in the ground, even upside down, will quickly root and grow into a magnificent Willow tree.   Could there have been a more perfect setting and environment for these children?


Keeping Under the Willows going from year to year has been a real challenge. Yet, every year, limitations have been overcome, finances have somehow appeared, and just enough volunteers have shown up to squeeze by and make it happen again. Please consider supporting this very worthy program. Any way you can.

Daniel conducting Music Circle
Daniel conducting Music Circle

Though the initiatives of Dr. Pickering established Under the Willows, her  ongoing presence, and the dedicated  involvement of many other people have been important  factors  keeping the garden alive, an enormous amount of credit is due to my friend, Artistic Director and co-ordinator, musician Daniel Allen, who has gradually taken over most of the key functions that have kept the garden going from year to year.

An extremely talented musician and teacher, Daniel not only organizes, co-ordinates and oversees most of the critical components,  interviews and hires all the artists, runs the thrice daily music circles, performs the roles of Gramma Thunderhead, Corey Soufle’ and other garden “Guests”, is responsible for the website, organizes the “Big Dig”, and the garden closing ceremony, and often picks up the slack himself to make sure everything is always running smoothly. That being said, I have to add that Daniel resigned his position last week.  Though I started writing this post  before hearing of his resignation, it seems appropriate to mention it here now.  He carried a lot on his own, and knowing the kind of perfectionist he is, how much he would demand of himself, it’s not hard to imagine the stresses of such a job.

What will happen to Under the Willows now? Will there be another season? It would be a great shame to see this unique and inspired healing endeavour disappear from Hamilton. Even if most of us never knew of its existence.

If you can donate financially, or if you can give some of your time. If you would like to be on the mailing list to volunteer for the “Big Dig” or any other important function, or if you would like to become a “Willipudian” artist, please,  check out and SHARE their Web page here.   Under the Willows is such a wonderful and important community program, it should not go unrecognized or unsupported by any of us.



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Spicing up the season with wild ginger

Wild Ginger 2012 harvest. Dried

Winter Wow, Spicing up the season with Wild Ginger, Asarum Canadense


Basking in a beam of sunlight-Wild Ginger in the woods - Ontario
Basking in a beam of sunlight-Wild Ginger in the woods – Ontario

Wild Ginger, or, Asarum Canadense, is a wild growing forest herb native to eastern north America from Quebec and Nova Scotia, down to Georgia and Tennessee. As a culinary spice, Wild Ginger has a bold distinct character, both in its fragrance and flavour. Though it shares a spicy bite with tropical Ginger, the similarities end there. In our area, Wild Ginger is not yet on the endangered list, let’s do what we can keep it that way. Try to buy  from reliable sources that practice ethical and sustainable harvesting, (especially when purchasing the essential oil which necessitates the harvest of large quantities), and if you’re going to harvest it yourself, please be considerate of the plants and the balance of nature. For insights on how to take care of your local wild growing Wild Ginger patches, you can read the post Wild Ginger flavourful fragrant Northern Treasure.

Wild Ginger, washed, weighed and ready
Wild Ginger, washed, weighed and ready for candying.
Wild Ginger 2012 harvest. Dried
Wild Ginger 2012 harvest. Dried

Unfortunately, most of us have little, or no experience with Wild Ginger in the kitchen.We are not familiar with its unique flavor and fragrance or how it can complement even the simplest of daily meals. In particular, how it transforms our traditional fall and winter dishes. Comparing it to Tropical Ginger is like comparing mangos to a really boring fruit, they both may be fruit, grow on trees, sweet, but very, very different from each other. They each have  different qualities we can utilize in the kitchen. Wild Ginger is very different from tropical ginger, not even belonging to the same family. From the perspective of flavour and fragrance, Wild Ginger offers us much more than regular Ginger.


Washed, and air drying prior to distilling essential oil, I think  that from now on, Wild Ginger should be called Canada Salamander root, instead of Canada Snake root. the new shoots always stagger out from their sides as if they are trying to scurry away and hide under a stone.
Washed, and air drying prior to distilling essential oil, I think  that from now on, Wild Ginger should be called Canada Salamander root, instead of Canada Snake root. the new shoots always stagger out from their sides as if they are trying to scurry away and hide under a stone.

Crooked, pencil diameter greenish-grey to black rhizomes, twisting, spreading, clinging  to the surface of the forest floor like undulating  salamanders frozen in a defensive “camo'” move. Called Canada Snakeroot in some traditions, the swollen pointed arrow shaped growing tips support this name, looking almost reptilian, but, the shorter offshoots, staggered and alternating to each side, make them look more like a startled nest of scurrying salamanders, than snakes with shorter snakes exiting their flanks.     That, my friends, was the easy part of describing Wild Ginger to you. I simply can’t think of any spice, plant, aroma or flavour, natural or other, that I have experienced that could possibly act as a reference for a comparative description. There is nothing I could say that would give you the slightest inkling of what you will experience when you taste or smell Wild Ginger, or the abundant inspired uses you will find for it in the kitchen. It  is simply not “like” anything else. Even naming this plant Wild Ginger is a stretch, but understandable.

Candied Wild Ginger
Candied Wild Ginger
Giving fresh harvested Wild Ginger a good scrub and rinse. Tip, do not do this in a sink, unless you are a plumber with lots of spare time :-)!
Giving fresh harvested Wild Ginger a good scrub and rinse. Tip, do not do this in a sink, unless you are a plumber with lots of spare time :-)!

So, as mentioned, Wild Ginger, tastes nothing like tropical Ginger. It does however have, among its rich complexities of fragrance and flavour, a spicy bite, that can be compared to the bite of tropical Ginger. But, that is about all they share. Can it be used as a replacement for “regular ginger in cooking and baking?, Yes, but, it is NOT a true replacement for it. A replacement would perform as the original, and a good replacement, would barely be noticed. This is NOT the case with Wild Ginger folks. You can try to use it as a replacement for regular Ginger, but instead of not noticing the substitute, you will get-a WOW!! Yes ma’am, a WOW!!  Eyes open as far as they can, eyebrow cocked, (one in question, one in awe), a pause, while they look you in the eye, silently asking. ?  ?  ? ,  And looking at the blankness in their other eye, through the iris dilated with awe, you see the little gears in their brains spinning around, clinking, grinding. In the foreground, little clerks run around amidst flying papers and reference notes of things they tasted, smelled, heard of in the past, but, they are fast coming up with nothing. Frantically trying to find anything to pass on to the mouth which is still hanging open silently. True story.  So it is not a replacement for Ginger, as much as it is a secret weapon in a cook’s or baker’s repertoire that can be substituted for regular ginger and wow people. People who may have expected the flavour of “normal”  ginger in your dish. I hope you gleaned some knowledge of what it is through what it isn’t. Because as implied in the preceding paragraph, describing Wild Ginger is a challenge. Therapeutically, Wild Ginger shares many of the same qualities that tropical ginger has, it is stimulating and warming, improving  the appetite and digestion, reduces nausea, acts as an anti-inflammatory. Topically it is a rubificant that stimulates surface blood-flow. It makes a wicked essential oil for perfume or aromatherapy. Wild Ginger abounds with oleoresins, with an accent on the resins, fragrant molecules a little heavier than essential oils, so they cannot be distilled off with the essential oils, but must be collected via solvent extraction such as alcohol. I believe the resins in Wild Ginger will eventually reveal great therapeutic value, just as the resins in Turmeric, Frankincense, Myrrh, the Spruces, and Fir family.

Distilling essential oil of Wild Ginger, Yumm.
Distilling essential oil of Wild Ginger, Yumm.

   It’s fragrance is perky and mesmerizes you with its unexpected depth and complexity.  Though not “perfumey”, it has a lovely bold and distinguished fragrance. With a hint of the forest floor, and spicy Maple leaves layered in the woods, caramelized sugar and Maple Syrup. This sweet spiciness is couched in a warm, woody masculine  floral note,  reminiscent of Neroli or Mock Orange blossoms with Black Pepper keeping it dry and crisp. Perhaps due to its abundance of resins, Wild Ginger has a persistent, soft, woody, amber-like balsam note holding it all together. A spicy, warm creaminess like Peru Balsam, Vanilla and Cloves. Wild Ginger, in its short description, is a spicy, sweet,  woody, dry floral fragrance with a vanilla amber note, and an uplifting,  flavourful and pleasant bite. So much more than tropical Ginger. I don’t know if any of the above attempts at describing wild ginger helped, or left you exactly where you were, but I did come up with the brilliant idea, (pat on the back), of making small 10 gram samplers that could be shipped inexpensively by regular letter mail. ($2.00?). Enough dry wild ginger pieces to make one or three pots of rice, or trays of squash, or pans of coffeecake, etc. Enough to experience it first hand in the kitchen and at the table. I hope by now you  can understand my frustration with words falling short of conveying in even the smallest measure how wonderful and useful this herb is. How it can transform the food we cook, and enrich our lives.I honestly see no way for second hand words to impart the understanding  first hand experience can give us. But I tried anyway.

Candied Wild Ginger and Pancake Syrup from 50 grams dried Wild Ginger
Candied Wild Ginger and Pancake Syrup. The yield  from 50 grams dried Wild Ginger

Using Wild Ginger in the kitchen

I am not an expert cook. I am though, a creative cook, and can whip up a mean batch of humus, a nourishing winter stew, or a succulent roast without much thought.  I do not have a huge collection of recipes. OK, I haven’t collected any culinary recipes. Ok, I don’t actually have any culinary recipes.  I try to practice trusting life to provide what I need when I need it, and there are soooooooooo many recipes online, it really does not take much faith, trust or effort to find a good recipe when I need one. I cast my Google net when I do, and  improvise. I cook like I shop. I pick 3 of the most appealing recipes on Google. Then,  after comparing, and finding the median in price, simplicity, method and daring, I change it. Or use parts of each. Most of the time I outdo myself with this approach and in general, it works well,  keeps me on my toes and engaged. I found it is very easy to improvise with wild Ginger and create unique dishes. It lends itself especially well to fall dishes and winter dishes with its warming fragrant spiciness. This for me, is another indication that fall is the best time to harvest this plant for essential oils and culinary applications. Wild Ginger is a very exciting spice to explore and work with, and the simplest way to do so is to substitute regular ginger in a recipe with wild Ginger.  It does have one or two quirks that are important to note before experimenting with it..

  • It is fairly easy to grind it up coarsely in a mortar and pestle,  then transfer it to a coffee grinder and turn most of it into a powder. This powder can be stored in spice jars, added anywhere you would like something a little different.
  •  Wild Ginger keeps well if stored well. Thoroughly dried in a sealed container. Storing any herb in a dark jar or cool dark spot, is always a good idea. Kept properly it will keep whole for over a decade! Powdered for 3-5 years. I attribute its extended shelf life to the resins it contains, I think they are naturally bound with the essential oils which keeps the fragrance from flying off.
  • Wild Ginger has the added benefit of adding a unique texture. For instance when ground coarsely these chunks tenderize nicely during the time that a pot of rice cooks, let’s say 20 minutes, and will turn into tender chewy,and very flavorful morsels in your rice dish.  This adds a lovely and surprising texture along with its unique flavour. Often when grinding this tough rhizome in the coffee grinder, you will find only half your quantity has powdered, and when passed through a simple sieve, you will be left with small nuggets. They are perfect as they are for adding flavoured texture..
  • Another difference between the wild Ginger and regular Ginger, is that wild Ginger is a little less spicy, and though it has much more character than regular ginger, it is modest and does not shout, bite or cut. It is rich but less outspoken than some spices. If the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of regular dry Ginger one should usually add one and a half teaspoons of dried wild Ginger.

Everyday meals, fall dishes, warming winter treats, and holiday favourites. Baked goods, candies, cakes, cookies, casseroles and warm winter beverages.The possibilities with Wild Ginger are endless. Here are some thoughts and ideas for where Wild Ginger could be wonderfully suited.

  •  Pumpkin pies A perfect match for your filling, adjust the other spices accordingly, more WG-less Nutmeg or other spices. Use your intuition, your nose, you’ll do fine.
  • Sweet potatoes and squash dishes, add powdered WG to the butter, garlic or whatever you baste it with.
  • Gingerbread,  Ginger-snaps, spice loaf, coffeecake. A little more WG is required than regular Ginger, about 1 1/2- 2 times WG as called for regular ginger. Adjust the original spices accordingly.
  • Rice dishes, as I mentioned Wild Ginger chunks, (about 1/8″ long), make lovely pieces of chewy flavoured tenderness, it goes really well with wild mushrooms, chicken stock, beef stock and vegetable stock.
  •  Venison, Bison, Wild game and fowl are flattered by Wild Ginger. It also helps lighten heaviness and eases digestion of heavy or wild meats.  The flavours blend beautifully!!
  • Added to a stuffing and a baste for regular store-bought turkey, chicken, pork, WG  helps cut any fat or heaviness associated with meat dishes, while adding a beautiful flavour and spiciness that blends seamlessly with your dish. It really shines!
  • Eggnog Wild Ginger is a lovely touch and lends rich spicy notes to eggnog.  It lifts it up!
  • Ice cream? If you make your own, use WG as your main or secondary flavour.
  • Wild Ginger is excellent as a tea infused in hot water, or added to your favorite herb tea or chai.  1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground fine per cup of boiling water works well alone or in most herbal and fruit type teas. It is warming to the body helps ease a sore throat, dispel nausea and stimulate digestion.
  •  Pancakes and hot breakfast cereals can benefit from a pinch of powdered WG  in the mix, especially when using fruit in your batter, like blueberries.
  • Mulled Cider is transformed and sublimated with the addition of wild ginger. It will be an eye opener at gatherings! The wow! factor.
  • The same goes for mulled wine.
  • Needless to say a pancake syrup made from wild Ginger is exceptionally yummy and memorable. You can find directions for making a Wild Ginger syrup along with the recipes for making candied Wild Ginger in these two posts. Candied Wild Ginger Recipe, and Candied Wild Ginger, a recipe from fresh.
  • Elderberry wine, Dandelion wine and many other wild brews benefit greatly from a measure of Wild Ginger. I think you get the point by now, so I won’t ramble on any further.

These are a starting point really. Some I have myself made over the years, some I hope to make in the future. Wild Ginger takes them all up a notch. I would love to hear of any ones experiences growing, harvesting, distilling or cooking with Asarum Canadense. Any comments, insights, inspirations, recipes, thoughts and of course questions, would be more than welcome. Anytime. I wish you all an illuminated Winter Solstice, and a wonderful, warm, inspiring Winter. Dan

Wild Ginger-10 gram samplers
This just might work better than words. Wild Ginger-10 gram samplers-Perfect stocking stuffers too!

If you live in the Hamilton area, you can purchase these samplers at Humblepie, on James Street North. Susan also carries a selection of Frankincense and Myrrh samplers and some of my Astrodynamic preparations. Here’s a link to her

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An Update on Wild Mushrooms and Apothecary Stuff

Wild Mushroom Hunt Gorgeous Fall colours Dundas escarpment

That predictable seasonal shift from garden and woods, to study and laboratory progresses like clockwork. A lot has been going on in the study/lab the past few weeks.   Planting, growing, harvesting and hunting lead to new materials for extractions, tinctures and distillations indoors. Frankincense extracts and Anti-aging creme, Reishi mushroom tincture and extract, a Stinkhorn Perfume tincture, and a Wild Ginger essential oil distillation will finally get my full attention once Nature isn’t calling me out to play as often.

Winter work-Wild Mushrooms,Wild Ginger and Frankincense are transformed while the sun ebbs and waxes again.
Winter work-Wild Mushrooms,Wild Ginger and Frankincense are transformed while the sun ebbs and waxes again.

I have to admit, that with a certain amount of guilt, (and glee!), I have snuck out to the woods on my own the past couple of Saturdays.  Quietly, and without making my usual public Facebook invitations to the community, asking you all to join me for fall wild mushroom hunts, or for volunteer work in the garden. Not that any of the past Saturday outings with participants has been anything but a delight, but I have enjoyed that feeling of freedom that playing hookey gives one. I have been at the Apothecary’s Garden at Churchill Park pretty much every Saturday morning at 9:30, since early spring.
The fall rains and whipping winds, coupled with the stunning autumn colours of our gorgeous escarpment, the fragrance of the moist soil and decomposing leaves, have made these outings wonderfully nourishing to my soul.

Fall Vista-Hamilton Mushroom Hunt 2013
Fall Vista-Hamilton-Mushroom Hunt 2013

Gratitude and special thanks go out to every one of the wonderful people in our community who have supported the Teaching Gardens, The Apothecary’s Garden and Labyrinth. All those who came out in the spring to help open the garden, the summer weeders, the Labyrinth builders, and those who so kindly donated plants from our wish list, all of which are thriving. The list of  contributors is too long to recite here but needless to say, there would be no teaching gardens without your support!!

That being said, there is one final event upcoming in the Apothecary’s Garden. The official closing of the garden for the season. The season’s growth must be cut down and composted, Lavender bushes and other tender perennials mulched to keep them safe through the winter, and the garden needs to be tucked in, and put to bed. While I am happy to do this on my own, I would feel honoured if any one of you would join me in this seasonal ritual. A beginning and an end to all things. And just as important as the spring opening of the gardens with all its excitement and anticipation, is the winter closing of the beds. A few extra hands with pruners and wheelbarrows, a couple of bales of hay for mulch, some hot tea and a little closing ceremony of gratitude for the year’s bounty, would be ideal. The weekends of the 9th of November or the 16th are looking good for this. I will leave it to Mary Louise Pigott to work out the timing and pass the word beyond this post. I sincerely hope to see you all there.

Here is a glimpse of a few of the seasons Wild Mushrooms. (Still no Blewits, Dohh).






































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One last Wild mushroom Hunt

To Blewits and Beyond, the last Wild Mushroom Hunt


Wild Mushroom Hunt Dundas Ontario
Wild Mushroom Hunt

What a pleasant surprise!!

Last Saturday’s Wild mushroom hunt was a wonderful success with a great turn out, including visitors from Delhi, Selkirk, and Hamilton!

Though this time around we didn’t find many edible mushrooms, we did find  medicinals and some perfect specimens. Both the mushrooms we captured, and those that evaded us, sparked conversations on multiple topics. Needless to say, the morning

Turkey Tail Mushrooms, vertical.
Turkey Tail Mushrooms, vertical

whipped by before we noticed.

Treeborn Puffballs past their prime, but beautifully arranged
Treeborn Puffballs past their prime, but beautifully arranged


Everyone came back to the Apothecary’s study, (The  Apothecarium?), after our mushroom hunt, to experience “Oceans of Potions”. To see, smell, taste and talk about some of the healing and fragrant products that can be created with the seasons bounty.

Hunting for Wild Mushrooms reminds me a bit of trying to find cool items at Value Village, you just have to keep going back, often leaving empty-handed, and eventually, you’ll find what you’re looking for. You can’t just go once and expect to hit the jackpot.
Though the weather is cooling down and we are almost into the negative numbers Celsius, it’s still possible to find some delicious Wild mushrooms. In particular Bluets, Blewitts, Blewits or Bleuetes, however you wish to spell it. Lepista Nuda, Clitocybe Nuda, or Wood Blewit, is a substantial, meaty, delicious gourmet wild mushroom that is only found when the weather cools down, often well into November. They are entering their prime now, ( wherever they are hiding!), so it probably worthwhile to go out one more time and see what we can find.


Clitocybe nuda
Clitocybe nuda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Blewits have a unique, firm texture that makes them perfect for stews, sauces, pickling, and the usual sautéing and frying.  A very versatile Mushroom. When blanched, they can be frozen and kept for months. As pickles in a savory marinade, their crisp and fleshy texture is ideal. They can be breaded and pan-fried, or roasted in the oven with butter, garlic, and your vegetables of choice.

The distinct Lavender to purple colour of these mushrooms, combined with their size, and appearance so late in the season, makes these unusual wild mushrooms unmistakable, and a fairly safe bet for even the novice wild mushroom hunter. If anyone comes across some lavender mushrooms over the next few weeks, feel free to text me a photo at 905-541-2956. I will gladly confirm their identity for you, and share some tips for preparing and storing them.

The Apothecary’s Garden can be put to bed, and tucked in for the winter, anytime over the next few weeks. There is no rush, it’s not going anywhere, and it is definitely a better use of these last pre-winter days to go out one more time and see what we can find.

So,,,, i know it’s last-minute, it is already Friday, and cutting it close for those who like a few days notice to juggle a busy schedule, but,, I only discovered today, that we are going for one more Wild mushroom hunt. Tomorrow!     

        So let’s consider this a formal invitation for anyone who missed the past two mushroom hunts, or anyone who would like to join me again for one last hunt on our trails.

   Come join me this Saturday morning ,(26th), at 9:30 AM at the Apothecary’s garden, The Teaching Gardens, Churchill Park, and we will go a hunting one last time.

Let’s not give anyone the opportunity to tell us we “Blewit” this year, and missed our wild mushroom window.

Hope to see you there!!
P.S. There is no charge for participating in the Mushroom walks.


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A Very Fine Elderberry Wine Recipe

Eldeberry Wine-Perfectly ripe Elderberries-Apothecary's Garden 2013

Homemade Elderberry Wine is, without a doubt, the most refined, distinguished and classic wildcrafted wine I have ever made. I would love to show you how it is done.

Elderberry Wine Elderberry Bush-Apothecary's Garden Teaching Gardens Hamilton
Elderberry Bushes-Spring 2013, Apothecary’s Garden-Teaching Gardens, Hamilton

Now is the time. The Elderberries are starting to ripen and are perfect for making Elderberry wine, Elderberry syrup, Elderberry jam and jelly, or Elderberry pies. The berries must be fully ripe and as dark as they can be, to make the best Elderberry Products. They should leave your hands and mouth stained a dark and intense purple.
If you are going to make only one wild berry wine this life, then make Elderberry Wine.
We have two beautiful specimens of native Elderberry bushes in the Apothecary’s Garden at the Teaching gardens in Westdale Hamilton.


Elderberry wine, Berries must be fully ripe. Elderbarries-Apothecary's Garden 2013
Elderberry wine, Berries must be fully ripe.  Elderberries at Apothecary’s Garden 2013

They were planted about 12 years ago. They struggled, and have never done well in the gardens till now.. This is the first year, and it must be from all the love and care that they’re getting from our wonderful volunteers since we renovated the Apothecary’s Garden.  WOW!! They look beautiful! They are laden with heavy droops of dark shiny fruit, and ready to be harvested.
I have noticed other local bushes are not quite ready for harvest, so, as of writing this post, (19 August), there is a window of 2-3 weeks to harvest your Elderberries. If you can’t get to making your wine, syrup or other Elderberry product, you can, freeze them for a while without compromising quality. Don’t overdo it though. 1-2 months in the freezer if you are making wine from them, up to 6 months if you are making an Elderberry syrup is my advised maximum.
Here in North America we have our native variety of Elderberry, called Sambucus Canadensis. It is a little different then the Sambucus Nigra of Europe.
The flowers of our variety are a little less fragrant, but Medicinally the properties are pretty much identical as far as I know.


Elderberry wine, or Elderflower syrup?Elderflowers, Sambucus Canadensis, Apothecary's Garden, Hamilton
Elderflowers, Sambucus Canadensis, Apothecary’s Garden, Hamilton

Elder flowers are excellent as a Tea in the winter, or a refreshing drink in the summer when kept in the form of a syrup. I believe Ikea sells a version of Elderflower syrup, though I doubt it could compete with homemade. The gently dried Elderflowers make an exquisite Wildcrafted tea.
Keep this all in mind for next spring if you have an abundance of flowers on your bushes. Whether collecting the flowers reduces the yield of berries is a question I have yet to answer.


But the berries, AHH, The Elderberries, make the finest of wines! There is no wild wine, in my experience, that can outshine a decently crafted Elderberry Wine.
One issue I usually have with our local Elderberries, is the lack of tartness and tannins, (Though this year our Apothecary Garden bushes do, inexplicably, have a little more tartness to them.) I don’t know if the same issue exists with its European cousin, but there are a couple of effective methods to balance the flavour.



Eldeberry Wine-Perfectly ripe Elderberries-Apothecary's Garden 2013
Elderberry Wine-Perfectly ripe Elderberries-Apothecary’s Garden 2013

My favourite way to address this, the simplest, and a very elegant solution, is to add some of our local wild grapes. Anywhere from 10% to 20%. These tiny grapes, sometime called Fox grapes, haven’t much flesh, they are mostly seed and skin, but they have a rich and intensely tart flavour! Beautiful colour. Along with some mouth puckering tannins that not only compliment the Elderberry Wine perfectly, but seem to make the yeasty beasties, (the wine yeast), very happy. It is easiest to add the wild grapes with the first “cooking” of juices”, but the grape juice can be made separately and added later in the primary fermentation, if you find the flavour needs adjusting. This year the wild grapes, as most other wild fruit in our neighborhood, are bountiful, and it just so happens their fruit is ripening in tandem with the Elderberries. Quite perfect thank you.


Wild grapes
Wild grapes (Photo credit: lahvak)

These Wild grapes, on their own, serve up a pretty amazing Syrup that you can use for ice cream, a refreshing cold summer beverage when mixed with soda or cold water and for sauces and marinades. My room-mate uses it as a base for his Kefir fermentations. The delicious and deeply coloured Wild Grape Syrup can be used as an addition to many things. Utilized in jams and jellies, and when mixed with other wild fruit, can of course make a unique wild crafted wine.
Another way to address this lack of acidity in our local elderberries is to add pure acids to the unfermented wine, the juice or must. Ascorbic acid, Citric acid and Malic acid are commonly used to adjust acid levels and flavour in home-made wines, and are available at most “Brew your own”, and winemaking supply stores. Often a little tannin from oak bark or any other natural source, (Goldenrod Galls), enriches the flavour of Elderberry wine.
Taste your berries, but especially taste your juice and the must of your primary fermentation periodically, these are the best times to adjust the flavours of your wine.
As I have mentioned in earlier posts, my favourite secret ingredient to add to wild wines, jams, jellies and syrups is Wild Ginger. Asarum Canadense. Added to Elderberry Wine, A little Wild Ginger is simply transformative, without being overbearing or even obvious. There is some natural affinity, chemistry or Alchemy between them.. Wild ginger added to Elderberry wine brings out depth and richness in the wine along with subtle woody, Balsamic and, delicate, sweet spice notes with creamy nuances that dance in your nose and around your taste buds.
Please see my post, Wild Ginger Flavourfull, Fragrant Northern Treasure.

Elderberry wine's secret synergy with Wild Ginger, Spice, fragrance and medicine - Hidden Ontario treasure - Ontario
Wild Ginger, Spice, fragrance and medicine – Hidden Ontario treasure – Ontario

Elderberry wine needs time to mature and mellow, at the very least, six months before you drink it. It is truly a classic and distinguished wine that can outshine some of the expensive store-bought vintages. Seriously!! Hands down. Its colour is gorgeously, expensively rich, It will improve with age and will keep for many many years.


Another great use for Elderberries is as a cough & cold syrup. I have heard, one can now buy a premade Elderberry syrup in some of the health food stores. At quite a dear price!!! It is so simple to make yourself, I will try to post a recipe or two for Elderberry Syrup. This can be made as a traditional “Rob” with no sugar added. Simply juice of Elderberries boiled down to the consistency of honey. Or you could add sugar or honey as a sweetener. These will all give you equally great results. Served in hot water, the Elderberry syrup will help produce a sweat which is often useful treating colds, flu and viruses, it is traditionally used as a cough syrup and to ease sore throats. (Especially with some Wild Ginger added to it!).

Dried Wild Ginger for Elderberry Wine 2012 Harvest
Dried Wild Ginger 2012 Harvest

There is a lot of folklore, mythology, Magic and medicine around the Elder tree. If you’re into the energetics of plants, Elder has a very distinct personality and rich esoteric history. Ruled, it is said by Saturn, ( I swear there is a powerful presence of Venus involved).
Many cultures have important myths and folklore around the Elder.
Is said that the first Panpipes were made from the Elderberry wood. (By Pan himself?).
Some say that the first popguns were made of elder wood.
I’m sure they would make great blowguns.
I have made spiles for collecting Maple Syrup, from Elderberry wood.They work well and last for many years. ( I Can’t find my photos anywhere!!), If you are going to drill holes in trees, it seems somehow more considerate to hammer wood into the holes and not cold metal, right?. I know I would prefer it if I was a maple tree.

Medicinally all parts of The Elder tree have been used. There is ongoing research into the healing potential of the Elder, fruit, leaf, flower, berry and root, and much information available online for those who would like to learn more.
Any way you look at the Elderberry bush, it has a powerful presence, personality and history about it. You do not want to mess with it or treat it with disrespect. This is a general no brainer rule with plants, and trees especially, but the Elder seems to have an army of minions and unseen supporters, a powerful protective and protected presence about it. (Often traditionally used for hedgerows, fences and protective barriers all over Europe). In popular European Folklore, it is said that if you sit under the Elder at midnight, on midsummer Eve, you will see, and be able to communicate with the Fairies.

Mrs. Grieves, in her book “A Modern Herbal”, presents a great collection of magic, myth and folklore, medicinal uses, current and historic, and many culinary recipes covering not only Elder, but hundreds of traditional medicinal plants. This is a book that anyone who has any interest in Herbalism or the Apothecary Arts, must peruse at least. I will include a link to a free online edition. (Or check in my “Astrodynamics 101” page).

Mrs. Grieves,"A Modern Herbal" A classic and indispensable resource for every Herbalist, Apothecary and Wildcrafter
A link to-Mrs. Grieves,”A Modern Herbal” A classic and indispensable resource for every Herbalist, Apothecary, Natural Perfumer and Wildcrafter

O.K., So, without further ado, (and Gemini rambling), here is my recipe for making a very, very fine Elderberry wine. Please remember, a recipe is only a starting point. Good quality ingredients help, as do sterilized tools and vessels, proper temperatures and methods all help. But, This is an Art, not a science. you do not have to be an expert, just be present with your passion and enthusiasm. It is about a process not a product. Your relationship and process with the Elderberry bush, Mother Nature, your creativity, this is about  enriching your life experience, and that of those around you. Just bring your personality and experience, or lack thereof, your passion, inspiration  and intuition. The end product will be a little different each year, and hopefully a little better as well. Always keep notes, legible notes, so you can learn from your mistakes and from your successes. Your future self will thank you. And Good Luck!

A Recipe for a Very Fine Elderberry Wine

For every gallon of wine you wish to make,You will need

  • Juicy ripe Elderberries,1/2 gallon, (2 liters volume),
  • 1 Kilogram of white sugar, 4 cups.
  • Approximately 1 to 2 cups volume, Wild grapes, you can add more if you think it needs more acid or tannin. Explore.
  • 4 liters of water
  • Sodium Metabisuphite for sterilizing ALL tools and vessels before use. (instructions for use are included at time of purchase). Can also be used as a preservative for finished products if this interests you.
  • 50 grams dried Wild ginger pieces, or 200 grams fresh Wild Ginger rhizomes, scrubbed clean.
  • A package of yeast, (usually good for 20 liters or 5 gallons of wine), either speciality yeast used for wild or floral wines, or a grape wine yeast of your choice, or simply any bread yeast you come across or like.
  • Some yeast nutrient. It really helps, if you ever feel things have slowed down prematurely, or stopped, and your yeast is not happy, healthy or working hard transforming your sugar. If you need to kickstart a primary fermentation that has stopped, or if you want to give your yeast a boost to reduce sugar and increase alcohol. Or let them know you love them. Train them.
  • 5-10 cloves for flavour.


Method and Process

  • For every 2 liters volume,( 1/2 Gallon), of fresh, ripe Elderberries, add however much wild grapes you wish to add, 1-2 cups or so.
  •  mush up all berries after measuring and  prior to boiling.
  • Boil 4 liters ,(1 Gallon) of water and set aside 4 cups ,( 1 kilogram) of white sugar.
  • Add fresh or frozen fruit to the water and boil for 20-30 minutes.
  • Turn off heat and let sit till it is cool enough to handle.
  • Pour liquid through a pillowcase or layered cheesecloth.
  • Squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the berries, then either compost the residue or return it to the land.
Pillowcase  and funnel to filter Elderberry wine
Pillowcase and funnel to filter Elderberry wine
  •      Put your juice in a large pot, bring back to a boil, add sugar, cloves and wild ginger, tannin or bark, or more wild grapes or wild grape juice, if you think you need it and bring to a boil. This is your first opportunity to taste and test your wine, to start making any adjustments, adding the flavourings, (and keeping diligent notes!) If you make a “sachet” a cloth or cheesecloth bag with the spices or extra,(smushed), grapes inside it, you will not need to filter it again before primary fermentation.
  • Simmer for 20 minutes, let it cool till it is warm to the touch,just not hot, remove your sachet.
  • Pour the warm juice into a food grade plastic bucket, (or two, depending how much you are making. (These are also available at wine supply stores).
  • In a separate cup, jar or container add 1/2 cup  lukewarm water and 1/2 cup warm juice. Stir in the yeast and wait for it to activate, froth, foam or bubble. When the yeast is nicely active, stir it into the sterilized bucket with your juice. Cover with cheesecloth or towel to keep bugs out and allow air into the bucket. I use a large elastic band or two that fit the circumferance of the bucket and hold the towel in place so it does not sag into the wine and contaminate it.
  • Your wine should start fizzing within 24 hours. If it does not, repeat the yeast mixing process and after stirring your yeast mix into the juice, or must, mix in a teaspoon of yeast nutrient to kick start it.
  • Leave it undisturbed for 1-6 weeks in a warmish place to work.
  • When it ceases to make a fizzing or hissing sound then it is time to “rack” it to a sterile glass container and put an airlock on it. (Or a balloon pulled over the mouth of the vessel poked with a pin a few times), See Dandelion wine recipe.
  • After racking, siphoning off all the clear liquid, put it in a dark cool place for secondary fermentation. A basement is usually good and let it sit for 2-4 weeks undisturbed.
  • Rack it again to another sterile vessel or carboy, leaving the must undisturbed on the bottom of the carboy. Racking is one of the points in the process where you sacrifice some of the liquid, in case you wondered how 6 liters of the original liquid ended up being only 4 liters of wine.
  • At this point you could let it sit undisturbed for another 2-4 weeks then siphon it directly into sterile wine bottles, cork the bottles after boiling the corks for 20 minutes, (using an upside down plate to hold the corks under the boiling water, they will want to float on top). Set it aside till December at the earliest. Some people will rack their wine 4, 5 or 6 times before bottling, I prefer 3-4 rackings, 3-4 weeks apart.     Some will run it through a vaccuum or pressure filtering system before bottling. Some lay their bottles on their sides to keep the corks moist, others just stand them up, your choice. There is much information on home brewing and winemaking techniques online if you would like to gird yourself with as much information as you can before starting.

Good Luck! And remember to always take clear and legible notes. Your future self will thank you!!

Please feel free to leave me a note in the comments section if you have any questions at all.   I am happy to hear from you and will get back to you ASAP.




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Stumbling over Wild Mushrooms

Wild Mushroom Hunting


 Wild Mushroom picking; illustration to III tome &qu...

Wild Mushroom picking; illustration to III tome “Pan Tadeusz” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know I do go on about what a bountiful year it is this time round. It is true though. I,m fairly certain I am not the only one to notice that the wild fruit are begging for a bowl or blanket under their branches,and that one literally stumbles over wild Mushrooms to get to them!




The Perfect Cornucopia, Wild Raspberries, Dundas Ontario
The Perfect Cornucopia, Wild Raspberries,
Dundas Ontario
Wild Raspberries, First hunt and harvest Dundas Ontario
Wild Raspberries, First hunt and harvest Dundas Ontario



I have had a passion for wild mushrooms since the early 80’s. Most of my successful mushroom hunts have been far outside the city. The further from metropolitan Hamilton, the better it has seemed. This year is proving to be an exception.


This year, I can’t harvest wild herbs without encountering wild mushrooms along the way. Not just encountering them, but coming across a surprising variety of fabulous Funghi. 5 or 6 different types of sponge pored Boletes, some edible and delicious, some I have never met. Lovely healing shelf mushrooms galore, Coral mushrooms, puffballs and earth stars. Amanitas and more Amanitas. Besides the story book and fairy tale yellow, red or orange capped and white speckled Amanita Muscaria that has become a symbol of wild mushrooms one should not eat, I have come across quite a few other types of Amanitas that could very well be delectable. Yet knowing the deadly toxicity of some Amanitas, it is simply not worth the risk consuming even a nibble without a thorough and proven examination of mushroom” keys”, discerning differences including spore prints and if possible microscopic analysis of spores.


A beautiful flush of healing wild Reishi Mushrooms Dundas 2013
A beautiful flush of healing wildReishi Mushrooms Dundas 2013
wild mushrooms-Amanita Muscaria
wild mushrooms-Amanita Muscaria

Though I feel a bit of a loss that so many beautiful specimens will not meet my taste buds, there are some reliable types that abound in quantities that would make the collection worthwhile and provide enough of a harvest to share with others and even save for a snowy winter day.


Amanita muscaria mushrooms in a group
Amanita muscaria mushrooms in a group (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Unknown wild mushroom Princess Point Hamilton 2013
Unknown wild mushroom Princess Point Hamilton 2013

Chantrelles abound this year in most wooded areas around Hamilton, and should keep coming till the fall in mixed woods. These are easily recognized, do not have many, if any deadly lookalikes, they stay awhile on the forest floor, keep well in the fridge and lend themselves to many  dishes. A good line up all round.


Wild Mushrooms-Chantrelles Princess Point Hamilton 2013
Wild Mushrooms-Chantrelles Princess Point Hamilton 2013
Wild Mushrooms-Chantrelles Princess Point Hamilton 2013
Wild Mushrooms-Chantrelles Princess Point Hamilton 2013

Most mushrooms fall into one of 3 cooking categories ,


  • Soft and fleeting like Shaggy Mane Mushrooms.
  • Firm and lasting like most mushroom types we can purchase fresh at the supermarket.
  • Too tough to eat, as most shelf mushrooms are.

Though this may seem to eliminate shelf mushrooms from any kind of collection, the opposite is actually the truth. Many shelf mushrooms are full of incredible healing potential. They release their medicinal constituents readily into the hot water of a soup stock or a tea, an alcohol/water tincture, or an extract, often along with a wonderful flavour, and there are not a lot of really poisonous shelf mushrooms. You should still be very careful and make sure you have done a thorough identification of any mushroom before you ingest it or imply someone else should. Or, get the input and guidance of someone who has knowledge and experience you can trust.                                                                           


Reishi mushrooms, A.K.A. Lingh Zhi, or Ganoderma, ( G. “Lucidum” in the Orient and G. “Tsuga” in our area), are some of the healthiest and most famous medicinal mushrooms that exist in the forest. They have been held in the highest esteem for centuries in the east and their medicinal properties are well researched, (See links above). If you are lucky enough to come across our eastern north American variety which grows only on trees of the Tsuga species, you have found a treasure. This is especially the case if you get to them just as they are fruiting and know them well enough to harvest their tender flesh before they mature into their familiar glossy red-painted, (woody/hard), shape. If you get to them early enough, you will be able to reap their extensive health promoting benefits in a succulent form that has the consistency and taste of tender chicken or pork! Really! It is quite a remarkable and rare delicacy!!


Wild Mushrooms, Reishi- Ganoderma Tsuga- Hamilton 2013
Reishi- Ganoderma Tsuga- Hamilton 2013

However, that being said, at the time of writing this post, the Reishi mushrooms have already passed that tender delicate stage and are well on their way to declining, having for the most part dispersed their spores. Mushrooms are the fruit of the species and spreading spores is their function and purpose in life. This leaves us with an abundance of Chantrelles that we can collect, cook, pickle and share without worrying too much about poisoning ourselves and others.


Chantrelles are firm enough to pickle. There is no great secret to pickling mushrooms, though it would not be a true pickle via fermentation and lactic acid like cucumbers to pickles and cabbage to sauerkraut, with salt, but more of a marinade in vinegar. The key is to give them long enough of a blanching to kill any organisms that may be present, but not so long to lose their firmness.

Small  wild mushrooms pickled or sauteed

Personally, my recipes for Chantrelles are pretty predictable. I tend to explore and experiment with recipes, never repeating a recipe twice, so I am probably not the best person to pass on a really good recipe. However, the number of recipes online is boggling!!,( and I am sure most are great). I would just look up “recipes for Chantrelles” online and pick out the ones that seem most straight forward and appropriate for my needs. I suggest you consider doing the same. I can tell you they are great sauteed, with garlic, butter and white wine, wonderful in or with rice and pasta dishes. They are excellent baked, in a broth or with meat, usually a light or white meat. Chantrelles go well with light to medium ripe cheeses, are great in stuffings and if the mushrooms are fresh and tender, they make a nice addition to salads for their slightly peppery taste and their yellow colour. Before or after marinating!


A marinade with whole Allspice, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper and fresh herbs never lasts long in our house. Chantrelles can be sautéed, added to soups and sauces and pickled or canned. They do not dry well, as they can become tough when dried and slow to regain tenderness with reconstitution in warm water. If dried thoroughly, they can be powdered in a coffee grinder and added to soups and sauces, dressings and kept for years if stored in an airtight container in a relatively cool and dark place.


Pickled mushrooms can keep for a year if canned hot in sterile jars, or for a few weeks if kept in the fridge and not canned. Pickling or canning mushrooms is an ideal way to preserve your harvest especially if you have a variety of mushrooms that you are familiar with, but do not have an abundance of any one kind in particular, or if you have many smaller specimens or broken pieces.


There are many good books and reference guides to identifying and using mushrooms as food and as medicine, both in the digital online world and the physical world. Our children would benefit from an early introduction to this fascinating and mysterious part of nature. Mushrooms are beautiful too!! There is so much more to be learned from mushrooms and so much more that needs to be studied, it will be our children that add that knowledge to our common mind in the near future. Let’s open that door for them, and get them started now.


So happy foraging, there are many more weeks left to find, learn, share and enjoy the bounty of wild mushrooms that awaits us this year all over Ontario. So gird yourselves with baskets and books, kids and cars, and make sure you take advantage of this years gifts from Nature.


And remember,” when in doubt, throw it out” and of course, always take notes,(and photos!), your future self will thank you.





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The year of plenty- a wildcrafting fantasy

For Lisa

Allegorical depiction of the Roman goddess Abu...
Allegorical depiction of the Roman goddess Abundantia with a cornucopia, by Rubens (ca. 1630) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Well folks it is official, this is the year of the bountiful cornucopia, the horn of plenty in Southern Ontario. The year of abundance that every wildcrafter, harvester in the wild, dreams about. With all the rain and sun and rain and sun and rain and sun and warmth and rain (and thunderstorms), we are having a bumper year for all the wild fruits and flowers. I have never experienced such a bounty in decades as there is right now around us in southern Ontario. .

  • Wild Raspberries
  • Wild Blackberries
  • Mulberries
  • Wild Mushrooms, medicinal and gourmet
  • St. John’s Wort everywhere. To name only a few that come to mind.


If you have kids make sure to grab them and go out and harvest raspberries, BlackBerries and mulberries, Right NOW! This is THE year to do it, so don’t miss this very unique window of opportunity.

Reishi Mushrooms Ontario 2013. My favourite medicinal and flavourful mushroom. deserves its own post and page."Ganoderma Tsugae
Reishi Mushrooms Ontario 2013. My favourite medicinal and flavourful mushroom. deserves its own post and page.”Ganoderma Tsugae”

If you know your mushrooms, go out and hunt them because they are everywhere! If you don’t know your mushrooms make sure you get some good books because this is the perfect year to learn about them. Let them teach you. They are waiting for you. If they don’t enrich your diet, or boost your immune system, they will most definitely enrich and boost your spirit and mind. Nourish your soul.


In 30 years I haven’t seen the wild raspberries as luscious and laden with fruit as they are now. I really am blown away here! Every Little flower has flowered and turned into a berry, and every little raspberry has grown and grown to become plump and juicy and ready to be harvested. This window will only stay with us at the very most for three weeks. So please, grab kids, buckets and baskets, make room on your kitchen counter and in your fridge and freezer and make sure you get out there A.S.A.P.


Wild Raspberries
Wild Raspberries (Photo credit: Bien Stephenson)


  • Wild Raspberry Jam
  • Wild Raspberry ice cream syrup
  • Wild Raspberry wine
  • Wild Raspberries frozen
  • Wild Raspberry tarts, pies, sauces
  • Wild Raspberries with Icecream,,Whipped cream!

    If you have kids grab them and go. Don’t wait! Don’t procrastinate! If you don’t have kids then grab your neighbors or your in-laws kids, (with their permission), and take them out to harvest wild raspberries and wild mulberries. It will be an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives. An initiation into Nature that is meant for them. One you are meant to facilitate for them. You are their high priest or priestess in these matters of the spirit. you are their initiator into the mysteries of Nature that must be experienced and cannot be taught with words. These are experiences that will touch them, move them, shape them and connect them with Nature, open their minds hearts and spirits.It will help correct some of the misconceptions and behaviours our culture has programmed into their young minds, replace video games and internet with experiences that truly nourish and nurture their minds and spirits.

    Summer is here and it’s the perfect time to do stuff with your kids, you don’t need to go far. It doesn’t cost anything and there’s nothing like going out and introducing them to nature, bringing the harvest home, and showing them what they can do with it. These are the things we need to teach our children.

    Because if you do this for them, they are going to do it for their kids and the world will be a better place. Don’t miss this opportunity. They need a relationship with nature to ground them amidst all our technology and busyness.

    The wild raspberries are usually small and dry but very flavorful every year. Sparse, but worth the effort. But this year they are huge, perfectly formed, succulent, juicy, sweet, flavorful and truly abundant. Every raspberry flower must have flowered, and each one must have been fertilized. Every cluster is now full with rarely a fruit missing from the perfect spiral of fruits, lined up to serve you a fresh berry every day. Perfectly paced for three weeks of incredible abundance and bounty. What a show of perfection and fertility.


    English: Photo of mulberries in various stages...
    English: Photo of mulberries in various stages of ripeness. Taken in Mingo Creek County Park, Washington County, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


    The Mulberry trees are laden, branches bowed, bent in offering. Grab a sheet or tarp, spread it underneath the tree and shake a bough. You will, in ten minutes, have enough Mulberries to feed the family, Make a few pies, a few liters of wine or a refreshing summer syrup. Have you noticed that each Mulberry tree offers slightly different fruit? It is very noticeable this year. Subtle differences in size and texture of each tree’s fruit. Different shades of tartness and flavour, and they are all cram packed with Mulberries, Right now. They will only offer us their bounty for another 2 weeks tops folks, that’s it! So now is the time to get out there.

    The price we may have paid for this bounty is the daily rain, so you will have to time your forays wisely and in between thunderstorms and downpours. But it is definitely doable and worth it.

    So get out your recipe books and your grandmothers recipe books. Burn up your internet bandwidth and hunt for recipes online. Prepare yourselves and get your kids hyped up. There is no missing the mark this year. We are shooting in a barrel of fish, surrounded by abundance. So if you screw up a recipe, just go get more. This is the year to make Mulberry wine, Mulberry jam, raspberry syrup, raspberry jam, raspberry wine, raspberry tarts, and well,, raspberry everything.

    Don’t wait or hesitate. Don’t put it off till tomorrow because it will all be gone soon.

    And it looks like in a few weeks in the fall we are going to have a huge harvest of wild grapes so start preparing now for that tart flavourful harvest to come. (Wild grape jelly, Vinegar, Syrup!! Yummm).

    St. John's Wort first Harvest 2013
    St. John’s Wort first Harvest 2013

    If you’re into St. John’s wort and you want to try harvesting your own herb, or making your own healing oil, this is the year to do it! I have never ever in all my years of foraging, wildcrafting and harvesting ever seen such a local abundance of St. John’s wort yellow flowering vibrance everywhere around. It is impossible to miss it. It’s just waiting patiently, For You! (You know who you are), So folks, If you are going to do it, this is the time to do it.
    Remember your wildcrafting Etiquette

    Always give something before you take, and show your children how to treat nature with respect. As they would like to be treated, as equals.

    Treat the plants with care and respect. Don’t slash, break or trommel plants to get their fruit.

    Only collect as much as you can use.

    Whatever you don’t use or have left over after cleaning and processing, goes back to the earth. Not a garbage bag.

    Stay away from old industrial sites and heavily travelled roadsides, railroad tracks that may have had spills or have been sprayed.

    Have a look at the post- “9 tips for making a kickass wildflower wine”, for wildcrafting guidelines.

    You can explain till you are blue in the face why they should stop playing mind crap, (Minecraft). and come harvest berries with you. You will just have a fight. But take them once and let them experience the satisfaction of picking fresh berries, popping them in their mouths and bringing home a treasure, you

    Wild Raspberries
    Wild Raspberries (Photo credit: Bien Stephenson)

    will never need to convince them to leave the computer screen and come explore nature again.

    OK, The sun is back out, the rain has stopped. Gotta go, You know where. Those black wild Raspberries are calling me. I bet I will stumble over some wild mushrooms on the way. I am going to leave the writing till it is dark and take advantage of the daylight. Listen to my own words of advice. I will catch you on the other side of a bucket of fresh wild berries.

    Bye for now.





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Wild Mushroom hunt, a father son moment

Amanita Muscaria Pine woods

 Wild Mushroom Hunt- a Father Son Moment

I have been a single father, for, well feels like, Forever.
In reality only for this last incarnation the past 2 decades. There was one incarnation where I was a sculptor, then I did an incarnation as a craftsman, then, when I was in my early 40’s, I became a father.

Amanita Muscaria Pine woods
Amanita Muscaria Pine woods


Nathan will be 18 in August. Then come September he leaves home,away from me where he and I have lived together most of his life. Whaaat!?! Leaves home??!! Yup. Still getting my mind and heart around that.

At the age of 17 almost 18 my not so little Leo is leaving home in a couple of months, going to school in another city, studying horticulture of all things! I feel like a proud father. Horticulture? There’s another oddity. He never showed an interest in working with me when asked over the years. I guess something rubbed off!! Not complaining!

Amanita Muscaria
Amanita Muscaria

After 10 hours of tenacity, trying to repair his air-soft rifle, he went out to play in the woods with a friend. A little game of hide and seek and using each other for target practice. Fun, apparently.
When he arrived back home he discovered he did not have his phone or his wallet. I took him to find his wallet in the woods. We revisited the spot where he had crouched in the tall grasses ambushing his friend.  Proceeded to look for his wallet which we could not find, but, we did find a mushroom, then another mushroom then found we had spent almost 2 hours hunting mushrooms, talking about mushrooms and pretty much everything else we could talk about including some things I hadn’t gotten around to discussing with him. Like my thoughts about what I might do when he left the nest. That I really would no longer have a reason to be where I had been for all these years since the only reason I chose to be here was because of him. It was a lovely and very timely experience life had lined up for us.

Wild mushrooms have been one of my passions for many years, yet I’ve never taken Nathan out to hunt mushrooms, (except when he was a baby and strapped to my front in a baby carrier).  It just seemed to come together in a very natural way, and sparked his own dormant mushroom passion. Questions and answers then more questions, hypothesis and theories on these so unusual representatives of Nature.

We spoke of rulerships, planets and plants, moon cycles, the Moon, the subconscious and emotions, (dark of and bright of our emotions and the moon), and the moons pull and influence on water, emotions the subconscious. The unique growing habits of mushrooms. The moon and Saturn as rulers of mushrooms, ebb and flow of their mysterious growth habits. Saturn’s position of the great teacher, setting limits and boundaries, endings.  And whether these specimens would continue their unfurling if moved from where they were. Or if they were dependent on the supply of nutrients, (or energy), from the barely perceptible strands of mycelium. So we conducted an experiment,  bringing some home to see if they would continue their unfolding. (Nope!).

We spoke of the terminology of mushroom parts, using “Keys”  to identify mushrooms, I introduced Nathan to Amanita’s, Agaricus, Boletes and some shelf mushrooms.  In Nature there is nothing like a personal face to face introduction. We shared the excitement of the hunt and discovery. It really was a lot of fun!!

Amanita Muscaria-Nathan Gabriel, how do you do.
Amanita Muscaria-Nathan Gabriel, how do you do.

A beautiful yellow Amanita Muscaria found Nathan. At his age, I too had heard of all the mind altering possibilities that nature in her abundant variety offered us. The symbolism of yellow orange or red Amanita Muscaria and how they have followed us through the evolution of our society and cultures in myth and the written word. We spoke of mushrooms as food, medicine and spiritual partners.

It was a perfect bonding time that just seemed to come together on it’s own.
And it was also the perfect time to have some overdue heart-to-heart conversations in a setting that was probably the most conducive to communication possible. Though we lived together, we never seemed to find time to talk in this way.


We spoke of what it could be like when he leaves and goes to school in another city, for him, for me. I admit I have been wondering and thinking and going through a lot of different things around Him leaving home in September.
At first I thought I was exempt from any such feelings, but the past couple of months I noticed myself mulling over different future scenarios. What would that mean for me, what was happening in my life, I would be free to go anywhere, do anything, I had no reason to stay where I was, I had rooted and built my life around Nathan and he was doing as he should do at his age. Spreading his wings and leaving the nest.
It would be a time of sadness and parting, but at same time, it would also be a time of new beginnings for us both.
That special combination of joy and fear,excitement and anxiety,.
The world is shrinking so much, distance is becoming more an illusion.

Even living in the same house we did not see each other daily or communicate that much. In fact, we text each other and talk on the phone often, though we are both home. We could have been in different countries!
This indeed is what I have been thinking about. With the Apothecary business going online and generating sales through the website, I may no longer need to be rooted in one physical place. I could travel If I wanted, find rare resins and essential oils all over the world. Make my oils, salves and tinctures anywhere and keep the income coming in over the internet with locally harvested plants not available here. ( Even transfer funds to him through internet banking!) Sounds exiting, doesn’t it?

Though, to be honest, I know clearly, that underneath these exiting ideas and possibilities, there is some fear and sadness. There is an end to a way of life at hand, a parting of ways, and a big change that feels like the ground disappearing from under my feet. (God knows I can use all the ground I can get!!). No doubt staying focused on the positive keeps me from dwelling on the feelings of loss, and attuned to the hopeful aspects of change.

This simply is part of parenthood, I am not exempt, circles within circles, a beginning and an end. As predictable as the phases of the moon and the slow plodding circuit of Saturn, Life revolves, evolves and moves forward.  With or without our consent.

Part of being a parent just as anything else I did with Nathan since he was born. Only easier said than done. All in all, I feel grateful for the gift of that father son moment, courtesy of wild mushrooms, the Moon and Saturn.

But I will accept, that I will always feel, a little bit of sadness too.


Wild Mushroom Collection
Wild Mushroom Collection
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