As some of you know, I will be presenting the keynote speech and conducting a workshop at the Viridis Genii symposium beginning of June in Portland Oregon.
The premise of this gathering is dear to my heart and indicative of a growing Western culture that is actively weaving spirit and the sacred back into our relationship with nature.
Capitalism and industrialisation have brought us many gifts, but the price we have paid for our progress is a disconnection from nature and spirit. We wake each morning to a world focused on material goods, devoid of content, meaning, ethics or spirit. We look at our negative impact on the world, how we treat our food animals and forests, we see increasing global environmental degradation, loss of species, rampant new diseases and we wonder what we as individuals can do to change this.
There are facets of nature that we cannot understand through study or external sources. They represent knowledge that is esoteric, transmitted directly, purely experiential and deeply subjective. I believe the answers to our current disconnectedness are found here through deep, intimate and individual reconnecting with Nature. A path that is available to us all. Anytime. Anywhere.
Carefully veiled around us, is a world of ancestral knowledge and timeless wisdom. Within it we find ancient mysteries, lost sciences and arts, dormant magic and technology both forgotten and yet to be discovered. It is ours to draw from if we so choose.
One need not be a mystic, mage or super-spiritual person to dip into this well of mysteries, gifts and insights, to be initiated into a deeper understanding of nature, the cosmos and our place in it. There are no titles or certificates needed or given, no special invitations or secret handshakes. Entheogens are not mandatory and there is no age requirement. Come, open and willing as you are. Bring your passion. Nature turns no one away.
What awaits us on this path as plant people, herbalists, healers, apothecaries, alchemists, wizards, witches, wildcrafters and more, is a broadened understanding of cosmic and planetary intelligence and life, a sense of place and stewardship, a connectedness to nature and humanity as a whole and an ability to not only hear and understand the language of nature, plants and animals, but to communicate and forge mutually respectful relationships. Here we directly experience shamanism, animism, magic, mysticism and the healing arts of our collective ethnocultural pasts. Here we discover stewardship of our future.
When we connect deeply and intimately with nature and its plants, animals and minerals, align ourselves with its cycles and rhythms, we enter into the presence of the “other”, the genius, the intelligence, the spirit, that which speaks directly to us. With us. This is the Viridis Genii, the Spirit of the green, and we learn her secrets through Gnosis, experiential knowledge- Green Gnosis. She invites us each into deep intimacy with her in her world and her temple of mysteries, if we but ask.
Though radically personal and subjective, there is a commonality of experience that lends us a shared understanding and language. That shared language creates a community. A growing community . This growth could be deemed a movement. This movement can be discerned in other fields and human endeavours.
I believe when viewed from afar, this slow radical change in perception through individual personal experience can be seen as an evolution on a global scale.
The Viridis Genii Symposium is a call, a beacon to any and all who have experienced or seek to experience the mysteries, magic and medicine of nature beyond its physical form. All who have ever felt there was more in the forest than meets the eye.
It is very easy to distill the essential oils from our local North American Pine, Spruce and Fir tree saps ourselves, but, to fully capture the exquisite qualities this type of small-scale distillation can offer us, a different approach and perspective is called for. Everything leading up to the distillation is as important to the quality of our oils as the physical process of distillation. The approach is simple.
We have to shift our perspective from being product oriented to relationship oriented. From getting to giving, and change our role of consumers to that of stewards. We each exist in a relationship with nature, the planet, and much more than is visible to the eye. We are part of a vast dynamic living matrix linking and coordinating all life in its many forms, from beyond the planets and stars to the very atoms within all things. Severed from it but for a moment we would cease to exist. Literally. I know, it’s a big statement to open with, but for now, keep an open mind, and I will I will try to keep this to one post of readable length, and address these concepts in upcoming posts.
We have put a lot of stress on the planet’s systems the past few hundred years. We have excelled at taking and making, and most definitely gained a lot. We have progressed and evolved as a civilization. As we see the negative impact on the health of the planet and our bodies, we struggle to understand what we are doing wrong. Skyrocketing cancers and other diseases. What are we missing? How can we do this differently so nature thrives along with us? Lucky for us Nature sees us as part of her, not the enemy, or we would have been disposed of and reabsorbed into the planet a long time ago. Dominant species or not, our behaviour has been abhorrent towards each other and the planet. Dominant Shmominant. We have intellectualized our role here, separating ourselves from nature as beings superior to all others. Crowned ourselves kings of the planet without assuming the responsibilities of rulership.
Here are some simple methods of extracting essential oils from conifers
Though more sophisticated methods areinvented daily, let’s hope, ethics and sustainability are an important part of them.
Needles, smaller branches and twigs can be mindfully trimmed, sent through a “mulcher”, then hydro/steam distilled. This is done easily in a home-made pot still. (See the post on distilling Frankincense). The chopped material will float on the water in the pot, avoiding the danger of material burning on the bottom. This allows us to distill the essential oils of evergreens that do not exude their saps such as White Cedar and the Junipers. They can also be set atop the boiling still pot and steam distilled.
The trees can be tapped, and the essential oils distilled from their sap in a process similar to the preparation of Maple syrup. (Tapping spiles can be purchased, (Stainless steel), or made from Elder branches as these shown below). If I had a choice between a cold metal tube, or a body temperature tube made of the same material as my body, inserted into me, I know which I would choose.
In the turpentine industry, Pine bark is cut, stripped or slashed, using methods similar to the extraction methods of Frankincense and Myrrh trees. The ensuing exudate of oleoresin, (essential oils and resins), collected and processed in copper stills. The vapours from the heated oleoresins are condensed for turpentine and essential oils, while the leftover resin is drained and filtered to make the rosin we use on the bows of violins and other stringed instruments, and other applications where increased friction and contact is needed. With a little love and ingenuity, you can make your own beautiful crystal clear amber Rosin from Pine, Spruce or Fir saps. You can get creative and cast this rosin in any shape you can envision. It makes a lovely incense even after separation from its essential oils.
Rosin, Make your own high quality Rosin from the saps of trees that grow around you
By far the simplest and gentlest method for distilling essential oils from local conifers, especially if one lives in the city, is from the sap already present from the trimming of lower branches. This requires no further damage to the trees, while giving us the opportunity to produce our own exquisite essential oils and rosins for perfume, medicine and many other products.
Even in the middle of the city, you will find a connection to the trees that grow in your sphere. I would say you already have a relationship with them whether you recognize it or not. To notice a tree, acknowledges the existence of a relationship between you. Life is full of subtle truths. The quality of that relationship is mostly in your hands. The quality of the products you make with the trees in your sphere is completely in your hands. A little piece of the planet’s well-being is yours to watch over and nurture. These are the seeds of stewardship.
Today some large-scale operations distill essential oils from pulp, sawdust and foliage left over from milling and processing trees for lumber and paper industries. The quality of the essential oils produced by these large industries can not compare to those you can distill in small quantities on your own. The chemical and fragrance industry is vast, and many of these factory produced essential oils, especially those distilled from coniferous trees are used as starting materials for other chemicals and essential oils utilized in our everyday products.
On the bright side, Small scale “Artisan” Distillers of essential oils, made from hand collected plant materials, by craftspeople that have personal and intimate relationships with their local flora, people who practice ethical and sustainable methods due to their philosophies and convictions, are becoming recognized in commerce. They are increasingly in demand by “bespoke” and small-scale perfumers, naturopaths and alternative healers around the world. This, I believe, is how change on a global scale is slowly unfolding.
We need these small-scale producers and artisans in as many fields as possible, and we need to support them whenever, wherever and however possible. They represent a new paradigm and model of how we can live in harmony and balance with the planet instead of our current destructive model of impersonal mass production which is taking a growing toll on our health and wellbeing , and that of the planet.
Small scale farmers, conscientious and ethical animal husbandry operations, local dairy and artisan cheese producers, private-label vineyards and cottage industries, ethical wildcrafting homesteads and collectives, and small-scale distillers, all allow this type of rich, intimate, respectful relationship with nature to flourish. Supporting them enriches our communities, nurtures an ethical and sustainable relationship with the planet and provides us with high quality products that help reintegrate us on an individual and societal level with nature. They are the vanguard of change and evolution.
In the production of essential oils, I believe this is the only practical way to keep the integrity of the fresh plant, the nuances and depth, their healing potential, and the metaphorical “heartbeat” of the plant intact through the process. Something not achievable on an “Industrial scale”. Though each batch may differ slightly in complexities of fragrance, I believe these small distillations using planet friendly and non destructive practices, built on intimate personal relationships with nature, from the tapped or exposed saps of the trees, yield perfume and therapeutic ingredients of the highest quality
Distilling essential oils from tree sap. An opportunity for Stewardship.
As mentioned above there are 3 materials we can extract essential oils from in a non destructive and responsible way.
Needles and twigs,
Sap from tapping the trunks
Sap collected from the exterior of the trees.
I am going to focus on the external sap we can collect. If there is interest, leave a comment below, I will write about the other methods in future posts.
One obvious difference is that we are working with a very specific product the tree has produced in response to an injury. One can safely assume this is not the regular sap that flows within the tree due to the unique role of these self-produced “Bandages”. These oleoresins are exuded by the tree as a barrier against opportunistic organisms and microorganisms, and to heal an injury to itself. Their composition differs from the essential oils distilled from the tapped tree and from the needles. They are higher in resins, and in my opinion, the essential oils they yield, are richer and more complex in fragrance.
For this reason, it is thought, that these saps and their essential oils have a greater healing potential, and are especially suited to managing skin ailments, aging skin, wrinkles and scarring. Healing our own “bark”. The affinity is obvious. The Pinenes in these saps are considered anti inflammatory and broad spectrum antibiotics. They open bronchial passages, stimulate surface blood flow, stimulate brain function and memory. These are only a few of the therapeutic properties and beneficial traits they offer us.
Each and every species of Pine, Spruce and Fir has its own unique chemical compounds, characteristics and fragrance
Learn to differentiate between the different species and types of trees. Always collect and distill Pine, Spruce and Fir sap separately. If you like, you can start by collecting unidentified Pine, Spruce and Fir saps, and distill a more generic essential oil from each tree type, until you can discern between them. For most medicinal purposes this works well. If you invest some time in study, you will learn to tell the difference between the various species in each of these families. Your relationships with the trees will grow and deepen, leading you to consistent and higher quality essential oils. This is a craft and an art that calls for mastery.
A simple way to tell the difference between the three families, is that pine needles are “almost always” multiple, and are joined at the base in a sheath. Spruce and Fir needles are attached to the branch individually, a Spruce needle will roll easily between thumb and forefinger, while a Fir needle is flat and will not roll. Spruce needles are often more rigid and have sharp skin penetrating tips, Fir needles are softer. Spruce cones grow downward while Fir, as far as I know has upward growing cones that do not last the whole season. Someone once said “Loving someone is knowing them”. It is so with Nature, you will find that love and knowledge will grow hand in hand.
We raise our children detached from Nature. Shamans, elders, Priests and priestesses, medicine men and women, those who have traditionally kept the spirit and connection with nature alive in our communities, have lost their roles in modern society. It is up to us to address this void. There is no one else. Our natural “resources” are much more than just chemical compounds we can take and process into useful products, there is a unique life force within each plant, animal and mineral woven through the universe. Can we keep this energetic vitality alive from harvest to finished product?
Sustainable and Ethical Harvesting or Wildcrafting
The laws of Nature, Physics and Karma work flawlessly, whether we can see them or not. For every action there is a reaction, no energy invested ever disappears, and we reap what we sow. There is an intelligence of Nature that exists everywhere around us. Just because we have not yet invented the instruments to measure it, does not mean it does not exist or does not react to every action we impose upon it. More than this, we are innately and intimately involved in this dance, as individuals and societies. The intelligence of trees, and those intelligences that take care of our trees and woods and every other individual species in plant, animal and mineral world exist to my satisfaction. We too are part of this living tapestry, regardless of all attempts to intellectualize our superiority, and see ourselves as separate from the rest of life on the planet.
Do no harm, should be in the forefront of our minds whatever we occupy ourselves with. Especially with Nature. And if you can help out natures citizens while you are out in the woods, it is important you do so.There is no better use or service for our so-called “superior intellects”.
The beginning of all endeavours starts with our intent. What is your vision?
The laws of nature and physics dictate you will receive as you give.
As in many aboriginal traditions we communicate our intent, listen carefully, and give before we take.
Nature isn’t picky about what you give. Lucky for us She is not hung up on material things.
Learn to listen to Nature and to yourself. Just as in any important relationship.
There are no coincidences. Nurture your relationships.
Secrets are never shouted. They are whispered.
Be quiet and still, and Nature can teach you everything you need to know.
Let it be a devotion.
Deepen your relationships with the plants you engage, develop your own personal ethics, and methods of sustainable and mutually beneficial harvesting in the wild. Engage with the spirit of your harvest, respond to their needs there is much more to be reaped than meets the eye.
On to the harvest
Our Northern American evergreens have been suffering from an infestation of Borers that have decimated huge tracts of our forests. I always carry a long wire with me when I harvest sap. Whenever I see a hole under a patch of sap, I insert the wire to the depth of the hole, and destroy the grub therein. Not a planet saving move on its own, but if we all held the well being of the trees and all nature’s citizens in mind while we were taking what we wanted from them, it would, I believe, make a difference. Not only in the world, but in the products we create from nature.
In the winter the tree is dormant, the cold weather inhibits the growth of organisms and micro organisms that could attack an exposed area of the tree. This is when it is ideal to harvest our sap.
Try not to scrape the sap down to the bare wood. There is plenty for you and the tree.
If you get ahead of me, and try to distill these saps before the next post, please be very careful! They are extremely volatile! Keep vapours away from open flames and perform a hydro or steam distillation. Don’t heat the saps directly!
For part 2 and instructions for making your own pot still and distilling essential oils with it, please see my post, “How to build and use an essential oil still.- http://apothecarysgarden.com/2014/09/20/how-to-build-and-use-an-essential-oil-still/
I could not in good conscience, write a post about distilling from the wild, without first laying down some clear directions for ethical and sustainable wildcrafting. I apologize for the length and any excess meandering. It is obvious where my passion lies. I would feel terrible if I found that someone was hacking at trees after reading this post. Especially with that disturbing photo of turpentine collection….
If you do not have these trees in your area, or if you would like to buy ethically and sustainably harvested saps from someone who is passionately involved with the ethics and sustainability of wildcrafting, I have some beautiful fresh White Pine and Spruce saps for sale in my Etsy store. Click on the photo below or any of the Etsy badges in the sidebar to find out more.
Disclaimer- This post does in no way imply one should harvest from city or private property, or if in the Hamilton/Burlington area, stray from the marked trails on RBG property.
A Wood Sprite told me last week it was almost Friday, and she had spied some Violets open and ready, suggested it might be time to make some Violet flower syrup. Unfortunately it rained most of that day, so visiting the Violets was postponed. I hope this coming Friday the weather will be better suited for harvesting Violet flowers.
It is a simple recipe and provides the most gorgeous purple cooling and refreshing summer drink. Though it is a bit of a delicate procedure, temperature being critical to colour, it is well worth the effort. It is the prettiest and the most refreshing summer drink I have ever made! One other cool thing about Violet flower syrup, is that when you mix it in water it transforms to a translucent Lavender colour, and if you decide to “tarten” it up a bit with an acid like lemon juice, it transforms to magenta! But if you add an alkaline to it, it will turn Green! (Mineral water??). Historically it was used a one of the first “Litmus” papers, before there were Litmus papers.
You can mix it with water or club soda/Perrier and still get the lovely colour changes and superb refreshment. Medicinally it is great for cooling down heated conditions, physically and emotionally,(anger etc.). Similarly, the leaves are traditionally used to treat “hot” tumors, boils, inflammations etc.
Astrodynamically, like Friday, it is Ruled by Venus, Planet of beauty and Love among other things, and is cooling and moist in its nature. (As opposed to Saturns energy which can be cold and dry.
As with most other flower wines, we want as much of the coloured petals and the least amount of green stem or leaf possible. When you find a nice thick carpet of flowering Violets in all their royal Spring purpleness, you will often be able slide your slightly parted fingers under the flowers, close the gaps between your fingers as you withdraw your hand, and harvest quite a few flowers at a time. Then just keep skimming them with your fingers, popping off the flowers till your hand can hold no more and you start picking more off the ground than you are collecting. Put them in your bag or basket and keep on skimming, moving over the more thickly populated areas till you have the required amount. Don’t be fooled by how simple the process is, it does take time to accumulate any significant quantity. Especially since they need to be compacted before they are measured for your syrup. I usually use a large paper liqueur store bag to collect them, keeping them always in the shade and cool. Then, off to home to do a final cleaning, separating as much green as I can, discarding any leaf, stem, substandard, dried or aged flowers.
In our area we can find purple Violets, White Violets, white Violet flowers with purple speckles and various combinations of the three. For Violet Syrup we only want Purple flowered Violets. The deeper the colour, the better. Don’t be surprised if you find they don’t have much of a fragrance. At least in our area of North America. For many years I assumed that being a perfume ingredient, Violet flowers would have a fragrance worth capturing, they don’t. In perfume Violet leaf absolute is used, it has a sweet, green, floral earthy scent and imparts a beautiful green hue to your perfume. I know that Pansies, which are cousins of Viola Odorata, ( and edible in reasonable quantities), do sometimes have a lovely scent, and someday I will try making a Violet syrup from a purple fragrant strain.
Violet flowers do not dry very easily. Well, they dry easily enough but also lose their colour very easily. Perhaps pressed in the leaves of a book, safe from any moisture and absolutely no heat or UV rays they might keep longer. In general they fade quickly with exposure to light. So something to keep in mind, is to store your dried Violets and your violet flower syrup in as dark a place as possible, cool is good too, so a fridge does come to mind.
One difference between making Violet Syrup and Dandelion Wine, is that it is best if the Violet flowers are dry. Not so much because of spoilage, but because we want to avoid anything that might dilute their beautiful colour such as a higher water content in the recipe..
Violets proliferate and propagate themselves by seed and root, and though they are extremely resilient, please be considerate of the plants.
Don’t harvest them all. If there is an abundance of them, spread your “footprint” out so your harvest is not too obvious.
Leave some for others to enjoy. Good Wild crafting etiquette.
Always give something back, Nature loves balance and will always find a way to keep it. Whether it is at your expense or not.
Paper bag, an open bucket or basket kept in the shade, are the rule for harvesting most herbs and mushrooms in the wild. Plastic does not allow air circulation, holds in moisture, can be a breeding ground for bacteria, especially if you don’t get to process your herbs immediately as can often happen with the complexities of life. Plastic containers can accelerate decomposition, especially if it is warm out,. It can cause them to wilt, and age before you even get your harvest to the kitchen. With Violet flowers, I find sometimes it is a good idea to fluff them up occasionally, allowing fresh air to the ones that are getting packed into the bottom of your collection. This also helps disperse any dew or rain that might be lingering on them. They are a more delicate harvest than most.
A RECIPE FOR WILD VIOLET FLOWER SYRUP
4 cups, or a one liter container, of cleaned, very tightly packed fresh Violet flowers.
6 cups, or 1-1/2 liters of boiling water
16 cups, or approximately 4 Kilograms of white sugar.
Do NOT add lemon juice! Though someone I very much respect calls for this in a violet flower syrup recipe, it will turn your beautiful purple to a magenta, which, though nice, is something you can do later in a glass with your purple syrup. If you add it while making your syrup, you will immediately lose the purple of the Violet.
Put Violet flowers in a glass or enameled pot with lid. Only use stainless steel if you have to.
Bring water to a boil.
Pour the water over the Violet Flowers, cover tightly.
Let sit overnight at room temperature or slightly above it. On top of the fridge sometimes works.
Measure out your purple liquid and put it through a very clean paper, (or mesh), coffee filter. (Make sure to enjoy the colour!).
Add your liquid to the now washed and clean pot.
For every 1 Cup, of liquid, add 2-1/4 cups white granulated sugar.
Bring slowly to a boil on medium heat stirring till sugar dissolves.
Skim of the scum as it collects, (It will be a beautiful purple colour), but DO NOT LET IT COME TO A FULL BOIL!
Take it off the heat,
Wait for 5 minutes and repeat the process. Again, stirring, but do not let it actually boil.
Take it off the heat. Put the lid back on and let it cool till it can be handled or poured into vessels without cracking them.
If you have hot sterile bottles or jars to store it in, then use them. (You can pour it in hot). Personally, I love having it sit in a cut glass decanter. Beautiful to behold! I find it will keep for a few weeks, (or longer) in a decanter, months if I sterilize it first. (With Sodium Metabisulphite,make sure to follow the instructions that come with it.) If you don’t have sterile canning jars or bottles, keeping it in the fridge will preserve it for weeks if not months.
Because of the lack, (and the expectation), of a sweet fragrance, I will often add one drop per two cups syrup, of essential oil of Neroli, distilled from the flowers of the bitter orange, right before I bottle the syrup. Feel free to explore this path of enhancing the Violet flower syrup, but keep in mind to only use real essential oils, never fragrance oils or chemically identical substitutes. Another point to keep in mind is that some fragrances are much stronger than Neroli essential oil, such as Jasmine Absolute. So use them accordingly.
Have fun. And remember to always keep notes. Your future self will thank you.
Now is the season, the possibilities of this years bounty are starting to bubble up in our minds. Wild wines, Jams, Jellies, confections and preserves, fritters and frittatas. Wild Mushrooms and May-apples. SPRING is here! Symbol of potential and new beginnings, new endeavors. so let’s get started.
Experience has shown me a good recipe is only part of the work, and often not as important to the result as HOW we go about making our wildcrafted delicacies. Since Dandelion Wine is one of the first Wild wines we can make, and in many North American areas, there is still time to make it, I will use Dandelion Wine as our example. These TIPS can be applied to all your planned productions from Mother Natures Bounty each season and year.
Dandelion Wine is a Spring tradition internationally. More than just a beverage. It can capture the essence of the season, and since it should sit for a few months to mature, you shouldn’t really drink it till Winter. Yule or Christmas or Chanukah time, capturing a taste and memory of springs light and warmth to savour during the dreary cold dark and dead of winter.
A pest and a blessing. Love them or hate them, either way we simply have to live with them. As persistent and adaptable as the proverbial cockroach, they are going nowhere, and we will never be rid of them, so might as well embrace them in all their bitter, medicinal, sweet and sunny glory.
There are hundreds of recipes for Home made Dandelion Wine. I can’t tell you which is the best. I am sure every year there are more being developed as more people explore making it, and with the speed and proficiency of internet communication there are probably more wonderful recipes being posted as I write this. Whatever recipe you use, these tips are guaranteed to take it to a whole new level!!
– Not all Dandelions are equal .When it comes to making Dandelion Wine. You can’t just chop down any Dandelion flower at any time of the year in any place willy nilly so to speak and expect to make a superb wine. One dandelion is not the same as all other dandelions! First of all, if we are going to use them for our dandelion wine, we need to wait for them. That’s right.
–If you want Wild Mushrooms, you hunt them.
–If you want Dandelions for wine, you wait for them. Seriously.
1-Wait patiently , keep your eye open for where and when they will rise, you know where they will appear. Because you have noticed them,(consciously or not), year after year while your subconscious toyed with the idea of making something with that abundance that seems to be wasted. You are a creative spirit. Have all your tools, materials and vessels ready and sterilized, and a place ,(kitchen?), to do your magic planned. Be prepared!
2 – What is it that you are waiting for? You are waiting for that first county-wide Yellow Shout of Spring Joy from the earth, and that big outward push of those Dandy Lions from the sweet loins of mother nature en mass. That is the sweet spot!. There is usually only one per year. And it is worth waiting for! It could last two weeks, or it could only last a few days before a run of cold cloudy rainy weather puts a damper on it. There will be no more of a glorious or perfect a time to harvest Dandelion flowers for wine than this. Period. Sure, there will be more Dandelion flowers all summer long, and yes you could make dandelion wine at some later point in the season. But y’know what? It simply won’t be the same, and you will never know it unless you try this out.
So,,.Do enjoy Spring, relax and breath it in, take a few days to let that warm spring glow take the winter chill out of your bones, but DON’T miss that first yellow window! Seriously, when I do miss that first virgin big yellow swath of dandelioness everywhere, I will most often just wait till the next spring and say, “oh well, it wasn’t meant to be”. That’s how important it is. Having a good recipe is only one part of making the best Dandelion wine.
3 – If you can, try to harvest on a SUNDAY. Start as close after dawn as you can. Astrologically this is the day of the Sun and The hour of the Sun. (about an hour and a half to two and a half depending on which system you use for division of Planetary hours), and you only really have to initiate the harvest then, you don’t have to complete your harvest within this time frame. Astrologically, Dandelions are ruled by the Sun. (As are Calendula, and St. John’s Wort). So from an Astrodynamic perspective they are energetically at their peak and prime, resonating and ripe, in happy harmony ,( vigorous and vibrant) at this time. Timing is everything. You can tell, if you look for it. There is an extra vibrancy and glow to them. It is not random, and it’s not your imagination.
There are other Astrological conditions that you could take into account, but if you are not familiar with the energetic connection between plants and planets, Astrological rulerships, Planetary hours and the basics of Plant Alchemy, this is a great place to start. Especially since you may not have a wide window of time to work with. Does working with plants according to their astrological rulerships make a noticeable difference in quality? I believe so.But,, you will have to try it and find out for yourself.It’s just one of those things. Esoteric, because you have to experience it from the inside to know it. Experience it first hand, first person. It is not exoteric knowledge, learned from the outside as most knowledge is transmitted to us.
4 – Morning Dew– Often, when harvesting herbs for drying, it is important to pick when the dew is dried from them, to avoid encouraging mold and other organisms while they are drying.. When harvesting flowers for wine, you do not have to wait till all the dew has dried off, morning dew is a unique ingredient. So don’t shake it off. If you have it, keep it..
5 – Find a spot where where there is an obvious abundance of Dandelions, an area rich in whatever it is that Dandelions thrive on. Physically and energetically. Don’t get too close to busy roadways where pollution from exhausts might have seeped into the ground, or anywhere there might be a chance herbicides or pesticides may have been used, and stay away from areas that may have been home to, or down hill from old industrial buildings or old land fill sites. Stay away from areas sparsely populated by Dandelion, go for the gusto! There is a reason they grow so thickly in some areas.
6 – Harvest them by hand.. not with scissors or knives. Also, If you have helpers, get someone to do the picking, and someone to nip off all the stubs of stems and anything green that is still attached. (Kids are great at this).The green parts are not needed or desired for wine and will only reduce the colour and add their own flavour. We only want the flavour of the flower. Thumbnails work perfectly for harvesting most flowers.
7 – Since you are taking something, always give something back. Whether something physical that is of benefit to the land or plant, a gesture, or something symbolic. Give and receive. Balance. Nature is big on balance. It is a law you can count on. Like Karma.
8 – Make sure all your bottles, spoons, funnels etc. are clean and sterile, if you can’t boil them then use sodium metabisulfite, a standard preservative and sterilizing chemical available in all wine and beer making supply stores. Follow the instructions for using it. It is very, very important to keep everything clean and not introduce any organisms other than the yeast we are intentionally adding.
9 –. USE WILD GINGER I always add Wild Ginger to every wine I make! I am constantly impressed with the magic it performs and the flavours it adds without being obvious or obtrusive in any way. And I am not just trying to perk up sales of Wild Ginger from my shop either. Wild Ginger lends rich character and depth to a wine. It is absolutely transformative.To any wine. Perhaps due to the complexity of its oils and resins. I have heard historically in old Europe, Clary Sage was used for a similar purpose to create “Muscatel” Wine. Clary Sage is also an herb endowed with essential oils ,(in flower), and resins, (on the stem). About a teaspoon to a teaspoon and a half of ground dried Wild Ginger to each gallon,(4 liters) of liquid. I have found this especially benefits floral wines that need body to compliment their lighter and more ethereal spirit.
So those are the basics of How to make a kick ass Dandelion Wine, You can use these tips with every wild wine you make, and adapt them to all your foraging forays and wildcrafting projects. Here is a simple recipe. One I hope will suit first timers as well as the practiced maker of wild wines. it can be doubled, tripled or halved. It includes a secondary fermentation which many of the old recipes do not include, but I have I found it refines your end product considerably. making it dryer, crisper, clearer and higher in alcohol content. If you find it too complex as a beginner, you will find many simpler and good recipes online. Take what you can from these tips and incorporate them in your project. Start small.
Remember to Always take notes!!! I can’t stress this enough!! Quantities, ingredients, variations from a recipe, observations, times, dates, and keep them somewhere safe for next year. This is really important and if you do keep diligent notes, I guarantee your future self will thank you! If you already have your favourite recipe, try out the tips and let me know how this seasons wines turned out for you.
MY BEST DANDELION WINE RECIPE
(Makes about 12 liters of Dandelion Wine)
3 Kilograms of cleaned Dandelion flowers.
12 Liters, (quarts) of water.
4 Kilograms sugar, brown or white.
2 cups white seedless Raisins chopped fine, (or an extra cup of sugar).
2 whole large washed Oranges, seeded and either put through the blender or chopped fine.
1 whole, washed Lemon,same as above.
6 whole clove pieces
2-1/2 teaspoons dried and powdered Wild Ginger or 60 grams,(2 oz.) fresh & chopped.
1 packet wine making yeast, or 1 tablespoon regular bread making yeast.
1 cup lukewarm water.
1 food grade white plastic bucket 15 liters capacity,(standard restaurant size used for liquids and muffin mixes, grape juice for wine etc.
Large pot that will boil 15 liters.
Old and clean Pillowcase.
Clear plastic hose for “racking”,(transferring the wine out of containers without the must).
Large funnel, and or colander that will sit firmly on top of your bucket.
one medium wine making carboy 12-15 liters.
or -3 to 4-1 gallon narrow mouthed glass jugs. The kind hot sauce and vinegar come to restaurants. Easy to find on recycling day.
Beer or wine bottles with corks or caps.
Sodium Metabisulfite for sterilizing. Available at most brew your own shops and anywhere that wine making supplies are sold. Follow directions!
All vessels and tools must be sterile.
Collect and prepare your Dandelion flowers as directed above.
Bring back to a boil for 1/2 hour, simmering on low and covered.
Let it sit covered to cool, until it is just cool enough to handle.
Pour and strain into plastic bucket through a clean washed pillowcase, or through a colander lined with doubled cheese cloth, nothing beats a pillowcase especially for wringing out the liquid and keeping larger particles from passing into your wine. the colander is just a precaution, and to support the weight, ( ideally find one that your bucket supports, or put the colander in a funnel that sits firmly on the rim of your bucket, or just use a large funnel and sit your pillowcase in it.)
Press whatever liquid you can through the pillowcase or cheese cloth. (Make sure your hands are washed and clean first).
When liquid is room temperature or a little warmer. Take one cup of liquid, (using a clean or sterile utensil), add it your cup of lukewarm water and stir in the yeast. Let sit for 5-10 minutes or until yeast starts “working”, (it will start creating fizzing or frothing).
Add yeast mixture to liquid in plastic bucket, cover with a clean cloth or a clean towel, (tie or use rubber band around the rim so it does not sag and come into contact with the liquid), and let sit for 1 or 2 weeks at room temperature undisturbed or until you can hear no more fizzing.
Note, if you do not hear fizzing within 24 hours of adding yeast. Put your liquid back in the pot, boil for 10 minutes, cover, wait for it to cool enough to just above body temperature and go through the process of adding your yeast again.
After a week or two, when your wine has stopped “working” or fizzing, “rack” it to a sterile carboy or to your sterile one gallon glass jugs if you don’t have a large narrow necked glass carboy. Racking in wine lingo means siphoning off your clear wine from the must that has settled on the bottom. Pouring it out would just mix in the must and carry its taste over.
Keeping a minimum of space between the top of your liquid and the top of the bottle is helpful. If needed add room temperature boiled water to bring liquid level up to 3 to 4 inches from the lip in a gallon jug and 6 to 7 inches in a large carboy.
Add CO2 locks, From a wine supply store, about $1.00 each. Or a piece of balloon rubber pulled tightly over the opening and tied, with a couple of pin holes in it for gas to escape and keep organisms out. Let sit, undisturbed in a cool dark place for secondary fermentation. Cool basements are ideal for this.
Wait 4-6 weeks, then siphon the wine off the must again, but this time into your sterile bottles.( Note; For those more experienced with wine making, you can do whatever you like at this point. You can put it back in a sterile carboy and continue your secondary fermentation, rack it as often as you like, pump it through a filter, play with the sugar/alcohol content, flavouring etc.)
Cork, cap and set aside till December at the earliest.
In December, open, decant, and have a taste of Spring in the middle of Winter.
Remember to keep CLEAR notes. Your future self will thank you.
Not many people are familiar with Wild Ginger.
It is one of those unique, well hidden treasures of the deep woods that some Canadians or Northeastern Americans might come across, but most would not recognize. This may be a good thing. I believe it is on the protected list in Maine as a threatened plant, and I wouldn’t want to see a trend.
Shade loving and often found on north facing slopes under mixed hardwoods, It clings to humus, wends around rocks, clutching at the surface of the soil and more often than not does a good job stopping soil erosion.
I would put it in a similar category of useful and highly valuable native plants as our Lady Slipper Orchid , which is almost extinct from encroachment of roads and cities and from over-harvesting.
Beautiful large green heart-shaped leaves glow & glimmer with an almost iridescent depth. In the spring they shyly hide beautiful purplish flowers, making them almost invisible. As if they were doing everything they could to not be found or recognized, to hide themselves from prying eyes and greedy hands. Leaves are similar in size, shape, colour and height to the Coltsfoot that grows almost everywhere here. Making it even harder to make a first acquaintance. It took me almost 2 years of false starts, impulsive roadside pullovers, dashes across fields, into woods, across streams, being so sure I had, finally, found it, …… and each time, catching myself a little sooner, my initial excitement tempered with a little more skepticism, as I sought out the telltale’s of those impostors, Coltsfoot and Wild Violets, blatantly impersonating Wild Ginger. Finally, I assume because the time was right, I was granted a personal audience. Deep in the woods, one on one, while hunting wild Mushrooms. I wasn’t even looking for it at the time!!
It’s Latin name is Asarum Canadense. Distinguishing it from its European cousin Asarum Europeaum, which has a little to no aroma and a general resemblance only on the surface. I believe the European version is in general toxic and medicinally acts as an emetic and Cathartic so beware. Also an abortifacient if I am not mistaken. Though it makes a pretty good shade loving ground cover in Northern climates if anyone.
Ahhhh Wild Ginger what can I say? You really have to smell it, taste it to know what I’m talking about. Scientifically it does not belong to the ginger family at all, But once you meet it you’ll know immediately why it got its name. Not quite as “hot” as Asian Ginger, but more than makes up for bite in its complex spicy flavour. It has an aroma and taste that gives it extensive possibilities in an infinite number of dishes
In the field of Natural Perfumery, its essential oil is exquisite! There’s nothing like it. I use it in perfumes, colognes, aftershaves and room sprays. Basically wherever I can. It blends well with Citrus, Woody and Balsamic essential oils, made easily into a perfume tincture. It has a high percent of volatile oils so it is worth the effort of distilling the essential oil, and I would love to extract a resinoid or concrete someday soon. I have a feeling it would add even more potential to its use in perfumery.
An interesting characteristic, is that when steam distilling the essential oil of Wild Ginger, the oil comes over a beautiful Emerald green, but over the course of a few weeks it changes permanently to a rich Amber colour. I know of no other essential oils that behave this way.
As a tea, the ground rhizomes are delicious, help ease a sore throat, mix well with other stimulating and spicy tea herbs, fruit or Citrus peels. It is warming and rejuvenating, lovely in the winter and like regular Ginger it encourages good digestion and discourages flatulence. Native North American tribes have historically used it for medicine and ceremony. In the summer I add it to iced tea and Lemonade. As a base for an alcoholic or non-alcoholic brewed Ginger Ale or beer, there is nothing like it!
Wild Ginger complements rice dishes, wild mushrooms, (and regular ones), fowl, Venison, Beef, Lamb, Chicken etc., etc., anything really!! Roasts and stir frys, Casseroles and pasta dishes. Sauces and Salad Dressings. Coarsely grind some with Mortar and Pestle and throw it in a pot of rice. It will transform it. Each little piece will turn into a flavorful chewy delicious tidbit by the time your rice is cooked, adding not only fragrance and flavor but a unique texture to your rice pot. Though I would not suggest completely replacing Ginger in the kitchen with Wild Ginger*, it creates delightful results anywhere regular Ginger is called for.
Candies, cakes, cookies and confections are a very exiting area to explore with Wild Ginger. The rhizomes make a wicked candied treat when boiled in sugar-water, then rolled in sugar, keeping unrefrigerated till it is gone, (which I promise you is never long), and the fragrant syrup from this process is perfect as a pancake or ice cream Syrup. If this Candied Wild Ginger is dipped in chocolate, I know of no other home-made confection that could compare. I add ground wild Ginger to fruit and herbal wines, Fruit cocktails and salads. I Have used it as a flavour component in a distilled liqueur, in Elderberry and Dandelion wines. There might be culinary applications it is not suited to at least experiment with. But honestly, I can’t think of even one! I usually add about 1 1/2 times more Wild Ginger to a recipe than regular dried Ginger.
If the dried rhizomes are properly stored, whole, not ground, they can keep for up to 8 years without losing their fragrance and potency. (as has been my experience). When Wild Ginger is ground and properly stored, three years is about the length of time before the flavor starts fading. I dare anyone that reads this to keep Wild Ginger in any amount till such time as the fragrance fades!! If you have it, you will use it till it is all gone!
For the past 14 years I have taken care of some plots of Wild Ginger growing “untended” in our area. (Locations I keep secret and share with only a handful of trusted friends). I harvest yearly in the fall and sometimes in the spring, experiencing the subtle differences each season lends it as I rotate between plots. After much trial and error I have come up with a couple of good harvesting methods that strike a balance between bringing home a bountiful harvest, and leaving behind happy thriving plants. This allows me to harvest every other year or so, and come back to vibrant vigorous growth that shows barely a sign of my presence. A very satisfying feeling. Win win, like good business we all benefit and do well from our relationship. Give and take. Honesty. A happy relationship.
There are many myths, anthropological, cultural and hard to prove theories about not using “Cold Steel” to harvest plants. whether it disturbs the plants energy, or the energies that are exterior to the plant. Mostly theories that are very difficult to prove even with advanced tools. Some things we just have to study or try for ourselves or we will never find out what is fact, what is fiction, what works and what doesn’t.
I must admit, using bone tools feels like I am working from the inside out, if that makes any sense. As if I am a part of the plant or process, not intruding, disrupting, invading. Feels more like sharing than taking. Sometimes I can only tell if something really works by how it “feels” to me, or by the results I get, like using Astrodynamics and Astrology to work in harmony with the plants. (As I do with Wild Ginger as well). The resulting products look, smell, and work better, last longer than the mass harvested and processed products I gauge them against. The whole process, in all it’s parts, just “feels” right, so that’s what I do. I also keep a thumbnail or two, extra long, from late Spring into Late fall, specifically for harvesting semi soft stems of flowers and medicinal plants. It’s just what works for me. No one else is obligated to follow suit.
I finally took down a few kilograms of fall 2012 harvest Wild Ginger that has hung from my rafters since the fall. I will distill a few Kilograms into essential oil this week, and keep the rest to sell locally and in my online shop. If anyone is interested in making the acquaintance of my fragrant friend. I’d be happy to grind some up for you, or ship you whole pieces.
Fall harvest of 2012 is cured, it always seems to mellow in the loveliest way when I make myself wait at least till spring to bring it down and use it
It is ready now to use for all the above mentioned purposes and pleasures, and I will have it set up for sale in my web-store at apothecarysgarden.com once I get this blog posted and have a break! Here is a link to the Apothecary’s garden shop, Have a look. If you like you can order some for yourself and try it in your own dishes, and please let me know what you think.
I will post some of my favourite Wild Ginger recipes on my Recipe Page, but please be patient, it may take me a few days to get that organized. So check back if you don’t find anything new. Everything seems to take time!!!
* Wild Ginger belongs to a very large family of plants found around the world. Some of its distant relatives, especially in northern Asia have been found to contain amounts of aristolochic acid which is a carcinogen. As far as I know our Asarum species does not contain these acids in any but trace amounts, if at all. I have not been able to find any information or studies done specifically on our Wild Ginger in this regard, but I do suggest not replacing your use of Ginger completely with Wild Ginger. Everything in moderation. And educate yourself… Here is a link to the Wikipedia site for Asarum Canadense, if anyone would like to edify themselves further.
Time to explore some new territory today. Take a break from my harvest of fragrant Wild Ginger and check out some local woods closer to Dundas.
Nothing particularly exiting in the first hour and a half. Confirming some varieties of Goldenrod that will only share their family secret through their unmistakable fragrance. Leaves, and flowers just not what we expect Goldenrod to present. White flowers?? Heart shaped leaves?? Always something new to learn. Thank goodness! Not till I crossed the road and started exploring the South side of the ravine was I given a leap of heart and rush of exitement. A puffball the size of a basketball or larger had been kicked and cleanly cleft it two. Must have been an irresistable visual association! Lucky for me it was not only clean cut and in two perfect pieces , but firm, snow white and in perfect condition for the table. They don’t last indefinately. Sometimes it is only a matter of a few days from their emergence from the ground, tight and firm, to becoming powdery or discolored and completely inedible.
Any mushroom hunter worth their butter and pepper knows that once you find one mushroom something quite mystical and inexplicable happens. You “tune in” to that particular species of “shroom”, almost become one with it, and more likely than not, with little or no effort more mushrooms are simply revealed to you. And so it was. Within 15 minutes I found one more basketbal sized slightly skimmed or grazed on top and two perfect 3 pound babies about 8″ across. What a bounty to carry home to the kitchen!!
Never forget that the larger your bounty from the woods, the longer you are going to spend in the kitchen honoring the gifts and making the most of them. Washing, scrubbing, pots, pans, plates, then washing, scrubbing, pots, pans plates, lots of prep work and lots of cleanup, but worth every minute when you see the enjoyment, surprise and awe at the table. You found this where?? This is a mushroom?? Etc. very gratifying to ones ego :-).
So how to make the most of such a catch?
Eat some, refrigerate leftovers, but all the rest must be frozen and that means partially cooking them, cooling them down in the fridge and trying to pack the tender meat as airtight as possible.
I have heard it is possible to dry them for future use, but can’t say I have yet.
So cubed, rolled in flour, fried and frozen.
Slabbed to 1/2″ rolled in flour, dipped in egg mix, then breaded and frozen.
I soaked them in water before dusting them in flour, hoping the extra moisture would repel frying oil from saturating them. Seemed to work.
I also added powderd Porcini mushroom and a Porcini tincture I had recently made, to impart a more ” mushroomy” flavor. Though Puffballs can offer an abundance of meat and substance to the table, they do lack in that distinguished mushroomy flavor. This trick seemed to work so whether they were cut to 1/2″ or 11/2″, they were crispy on the outside, tender, juicy and flavorful on the inside. Worth the half days work it took to prepare them.
Saturday, a pause in the Fall harvest. I usually do not harvest much on Saturday unless there is a brief window of opportunity that I can’t let pass, unkess the planetary hour, the Moon’s sign or planetary influences make up for it being “Saturn’s day”.
I look around my study and work area and I am surrounded by a maze constructed of herbs in various stages of preparation. From the rafters still hang bundles and baskets of plant material in different stages of drying. Numerous paper yard waste bags, (perfect for cutting or stripping bundled dry herbs before packaging), line the walls and free space leaving only a narrow path to get to my desk or up to the bedroom.
Full moon now, and many things will wait till tomorrow for processing.
The Saint John’s wort oil is rich and ruby red, ready for straining and sedimentation. Tomorrow, as it is each Sunday, Calendula flowers will be harvested from the farm plot at Under Ground Organics and from the Apothecary’s Garden in the park. My “Golden Sunshine “Calendula Creme has somehow gotten better and better over the last 16 years. As close as you can get to a “heal all” for the skin. I am constantly impressed with how well it works and how long it keeps its potency. I attribute its amazing attributes to my choice to focus on quality rather than quantity for so many years. This year I finally decided to produce a larger quantity, market it and sell it through stores and online. There will be only a few more Sunday harvests before the collecting is done for this year. Calendula will flower up untill, and even through the first few frosts in our climate. I should have a few liters of oleus extract to make the salve/creme from. Each batch of oil is charged 3 times with fresh Calendula flowers. Each batch ground in my big mortar with oil, then packed into a gallon jar and topped up with oil, when the new harvest comes in it is strained, pressed, discarded and the new batch of flowers is added in the same manner to the already orange oil.
Perhaps keeping an eye out for wild mushrooms is the activity for today. They are ruled by Saturn and perhaps the Moon.
Ahh, What a gorgeous fresh crisp morning… Beautiful clear sunrise and Venus rising ahead, ushering the sun through the dusk as if flagging the upcoming day as dedicated to Her. A day of beauty, Love and bounty. A perfect day to harvest in the wild. Time to go over my list and check it twice.
I am getting better at marking plant harvest times early in the year in my calendar so I don’t miss the unique windows of opportunity each plant might offer. Timing really is everything when it comes to quality. With intent clear, early in the year, one can almost just stand with arms open and collect the best specimens as they present themselves. As the days march by. When I know from the start that this cycle I will be making Elderberry wine or cough syrup, or candied Wild Ginger, then it feels almost like all I have to do is stand in place and grab them as they pass by, at exactly the right time, in the proper manner and presto,,, i have the highest quality herbs harvested at exactly the time when their physical and energetic properties are at their peak. Of course this not only allows me to prepare the highest quality medicinal and culinary items, but gives me a product with a greatly extended shelf life where color and fragrance are vivid and endure much longer than randomly plucked herbs, and from what I can tell without analytic laboratory equipment their medicinal properties are at their peak as well.
There are some things that only years of practical experience can give us. Many things actually. And then we die….but hopefully, not without leaving some legacy or trail of breadcrumbs, or Blog behind us. :-).
Herbal Apothecary, Wildcrafter, Sculptor, Craftsman.
Owner of Apothecary's Garden and Fairtrade Frankincense LTD. Providing a selection of fresh & fair trade, ethical and sustainably harvested Frankincense and Myrrh species, local and exotic fragrance materials, unusual essential oils, Natural perfume ingredients and animal essences. Astrodynamic plant Preparations, Herbal salves, cremes, tinctures and oils.
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