Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Making Spring Pesto!

Ah, Spring!  A chance to sample the freshness of a new season after a long winter of using dried herbs, dehydrated and home-canned fruits and vegetables from last summer's harvest.  Even something as simple as sprouting seeds over the dark winter months provides an opportunity for eating 'fresh' greens that didn't travel thousands of miles to get to your dinner plate.

With the mild winter, this part of northwest NJ is bursting with new, vibrant plant life nearly three weeks ahead of normal.  (Do I really have to mow my lawn in March?)  Seeing new green fuzz on shrubs and trees along the roadsides is uplifting as I think about all the 'fresh greens' now emerging in my yard....   which makes me think of sautes, stir-frys and my favorite:  pesto!  Yum!

Safety tip:  First and foremost:  KNOW your plants!  Many toxic botanicals look confusingly similar to edible or medicinal botanicals - so DO YOUR HOMEWORK and/or have a knowledgeable botanist, herbalist or forager help identify these with you. 

IMPORTANT:  Do NOT use any botanical that has been sprayed with herbicide, pesticide, is found in a run-off drainage ditch or is located within 15 feet of a road.  (Do you really want brake asbestos and road salt in your food?)  ONLY harvest from known sources where you know that it is clean.

While there are many fresh greens in your yard that you can add to your dinner plate, today I am focusing on Garlic Mustard (Allaria petiolata). 

Description: Garlic mustard, ~ also called hedge garlic, saucealone, jack-by-the-hedge, poor man's mustard, jack-in-the-bush, garlic root, garlicwort, and mustard root ~ defends itself from insects by smelling like garlic. It is on the USDA’s National Invasive Species Information Center and is classified as an invasive, noxious weed in at least nine states since it crowds out native plants. It is not native to the US, the deer won't eat it, and it does not have any known predators. 

A biennial herb, its heart-shaped leaves give off an aroma of garlic when crushed. Typical of the mustard/cabbage family, the flowers are four-petaled and cross shaped. This plant is allelopathic, meaning that it secretes a toxin that is not tolerated by other plants, and thus they will not grow well near it ~ black walnut and eucalyptus trees do the same thing ~ thus ensuring its relentless spread.  You can pick as much of this plant as you want without fear of overharvesting!  Actually - you will be providing a great service to the environment since this plant IS so invasive! 

So harvest away!  And not with anger or malice, but with gratitude for Allaria's bounty! It is delicious, available year round, and loaded with important phyto-nutrients such as sulforophane.  Susun Weed makes a delicious vinegar from the roots, so maybe I will write about that in another post.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Join us for our local Red Tent Temple!

Let's Fill Up The Tent!

You've been invited into a Red Tent Temple on Sunday, March 25th at 1PM (OR come at 12 to help decorate.) 

We will sip tea, share stories, play, rest and who knows what else will bubble up in our co-created space. Go to Junie Moon’s site,  and look under her Events/Workshops tab for all the information about the gathering.  You can tell friends and let them know that we ARE gathering, and that there is a place for them to come and be seen, be heard and to get nourished.

Don't know what a Red Tent Temple is?

Well, let me take a few words from my website home page to tell you about this, because it is part of a much larger movement.

watershed (ˈwɔːtəˌʃɛd) n. 1. landmark, turning point, watershed. An event marking a unique or important historical change of course or one on which important developments depend. 

Every once in a great while, a watershed event happens in your lifetime,
only you are not aware of it until much time has passed, and you can
view it from an historical perspective. 
The Red Tent Movie, in tandem with the Red Tent Movement,
is just such an event -
only this time...

YOU can take an active part in it and participate in making history. 
For more information or to find a Red Tent near you, click on the Movie graphic below.
 Red Tent Movie - 2012
Willow Moon Herbals is excited to endorse The Red Tent Movie!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Learning about the Environmental Benefits of Rain Barrels!

"Make a Rain Barrel" class at the
Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Morris County, NJ
Today's post is more about Environmental Stewardship than medicinal botanicals.  Last night, I spent my Spring Equinox evening learning to make a rain barrel as part of my ongoing education toward a more Sustainable Living.  In this case, the class focused on water conservation, reducing rain water runoff that can erode the environment, and water pollution control by diverting the water that customarily runs down the driveway carrying brake dust, antifreeze, oil drippings and other not-so-desirable debris into the storm sewers.

Did you know:  an average rainfall event in NJ yields 1" of water!  Spread over a basic roof area of 800 sq ft (roughly 40' x 20'), that 1" of rainfall will equal about 500 gallons.  NJ has an average of 45" of rain per year, so rainfall from one rooftop for the entire season can average nearly 22,500 gallons of water!

If every household used one (1) 55 gallon rain barrel like the one pictured from class, each family can save about 1,400 gallons of water from April through October - simply by redirecting one downspout into the barrel.  If you wanted to get fancy, you could daisy-chain several barrels together with connector hoses and save more rainwater for gardening, and helping to protect landscaped yards during a drought or from too much run-off water all at once.  Building a rain barrel is pretty straightforward, and there are even directions easily found online. 

Not fond of that bright blue plastic barrel clashing with the theme and colors of your home - get artistic!  Grab some sandpaper, an appropriate primer paint for plastics, and some colorful acrylics to create a custom-decorated rain barrel to blend into your yard. 

Be sure to check out the Frelinghuysen Arboretum for other eco-friendly, sustainable living classes, such as "Eco-Friendly Lawn Care", "Planting a Pollinator-Friendly Garden" and so much more.

As we turn the wheel of the year, get out and be a part of this new season! 
Happy Vernal Equinox and Green Blessings!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Celebrating the Vernal Equinox (Ostara)!

What a difference a year makes!  Here in northwestern NJ, last year’s never-ending-winter was still maintaining it’s snowy/icy grip at the Vernal Equinox, and now in 2012, we have had such a mild season that I can hardly even call it 'winter'.  Six weeks ago at Imbolc, the daffodils were already pushing up through the unfrozen ground;  this year as we approach March 21, hyacinths, daffodils, tulips and crocus are already blooming, trees are budding and decorative shrubs, roses, lilacs and viburnams have their new leaves emerging.  The ground is soft and moist, but not soggy.  With barely one noteworthy snowstorm this winter (excepting the freak Halloween storm that pummeled the trees and knocked out power for 8 days here) I can hear the cries of ‘drought’ in the not too distant future.  For now, the world is greening again as the days lengthen and the daytime temps soar into the unseasonably warm 60’s and 70’s, as they have been doing intermittently for the last six weeks.  The weather forecasters are calling for temps to be in the 80's for this Thursday, March 22.  As we turn the wheel of the year, get outside and be part of this new season!

Found this lovely graphic of Ostara
on several sites, citing one:
March 21st is widely-known as the Spring Equinox, one of the two days a year when the sun is directly over the equator, and when there are equal amounts of hours of daylight and nighttime. For thousands of years, indigenous populations, clans and tribal peoples and even religions have marked the beginning of spring with rituals celebrating the return of warmth, sunshine and new life.

One ancient holiday associated with the Vernal Equinox is Ostara, which is a traditional celebration honoring the Saxon lunar goddess, Eostre.  Different tribal traditions tell the story slightly differently, but the underlying thread is still the same:  Eostre once rescued a wounded bird, whose feathers and wings had become totally frozen by the harsh cold of winter.  Eostre changed her into a hare, enabling her to survive the winter more easily.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Shiitake Mushroom Logs are Starting to Sprout!

"The mushrooms are coming!"  "The mushrooms are coming!"  I feel a little bit like a cross between Paul Revere and the Nanny in "101 Dalmatians":  both were excited to deliver their message of important news. 

So as not to reiterate the entire post from last January 31, 2011 (discussing the class I attended about growing your own shiitake mushrooms that was held at the Sussex County Fair Grounds) I will just give the highlights for the last year while the shiitake mycelium was devouring the log from the inside.  I had kept the logs in a shaded area up off the ground on two upside-down plastic buckets so that bugs, slugs and mold did not take hold before the mycelium had a chance to spread and to its thing.  Sometime in August, I submerged the logs in a garbage can full of water overnight.  I then replace the logs on the buckets in a less-shady-but-not-too-sunny location on the eastern side of my house - so they got maybe an hour or so of morning sun, and then were in the shade for the rest of the day.   They have not been protected from rain or that freak Halloween snow storm that we were treated to last fall when fully 1/3 of my silver maple was scattered like flotsam all over the yard, the fence, the garden,    ...and on top of my mushroom logs. 

I had been checking them regularly - at least 2-3 times a week with no detectable sign of any change.  I ran into Ian, the mushroom man from Sussex County, at the Slow Food Festival in early February 2012 in Morristown, NJ and he said that as long as the ends of the logs had discernible 'rings' on them, that all was probably moving ahead correctly, and that it could reasonably be another 6-8 months before any mycelium pushed through the bark as a mushroom.  As you can see, much of the bark is covered with tiny 'V' shaped cracks through which the white fruiting body, or mushroom, is emerging.

Now I just have to be patient, let the mushrooms emerge fully and grow to a decent size, and then beat the squirrels to them.  I was thinking about moving the logs inside the garden, but that part of the yard gets a significant amount of sun daily - and I don't want to dry the logs out too fast and wither the remaining mycelium inside.  As you can see, I still have more to learn about this process, and will keep you posted!

Green Blessings as we move into March and count down the days until the Equinox.