Marshmallow

I am in New York visiting my mom for a few days. Today, I was helping her with some yard work while she mowed the lawn, and I came across a plant I recognized: marshmallow!

No, the plant does not even remotely resemble the sugary confection that no campfire should be without. Marshmallow is a plant that has been used for ages medicinally in either poultices for cuts and burns, or as a throat soother when someone has a couch or a core throat due to cold or seasonal allergies. Marshmallow leaves look like fans. I have never seen the flowers, but they are either purple or white. You can use the whole plant. You can eat the leaves like salad greens or dry them (which is what I opted for), and you can either extract the sap from the tuberous root or dry it in order to preserve it longer (also what I opted to do).

The sweet marshmallows of modern times were originally invented as throat lozenges for sore throats. The sap from the root can be blended into a thick paste-like substance and honey and other flavors added to it to make a hard candy to suck on. People still make them–although, I don’t know how I feel about adding slippery elm bark to anything. Just the name sounds unappealing.

I chose to dry both the leaves and the roots, for preservation sake. I will be returning to Virginia in a few days, and I want to take it all with me without risk of it spoiling. I will probably leave some for my mom to use as well.

Common mallow looks very similar to marshmallow and can be used in the same fashion. It’s a bit smaller, but it can be found anywhere along rivers, near ponds and lakes–anywhere the ground is constantly damp. Look for a leaf that looks similar to an open fan. The roots are long, slender and pale. They smell to me almost like celery.

I hung the leaves to dry in a place with plenty of circulation, and the roots, which I cut into pieces about one inch long, were dried in the oven for about an hour on very low heat.

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The thicker pieces are still a little spongy to the touch, but I will just let them dry completely in the open air on the counter. Once the leaves are completely dried, I will crumble them and use them in tea. I will have to look up a good recipe for marshmallow root salve. If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to share!

I am so proud of myself for recognizing such a useful plant! I can’t wait to do more foraging! Goldenrod is past its peak here, but I hope there is still some blooming when I return to Virginia. That is another very useful plant to have for cold and flu season.

Until next time!

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Backyard Pharmacy

Hello All! Long time! I wish I had a good excuse, but I don’t. I will say that writer’s block combined with procrastination is never a good mix. But all that aside, who is excited about viewing the solar eclipse in the northern hemisphere today? I certainly am! I have my pinhole camera all set and ready to go! The last time I remember there was a solar eclipse, I was in kindergarten, and I didn’t get to see it. Bummer. But as long as the clouds stay out of the way, we will be good to go! Remember, DO NOT look directly at the sun, unless you want to go partially or even permanently blind.

I have been recovering from a summer cold–ick. I don’t get sick very often, or for very long, but being any kind of sick makes me feel miserable. Colds always like to settle in my chest and sinuses, and so decongestant and expectorants are my go-to. I go with the cheaper version of Robitussin, and that sees to the expulsion of mucus (ick) from my lungs.

During this last bout, however, I supplemented my medicine with some yarrow tea brewed from my fresh fern growing on my deck. I added dried lemon balm and spearmint to the tea as well. It was amazing how well it worked to alleviate the symptoms of my cold! Not only did it soothe my sore throat, but it also helped me breathe a little easier.

There are plenty of herbs that assist in boosting your immune system response when you’re sick. Dandelions–yes, those pesky, fuzzy yellow flowers sprouting up all over your yard–are used to treat everything from gas and indigestion to the common cold, to warding off cancer. The whole plant, from root to stem to flower, can be used either topically or ingested. Plantains–not the cousin of bananas, but the green weeds that are also growing in your yard–can be used to stop bleeding from minor cuts, can be used in salves and poultices, or brewed in tea and eaten in salads. Plantain has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

One herb that I have not managed to try yet is marshmallow–not to be confused with the puffy, sugary, s’mores-building confection sporting summer campfires. Marshmallow plants can be found in damp areas such as near marshes (hence the name) and along river banks. Common mallow is within the same family. The confectioner’s version of the marshmallow got its start medicinally. The sap from the root of the plant can be whipped until it’s stiff, and sugar and other ingredients added to it, making it a lozenge of sorts for sore throats. The leaves and stems of the plant can be eaten as well.

Nature’s abundance is truly unlimited. Plants that we take absolutely for granted are the ones we ought to pay more attention to. I know I am gaining a much higher respect for what are known as common weeds, and learning to put them to their proper uses.

That’s all that I have for you today. I hope you all enjoy your day! Until next time!

 

Local

I love the phrase, “Think global, go local”. I’m not sure if that’s been coined or trademarked, but those four words speak volumes about how much our world has changed in only a matter of decades.

I am only thirty-years-old. My dad got his first cell phone–more like a paperweight–when I was maybe twelve. The internet? What was that? If you wanted to order something, there was a thing called a catalog mailed to your house. You had to use–wait for it–a phone to call in your order or mail in a pamphlet with your information on it. It took weeks to receive said order. Doing school projects involved going to the public library to use their computer to look up–wait for it–books that had the information you required.

Everything we could ever possibly want is at our fingertips with a mere press of a button–it’s not even a real button! Technology has become so advanced that it recognizes heat and pressure from your hand to activate that particular picture on your phone or your computer. One press of your finger brings you across town, across the country, across continents! It’s incredible! Amazing! to be able to interact with other people in other countries from your own living room is a modern marvel. And while it’s so wonderful, we tend to forget what is in our own backyards, particularly when it comes to food.

Getting into foraging has made me much more aware of what the local flora and fauna have to offer. I haven’t delved in too deep yet, for the sake of being extremely thorough in my knowledge of what is edible and what isn’t. I am excited about late summer and fall. I had no idea that you can use acorn flour as a gluten-free substitute for wheat flour! I got this idea from the book Southeast Foraging by Chris Bennett. It’s a great reference! I am definitely going to have to try that! Those with a tree nut allergy probably shouldn’t try it, but there are other alternatives out there.

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There is a walnut tree nearby that is already dropping green walnuts, and I am totally gathering some of those to use for baking! It’s best to wait until the shells are brown, so hopefully, patience will win out.

Supporting local farmers is important too. I have found that food I buy directly from the grower is much more flavorful and truer to its variety than were I to buy the same item at the grocery store. I only wish there were more local farmer’s markets open during the week since, like most food industry professionals, I work most weekends.

Supporting other local artisans and businesses is important as well. Local businesses give an area its own unique vibe, its own personality. The places I have come to visit most in Virginia are downtown Charlottesville and downtown Manassas.

Downtown Manassas has some incredible local restaurants–Okra and Zandras are my favorites–and an amazing bookstore called Prospero’s Books whose rows of tomes I could peruse all day long.

Charlottesville has a bit of a funkytown vibe to it, and plenty of bookstores and restaurants too. Citizen Burger boasts of all local ingredients, in-house baked burger buns, and locally crafted brews. Their burgers are amazing! Jeez, now I need to plan another trip there.

That’s all I have for you today! Enjoy the lovely weather wherever you are, and eat some good food! Until next time!

 

The Blue, the Grey, and a Newbie’s Search for Wild, Edible Greens

How’s it going out there? It’s hot here! 95 degrees and humid. What did I decide to do on such a day? I went hiking at the Bull Run Park in Manassas. This is where the first and second battle of Manassas took place.

The first battle took place in July of 1861. HOW those men fought a battle in the dead heat of July in Virginia, in those heavy woolen uniforms, with about 80 to 100 pounds worth of gear on their backs, running full tilt at one another on a HILL, with a loaded firearm and cannons blowing craters and taking limbs left and right, I will never know! I was dying in running shorts and a tank top, and I had a Camel Back filled with water. It barely weighs 15 pounds. There is no cover on Matthews Hill either; hardly a tree over the entire battleground. You feel the heat from above and below.

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It’s very beautiful and peaceful now (except for the sounds of traffic). But being on that hill gives you some perspective on what it was like the day of the battle. There must have been an “Oh, S*#t!” moment as the Confederate and the Federal troops eyed each other from across the field. There were brothers on the left, and brothers on the right, and not everyone was going to be walking off that hill when it was all done.

I’m a New Englander, born and raised. One of my ancestors fought in an infantry division from New Jersey during the Civil War. But I suspect that we had relatives on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. In Clifton, there is a sign posted outside one of the houses on the main strip, claiming that a Payne (my mother’s maiden name) was a housebuilder in the area, and was a lumber broker to the railroad that now runs through the town. My great-grandfather was a railroad worker. Family business? Possibly. I don’t have any formal proof at the moment.

The man on the left is my great-grandfather, George W. Payne. The sign is from Clifton.

In any case, while my roots may be from the north, I feel that transplanting myself in Virginia has worked out just fine! I feel much more at home here in Virginia than I ever did in Connecticut.

So! History aside, the reason why I wanted to go to Bull Run today was due to my burning desire to try my hand at foraging. I only just started, and I my wild edible plant knowledge is not that vast yet. I know what blackberries look like, of course, and I know what daisies, oak trees, maple trees, and poison ivy look like. But I want to be able to eat what I find without possibly poisoning myself.

I have recently started reading: 20170613_150902

It’s very informative about what plant it is, where to find it, what parts of the plant are edible and when to harvest it, any warnings that may caution a novice forager from assuming that something is safe to consume.

Because I am so new at this–green as grass (pun intended)–I did not attempt to pick anything. I simply took pictures of plants that I wanted to research more. Does anyone know what these are?

Also, as a budding naturalist, I am making a home study of essential oils. I started the process with my spearmint last week, and this week I’ve added cinnamon and star anise to the list. I’m using the cold infusion method, where you simply add your plant parts to a sealable jar with the oil of your choice, tighten the lid, and wait two months while it does its thing.

I dried the mint leaves first before I mixed them with oil. I used olive oil as the base. There are other oils you can use (coconut, almond, jojoba), but olive oil is readily available, inexpensive, and less likely to give someone a bad reaction; I have friends and family that are allergic to nuts, wheat, and other potential allergens and it has made me sensitive to their plight.

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I’ve already bought the dark bottles to store the oils in once the oil is thoroughly infused. Now, all there is to do is wait. For two months. Patience. OOOOOOOOMMMMMM……

So that’s all that’s exciting in my life for the present!

Oh, on a side note pertaining to star anise, I’ve added it to my coffee temporarily to help alleviate menstrual cramps. And it works! And it’s a hell of a lot healthier than taking Ibuprofen every 4 hours! Just thought I would share, in case there are any ladies out there who could use a remedy.

If coffee is not your thing, try chai or chamomile tea. Chai has anise in it, along with cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves–all amazing for your health! Chamomile helps to reduce pain as well but it is not always suited for people with certain conditions. If you’re pregnant, it’s not advisable to drink chamomile. If you have allergies to certain plants like ragweed, don’t drink it. Also, certain medications may react chemically with the compounds in the tea. I am not a doctor, so please ask for medical advice from a professional before taking my advice.

Stay cool, my friends! Until next time!