Sunday, August 16, 2015

Medicinal Plants Walk with Laura and Alexis –and a special plant!

 On Sunday July 19th, we left the Rebel Roots Herb Farm land and headed
to the Krug Forest, a beautifully preserved tract of land near
Dornoch, Ontario.
Introducing us to the many medicinal plants we saw today was Alexis
Burnett, head instructor of Earth Tracks and guest instructor, Laura
Gilmour of Wild Muskoka Botanicals.

We stopped along the edge of a wetland and found many plants and
creatures along the way. Blue Flag Iris and Boneset grew near the
marsh along with many Cattails.  As we discussed harvesting the pollen
of the cattails we spotted a frog. This wasn’t just a regular frog but
was two-toned! The frog was half blue and half grey-brown and was
patient with us and let us photograph and look at kin.

We found a rarer Skullcap flower and learned about it’s medicinal
properties and then found both False and True Solomon’s Seal right
next to each other.  We had a thoughtful discussion about these two
plants, including their roots, young shoots and their berries-a
grizzly bear’s favourite fruit.

Another wetland along the trail had bright red Cardinal Flowers, so
tall and stately and the brightest, deep red you have ever seen.  One
of the most beautiful of our local wildflowers, at least according to
this apprentice!  You can also see a picture of White Snakeroot, a
plant that has many healing properties but is also quite toxic.  It
can affect humans who eat the plant, but is also transmitted from the
milk of cows that consume the plant!

After a lunch off-trail, we changed gears.  We did a quiet walk
through the forest in fox walk and owl eyes.  Walking separately but
in a line, we had a neat experience of feeling the forest with our
feet, hearing the sounds, and smelling all the scents on the breeze.
After the walk we each found quiet spot and did a sit spot with a
particular plant. We connected with the plant while at our quiet spot,
with the intention of learning what we can from kin. We each harvested
a few leaves from our plant and put them in a cup with some boiling
water to make a tea.  We spent quiet time with our tea as we drank it,
and then gathered together to share our experience.

Walking back, we caught sight of a baby raccoon in a tree that we had
passed in the morning.  This time, ki was having an afternoon nap and
didn’t even notice us pass underneath kin!

*As per Robin Wall Kimmerer’s article, the pronouns for animals have
been changed, instead of “he” or “she” I’ve used “ki” and instead of
“him” or “her” I’ve used “kin”.

Written by:  Alex Thomson - 2nd year Wild Plants Apprentice

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Thistles, Bitters and Life's Simple Pleasures

Saturday July 18 2015 - Varney, Ontario

It was a beautiful mid-summer morning in July, and we plant apprentices were getting ready to learn about medicinal plants. Weaving a thread through from last weekend of stewardship though, we started by going out to sit with some of the amazing medicinal plants that we had planted over a month ago. The changes were staggering, as I went to sit by a beautiful milk thistle that grown over four feet since I had last seen it. With white and green spotted leaves that spiralled where attaching to the stem, and a bright purple blossom facing this sky - the milk thistle was a sight to behold. Some others sat with astragalus or hops or calendula, reflecting upon the growth of plants, the bounty of summer, and the beauty of sitting still. After some time, we gathered together to share a few quick reflections before jumping into a session with special guest - Laura Gilmour!
Crafting a bitters formula to help with digestion, we discussed all the cultural food practices that would allow for invisible bitters, like eating bitter salad greens or certain pickles to prime our digestive tracts in advance of meals.  True bitters are the best way to "tell digestion to take up the challenge of the food we are about to eat".  There are even sneaky ways to incorporate bitters into meals like having a bitter aperitif to toast with before a holiday meal! 
We followed a rough formula to blend our own special bitters formula
- 10% Super bitter (ex. gentian root)
- 30-50% Mild to medium bitters (ex. chamomile)
- 30% Aromatic (ex. cardamom)
- 10% Harmonizer or catalyst (ex. licorice root)

After blending our own unique bitters formula that included some great plant tinctures like angelica, tulsi basil and dandelion root, we were all excited and ready for lunch and a fruit full picnic on the lawn commenced!

After lunch, we split our group of 17 into two rotations of some tasting and making activities. Alexis led us through the process of making a healing oil which was infused with St John's Wort and then a cold and flu tincture made with yarrow, elderflower and peppermint. It's hard to imagine on a hot summer's day that in the deep of winter, you may have a rattling cough that needs that tincture - o the changing seasons!

After looking into St John's Wort more mythical properties - like it can help guard your soul from phantasms! - we made some plant journals on the SJW.

Leaving our semi-finished homework behind, we worked with Laura Gilmour, an amazing community herbalist, naturalist and small business owner of Wild Muskoka Botanicals, to learn about flavours and tastes and how that can tell us about the properties of the herbs. We tasted hot horseradish, and yummy, sweet astragalus and salty nettles. Depending on your body's inclinations and the type of condition you may have, we played around with the types of flavours and remedies that could help. The highlight was definitely nibbling on Schisandra berries - the five-flavoured fruit! So wild to have every flavour in your mouth!

As the more official workshops wound down, we celebrated our medicinal plants weekend by sharing a delicious potluck meal with salads, meats, cheeses and so much more - only to top off the evening with a cocktail party! Although cocktail tinctures really are for fun rather than medicine, everyone definitely felt great!

Written by:  Lee Earl 2nd Year Wild Plants Apprentice

The Wisdom of the Marks

The site of a porcupine, raccoon and flying squirrel holes in this big old Basswood tree

Saturday and Sunday, July 26th, 2015
Written by Tamara Anderson - 2nd year Tracking Apprentice

In his book Nature Observation and Tracking, Tom Brown Jr. writes; “The earth tries to be flat.” He was referring to how weather and gravity “conspire to erase tracks”.  This past July, the tracking apprentices observed the subtle traces of summer tracks at Allan Park near Durham. We also created tracks and signs at Alexis’ house and watched how they changed over two days.  Lately, I have been tracking the landscape just as much as I have been following the footprints of animals.  Approximately 10,000 years ago, a receding glacier scraped the surface of the land that is now Allan Park and deposited material from the Canadian Shield.  Some of the material was ground into sand, silt and clay. A huge chunk of ice from the glacier dropped onto the landscape and a kettle lake was formed.  Allan Park is part of the Horseshoe Moraine. It includes a trail system that reaches an elevation of 30 metres in some places. 

Fawn Tracks
On Saturday, we wandered the rolling, forested pine, spruce and cedar hills beside the glacier-made trout pond.  The sandy edge of the pond revealed the opened shells of snapping turtle eggs.  This prompted a few questions:  How does temperature affect turtle egg incubation? Do predators leave different signs when they predate turtle nests?  I learned that the “J” shape of the Jack pine cone is a helpful way to remember the cone-makers identity.  Sue asked about whether any local species of rats are native to North America and which snakes have live birth?

Watching Tracks Age
On Sunday morning we were enchanted by the purling rattle of a Sandhill crane in a field near Alexis and Bobbi’s place.  Sandhill Cranes beckon my attention in an ancient way. After reading about Sandhill cranes, I discovered that they are the oldest known surviving North American bird species.  That morning, we returned to Allan Park and found a trail on a steep hill that led to different interpretations.  It is amazing how the track of a sliding deer can look similar to the five toes of a barefoot, feral child;)  After following a doe and her fawn’s tracks along a sun-baked, sandy trail, we ventured into a cool, deciduous forest of Hickory, Basswood and Maple.  The tracking apprentices used tracking sticks to track each other in leafy debris.  Luke and Miriam discovered a vole tunnel and burrow network at the forest edge.  We lightheartedly discussed how best to classify this trail.  If vole trails under the snow are called “subnivean” then would this trail under the leaf-litter be called sub-humusean?  We also wondered whether the trail was from a red-backed or a meadow vole.  Do meadow voles occasionally lives in forests?  What is the range of the red-backed vole? Alexis located a flying squirrel latrine in a basswood tree. Flying squirrel scat accumulates in areas where the squirrels nest and cache food. The scat often flows out of tree cavities, low to the ground. 

I will end this post with a continuation of Tom Brown’s tracker wisdom; “There is hardly a square foot of ground that is absolutely flat. Every depression, every bump, every fissure, and every scratch on the landscape was made by something. Whether it was made by a rabbit, mouse, bulldozer, fish, frog, or volcano, it is the tracker’s job to notice and interpret it.” (Tom Brown Jr., Nature Observation and Tracking)