Spring is Nettle Season!

I’m sure you’ve heard of nettles. There are two kinds I’m talking about here: Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) and Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum.) Both plants come up in your yard and fields in early to mid Spring, and both are edible and medicinal!

Dead nettles taste better before they flower…. honestly, most herbs in Spring time taste was better before they flower, when the greens are young and fresh. However, both types of “nettle” can be eaten raw, but better cooked, from about early April through mid-May.

I’m not going to go super extensively into every medicinal aspect of each herb here. As you know, I prefer to blog about my personal experiences with the herbs and how I work with them. There are dozens of places online (including the links above) where you can find detailed Materia Medica information on each herb.

I will tell you now that one of the primary things I work with nettles for (and that both of these plants make excellent remedies for) is Seasonal Allergies. You know… this time of year when the weather man is giving you “Pollen Level” alerts and you start seeing a yellow powdery coating on your car when you leave for work in the morning. The days when as soon as you step outside, your nose starts running and your eyes start to itch.

Everyone hates that part about Spring. But the plants have innate intelligence–Nettles knows that while all the trees are busy having tree sex (that’s where most of the pollen comes from,) it’s their time to show you how much they love and can help you! I’m trying to say that stinging nettle and dead nettle come up in spring as remedies to the allergic reactions all the other plants are giving your face.

I collect the tops of nettles and chop them up fresh to make a vodka-based tincture. A strong infusion also works well, as does the herb ground up and encapsulated (though I find you need at least 4 capsules a day, which seems like a lot compared to how little tincture is effective at staving off your sniffles.)

How to pick Stinging Nettle

I use this same method (seen above) to pick all my nettles. They make an amazing pesto too! Stinging nettle is a Nutritive herb, meaning it is full of minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K, and more! I add stinging nettle to any tea blend for a client that needs a boost to their nutrition; if you ingest enough of it it’s like eating the herbal equivalent to a multivitamin.

One final thing about Stinging Nettle is that its seeds are purported to be the BEST kidney and urinary tract tonic in existence! A good point to remember if you know anyone suffering with kidney disease. I just wish I could figure out the trick to harvesting nettle seeds…

Purple Dead Nettle isn’t quite as nutritive, but it still has a lot of similar amazing properties and is a plant worth working with, especially if you can’t find a patch of stinging nettles. You can use it as a green vegetable (just like throwing kale in your stir fry or smoothie) or create a medicinal tincture with it as well. The leaves are slightly fuzzy and soft, and the flavor is more bland than that of stinging nettles. But it’s still got more vitamins in it than most commercial greens!

The last time I got sick (the kids brought home a virus from school) I took my wobbly butt out to the back yard and picked a basket of stinging nettles, chickweed, dandelion greens (this was April so they were still tasty,) and wild onions. I went back into the house and steamed the stinging nettles (a practice I highly recommend before eating them, as it takes their “sting” out) and threw everything into the food processor along with a little lemon juice, some olive oil, grated parmesan cheese, and a small handful of black walnuts. Then I boiled some gluten-free pasta up, added my pesto, and ate a big bowl of it!

I’m not joking when I say this: I ate this meal around noon time, on a day I was feeling woozy and my head was spinning every time I stood up and walked around. By 5pm I was right as rain! Stinging nettles are no joke, man…

Do you need help foraging for wild foods and medicines? Why not schedule a Foraging Walk with me today?

Fighting Cancer Naturally

As far as I can tell, I don’t have any more cancer. Yet.

I felt a lump on my neck a few months ago and decided to have it checked out at the doctor. They ended up doing an ultrasound of my thyroid gland, which led to a biopsy, which eventually led to a very concerning discussion with a surgeon and an endocrinologist about the 50/50 chance of the lump they found being cancerous.

A month and a surgery later, I am without half of my thyroid gland. And yes, the lump was cancer.

The GOOD news was that for whatever reason (I’m honestly thinking divine intervention at this point,) I found the lump really early and there was no sign of cancer anywhere around or near it. Even the surgeon was baffled by that; he said the lump itself had managed to attach itself to the muscle in my neck (which explains why I thought I felt it up much higher than it actually was) and yet NOT spread to the muscle tissue, lymph nodes, or other surrounding thyroid tissue. In other words, just the lump itself was cancer.

Check out my sexy scar

I’m taking this as a sign to take even better care of myself than I normally do, which as you know is pretty darn good. Because I still have half a thyroid gland that also has two teenie weenie lumps that the doctors are “keeping an eye on,” I have to be on a certain medication to make sure that half of my thyroid doesn’t grow larger (to compensate for the missing half) and thus cause the little lumps to grow into cancer. The main side effect of this medication is bone loss. Fun, right?

Anyway, I’m telling you all this to segue into the reasons why I have currently decided to watch and monitor the rest of my thyroid and surrounding areas, rather than freak out and have everything removed. I have explained before how important the lymphatic system is for the human body to function, so I am exceedingly reluctant to lose any portion of that. And I certainly don’t want to be without any thyroid gland. Losing that completely would ensure I had to remain on some form of medication for the rest of my life. So what am I going to do instead?

For now, I am on a small dose of animal-based TSH that I have to figure out the correct dosage of over the next few months, via blood tests and feeling in my body. I’ll either feel low down like crap or super hyper and energetic… but what I want to feel is right in between. I need to get another ultrasound on my glandular area in 6 months and again in a year to see whether any cancer is growing back.

My end goal, if possible, is to shrink or completely eliminate the remaining tiny threatening lumps on my existing thyroid half. Can it be done? I think so. Let me tell you my plans:

Ever since Covid started, I have been taking mushroom supplements to assist my body in achieving optimal immune function. I started really getting into mushroom hunting in 2020 in addition to my regular foraging, so I have been able to find and properly identify quite a few medicinal mushrooms. Reishi (ganoderma tsugae,) Turkey Tail (trametes versicolor,) birch polypore (fomitopsis betulina,) Hen-of-the-woods (maitake,) and Chaga mushroom tinctures have been going for months at my house. I recently got a Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) mushroom growing kit for the holidays as well, and just harvested my first chunks of that to tincture.

All of my tinctures are made with 100 proof vodka and sit for a minimum of 6-8 weeks. Then I strain them and re-use the mushroom chunks in twice that amount of water, simmering them slowly for 2 – 3 hours. Then I strain that material again and combine the two liquids to form a double-decocted mushroom tincture. While the alcohol extracts most of the vital constituents from the mushroom, the water decoction extracts the polyphenols, vital nutrients mainly found only in plant materials. This technique ensures you get the most out of your foraged mushrooms, and creates a tincture that can last for many years if unused.

This past year I made all those mushrooms into medicinal tinctures myself, mainly from wild foraged sources. Turkey Tail and Maitake are of particular interest to me, given their being known for their anti-cancer benefits. At any rate, I now have a big 4-ounce sized tincture bottle filled with a combination of these tinctures. I take several dropperfuls daily in addition to my other supporting supplements.

Another measure I have taken is (of course) with my diet. The first step to helping fight cancer is to seriously reduce my sugar intake, especially processed sugars. I’m already a pretty big proponent of not eating highly processed foods, and I hardly ever drink soda or eat candy. I have also severely reduced my alcohol intake, which is making me feel better for a lot of reasons. But alcohol has always been bad for those fighting cancer, since it breaks down in your body into acetaldehyde, which prevents your body from repairing damage.

So I have to watch what I eat even more closely (no cake or cookies unless I bake with monkfruit or some other alternative sweetener.) And I get to eat more cheese and dark leafy greens like collards and kale, because the bone loss side effect from my meds requires me to increase my food-based calcium intake as much as possible. You won’t hear me complaining about “having” to eat more cheese…

I also am utilizing a special meditation technique taught to me by my very good friend Bryan Redfield, which basically help me visualize a special cancer-killing light shining directly on the part of my neck where the thyroid and surrounding tissue reside. Bryan has helped me deal with and think through a ton of emotional baggage surrounding this whole ordeal, and I am very grateful for his knowledge and support.

So far, those are my main steps for fighting this potential cancer. I’m also exercising and trying to maintain optimal physical health (fairly easy during farming season, but harder in the winter months as you know.) I’d love to hear from you (comment on this post) if you know of a certain food, drink, or herb that fights cancer as well. I’m determined to beat this thing out of existence! So I’ll take all the help I can get.

Real Roots Root Beer!

I’m making a blog post about this because the Facebook post went viral. I’m guessing you guys are interested in making root beer!

I had a lot of sassafras saplings coming up into my raspberry patch, so I went in there with my shovel and dug a bunch of them out. Sassafras roots always break off when I do this, but I got enough chunks of them to come up that I wanted to save what I could, as I knew I would find a use for them somehow.

I remembered once I smelled the roots as I chopped them up with my shears: sassafras is the flavor of root beer!

Now, people always throw at me that sassafras roots are dangerous due to their safrole content, which can give mice and rats cancer if you feed a lot of it to them. I was even told someone’s grandma died after drinking sassafras root tea daily for years. My take: don’t ingest sassafras every day and you’ll be fine! Safrole causes liver damage in large quantities, but honestly one of the ingredients in this recipe is dandelion root… which supports liver function.

This recipe is for making a root beer syrup that will be mixed in small quantities with seltzer water. NO amount of soda, naturally-made o not, is good for you to consume on a daily basis! Soda should be an occasional treat, not a nightly habit. The amount of syrup I made with this recipe is enough to last a long time, and because it contains quite a bit of sugar, it will last in the refrigerator up to a year.

Roots, slightly peeled stems, herbs and spices in the pot with water to boil

I’m not going to lie: I pretty much used THIS RECIPE for root beer syrup; I just tweaked the amounts of roots and spices used. I tend to just throw everything into a pot and hope for the best, for the most part… I’m sure I had a larger amount of root and bark material than this recipe called for, so my syrup probably has a slightly higher safrole content than it’s meant to. However, I’m not drinking this stuff every day so I am really not worried about it!

You simmer the sassafras roots and stems, dandelion roots, star anise, clove, and coriander seeds for awhile until it looks well incorporated (like 25-30 minutes.) Then strain the solids out and put the liquid back into the pot. Add your sugar and molasses and simmer a bit longer (10 minutes or so), stirring to incorporate the sugars. Then you just let the syrup cool and ladle it into two quart-sized jars. The magic ingredient at the end: one drop in each jar of wintergreen extract. Thankfully, I made some last year and it’s not only delicious but is also a source of anti-inflammatory compounds.

This spiced syrup will keep a year in the fridge if covered well. If it lasts that long…

I also made a small batch of syrup using JUST the peeled stems (also water and sugar, duh) so I came out with a lighter syrup to try. For my taste, I found about 1/8th cup of syrup in the bottom of a 12 ounce glass is perfect for flavoring plain seltzer water. It’s absolutely delicious and worth every step of effort to make!

Have you ever tried making your own root beer? Will you now? Please keep an eye on my Class Schedule! I’ll be teaching a lot more classes this upcoming year, so also consider joining my Email List to keep updated!

Black Walnuts!

If you live anywhere in the Eastern or Central United States, you have probably seen a black walnut tree. Black walnuts (juglans nigra) grow from New England through Wyoming and are wildly prolific. Just try digging up a sapling somewhere… they root in like a badass and if you don’t want that tree to grow in that spot, you’ll be facing a years-long battle to get it to go away.

Black walnut

I have four black walnut trees in my yard, thankfully all positioned around the chicken and duck coops out back. They provide much-needed shade and shelter for the birds, and it doesn’t matter that nothing else will grow underneath them back there because the birds just tear it all up anyway. That’s right– if you want to purposefully plant and grow a black walnut, plan on being lucky if grass grows underneath the fully mature trees, let alone anything else. The roots of the tree emit a substance called juglone, which stunts the growth of other plants in the area. Basically, black walnut trees are selfish bastards.

Black walnut leaves and the hulls of the nuts are one of the best known vermifuges available in wildcrafting. That means if you get worms, you can help expel the parasites in your body with the tincture or infused vinegar made from those ingredients (a tea made from the leaves can help too.) The catch is that the active components are only active while the husk of the nut is still green. So buying this compound dried is pretty useless.

Black walnut trees tend to create a mast crop of nuts every 2-3 years, so some years, even if you have a big tree, you won’t really see any nuts. That’s totally fine by me, since the damned squirrels eat more than half my nuts even in a good year. I still need to catch and eat one of those furry little turds one of these days…

In early spring, I tried tapping my trees for syrup for the first time ever. Unless you happen to have a whole grove of these trees at your disposal, I would not recommend you bother tapping them. Out of four trees only one produced any usable amount of sap, and once it was boiled down it was thin and runny and equaled maybe 1/4 cup out of what had been a gallon of liquid. In my experience it was not worth it, and tapping the tree can result in a reduced nut harvest so I’m not going to bother doing that again.

This year happened to be a mast year for my trees, and I set to collecting bucket loads of them starting in early October. Earlier in the season, when the nuts were still small, I crafted a batch of nocino, a liqueur that now smells absolutely heavenly and I need to start tasting. I also made a big batch of natural poultry de-wormer using the green walnut hulls that I had cut off the nuts along with wormwood, mugwort, raw garlic, and raw apple cider vinegar. This is still macerating on the counter, and will be added to the birds’ water by the tablespoonful several times over the course of the winter, when intestinal parasites like to strike.

Anyway, my pro tip for you if you are going to harvest black walnuts is to a.) wear gloves because the walnuts stain your hands dark brown and b.) start cutting the hulls off when still green, because the black ones are super gross and slimy and often full of bugs. You just need a small sharp paring knife and a few buckets.

Cutting black walnut hulls off. Yes, I wear flip flops until it’s basically snowing

Here’s the process using 5 gallon sized buckets:

One bucket full of walnuts you picked up off the ground (don’t pluck them off the tree)

One empty bucket for hulls/junk

One bucket filled at least halfway with water

A lawn chair and hours of time on your hands listening to a podcast or something

Sit in your chair and put gloves on. Pick up a walnut from the full bucket. Hold that in one hand and use opposite hand to cut a cross X around the nut. Use fingers to pry the sections off and toss into empty bucket (keep some to use for tincture or de-wormer but you will have PLENTY.) Then toss the inner nut into the bucket of water. If it floats, it’s a bad nut and you can just toss it in the junk bucket. If it sinks, leave it for now because you’ll collect the good ones later. The nuts that sink are good to eat… black gold nuggets, if you will.

I am totally destroying this old window screen and need a new one now

Once your bucket of nuts is empty, dump the nut hulls in the woods or somewhere that you don’t want anything else to grow. It’s almost as effective as salting the earth. Your water bucket (which is now full of scary black water) you can dump slowly over the top of an old window screen (or build a screen with find hardware cloth) and spread the nuts out, preferably in the sun or someplace warm and dry. If you bring them indoors, make sure they stay dry and don’t get moldy. That means if you put them in your basement (like I did) you need to keep the dehumidifier running or start your wood stove so the nuts can cure properly.

After about 3 weeks, you can crack a nut open to see if it’s ready to eat yet. If you don’t have time and need to let them sit longer, they’ll still be good for a few months yet, so no need to rush. It’ll give you something constructive to do indoors in January when you hate the world and all of it’s icy death winds. The first year I cracked walnuts, I sat on the cold basement floor with a big rock, a hammer, and an old towel. I would set the nut on the rock, hold the towel over the top so shards didn’t go flying everywhere, and hit it with the hammer. Then I’d use my little picker thingy to pull the nut meat out. This does work, but it’s hard on your butt and takes for freaking ever.

I bought a black walnut cracker, which Nik very nicely attached to some old boards as a little table so I can use my body weight to counter the force that’s required to press down on the lever. Some people tell you to run the walnuts over with your car to crack them, but I honestly think that’s a dumb idea; not only is it unreliable, but even if it works, your tires are going to shoot nuts all over the neighborhood and probably kill a cat or something. Anyway, here’s a video clip of me cracking a nut:

Using the black walnut cracker for the first time

Black walnuts are F*CKING DELICIOUS. The holy grail of nuts, in my opinion. These are especially tasty to me probably because of all the hard work I put into getting them, but even commercially-purchased black walnuts are crazy expensive. Now you know why!

Just yesterday I cracked a few nuts and toasted them, and made myself a big jar of black walnut extract. It has to sit for two months, but it’s a delicious addition to cakes, cookies, and the occasional iced coffee I will drink. The nuts themselves are great in baked goods or just eaten as a snack. They are super nutritious and worth every ounce of effort I put into harvesting them.

Toasted black walnut extract

Have you ever eaten a black walnut? I might be willing to sell some of my harvest over the winter, if you ask me nicely. Or if you want to come help me crack them…

Please follow me on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with regular posts about foraging and harvesting wild (and cultivated) foods and herbs. I am happy to teach foraging and harvesting classes for you at your facility or property, just use the Contact Us Form to send me a request.

Summer Mushroom Foraging

I don’t usually have enough time to create a blog post over the summer and early autumn months, for what should be obvious reasons. The gardens look atrocious right now, as I have neglected clean up in favor of harvesting and preserving before it’s too late. I wanted to share a brief glimpse of some of the wild foraging I have been doing over the course of the season.

I’ve been getting braver every year with mushroom hunting, and have been learning to identify and eat/make medicine with more species. This year I’ve found morels, Berkeley’s polypore, black staining polypore, hen of the woods, chanterelles, craterellus ignigolor (an edible chanterelle lookalike,) black trumpets, small white puffballs, turkey tails, reishi (ganoderma tsugae,) and honey mushrooms. I think there are a few more varieties, but those are the ones I could easily identify and harvest enough to save at home. All mushrooms should be cooked before eating them, but some can just be lightly sautéed in butter. Most of the mushrooms ended up in my dehydrator to be dried and stored for later use.

Reishi and turkey tail mushrooms make incredibly powerful medicine that improves immune system functioning. Turkey tail mushrooms even have reported cancer-fighting benefits. Most of the other mushrooms I have been foraging mainly for eating purposes, but all mushrooms hold tons of vitamins and extra benefits that modern produced vegetables just can’t beat. Check out this list of some commonly foraged mushrooms!

In order to retain the mushroomy goodness in an easy form, I made a broth with a combination of a little of almost all of these. I simmered slowly for about 4 hours, then strained and poured this into ice cube trays so I can just pop one into whatever soup or water I am boiling (like for pasta or rice.) The ice cube size keeps the amount of broth small enough not to change the flavor of what I am cooking, but still add precious vitamins and minerals to my food. The broth itself is a medicinal powerhouse but I can honestly say taking a sip of it was not a tasty experience. I also started tinctures of the reishi and turkey tail, which I need to strain soon (now that I think about it) and remove the mushrooms to do a water decoction. Different constituents are extracted with different methods, so I do a double decocted tincture with my foraged medicinal mushrooms. Then I strain and combine equal parts decoction with the alcohol extraction to create a tincture fit for fighting bodily crime.

Mushroom broth

For whatever reason, life and the Great Spirit have given me the gift of being able to learn and recognize both plants and mushrooms with more ease than most people. I am very grateful for this, and hope to share it with more people as time goes on. If you would like to book a foraging class or hire me to come walk your land and show you all the edible species right under your nose, please utilize the Contact Us form. Obviously winter is not the best time to forage, but I can help you from now through early November, or any time starting in early April through the rest of the year. I occasionally arrange foraging classes on my own, but I can be available for private functions as well. I can do Herb Walks, Mushroom Walks, Edible Walks, or even teach a class on how to make some simple medicines or foods with the ingredients we find.

Keep an eye on my blog and Facebook or Instagram pages for more foraging posts and finds! And go watch Fantastic Fungi if you haven’t done so yet. It’ll blow your mind!