This year I moved into an apartment in the city. One if its best features is a 10 foot by 4 foot, South-facing patio that backs onto the quiet alley behind my building. When I first planted a few tomato seedlings in late March I never dreamed that this tiny space would become my sanctuary, complete with dappled shade and soft grass for sunbathing.
The tall vines grow up the railing, keeping me hidden from passersby in the alley below. And the best part – all of the plants in my garden are edible as greens, fruits or flowers!
Tips on Patio Gardening
1. Plant a zealous amount of seedlings of the climbing and vining type.
Planting a multitude of seedlings means you will have plenty of young healthy plants to choose from for your patio garden. I started my seedlings inside in March in a sunny window. My seedlings included black and red cherry tomatoes, sugar-snap peas, chives, thai basil, beets, chamomile, and lettuce mix.
2. You can buy mature plants at the garden center for your garden to give it some green in the early weeks.
I acquired a 4 foot tall rosemary tree that sits in the corner of the garden and brings the eye up. It gave the young garden some ‘height’ while the other plants were still tiny. Some tall leafy garlics and organic strawberry plants, and thickets of nasturtium and sorrel added instant color and body to my garden.
3. Choose planters that are lightweight and easy to move. Weight is an important consideration for unsupported patios. A freshly watered planter with soil and a robust family of plants is surprisingly heavy. My 1’x1’x3′ planters weigh about 40 pounds each before watering.
Another reason to have easy to move planters is that your garden will evolve as the seasons progress and your plants get bigger, flower and produce fruit. You may want to move them around to give some plants more sun or shade depending on their preference. I arrange my garden like I arrange furniture, to freshen up the place and make it new again (this is a huge advantage of container gardening by the way). Get planters with handles for bonus points.
**Make sure your planters are at least 12 inches deep.**
My first set of planters were too small (only 6 inches deep) to sustain my tomatoes and peas so I ended up transplanting them into larger wooden pots mid-season so they could make it up to the top of the railing.
4. Arrange planters around the perimeter of the patio, leaving space in the center for your sanctuary.
I found a 3 foot by 9 foot roll of soft, realistic plastic grass to grace the center of my patio; I call it ‘the lawn’. It has become a second living room where I can read while laying in the sun. I even removed my deck chairs in favor of lounging on the lawn. This picture was taken in June when my peas and tomatoes where still less than a foot tall.
Decorating my garden included adding a couple of pretty river rocks that act as miniature tables, a peppermint plant from my mother in law’s garden and a small firepot for chilly nights. There is also a barbeque sitting over the railing. As you can see we managed to pack a lot of living into a small space. Next year I plan to get a garden gnome to guard the sanctuary!
5. Train your viney plants to grow up the railing, filling in the gaps with bushy flowering/fruiting plants.
Privacy is important to me. Although my patio backs onto a quiet alley I prefer to sit down on my lawn and pretend I live in a jungle. I can see out but my neighbors can’t see in.
Have Fun and Personalize Your Garden
Cherry tomatoes are my all-time favorite garden fruit! The amount of tomatoes we got out of our 3 3-foot planters is astounding, and with only 1 tray of lettuce we couldn’t keep up with eating what we produced.
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor
And while you are at it, take a picture of your patio garden to share with me and other gardeners in the comments below. Happy Herbing!
This wheel is used to determine which of your subtle bodies are most effected by your activities, and which of your bodies are lacking for stimulation, with an eye for bringing balance to your Self as a whole. It will also help you to increase your positive, happiness-promoting behaviors while decreasing unhealthy or detrimental habits. It is a tool for you to use as you see fit, to map out where to put your energies to create more happiness and fulfillment in your life.
You can print this chart off by enlarging the above image and downloading it to your computer.
Sit down at a writing surface with a handful of colored pencil crayons. Give yourself at least 30 minutes of distraction-free time in which to complete this chart.
For each activity you perform, decide which of your subtle bodies you are supporting or subtracting from. It may be easiest to begin with your daily activities, starting when you wake up, and work your way through a typical day. You can give each activity a number if you want to quantify them. I usually give them a number to represent the hours I spend performing the activity in one week, or a number that represents how good or bad for my happiness I believe the item is.
For example, let’s start with breakfast. Eating feeds your physical self, so you can include it in the physical circle on the chart. Maybe you also eat meals with your family or roommates, making it a fun social event – if this is the case, write something like ‘eating together’ across the physical and social areas.
There are activities that are good for many subtle bodies, like exercise, playing outdoors, or doing yoga (which can be good for all the bodies). Write them in or across multiple circles to represent how they sustain you.
Here is a sample chart that includes both positive, neutral and negative activities. You may wish to also include your thoughts, beliefs and emotions. This chart is known as a ‘Snapshot’:
We can improve our overall happiness by engaging in activities that fulfill many of our parts at once, while reducing the amount of time spent at negative activities, or neutral activities that do not bring us any lasting value.
Once you have worked your way through a typical day, add weekly or intermittent activities to your chart and give those activities numbers to reflect how they improve or remove from your health and happiness.
See the sample Snapshot above for a visual suggestion of how to fill out this chart.
Getting a Little Deeper
Activities are an easy place to start, but we are also affected by our thoughts, feelings and beliefs. These are important to include on your chart, as they definitely effect your happiness! At first you may not know many of your own thoughts, feelings and beliefs, or how they are effecting you. You will learn more about them with time, so don’t worry about it now if they are not obvious to you. If you are unsure about these parts it is best to work with a counselor who can help you become aware of your thoughts and feelings and encourage thoughts that lead to positive change. As an example, a common belief in depression is something along the lines of, ‘I’m not a good person’ or ‘I’m not lovable’. This kind of belief can have a huge negative impact on your life, effecting many of your subtle bodies. Any thought, feeling or belief you want to change can be included on your chart. Write it out so you can look at it in the daylight; it’s something you can change.
Don’t forget to put positive beliefs and emotions on the chart as well when appropriate; for example, maybe your love for your pet or a friend is a motivating factor in your life that improves your happiness in many subtle bodies. Feeling close with a loved one can be positive in a social, emotional, physical or even spiritual way!
For more ways to balance your Wholistic Self, see part 2 of this post. Thanks for reading!
Connective Tissue Soups are great for strengthening, repairing and relaxing inflamed muscles and ligaments, and for building strong bones and healthy bodies. Whether you are starting a new fitness regiment, or just want to show some antioxidant love to your muscles and bones, this anti-inflammatory soup will make you feel alive and ready to climb mountains!
You can make this soup gluten-free by using Bragg’s aminos sauce instead of soy sauce. A vegan version can be made by adding 1/2 pound oyster mushrooms and 4 tablespoons of coconut oil instead of chicken – although the rich proteins and other body-building-blocks provided by the chicken is a part of the healing magic of this soup!
1 roast chicken
6 cups water
6 bay leaves
3/4 cup raspberry leaf
3/4 cup comfrey leaf
6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms
6-8 stalks green onion
2 tablespoons powdered steam extracted Chaga mushroom powder
3 cups of your favorite mixed vegetables, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4-6 tablespoons chickpea miso
2-3 tablespoons tamari soy sauce/ Bragg’s amino sauce
4-12 jiggers Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
Pepper to taste
Optional: 4 tablespoons oyster sauce
Quarter the roasted chicken and put it, together with the ingredients in Section A, in a large pot and cover with the water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and cover, simmering on low for 2 hours.
Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool slightly; strain through a colander, saving both the solid and liquid portions. Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer to remove the little herby bits. Rinse the pot and put the liquid portion back in.
Allow the solids to cool in the colander until you can pick out the chicken. Give the quarters a quick rinse (comfrey likes to stick to meat), and, after picking the meat from the bones return the bits of chicken to the pot with the liquid portion. Optionally you can rinse the mushrooms and put them back in the pot as well; I only do this when using fresh mushrooms since the dried ones are so tough! Discard the chicken bones and the rest of the solids.
Add your favourite mixed vegetables and minced garlic from Section B. Some of my favorites include broccoli, baby corn and red pepper. Simmer lightly for 5-10 minutes, until the veggies are just a little soft. I prefer to simmer for less time, so my vegetables retain some of their crunch and flavour.
Remove the soup from heat. Now it is time to make a miso paste. If we don’t make a paste with our miso it won’t mix well in our soup!
Put your tablespoons of miso into a mug, and add 2 tablespoons of warm water. Using a spoon, mash the miso with the water to make a well-mixed paste. Add a couple more tablespoons of water and whisk the miso to make a thinner paste. Fill the mug up with water and stir it around a little to mix the miso. Now you can add the miso-water to the soup and stir it in.
Add the rest of the ingredients in Section C, tasting as you go. You can add more Frank’s for more heat, or more soy sauce for additional saltiness.
Enjoy 1-2 cupfuls of Healthy Connective Tissue Soup per day! When reheating your soup, warm it just enough to serve – this way you will preserve the richness of the miso, a key ingredient in the savory flavour of this soup.
The WWHG is a collective of inspired experts on Natural Health, Sustainability, Permaculture and Traditional Knowledge, serving up a weekend of fun and learning in the poplar forests of Rocky Mountain House!
Tickets are still on Early-bird special until June 10th, 2016 for the low price of $195 for the whole weekend! Fresh organic, vegan option GF food is included in ticket price. There is even special programming for the kids! Please check out www.wwhg.ca for more info and to get your tickets today.
A mid-winter cleanse includes lots of warm, savoury foods and flavourful spices, tangy ferments and relishes, hearty meat stews and other energy-generating nourishment to carry you through the cold season feeling cozy and satisfied.
Because of the cold temperatures, a cleanse is preferable to a fast at this time of the year. We will look briefly at the difference between cleansing and fasting, and make sure we understand the purpose of a cleanse and what results we can expect.
The Purpose & Benefits of Cleansing
What is the purpose of a cleanse?
The purpose of a cleanse is to give the body a ‘break’ from irritating substances long enough to allow a healing process to occur, which naturally induces the release of toxins (a colloquialism for unhealthy substances that accumulate in the body). During this process, inflammation is reduced, tissues are rebuilt, and the optimal functioning of the cells and organs of the body is restored. The focus of repair in a cleanse almost always includes the digestive system.
Repairing my digestive system?
Healing the digestive system means lessening inflammation, which allows granulated tissue to form over cracks, holes and fissures in the lining of the intestinal walls, much like a scab forms over a wound on your hand. Underneath the scabs, the tissue is regenerated and replaced until the lining is whole once again. Compare this process to an injury on your skin, from the initial bleeding and swelling, to the formation of a natural scab band-aid, to the repair process occurring unseen underneath – and when the scab falls away and the tissue is whole again, perhaps with a little temporary or permanent scar tissue. This process happens exactly the same in your intestines.
What causes this damage in the intestines?
The short answer is: Inflammation. Inflammation occurs because of a number of reasons, most of which have to do with irritating substances that cause an immune reaction, and others that create the right environment for damage to occur. Inflammatory substances include immune-triggering particles of food, undigested proteins being the primary culprit. Foods you are sensitive or allergic to can also trigger your immune system. When you trigger the immune system you get inflammation. On our skin, this looks like itching, burning, redness, swelling, heat and pain; there may also be hives or eruptions. This irritation also occurs in our digestive system when we consume an inflammatory substance.
Improperly digested food is a major culprit in digestive inflammation
Sometimes when our digestion is poor, we are unable to break food down properly, and some of these large, undigested particles are the culprits in intestinal immune reactions. Cleansing resets our digestive systems, providing the enzymes and acids needed to metabolize inflammatory food particles into useable nutrition.
I will talk more about what happens when we have an inflamed, porous digestive system (aka “leaky gut syndrome”) in another blog about food, absorption and the immune response.
A cleanse is a digestive reset that heals the digestive system, at the same time encouraging the removal of toxins from the tissues, lessening inflammation. The major benefit of cleansing is that a healthy digestive system allows you to use all the nutrition from your food for building up your strength.
So, what are my options for cleansing?
If this is not your first cleanse, and you have less than 5 days, you can try a warm liquids fast.
Fasting is going without solid food for more than 1 day. I recommend fasting for less than 4 days unless supervised. In mid-winter, fasting should be less than 3 days in duration, with many warm beverages (hot water, tea, broth or warmed juice) to provide warming energy and easily assimilated nourishment to the body. Because the process of digestion creates a lot of the internal heat we use for warmth, going without digestion for a few days in the winter can be a very chilly experience! Be sure to drink as many hot beverages as you like to stay warm.
The lemonade cleanse falls into the fasting category. Be sure to drink your lemonade warm if you are going to do this fast in winter, and keep the duration under 3 days.
All fasts require a 2-3 day period during which you slowly reacclimatize your body to solid foods, starting with lightly cooked vegetables and adding heavy food such as dairy and meat later.
For beginners and experienced cleansers who want the very best cleanse, the fresh food cleanse is an ideal diet with perfect nourishment for the body. It is a better winter option than fasting, with a longer duration, somewhere between 10-30 days.
The Fresh Food Cleanse consists of drinking water, juice or broth and consuming a variety of lightly cooked fresh vegetables, whole grains and protein for meals. This cleanse has the advantage of allowing the cleanser to feel full and satisfied, while providing alkalizing nourishment to the body. A daily piece of domestic fruit is allowed, healthy uncooked oils are encouraged, and limited quantities of nuts and legumes are allowed. This type of cleanse can be continued indefinitely – indeed, it is the optimal way for a human being to eat!
The fresh food cleanse can be customized to your dietary preferences – Gluten containing grains can be avoided if desired, and animal products are optional for vegans.
A paleo diet is similar to the fresh food cleanse, except foods that have entered the human diet in the last 10000 years are eliminated – grains and legumes, potatoes. You may wish to try the paleo diet if you find that grains and starchy legumes do not agree with you.
Iridology is the examination of the iris of the human eye and interpretation of markings in the iris to relay information about a person’s body, personality and state of health.
Iridology is my favourite healing modality – the amount of information I can share with clients about themselves, just from a quick peek in the eyes, is startling! The Iris is a breath-taking structure, unique as a snowflake, and the study of Iridology is a joy to me, as well as a constant learning opportunity.
What is an Iridologist?
An Iridologist is a practitioner of Iridology, the study of the iris. Iridologists often have training in natural health modalities such as herbal medicine, massage or reiki, and can use the information from an iridology reading to recommend treatments, changes in lifestyle, exercises or supplements to improve the health of a client based on their specific needs.
What can Iridology do for me?
Iridology can tell the strength of your constitution – your ability to resist stress and disease. It can also tell your genotype, which is a body-type/personality group describing your most likely areas of health concern, and some bits about your personality.
The Iris map lays out specific organs or areas of your body where there is tissue damage, lack of energy, scar tissue or acute acidity or inflammation. It helps to pin-point possible trouble areas in a person’s health.
What doesn’t Iridology do?
Iridology does not diagnose diseases, and does not represent health issues with 100% accuracy. It cannot tell if you are pregnant or taking drugs or alcohol.
In this Fast-Track Tutorial, Iridologist and Herbalist Kalyn Kodiak walks you through the theory and practical application of iris analysis. There will be plenty of practice and opportunities to apply newly learned skills, and group discussion of iris slides to aid in learning of the finer points of analysis. Find out more about the Iridology tutorial here.
Want to Learn Iridology in your Hometown?
If you are interested in learning Iridology in your own hometown and have a group of 6 or more participants, I am willing to travel to you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss the possibility of hosting a weekend of Iridology training in your area.
I recently wrote about my new line of products inspired by my Grandma’s Grandmother, Marie Rose Delorme Smith.
Marie Rose was a writer and midwife on the prairies of Southern Alberta. She is the author of Eighty Years on the Plains, a chronicle of life in Alberta in the pioneer days. She lived a traditional Metis lifestyle, speaking French, English and Cree with her relatives and travelling in her father’s trade caravan.
When the nomadic life of the Metis became unsustainable, she moved to Alberta with her adventurer husband Charley Smith, where they set up a homestead on the Jughandle Ranch on Pincher Creek, Alberta.
Marie Rose was an industrious person, sewing clothes and making a home for 17 children, while serving as a healer and midwife to the native, metis and white communities around her. I admire her as someone who was able to move between worlds in a time when co-mingling (even among ‘half-breeds’ and ‘full-breeds’) was profoundly discouraged. Like Marie Rose, I am not content to live in one paradigm only, but am compelled to see the world from as many mountain tops as I can climb.
I made a trip to the Glenbow Museum archives to obtain images of one of her many manuscripts, quaintly entitled Old Time Home Remedies, in hopes of discovering what my Grandmother used in her own day to help the people around her feel better. I would like to share some of her writings with you.
” Old Time Home Remedies
By Marie Rose Delorme Smith
In out of the way places home remedies are invariable tried before the Doctor is called and some of the home cures do the trick admirably. In the far north most of the remedies used by the Eskimo (sic) and the indian are tried by the white people with good results.
A cure for boils, blood poison, proud flesh and the like is made from the gall bladder of the Bear, after the bear has been in hibernation all winter its bladder is much larger than at any other time. For use it is shaved like soap then to these shavings alcohol or coal oil is added, the mixture thus formed is spread over the wound or otherwise diseased tissue, then liquid balsam gum is poured over this, in a day or two this covering can be lifted off, with the proud flesh or other dead tissue adhering to it, the flesh beneath is left sterilized and in condition to heal rapidly.
The indians in alberta used to have several sweat baths on each reserve and used this substitute for the Turkish Bath of the white man as a remedy for cold and other ailment.
Herbal remedies for external and internal use are made from plants found growing wild on the reservations, Powdered toadstools were supposed to stop bleeding.
When available warm blood was often given to newborn papooses.
Beds were placed on the ground to ward off rheumatism, sciatica, etc.
The indians wore strings of beads, bracelets and necklets (sic) rings of brass. I wonder who remembers the old stocking pot filled with hot salt placed on the cheek for that aching tooth or the ear for that earache.
The early-day mother used to say that when the new baby cried often it was longing for something the mother wished for. Some women fed the child cooked rabbits brains to satisfy this longing.
A small bag filled with hops was placed under the pillow for sleeplessness. The wearing of red flannel for Rheumatism was quiet common. A string of cut coral beads around the child’s neck would (sic) it was thought to protect it from sore throat. Some of us still have the scars from the asafetida or camphor bag worn around the neck as a preventative of contagious disease.
When a child was born with a birthmark the mother was supposed to kiss the mark before breakfast each morning.
Butter rubbed over a swelling bump would reduce the swelling. Some of the pioneers carried potatoe in opposite pockets as a cure for rheumatism. Babies inflamed eyes were bathed with mother’s milk from the brest. (sic)
An idea of some grand mothers was to peerce (sic) the ears of a child for earrings to strengthen eyesight.
A piece of copper wire around the wrist and around the opposite ankle or one around each wrist was supposed to cure arthritis. To remove ring worm one was advised to rub a copper penny on the diseased spot.
Garlic was eaten to bring down high blood pressure. Parsley was used to take odor away from the breath.
The rose colored leaves of the herb called horsemint is called ‘manikapi’ by the Blackfoot indians . . . it is gathered and placed in hot water and is used as an eye wash to allay inflammation
Like many Metis families, the folk wisdom of my family was nearly lost. The link between the earth-dwelling members and our ancestors would be severed if not for the enduring voices of our women. By seeking out my Grandmothers’ writings on medicine, I am healing my own feeling of cultural disparity with voices from the past.
I’m thankful to have the words of my Grandmother’s Grandmother, and I am grateful to my own Grandma Helene for speaking so fondly of Marie Rose, and fostering a pride in me for my Metis heritage and the strong women who held traditions for their communities and families. May I one day hold the honor of being a tradition-keeper in my own turn!
I had the pleasure of roaming the foothills of West Central Montana in a golf cart in late July – the beginning of Berry Season. With a good dog and keeping a sharp eye out for bears, we scoured the hills for some of the tastiest natural treats, as well as the lesser known goodies of the dry back country. Many of these berries are available all over the Eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, including right here in Alberta! Here’s what we found.
Elderberry (Sambucus spp.)
S. Canadensis and S. cerulea are both found in the Rockies.
Elderberries are used in wines, preserves, and pastries. The bark and leaves are used in healing washes for skin conditions (eczema), while the flowers are used medicinally in tea. The berries are high in calcium, potassium, and iron, and vitamins C and A. Berries show antiviral activity and are used in teas for colds and flu. Cooking is said to make them edible, although some Nations may also have eaten them raw. The concern in eating the raw berries is the cyanide-producing glycosides in the seeds and the rest of the plant, a common feature of the Rosaceae (Rose) family of fruits and flowers.
Black and Red Currants (Ribes spp.)
The flowers of currants have 5 petals and 5 sepals. The currant family shares a distinctive lobed leaf, alternate on the branch. Not all currant bushes have prickly stems (unlike the gooseberry which has prickles).
Currants are high in pectin, and can be added to other fruits and berries to make excellent jellies.
Wax currants have a pinkish to greenish flower. They are bright orange berries when ripe with the dried flower remnant protruding from the berry. Look for erect bushes 2-6 feet tall with typical Ribes leaf shapes. Harvest time for currants is mid July to mid August. Currants quickly fall off the bush once over-ripe.
Currants are said to be a strengthening tonic, and useful against arthritis. They are used as a culinary berry, making their way into wines, syrups, pastries, and preserves. The leaves and inner bark make a minty flavored tisane that is sometimes used for diarrhea or symptoms of a cold. Tea or jelly from the berries is soothing to a sore throat. The seeds of black currants contains GLA (Gamma-linolenic Acid).
Gooseberries (Ribes spp.)
A member of the currant genus, gooseberries are round with a protruding dried calyx from the flower still attached. The berries often have ‘beach ball’ stripes or spikes. The Spiny-branched shrubs have alternate, typical Ribes-shaped leaves. Tubular flowers white or faintly green, 5 petals, 5 sepals. Gooseberry harvest occurs in mid-July to mid-August depending on region and microclimate.
These yummy berries are juicy and edible raw or cooked. They can be picked green as they will ripen off the plant. Some varieties are sweet and others are sour. Wild gooseberries tend to be smaller than the cultivated varieties.
A source of vitamin C, gooseberries are useful in colds and sore throats, with good antiseptic properties. Some texts caution against eating too many berries if the currant family is not a routine part of your diet, as stomach upset may occur.
Unnamed currant – because we caught this currant bush in between the flower and berry stages, a positive identification is difficult for a non-local herbalist. We’ll be staking out this bush, and I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of berry forms later in the year. My guess is bristly black currant (ribes lacustre). If you can identify this ribes species, please enlighten us with a comment below!
Saskatoon Berry – (Amelanchier alnifolia)
Serviceberry, as they are sometimes called in Montana and Alberta, are a sweet and tasty berry that is ready to eat straight off the bush. They are useful in the kitchen in pastries, jams, puddings, sauces, syrups and wines. The boiled berries were used for ear drops while the green berries were used to make eye drops. The juice of saskatoons is said to relieve upset stomach. The branches of Saskatoon bushes are said to have been used for a variety of tools, including arrows, tipi pins and stakes, and medicinal lances (1). Saskatoons are said to be another source of potential cyanide-like substances by some guides, while others report the free eating of them by first nations. They come to full ripeness between early July and early August, depending on the minute location of each bush. Saskatoon berries were mixed with the sour white berry of the red-osier dogwood to make a desert known as ‘sweet and sour’.
Chokecherries – (Prunus virginiana)
In the foothills we have a few varieties of chokecherry, all used in a similar fashion. Chokecherries are often found as a small tree, but can also be a tall and leafy bush. The leaves are shiny, deep green or purple, and ovate. The berries hang alternately on a raceme, making them easy to pick by sliding your fingers down the end of the branch and allowing them to fall into your basket. The dark purple fruit becomes ripe in mid to late July, but is best collected after the first frost for sweeter berries.
These were an important food berry for many first nations. Dried into cakes in old days, they are now cooked into jams, syrups or made into wine. The astringent taste of the raw berries dries out the mouth and throat, giving them their name: ‘choke’ cherry.
These sour berries improve appetite and dry up loose or bleeding bowels with their astringency. The stone inside the chokecherries is removed in most modern day use due to the presence of hydrocyanic acid in all parts of the plant except the flesh of the fruit. However some first nations report pounding and drying the berries whole, consuming the entire fruit in moderate quantities.
Chokecherry bark and unripe berries have traditionally been used to bring relief from stomach upsets and diarrhea. Chokecherry inner bark is used in heart and lung problems, as a diaphoretic, as a steam or smoke in asthma and bronchial congestion, and occasionally in small amounts in cough medicines.
Oregon grape (Mahonia spp.)
These pretty blue berries may grow in large grape-like clusters, or in small groupings of only 3-10 berries, depending on the year, and the size and location of each plant. Both prostrate barberry (M. repens) and the bushy variety (M. aquifolium) grow in the dry foothills. The berries are very sour. The leathery, spikey-toothed leaves are most easily recognizable at a distance by their second-year leaflets, which turn yellow, orange or even bright red in the winter and may remain so all year.
Oregon grape was not popular as a food berry with first nations until sugar was introduced, making the berries more palatable. A desert was made by mixing Oregon grape berries with sugar and milk. The roots of Oregon grape are famous for their yellow alkaloid berberine, a blessing for those suffering from dysentery, kidney troubles, and as an antiseptic for other infections.
Finally, the elusive, exclusive celebrity of the Western Montana tourist country:
The Huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.)
Shrubs can be 1-5 feet tall, with shiny leaves and pinkish urn-shaped flowers. The stems are red with a longitudinal groove. The berries are gathered in late July to early September, and are deep blue to black, about ½ inch in size.
Similar to his cousin the blueberry, huckleberries are not so easily cultivated and so prized as an exotic, wild treat. The location of huckleberry hunting grounds are a closely guarded secret in the rocky mountains, even among neighbors, and the ripe berries are featured in tourist traps and farmers markets at wonderful prices ($10 per half pound this summer in Missoula Montana!).
Eaten fresh or dried, huckleberries can be treated like a blueberry for all culinary uses. A tea of the leaves is used by some to stabilize blood glucose levels, reducing the need for insulin in some and treating hypoglycemia in others, as per the need. The leaves are also said to be useful in urinary tract infections. A tea of the roots and stems was used by the Flathead Indians as a medicine for rheumatism, arthritis, and heart issues.
Didn’t see the berry you were looking for?There are so many wonderful edible treats in the foothills I couldn’t fit them all in one blog, and plan to write about some of them later. Look out for Part II of Berries of the Foothills, featuring Buffalo berry / “Indian Ice cream”, Red Willow berry, Juniper, Thimbleberry, Bearberry, Snowberry, Mountain Ash and others!
It’s Cherry Season! Soon those cherries will be falling off the bushes so you’d better grab them now. It’s easy to get lots of lovely ripe cherries off a bush – this batch took me about 15 minutes. There are two methods to quick and easy cherry picking:
Method #1. Tickle A Cherry Bush
When your cherries are fully ripe, select a branch and place a wide container under it to catch the berries. Starting at the ‘root’ of the branch (where it meets the trunk), wiggle the fingers of both hands in between the leaves and the branch, in a tickling motion, gently coaxing the cherries off the bush. You will have to make several tickling passes per branch. Only the ripe berries will fall off when tickled. I think it actually helps to remember that you are ‘tickling’ the cherry tree – this will make sure you don’t pull too hard and break any of the cherries.
I prefer the tickling method when I go hunting for cherries in public spaces or in neighbor’s yards, as it allows me harvest the cherries right away, at the height of their firm ripeness.
Method #2: The Drop-Cloth
Some cherry bushes loose their fruit onto the ground when it becomes over-ripe. Not all cherry bushes do this, but if you are lucky enough to have the right type, this method is definitely the easiest.
When your cherry tree is ripe, spread blankets, bedsheets or towels underneath it, smoothing them down flat. Make sure the center of each blanket is lower or level to the outsides. When the cherries naturally drop off the bush, they will collect on your blanket. Cherries may take between 1 – 4 days to drop, but it often happens in one fell swoop – so check your blankets often. You can also give your cherry bushes a shake a couple of times a day to speed the process along. Then carefully gather up the edges of your blankets, and cackle over your massive cherry harvest!
The Drop-Cloth method works best if you have a cherry bush in your own yard, as you have to leave a blanket down and wait for the cherries to drop. It is the easiest method, but the cherries will be quite soft; however they are still suitable for juice, syrups, or jellies with added pectin.
What do you do with all those cherries?
You GARBLE them!
Garbling is the process of removing the leaves, bugs and bits from your harvested cherries.This is also a very simple process if you know how to do it:
The pictures above pretty much sums it up. After you scoop out a handful of leaves and bits, stir the cherries up a few more times to allow the rest of the junk to float to the surface. Unripe cherries or bad cherries will also float to the top sometimes, and when you’ve scooped it all out, you end up with bright, clean cherries. If you are picky, you can now rinse them in a colander for extra squeaky clean points.
Sweet! Clean Cherries! Now What?
There are a few options for your cherries, and 1 important safety note.
Safety First:Raw cherry pits contain hydrocyanic acid and other cyanins – the cousins of cyanide. This has led to warnings about consuming certain amounts of fresh or raw cherry products that were processed with the pits still in. Nobody can say for sure what amount of cherry pits is harmful to any one particular human. Of course, you can just spit the pit out or discard it when you make juice or jelly.
I’m planning on making cough syrup with some of my cherries, and that hydrocyanic acid will actually play a medicinal role in the formula! To learn how to make cherry cough syrup and see the other recipes I used my cherries in, check out my next blog on cherries (coming up next week). For now, I’ll be freezing my clean cherries in large freezer bags (the ones I don’t eat, anyway), so they’re ready when I need them.
Herbal Medicine and Wellness Services. Traditional Metis Culture.