Archive | July 2015

Meet Your Friendly Neighborhood Weeds

Wednesday evening I was invited to speak at a local community garden. I was so excited to share with the community some of my herbal knowledge, and thought the people might like to learn more about about the plants they are growing… unintentionally. The weeds! To a botanophile, there are no bad plants, just misunderstood plants.  In this post my goal is to help you all understand those poor unloved weeds. I’ll briefly profile just a few of the most common and disliked.

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Bindweed (Convovulus arvensis): Also known as wild morning glory. Ahh, the despised nemesis of gardeners everywhere. The young shoots and leaves are actually a popular green often eaten in Vietnam, India and Turkey. Medicinally the flowers have laxative properties, the roots and leaves are a topical haemostatic and have even been used to treat spider bites and poisoning. The latest research on this plant looks promising for cancer treatment by limiting blood flow to tumors. Opening in the morning and closing at night, they can be awfully pretty too. Got a bindweed problem? Why not plant Vinca vine or a decorative species of morning glory with it, and you’ll have a beautiful viney flower garden.

Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense): Also known as creeping thistle, lettuce from hell, and even cursed thistle you know this one is unloved! All Cirsium species are edible cooked or raw. You can eat the center stalks, the young leaves (tastes a bit like celery), older leaves stripped of spines, the root, the seeds and the flower. Medicinally it has been used to treat mouth conditions, poison ivy and intestinal parasites. Its pollen is a favorite of honeybees. Save the bees! And the weeds!

It was hard to choose just a few, there are so many wonderful and hated weeds out there. But this next one, I have always particularry disliked… until I discovered it’s virtues.

Siberian Elm (Umlus pumila): Also known as Asiatic elm, dwarf elm and Chinese elm. Medicinally Siberian elm is a promising substitute for the over harvested, and endangered slippery elm (Umlus rubra). It is also resistant to Dutch elm disease which has decimated most native elm populations. The leaves are edible, and quite good as a tea. The bark and leaves are used medicinally like the slippery elm for sore throats, weak digestion, skin lesions, UTI’s, coughs and malnutrition. It starts out as an ugly shrub, but I have seen them grow into rather beautiful shade trees.

Maybe now you see the weeds from my point of view? In the words of  that lovable donkey, Eeyore….

Want to know more about useful weeds? Here are a few books I’d recommend:

Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives by Timothy Lee Scott

Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat by Ellen Zachos

Wild Edibles: A Practical Guide to Foraging, with Easy Identification of 60 Edible Plants and 67 Recipes by Sergei Boutenko

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The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu: Book Review

If you were to ask me:

“Sheri, what is your favorite plant?”

I’d probably reply with something like:

“I don’t know, I have a ton of favorites! To an herbalist, picking a favorite herb is like picking your favorite child.”

However, secretly anyone who really knows me, has always known of my deep and somewhat rebellious love of dandelions. A favorite? perhaps. So when I saw on the spine of this book ” BOOK ONE OF THE DANDELION DYNASTY” it certainly piqued my interest. Then I saw the stunning cover…….

Oooh! Pretty! I finally decided to read this one, with nothing more to go on, and I wish I wouldn’t have waited so long.

Once I began to read, the herbalist character, gentle and strong Jia, of course, quickly wins my heart. When asked her favorite plant she replies:

“They’re all dear to me, but I admire the dandelion the most. It is hardy and determined, adaptable and practical…the dandelion’s leaves and flowers can fill your belly, it’s sap cure your warts, its roots calm your fevers. Dandelion tea makes you alert, while chewing a root can steady a nervous hand…it is a versatile root and useful plant that people can rely on. And it’s playful and fun.”

My beloved weed makes an appearance several times, always along side wisdom. I do hope the eloquent pen of Mr. Liu can convince many more to love the humble little plant as I (and Jia) do.

The story is reminiscent of A Game of Thrones, but instead of having that medieval-ish feel, it’s more Asian. It’s a beautiful and tragic, epic play for power. A fight for the right to rule the lands of Dara, a recently united group of city states or small countries. We begin with several major contestants for the crown, and eventually narrow it down to just a few. Each of Dara’s little areas have distinct cultures, worship distinct gods and trade in their own types off goods.

It is difficult to write about the plot without giving too much away, but I think, like in A Game of Thrones, you’ll choose your favorites quickly and root for them, unless they fail, and then before you know it a new favorite character will have won you over. Idealistic warrior, female general, unruly and fun loving rebel? There are just too many great characters to choose from. I expect this pattern to continue into the next book too. Only maybe (and the author does hint) that it just might be a battle of wits and will of the strong (but so far minor) women next…I’m excited!


Already read The Grace of Kings and want to know more?

Many of the concepts presented in the book mirror Qin Dynasty history, for one of the best sources of information about the Qin Dynasty, I’d suggest reading Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty by Sima Qian.

The game of cupa as played by Mazoti, I believe to be based on the ancient game of Go or Weiqi.  It’s challenging and fun. Try Go for Beginners by Kaoru Iwamoto or for a more cultural perspective of this fascinating game, a moving novel, The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa.

The gods take an important role in the story, curious to know what the ancient Chinese gods roles were or hear more about Chinese mythology? Check out The Gods and Goddesses of Ancient China by Leonard Everett Fisher

Or maybe take a break from reading, enjoy the summer by getting outside, making a few dandelion crowns then snacking on one of my favorite dandelion recipes from LearningHerbs.com and the amazing herbalist, Rosalee de la Foret: Dandelion Fritters. Yum!

Gooseberry elderflower jam

One of my favorite food blogs, and a super delicious and calming, immune boosting herbal recipe.  If you can get your hands on the ingredients, give this one a try. You wont regret it!

Nettle and quince

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For years there was an acidulated gap in my life.

While I grew up on the sour tinge of gooseberries (as well as raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants…) just-picked from the fairy-tale garden of my grandparent’s neighbor in Switzerland, for all the intermittent years since, gooseberries virtually disappeared from my life. They are not all that popular in France, and were not common at the Turkish market in Berlin where I did most of my shopping; markets have since proliferated there, I am sure gooseberries now feature prominently. The berries magically reentered my world In New York at Union Square market, and they are impossible to overlook in London. I have moved to gooseberry heaven.

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Gooseberries grow wild in Northern Europe, they thrive in cool, moist climates, which explains their prevalence here, and a notable claim of northern superiority: Scottish gooseberries were historically considered superior to those of England (conversely, English gooseberries…

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