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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

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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The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian- Book Review

 The cover of this one caught my attention immediately; quirky and fun. Kinda like the book it’s self. Is that a Gargoyle holding a whisk you ask? In fact it is.

Zoe, is a 300 year old herbalist, antiques dealer and retired alchemist.  In an attempt at a new start, she buys a fixer-upper in Portland, Oregon. While unpacking her things she is surprised by a French stowaway, Dorian a living, breathing, and gourmet cooking gargoyle. When 14 year old Brixton, the neighborhood trouble maker, who just knows the house is haunted, spies the gargoyle through window while snooping around, Zoe tricks him into helping her clean up the house, in exchange for not pressing charges. After all she can’t let him tell the world about their secrets.

Dorian is convinced that Zoe is the only one who can help him decode his ancient book and save him from returning to his stone state forever. Zoe is not so sure she can help, she has, after all given up on alchemy. Then one day she comes home from a  walk to see the handy-man she hired dead on her door step surrounded by an odd smell. She may have to reopen her alchemical lab, and painful past memories, to figure out what is really going on.

The unlikely murder mystery solving trio team up to investigate. They delve into the city and it’s resident tea shop patrons secrets. Soon there is another attempted murder, this time on someone they know and care about. Dorian is dying, and there’s a murder on the loose. Things start to get more serious, and they all could be in danger. The police investigator assigned to the case suspects the new girl in town, and in return Zoe thinks she might be falling for him…

It’s a mystery, so I’ll leave it at that. No spoilers here. It was a fun read, and as an herbalist it was refreshing to see the few herbal references were researched and not unrealistic, as were the historical alchemy references. Though I thought Zoe was bit too much of the stereotypical herbalist type (we’re not all like that!) What really brought it all together for me was reading the afterword. The author shares her story of the writing of this book as a tool to help her through her cancer. She also thoughtfully shares a few of the recipes from the book (and a link to her website with more!) I haven’t made any of them yet, but plan on it. They sound pretty good! I am certainly looking forward to the continuation of this series.

Did this book encourage you to explore more? Wanna read more about plant alchemy or maybe you’d like to try a few more vegan recipes? Here’s a few recommendations you might enjoy.

The Alchemists Daughter by Katharine McMahon

The Chemical Choir: A History of Alchemy by P.G. Maxwell-Stuart

A Druids Handbook to the Spiritual Power of Plants by Jon G.Hughes

Chloe’s Kitchen: 125 Easy, Delicious Recipes for Making the Food You Love the Vegan Way  by Chloe Coscarelli

Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London’s Flower Sellers by Hazel Gaynor-Book review

 Since seeing the beautiful Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady as a young girl, and later reading Pygmalion, I have been enamored with London’s flower sellers. So when I saw this book on the “new” shelf at my library, I didn’t think twice about taking it home with me. I didn’t even read the back cover or the first page before jumping right in, and once I did I couldn’t put it down.

This is a story within a story. Tilly Harper is a young woman beginning a new life, far away from her country home, as an employee of Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls in London. Florrie and Rosie are children doing their best to survive on the streets of London selling flowers, and looking out for one another. Shortly after she arrives at the Home for Watercress and Flower Girls, Tilly finds a journal that once belonged to Florrie, written more than 30 years earlier.

As the story unfolds the great love of Florrie for her little sister Rosie is told along side Tilly’s jealousy of her own sister and the events leading up to their falling out. When Tilly reads of Rosie’s disappearance in the journal she becomes determined to discover what became of the little girl, and in the process learns more about herself than she bargained for. Though I found it a tad predictable, I didn’t think the characters could see the whole picture like I could, and they believably took longer to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

It is more than a historical drama. It is a story of love and redemption. It is a story of self realization, for more than one character. It is as beautifully told as the flowers in the story.

That alone makes for a great novel, but the part that really captured me, was the truth behind the novel. Hazel Gaynor goes above and beyond by sharing her inspiration for the book with us. She shares fascinating additional resources that she came across while researching the book, and the story of the man who inspired her character, Mr. Shaw. I love to learn new things through historical fiction, Hazel Gaynor helps take the challenge out of it. I can follow her carefully researched path to more knowledge on the subjects instead of stumbling down my own. It’s kind of a two in one fiction/non-fiction book. Because of all this, I will certainly be watching for more books from her in the future.

Curious about some of the themes in A Memory of Violets? Here’s some additional reading.

Covent Garden: The Fruit, Vegetable and Flower Markets

Indoor Paupers by ‘One of Them’: Life Inside a London Workhouse

Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London

Silk Flowers: The Complete Guide to the Fine Art of Silk Flower Making. From Anemones to Roses

Charles Booth’s London, a Portrait of the Poor at the Turn of the Century, from his Life and Labour of the People of London

Outlander on Starz?….yes, please.

Another installment will air tonight. Am I looking forward to it? Well, yeah, but I wasn’t too sure to begin with.

For a book series that is near and dear to my heart, I was admittedly pretty worried about how it would translate on screen. So many of my favorite books have been turned into horrible movies. I’ll also admit that at first I wasn’t too excited about the casting. Claire’s too skinny and Jamie is not big enough, and his hair’s not red enough. But I have come around. The actors are convincing, and now I can’t decide if Sam Heughan is actually really hot, or if I only think so because he’s Jamie Frasier. Because we all know Jamie Frasier is smokin. That’s just a fact. They really have done a pretty good job with it, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here. Will they stick to the books? I do hope so, but how are they going to age the characters?

So if you haven’t seen it yet, I will warn you, it’s not one to watch with the in-laws. It gets pretty steamy right from the get go. Mr. Herbs and I watch it together, often with a dram of my favorite scotch (just to get us in the right highland-like mindset). It has enough action and adventure to keep him happy, and the steamy bits? Well, I don’t think he’s complaining about those either…

What do you all think, is Sam Heughan really a hottie or is it my imagination? Is he the right guy to play Jamie? What about Caitriona Balfe, is she the best Claire? Who would you have cast?