We may march in the Big Apple in the biggest Climate Action in the world, ever, but then we come home where our lives are (somewhat) normal and comfortably small. Here we concoct an elder syrup of elderberries, elder flowers, astragalus root, peppermint and homegrown, raw honey. In fact, over a quart of it!
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One jar sits in the door of my fridge and gets sampled every day. The rest went into the freezer, which is safe for honey.

We also celebrate the arrival of pullet eggs! We’ve found five so far (these pullets are master flyers and escape over the fence to the great beyond quite often, so who knows), so must be more than one pullet. Figuring out which ones is nigh impossible, but it’s not essential. As the eggs gain their mature size, we might be able to start telling the difference.

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The days are shortening and cooling fast. I made that wonderful escarole, garlic and cannellini bean soup with an escarole head from the CSA box. Yum!

The other day Amie and I admired a pretty yellow flower with a scaly stalk in what we fondly call “The Pitt”:  the front part of our garden that is mainly bramble. A friend of mine identified at as being Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), also known as cough wort. This was very exciting. Here I am trying to cultivate finicky medicinals and down there, in The Pitt, grows this amazing cough suppressant, expectorant and asthma treatment, wild, unattended. Uninvited but very welcome.

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Apparently the plant tastes salty and was used as a salt substitute. The bees share my excitement!

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I found this great seed (and plant) supplier, Horizon Herbs, through Mountain Rose Herbs, where I usually buy my dried herbs. I admit I went a little crazy. But if I can grow all of these, harvest them and make them into medicine, and also take seed from them and propagate them… it’s a dream I’ve had for years now, the apothecary dream.

  Mullein Common (Verbascum thapsus) packet of 100 seeds organic

  Goji (Lycium barbarum) packet of 100 seeds in dried fruit organic

  Aconite Chinese (Aconitum carmichaeli) packet of 50 seeds organic

  Aloe arborescens (Aloe arborescens) packet of 20 seeds

  Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) packet of 50 seeds organic

  Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) packet of 100 seeds organic

  Chamomile Roman (Chamaemelum nobile) packet of 500 seeds organic

  Cleavers (Galium aparine) packet of 50 seeds organic

  Horehound White (Marrubium vulgare) packet of 100 seeds organic

  Jewelweed Orange (Impatiens capensis) packet of 20 seeds organic

  Lobelia Official (Lobelia inflata) packet of 1000 seeds organic

  Lobelia Set (3 seed packets): Lobelias — Great Blue & Official; Cardinal Flower (all organic)

  Mugwort Common (Artemisia vulgaris) packet of 300 seeds organic

  Echinacea purpurea packet of 200 seeds organic

  Myrrh Garden (Myrrhis odorata) packet of 10 seeds organic

  Nettles Stinging (Urtica dioica) packet of 200 seeds organic

  Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) packet of 500 seeds

  Pleurisy Root Official (Asclepias tuberosa) packet of 50 seeds organic

  Saint Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) packet of 500 seeds

  Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris) packet of 50 seeds organic

  Skullcap Official (Scutellaria lateriflora) seeds organic

  Solomons Seal Giant (Polygonatum biflorum) packet of 20 seeds

  Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) packet of 30 seeds

  Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) packet of 300 seeds organic

  Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) packet of 100 seeds organic

And from Fedco I bought:

  • Astragalus OG
  • Borage OG
  • Bodegold Chamomile
  • Bronze Fennel OG
  • Hyssop
  • Licorice
  • Motherwort OG
  • Mad-dog Skullcap
  • Topas St Johnswort
  • Valerian
  • White Yarrow
  • Maya Orange Calendula OG
  • Solar Flashback Calendula Mix OG

The first one is sauerkraut. It is my first deliberately fermented food. A huge cabbage head came in our CSA box a couple of weeks ago. What to do with it? As I was reading Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation, I couldn’t resist.

My mom and I went looking for a good crock, but all the right shapes we found (in non-specialty stores) had questionable glazes. Always know what glaze is on your cookware, and especially make sure there is no lead in it.

In the end we went with the ceramic liner of our crock pot.  We shredded the cabbage, layered it in the pot, with one tablespoon of salt on top of every inch of cabbage (except on the last layer), then submerged it in filtered tap water, crushing it down to get the air bubbles out, then weighed it with two plates, then a jar with water. We draped a towel over it so dust couldn’t get in.

It smelled something awful three days into the process, so I put it on the porch. The potent smell lasted a few days, then it became more neutral. On day 10 there was some surface mold, which was easily skimmed off. All the cabbage under the water surface was unaffected. It is now two weeks and it tastes delicious!  I think it’s ready!

I transferred the kraut with the brine into jars – careful to keep it all submerged – and put them in the fridge to eat it over the next couple of weeks.

I gave the chickens the large leaves that we put at the bottom and they are loving it!

The second ferment is comfrey liquor. No, it’s not  edible. At least, I wouldn’t drink it!

It took much longer to make. I started it in July. It required three buckets that fit into each other. The bottom one captures the liquid which drips down through the holes in the second bucket, which I stuffed with comfrey leaves from my garden. I have a comfrey patch right across from the chicken coop. The chicken, by the way, love to eat it. On top of the leaves I put a heavy paver and then on top of that a third bucket heavy with sand. I stood this in the shed for a couple of months. I checked it a month later and it was pretty bubbly, but it didn’t smell,  even though my internet sources say it should stink to high heaven! I swear I took a picture then, but I can’t find it. This was the state today:

Now a little over two months into the process, the  leaves (left in the picture above) are just fiber. The  liquid (right) is no longer bubbly, and it doesn’t smell. It’s a coffee brown-black and somewhat viscous.

A 5 gallon bucket stuffed with leaves yielded a little under 5 cups of liquor.

I will fertilize the berry bushes with this or keep it in a dark, cool place until Spring. I’ll dilute it as it’s very concentrated: one part of liquor per fifteen or so parts of water. Comfrey’s deep roots mine and bring up  especially potassium – comfrey is actually one of the few organic sources of potassium.

Computer crashed while saving a file. Two days of work gone. My garden design image had 82 layers (some of them very complex). All but 2 are lost.

Need a calming tea.

Amie is grinding it up in the mortar for me: chamomile flowers, echinacea leaf, rosehip, and a tiny bit of licorice root.

We brought in a little more than 1/3 of a cord of well-dried wood today. We still have a good two and a half cords under cover in the back yard, which should get us through the Winter. The trees that came down this year and that we’re still bucking will make for good dry wood next year.

We also scavenged three boxes of kindling from our property (thanks, Irene!).  Good (small anddry) kindling, I find, is worth as much as the firewood itself for getting a good fire going. Amie helped a lot with that so she wanted to pose with her handiwork.

Hanging above her is the drying sage.

We’ve still only had one night of frost here. Today was another rather balmy day. The tomatoes and peppers in the hoop house (still doorless) keep on growing and ripening.

Right there, behind the sunchokes

What with the flurry of activity/activism around here, the garden has been neglected somewhat. On top of that, the deer decided to cross from backyard where they usually hang out (an extensive wildlife corridor runs behind our property) to the front. In the front yard they ate the weeds and strawberry plants. Then they started browsing my veg garden, first defoliating the sweet potatoes, then finishing off the green beans and swish chard and trampling the carrots.

Trying to chase it away. It couldn’t be bothered!

Still, we had some harvests.

It was mainly green beans, peppers and eggplants. Tomatoes did extremely poorly this season.

the sweet potato bed once the deer were done with it

sweet potatoes, freshly dug

sweet potatoes, curing. Once washed it was obvious that there is a lot of vole damage on them.

deer-grazed chard

deer-grazed green beans (the end of our green beans)

Remember that beautiful elecampane? It grew enormous. All those flowers have now set seed – billions of seeds, some of which I harvested.

And then there is all that wood that came down in Spring. The pile originally looked like this:

I believe we’ve bucked half of that now. Our property is lined with sawed logs, waiting to be split (we’ll rent a splitter). Amie is very much into counting and tallying these days. She counted 157 of these! In the picture she’s wearing ear protection because DH was running the chain saw.


John Root conducted an Edible Wild Plants Walk at the organic Lindentree Farm in nearby Lincoln yesterday evening and I was there. I learned that that weed, of which I pulled thousands from the old compost heap, is Lamb’s Quarters, that it is absolutely yummy and nutritious and grew itself for free and without my care or attention (but I already knew that). And I ate not a one. They all went into the (new) compost, though, so eventually I’ll eat them, but still.

The entertaining  and knowledgeable John Root introduces us to Jewelweed

Today I pulled several weeds from the strawberry patch. I spent some time with one of them, Botany in a Day, and Amie’s loupe and discovered it is a Mallow, probably Cheese Mallow (Malva rotundifolia). Here’s the distinctive funnel-shaped five-petaled flower with a column of stamens.

Mallows have 3 to 5 partially united sepals and often several bracts. This one has 5 sepals and 3 bracts (smaller sepal-like modified leaves):

My plants has these beautiful round leaves – hence my hunch that is is rotundi-folia:

The ovary of the Mallow matures as a capsule, or a “cheese”:

Matured flower next to immature flower:

The Mallow is mucilaginous or slimy when crushed and contains pectin. The marshmallow we roast over the fire used to be made from the roots and seeds of the Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis – which comes from Europe and which I purchased and have thriving in my herb garden) and our indigenous Malva can be used to make marshmallow too.

Because the Mallows are so slimy, they are a great external emollient and an internal demulcent and expectorant. Roots, leaves, flowers and seeds (cheeses) can be eaten and are rich in calcium and iron.

Today I got to experiment first-hand with a remedy for Stinging Nettle stings. Some nettle was growing in my  mint patch and though I am aware of it and am careful when harvesting mint, my guests may not. I was tidying up that patch and thought I’d relocate the three nettle plants to the nettle patch (out of the way in the back of the property, behind the fence).

Tip: just wearing gloves and a short sleeved shirt is not ample protection.

I got stung badly on the bare arm and then, through the glove, on a finger. The blisters and the itch formed immediately. I ran out back to our “lawn” (more like a clover patch) and picked some plantain leaves, crushed them in a mortar and applied them as a poultice.

Instant relief!

If memory serves, the blisters and itch can last many hours. The itch was abolished instantly, and the blisters were gone after 5 minutes of applying the leaf.

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Just over the weekend a friend and I were talking about herbal medicine. He didn’t quite “believe in it”. Turns out that what he doesn’t believe in is that plants can have a beneficial effect. That some are detrimental and poisonous, or that their malevolent effect can indeed be instant – e.g., Stinging Nettle – he had no problem accepting.

When I pointed this out it was a revelation. All our trust in the benefits of plants has been taken away by the pharmaceuticals. All that remains is the other side of the coin. A weird coin it is now, hanging there in people’s minds, in our culture…


I have been thinking for a while now to grow Ginger (Zingiber officinalis).  I finally had two pieces of root that seemed like good candidates. They were quite old and had already sprouted in several places.

I cut them up, making sure each part had two or three buds or eyes, and into the dark, rich soil they went, inside an old wine case (I figured the rhizomes grow horizontally, so a container that is wide and not too deep seems ideal). I drilled holes in the bottom.

Ginger, being a tropical plant, likes shelter, filtered sunlight and warm, moist, rich soil. It can’t stand frost, so I’ll have to bring it inside to overwinter.

I reserved another such wine box for a turmeric root, which I’ll pick up from the Indian store today.