Wild Weeds Pesto

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It is definitely Spring and the weeds are growing! All around our house the bright, new green growth is pushing up out of the earth higher and higher each day, and I couldn’t be happier. I greet the plants I know, and scratch my head at the ones I don’t, hoping to learn their names soon.

There is something about the soothing power of plants that has comforted me like nothing else since I was a child being taken on nature walks with my mother. She would point out the miner’s lettuce to eat, and the chickweed. I can almost still taste the cool, watery leaves on my four year old tongue as a tangible, physical memory. I do believe that these deep bodily memories from a young child have stayed pressed within my psyche all these years, and yet, unlike the dry pressings of flowers and stems that I also collected between the pages of a cloth-bound journal, plant and herb knowledge stays ever-alive and continually refreshed, tempered by the eloquence and simplicity of changing seasons and Nature’s way. There are always plants all around us, common “weeds” and all variety of trees and grasses and flowers. It is the wild plants that I love best, perhaps because their placement and existence has not been directed or planned or controlled by humans (usually); they grow in their own way, and we are only visitors in their “gardens.”

So take some time to look around you. If you are lucky enough to live by open meadows or fields (hopefully unsprayed), by a body of water, or even by a road, learn to identify the plants around you and if they can be eaten and what types of qualities they possess. Right now the cleavers are growing high and reaching towards the sky with their bright green arms all around me in Northern California. Chickweed has already flowered, and I’ve seen nettles on the sides of the roads, ready to be picked. Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) is growing in clumps and scatterings, its shiny, lily pad-like leaves becoming thick and glossy and heavy with watery juice. Plantain (Plantago major) is abundant and can be seen all around our yard and on the sides of roads, its deeply lined, emerald green leaves growing gracefully into sharp points like striped green swords. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) were more common up north in Washington than down here in California, but I have seen several plants growing in our yard with their jagged toothed leaves and bright golden flowers–they are a welcome sight to me any day! (I am equally horrified when I see someone spraying poisons all over the living earth and wild weeds, and I recoil inside with a feeling of deep grief, anger and helplessness at such a lack of understanding and appreciation for our plant friends.)

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Today I made pesto from a mix of cleavers and a small handful of plantain leaves. I think it would have tasted better with chickweed and cleavers, but all the chickweed around here has disappeared (I began this post a few weeks ago now and so much has changed already!). So you can really make a pesto from any edible wild or cultivated greens. I love pesto and can eat it the way others might eat hummus or chocolate pudding–with a spoon, and lots of it! I can easily finish a whole bowl of pesto by itself like a meal–yum!

Now is also the time for Spring cleaning, inside and out. The wild herbs, or “weeds,” that are growing now all around us have nourishing and cleansing properties for our minds and bodies. For instance, cleavers (Galium aparine) have been noted to be cleansing for the lymph system (notice how they look like the lymph system next time you see them!), as well as for the kidneys and urinary tract. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a potent liver tonic, and chickweed (Stellaria media) is a blood purifier with healing properties for the skin and heart. Nettles (Urtica dioica) are chock-full of good minerals and nourishing attributes. Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is good for the skin and high in potassium.  There is so much to learn about the lovely green plants, but for now, let us eat!

Wild Weeds Pesto

• About 2 cups of packed greens, any combination (cleavers, chickweed, plantain leaves, dandelion leaves, nettles, etc. or a combination of wild weeds with cultivated greens such as basil, parsley or cilantro)

• 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, preferably soaked for about 6 hours

• 2 garlic cloves

• 1/2 to 2/3 cup olive oil

• Sea salt and pepper to taste

• Optional: 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast OR 1/4 to 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

• also optional: 1 tablespoon lemon juice and/or ume plum vinegar

Spices and other additions, if desired (some ideas: cumin, coriander, turmeric, curry blend, a dash of tamari, a spoonful of miso or tahini, fresh ginger, etc.)

Throw everything into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  This could even be made in a small Magic Bullet (so convenient!).

Use over grilled chicken or fish, watered down as a salad dressing, as a dip with veggies and crackers, spread over toast with sardines or other savory additions, as a sandwich spread, and of course mixed with your favorite pasta!  Or you could eat it straight off a spoon the way I do… The possibilities are endless.  Best of all, you are getting a big does of fresh greens and healthy olive oil, with immune-boosting raw garlic, zinc-rich pumpkin seeds and any other good spices you add in.  You can also freeze this in ice cube size portions to use when you need some pesto and the wild weeds are long-gone…

And one more variation that really turns this into a meal worth savoring: add in a can of sardines or anchovies with olive oil (and just use less added olive oil) for an EFA (essential fatty acid) and protein rich spread that tastes great with toast or by itself!  I just made this today by adding some smoked bristling sardines to my day-old pesto taken from the fridge, blended up together, and ate it with a toasted rice flour tortilla that I broke into pieces and used in lieu of utensils, like edible spoons.  It was delicious!

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Herbal Foot Soak

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Over the weekend my young daughter Sophia came down with some kind of a green goopy-eyed cold virus or bacterial infection of some sort. Since I try to avoid antibiotics for my family at most costs and help them heal using natural means, by day five (today) of Sophie still being sick and slightly goopy-eyed, low energy and just kind of dragging through the week while missing school–I decided that it was time to get out the big, uh, herbs and get this cold behind her!

I had been putting oregano oil and natural chest rub on her feet at night, making her tea, giving her raw apple cider vinegar drinks, and upping her Vitamin D3 and cod liver oil, plus other vitamins–but this thing was hanging around too long for my liking! So I went into my pantry and began pulling herbs from the shelves, concocting a big pot of herbal tea to soak her feet in. We made it together. She loves to scoop and measure out ingredients in the kitchen with me, and I have a feeling that she will be a great and discriminating cook someday! Unfortunately, I did not write down all that I used, but I will try to remember as best I can…

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Herbal Infusion Tea for Foot Soak

Gather together in a large pot scoops and small handfuls of various herbs and spices. Today I used:

• Freshly picked olive leaves (from our young, potted trees outside)

• Dried elderberries

• Cinnamon

• Thyme

• Sage

• Yarrow flowers, leaves & stems

• Red clover blossoms

• Eyebright

• Oatstraw

• Holy Basil leaves

• Horsetail

• Powdered garlic

• Fresh sliced ginger root, about an inch

• Half a red onion

• Piece of kombu seaweed

Cover the herbs with fresh, filtered water, cover and heat on medium-high heat until brought to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for maybe 15-20 minutes. Then strain through a large mesh strainer into a pot large enough for a comfortable foot soak. Cover the herbs with water for a second time in the original pot and repeat process (this process is an addition, and only if you have the time and desire for a slightly stronger brew). Strain and add the second herbal tea batch to the foot soaking pot.

Next, I added to the pot of strained “tea” about a cup of Epsom salts, several drops each of oregano oil, tea tree essential oil and grapefruit seed extract, about 1/4 cup of raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar, and maybe 1/2 – 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide. Then I added in cool water until it was a bearable temperature to soak feet in.

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I’m not sure which ingredients may have been the most helpful, or whether or not there was a synergistic effect of the combination of everything, but whatever it was, it seemed to work! Sophia was definitely on the mend, but she had been dragging still and needing to stay home from school. After the foot soak, which she did while sitting on a small, height-appropriate chair for 30-40 minutes, she was ready to go to school! She was not bursting with energy, but she did seem to feel better, good enough for school, and that was great to see.

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I remember taking a day class from the herbalist Michael Tierra many years ago now, and the bit of information that stayed with me was about herbal foot soaks, and taking teas into the body through the feet in this way. He said that sometimes when a person’s digestion is not in the best shape, or if they have trouble assimilating nutrients through ingestion, that a foot soak is a wonderful and direct way to take nourishment into the body without having to go through the digestion first. What an amazing bit of information! This interests me in a very personal way, as food and digestion issues have been a part of my life, family history and now my children’s lives seemingly forever (which means they go way back, generationally!). But by soaking our feet, which have very open, sensitive places on their soles to take in (energy, nourishment, etc.), we are not only enjoying one of the great spa experiences in our own homes, but are receiving nutrients and minerals and all kinds of goodness in a very fast, easy, direct way–right into the places in our bodies where it’s needed most! And, better yet, if you’ve got the desire and the time, make a whole bath and add in your strong tea infusion, then really let yourself relax and receive.

*Note: All of my herbs are either purchased from my all-time favorite herb supplier, Mountain Rose Herbs out of Eugene, Oregon, or gathered myself (known as ‘wildcrafting’). Speaking of wild herbs and plants brings me to the next blog post…

Cultured Coconut Cream (or Coconut Milk Yogurt)

Webster’s College dictionary defines ‘alchemy’ as:

1. a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy of the Middle Ages that attempted to discover an elixir of life and a method for transmuting base metals into gold.
2. any seemingly magical process of transmuting ordinary materials into something of true merit.

This next “recipe” is another simple one, and was an exciting discovery for me. It is, in a certain sense, a kind of alchemy. It starts with a simple substance–in this case, coconut milk–and through an almost magical process is transformed into something new and, in my opinion, something golden. An elixir of life. A living, breathing longevity tonic. A healing substance.

If you are beginning to notice a trend here (if two blog posts can amount to a “trend”), you may be onto something. I have a ‘thing’ for cultured foods, the real kind of cultured foods, created through natural, living elements, the wild yeasts of the air or beneficial bacteria known as “probiotics.” Sandor Ellix Katz, author of the book “Wild Fermentation,” wrote: “Moving toward a more harmonious way of life and greater resilience requires our active participation. This means finding ways to become more aware of and connected to the other forms of life that are around us and that constitute our food — plants and animals, as well as bacteria and fungi — and to the resources, such as water, fuel, materials, tools, and transportation, upon which we depend.” And, “The science and art of fermentation is, in fact, the basis of human culture: without culturing, there is no culture. Nations that still consume cultured foods, such as France with its wine and cheese, and Japan with its pickles and miso, are recognized as nations that have culture. Culture begins at the farm, not in the opera house, and binds a people to a land and its artisans.” And I would add that culture also begins at home!

So, without further ado, here is

Cultured Coconut Cream, also known as “Coconut Milk Yogurt.”

• Two cans full-fat coconut milk, unsweetened

• 1/2 to 1 tsp probiotic powder

Simply take two cans of coconut milk, preferably organic, and pour them into a clean glass quart size jar. Use about a teaspoon of your favorite probiotic powder and mix it up. *I find it easiest to actually blend the powder into the milk somehow, either by pouring everything into your blender and blending for several seconds until well mixed and all lumps are gone, or by adding a little of the coconut milk to a Magic Bullet container or equivalent and blending the powder onto this, then combining with the rest if the milk, or by using a hand blender and doing it right in your jar! Either way, you get the point: make it creamy and smooth.

Screw on a lid (I like the BPA-free white plastic lids for all fermented foods) and set it out on your counter out of direct light, or in a pantry, etc., where it can remain undisturbed for awhile. It usually takes at least 24 hours to thicken, and sometimes I leave it out for up to 48 hours and it becomes a very solid cream! Remember that the room temperature will also effect the speed at which it cultures.

When it’s to your liking, put it in the fridge or cold storage. It will firm up as it chills. Depending upon the amount of time it cultured and the strength and activity of the probiotics, it will be anywhere from a thin yogurt consistency to a full-on, solid cream almost like cream cheese! Now, when you make your next batch, just use a tablespoon or a few in place of the probiotics as your “starter”/culturing agent, and voila! You have created something alive and dynamic!

Here are some ways I like to use Cultured Coconut Cream.

• As a sub for mayo in tuna or other salads. (Just made this today for my daughter Sophia and I, and it was delicious!)

• As a dairy-free yogurt or “kefir” style drink (can be sweetened with stevia drops, honey, etc. and mixed with cinnamon, fruit, nuts, granola, etc.).

• Added to smoothies.

• Used like sour cream, for a dairy-free version.

• Use as a base for Ranch dressing, or any other dressing or dip. (Last night I used equal parts cultured coconut cream “yogurt” and plain, full-fat yogurt mixed with herbs & spices, including fresh chopped parsley, to make a delicious “Ranch” dressing–super yummy!)

Have fun and experiment :).

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A simple beginning… Apple Soda (or Sparkling Apple Juice)

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Now that I have this site made, I must begin. I tend to get bogged down and overwhelmed by all of the minute details swirling around in my head, and this keeps me from beginning… So I have vowed to start simple. With something delicious from my own refrigerator.

I call this “Apple Soda” or Sparkling Apple Juice. It could just as easily be called Probiotic Apple Soda, or Naturally Fermented Apple Juice. Whatever you end up calling it, it makes me feel better about giving my kids “juice” when it is allowed to naturally culture with strains of probiotics from our probiotic supplement(s). And it’s so easy to make! You don’t need water kefir grains–although if you have them, great! You don’t even need to have probiotics on hand if you’ve already cultured a batch of juice–just use a splash of the old stuff to act as the new ‘starter.’ This is how I’ve been doing it, and it’s been working like a dream! Now I can buy that organic unfiltered apple juice at Trader Joe’s and not cringe from all of the sugar I’m imagining going into my children’s bodies. And it tastes good, effervescent and sparkly. For my kids, I will add in a few drops of liquid stevia (I buy mine on Amazon), which is a staple in my kitchen and cooking, to make it a bit sweeter. And although there are still natural sugars from the apples in this beverage, I do understand that having it ferment into a healthful carbonated drink cuts down on some of the sugar, as sugars are what feed the good bacteria, the probiotics present and proliferating in your bottle. This is a living, dynamic liquid! Just make sure you don’t ferment it too long if you’re giving this to children, as the longer it cultures the more alcoholic it becomes. If you’re looking to make a grown-up, alcoholic beverage–that still has all the good ‘bugs’ in it!–feel free to let it sit out as long as you like and you will soon have Hard Apple Cider. Throw in some spices and any other natural flavors you desire, and the possibilities are endless…

Sparkling Apple Soda

  • Bottle or jar of preferably organic apple juice (or freshly pressed) *Note: in a pinch, I used the plastic container that the apple juice came in, but I highly recommend only using glass for all fermenting projects.
  • Optional additions: cinnamon stick, fresh sliced ginger root, cardamom pods, fennel seeds, lemon or other citrus rind, licorice slices, astragalus root slices, even an herbal teabag or two, or any other spices or herbs you would like.

This is not an exact “recipe.” If you follow me, you will soon discover that I am not much of one for following a recipe exactly. I like throwing things together and seeing what happens; being a part of a creative ‘conversation’ between elements and sometimes myself. I cook like a jazz musician I’ve decided: never the same way twice. So that is partly why I am creating this blog, so that I can keep up a bit with all of the overflow of endless variation that happens between my kitchen walls and inside my own mind… So I will tell you what I do, and share some of the exciting, and sometimes dismal, outcomes of my creative kitchen endeavors. I will also tell you stories along the way hopefully, because I am full of them and I have lots to share!

So anyway, you add the probiotics to the juice, shake it all up as well as you can (you can even take out some juice and add it and the probiotics to a blender and blend it up that way, then add it all back in to the rest of the juice waiting patiently for you), and then let it sit out on your counter for up to 24 hours loosely capped or covered with a clean cloth and a rubber band, until it begins to bubble a bit. Or tastes the way you like it. If you leave it out for longer, it will get more and more bubbly; make sure it is not capped tightly at this point, or you might meet up with an explosion! The culturing time depends on the temperature of your space: it will take longer in a colder room, and will go much faster if in a warmer space. So watch it, taking into account the context of its environment. Then enjoy!

One more note: I never give my children straight juice. That would be way too much of a sugar-hit, even with this. I always add a little to a glass and then fill up the rest with water. So if the taste is not to their, or your, liking, you can add in a few drops of liquid stevia to make it sweeter. You can also add a little bit of this to other drinks, smoothies, etc. Experiment! Find what works for you and your family. And smile.

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