Saturday, July 28, 2012

Wildcrafting with friends

Fireweed:  a plant that is common in our area after fires and in areas of clear cuts and road cuts.  
When I stopped running due to an injury, I received an excellent camera for my birthday the very next month.  I have always been interested in the tiny details of the natural world, but there is something about the frame of a camera around a subject that compels you to see it like never before.  Not only must a person first find an interesting subject, they must find the best way to convey the wonder of it in a flat image.  The subject is then studied again when printed or viewed on a computer screen, so that you see things you couldn't have noticed in the split second the shutter clicked.

My children and animals are too fast for me sometimes, so I began to take pictures of the plants around me.  When I began to photograph them, I realized that I had never really seen them before.  I wanted to share the images I was making, but I needed to learn what it was I was looking at.

a yellow compositae family flower that I do not yet know.  Also, some daisies.
I think it was a picture I took of rose galls made by the cynipid wasp that first drew me in.  How could something so far out and crazy be right in my front yard?  As I looked closely, there were amazing things to be seen everywhere I looked.  I felt like a child again!

I learned that this is pearly everlasting.  It is used as a poultice for burns and sores.  It also is a pretty dried herb for decoration.

When I began to read about the plants, I in turn became fascinated with the way they have been used historically as either food or medicine.  I began to learn about the strange toxins in many plants.  I wanted to learn how I could use these plants that were all around me, just as the people native to the Pacific Northwest have done for thousands of years.  Why should I go to Costco for everything, or even to my veggie garden when there's a banquet and a medicine cabinet just outside my door?

blackberry straddled by a moth that looked just like the lichens that grow on the branches of willows in our area
Slowly, I have been learning through reading and picking the brains of the super smart people around me.  It's overwhelming.  Not only are there 6 different common names for some plants, there is also the botanical name.  Those are sometimes debatable too!  It's fun though, to try to understand the meaning of the names people have given a plant to try to deduce more about the way we as people relate to it and use it.  That in turn makes me want to read the ethnobotanical information, which is sometimes notoriously lacking in details.  "Used for tuburculosis."  How did people use it for TB?  What exactly did it do for them?  I have found that the very best way for me to understand plants and how they are used is to learn in person from an experienced and knowledgable person who can show me what they know.

this was posted on my friend's front door by one of her girls
Today I got a chance to walk with some very dear friends to do some wildcrafting.  Wildcrafting, as I understand it, is simply gathering plants and herbs in the wild and then using them.  I have had the goal of collecting fireweed blossoms for waterproofing shoes ever since I read that the Blackfoot people did this.  Before I went out to collect with my friends, I did a little bit of research so I knew for sure it was the flowers I should collect.  It said in the literature I read that they "rubbed fireweed flowers on their mittens and rawhide thongs for waterproofing."  (Read more about fireweed here.)  When wildcrafting, you should always educate yourself before you harvest so that the practice is sustainable.

When I got home, I used the fireweed immediately, gathering all the leather shoes we had.  I rubbed the blossoms into the leather until they disintegrated. I then tested whether they actually were doing their job by dribbling a bit of water over the shoes.  It didn't soak in like it did on one that hadn't been treated, so I guess it works.  We'll find out this winter!  When I read about fireweed at the website I linked to above, it said that fireweed blossoms last only 2 days, with lipoid turquoise pollen appearing on that day.  Lipoid means "fat like."  Lipids don't mix with water, so it must be part of the reason that the flowers are good for waterproofing!

I used the leftover flowers to make an infusion in organic extra virgin olive oil.  You leave cover the flowers in a jar with enough oil to cover, put a lid on, then open and wipe out condensation every day for a few weeks.  You strain out the plant matter and the oil you are left with has taken in some of the medicinal properties of the herb.  Fireweed prepared in this way is good for childhood eczema, and I have many friends with children with this problem.  The directions I read called for coconut oil.  I am not sure if that is supposed to be easier on the sensitive skin of people with eczema.  I will have to ask around.  The oil is also said to be helpful for hemorrhoid relief.

The kids got a lesson about digitalis and its toxins that will slow down and stop your heart 
One of my friends wanted to harvest St John's Wort flower buds.  She used them to make an olive oil infusion, which she will then use topically for nerve and muscle pain relief.  Did you know that the yellow St. John's Wort buds, when crushed, actually leave a purple color on your fingertips?

St. John's Wort
Our little walk was through some land that had been maintained by a timber company, and logged for valuable timber before being sold to a developer.  The developer never followed through with development, so there is a wonderful proliferation of nature healing the damaged areas and life continuing on as usual...except for the occasional human dumping area that seems inevitable in places like this.
For the first time, I ate Salal.  I had always been confused and thought it and Oregon grape were one and the same, so I never wanted to eat it.  MMM!  There were the little wild blackberries and then the biggest red huckleberries I have ever seen.  Thimbleberries were everywhere.  I ate my first blackcap berry too!  And on a stump, sunning itself, was a 6 inch long lizard.  I felt like I was on a safari or something, but it was just an intentional walk in nature.

Salal, before ripening.  See the blossoms in the back, shaped like little bells and the green berries in front?

Salal, ripened
A mandala drawn in the very artful medium of crusty mud.  I remember learning about the studies of Rhoda Kellogg in high school art.  She was a psychologist and early elementary educator who collected over 1 million children's drawings, studying developmentally what kids drew when and why.  The mandala can be drawn by essentially every two year old.  It is any variation of lines evenly dividing a circle or square or placed as above.  Soon after the mandala comes drawing the sun and then people.  


My little girls and I had a wonderful time in our element with these outdoor loving friends. We all felt like we must be amazing National Geographic photographers with the way we hacked through the underbrush and navigated large and stagnant puddles. I returned from the walk with sufficiently tired children whose tummies were full from grazing in nature, but we were all left with an insatiable hunger to learn more about the fantastic world around us.  Maybe you too will be inspired to look more closely at the world that surrounds you!
Maia and her friend do an impromptu dance-off

Goodbye until our next adventure together!

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE that last pictures, all of them, really but the last one is Way awesome!!


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