Burdock & Rose

Tales from a Wildly Crafted Herbalist

Kick the Ick: Cold & Flu Herbal Tips & Tricks

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The sun has dropped to a low spot on the horizon. The days are darker and colder and the night is longer. Winter signifies a need for deep rest and nourishment. It’s a time of quiet. Soup’s on the stove, hot teas are being sipped. The proverbial fire is being stoked in the kitchen’s hearth.

The cold and flu season extends across this dark time of year. One of the best wellness remedies we have during winter is that innate desire to retreat, withdraw, rest and become the quiet the winter season embodies.

It’s no surprise, then, that a combo of quiet, nourishment and rest is my number one answer to the frequently-asked question, “What’s the best way to boost my immune system during the holiday and winter so I can remain healthy during the cold and flu season?”

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(hehe facebook joke)

Ok, I am not recommending becoming a complete hermit in the winter, but it is really good to dial back obligations and focus on rest.

As a fast-paced society that does not value rest, I get a bristling response all the time at this recommendation. “Rest? That would mean I’d have to sleep more. Nourishment? I can barely get my work done in a day, let alone sit down and eat quietly and mindfully. OMG, I don’t have time to get sick. What can I take so I can still get all the things done I need to do?? Can’t you give me something for that?”

C’mon guys! I totally get that it’s hard! This is ~me~ who’s talking here. The above statements are things I say in my own house— I am not exempt from wanting an easier solution to wellness … something other than the tough obligation of making choices to cultivate my long-term health and wellness. I know intimately how demanding the pressures of society, work, and family are — trust me – I really, really do. Making choices, saying “no” to people and projects to rest when I really am bone tired for me –that is… hard.

On the other hand, I know intimately how great a toll these pressures and stresses can take on one’s health — the entire body is affected from prolonged exposure to chronic stress and it can take years to recover from depletion and exhaustion.  Dialing back obligations and managing stress — as well as resting is a big deal for the body. And even though it’s freezing cold outside, foraging plant-sister Butter Wilde is reminding me to GET OUTSIDE. Get thee some good base layers, warm boots and a hat and get some fresh air. These are all key to staying well in the winter.

In regards to cold and flu season and without getting into the complete physiology of stress, it’s important to remember that when we are stressed, the immune system all but gets put on hold. The body’s energy is diverted away from the immune system, making it hard to both defend against viruses and infections. During cold & flu season, it is easy to not rest as much as we need and become easily stressed, particularly with the holidays just around the corner.

Alas — Getting sick is part of the human condition. Those viruses, bacterias — all part of the world and our biomes — will inevitably come into contact with our person. During cold and flu season, this can mean a whole host of viruses from the more serious influenza to strains of rhinovirus and norovirus.

A simple cold in a healthy person can be cleared as little as 4 days, or even rolled completely if the immune system is given a chance to ward off the invading illness. But a simple cold (there are many, many viruses under the heading common cold) or bout of influenza (which can last up to 10 days) for someone with a compromised immune system could deteriorate into in a much more complicated situation and illness. Having a strong immune system can help prevent that — and rest, good food and moderate exercise is foundational for a strong immune system.

What does that immune system offer during cold & flu season? The body has a ton of great immune responses to help fend off the invaders — runny noses, fever, vomiting, diarrhea. Immune responses are part of the body’s design and are meant to be supported as part of the body’s healing process. But if our immune system is compromised because of too much stress, lack of rest and lack of regular and adequate nourishment — or if we artificially and repeatedly suppress immune responses like FEVER our bodies will not have the tools they need to fight off and restore the body from an infection.

Herbs can be “helpers” in the body’s healing process when we do get sick. I rely on them to help support the body’s vital energy, not focusing on suppress symptoms.  I’ve taken time to get to intimately know the herbs I work with, their energetic properties and how they effect movement and change within the body.  Herbs can help ease pain and discomfort during illness and can help support the body’s process during a bout of illness through recovery, but the key is learning how to work with the plants as the body processes its illness.

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plant allies boneset and monarda fistulosa

When illness hits…

Creating the space to rest. Before I even reach for herbs, when a cold or a flu starts coming on my biggest strategy is to first dial back the activity and cancel all non-essential projects. The key word here is non-essential — Not everything is top priority. Some things really are (like having to show up for your work shift because you really will lose your job and don’t have enough paid sick time) and I recognize that. But a good deal of our commitments really are not and can be left to the wayside for a bit. More-over, when you are sick — YOU and your health are a priority!  Resting when sick is not a luxury or indulgence, rather rest is part of a natural healing protocol!

Arm the castle with good defenses. Get out the soup. Broths. Hot chicken soup is this Jewish mother’s penicillin. It’s ancient Grandma wisdom, and not only does the healing from the nutrients nourish from the deep inside out, but it’s a great childhood favorite and everyone loves it. Vegan? Vegetable broths can be equally healing and nourishing. I have excellent vegan and marrow BROTH RECIPES that include great herbs and foraged wild plants to add to the broths, making them extra-fortified with immune building herbs like Reishi, Maitake, Astragalus, Nettle, Red Clover, Oatstraw. Deep healing on a cellular level, broths are.

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spicy pho. cures what ails.

In addition to broths, I then reach for the herbs to help stimulate the peripheral immunity. I like to use Elderberry (inhibits the viruses ability to reproduce), Echinacea, Boneset, Yarrow, Osha all at once in my own Elderberry Elixir to help supply my immune system with that extra boost — kind of like adding men to the towers to defend my proverbial castle. Want to make your own? Herbbie friend Rebecca McTrouble has a great ELDERBERRY SYRUP RECIPE HERE, or call me to stock your shelves with my own Elderberry Elixir blend.

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making a small batch of elderberry elixir

Supporting the Process with Plants. Using plant energetics, work to match up the body’s needs with the right plants. This will change as your body moves through the illness. Got hot fever with chills? I like to reach for a strong diaphorhetic mint like Oregano or Bee Balm and maybe add in a relaxant herb like Elderflower to help my body relax from the chills and ache.  Sometimes the tension is really strong (think flu’ish hit-by-a truck symptoms) and then l can add calming, tension-relieving sedatives like Chamomile (also aromatic), Lemon Balm, Spearmint, Catnip, Passionflower, or Valerian to my blend. A favorite combo for cold and flu is the basic Gypsy Tea made of Mint, Elderflower and Yarrow. When I get sick, I sometimes make a large thermos of Gypsy Tea and put it bedside so I don’t have to keep getting up.

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my wildcrafted gypsy tea

Sinus? I turn to the herbs that are aromatic. Pine, Mints, Lavender, Bee Balm, Oregano, Sage -  all these herbs have aromatic oils that can be uplifting and can open sinus and relieve tension in the body. Steam inhalations are AWESOME. See how I do STEAM INHALATIONS (thanks, Jim McDonald for the kid towel tip – I am forever grateful for that teaching). Neti pots with saline rinses are also AWESOME tools to have on hand, and astringent, anti-bacterial herbs like Goldenseal or Mahonia can be added to the rinse in small drops as means to ward off a potential bacterial sinus infection.

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demo’ing steam inhalations. thanks jim mcdonald for the towel tip.

Coughs? Dry or wet cough? This is a great example of needing to learn the energetics of the herbs. A dry, barking dog cough can indicate a signifiant drying of the tissues in the lung and stagnant expectoration, and would benefit from moisturizing herbal combos like Mullein, Marshmallow or Licorice, Raw Honey and Wild Cherry Bark.  Damp, wet coughs can benefit from drying herbs like Garlic (though everyone can always benefit from garlic), Elecampagne, Osha, Pine. In both instances, long standing lung conditions indicate a significant illness and should not be ignored. Rest and herbs and even medical care to rule out serious conditions like pneumonia.

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raw, herbal infused honey.

Sore throat? Hot teas with lemon. Ginger. Bee propolis is awesome, especially when working in tandem with an antibiotic for strep throat — add some Elecampagne to that. And oooo raw honey. I can’t say enough about the importance of RAW HONEY  in the herbal apothecary.

Vomiting? Chamomile and catnip are two favorites to sip SLOWLY as tea, and Valerian can be a wonderful relaxant for excess painful cramping from dry heaves. I’ve also taken to using small tastes of the sour Umaboshi vinegar plum paste for cooling and soothing vomiting states. Diarrhea? Loose bowels due to a stomach flu can benefit from a strong astringent tea made with Blackberry roots. To make it kid-friendly, I’ve learned to use this tea to make a not too sweet hot cocoa, sweetened with maple syrup instead of white refined sugar. NOTE: LEARN THE SIGNS OF DEHYDRATION. Dehydration can become very serious fast, and if you don’t feel you have the ability to work with dehydration for your or your loved one, visit the ER immediately for appropriate treatment.

Recovering from sickness? Take it slow. Continue to rest and nourish with simple foods. Also, support your body’s recovery process in cleaning up the illness detritus by adding in bitters for the digestion, absorption and elimination of wastes in the digestive and lymphatic system. in general, bitters ~should~ be had as food and a main staple in our diets (think dandelion leaf, Romaine lettuce, fennel, Chamomile — check out Jim McDonald’s Bitters rap HERE) but in a recovery state (as well as everyday use) simple tinctured bitters (I hand make my own bitters with a variety of herbs such as Orange Peel, Cinnamon, Aspen Bark, Fennel, Red Root) can be very supportive of the metabolic process and foundational to a healthy  digestive system. Consider also adding in a good probiotic or digestive enzyme also, especially if recovering from a bout of stomach flu. The recovery process is very, very important so your body can properly return to a balanced state.

I really love sharing this vitalist framework to getting a cold or flu. It provides the basis and tools to truly support and work with the body in a deep way and more often than not, it has me back on my own feet sooner than I sometimes think when I get sick!!!

Got your own tips? Maybe recipes you use when sick? Share them with me!

A Few Other Good Links & Resources:

- Darcey Blue on Flu

- Todd Caldecott’s Ayurvedic approach to Colds & Flu 

-  7 Song’s Materia Medica for Colds & Flu

— Paul Bergner on Vitamin D

Nocturne

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On the flip side of a dark November New Moon the moon again begins to wax. But only still a small sliver, she sheds little light down onto the Earth tonite. My heart feels the ache of the many struggles of those I know and those I do not know. This Modernist poem by Nicaragua’s Rúben Dario resonates and I thought I’d share its own unique medicine. Sitting with the dark before the light can move through… 

Nocturne 

~ Rúben Dario 

You that have heard the heartbeat of the night,

you that have heard, in the long, sleepless hours,

a closing door, the rumble of distant wheels,

a vague echo, a wandering sound from somewhere:

you, in the moments of mysterious silence,

when the forgotten ones issue from their prison -

in the hour of the dead, in the hour of repose -

will know how to read the bitterness in my verses.

I fill them, as one would fill a glass, with all

my grief for remote memories and black misfortunes,

the nostalgia of my flower-intoxicated soul

and the pain of a heart grown sorrowful with fetes;

with the burden of not being what I might have been,

the loss of the kingdom that was awaiting me,

the thought of the instant when I might not have been born

and the dream my life has been ever since I was!

All this has come in the midst of that boundless silence

in which the night develops earthly illusions,

and I feel as if an echo of the world’s heart

had penetrated and disturbed my own.

Translated, Lysander Kemp 

The Path of Practice

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Next weekend, I will run my first full marathon. But 8 weeks ago, I wasn’t so sure that’d I’d be able to finish my training program, let alone run the Grand Rapids Marathon on October 20.

This summer, after I had returned from my writing sabbatical out west, my dad had a catastrophic accident that had him in the Neuro ICU with a traumatic brain injury.  To support his healing journey, I dropped everything — cancelled a dozen events on my book tour, stopped accepting new herbal clients, bagged my foraging schedule and of course, put my marathon training on the back burner.

The past eight weeks in hospital have been all consuming. When I wasn’t obsessed with changes in my dad’s vitals or detailing extensive family updates, I was trawling through NIH data on traumatic brain injuries and calling around getting personal recommendations from colleagues in the healthcare industry to help me understand my dad’s options for care.  Not to mention, understanding the insurance landscape. When I wasn’t at the hospital becoming a short study in traumatic brain injury, I was at home, trying to be a mom and MAYBE get in a shower and comb my hair.

Running was the last thing on my mind. I could barely manage to make sure I ate and slept properly. I lightened up completely on my training schedule. The runs I did log were grueling — sloppy and difficult. At every mile my mind said stop. I was mentally and physically exhausted — particularly the first two of the four weeks my dad was in the ICU. I won’t recount to you the crazy things I did because I was sleep deprived, but WOW. It was like a throwback of the early days being with a newborn.

But I did get out there, and I did run. In those first few weeks of my family’s crisis, I felt they were all maintenance miles. Nothing fancy, fast or special. I was grateful to have logged two 20 milers before my Dad’s accident, and I did get one slow 20 miler into the books mid-September — so I didn’t have to stress about “knowing” I could conquer the distance.

In the past two weeks, as my Dad’s recovery started to uptick, the clouds parted. My own brain fog lifted and I have been able to run again. I am also slowly getting back to work that’s on my desk.

While the road of rehabilitation remains a long one for my dad and his recovery will remain at the center of my world, I am taking steps forward to reintegrate “work” back into my daily life.

My publisher will be happy to know that the copy for my upcoming foraging book with The Timber Press (2014) will be nearing completion by the start of the new year. I am also rescheduling a few book signings. And although classes will remain on hold and I will not be accepting new clients until at least 2014, I will be studying with Canadian herbalist Caroline Gagnon as a student in her mentorship program in Burlington, VT. In this time, Caroline will help guide me as a practitioner and assist me in planning next steps in my own professional career — which I believe may be leading me in the direction of medical school.

I will say — putting my work on hold in the past few months was as hard as putting my marathon training on hold. I was afraid that by putting things to the side, I wouldn’t be learning or “getting ahead,” even though being completely available for my father was — and continues to be — of utmost important to me. This inspirational blogpost by Worts and Cunning: Taking Root: 10 Steps to Deepen Your Practice, however, caught me to reframe all of this in my mind.

Looking back over the past 8 weeks, I took inventory of my experiences and my feelings. I haven’t been passively standing on the sidelines. I have been immersed fully in a difficult situation — the new order and tasks at hand have offered me a deeper perspective on healing and a new understanding as to the depth of my own mental endurance. And I am sure the lessons I have learned will continue to unfold as I walk the path of my practice.

So what are those next steps? 26.2 on October 20. A celebration of miles logged and miles yet to traverse.

How do you celebrate and stay rooted to the path of your practice?

On a plant writing sabbatical…

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Headed across the Midwest, with my camera and laptop in tow.

Destination is Big Sky & Jackson Hole for a writing sabbatical, working on my next book — “The ReWilded Kitchen: A Forager’s Guide to Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Midwest” (Timber Press, 2014).

Here, I stopped just outside of Gary, Indiana off of Interstate 94 to get up close with Chicory. Since Ancient Greek times, it’s been referred to as a Guardian of the Roadways (Wood). The wild Chicory, a delicious bitter green similar in flavor to cultivated Endive, is in full bloom and lines the roadways of the Midwest. Slow down and say hello to her!!

The choice of spot to take her photo — just a few miles from the US Steel complex in the heartland of the Rustbelt — was pretty intentional. Being a city-dweller myself, I am always drawn to the layering of industry, people, plants, “contamination” and the remediation of land. As a forager, the idea of contamination is real and is important — prudent knowledge of plants and potential contamination from the surrounding land is always top of mind for harvesting and health’s sake.

That said, I frequently wax poetic over this dichotomy in my mind… “I live in the city, my environment is contaminated, thus everything is toxic and I cannot eat it.” … Certainly lead, heavy metal contaminants are toxic to human health and foraging must be done prudently, but is bug juice and spicy Cheetos from the corner store more nourishing and less toxic than chicory on the same corner growing in an empty lot??

Without jumping to conclusions that the Chicory salad greens would be the better choice (factoring in all processes and toxicity of processed food), it’s a good conversation starter…

Twilight Chicory Callings…

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… A plant has been calling me…Chicory.  It’s been playfully waving to me from the road side for the last several days that it has been in bloom. But it wasn’t until late last night while I lay in bed reading about its virtues that I felt the strong need to return the call and head outside and play. It was the pull of the earth — perhaps the pulling of the plant itself — that urged me to my feet and up from the warmth of the covers of the bed. Still in pajamas and with bare feet, I plod out into the yard and into the dampness of the evening where the Chicory stood in the twilight, extending to the sky … To me it said:

“Eat me. Embrace my bitters. It is the medicine you need. I will clear what’s congested. I will give you clarity in your mind’s eye so you may see what you need to see. I will part the clouds so you can see the road you need to travel. I will help you deliver the nourishment you will need for this long journey.”

I nibbled and munched and contemplated the bitterness of its dry, coarse greens as its solitary blue flower waved above my head.

***Thank you, Matt Wood, for such being a wonderful plant teacher and the compelling writer that you are. It was your work that led me outside to the garden last night to spend time with the Chicory… I was perusing “The Earthwise Herbal” for your writing on Feverfew, when the Chicory monograph — right adjacent to it — nearly lept off the page and pulled me from my bed… 

And a foraging book begins…

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My writing sabbatical starts today. Diving deep into my next book.#Foraging #EdiblePlants #TimberPress #MidWest

The Divine Honeysuckle

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One of my most favorite, divine and seductive flowers is the Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica, Caprifoliaceae). It is a rambling vine that loves to climb and appreciates hot, dry waste places. It blooms right about Solstice — which I find apropos as it is a delightful plant with which to celebrate the sun’s highest point of the year.

You will find that it has an aroma similar to the intoxicating Jasmine or the Orange Blossom– with an added bonus as this is local to the MidWest bio-region.

To preserve this seductive blossom’s enticing aroma, I love to put it into honey pots and infusing the honey with its scent. To do this, simply gather fresh, unwilted blossoms of the Honeysuckle and add them to a jar. Then cover with raw honey and let infuse for at least a few weeks, taking the time to occasionally turn the jar upside down to stir up the plant material.

The aroma seeps into the honey and can (and SHOULD!!) be eaten in the most decadent manner.  The honey can be spooned over a good sharp cheddar cheese, or perhaps a fresh goat cheese… It’s also nice on toast. With or without the blossoms.

As for me? In the spirit of the Honeysuckle’s seductive-ness, I personally love it straight out of the honey jar onto a spoon — flowers and all… alone or with a partner. It’s a delicious treat.

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“Your patients don’t come to you to get cured. They come to get known.” ~ Unknown. Nicaragua, Miraflor. 2013

I cannot recall exactly who said this to our Natural Doctors International herbal brigade in Miraflor, Nicaragua last fall. Maybe it was a villager? A teacher? A fellow brigader? Regardless of its origin, that comment came to mind today while sitting with one of my herbal clients.

It struck me — In a time and space where we work in 140 characters, Facebook updates and when it comes to healthcare — 15 minute primary-care appointments — it’s no surprise that what we each are really seeking in our health and healing journey is someone to listen. To connect. To be heard and to be known.

Frequently — for a multitude of reasons — I wonder if the time I’ve set aside for herbal consultations is fully understood or wanted in my own community.  But today, while sitting with one of my clients, I heard a little voice inside that assured me my time (and perspective) was valued and of service: “You offer them the time to be known – to hear their story. To be listened to.”

My role as a practitioner? I just help connect the dots. Help line things up — usually that includes bringing plants, food.  Getting them excited about being outside and with the plants around them. But sometimes not.

Holding space for my clients to decompress, open up and become light is probably the most important aspect to my work. And then, I love it when they realize that their own healing actually rests in their own hands. In that space — in their hands — is hope. That sweet, healing hope.

~~~

Weedy & Edible: Garlic Mustard

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What is the adage, “A weed is a plant that is growing where you don’t want it?” Abundant in areas of disturbed soil – at the forest’s edge, along roadsides, and on river floodplains – the Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata, Brassicaceae) is deemed by many as a noxious, invasive species, choking out native vegetation and spreading wildly across the state.

The National Park Service describes the earliest appearance of the Garlic Mustard on the Atlantic coast to be documented in 1868. High in Vitamin C and a nutritious bitter green, it is believed that it was brought along by settlers to the area of Long Island, NY for food and medicinal purposes.  Since that time in the 1800s, Garlic Mustard has spread south and west and has wrecked havoc on natural areas throughout the Eastern United States, particularly throughout disturbed areas within fields, floodplains, and woodlands here in the Great Lakes BioRegion.

What makes Garlic Mustard able to take over so much area in so little time? Garlic Mustard thrives on disturbed land and areas under development. It is winter-hardy biennial plant and can reproduce lightning fast in its second year with its ability to produce hundreds of seeds once it goes to flower. And once the plant sets its seed, the seeds can remain viable in the soil for many years.  So if you want it out, pull it as it sets out its showy white flowers (photo above). Be sure to replace the area with other plants native to the area to help reestablish the disturbed space and prevent another Garlic Mustard Invasion (that could be a band name, hehe).

Behind Every Vice… The Garlic Mustard’s Virtue

While Garlic Mustard continues to persist throughout our Great Lakes bioregion and threatens to crowd-out wildflowers and native vegetation, let us consider one of its virtues:  It is edible!

Like many early spring greens, the flavors of the Garlic Mustard are predominantly bitter. Different parts of the plant, as well the age of the plant can affect the degree in the bitter flavor.

Great Lakes Herbalist Jim McDonald believes that the Bitter flavors of plants, while having a negative connotation to many, may be one of the keys to our wellness.  Bitter flavors help stimulate digestion, bile production and can support healthy liver function. Other bitter plants that are beneficial to add into the diet include parsley, arugula, romaine, radicchio, endive, dandelion, and coffee. Best thing about Garlic Mustard as a bitter – it can be easily harvested for FREE with little concern of damaging its plant population!

The early basal roots are more bitter in the spring, the fleshy stems less so – and it is sweeter in the fall after a frost. The roots are slightly nutty, and the second year plant should be harvested just before it flowers… But don’t get caught up in these rules — if you are pulling it to preserve other plants in your garden or a participating in a pull, use it and partner it with other flavors like parsley, walnuts and lemon to suit your palate!

One of the most popular ways to prepare Garlic Mustard is preparing it as a versatile, delicious pesto. Variations on pesto recipes can vary to suit personal taste preference and the flavor of the Garlic Mustard that is being harvested.

Want to prepare a large batch? Pesto can be made without the nuts (they tend to taste rancid after thawing) and froze into ice-cube sized portions that will last for several months until the local Basil is ready for harvest here in Michigan.

The pesto can be added to pasta, used in soups (like a French soup au pistou), served on crackers with cheese as an elegant appetizer, or even used as a base for a wild foods pizza of local Michigan Morels, homemade soft cheese, and wild onion.

Basic Foraged Greens & Garlic Mustard Pesto

4 cups leaves, stems of Garlic Mustard (washed)

1 cup wild chives

1 cup wild garlic scapes

1 cup parsley (if desired)

1 cup walnuts

4 TBSP coconut oil

1tsp sea salt, pepper, squirt of lemon juice to taste

Add all to food processor, puree.  Check flavor, add parsley, salt, pepper to preferred taste. Serve over crackers, on pizza, pasta, soup… the ideas are limitless and the pesto can be used in similar ways to traditional basil pesto.

Wild Leeks: A Tasty, Precious Sign of Spring

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Spotted: Wild leeks, Allium tricoccum

Regionally, Wild Leeks are distributed as far east as New York State and through Canada, west into the forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota and south into Appalachia.

Here in Michigan, the Wild Leeks (or Ramps are they are also called) are plentiful in the Beech/Maple woods along the rivers and on the back dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline, frequently found alongside the unfolding MayApples and Trout Lilly.  They are abundant in Leelanau County, throughout the Sleeping Bear region and in the southwest portion of the state near St. Joseph and toward the Indiana border. In the Greater Grand Rapids area, they exist but do not carpet the forest floor as plentifully in other areas of the state.

A relative to onion, the Wild Leek is a bulb and is markedly onion-y in both flavor and scent. Take care to note these characteristics in trying to identify the plant, as it could be easily mistaken with the immature False Hellebore, or Lily of the Valley, which neither smells or tastes like onion, and is quite poisonous.

I spotted these beauties at one of my favorite parks, Johnson Park. These are a part of only a few stands here along the river, outside the City of Grand Rapids — please let them alone. Equally, if you see stands within the Greater Grand Rapids area — they aren’t as abundant here as in other areas at the Lakeshore and up the coastline.

A 2011 article in The New York Times featured the Wild Leek and claimed the increase in harvesting for the restaurant market and by hobby foragers is putting pressure  on the Wild Leek population.  While the Wild Leek certainly is not ~that~ close to being extinct in the Great Lakes area, it is something to consider as the plant ends up on the farm to table menus and baskets of market foragers – particularly when we know the plant is not widely distributed.

Because it takes about three years for a seed to develop into a mature leek for harvesting, I personally no longer harvest the bulbs, and have taken to transplanting them to try to re-establish stands in local parks in the area. I won’t lie — I really ~love~ the Wild Leeks, but unless we take some pressure off of the plant population in our area (due large in part to the love of this plant by the farm to table & locavore community), we will over harvest them and secure their own demise.

From my perspective, I don’t believe we have enough plants in our Great Lakes bio-region to be regularly supplying the local farmers’ markets & farm to table restaurants with an abundance of wild-harvested Leeks for the entire spring season.  It really is an issue we eaters must be concerned with, not just the foragers. I once saw a social media post by a local chef hauling out a full garbage bag full of leeks for his restaurant. This was several years ago, and if I saw this happen again by someone I knew in my community, I would not be afraid to do some public shaming of the chef and the restau for simply bad foraging practices. Not only is unethical foraging not ok, it goes against fundamental environmental values of “do no harm” within the local food movement.

So in the essence of helping share the knowledge — if you come across them in the farmers market or in the restaurants — I ask you to inquire about the source of the Wild Leeks. Ask about the forager’s standards. Ask about their sustainability practices. And if YOU are the forager and are planning on harvesting, take time to first learn for yourself the distribution of leeks in your area. THEN find a sizable stand and clip the tops only. This is the most sustainable way to use the plant.

Yes, I know these beauties are delicious pickled as cocktail onions in martinis (!!) and roasted, drizzled in olive oil over a nice spring egg & nettle quiche, so a few handfuls is probably is ok.  And if you do indulge, just make sure you offer to help replenish the stand and give deep thanks for the plant world that sustains us.

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