Archive for organic

The World is My Table: Edible Flowers

Flowers are so lovely, keeping the world in near-perpetual color, and providing us in time with our fruits and vegetables. But flowers can be nutritious, too. So if you’re garnishing a plate in the near future, consider using a locally available edible garnish that looks great, encourages awareness of wild foods, and probably comes for free! Of course, be sure to wash well, and avoid picking flowers from along busy roadways.

If you’re looking for a few suggestions, check out this edible flower list from HomeCooking.com, and also this separate list of poisonous plants to avoid on your forage. Then check out this article from About.com on the tastes and uses of different common wild flowers. Well educated, you’re ready to hit the trail and spice up your evening cuisine.

Chive Blossom Borage Flower Rose Blossom

Of course, in these days of manicured lawns and ornamental gardening, you probably won’t even have to hit the trail to find what you seek. Roses, pansies, and nasturtiums are all edible, so you can plant your beds with produce that’s extra easy on the eyes. Never mind the possibilities of fruit trees, marigolds, lavender, day-lilies, hibiscus, chamomile, and chives. It’s a bloomin’ cornucopia out there, so grab a basket and head for the backyard.

Here’s an excellent list of edible flowers with pictures.

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Bathing Al Fresco

Ah, nothing like the wilderness to make you reevaluate your relationship to material goods. This past weekend, I arrived on the trail as the clouds and fog lifted from atop the mountains I was entering. A man told me it had been raining for three days… not good news (or so I thought) in the flash-flood prone desert. But it turned out, hiking after the rain was like a hidden secret ritual for many, who avoided the 100+ degree weather by following a storm through the hills. It was beautiful.

Superstitions after Rain

My hiking buddy and I set up camp by a lovely spring-fed stream in the heart of the wilderness. Barely any signs of humans passing through the area in decades, so the water was about as clean and refreshing looking as any can be. I wanted to go for a swim in the natural rock pools and then bathe in the open sun. But when I pulled my shampoo bottle out of my bag, and then looked in the water at the bullfrog tadpoles and other life, I couldn’t bring myself to use any unnatural products in such a pristine place.

Of course, I wouldn’t have thought twice about using that same shampoo at home, though it all ends up in the same water somewhere downstream. Conversely, I wouldn’t have touched water that had a tadpole in it at home, no matter how clearly I could see the bottom. As I said, sometimes it takes a little unfamiliar scenery to make up evaluate our own habits without colored lenses. So I chose to forgo the bath and simply enjoy a swim. Lovely.

When I arrived home, I was determined not to let this happen again, to find myself a potential life-killing polluter in one of the few places not already actively under attack by humankind. So I started researching natural soap, remembering something about “soaproot” from somewhere back in 5th grade when we studied the pioneers crossing the great American plains. Turns out, there are SEVERAL “soaproots”, and had I known what I was doing, there was likely one of them within fifty feet of the proposed bathing locale.

Ever found yourself in a similar bind? Here’s the skinny on natural soap:

Soaproot2

Indian Soaproot, Bouncing Bet, Soapwort

“Wherever Poison Oak grows chances are you will find Soap Root growing. You can harvest Soap Root anytime of the year and it looks the same year round, except for having tall flowering stalks in the spring. The part to use is the bulbous root, so you will need to dig it up. Usually one bulb is all you will need. Peel off the brown, furry outer covering until the white layer underneath is exposed. While using, keep it in a plastic bag to keep from drying out.” – naturalfamilyhome.com

This is the most commonly known of the soap-producing plants. It produces a nice lather for washing both body and clothes, and according to legend, it was also used by the Apaches to catch fish by putting it in the water. It has the most “bang for the buck” of lathering plants.

Yucca

The yucca plant comes in a wide variety of species, but all share the potential for lather. Some people recommend using the root for bathing, but using the root kills the plant. For a small task like bathing, you can simply pull off one leaf from the plant, shred the leaf into strips, and rub them back and forth in your hands with water until a lather forms. (Incidentally, this is also the first step in making yucca twine, another useful thing to know in an emergency!) Use this mix like a pre-soaped washcloth. This plant is so common in the Southwest, you can find it everywhere from ornamental gardens to the untouched National Parks. If I had known, I’d have had a yucca bath that day.

Wood Ashes as Cleaning Agent

Wood Ashes

In an emergency situation, you can wash your skin or pots and pans, etc with ashes from a campfire. It’s important to use clean ashes and not to leave them on your skin too long… ashes are caustic, as they contain lye, an ingredient used in making store-bought soaps.

Buffalo/Missouri Gourd, Mock Orange, Callabacilla

Small triangular leaves and a very spreading habit, this vine has small, orange shaped and sized gourds and a thick taproot that can be up to five feet long. The gourds can also be used as sponges. There is less lather in this plant than others.

Soapberry Trees

These grow in the Southeastern and MidAtlantic states, and are one of three varieties. They have small berries which lather when crushed in water.

Wild Lilac, Myrtle, Buck Brush

Grows in the Western states, covering the land with blue and white flowers in the Spring. The flowers can be used as soap, and are very fragrant, leaving the body perfumed.

Southern Buckeye

A Southeastern plant that is best for washing clothes and fabrics. Like the soapwort, it can stun fish when thrown in water, though this is illegal and should be reserved for survival situations.

Read more about soap plants here

Survival outline that includes a few more saponin-containing plants

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Take a Tour of Solarious

This week, you will be seeing a lot of action at the Solarious website, as I update and expand the back pages with new information for you.  Why don’t you stop through and take a tour?

First, check out the food additives page, “In My Food”, where you can find out more about the ingredients that make up you daily diet and how they may affect your health.  If you have any expertise or suggestions about ingrdients, please share them, and I’ll follow up by posting more on the topic.

Next, visit the “Success Stories” page to see how others in your position have overcome challenges and maintained inspiration and vision to complete alternative energy projects.  Again, please feel free to share any inspiring stories or learning lessons you know of so that others may learn too.

And finally, see the brand-spankin’ new section, “Box it Up”, for an ever-incomplete listing of companies that incorporate recycled packaging and goods into their product lines.  I say incomplete, because more companies recognize the need for such sustainable practices every day.  Here’s to wishing for that day when ALL companies use recycled goods in their products, reducing our virgin material needs close to zero.  Until then, support these companies’ decisions to ensure that they view sustainability as a wise business decision.

In regularly scheduled news, everything here is going great.  After a solid week of grey days and spitting rainy weather, the sun is out and blazing.  It’s time to get cooking!  Over the “down time” of cloudy weather, I walked around the city distributing a new magazine for whom I write.  Plenty of time to check out the neighborhood and look for a block to adopt.  And… I’ve found one!  It took a bit of looking, because in my neighborhood the “Clean Team” (ie. people who’ve gotten community service hours to complete) come around once a week and supposedly clean the streets, so I didn’t want to overlap their areas.  And because there is just so much mess to choose from!  I’ve chosen a two-block area near my house to start with, and will expand once I figure out how much maintenance that will entail.  When I go next week to begin picking up, I’ll post before and after photos.  I also found a community garden near where I travel regularly with available plots.  With any luck, I’ll be able to scrape up a little cash and get a plot there to feed my growing demand for veggies to steam in the sun!  If you’re in the LA area and have a neglected backyard that you want planted for a share of the organic produce, holler! We can help each other out… and isn’t that what life is all about?

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Take the King Corn Challenge

About the Corn Challenge

Corn is in Everything!

It’s always nice to have someone to commiserate with when making even slightly painful lifestyle changes be they in the name of good. It’s great motivation. (For some reason, introducing the bad stuff always comes easily, especially with company!) Here’s an interesting look at two filmmakers and the challenge they put themselves up to after making a film about corn in the American diet, inviting others to join. And one author, Katherine Pryor, did just that. Read about her three corn-free days here.

As you can see, in today’s processed food markets, even dropping one ingredient can have far-reaching implications for your overall diet. It required from Ms. Pryor a reconsideration of her local food buying habits, and put a strain on the two filmmakers to figure out a way to eat while on the road without actually consuming any corn. If you could pick one ingredient to drop, what would it be? High fructose corn syrup? Caffeine? Processed grains? Added salt? There are so many options out there it’s hard to choose just one. But when you do make a commitment to one, even a little one you don’t encounter every day, you learn as much about the process of making choices as you may about your current diet.  I’m going to start a food database page on the blog (check the top bar for the link).  If you know of any ingredients that contain certain foods, chemicals, or byproducts, please, comment and add to the repository of information. You might never want to eat again after starting down this path to learning.  Until then, happy eating!

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zeroHouse – Making Your Home Work for You

Nice. No, really, everything about this concept is nice, from the idea, to the execution and the website. So nice that you’d better go check out the website for yourself, so I’m only going to provide one chart here as a teaser.

zeroHouse by Scott Specht

This house does it all. Collects water, uses high-capacity solar, makes its own compost, and looks amazing while doing it through your laptop. And you can construct one in under a weekend. How’s that for simple? It’s certainly inspiring.

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Link Bonanza: medicinal and edible plants

Balsam Fir Pitch

Medicinal plant list

More edible and medicinal plants

Articles about Australian medicinal plants

Forage with Wildman Steve Brill

Whoa! That’s a lot of information! While we’re on the topic of edible plants… when planting your garden, why not plant things that do double or even triple duty, providing medicine and or nourishment along with shady beauty? While every locale has its own host of plants that fit this bill while still thriving ecologically, you may be surprised to find that plants you’ve known and loved for years have different uses than you’d imagined. Take the above article on the balsam fir. My house growing up had one in the front yard. I knew it as the good climbing tree, and my mother no doubt saw it as “that darn tree that ends up all over the kids’ clothes”, but neither of us ever thought that the sticky pitch might have other uses. Again, knowing more about your local environment can only enhance the pleasures of living there, and bring you more into balance with nature. Happy reading!

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Wilderness lessons: Plant Taste Test

If you’re into off-grid living, then it’s quite possible you also like to escape to the great outdoors every once in a while. And though you’re super smart and careful, you may find yourself in a position one day when you need to literally go back to nature for some food. Even if you don’t find yourself in this unenviable position, it’s valuable to know what in your environment is toxic, and what plants are edible. It makes for great conversation when you can pick up a plant off the side of the trail and offer it to a friend! Read this survival tip from simplesurvival.net to help you understand the risks and processes for testing the flora of your area for edibility.

You can also learn a lot by reading books on Native American traditional cooking from tribes local to you. Though there are not always a wealth of cookbooks out there, several websites catalog user contributions on the topic. Here’s an interesting example with a few recipes and a different interface from most. NativeTech.org is another good site. Look out for salad recipes and vegetable side dishes. They often include native plants that are uniquely well-suited to grow in your area. These would be excellent candidates for planting in your own home garden. Finally, when you do have a crop of something native, experiment often with cooking it different ways (bonus points for cooking with solar or alternative energy sources!), and share that knowledge with others. You can do it here if you like! That way, the wondrous internet can do its job in spreading the word about native plants. And we can all enjoy an exotic meal together without ever hitting the supermarket. Yum!

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