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Kiva Rose’s plant profile on using poplar as medicine. But really I just wanted an excuse to post this photo from July…

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I just found out that black walnuts are edible. Black walnut trees* are the US species related to the English or Persian walnut (Juglans regia) that we are used to eating. The black walnut has a large yellow green globe casing that goes black with age. Inside is a nut shell more like a peach stone than a walnut and very hard to crack (which is why I assumed it wasn’t edible).

But thanks to the fantastic Wild Man Steve Brill I now know how to do the black walnut dance (video) and get to the meat inside (hammer or rock required).

Steve Brill is a very funny man, and a very experienced US forager (also famous for being arrested for eating dandelion leaves in New York’s Central Park), two three good reasons to check out his website.

It seems like all the local English walnut trees are well picked over, so I’ll see if I can find some black walnuts as I know there are a few trees around. According to Brill black walnuts are quite a bit stronger than English ones (he mixes the two), so I’m curious to try them out now.

* I think this is Juglans nigra but there are a number of black walnut species.

I went out today following my nose looking for weeds. My mood is good and I move past the harsh reality that I would have to drive at least an hour to find an intact native ecosystem or even a thriving mixed one. I will take what is on offer – there is comfort to be had from the land that is trying to heal. When I arrive there are 3 kahu hunting rabbits in the paddock. A good sign. One of the kahu is very large, which means it’s an older bird. But the rabbits are big too, I’d like to come back and see the hunt in action.

I wander around and down to the river. It’s all broom and willow and small plants of succession. It’s easy to understand why the river bed is the way it is (flooding limits what can grow here) but harder to make sense of the land up on the banks, rabbit riven, dry, sparse. The paddocks nearby are mown for some reason, but stock have been here too at some stage, which explains why there are so many rabbits (rabbits don’t like long grass) and why only the big trees, inedible shrubs and first sucession plants survive. There is no moving on.

Still it is a beautiful late afternoon and on my way back from the river I come across an oasis. It’s a large double willow. Underneath is a pile of what has been dumped earth and gravel, several metres high and four or five in diameter.. Over the top of this are the lush green plants, especially the annuals that bring advancing fertility each time they die and feed the soil.

I wander around the mound delighted in the abundance of edible and medicinal plants:

chickweed and hemlock

Chickweed – Stellaria media (the brighter green plant) and hemlock – Conium maculatum (the ferny looking one). Eat the chickweed and make medicine from it. Don’t do anything with the hemlock that involves putting it in or on your body, and take special care with look alike edible and medicinal plants from the same family (Umbelliferae) because hemlock is so poisonous. There was enough chickweed here today to eat handfuls while I was looking around. I took some care to make sure my handfuls weren’t mixed with hemlock though.

nettle

That’s the annual nettle, Urtica urens. A bit tricky to eat because it flowers so early and the leaves aren’t great on nettle once it’s flowering. But it makes fantastic fertiliser, so I am happy to see it in this garden.

mullein

Mullein – Verbascum thapsus. Darling medicine of dry lands, it’s a good general lung healing herb (more on that soon). Seriously not edible – furry and with small hairs that will drive your throat crazy – always strain herbal preparations through a cloth.

horehound

Horehound – Marrubium vulgare. Another medicinal plant, most well known as a cough remedy. Very bitter.

puffball:hand

Giant puffball!!! – Calvatia gigantea. I’ve never seen one of these before, they’re apparently a bit rare. It’s past its edibleness, but still a very exciting find. The white bits are the outer cover that has peeled back as the ball had puffed. The brown bit is spongy and sends of clouds out brown spores when you poke it. Even better and more delightful was that once I’d spotted this one, I saw half a dozen others, more decomposed, hiding in the grass:

puffball sludge

Yep, that is a puffball, collapsing in on itself.  They were spread out around half the mound. The puffball bit is the fruit of the fungi. The body of the plant, the mycelium, is underground. I don’t know much about puffballs yet (other than they are edible and the small species is yummy), but mycelium can grow over a much wider area than what you see above ground so I’ve probably been walking on puffball the whole time.

Fungi are the coolest of the cool, very important for ecosystem health especially ones restoring, and they make fantastic people food and medicine. Expect more raving posts about them.

yellow dock

Yellow Dock – Rumex crispus, aka curly dock (you can see the curl especially on the left edge of the leaf in the bottom of the photo). Medicine and food. This is a lovely young succulent looking plant. Possibly even a first year, as I didn’t see any old seed stalks from the autumn. This suggests that the pile of earth has been dumped recently (and this plant came in with that or grew up through).

broadleaf dock

Broad leaf Dock – Rumex obtusifolia (I think). Interchangeable with Yellow Dock, but for some reason I prefer the yellow. Again a young looking plant. The leaves of both docks are tart with oxalic acid. Some people have a higher tolerance for this than others, but if you like it cook it well like spinach. Most edible weed books will have ideas about cooking docks.

sheeps sorrel

Sheep’s sorrel – Rumex acetosella. Not growing in the garden but nearby. I wanted to include it because it’s related to the docks, and has a delicious sharp lemony taste making it perfect as a garnish or addition to salads. It’s on my to do list to collect seeds for inclusion in a wild greens salad growing mix. Sheep’s sorrel is a small plant, although these ones are a decent size. You can’t tell from the picture but the leaf is maybe an inch and a half long.

mystery bitter

A mystery plant growing out in the mown paddock and on the flat around the willow. I broke the cardinal rule of wildcrafting and grazed on this while wondering what it was (don’t do this at home folks i.e. never eat a plant that you can’t identify). It’s dandelion like, but isn’t dandelion. Possibly chicory, and perhaps it’s been sown in this place in the past. It was bitter but not as much as dandelion, and fresh.

willow branch

The beautiful tree that made all this possible. We have such a downer on wild willows in this country, but they are incredibly helpful plants. Not only are they medicine trees, but they assist degraded landscapes by keeping the water table high enough for other plants to grow nearby. A friend told me about this recently, and when I looked at this place today it was true that all around the tree, including on the north side, there is more lush growth than away from the tree. The lushness lasts well beyond the shade offered, and past the drip line.

After all that I lay in the grass and watched the sky and crescent moon overhead. It was hard not to think I had been brought here. You can take that literally or poetically, but there is no doubt that the more I open to nature the more it shares with me.

I went back to the peach tree and made tincture. Here’s the harvest. See if you can spot the bee.

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I chopped all that roughly, twigs included (but not the bee). Then I put it in a jar:

peach jar

I’ve packed it in more than normal (and it’s popping out) because the petals are so light that when the alcohol goes in the bulk reduces down alot. Normally you fill to below the top with plant and then to the top with vodka.

Here’s the tincture after brewing for a couple of days. The colour is extracted out of the petals within the first few hours, and then the tincture gradually goes a deeper colour over days. The tincture starts to smell of almond in the first few hours too, yum.

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There are some considerations about dosage with peach tincture, so please research this medicine if you want to try it out.

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I was out for a walk today and came across a willow that seems to be giving up its medicine to the local possum population.

You can see the teeth marks, and that they’ve stripped the bark to quite a height.

They’ve almost ringbarked the tree.

Those were fresh eatings.

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This is an older one. There were a few of these on different trees. You can see the problem – the willow is getting ill inside and a deeper and deeper fissure is opening up. An interesting result from the meeting of two species considered pests in NZ.

You can also see the dark bark layer between the outer grey and the inner white. That dark layer is what you would be after if you were harvesting the inner bark.

Note also the short horizontal lines in the white inner part and how they are similar to the small marks on the outer bark. These are lenticels, structures in trees and other plants that allow gases to move in and out of the tree. Lenticels are more obvious on trees like birch or stone fruit eg cherry trees.

Willow is a strong enough medicine. It contains salicylates, chemicals that relieve pain when taken internally or externally. Aspirin is based on this. I’d love to know if this is specific medicine for the possums or if it’s food.