What a pleasant surprise. While on a morning mission to find a few earthworms to add to our garden beds back at home, we found some wonderful little treasures as my then five year old daughter and I ascended into a forest from our local Shinto shrine in Yokohama: Morels!
She had never seen a morel before and from the look on her face, it could have been a gnome, she was so surprised. And I was surprised too as I didn’t know that morels grew in Japan. So we collected the mushrooms and brought back a few handfuls of dandelion leaves and other lettuc-y weed greens and prepared a wild foraged lunch appetizer to go with the main course.
Things To Know Before Eating Wild Mushrooms
Below: morels, halved covered in flour and fried in butter on a skillet. To the left, stir fried dandelion green… As they like to say in Japan… Oishii!
All wild edibles and especially wild mushrooms can be a little difficult to identify without a lot of attention to detail and at the very least, a good reference guide to wild edibles. I like Peterson Guides as a general reference and there are so many more. In the case of Morels, there are several mushrooms that could be mistaken for a false morel if not careful. False morels will usually have more wavy or ‘brainy’ looking caps compared to true Morels, which have deeply pitted and webbed caps. Morels are also hollow inside, from the top and all the way down to the bottom of the stem. So if you cut a mushroom open and it’s fleshy, or has any kind of pulp inside, DO NOT EAT IT.
Where do Morels Grow?
This is an International Edible, right? The great thing about wild edibles is that many of them are just like people in the sense that they can live wherever they are comfortable. A plant hardiness map can show you where in the world you can find many of the plants that are familiar to you.
World Plant Hardiness Map
Not all plants can live anywhere, but it’s a comfort to know that plants do not recognize the nation state.
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I Have a Sweet Tooth for Sweet and Spicy Teas
You are probably thinking about making a cup of hot tea and squeezing a nice dollop or two of honey into your steaming mug. Back when I first started drinking herbal tea I also would invariably add a nice spoonful of honey, or (my favorite) drop a peppermint candy in there to let it slowly dissolve. The sweetener was a comforting thing and helped me to acquire a taste for many new varieties and combinations of herbal tea. However as I learned more and my tastes matured, I began to discover that:
My teas didn’t always need to be sweet to be delicious and
There are many herbs that are sweet without adding sugar.
The joy of finally being able to enjoy herbs in their naked form, without the gaudy clothing to mask their essential tastes prompted me to encourage you to try it too.
Here is my list of 5 Sweet and Spicy Teas That Don’t Need Sugar
What makes is sweet? Glycyrrhizic acid.
This super sweet root that was the inspiration behind twizzler sticks is said to be 50 times as sweet as sugar, thanks to Glycyrrhizic acid. It doesn’t taste that sweet as a tea though. The kind of sweetness licorice has is more like short and sweet, quickly evaporating from your tastebuds. This herb is a tonic and an adaptogen (more on those in a future post) and an anti-inflammatory making it a great ingredient in herbal teas for sore throats.
What makes it sweet? Maybe it’s association with sweet foods.
Cinnamon may not actually be sweet, but it’s flavor is an amazing compliment to baked goods. The “spice” in “sugar and spice and anything nice” must be referring to cinnamon. So add it in to spice up your sweet teas. It’s a soothing digestive for sensitive stomachs.
What makes it sweet? Flavenoids in the seeds
Fenugreek is an ancient herbal medicine used since ancient times in Africa, India and the Middle East. It was prized as a nourishing herb due to it’s high protein content. Fenugreek was used for a wide variety of ailments from lowering cholesterol to treating stomach ailments and there has been some clinical trials as well. Some evidence shows that fenugreek can inhibit some types of cancer cells.
What makes it sweet? It’s kind of a mystery.
Spearmint is in a long-running popularity contest with Peppermint. While they are both part of the mint family, they are used in different ways. There is a debate out there about which one is better, peppermint or spearmint. For me, Spearmint is a milder herb and adds more sweetness to a tea and less menthol. So if you want a tea that opens your sinuses and lungs, go with peppermint. If you are looking for a flavor enhancer that’s not so strong, choose Spearmint.
What makes it sweet? Steviol-glycosides
Licorice might be 50 times sweeter than sugar… That’s no comparison to Stevia because Stevia is somewhere between 150 and 200 times sweeter than sugar! This is the miracle sweetener that is so easy to use. Just pinch a leaf off of a stevia plant and if you really need to sweeten your tea, this is how you do it.
Look out for more sweet and spicy teas, recipes and unique qualities of these medicinals in the menu under “Herbs“.
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Common Plant Otherwise Known As Chickweed
Having a knowledge of edible plants that are abundant in many different countries provides a deeply satisfying sense of place for people living and/or traveling abroad. Familiar plants can be like familiar friends, constant companions that travel with you wherever you go. It’s such a pleasure to find nutritious wild edibles and herbs that can be discovered in similar climates all over the world.
Some Tidbits About This Unassuming Herb</h1>
While most of us know this common plant, growing in a range of soil types and acidities as a somewhat common weed (or maybe we wouldn’t even recognize it at all), Chickweed is actually a nutritious and delicious spring salad ingredient, sure to surprise and please at your next Spring Solstice party. Full of nutrition and fiber, this tender spring green is fresh and palatable and can really fill you up as it grows in large tangled colonies, which makes it very easy to scoop up in the arms like so many bales of hay.
This Past Spring, I Took A Little Walk Through Yoyogi Park
in central Tokyo and found, growing in a quiet and shady corner of the park, one of my favorite abundant wild foods: Chickweed! or, in Japanese, Hakobera はこべら. This wildly undervalued plant is one of Japan’s traditional ingredients in the annual winter Festival of Seven Herbs – “Nanakusa no Sekku” 七草の節句. Thanks in part to this longstanding traditional holiday, most Japanese people have eaten this herb, possibly every year of their lives, even if they don’t know what it looks like or where it comes from.
But how many people would recognize it when seen growing in a waste area by the side of the road?
or, as in this case, in a quiet corner of a park in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world? Probably very few, and that’s unfortunate. I eat wild edibles regularly and there is absolutely nothing demeaning about them. I find people have strange reactions to eating things they’re not accustomed to, but if we utilized the abundance of nature more effectively, we could really solve some problems!
Chickweed is a very abundant edible,
usually growing in large wispy green patches and is best to eat when still covered by the morning spring mist. I gathered a rather decadent bag full and will save some to hang and dry and the rest will be in my salads for the rest of the week. Go to a park near you and taste some of this lovely Spring green for yourself!
If you’ve ever been into a health food store,
you’ve probably come across a brand called Auromere. These days, Auromere ayurvedic products, from Neem powered toothpastes to mudbaths and incense are easily recognized in any health food market. But 30 years ago, when Auromere first started out, Neem was unheard of and they introduced Auryuvedic health care to the Western world in a big way, fascinating the alternative health community with previously unknown products. And until recently, I had no idea why Auromere was destined to be my favorite Aurovedic brand.
Far, far away, not far from the southern city of Chennai, you might find the legacy of two of the twentieth century’s greatest utopian innovators:
Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfasa, aka., The Mother. These two spiritual partners collaborated to express their unique truth and message to the world with a revolutionary vision: Integral Yoga. While other spiritual teachers in India were guiding their students to renounce their bodies and deny the material world, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother confidently believed that a pure state of spiritual bliss was possible to normal folks, here on Earth. They believed and taught about a regularized healthy way that could allow people to live fulfilling, active lives. Their vision was in many ways quite simple. They focused on the basics, on exercise and education, on daily healthy activity and creative acts, and taught about their brand of spiritual fulfillment that was available to everyone. To fully realize their vision, The Mother imagined a beautiful city, a new paradigm of community, creating a harmonized physical town called Auroville.
You would have to see Auroville to believe it, so here you go… The crown jewel of Auroville, in the very center of the city design is a giant orb covered with golden disks, an immaculate meditation chamber called the Matra Mandir. I have personally meditated in the top of the orb and it was a bit of a life changing experience.
Auroville was imagined to be a full working community. Intertwined with all of this vision, Sri Aurobindo had a deep passion for his native India and the Indian tradition, and Ayurvedic medicine is one of India’s great traditional sciences. And that is where Auromere comes into play.
Why Auromere Ayurvedic Products? The community of people who created Auromere,
maker of your favorite Ayurvedic toothpaste are a part of the Integral Yoga community and it was a great pleasure to learn that they give a portion of their proceeds to support the Integral Yoga community in India, and also to directly help some poor communities in regions nearby too. It’s always great to learn that a company is even better than you thought it was. Thank you Auromere for being an excellent business and putting people before profit.
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It’s amazing the amount of dialogue out there on something as simple as essential oils.
People tend to make grand claims about the medicinal benefits of these wonderful aroma oils, while others decry them as toxic and still others claim that essential oils must be super pure and produced in scientific laboratories in order to be safe and effective. Sometimes the best approach to something as lovely as essential oils is more about keeping it simple. Of course essential oils need to be produced in proper facilities to be considered safe, but the fact is that essential oils have been produced in all kinds of conditions and in use since at least the 12th century. Keeping it simple is the name of the game for enjoying these wonderful oils
So what are essential oils, exactly?
Simply put, essential oils are the oils inside of any plant. Essential oils are collected in mostly by distillation in a process where steam is applied to the select part of the plant which separates the oil away from the leaf, bark root or other part of the anatomy. Essential oils are gathered in other ways too. Citrus essential oils for example are often extracted by cold press. And there are other methods too, like using solvents or even tapping trees, but the end result is the same. The “essential” oil of the plant is the oil directly gathered from the plant that holds the unique and potent aroma.
Why are essential oils so popular today?
It only takes one experience with essential oils to keep us coming back for a lifetime. For many, patchouli oil was the first whiff of an essential oil. True, in high schools far and wide, patchouli is mostly associated with hippies. Still, it’s a great, musky introduction and oh so different than perfume. In the case of the young patchouli sniffers, a whole world of aromas has now been opened to them. To inhale the aroma of an essential oil is to get connected to the natural world in a way, the world of plants, and that has a very significant meaning, now more than ever.
But these days, everyone is using essential oils. It’s a great alternative to perfumes. There may be less allergic reactions. Many essential oils, according to countless testimonials really do work to calm the nerves and relax the body and mind. And on top of all that, they are cheap, last a long time and are widely available.
But most of all, it’s the fact that these aromas come directly from the plants themselvesthat somehow connects us to nature. Many other aromas and perfumes out there develop their scents by using industrial process involving proprietary ingredients and recipes, but essential oils are exactly the opposite. And it’s because of their simplicity that they are so satisfying. Not to mention they can be combined with other mediums easily and used in many different ways. Great for massage oils or to add to a balm or lotion, or even to use in a diffuser. You can drop a few drops in the bathtub too. Unless you’re very sensitive, they’re going to be safe to use.
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Cardboard is of course biodegradable, but I'm concerned about the effects on natural forestation, old forests being cleared and made into tree farms. Tin can be recycled but not of people may or may not choose to. More important, the mining process can devastating.
Any advice or information would be greatly appreciated.