Foraging, Not Forging!

My boy asked what my plans were for the weekend and I told him about attending a foraging class with my sister, Annie. With a furrowed brow, he asked, “Mom, why do you want to know how to write someone else’s name?” Hmmmm…..

No, son. I’m going to learn about the benefits of different native plants in the area!

It was a gorgeous Saturday in the Upstate of SC. Annie and I met in Easley, SC to attend a foraging class given by Alex Garcia, instructor and director of Earth Skills. We were a varied group of individuals of different ages, backgrounds and interest in plant life and survival skills.

Have you seen the t.v. shows Naked and Afraid or Alone? In these shows people are dropped off in the middle of nowhere, (some with clothes and some without), and they must survive off the land and their wits. Well, there were a few of those type of people in the group. A few of the men were taking classes to earn their master’s designation in survival skills. I was not one of them.Then there were others in our group who were hoping to learn more about the medicinal properties of native plants in order to take on Big Pharm. I totally agree that we as a people have become captive to the big pharmaceutical companies and their drugs, but I am also a big fan of antibiotics, allergy meds and Extra Strength Excedrin. So, again, I wasn’t in that group.I went to this seven hour course because I really do want to learn more about the plants God made. I know He didn’t just create “weeds” for the sake of making us sneeze and looking pretty. God had a purpose. Before Pfizer and Merck & Co., people used the plants around them to heal and nourish their bodies.

And most importantly, I went so I could spend time with my sister!You may be wondering, “What the heck did you do all day?” Well, we followed Alex around as he excitedly found different plants. Luckily for us, we didn’t have to go far to see a gem amongst the grasses and weeds. We would pick a leaf from the plant and maybe taste it, but always taped a leaf in our notebooks, labeling and writing special characteristics for future identification. The leaf above is a Broadleaf Plantain. The website Edible Wild food describes it as “a perennial broadleaf plant that grows in many locations from spring to autumn. Not only is this a vital wild edible plant for overall good health, this wild weed can be used to treat chronic diarrhea as well as digestive tract disorders. Broadleaf plantain is packed with nutrients and is safe to ingest. If a person chomps on some fresh leaves, these can be applied to the skin to treat minor burns, insect bites or open wounds.” That’s pretty cool, huh?Got diarrhea? Got a rash? This plant is for you!This is mullein. It’s leaves are soft like lambs ears and it grows tall stalks in its second year. Some call this plant “Cowboy Toilet Paper”, but others advise against using it in this way or else you will have fine little plant hairs in areas you wouldn’t want little plant hairs. (Just sayin…) BUT if you have respiratory issues, this might be your plant. Seep the leaves to make a hot cup of tea. Or shape the dry stalk like cigar, light it up and breathe in the smoke to clear up your cough. We foraged for acorns without the caps to grind into a nut flour. Because of the labor intensive work involved with making the flour, look for large nuts and gather them before the squirrels do!We determined the “good” nuts from the “bad” ones by dropping them into a bucket of water and keeping only the nuts that sunk to the bottom. Then Alex demonstrated the survival method I’d use to turn the nuts into flour. Let’s just say that I would have to have LOTS of time on my hands and be able to think way far ahead of time to know that I was going to want acorn bread. Not only do the nuts need to be ground to a flour consistency, then it needs to be dried out in the sun. Ok, ok….I guess this could all be speeded up by using a Cuisinart and low temp oven, but I’m pretty sure a food processor won’t be in your back pack on your next camp out. Lucky for us, Alex brought some homemade acorn bread! Still warm from the oven, sliced with a drizzle of honey, it wasn’t too bad! It’s a hardy bread that will fill you up.We took a little field trip to a local pond where Alex showed us a different ecosystem of plants. Cat tails, for example, have delicious (so Alex says…I’ll take his word for it), rhizomes which are an energy rich food. The pollen from the brown cattail can be used as a flour supplement or thickener. Alex encouraged us to try some grass. Yup, just good ol’ grass. It doesn’t have much nutritional content but will do in a survival situation. Because we aren’t cows with four stomachs to ruminate the grass, one should only chew the grass to make a paste with our saliva, then spit out the cellulose. That could block you up. Not good. In the wooded area, Alex looked and looked for Sassafras. I remember as a young girl, my brother making me sassafras tea. Little did I know that this licorice tasting drink could do so much! Do you have boils, sores or rashes? Apply a poultice of sassafras leaves and cover the skin irritation. Rheumatism or gout? What about arthritis or headaches? Drink a cup of tea! Sassafras has great analgesic properties that are great for boosting our immune system. Snap a few twigs to brush your teeth and use as a dental disinfectant. Feeling sluggish? Chew a few leaves or have a cup of sassafras tea to boost your energy levels. The leaves are a diuretic which eliminate toxins, salts and fats from your body. Sassafras oil eliminates dandruff, head lice, repels insects, lowers blood pressure, and aids in sleep. Yet as good as all of this sounds, one must be careful!There are many potential side effects of using sassafras oil, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, hallucination, elevated blood pressure, allergic reactions and a heightened risk of cancer, including risks for pregnant women and children. (Sounds like a pharmaceutical commercial, doesn’t it?)Even though we are a few weeks too late, next year we will be ready to ward off the flu. Here we are plucking a lichen called usnea, off this bush. It is in the same family as Spanish moss, the pretty grey moss that hangs from the trees in the low country. You know it’s the right stuff when you gently pull a stem of it apart and you can see a thin threadlike strand. (Alex would be so proud of me remembering that little tid bit!)Annie is putting her sample into a small jar, which then is filled with vodka. Alex says he puts his jar of tincture in his sock or underwear drawer. Do you know why? Well, this usnea-tonic needs to ferment for 10 weeks in a cool dark place and shook every day. So where can you store the jar that is cool, dark and that you can easily remember? Your panty drawer, of course! Anyway, after ten weeks of fermenting take a dropper full of the tonic three times a day for four weeks. Supposedly, we will be good as gold come fly season next year! Unfortunately, at the end of the day, Alex tested our recall skills. Dang it. I have to tell you, that by this time of day my brain had gone into silly mode. I tried to do a quick study jam session with my little notebook before it was my turn to identify the plants, but I seriously had a hard time. Eight plant species were flagged. Just 8! Surely I could remember 8. Forget about the fact that I tasted, touched, gathered, cut n’ taped, crushed, walked on, and heard about 50 different plants….So I came in last place for the recall part of the day. Oh well. So maybe I won’t send my application in for Naked and Afraid or Alone. Mark, the guy in the red shirt, retained the most info that day and was named King of Weed Eating! Good for him.

Me? Somehow, some way I still got a certificate. Yay me! I really did learn a lot. My class buddies were so nice. Alex was knowledgeable, patient, kind and a great instructor. I’m so glad I accepted Annie’s invitation to join her.

Acorn bread, anyone?

Thanks for stopping by!

The Sticky, Sweet Process of Honey Extraction

IMG_0675.jpgSweet Honey. This is such a glorious sight to me. It’s been a year in the making and I am finally able to pour some of my amazing girls’ hard work into my honey jar.IMG_6302.jpgIt takes a year from when I installed the new nuke to when I hopefully can extract honey. The new bees were installed in the spring of 2017. The first few months was all about helping them build enough comb for brood, (egg laying comb) and for food for them to eat during the winter. Here we are in the summer of 2018, the girls survived the winter beautifully and are creating frames of glorious golden honey.

The old time beekeepers would never pull only seven frames to extract, but I was really running out of patience. I really wanted to jar some honey! The girls had capped off 90% of seven out of ten frames in a super or box. Capped honey like the one above shows that the moisture level is just right. If taken too soon, the moisture in the honey would spoil. The girls fan the honey to help in evaporation. Pretty cool, huh?IMG_6422.jpgAfter deciding whether or not I can pull frames to extract, I had to decide how I was going to physically extract honey from the comb. The most basic way is to cut the comb away from the wooden frame, then just mash the heck out of it with a good old fashioned potato masher. This is the simplest way to break up the wax. Over a week’s time the honey would then filter through a few sieves into a bucket.

Another idea is to use a hand spinner. The old timers say it sounds real romantic to hand crank your honey out of the comb, but they say you’ll do that one time and realize how exhausting it is. I thought about renting a spinning machine from the Spartanburg Beekeepers Association, but kind of dreaded the idea of connecting all the dots. Or I could drive hours round trip to bring the frames to Carolina Bee Company and let them extract it for me.

Ok, ok….Let’s get real. I’m lazy. And Carolina Bee Co., where I get my supplies from had this shiny baby on SALE!!!! Not only would I save time, I would be able to save most of the comb for the bees to reuse!IMG_6421.jpgThe first step is to open the wax cells in order to free the honey. Many keepers use a hot knife to cut of the wax cappings, but that would’ve set me back about $200. I decided to use this rolly thingy.IMG_6425.jpgAfter opening the cappings, I slipped the frames into the spinner. This machine can hold up to 8 frames at a time. IMG_6427.jpgThen just turned this puppy on! Ok, so it wasn’t as easy as that. For one, as you can see most of the screws and bolts that hold the doors down were missing. During the transporting of the machine to the farm, the screws came loose. In order for the machine to spin, the lids need to be down and hitting a special button. So, needless to say, I quite carefully held it all together for the 40 minutes or so it took to spin the honey out.IMG_6434.jpgHere you can see the honey dripping to the bottom of the drum and the broken comb that flew off. In my inexperienced mind, I imagined the comb to be basically still intact and the honey emptied out. When in fact, pieces do fly off, but I was able to put 4 or 5 frames right back into the hive. With a bit of comb and honey left on the frame, I’m hoping that will save the bees energy from having to completely start from scratch. IMG_6437.jpgAt the bottom of the spinning machine, there is a spout where the honey and wax bit flow from the drum. The honey flows through two sieves that nestle in each other on top of a white restaurant grade bucket. The sieves collect the different pieces of wax, bugs, and dirt. Yes, the hive is completely sanitary, but just the act of transporting the sticky frames from the hives to the barn can attract outdoor stuff. No biggie.IMG_6440.jpgI kept the sieves on top of the bucket with the lid in my laundry room for a week. This allowed the honey to continue to filter. In time the air bubble would rise to the top and any fine particles would go to the bottom.

 

TIME TO FILL SOME JARS!!!! Enough waiting! All of this patience stuff is killing me! (Now because I am not doing all of this extracting and jarring in a certified honey extracting room, I can not officially sell my honey to the public, BUT I CAN GIVE IT AWAY!) Here in this video, my friend Angie shows the perfect technique in filling a jar.

Another cool fact: I am not to clean this bucket E.V.E.R! If I did, I would risk having water collect around the valves and ruin any future honey. Don’t clean? No problem!IMG_0704.jpgIsn’t this just a beautiful sight?!? So from 7 frames, I was able to fill 12-9oz. jars and 8-4oz jars with honey. Not bad, not bad at all.IMG_0669.jpgSo, I’ve got this wax and honey left over in the sieve and I don’t want to waste it. Those dark orange blobs you see? Those are bits of pollen that was left in the cells! What should I do? Well, I placed it on top of a bowl and put it outside in the sun.IMG_0670.jpgThe sun warmed the wax which allowed the last bit of honey to strain out, which I was able to fill my own honey jar! And the bit of leftover wax will be used for lotions or soap or salves.IMG_0675.jpgBelieve you me…This sweet goodness is going on my morning toast, in my coffee, in my tea, a spoonful at lunch, and on a biscuit at dinner. YUM!IMG_0714.jpgLast year for my birthday, my darling daughter gave me these labels. I am so proud to put these on my honey jars. I love everything about them!

What an amazing God we have! He created these little bees to not only pollinate flowers and trees, but to make a sweet golden syrup. These little creatures are responsible for 80% of the food we eat. When I taste the goodness of this pure delight, I am reminded of how good our God is!

Hope you can enjoy some pure golden honey today!

Thanks for dropping by!

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